Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: The Lesson of the Master
Author: James, Henry
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
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 "The Lesson of the Master" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



Transcribed from the 1915 Martin Secker edition by David Price, email
ccx074@pglaf.org

                          [Picture: Book cover]



                              THE LESSON OF
                                THE MASTER


                              BY HENRY JAMES

                      [Picture: Decorative graphic]

                                * * * * *

                          LONDON: MARTIN SECKER
                     NUMBER FIVE JOHN STREET ADELPHI

                                * * * * *

                     This edition first printed 1915

                                * * * * *



I


HE had been told the ladies were at church, but this was corrected by
what he saw from the top of the steps—they descended from a great height
in two arms, with a circular sweep of the most charming effect—at the
threshold of the door which, from the long bright gallery, overlooked the
immense lawn.  Three gentlemen, on the grass, at a distance, sat under
the great trees, while the fourth figure showed a crimson dress that told
as a “bit of colour” amid the fresh rich green.  The servant had so far
accompanied Paul Overt as to introduce him to this view, after asking him
if he wished first to go to his room.  The young man declined that
privilege, conscious of no disrepair from so short and easy a journey and
always liking to take at once a general perceptive possession of a new
scene.  He stood there a little with his eyes on the group and on the
admirable picture, the wide grounds of an old country-house near
London—that only made it better—on a splendid Sunday in June.  “But that
lady, who’s _she_?” he said to the servant before the man left him.

“I think she’s Mrs. St. George, sir.”

“Mrs. St. George, the wife of the distinguished—”  Then Paul Overt
checked himself, doubting if a footman would know.

“Yes, sir—probably, sir,” said his guide, who appeared to wish to
intimate that a person staying at Summersoft would naturally be, if only
by alliance, distinguished.  His tone, however, made poor Overt himself
feel for the moment scantly so.

“And the gentlemen?” Overt went on.

“Well, sir, one of them’s General Fancourt.”

“Ah yes, I know; thank you.”  General Fancourt was distinguished, there
was no doubt of that, for something he had done, or perhaps even hadn’t
done—the young man couldn’t remember which—some years before in India.
The servant went away, leaving the glass doors open into the gallery, and
Paul Overt remained at the head of the wide double staircase, saying to
himself that the place was sweet and promised a pleasant visit, while he
leaned on the balustrade of fine old ironwork which, like all the other
details, was of the same period as the house.  It all went together and
spoke in one voice—a rich English voice of the early part of the
eighteenth century.  It might have been church-time on a summer’s day in
the reign of Queen Anne; the stillness was too perfect to be modern, the
nearness counted so as distance, and there was something so fresh and
sound in the originality of the large smooth house, the expanse of
beautiful brickwork that showed for pink rather than red and that had
been kept clear of messy creepers by the law under which a woman with a
rare complexion disdains a veil.  When Paul Overt became aware that the
people under the trees had noticed him he turned back through the open
doors into the great gallery which was the pride of the place.  It
marched across from end to end and seemed—with its bright colours, its
high panelled windows, its faded flowered chintzes, its
quickly-recognised portraits and pictures, the blue-and-white china of
its cabinets and the attenuated festoons and rosettes of its ceiling—a
cheerful upholstered avenue into the other century.

Our friend was slightly nervous; that went with his character as a
student of fine prose, went with the artist’s general disposition to
vibrate; and there was a particular thrill in the idea that Henry St.
George might be a member of the party.  For the young aspirant he had
remained a high literary figure, in spite of the lower range of
production to which he had fallen after his first three great successes,
the comparative absence of quality in his later work.  There had been
moments when Paul Overt almost shed tears for this; but now that he was
near him—he had never met him—he was conscious only of the fine original
source and of his own immense debt.  After he had taken a turn or two up
and down the gallery he came out again and descended the steps.  He was
but slenderly supplied with a certain social boldness—it was really a
weakness in him—so that, conscious of a want of acquaintance with the
four persons in the distance, he gave way to motions recommended by their
not committing him to a positive approach.  There was a fine English
awkwardness in this—he felt that too as he sauntered vaguely and
obliquely across the lawn, taking an independent line.  Fortunately there
was an equally fine English directness in the way one of the gentlemen
presently rose and made as if to “stalk” him, though with an air of
conciliation and reassurance.  To this demonstration Paul Overt instantly
responded, even if the gentleman were not his host.  He was tall,
straight and elderly and had, like the great house itself, a pink smiling
face, and into the bargain a white moustache.  Our young man met him
halfway while he laughed and said: “Er—Lady Watermouth told us you were
coming; she asked me just to look after you.”  Paul Overt thanked him,
liking him on the spot, and turned round with him to walk toward the
others.  “They’ve all gone to church—all except us,” the stranger
continued as they went; “we’re just sitting here—it’s so jolly.”  Overt
pronounced it jolly indeed: it was such a lovely place.  He mentioned
that he was having the charming impression for the first time.

“Ah you’ve not been here before?” said his companion.  “It’s a nice
little place—not much to _do_, you know”.  Overt wondered what he wanted
to “do”—he felt that he himself was doing so much.  By the time they came
to where the others sat he had recognised his initiator for a military
man and—such was the turn of Overt’s imagination—had found him thus still
more sympathetic.  He would naturally have a need for action, for deeds
at variance with the pacific pastoral scene.  He was evidently so
good-natured, however, that he accepted the inglorious hour for what it
was worth.  Paul Overt shared it with him and with his companions for the
next twenty minutes; the latter looked at him and he looked at them
without knowing much who they were, while the talk went on without much
telling him even what it meant.  It seemed indeed to mean nothing in
particular; it wandered, with casual pointless pauses and short
terrestrial flights, amid names of persons and places—names which, for
our friend, had no great power of evocation.  It was all sociable and
slow, as was right and natural of a warm Sunday morning.

His first attention was given to the question, privately considered, of
whether one of the two younger men would be Henry St. George.  He knew
many of his distinguished contemporaries by their photographs, but had
never, as happened, seen a portrait of the great misguided novelist.  One
of the gentlemen was unimaginable—he was too young; and the other
scarcely looked clever enough, with such mild undiscriminating eyes.  If
those eyes were St. George’s the problem, presented by the ill-matched
parts of his genius would be still more difficult of solution.  Besides,
the deportment of their proprietor was not, as regards the lady in the
red dress, such as could be natural, toward the wife of his bosom, even
to a writer accused by several critics of sacrificing too much to manner.
Lastly Paul Overt had a vague sense that if the gentleman with the
expressionless eyes bore the name that had set his heart beating faster
(he also had contradictory conventional whiskers—the young admirer of the
celebrity had never in a mental vision seen _his_ face in so vulgar a
frame) he would have given him a sign of recognition or of friendliness,
would have heard of him a little, would know something about
“Ginistrella,” would have an impression of how that fresh fiction had
caught the eye of real criticism.  Paul Overt had a dread of being
grossly proud, but even morbid modesty might view the authorship of
“Ginistrella” as constituting a degree of identity.  His soldierly friend
became clear enough: he was “Fancourt,” but was also “the General”; and
he mentioned to the new visitor in the course of a few moments that he
had but lately returned from twenty years service abroad.

“And now you remain in England?” the young man asked.

“Oh yes; I’ve bought a small house in London.”

“And I hope you like it,” said Overt, looking at Mrs. St. George.

“Well, a little house in Manchester Square—there’s a limit to the
enthusiasm _that_ inspires.”

“Oh I meant being at home again—being back in Piccadilly.”

“My daughter likes Piccadilly—that’s the main thing.  She’s very fond of
art and music and literature and all that kind of thing.  She missed it
in India and she finds it in London, or she hopes she’ll find it.  Mr.
St. George has promised to help her—he has been awfully kind to her.  She
has gone to church—she’s fond of that too—but they’ll all be back in a
quarter of an hour.  You must let me introduce you to her—she’ll be so
glad to know you.  I dare say she has read every blest word you’ve
written.”

“I shall be delighted—I haven’t written so very many,” Overt pleaded,
feeling, and without resentment, that the General at least was vagueness
itself about that.  But he wondered a little why, expressing this
friendly disposition, it didn’t occur to the doubtless eminent soldier to
pronounce the word that would put him in relation with Mrs. St. George.
If it was a question of introductions Miss Fancourt—apparently as yet
unmarried—was far away, while the wife of his illustrious confrère was
almost between them.  This lady struck Paul Overt as altogether pretty,
with a surprising juvenility and a high smartness of aspect, something
that—he could scarcely have said why—served for mystification.  St.
George certainly had every right to a charming wife, but he himself would
never have imagined the important little woman in the aggressively
Parisian dress the partner for life, the alter ego, of a man of letters.
That partner in general, he knew, that second self, was far from
presenting herself in a single type: observation had taught him that she
was not inveterately, not necessarily plain.  But he had never before
seen her look so much as if her prosperity had deeper foundations than an
ink-spotted study-table littered with proof-sheets.  Mrs. St. George
might have been the wife of a gentleman who “kept” books rather than
wrote them, who carried on great affairs in the City and made better
bargains than those that poets mostly make with publishers.  With this
she hinted at a success more personal—a success peculiarly stamping the
age in which society, the world of conversation, is a great drawing-room
with the City for its antechamber.  Overt numbered her years at first as
some thirty, and then ended by believing that she might approach her
fiftieth.  But she somehow in this case juggled away the excess and the
difference—you only saw them in a rare glimpse, like the rabbit in the
conjurer’s sleeve.  She was extraordinarily white, and her every element
and item was pretty; her eyes, her ears, her hair, her voice, her hands,
her feet—to which her relaxed attitude in her wicker chair gave a great
publicity—and the numerous ribbons and trinkets with which she was
bedecked.  She looked as if she had put on her best clothes to go to
church and then had decided they were too good for that and had stayed at
home.  She told a story of some length about the shabby way Lady Jane had
treated the Duchess, as well as an anecdote in relation to a purchase she
had made in Paris—on her way back from Cannes; made for Lady Egbert, who
had never refunded the money.  Paul Overt suspected her of a tendency to
figure great people as larger than life, until he noticed the manner in
which she handled Lady Egbert, which was so sharply mutinous that it
reassured him.  He felt he should have understood her better if he might
have met her eye; but she scarcely so much as glanced at him.  “Ah here
they come—all the good ones!” she said at last; and Paul Overt admired at
his distance the return of the church-goers—several persons, in couples
and threes, advancing in a flicker of sun and shade at the end of a large
green vista formed by the level grass and the overarching boughs.

“If you mean to imply that _we’re_ bad, I protest,” said one of the
gentlemen—“after making one’s self agreeable all the morning!”

“Ah if they’ve found you agreeable—!” Mrs. St. George gaily cried.  “But
if we’re good the others are better.”

“They must be angels then,” said the amused General.

“Your husband was an angel, the way he went off at your bidding,” the
gentleman who had first spoken declared to Mrs. St. George.

“At my bidding?”

“Didn’t you make him go to church?”

“I never made him do anything in my life but once—when I made him burn up
a bad book.  That’s all!”  At her “That’s all!” our young friend broke
into an irrepressible laugh; it lasted only a second, but it drew her
eyes to him.  His own met them, though not long enough to help him to
understand her; unless it were a step towards this that he saw on the
instant how the burnt book—the way she alluded to it!—would have been one
of her husband’s finest things.

“A bad book?” her interlocutor repeated.

“I didn’t like it.  He went to church because your daughter went,” she
continued to General Fancourt.  “I think it my duty to call your
attention to his extraordinary demonstrations to your daughter.”

“Well, if you don’t mind them I don’t,” the General laughed.

“Il s’attache à ses pas.  But I don’t wonder—she’s so charming.”

“I hope she won’t make him burn any books!” Paul Overt ventured to
exclaim.

“If she’d make him write a few it would be more to the purpose,” said
Mrs. St. George.  “He has been of a laziness of late—!”

Our young man stared—he was so struck with the lady’s phraseology.  Her
“Write a few” seemed to him almost as good as her “That’s all.”  Didn’t
she, as the wife of a rare artist, know what it was to produce one
perfect work of art?  How in the world did she think they were turned on?
His private conviction was that, admirably as Henry St. George wrote, he
had written for the last ten years, and especially for the last five,
only too much, and there was an instant during which he felt inwardly
solicited to make this public.  But before he had spoken a diversion was
effected by the return of the absentees.  They strolled up
dispersedly—there were eight or ten of them—and the circle under the
trees rearranged itself as they took their place in it.  They made it
much larger, so that Paul Overt could feel—he was always feeling that
sort of thing, as he said to himself—that if the company had already been
interesting to watch the interest would now become intense.  He shook
hands with his hostess, who welcomed him without many words, in the
manner of a woman able to trust him to understand and conscious that so
pleasant an occasion would in every way speak for itself.  She offered
him no particular facility for sitting by her, and when they had all
subsided again he found himself still next General Fancourt, with an
unknown lady on his other flank.

“That’s my daughter—that one opposite,” the General said to him without
lose of time.  Overt saw a tall girl, with magnificent red hair, in a
dress of a pretty grey-green tint and of a limp silken texture, a garment
that clearly shirked every modern effect.  It had therefore somehow the
stamp of the latest thing, so that our beholder quickly took her for
nothing if not contemporaneous.

“She’s very handsome—very handsome,” he repeated while he considered her.
There was something noble in her head, and she appeared fresh and strong.

Her good father surveyed her with complacency, remarking soon: “She looks
too hot—that’s her walk.  But she’ll be all right presently.  Then I’ll
make her come over and speak to you.”

“I should be sorry to give you that trouble.  If you were to take me over
_there_—!” the young man murmured.

“My dear sir, do you suppose I put myself out that way?  I don’t mean for
you, but for Marian,” the General added.

“_I_ would put myself out for her soon enough,” Overt replied; after
which he went on: “Will you be so good as to tell me which of those
gentlemen is Henry St. George?”

“The fellow talking to my girl.  By Jove, he _is_ making up to
her—they’re going off for another walk.”

“Ah is that he—really?”  Our friend felt a certain surprise, for the
personage before him seemed to trouble a vision which had been vague only
while not confronted with the reality.  As soon as the reality dawned the
mental image, retiring with a sigh, became substantial enough to suffer a
slight wrong.  Overt, who had spent a considerable part of his short life
in foreign lands, made now, but not for the first time, the reflexion
that whereas in those countries he had almost always recognised the
artist and the man of letters by his personal “type,” the mould of his
face, the character of his head, the expression of his figure and even
the indications of his dress, so in England this identification was as
little as possible a matter of course, thanks to the greater conformity,
the habit of sinking the profession instead of advertising it, the
general diffusion of the air of the gentleman—the gentleman committed to
no particular set of ideas.  More than once, on returning to his own
country, he had said to himself about people met in society: “One sees
them in this place and that, and one even talks with them; but to find
out what they _do_ one would really have to be a detective.”  In respect
to several individuals whose work he was the opposite of “drawn
to”—perhaps he was wrong—he found himself adding “No wonder they conceal
it—when it’s so bad!”  He noted that oftener than in France and in
Germany his artist looked like a gentleman—that is like an English
one—while, certainly outside a few exceptions, his gentlemen didn’t look
like an artist.  St. George was not one of the exceptions; that
circumstance he definitely apprehended before the great man had turned
his back to walk off with Miss Fancourt.  He certainly looked better
behind than any foreign man of letters—showed for beautifully correct in
his tall black hat and his superior frock coat.  Somehow, all the same,
these very garments—he wouldn’t have minded them so much on a
weekday—were disconcerting to Paul Overt, who forgot for the moment that
the head of the profession was not a bit better dressed than himself.  He
had caught a glimpse of a regular face, a fresh colour, a brown moustache
and a pair of eyes surely never visited by a fine frenzy, and he promised
himself to study these denotements on the first occasion.  His
superficial sense was that their owner might have passed for a lucky
stockbroker—a gentleman driving eastward every morning from a sanitary
suburb in a smart dog-cart.  That carried out the impression already
derived from his wife.  Paul’s glance, after a moment, travelled back to
this lady, and he saw how her own had followed her husband as he moved
off with Miss Fancourt.  Overt permitted himself to wonder a little if
she were jealous when another woman took him away.  Then he made out that
Mrs. St. George wasn’t glaring at the indifferent maiden.  Her eyes
rested but on her husband, and with unmistakeable serenity.  That was the
way she wanted him to be—she liked his conventional uniform.  Overt
longed to hear more about the book she had induced him to destroy.



II


AS they all came out from luncheon General Fancourt took hold of him with
an “I say, I want you to know my girl!” as if the idea had just occurred
to him and he hadn’t spoken of it before.  With the other hand he
possessed himself all paternally of the young lady.  “You know all about
him.  I’ve seen you with his books.  She reads everything—everything!” he
went on to Paul.  The girl smiled at him and then laughed at her father.
The General turned away and his daughter spoke—“Isn’t papa delightful?”

“He is indeed, Miss Fancourt.”

“As if I read you because I read ‘everything’!”

“Oh I don’t mean for saying that,” said Paul Overt.  “I liked him from
the moment he began to be kind to me.  Then he promised me this
privilege.”

“It isn’t for you he means it—it’s for me.  If you flatter yourself that
he thinks of anything in life but me you’ll find you’re mistaken.  He
introduces every one.  He thinks me insatiable.”

“You speak just like him,” laughed our youth.

“Ah but sometimes I want to”—and the girl coloured.  “I don’t read
everything—I read very little.  But I _have_ read you.”

“Suppose we go into the gallery,” said Paul Overt.  She pleased him
greatly, not so much because of this last remark—though that of course
was not too disconcerting—as because, seated opposite to him at luncheon,
she had given him for half an hour the impression of her beautiful face.
Something else had come with it—a sense of generosity, of an enthusiasm
which, unlike many enthusiasms, was not all manner.  That was not spoiled
for him by his seeing that the repast had placed her again in familiar
contact with Henry St. George.  Sitting next her this celebrity was also
opposite our young man, who had been able to note that he multiplied the
attentions lately brought by his wife to the General’s notice.  Paul
Overt had gathered as well that this lady was not in the least
discomposed by these fond excesses and that she gave every sign of an
unclouded spirit.  She had Lord Masham on one side of her and on the
other the accomplished Mr. Mulliner, editor of the new high-class lively
evening paper which was expected to meet a want felt in circles
increasingly conscious that Conservatism must be made amusing, and
unconvinced when assured by those of another political colour that it was
already amusing enough.  At the end of an hour spent in her company Paul
Overt thought her still prettier than at the first radiation, and if her
profane allusions to her husband’s work had not still rung in his ears he
should have liked her—so far as it could be a question of that in
connexion with a woman to whom he had not yet spoken and to whom probably
he should never speak if it were left to her.  Pretty women were a clear
need to this genius, and for the hour it was Miss Fancourt who supplied
the want.  If Overt had promised himself a closer view the occasion was
now of the best, and it brought consequences felt by the young man as
important.  He saw more in St. George’s face, which he liked the better
for its not having told its whole story in the first three minutes.  That
story came out as one read, in short instalments—it was excusable that
one’s analogies should be somewhat professional—and the text was a style
considerably involved, a language not easy to translate at sight.  There
were shades of meaning in it and a vague perspective of history which
receded as you advanced.  Two facts Paul had particularly heeded.  The
first of these was that he liked the measured mask much better at
inscrutable rest than in social agitation; its almost convulsive smile
above all displeased him (as much as any impression from that source
could), whereas the quiet face had a charm that grew in proportion as
stillness settled again.  The change to the expression of gaiety excited,
he made out, very much the private protest of a person sitting gratefully
in the twilight when the lamp is brought in too soon.  His second
reflexion was that, though generally averse to the flagrant use of
ingratiating arts by a man of age “making up” to a pretty girl, he was
not in this case too painfully affected: which seemed to prove either
that St. George had a light hand or the air of being younger than he was,
or else that Miss Fancourt’s own manner somehow made everything right.

Overt walked with her into the gallery, and they strolled to the end of
it, looking at the pictures, the cabinets, the charming vista, which
harmonised with the prospect of the summer afternoon, resembling it by a
long brightness, with great divans and old chairs that figured hours of
rest.  Such a place as that had the added merit of giving those who came
into it plenty to talk about.  Miss Fancourt sat down with her new
acquaintance on a flowered sofa, the cushions of which, very numerous,
were tight ancient cubes of many sizes, and presently said: “I’m so glad
to have a chance to thank you.”

“To thank me—?”  He had to wonder.

“I liked your book so much.  I think it splendid.”

She sat there smiling at him, and he never asked himself which book she
meant; for after all he had written three or four.  That seemed a vulgar
detail, and he wasn’t even gratified by the idea of the pleasure she told
him—her handsome bright face told him—he had given her.  The feeling she
appealed to, or at any rate the feeling she excited, was something
larger, something that had little to do with any quickened pulsation of
his own vanity.  It was responsive admiration of the life she embodied,
the young purity and richness of which appeared to imply that real
success was to resemble _that_, to live, to bloom, to present the
perfection of a fine type, not to have hammered out headachy fancies with
a bent back at an ink-stained table.  While her grey eyes rested on
him—there was a wideish space between these, and the division of her
rich-coloured hair, so thick that it ventured to be smooth, made a free
arch above them—he was almost ashamed of that exercise of the pen which
it was her present inclination to commend.  He was conscious he should
have liked better to please her in some other way.  The lines of her face
were those of a woman grown, but the child lingered on in her complexion
and in the sweetness of her mouth.  Above all she was natural—that was
indubitable now; more natural than he had supposed at first, perhaps on
account of her æsthetic toggery, which was conventionally unconventional,
suggesting what he might have called a tortuous spontaneity.  He had
feared that sort of thing in other cases, and his fears had been
justified; for, though he was an artist to the essence, the modern
reactionary nymph, with the brambles of the woodland caught in her folds
and a look as if the satyrs had toyed with her hair, made him shrink not
as a man of starch and patent leather, but as a man potentially himself a
poet or even a faun.  The girl was really more candid than her costume,
and the best proof of it was her supposing her liberal character suited
by any uniform.  This was a fallacy, since if she was draped as a
pessimist he was sure she liked the taste of life.  He thanked her for
her appreciation—aware at the same time that he didn’t appear to thank
her enough and that she might think him ungracious.  He was afraid she
would ask him to explain something he had written, and he always winced
at that—perhaps too timidly—for to his own ear the explanation of a work
of art sounded fatuous.  But he liked her so much as to feel a confidence
that in the long run he should be able to show her he wasn’t rudely
evasive.  Moreover she surely wasn’t quick to take offence, wasn’t
irritable; she could be trusted to wait.  So when he said to her, “Ah
don’t talk of anything I’ve done, don’t talk of it _here_; there’s
another man in the house who’s the actuality!”—when he uttered this short
sincere protest it was with the sense that she would see in the words
neither mock humility nor the impatience of a successful man bored with
praise.

“You mean Mr. St. George—isn’t he delightful?”

Paul Overt met her eyes, which had a cool morning-light that would have
half-broken his heart if he hadn’t been so young.  “Alas I don’t know
him.  I only admire him at a distance.”

“Oh you must know him—he wants so to talk to you,” returned Miss
Fancourt, who evidently had the habit of saying the things that, by her
quick calculation, would give people pleasure.  Paul saw how she would
always calculate on everything’s being simple between others.

“I shouldn’t have supposed he knew anything about me,” he professed.

“He does then—everything.  And if he didn’t I should be able to tell
him.”

“To tell him everything?” our friend smiled.

“You talk just like the people in your book!” she answered.

“Then they must all talk alike.”

She thought a moment, not a bit disconcerted.  “Well, it must be so
difficult.  Mr. St. George tells me it _is_—terribly.  I’ve tried too—and
I find it so.  I’ve tried to write a novel.”

“Mr. St. George oughtn’t to discourage you,” Paul went so far as to say.

“You do much more—when you wear that expression.”

“Well, after all, why try to be an artist?” the young man pursued.  “It’s
so poor—so poor!”

“I don’t know what you mean,” said Miss Fancourt, who looked grave.

“I mean as compared with being a person of action—as living your works.”

“But what’s art but an intense life—if it be real?” she asked.  “I think
it’s the only one—everything else is so clumsy!”  Her companion laughed,
and she brought out with her charming serenity what next struck her.
“It’s so interesting to meet so many celebrated people.”

“So I should think—but surely it isn’t new to you.”

“Why I’ve never seen any one—any one: living always in Asia.”

The way she talked of Asia somehow enchanted him.  “But doesn’t that
continent swarm with great figures?  Haven’t you administered provinces
in India and had captive rajahs and tributary princes chained to your
car?”

It was as if she didn’t care even _should_ he amuse himself at her cost.
“I was with my father, after I left school to go out there.  It was
delightful being with him—we’re alone together in the world, he and I—but
there was none of the society I like best.  One never heard of a
picture—never of a book, except bad ones.”

“Never of a picture?  Why, wasn’t all life a picture?”

She looked over the delightful place where they sat.  “Nothing to compare
to this.  I adore England!” she cried.

It fairly stirred in him the sacred chord.  “Ah of course I don’t deny
that we must do something with her, poor old dear, yet.”

“She hasn’t been touched, really,” said the girl.

“Did Mr. St. George say that?”

There was a small and, as he felt, harmless spark of irony in his
question; which, however, she answered very simply, not noticing the
insinuation.  “Yes, he says England hasn’t been touched—not considering
all there is,” she went on eagerly.  “He’s so interesting about our
country.  To listen to him makes one want so to do something.”

“It would make _me_ want to,” said Paul Overt, feeling strongly, on the
instant, the suggestion of what she said and that of the emotion with
which she said it, and well aware of what an incentive, on St. George’s
lips, such a speech might be.

“Oh you—as if you hadn’t!  I should like so to hear you talk together,”
she added ardently.

“That’s very genial of you; but he’d have it all his own way.  I’m
prostrate before him.”

She had an air of earnestness.  “Do you think then he’s so perfect?”

“Far from it.  Some of his later books seem to me of a queerness—!”

“Yes, yes—he knows that.”

Paul Overt stared.  “That they seem to me of a queerness—!”

“Well yes, or at any rate that they’re not what they should be.  He told
me he didn’t esteem them.  He has told me such wonderful things—he’s so
interesting.”

There was a certain shock for Paul Overt in the knowledge that the fine
genius they were talking of had been reduced to so explicit a confession
and had made it, in his misery, to the first comer; for though Miss
Fancourt was charming what was she after all but an immature girl
encountered at a country-house?  Yet precisely this was part of the
sentiment he himself had just expressed: he would make way completely for
the poor peccable great man not because he didn’t read him clear, but
altogether because he did.  His consideration was half composed of
tenderness for superficialities which he was sure their perpetrator
judged privately, judged more ferociously than any one, and which
represented some tragic intellectual secret.  He would have his reasons
for his psychology à fleur de peau, and these reasons could only be cruel
ones, such as would make him dearer to those who already were fond of
him.  “You excite my envy.  I have my reserves, I discriminate—but I love
him,” Paul said in a moment.  “And seeing him for the first time this way
is a great event for me.”

“How momentous—how magnificent!” cried the girl.  “How delicious to bring
you together!”

“Your doing it—that makes it perfect,” our friend returned.

“He’s as eager as you,” she went on.  “But it’s so odd you shouldn’t have
met.”

“It’s not really so odd as it strikes you.  I’ve been out of England so
much—made repeated absences all these last years.”

She took this in with interest.  “And yet you write of it as well as if
you were always here.”

“It’s just the being away perhaps.  At any rate the best bits, I suspect,
are those that were done in dreary places abroad.”

“And why were they dreary?”

“Because they were health-resorts—where my poor mother was dying.”

“Your poor mother?”—she was all sweet wonder.

“We went from place to place to help her to get better.  But she never
did.  To the deadly Riviera (I hate it!) to the high Alps, to Algiers,
and far away—a hideous journey—to Colorado.”

“And she isn’t better?” Miss Fancourt went on.

“She died a year ago.”

“Really?—like mine!  Only that’s years since.  Some day you must tell me
about your mother,” she added.

He could at first, on this, only gaze at her.  “What right things you
say!  If you say them to St. George I don’t wonder he’s in bondage.”

It pulled her up for a moment.  “I don’t know what you mean.  He doesn’t
make speeches and professions at all—he isn’t ridiculous.”

“I’m afraid you consider then that I am.”

“No, I don’t”—she spoke it rather shortly.  And then she added: “He
understands—understands everything.”

The young man was on the point of saying jocosely: “And I don’t—is that
it?”  But these words, in time, changed themselves to others slightly
less trivial: “Do you suppose he understands his wife?”

Miss Fancourt made no direct answer, but after a moment’s hesitation put
it: “Isn’t she charming?”

“Not in the least!”

“Here he comes.  Now you must know him,” she went on.  A small group of
visitors had gathered at the other end of the gallery and had been there
overtaken by Henry St. George, who strolled in from a neighbouring room.
He stood near them a moment, not falling into the talk but taking up an
old miniature from a table and vaguely regarding it.  At the end of a
minute he became aware of Miss Fancourt and her companion in the
distance; whereupon, laying down his miniature, he approached them with
the same procrastinating air, his hands in his pockets and his eyes
turned, right and left, to the pictures.  The gallery was so long that
this transit took some little time, especially as there was a moment when
he stopped to admire the fine Gainsborough.  “He says Mrs. St. George has
been the making of him,” the girl continued in a voice slightly lowered.

“Ah he’s often obscure!” Paul laughed.

“Obscure?” she repeated as if she heard it for the first time.  Her eyes
rested on her other friend, and it wasn’t lost upon Paul that they
appeared to send out great shafts of softness.  “He’s going to speak to
us!” she fondly breathed.  There was a sort of rapture in her voice, and
our friend was startled.  “Bless my soul, does she care for him like
_that_?—is she in love with him?” he mentally enquired.  “Didn’t I tell
you he was eager?” she had meanwhile asked of him.

“It’s eagerness dissimulated,” the young man returned as the subject of
their observation lingered before his Gainsborough.  “He edges toward us
shyly.  Does he mean that she saved him by burning that book?”

“That book? what book did she burn?”  The girl quickly turned her face to
him.

“Hasn’t he told you then?”

“Not a word.”

“Then he doesn’t tell you everything!”  Paul had guessed that she pretty
much supposed he did.  The great man had now resumed his course and come
nearer; in spite of which his more qualified admirer risked a profane
observation: “St. George and the Dragon is what the anecdote suggests!”

His companion, however, didn’t hear it; she smiled at the dragon’s
adversary.  “He _is_ eager—he is!” she insisted.

“Eager for you—yes.”

But meanwhile she had called out: “I’m sure you want to know Mr. Overt.
You’ll be great friends, and it will always be delightful to me to
remember I was here when you first met and that I had something to do
with it.”

There was a freshness of intention in the words that carried them off;
nevertheless our young man was sorry for Henry St. George, as he was
sorry at any time for any person publicly invited to be responsive and
delightful.  He would have been so touched to believe that a man he
deeply admired should care a straw for him that he wouldn’t play with
such a presumption if it were possibly vain.  In a single glance of the
eye of the pardonable Master he read—having the sort of divination that
belonged to his talent—that this personage had ever a store of friendly
patience, which was part of his rich outfit, but was versed in no printed
page of a rising scribbler.  There was even a relief, a simplification,
in that: liking him so much already for what he had done, how could one
have liked him any more for a perception which must at the best have been
vague?  Paul Overt got up, trying to show his compassion, but at the same
instant he found himself encompassed by St. George’s happy personal art—a
manner of which it was the essence to conjure away false positions.  It
all took place in a moment.  Paul was conscious that he knew him now,
conscious of his handshake and of the very quality of his hand; of his
face, seen nearer and consequently seen better, of a general fraternising
assurance, and in particular of the circumstance that St. George didn’t
dislike him (as yet at least) for being imposed by a charming but too
gushing girl, attractive enough without such danglers.  No irritation at
any rate was reflected in the voice with which he questioned Miss
Fancourt as to some project of a walk—a general walk of the company round
the park.  He had soon said something to Paul about a talk—“We must have
a tremendous lot of talk; there are so many things, aren’t there?”—but
our friend could see this idea wouldn’t in the present case take very
immediate effect.  All the same he was extremely happy, even after the
matter of the walk had been settled—the three presently passed back to
the other part of the gallery, where it was discussed with several
members of the party; even when, after they had all gone out together, he
found himself for half an hour conjoined with Mrs. St. George.  Her
husband had taken the advance with Miss Fancourt, and this pair were
quite out of sight.  It was the prettiest of rambles for a summer
afternoon—a grassy circuit, of immense extent, skirting the limit of the
park within.  The park was completely surrounded by its old mottled but
perfect red wall, which, all the way on their left, constituted in itself
an object of interest.  Mrs. St. George mentioned to him the surprising
number of acres thus enclosed, together with numerous other facts
relating to the property and the family, and the family’s other
properties: she couldn’t too strongly urge on him the importance of
seeing their other houses.  She ran over the names of these and rang the
changes on them with the facility of practice, making them appear an
almost endless list.  She had received Paul Overt very amiably on his
breaking ground with her by the mention of his joy in having just made
her husband’s acquaintance, and struck him as so alert and so
accommodating a little woman that he was rather ashamed of his _mot_
about her to Miss Fancourt; though he reflected that a hundred other
people, on a hundred occasions, would have been sure to make it.  He got
on with Ms. St. George, in short, better than he expected; but this
didn’t prevent her suddenly becoming aware that she was faint with
fatigue and must take her way back to the house by the shortest cut.  She
professed that she hadn’t the strength of a kitten and was a miserable
wreck; a character he had been too preoccupied to discern in her while he
wondered in what sense she could be held to have been the making of her
husband.  He had arrived at a glimmering of the answer when she announced
that she must leave him, though this perception was of course
provisional.  While he was in the very act of placing himself at her
disposal for the return the situation underwent a change; Lord Masham had
suddenly turned up, coming back to them, overtaking them, emerging from
the shrubbery—Overt could scarcely have said how he appeared—and Mrs. St.
George had protested that she wanted to be left alone and not to break up
the party.  A moment later she was walking off with Lord Masham.  Our
friend fell back and joined Lady Watermouth, to whom he presently
mentioned that Mrs. St. George had been obliged to renounce the attempt
to go further.

“She oughtn’t to have come out at all,” her ladyship rather grumpily
remarked.

“Is she so very much of an invalid?”

“Very bad indeed.”  And his hostess added with still greater austerity:
“She oughtn’t really to come to one!”  He wondered what was implied by
this, and presently gathered that it was not a reflexion on the lady’s
conduct or her moral nature: it only represented that her strength was
not equal to her aspirations.



III


THE smoking-room at Summersoft was on the scale of the rest of the place;
high light commodious and decorated with such refined old carvings and
mouldings that it seemed rather a bower for ladies who should sit at work
at fading crewels than a parliament of gentlemen smoking strong cigars.
The gentlemen mustered there in considerable force on the Sunday evening,
collecting mainly at one end, in front of one of the cool fair fireplaces
of white marble, the entablature of which was adorned with a delicate
little Italian “subject.”  There was another in the wall that faced it,
and, thanks to the mild summer night, a fire in neither; but a nucleus
for aggregation was furnished on one side by a table in the
chimney-corner laden with bottles, decanters and tall tumblers.  Paul
Overt was a faithless smoker; he would puff a cigarette for reasons with
which tobacco had nothing to do.  This was particularly the case on the
occasion of which I speak; his motive was the vision of a little direct
talk with Henry St. George.  The “tremendous” communion of which the
great man had held out hopes to him earlier in the day had not yet come
off, and this saddened him considerably, for the party was to go its
several ways immediately after breakfast on the morrow.  He had, however,
the disappointment of finding that apparently the author of “Shadowmere”
was not disposed to prolong his vigil.  He wasn’t among the gentlemen
assembled when Paul entered, nor was he one of those who turned up, in
bright habiliments, during the next ten minutes.  The young man waited a
little, wondering if he had only gone to put on something extraordinary;
this would account for his delay as well as contribute further to Overt’s
impression of his tendency to do the approved superficial thing.  But he
didn’t arrive—he must have been putting on something more extraordinary
than was probable.  Our hero gave him up, feeling a little injured, a
little wounded, at this loss of twenty coveted words.  He wasn’t angry,
but he puffed his cigarette sighingly, with the sense of something rare
possibly missed.  He wandered away with his regret and moved slowly round
the room, looking at the old prints on the walls.  In this attitude he
presently felt a hand on his shoulder and a friendly voice in his ear
“This is good.  I hoped I should find you.  I came down on purpose.”  St.
George was there without a change of dress and with a fine face—his
graver one—to which our young man all in a flutter responded.  He
explained that it was only for the Master—the idea of a little talk—that
he had sat up, and that, not finding him, he had been on the point of
going to bed.

“Well, you know, I don’t smoke—my wife doesn’t let me,” said St. George,
looking for a place to sit down.  “It’s very good for me—very good for
me.  Let us take that sofa.”

“Do you mean smoking’s good for you?”

“No no—her not letting me.  It’s a great thing to have a wife who’s so
sure of all the things one can do without.  One might never find them out
one’s self.  She doesn’t allow me to touch a cigarette.”  They took
possession of a sofa at a distance from the group of smokers, and St.
George went on: “Have you got one yourself?”

“Do you mean a cigarette?”

“Dear no—a wife.”

“No; and yet I’d give up my cigarette for one.”

“You’d give up a good deal more than that,” St. George returned.
“However, you’d get a great deal in return.  There’s a something to be
said for wives,” he added, folding his arms and crossing his outstretched
legs.  He declined tobacco altogether and sat there without returning
fire.  His companion stopped smoking, touched by his courtesy; and after
all they were out of the fumes, their sofa was in a far-away corner.  It
would have been a mistake, St. George went on, a great mistake for them
to have separated without a little chat; “for I know all about you,” he
said, “I know you’re very remarkable.  You’ve written a very
distinguished book.”

“And how do you know it?” Paul asked.

“Why, my dear fellow, it’s in the air, it’s in the papers, it’s
everywhere.”  St. George spoke with the immediate familiarity of a
confrère—a tone that seemed to his neighbour the very rustle of the
laurel.  “You’re on all men’s lips and, what’s better, on all women’s.
And I’ve just been reading your book.”

“Just?  You hadn’t read it this afternoon,” said Overt.

“How do you know that?”

“I think you should know how I know it,” the young man laughed.

“I suppose Miss Fancourt told you.”

“No indeed—she led me rather to suppose you had.”

“Yes—that’s much more what she’d do.  Doesn’t she shed a rosy glow over
life?  But you didn’t believe her?” asked St. George.

“No, not when you came to us there.”

“Did I pretend? did I pretend badly?”  But without waiting for an answer
to this St. George went on: “You ought always to believe such a girl as
that—always, always.  Some women are meant to be taken with allowances
and reserves; but you must take _her_ just as she is.”

“I like her very much,” said Paul Overt.

Something in his tone appeared to excite on his companion’s part a
momentary sense of the absurd; perhaps it was the air of deliberation
attending this judgement.  St. George broke into a laugh to reply.  “It’s
the best thing you can do with her.  She’s a rare young lady!  In point
of fact, however, I confess I hadn’t read you this afternoon.”

“Then you see how right I was in this particular case not to believe Miss
Fancourt.”

“How right? how can I agree to that when I lost credit by it?”

“Do you wish to pass exactly for what she represents you?  Certainly you
needn’t be afraid,” Paul said.

“Ah, my dear young man, don’t talk about passing—for the likes of me!
I’m passing away—nothing else than that.  She has a better use for her
young imagination (isn’t it fine?) than in ‘representing’ in any way such
a weary wasted used-up animal!”  The Master spoke with a sudden sadness
that produced a protest on Paul’s part; but before the protest could be
uttered he went on, reverting to the latter’s striking novel: “I had no
idea you were so good—one hears of so many things.  But you’re
surprisingly good.”

“I’m going to be surprisingly better,” Overt made bold to reply.

“I see that, and it’s what fetches me.  I don’t see so much else—as one
looks about—that’s going to be surprisingly better.  They’re going to be
consistently worse—most of the things.  It’s so much easier to be
worse—heaven knows I’ve found it so.  I’m not in a great glow, you know,
about what’s breaking out all over the place.  But you _must_ be
better—you really must keep it up.  I haven’t of course.  It’s very
difficult—that’s the devil of the whole thing, keeping it up.  But I see
you’ll be able to.  It will be a great disgrace if you don’t.”

“It’s very interesting to hear you speak of yourself; but I don’t know
what you mean by your allusions to your having fallen off,” Paul Overt
observed with pardonable hypocrisy.  He liked his companion so much now
that the fact of any decline of talent or of care had ceased for the
moment to be vivid to him.

“Don’t say that—don’t say that,” St. George returned gravely, his head
resting on the top of the sofa-back and his eyes on the ceiling.  “You
know perfectly what I mean.  I haven’t read twenty pages of your book
without seeing that you can’t help it.”

“You make me very miserable,” Paul ecstatically breathed.

“I’m glad of that, for it may serve as a kind of warning.  Shocking
enough it must be, especially to a young fresh mind, full of faith—the
spectacle of a man meant for better things sunk at my age in such
dishonour.”  St. George, in the same contemplative attitude, spoke softly
but deliberately, and without perceptible emotion.  His tone indeed
suggested an impersonal lucidity that was practically cruel—cruel to
himself—and made his young friend lay an argumentative hand on his arm.
But he went on while his eyes seemed to follow the graces of the
eighteenth-century ceiling: “Look at me well, take my lesson to heart—for
it _is_ a lesson.  Let that good come of it at least that you shudder
with your pitiful impression, and that this may help to keep you straight
in the future.  Don’t become in your old age what I have in mine—the
depressing, the deplorable illustration of the worship of false gods!”

“What do you mean by your old age?” the young man asked.

“It has made me old.  But I like your youth.”

Paul answered nothing—they sat for a minute in silence.  They heard the
others going on about the governmental majority.  Then “What do you mean
by false gods?” he enquired.

His companion had no difficulty whatever in saying, “The idols of the
market; money and luxury and ‘the world;’ placing one’s children and
dressing one’s wife; everything that drives one to the short and easy
way.  Ah the vile things they make one do!”

“But surely one’s right to want to place one’s children.”

“One has no business to have any children,” St. George placidly declared.
“I mean of course if one wants to do anything good.”

“But aren’t they an inspiration—an incentive?”

“An incentive to damnation, artistically speaking.”

“You touch on very deep things—things I should like to discuss with you,”
Paul said.  “I should like you to tell me volumes about yourself.  This
is a great feast for _me_!”

“Of course it is, cruel youth.  But to show you I’m still not incapable,
degraded as I am, of an act of faith, I’ll tie my vanity to the stake for
you and burn it to ashes.  You must come and see me—you must come and see
us,” the Master quickly substituted.  “Mrs. St. George is charming; I
don’t know whether you’ve had any opportunity to talk with her.  She’ll
be delighted to see you; she likes great celebrities, whether incipient
or predominant.  You must come and dine—my wife will write to you.  Where
are you to be found?”

“This is my little address”—and Overt drew out his pocketbook and
extracted a visiting-card.  On second thoughts, however, he kept it back,
remarking that he wouldn’t trouble his friend to take charge of it but
would come and see him straightway in London and leave it at his door if
he should fail to obtain entrance.

“Ah you’ll probably fail; my wife’s always out—or when she isn’t out is
knocked up from having been out.  You must come and dine—though that
won’t do much good either, for my wife insists on big dinners.”  St.
George turned it over further, but then went on: “You must come down and
see us in the country, that’s the best way; we’ve plenty of room, and it
isn’t bad.”

“You’ve a house in the country?” Paul asked enviously.

“Ah not like this!  But we have a sort of place we go to—an hour from
Euston.  That’s one of the reasons.”

“One of the reasons?”

“Why my books are so bad.”

“You must tell me all the others!” Paul longingly laughed.

His friend made no direct rejoinder to this, but spoke again abruptly.
“Why have I never seen you before?”

The tone of the question was singularly flattering to our hero, who felt
it to imply the great man’s now perceiving he had for years missed
something.  “Partly, I suppose, because there has been no particular
reason why you should see me.  I haven’t lived in the world—in your
world.  I’ve spent many years out of England, in different places
abroad.”

“Well, please don’t do it any more.  You must do England—there’s such a
lot of it.”

“Do you mean I must write about it?” and Paul struck the note of the
listening candour of a child.

“Of course you must.  And tremendously well, do you mind?  That takes off
a little of my esteem for this thing of yours—that it goes on abroad.
Hang ‘abroad!’  Stay at home and do things here—do subjects we can
measure.”

“I’ll do whatever you tell me,” Overt said, deeply attentive.  “But
pardon me if I say I don’t understand how you’ve been reading my book,”
he added.  “I’ve had you before me all the afternoon, first in that long
walk, then at tea on the lawn, till we went to dress for dinner, and all
the evening at dinner and in this place.”

St. George turned his face about with a smile.  “I gave it but a quarter
of an hour.”

“A quarter of an hour’s immense, but I don’t understand where you put it
in.  In the drawing-room after dinner you weren’t reading—you were
talking to Miss Fancourt.”

“It comes to the same thing, because we talked about ‘Ginistrella.’  She
described it to me—she lent me her copy.”

“Lent it to you?”

“She travels with it.”

“It’s incredible,” Paul blushed.

“It’s glorious for you, but it also turned out very well for me.  When
the ladies went off to bed she kindly offered to send the book down to
me.  Her maid brought it to me in the hall and I went to my room with it.
I hadn’t thought of coming here, I do that so little.  But I don’t sleep
early, I always have to read an hour or two.  I sat down to your novel on
the spot, without undressing, without taking off anything but my coat.  I
think that’s a sign my curiosity had been strongly roused about it.  I
read a quarter of an hour, as I tell you, and even in a quarter of an
hour I was greatly struck.”

“Ah the beginning isn’t very good—it’s the whole thing!” said Overt, who
had listened to this recital with extreme interest.  “And you laid down
the book and came after me?” he asked.

“That’s the way it moved me.  I said to myself ‘I see it’s off his own
bat, and he’s there, by the way, and the day’s over and I haven’t said
twenty words to him.’  It occurred to me that you’d probably be in the
smoking-room and that it wouldn’t be too late to repair my omission.  I
wanted to do something civil to you, so I put on my coat and came down.
I shall read your book again when I go up.”

Our friend faced round in his place—he was touched as he had scarce ever
been by the picture of such a demonstration in his favour.  “You’re
really the kindest of men.  Cela s’est passé comme ça?—and I’ve been
sitting here with you all this time and never apprehended it and never
thanked you!”

“Thank Miss Fancourt—it was she who wound me up.  She has made me feel as
if I had read your novel.”

“She’s an angel from heaven!” Paul declared.

“She is indeed.  I’ve never seen any one like her.  Her interest in
literature’s touching—something quite peculiar to herself; she takes it
all so seriously.  She feels the arts and she wants to feel them more.
To those who practise them it’s almost humiliating—her curiosity, her
sympathy, her good faith.  How can anything be as fine as she supposes
it?”

“She’s a rare organisation,” the younger man sighed.

“The richest I’ve ever seen—an artistic intelligence really of the first
order.  And lodged in such a form!” St. George exclaimed.

“One would like to represent such a girl as that,” Paul continued.

“Ah there it is—there’s nothing like life!” said his companion.  “When
you’re finished, squeezed dry and used up and you think the sack’s empty,
you’re still appealed to, you still get touches and thrills, the idea
springs up—out of the lap of the actual—and shows you there’s always
something to be done.  But I shan’t do it—she’s not for me!”

“How do you mean, not for you?”

“Oh it’s all over—she’s for you, if you like.”

“Ah much less!” said Paul.  “She’s not for a dingy little man of letters;
she’s for the world, the bright rich world of bribes and rewards.  And
the world will take hold of her—it will carry her away.”

“It will try—but it’s just a case in which there may be a fight.  It
would be worth fighting, for a man who had it in him, with youth and
talent on his side.”

These words rang not a little in Paul Overt’s consciousness—they held him
briefly silent.  “It’s a wonder she has remained as she is; giving
herself away so—with so much to give away.”

“Remaining, you mean, so ingenuous—so natural?  Oh she doesn’t care a
straw—she gives away because she overflows.  She has her own feelings,
her own standards; she doesn’t keep remembering that she must be proud.
And then she hasn’t been here long enough to be spoiled; she has picked
up a fashion or two, but only the amusing ones.  She’s a provincial—a
provincial of genius,” St. George went on; “her very blunders are
charming, her mistakes are interesting.  She has come back from Asia with
all sorts of excited curiosities and unappeased appetities.  She’s
first-rate herself and she expends herself on the second-rate.  She’s
life herself and she takes a rare interest in imitations.  She mixes all
things up, but there are none in regard to which she hasn’t perceptions.
She sees things in a perspective—as if from the top of the Himalayas—and
she enlarges everything she touches.  Above all she exaggerates—to
herself, I mean.  She exaggerates you and me!”

There was nothing in that description to allay the agitation caused in
our younger friend by such a sketch of a fine subject.  It seemed to him
to show the art of St. George’s admired hand, and he lost himself in
gazing at the vision—this hovered there before him—of a woman’s figure
which should be part of the glory of a novel.  But at the end of a moment
the thing had turned into smoke, and out of the smoke—the last puff of a
big cigar—proceeded the voice of General Fancourt, who had left the
others and come and planted himself before the gentlemen on the sofa.  “I
suppose that when you fellows get talking you sit up half the night.”

“Half the night?—jamais de la vie!  I follow a hygiene”—and St. George
rose to his feet.

“I see—you’re hothouse plants,” laughed the General.  “That’s the way you
produce your flowers.”

“I produce mine between ten and one every morning—I bloom with a
regularity!” St. George went on.

“And with a splendour!” added the polite General, while Paul noted how
little the author of “Shadowmere” minded, as he phrased it to himself,
when addressed as a celebrated story-teller.  The young man had an idea
_he_ should never get used to that; it would always make him
uncomfortable—from the suspicion that people would think they had to—and
he would want to prevent it.  Evidently his great colleague had toughened
and hardened—had made himself a surface.  The group of men had finished
their cigars and taken up their bedroom candlesticks; but before they all
passed out Lord Watermouth invited the pair of guests who had been so
absorbed together to “have” something.  It happened that they both
declined; upon which General Fancourt said: “Is that the hygiene?  You
don’t water the flowers?”

“Oh I should drown them!” St. George replied; but, leaving the room still
at his young friend’s side, he added whimsically, for the latter’s
benefit, in a lower tone: “My wife doesn’t let me.”

“Well I’m glad I’m not one of you fellows!” the General richly concluded.

The nearness of Summersoft to London had this consequence, chilling to a
person who had had a vision of sociability in a railway-carriage, that
most of the company, after breakfast, drove back to town, entering their
own vehicles, which had come out to fetch them, while their servants
returned by train with their luggage.  Three or four young men, among
whom was Paul Overt, also availed themselves of the common convenience;
but they stood in the portico of the house and saw the others roll away.
Miss Fancourt got into a victoria with her father after she had shaken
hands with our hero and said, smiling in the frankest way in the world,
“I _must_ see you more.  Mrs. St. George is so nice: she has promised to
ask us both to dinner together.”  This lady and her husband took their
places in a perfectly-appointed brougham—she required a closed
carriage—and as our young man waved his hat to them in response to their
nods and flourishes he reflected that, taken together, they were an
honourable image of success, of the material rewards and the social
credit of literature.  Such things were not the full measure, but he
nevertheless felt a little proud for literature.



IV


Before a week had elapsed he met Miss Fancourt in Bond Street, at a
private view of the works of a young artist in “black-and-white” who had
been so good as to invite him to the stuffy scene.  The drawings were
admirable, but the crowd in the one little room was so dense that he felt
himself up to his neck in a sack of wool.  A fringe of people at the
outer edge endeavoured by curving forward their backs and presenting,
below them, a still more convex surface of resistance to the pressure of
the mass, to preserve an interval between their noses and the glazed
mounts of the pictures; while the central body, in the comparative gloom
projected by a wide horizontal screen hung under the skylight and
allowing only a margin for the day, remained upright dense and vague,
lost in the contemplation of its own ingredients.  This contemplation sat
especially in the sad eyes of certain female heads, surmounted with hats
of strange convolution and plumage, which rose on long necks above the
others.  One of the heads Paul perceived, was much the so most beautiful
of the collection, and his next discovery was that it belonged to Miss
Fancourt.  Its beauty was enhanced by the glad smile she sent him across
surrounding obstructions, a smile that drew him to her as fast as he
could make his way.  He had seen for himself at Summersoft that the last
thing her nature contained was an affectation of indifference; yet even
with this circumspection he took a fresh satisfaction in her not having
pretended to await his arrival with composure.  She smiled as radiantly
as if she wished to make him hurry, and as soon as he came within earshot
she broke out in her voice of joy: “He’s here—he’s here—he’s coming back
in a moment!”

“Ah your father?” Paul returned as she offered him her hand.

“Oh dear no, this isn’t in my poor father’s line.  I mean Mr. St. George.
He has just left me to speak to some one—he’s coming back.  It’s he who
brought me—wasn’t it charming?”

“Ah that gives him a pull over me—I couldn’t have ‘brought’ you, could
I?”

“If you had been so kind as to propose it—why not you as well as he?” the
girl returned with a face that, expressing no cheap coquetry, simply
affirmed a happy fact.

“Why he’s a père de famille.  They’ve privileges,” Paul explained.  And
then quickly: “Will you go to see places with _me_?” he asked.

“Anything you like!” she smiled.  “I know what you mean, that girls have
to have a lot of people—”  Then she broke off: “I don’t know; I’m free.
I’ve always been like that—I can go about with any one.  I’m so glad to
meet you,” she added with a sweet distinctness that made those near her
turn round.

“Let me at least repay that speech by taking you out of this squash,” her
friend said.  “Surely people aren’t happy here!”

“No, they’re awfully mornes, aren’t they?  But I’m very happy indeed and
I promised Mr. St. George to remain in this spot till he comes back.
He’s going to take me away.  They send him invitations for things of this
sort—more than he wants.  It was so kind of him to think of me.”

“They also send me invitations of this kind—more than _I_ want.  And if
thinking of _you_ will do it—!” Paul went on.

“Oh I delight in them—everything that’s life—everything that’s London!”

“They don’t have private views in Asia, I suppose,” he laughed.  “But
what a pity that for this year, even in this gorged city, they’re pretty
well over.”

“Well, next year will do, for I hope you believe we’re going to be
friends always.  Here he comes!” Miss Fancourt continued before Paul had
time to respond.

He made out St. George in the gaps of the crowd, and this perhaps led to
his hurrying a little to say: “I hope that doesn’t mean I’m to wait till
next year to see you.”

“No, no—aren’t we to meet at dinner on the twenty-fifth?” she panted with
an eagerness as happy as his own.

“That’s almost next year.  Is there no means of seeing you before?”

She stared with all her brightness.  “Do you mean you’d _come_?”

“Like a shot, if you’ll be so good as to ask me!”

“On Sunday then—this next Sunday?”

“What have I done that you should doubt it?” the young man asked with
delight.

Miss Fancourt turned instantly to St. George, who had now joined them,
and announced triumphantly: “He’s coming on Sunday—this next Sunday!”

“Ah my day—my day too!” said the famous novelist, laughing, to their
companion.

“Yes, but not yours only.  You shall meet in Manchester Square; you shall
talk—you shall be wonderful!”

“We don’t meet often enough,” St. George allowed, shaking hands with his
disciple.  “Too many things—ah too many things!  But we must make it up
in the country in September.  You won’t forget you’ve promised me that?”

“Why he’s coming on the twenty-fifth—you’ll see him then,” said the girl.

“On the twenty-fifth?” St. George asked vaguely.

“We dine with you; I hope you haven’t forgotten.  He’s dining out that
day,” she added gaily to Paul.

“Oh bless me, yes—that’s charming!  And you’re coming?  My wife didn’t
tell me,” St. George said to him.  “Too many things—too many things!” he
repeated.

“Too many people—too many people!” Paul exclaimed, giving ground before
the penetration of an elbow.

“You oughtn’t to say that.  They all read you.”

“Me?  I should like to see them!  Only two or three at most,” the young
man returned.

“Did you ever hear anything like that?  He knows, haughtily, how good he
is!” St. George declared, laughing to Miss Fancourt.  “They read _me_,
but that doesn’t make me like them any better.  Come away from them, come
away!”  And he led the way out of the exhibition.

“He’s going to take me to the Park,” Miss Fancourt observed to Overt with
elation as they passed along the corridor that led to the street.

“Ah does he go there?” Paul asked, taking the fact for a somewhat
unexpected illustration of St. George’s moeurs.

“It’s a beautiful day—there’ll be a great crowd.  We’re going to look at
the people, to look at types,” the girl went on.  “We shall sit under the
trees; we shall walk by the Row.”

“I go once a year—on business,” said St. George, who had overheard Paul’s
question.

“Or with a country cousin, didn’t you tell me?  I’m the country cousin!”
she continued over her shoulder to Paul as their friend drew her toward a
hansom to which he had signalled.  The young man watched them get in; he
returned, as he stood there, the friendly wave of the hand with which,
ensconced in the vehicle beside her, St. George took leave of him.  He
even lingered to see the vehicle start away and lose itself in the
confusion of Bond Street.  He followed it with his eyes; it put to him
embarrassing things.  “She’s not for _me_!” the great novelist had said
emphatically at Summersoft; but his manner of conducting himself toward
her appeared not quite in harmony with such a conviction.  How could he
have behaved differently if she _had_ been for him?  An indefinite envy
rose in Paul Overt’s heart as he took his way on foot alone; a feeling
addressed alike strangely enough, to each of the occupants of the hansom.
How much he should like to rattle about London with such a girl!  How
much he should like to go and look at “types” with St. George!

The next Sunday at four o’clock he called in Manchester Square, where his
secret wish was gratified by his finding Miss Fancourt alone.  She was in
a large bright friendly occupied room, which was painted red all over,
draped with the quaint cheap florid stuffs that are represented as coming
from southern and eastern countries, where they are fabled to serve as
the counterpanes of the peasantry, and bedecked with pottery of vivid
hues, ranged on casual shelves, and with many water-colour drawings from
the hand (as the visitor learned) of the young lady herself,
commemorating with a brave breadth the sunsets, the mountains, the
temples and palaces of India.  He sat an hour—more than an hour, two
hours—and all the while no one came in.  His hostess was so good as to
remark, with her liberal humanity, that it was delightful they weren’t
interrupted; it was so rare in London, especially at that season, that
people got a good talk.  But luckily now, of a fine Sunday, half the
world went out of town, and that made it better for those who didn’t go,
when these others were in sympathy.  It was the defect of London—one of
two or three, the very short list of those she recognised in the teeming
world-city she adored—that there were too few good chances for talk; you
never had time to carry anything far.

“Too many things—too many things!” Paul said, quoting St. George’s
exclamation of a few days before.

“Ah yes, for him there are too many—his life’s too complicated.”

“Have you seen it _near_?  That’s what I should like to do; it might
explain some mysteries,” her visitor went on.  She asked him what
mysteries he meant, and he said: “Oh peculiarities of his work,
inequalities, superficialities.  For one who looks at it from the
artistic point of view it contains a bottomless ambiguity.”

She became at this, on the spot, all intensity.  “Ah do describe that
more—it’s so interesting.  There are no such suggestive questions.  I’m
so fond of them.  He thinks he’s a failure—fancy!” she beautifully
wailed.

“That depends on what his ideal may have been.  With his gifts it ought
to have been high.  But till one knows what he really proposed to
himself—?  Do _you_ know by chance?” the young man broke off.

“Oh he doesn’t talk to me about himself.  I can’t make him.  It’s too
provoking.”

Paul was on the point of asking what then he did talk about, but
discretion checked it and he said instead: “Do you think he’s unhappy at
home?”

She seemed to wonder.  “At home?”

“I mean in his relations with his wife.  He has a mystifying little way
of alluding to her.”

“Not to me,” said Marian Fancourt with her clear eyes.  “That wouldn’t be
right, would it?” she asked gravely.

“Not particularly; so I’m glad he doesn’t mention her to you.  To praise
her might bore you, and he has no business to do anything else.  Yet he
knows you better than me.”

“Ah but he respects _you_!” the girl cried as with envy.

Her visitor stared a moment, then broke into a laugh.  “Doesn’t he
respect you?”

“Of course, but not in the same way.  He respects what you’ve done—he
told me so, the other day.”

Paul drank it in, but retained his faculties.  “When you went to look at
types?”

“Yes—we found so many: he has such an observation of them!  He talked a
great deal about your book.  He says it’s really important.”

“Important!  Ah the grand creature!”—and the author of the work in
question groaned for joy.

“He was wonderfully amusing, he was inexpressibly droll, while we walked
about.  He sees everything; he has so many comparisons and images, and
they’re always exactly right.  C’est d’un trouvé, as they say.”

“Yes, with his gifts, such things as he ought to have done!” Paul sighed.

“And don’t you think he _has_ done them?”

Ah it was just the point.  “A part of them, and of course even that
part’s immense.  But he might have been one of the greatest.  However,
let us not make this an hour of qualifications.  Even as they stand,” our
friend earnestly concluded, “his writings are a mine of gold.”

To this proposition she ardently responded, and for half an hour the pair
talked over the Master’s principal productions.  She knew them well—she
knew them even better than her visitor, who was struck with her critical
intelligence and with something large and bold in the movement in her
mind.  She said things that startled him and that evidently had come to
her directly; they weren’t picked-up phrases—she placed them too well.
St. George had been right about her being first-rate, about her not being
afraid to gush, not remembering that she must be proud.  Suddenly
something came back to her, and she said: “I recollect that he did speak
of Mrs. St. George to me once.  He said, apropos of something or other,
that she didn’t care for perfection.”

“That’s a great crime in an artist’s wife,” Paul returned.

“Yes, poor thing!” and the girl sighed with a suggestion of many
reflexions, some of them mitigating.  But she presently added: “Ah
perfection, perfection—how one ought to go in for it!  I wish _I_ could.”

“Every one can in his way,” her companion opined.

“In _his_ way, yes—but not in hers.  Women are so hampered—so condemned!
Yet it’s a kind of dishonour if you don’t, when you want to _do_
something, isn’t it?”  Miss Fancourt pursued, dropping one train in her
quickness to take up another, an accident that was common with her.  So
these two young persons sat discussing high themes in their eclectic
drawing-room, in their London “season”—discussing, with extreme
seriousness, the high theme of perfection.  It must be said in
extenuation of this eccentricity that they were interested in the
business.  Their tone had truth and their emotion beauty; they weren’t
posturing for each other or for some one else.

The subject was so wide that they found themselves reducing it; the
perfection to which for the moment they agreed to confine their
speculations was that of the valid, the exemplary work of art.  Our young
woman’s imagination, it appeared, had wandered far in that direction, and
her guest had the rare delight of feeling in their conversation a full
interchange.  This episode will have lived for years in his memory and
even in his wonder; it had the quality that fortune distils in a single
drop at a time—the quality that lubricates many ensuing frictions.  He
still, whenever he likes, has a vision of the room, the bright red
sociable talkative room with the curtains that, by a stroke of successful
audacity, had the note of vivid blue.  He remembers where certain things
stood, the particular book open on the table and the almost intense odour
of the flowers placed, at the left, somewhere behind him.  These facts
were the fringe, as it were, of a fine special agitation which had its
birth in those two hours and of which perhaps the main sign was in its
leading him inwardly and repeatedly to breathe “I had no idea there was
any one like this—I had no idea there was any one like this!”  Her
freedom amazed him and charmed him—it seemed so to simplify the practical
question.  She was on the footing of an independent personage—a
motherless girl who had passed out of her teens and had a position and
responsibilities, who wasn’t held down to the limitations of a little
miss.  She came and went with no dragged duenna, she received people
alone, and, though she was totally without hardness, the question of
protection or patronage had no relevancy in regard to her.  She gave such
an impression of the clear and the noble combined with the easy and the
natural that in spite of her eminent modern situation she suggested no
sort of sister-hood with the “fast” girl.  Modern she was indeed, and
made Paul Overt, who loved old colour, the golden glaze of time, think
with some alarm of the muddled palette of the future.  He couldn’t get
used to her interest in the arts he cared for; it seemed too good to be
real—it was so unlikely an adventure to tumble into such a well of
sympathy.  One might stray into the desert easily—that was on the cards
and that was the law of life; but it was too rare an accident to stumble
on a crystal well.  Yet if her aspirations seemed at one moment too
extravagant to be real they struck him at the next as too intelligent to
be false.  They were both high and lame, and, whims for whims, he
preferred them to any he had met in a like relation.  It was probable
enough she would leave them behind—exchange them for politics or
“smartness” or mere prolific maternity, as was the custom of scribbling
daubing educated flattered girls in an age of luxury and a society of
leisure.  He noted that the water-colours on the walls of the room she
sat in had mainly the quality of being naïves, and reflected that naïveté
in art is like a zero in a number: its importance depends on the figure
it is united with.  Meanwhile, however, he had fallen in love with her.
Before he went away, at any rate, he said to her: “I thought St. George
was coming to see you to-day, but he doesn’t turn up.”

For a moment he supposed she was going to cry “Comment donc?  Did you
come here only to meet him?”  But the next he became aware of how little
such a speech would have fallen in with any note of flirtation he had as
yet perceived in her.  She only replied: “Ah yes, but I don’t think he’ll
come.  He recommended me not to expect him.”  Then she gaily but all
gently added: “He said it wasn’t fair to you.  But I think I could manage
two.”

“So could I,” Paul Overt returned, stretching the point a little to meet
her.  In reality his appreciation of the occasion was so completely an
appreciation of the woman before him that another figure in the scene,
even so esteemed a one as St. George, might for the hour have appealed to
him vainly.  He left the house wondering what the great man had meant by
its not being fair to him; and, still more than that, whether he had
actually stayed away from the force of that idea.  As he took his course
through the Sunday solitude of Manchester Square, swinging his stick and
with a good deal of emotion fermenting in his soul, it appeared to him he
was living in a world strangely magnanimous.  Miss Fancourt had told him
it was possible she should be away, and that her father should be, on the
following Sunday, but that she had the hope of a visit from him in the
other event.  She promised to let him know should their absence fail, and
then he might act accordingly.  After he had passed into one of the
streets that open from the Square he stopped, without definite
intentions, looking sceptically for a cab.  In a moment he saw a hansom
roll through the place from the other side and come a part of the way
toward him.  He was on the point of hailing the driver when he noticed a
“fare” within; then he waited, seeing the man prepare to deposit his
passenger by pulling up at one of the houses.  The house was apparently
the one he himself had just quitted; at least he drew that inference as
he recognised Henry St. George in the person who stepped out of the
hansom.  Paul turned off as quickly as if he had been caught in the act
of spying.  He gave up his cab—he preferred to walk; he would go nowhere
else.  He was glad St. George hadn’t renounced his visit altogether—that
would have been too absurd.  Yes, the world was magnanimous, and even he
himself felt so as, on looking at his watch, he noted but six o’clock, so
that he could mentally congratulate his successor on having an hour still
to sit in Miss Fancourt’s drawing-room.  He himself might use that hour
for another visit, but by the time he reached the Marble Arch the idea of
such a course had become incongruous to him.  He passed beneath that
architectural effort and walked into the Park till he got upon the
spreading grass.  Here he continued to walk; he took his way across the
elastic turf and came out by the Serpentine.  He watched with a friendly
eye the diversions of the London people, he bent a glance almost
encouraging on the young ladies paddling their sweethearts about the lake
and the guardsmen tickling tenderly with their bearskins the artificial
flowers in the Sunday hats of their partners.  He prolonged his
meditative walk; he went into Kensington Gardens, he sat upon the penny
chairs, he looked at the little sail-boats launched upon the round pond
and was glad he had no engagement to dine.  He repaired for this purpose,
very late, to his club, where he found himself unable to order a repast
and told the waiter to bring whatever there was.  He didn’t even observe
what he was served with, and he spent the evening in the library of the
establishment, pretending to read an article in an American magazine.  He
failed to discover what it was about; it appeared in a dim way to be
about Marian Fancourt.

Quite late in the week she wrote to him that she was not to go into the
country—it had only just been settled.  Her father, she added, would
never settle anything, but put it all on her.  She felt her
responsibility—she had to—and since she was forced this was the way she
had decided.  She mentioned no reasons, which gave our friend all the
clearer field for bold conjecture about them.  In Manchester Square on
this second Sunday he esteemed his fortune less good, for she had three
or four other visitors.  But there were three or four compensations;
perhaps the greatest of which was that, learning how her father had after
all, at the last hour, gone out of town alone, the bold conjecture I just
now spoke of found itself becoming a shade more bold.  And then her
presence was her presence, and the personal red room was there and was
full of it, whatever phantoms passed and vanished, emitting
incomprehensible sounds.  Lastly, he had the resource of staying till
every one had come and gone and of believing this grateful to her, though
she gave no particular sign.  When they were alone together he came to
his point.  “But St. George did come—last Sunday.  I saw him as I looked
back.”

“Yes; but it was the last time.”

“The last time?”

“He said he would never come again.”

Paul Overt stared.  “Does he mean he wishes to cease to see you?”

“I don’t know what he means,” the girl bravely smiled.  “He won’t at any
rate see me here.”

“And pray why not?”

“I haven’t the least idea,” said Marian Fancourt, whose visitor found her
more perversely sublime than ever yet as she professed this clear
helplessness.



V


“OH I say, I want you to stop a little,” Henry St. George said to him at
eleven o’clock the night he dined with the head of the profession.  The
company—none of it indeed _of_ the profession—had been numerous and was
taking its leave; our young man, after bidding good-night to his hostess,
had put out his hand in farewell to the master of the house.  Besides
drawing from the latter the protest I have cited this movement provoked a
further priceless word about their chance now to have a talk, their going
into his room, his having still everything to say.  Paul Overt was all
delight at this kindness; nevertheless he mentioned in weak jocose
qualification the bare fact that he had promised to go to another place
which was at a considerable distance.

“Well then you’ll break your promise, that’s all.  You quite awful
humbug!” St. George added in a tone that confirmed our young man’s ease.

“Certainly I’ll break it—but it was a real promise.”

“Do you mean to Miss Fancourt?  You’re following her?” his friend asked.

He answered by a question.  “Oh is _she_ going?”

“Base impostor!” his ironic host went on.  “I’ve treated you handsomely
on the article of that young lady: I won’t make another concession.  Wait
three minutes—I’ll be with you.”  He gave himself to his departing
guests, accompanied the long-trained ladies to the door.  It was a hot
night, the windows were open, the sound of the quick carriages and of the
linkmen’s call came into the house.  The affair had rather glittered; a
sense of festal things was in the heavy air: not only the influence of
that particular entertainment, but the suggestion of the wide hurry of
pleasure which in London on summer nights fills so many of the happier
quarters of the complicated town.  Gradually Mrs. St. George’s
drawing-room emptied itself; Paul was left alone with his hostess, to
whom he explained the motive of his waiting.  “Ah yes, some intellectual,
some _professional_, talk,” she leered; “at this season doesn’t one miss
it?  Poor dear Henry, I’m so glad!”  The young man looked out of the
window a moment, at the called hansoms that lurched up, at the smooth
broughams that rolled away.  When he turned round Mrs. St. George had
disappeared; her husband’s voice rose to him from below—he was laughing
and talking, in the portico, with some lady who awaited her carriage.
Paul had solitary possession, for some minutes, of the warm deserted
rooms where the covered tinted lamplight was soft, the seats had been
pushed about and the odour of flowers lingered.  They were large, they
were pretty, they contained objects of value; everything in the picture
told of a “good house.”  At the end of five minutes a servant came in
with a request from the Master that he would join him downstairs; upon
which, descending, he followed his conductor through a long passage to an
apartment thrown out, in the rear of the habitation, for the special
requirements, as he guessed, of a busy man of letters.

St. George was in his shirt-sleeves in the middle of a large high room—a
room without windows, but with a wide skylight at the top, that of a
place of exhibition.  It was furnished as a library, and the serried
bookshelves rose to the ceiling, a surface of incomparable tone produced
by dimly-gilt “backs” interrupted here and there by the suspension of old
prints and drawings.  At the end furthest from the door of admission was
a tall desk, of great extent, at which the person using it could write
only in the erect posture of a clerk in a counting-house; and stretched
from the entrance to this structure was a wide plain band of crimson
cloth, as straight as a garden-path and almost as long, where, in his
mind’s eye, Paul at once beheld the Master pace to and fro during vexed
hours—hours, that is, of admirable composition.  The servant gave him a
coat, an old jacket with a hang of experience, from a cupboard in the
wall, retiring afterwards with the garment he had taken off.  Paul Overt
welcomed the coat; it was a coat for talk, it promised confidences—having
visibly received so many—and had tragic literary elbows.  “Ah we’re
practical—we’re practical!” St. George said as he saw his visitor look
the place over.  “Isn’t it a good big cage for going round and round?  My
wife invented it and she locks me up here every morning.”

Our young man breathed—by way of tribute—with a certain oppression.  “You
don’t miss a window—a place to look out?”

“I did at first awfully; but her calculation was just.  It saves time, it
has saved me many months in these ten years.  Here I stand, under the eye
of day—in London of course, very often, it’s rather a bleared old
eye—walled in to my trade.  I can’t get away—so the room’s a fine lesson
in concentration.  I’ve learnt the lesson, I think; look at that big
bundle of proof and acknowledge it.”  He pointed to a fat roll of papers,
on one of the tables, which had not been undone.

“Are you bringing out another—?” Paul asked in a tone the fond
deficiencies of which he didn’t recognise till his companion burst out
laughing, and indeed scarce even then.

“You humbug, you humbug!”—St. George appeared to enjoy caressing him, as
it were, with that opprobrium.  “Don’t I know what you think of them?” he
asked, standing there with his hands in his pockets and with a new kind
of smile.  It was as if he were going to let his young votary see him all
now.

“Upon my word in that case you know more than I do!” the latter ventured
to respond, revealing a part of the torment of being able neither clearly
to esteem nor distinctly to renounce him.

“My dear fellow,” said the more and more interesting Master, “don’t
imagine I talk about my books specifically; they’re not a decent
subject—il ne manquerait plus que ça!  I’m not so bad as you may
apprehend!  About myself, yes, a little, if you like; though it wasn’t
for that I brought you down here.  I want to ask you something—very much
indeed; I value this chance.  Therefore sit down.  We’re practical, but
there _is_ a sofa, you see—for she does humour my poor bones so far.
Like all really great administrators and disciplinarians she knows when
wisely to relax.”  Paul sank into the corner of a deep leathern couch,
but his friend remained standing and explanatory.  “If you don’t mind, in
this room, this is my habit.  From the door to the desk and from the desk
to the door.  That shakes up my imagination gently; and don’t you see
what a good thing it is that there’s no window for her to fly out of?
The eternal standing as I write (I stop at that bureau and put it down,
when anything comes, and so we go on) was rather wearisome at first, but
we adopted it with an eye to the long run; you’re in better order—if your
legs don’t break down!—and you can keep it up for more years.  Oh we’re
practical—we’re practical!” St. George repeated, going to the table and
taking up all mechanically the bundle of proofs.  But, pulling off the
wrapper, he had a change of attention that appealed afresh to our hero.
He lost himself a moment, examining the sheets of his new book, while the
younger man’s eyes wandered over the room again.

“Lord, what good things I should do if I had such a charming place as
this to do them in!” Paul reflected.  The outer world, the world of
accident and ugliness, was so successfully excluded, and within the rich
protecting square, beneath the patronising sky, the dream-figures, the
summoned company, could hold their particular revel.  It was a fond
prevision of Overt’s rather than an observation on actual data, for which
occasions had been too few, that the Master thus more closely viewed
would have the quality, the charming gift, of flashing out, all
surprisingly, in personal intercourse and at moments of suspended or
perhaps even of diminished expectation.  A happy relation with him would
be a thing proceeding by jumps, not by traceable stages.

“Do you read them—really?” he asked, laying down the proofs on Paul’s
enquiring of him how soon the work would be published.  And when the
young man answered “Oh yes, always,” he was moved to mirth again by
something he caught in his manner of saying that.  “You go to see your
grandmother on her birthday—and very proper it is, especially as she
won’t last for ever.  She has lost every faculty and every sense; she
neither sees, nor hears, nor speaks; but all customary pieties and kindly
habits are respectable.  Only you’re strong if you _do_ read ’em!  _I_
couldn’t, my dear fellow.  You are strong, I know; and that’s just a part
of what I wanted to say to you.  You’re very strong indeed.  I’ve been
going into your other things—they’ve interested me immensely.  Some one
ought to have told me about them before—some one I could believe.  But
whom can one believe?  You’re wonderfully on the right road—it’s awfully
decent work.  Now do you mean to keep it up?—that’s what I want to ask
you.”

“Do I mean to do others?” Paul asked, looking up from his sofa at his
erect inquisitor and feeling partly like a happy little boy when the
school-master is gay, and partly like some pilgrim of old who might have
consulted a world-famous oracle.  St. George’s own performance had been
infirm, but as an adviser he would be infallible.

“Others—others?  Ah the number won’t matter; one other would do, if it
were really a further step—a throb of the same effort.  What I mean is
have you it in your heart to go in for some sort of decent perfection?”

“Ah decency, ah perfection—!” the young man sincerely sighed.  “I talked
of them the other Sunday with Miss Fancourt.”

It produced on the Master’s part a laugh of odd acrimony.  “Yes, they’ll
‘talk’ of them as much as you like!  But they’ll do little to help one to
them.  There’s no obligation of course; only you strike me as capable,”
he went on.  “You must have thought it all over.  I can’t believe you’re
without a plan.  That’s the sensation you give me, and it’s so rare that
it really stirs one up—it makes you remarkable.  If you haven’t a plan,
if you _don’t_ mean to keep it up, surely you’re within your rights; it’s
nobody’s business, no one can force you, and not more than two or three
people will notice you don’t go straight.  The others—_all_ the rest,
every blest soul in England, will think you do—will think you are keeping
it up: upon my honour they will!  I shall be one of the two or three who
know better.  Now the question is whether you can do it for two or three.
Is that the stuff you’re made of?”

It locked his guest a minute as in closed throbbing arms.  “I could do it
for one, if you were the one.”

“Don’t say that; I don’t deserve it; it scorches me,” he protested with
eyes suddenly grave and glowing.  “The ‘one’ is of course one’s self,
one’s conscience, one’s idea, the singleness of one’s aim.  I think of
that pure spirit as a man thinks of a woman he has in some detested hour
of his youth loved and forsaken.  She haunts him with reproachful eyes,
she lives for ever before him.  As an artist, you know, I’ve married for
money.”  Paul stared and even blushed a little, confounded by this
avowal; whereupon his host, observing the expression of his face, dropped
a quick laugh and pursued: “You don’t follow my figure.  I’m not speaking
of my dear wife, who had a small fortune—which, however, was not my
bribe.  I fell in love with her, as many other people have done.  I refer
to the mercenary muse whom I led to the altar of literature.  Don’t, my
boy, put your nose into _that_ yoke.  The awful jade will lead you a
life!”

Our hero watched him, wondering and deeply touched.  “Haven’t you been
happy!”

“Happy?  It’s a kind of hell.”

“There are things I should like to ask you,” Paul said after a pause.

“Ask me anything in all the world.  I’d turn myself inside out to save
you.”

“To ‘save’ me?” he quavered.

“To make you stick to it—to make you see it through.  As I said to you
the other night at Summersoft, let my example be vivid to you.”

“Why your books are not so bad as that,” said Paul, fairly laughing and
feeling that if ever a fellow had breathed the air of art—!

“So bad as what?”

“Your talent’s so great that it’s in everything you do, in what’s less
good as well as in what’s best.  You’ve some forty volumes to show for
it—forty volumes of wonderful life, of rare observation, of magnificent
ability.”

“I’m very clever, of course I know that”—but it was a thing, in fine,
this author made nothing of.  “Lord, what rot they’d all be if I hadn’t
been I’m a successful charlatan,” he went on—“I’ve been able to pass off
my system.  But do you know what it is?  It’s cartonpierre.”

“Carton-pierre?” Paul was struck, and gaped.

“Lincrusta-Walton!”

“Ah don’t say such things—you make me bleed!” the younger man protested.
“I see you in a beautiful fortunate home, living in comfort and honour.”

“Do you call it honour?”—his host took him up with an intonation that
often comes back to him.  “That’s what I want _you_ to go in for.  I mean
the real thing.  This is brummagem.”

“Brummagem?” Paul ejaculated while his eyes wandered, by a movement
natural at the moment, over the luxurious room.

“Ah they make it so well to-day—it’s wonderfully deceptive!”

Our friend thrilled with the interest and perhaps even more with the pity
of it.  Yet he wasn’t afraid to seem to patronise when he could still so
far envy.  “Is it deceptive that I find you living with every appearance
of domestic felicity—blest with a devoted, accomplished wife, with
children whose acquaintance I haven’t yet had the pleasure of making, but
who _must_ be delightful young people, from what I know of their
parents?”

St. George smiled as for the candour of his question.  “It’s all
excellent, my dear fellow—heaven forbid I should deny it.  I’ve made a
great deal of money; my wife has known how to take care of it, to use it
without wasting it, to put a good bit of it by, to make it fructify.
I’ve got a loaf on the shelf; I’ve got everything in fact but the great
thing.”

“The great thing?” Paul kept echoing.

“The sense of having done the best—the sense which is the real life of
the artist and the absence of which is his death, of having drawn from
his intellectual instrument the finest music that nature had hidden in
it, of having played it as it should be played.  He either does that or
he doesn’t—and if he doesn’t he isn’t worth speaking of.  Therefore,
precisely, those who really know _don’t_ speak of him.  He may still hear
a great chatter, but what he hears most is the incorruptible silence of
Fame.  I’ve squared her, you may say, for my little hour—but what’s my
little hour?  Don’t imagine for a moment,” the Master pursued, “that I’m
such a cad as to have brought you down here to abuse or to complain of my
wife to you.  She’s a woman of distinguished qualities, to whom my
obligations are immense; so that, if you please, we’ll say nothing about
her.  My boys—my children are all boys—are straight and strong, thank
God, and have no poverty of growth about them, no penury of needs.  I
receive periodically the most satisfactory attestation from Harrow, from
Oxford, from Sandhurst—oh we’ve done the best for them!—of their eminence
as living thriving consuming organisms.”

“It must be delightful to feel that the son of one’s loins is at
Sandhurst,” Paul remarked enthusiastically.

“It is—it’s charming.  Oh I’m a patriot!”

The young man then could but have the greater tribute of questions to
pay.  “Then what did you mean—the other night at Summersoft—by saying
that children are a curse?”

“My dear youth, on what basis are we talking?” and St. George dropped
upon the sofa at a short distance from him.  Sitting a little sideways he
leaned back against the opposite arm with his hands raised and
interlocked behind his head.  “On the supposition that a certain
perfection’s possible and even desirable—isn’t it so?  Well, all I say is
that one’s children interfere with perfection.  One’s wife interferes.
Marriage interferes.”

“You think then the artist shouldn’t marry?”

“He does so at his peril—he does so at his cost.”

“Not even when his wife’s in sympathy with his work?”

“She never is—she can’t be!  Women haven’t a conception of such things.”

“Surely they on occasion work themselves,” Paul objected.

“Yes, very badly indeed.  Oh of course, often, they think they
understand, they think they sympathise.  Then it is they’re most
dangerous.  Their idea is that you shall do a great lot and get a great
lot of money.  Their great nobleness and virtue, their exemplary
conscientiousness as British females, is in keeping you up to that.  My
wife makes all my bargains with my publishers for me, and has done so for
twenty years.  She does it consummately well—that’s why I’m really pretty
well off.  Aren’t you the father of their innocent babes, and will you
withhold from them their natural sustenance?  You asked me the other
night if they’re not an immense incentive.  Of course they are—there’s no
doubt of that!”

Paul turned it over: it took, from eyes he had never felt open so wide,
so much looking at.  “For myself I’ve an idea I need incentives.”

“Ah well then, n’en parlons plus!” his companion handsomely smiled.

“_You_ are an incentive, I maintain,” the young man went on.  “You don’t
affect me in the way you’d apparently like to.  Your great success is
what I see—the pomp of Ennismore Gardens!”

“Success?”—St. George’s eyes had a cold fine light.  “Do you call it
success to be spoken of as you’d speak of me if you were sitting here
with another artist—a young man intelligent and sincere like yourself?
Do you call it success to make you blush—as you would blush!—if some
foreign critic (some fellow, of course I mean, who should know what he
was talking about and should have shown you he did, as foreign critics
like to show it) were to say to you: ‘He’s the one, in this country, whom
they consider the most perfect, isn’t he?’  Is it success to be the
occasion of a young Englishman’s having to stammer as you would have to
stammer at such a moment for old England?  No, no; success is to have
made people wriggle to another tune.  Do try it!”

Paul continued all gravely to glow.  “Try what?”

“Try to do some really good work.”

“Oh I want to, heaven knows!”

“Well, you can’t do it without sacrifices—don’t believe that for a
moment,” the Master said.  “I’ve made none.  I’ve had everything.  In
other words I’ve missed everything.”

“You’ve had the full rich masculine human general life, with all the
responsibilities and duties and burdens and sorrows and joys—all the
domestic and social initiations and complications.  They must be
immensely suggestive, immensely amusing,” Paul anxiously submitted.

“Amusing?”

“For a strong man—yes.”

“They’ve given me subjects without number, if that’s what you mean; but
they’ve taken away at the same time the power to use them.  I’ve touched
a thousand things, but which one of them have I turned into gold?  The
artist has to do only with that—he knows nothing of any baser metal.
I’ve led the life of the world, with my wife and my progeny; the clumsy
conventional expensive materialised vulgarised brutalised life of London.
We’ve got everything handsome, even a carriage—we’re perfect Philistines
and prosperous hospitable eminent people.  But, my dear fellow, don’t try
to stultify yourself and pretend you don’t know what we _haven’t_ got.
It’s bigger than all the rest.  Between artists—come!” the Master wound
up.  “You know as well as you sit there that you’d put a pistol-ball into
your brain if you had written my books!”

It struck his listener that the tremendous talk promised by him at
Summersoft had indeed come off, and with a promptitude, a fulness, with
which the latter’s young imagination had scarcely reckoned.  His
impression fairly shook him and he throbbed with the excitement of such
deep soundings and such strange confidences.  He throbbed indeed with the
conflict of his feelings—bewilderment and recognition and alarm,
enjoyment and protest and assent, all commingled with tenderness (and a
kind of shame in the participation) for the sores and bruises exhibited
by so fine a creature, and with a sense of the tragic secret nursed under
his trappings.  The idea of _his_, Paul Overt’s, becoming the occasion of
such an act of humility made him flush and pant, at the same time that
his consciousness was in certain directions too much alive not to
swallow—and not intensely to taste—every offered spoonful of the
revelation.  It had been his odd fortune to blow upon the deep waters, to
make them surge and break in waves of strange eloquence.  But how
couldn’t he give out a passionate contradiction of his host’s last
extravagance, how couldn’t he enumerate to him the parts of his work he
loved, the splendid things he had found in it, beyond the compass of any
other writer of the day?  St. George listened a while, courteously; then
he said, laying his hand on his visitor’s: “That’s all very well; and if
your idea’s to do nothing better there’s no reason you shouldn’t have as
many good things as I—as many human and material appendages, as many sons
or daughters, a wife with as many gowns, a house with as many servants, a
stable with as many horses, a heart with as many aches.”  The Master got
up when he had spoken thus—he stood a moment—near the sofa looking down
on his agitated pupil.  “Are you possessed of any property?” it occurred
to him to ask.

“None to speak of.”

“Oh well then there’s no reason why you shouldn’t make a goodish
income—if you set about it the right way.  Study _me_ for that—study me
well.  You may really have horses.”

Paul sat there some minutes without speaking.  He looked straight before
him—he turned over many things.  His friend had wandered away, taking up
a parcel of letters from the table where the roll of proofs had lain.
“What was the book Mrs. St. George made you burn—the one she didn’t
like?” our young man brought out.

“The book she made me burn—how did you know that?”  The Master looked up
from his letters quite without the facial convulsion the pupil had
feared.

“I heard her speak of it at Summersoft.”

“Ah yes—she’s proud of it.  I don’t know—it was rather good.”

“What was it about?”

“Let me see.”  And he seemed to make an effort to remember.  “Oh yes—it
was about myself.”  Paul gave an irrepressible groan for the
disappearance of such a production, and the elder man went on: “Oh but
_you_ should write it—_you_ should do me.”  And he pulled up—from the
restless motion that had come upon him; his fine smile a generous glare.
“There’s a subject, my boy: no end of stuff in it!”

Again Paul was silent, but it was all tormenting.  “Are there no women
who really understand—who can take part in a sacrifice?”

“How can they take part?  They themselves are the sacrifice.  They’re the
idol and the altar and the flame.”

“Isn’t there even _one_ who sees further?” Paul continued.

For a moment St. George made no answer; after which, having torn up his
letters, he came back to the point all ironic.  “Of course I know the one
you mean.  But not even Miss Fancourt.”

“I thought you admired her so much.”

“It’s impossible to admire her more.  Are you in love with her?” St.
George asked.

“Yes,” Paul Overt presently said.

“Well then give it up.”

Paul stared.  “Give up my ‘love’?”

“Bless me, no.  Your idea.”  And then as our hero but still gazed: “The
one you talked with her about.  The idea of a decent perfection.”

“She’d help it—she’d help it!” the young man cried.

“For about a year—the first year, yes.  After that she’d be as a
millstone round its neck.”

Paul frankly wondered.  “Why she has a passion for the real thing, for
good work—for everything you and I care for most.”

“‘You and I’ is charming, my dear fellow!” his friend laughed.  “She has
it indeed, but she’d have a still greater passion for her children—and
very proper too.  She’d insist on everything’s being made comfortable,
advantageous, propitious for them.  That isn’t the artist’s business.”

“The artist—the artist!  Isn’t he a man all the same?”

St. George had a grand grimace.  “I mostly think not.  You know as well
as I what he has to do: the concentration, the finish, the independence
he must strive for from the moment he begins to wish his work really
decent.  Ah my young friend, his relation to women, and especially to the
one he’s most intimately concerned with, is at the mercy of the damning
fact that whereas he can in the nature of things have but one standard,
they have about fifty.  That’s what makes them so superior,” St. George
amusingly added.  “Fancy an artist with a change of standards as you’d
have a change of shirts or of dinner-plates.  To _do_ it—to do it and
make it divine—is the only thing he has to think about.  ‘Is it done or
not?’ is his only question.  Not ‘Is it done as well as a proper
solicitude for my dear little family will allow?’  He has nothing to do
with the relative—he has only to do with the absolute; and a dear little
family may represent a dozen relatives.”

“Then you don’t allow him the common passions and affections of men?”
Paul asked.

“Hasn’t he a passion, an affection, which includes all the rest?
Besides, let him have all the passions he likes—if he only keeps his
independence.  He must be able to be poor.”

Paul slowly got up.  “Why then did you advise me to make up to her?”

St. George laid his hand on his shoulder.  “Because she’d make a splendid
wife!  And I hadn’t read you then.”

The young man had a strained smile.  “I wish you had left me alone!”

“I didn’t know that that wasn’t good enough for you,” his host returned.

“What a false position, what a condemnation of the artist, that he’s a
mere disfranchised monk and can produce his effect only by giving up
personal happiness.  What an arraignment of art!” Paul went on with a
trembling voice.

“Ah you don’t imagine by chance that I’m defending art?  ‘Arraignment’—I
should think so!  Happy the societies in which it hasn’t made its
appearance, for from the moment it comes they have a consuming ache, they
have an incurable corruption, in their breast.  Most assuredly is the
artist in a false position!  But I thought we were taking him for
granted.  Pardon me,” St. George continued: “‘Ginistrella’ made me!”

Paul stood looking at the floor—one o’clock struck, in the stillness,
from a neighbouring church-tower.  “Do you think she’d ever look at me?”
he put to his friend at last.

“Miss Fancourt—as a suitor?  Why shouldn’t I think it?  That’s why I’ve
tried to favour you—I’ve had a little chance or two of bettering your
opportunity.”

“Forgive my asking you, but do you mean by keeping away yourself?” Paul
said with a blush.

“I’m an old idiot—my place isn’t there,” St. George stated gravely.

“I’m nothing yet, I’ve no fortune; and there must be so many others,” his
companion pursued.

The Master took this considerably in, but made little of it.  “You’re a
gentleman and a man of genius.  I think you might do something.”

“But if I must give that up—the genius?”

“Lots of people, you know, think I’ve kept mine,” St. George wonderfully
grinned.

“You’ve a genius for mystification!” Paul declared; but grasping his hand
gratefully in attenuation of this judgement.

“Poor dear boy, I do worry you!  But try, try, all the same.  I think
your chances are good and you’ll win a great prize.”

Paul held fast the other’s hand a minute; he looked into the strange deep
face.  “No, I _am_ an artist—I can’t help it!”

“Ah show it then!” St. George pleadingly broke out.  “Let me see before I
die the thing I most want, the thing I yearn for: a life in which the
passion—ours—is really intense.  If you can be rare don’t fail of it!
Think what it is—how it counts—how it lives!”

They had moved to the door and he had closed both his hands over his
companion’s.  Here they paused again and our hero breathed deep.  “I want
to live!”

“In what sense?”

“In the greatest.”

“Well then stick to it—see it through.”

“With your sympathy—your help?”

“Count on that—you’ll be a great figure to me.  Count on my highest
appreciation, my devotion.  You’ll give me satisfaction—if that has any
weight with you.”  After which, as Paul appeared still to waver, his host
added: “Do you remember what you said to me at Summersoft?”

“Something infatuated, no doubt!”

“‘I’ll do anything in the world you tell me.’  You said that.”

“And you hold me to it?”

“Ah what am I?” the Master expressively sighed.

“Lord, what things I shall have to do!” Paul almost moaned as be
departed.



VI


“IT goes on too much abroad—hang abroad!”  These or something like them
had been the Master’s remarkable words in relation to the action of
“Ginistrella”; and yet, though they had made a sharp impression on the
author of that work, like almost all spoken words from the same source,
he a week after the conversation I have noted left England for a long
absence and full of brave intentions.  It is not a perversion of the
truth to pronounce that encounter the direct cause of his departure.  If
the oral utterance of the eminent writer had the privilege of moving him
deeply it was especially on his turning it over at leisure, hours and
days later, that it appeared to yield him its full meaning and exhibit
its extreme importance.  He spent the summer in Switzerland and, having
in September begun a new task, determined not to cross the Alps till he
should have made a good start.  To this end he returned to a quiet corner
he knew well, on the edge of the Lake of Geneva and within sight of the
towers of Chillon: a region and a view for which he had an affection that
sprang from old associations and was capable of mysterious revivals and
refreshments.  Here he lingered late, till the snow was on the nearer
hills, almost down to the limit to which he could climb when his stint,
on the shortening afternoons, was performed.  The autumn was fine, the
lake was blue and his book took form and direction.  These felicities,
for the time, embroidered his life, which he suffered to cover him with
its mantle.  At the end of six weeks he felt he had learnt St. George’s
lesson by heart, had tested and proved its doctrine.  Nevertheless he did
a very inconsistent thing: before crossing the Alps he wrote to Marian
Fancourt.  He was aware of the perversity of this act, and it was only as
a luxury, an amusement, the reward of a strenuous autumn, that he
justified it.  She had asked of him no such favour when, shortly before
he left London, three days after their dinner in Ennismore Gardens, he
went to take leave of her.  It was true she had had no ground—he hadn’t
named his intention of absence.  He had kept his counsel for want of due
assurance: it was that particular visit that was, the next thing, to
settle the matter.  He had paid the visit to see how much he really cared
for her, and quick departure, without so much as an explicit farewell,
was the sequel to this enquiry, the answer to which had created within
him a deep yearning.  When he wrote her from Clarens he noted that he
owed her an explanation (more than three months after!) for not having
told her what he was doing.

She replied now briefly but promptly, and gave him a striking piece of
news: that of the death, a week before, of Mrs. St. George.  This
exemplary woman had succumbed, in the country, to a violent attack of
inflammation of the lungs—he would remember that for a long time she had
been delicate.  Miss Fancourt added that she believed her husband
overwhelmed by the blow; he would miss her too terribly—she had been
everything in life to him.  Paul Overt, on this, immediately wrote to St.
George.  He would from the day of their parting have been glad to remain
in communication with him, but had hitherto lacked the right excuse for
troubling so busy a man.  Their long nocturnal talk came back to him in
every detail, but this was no bar to an expression of proper sympathy
with the head of the profession, for hadn’t that very talk made it clear
that the late accomplished lady was the influence that ruled his life?
What catastrophe could be more cruel than the extinction of such an
influence?  This was to be exactly the tone taken by St. George in
answering his young friend upwards of a month later.  He made no allusion
of course to their important discussion.  He spoke of his wife as frankly
and generously as if he had quite forgotten that occasion, and the
feeling of deep bereavement was visible in his words.  “She took
everything off my hands—off my mind.  She carried on our life with the
greatest art, the rarest devotion, and I was free, as few men can have
been, to drive my pen, to shut myself up with my trade.  This was a rare
service—the highest she could have rendered me.  Would I could have
acknowledged it more fitly!”

A certain bewilderment, for our hero, disengaged itself from these
remarks: they struck him as a contradiction, a retractation, strange on
the part of a man who hadn’t the excuse of witlessness.  He had certainly
not expected his correspondent to rejoice in the death of his wife, and
it was perfectly in order that the rupture of a tie of more than twenty
years should have left him sore.  But if she had been so clear a blessing
what in the name of consistency had the dear man meant by turning him
upside down that night—by dosing him to that degree, at the most
sensitive hour of his life, with the doctrine of renunciation?  If Mrs.
St. George was an irreparable loss, then her husband’s inspired advice
had been a bad joke and renunciation was a mistake.  Overt was on the
point of rushing back to London to show that, for his part, he was
perfectly willing to consider it so, and he went so far as to take the
manuscript of the first chapters of his new book out of his table-drawer,
to insert it into a pocket of his portmanteau.  This led to his catching
a glimpse of certain pages he hadn’t looked at for months, and that
accident, in turn, to his being struck with the high promise they
revealed—a rare result of such retrospections, which it was his habit to
avoid as much as possible: they usually brought home to him that the glow
of composition might be a purely subjective and misleading emotion.  On
this occasion a certain belief in himself disengaged itself whimsically
from the serried erasures of his first draft, making him think it best
after all to pursue his present trial to the end.  If he could write as
well under the rigour of privation it might be a mistake to change the
conditions before that spell had spent itself.  He would go back to
London of course, but he would go back only when he should have finished
his book.  This was the vow he privately made, restoring his manuscript
to the table-drawer.  It may be added that it took him a long time to
finish his book, for the subject was as difficult as it was fine, and he
was literally embarrassed by the fulness of his notes.  Something within
him warned him that he must make it supremely good—otherwise he should
lack, as regards his private behaviour, a handsome excuse.  He had a
horror of this deficiency and found himself as firm as need be on the
question of the lamp and the file.  He crossed the Alps at last and spent
the winter, the spring, the ensuing summer, in Italy, where still, at the
end of a twelvemonth, his task was unachieved.  “Stick to it—see it
through”: this general injunction of St. George’s was good also for the
particular case.  He applied it to the utmost, with the result that when
in its slow order the summer had come round again he felt he had given
all that was in him.  This time he put his papers into his portmanteau,
with the address of his publisher attached, and took his way northward.

He had been absent from London for two years—two years which, seeming to
count as more, had made such a difference in his own life—through the
production of a novel far stronger, he believed, than “Ginistrella”—that
he turned out into Piccadilly, the morning after his arrival, with a
vague expectation of changes, of finding great things had happened.  But
there were few transformations in Piccadilly—only three or four big red
houses where there had been low black ones—and the brightness of the end
of June peeped through the rusty railings of the Green Park and glittered
in the varnish of the rolling carriages as he had seen it in other, more
cursory Junes.  It was a greeting he appreciated; it seemed friendly and
pointed, added to the exhilaration of his finished book, of his having
his own country and the huge oppressive amusing city that suggested
everything, that contained everything, under his hand again.  “Stay at
home and do things here—do subjects we can measure,” St. George had said;
and now it struck him he should ask nothing better than to stay at home
for ever.  Late in the afternoon he took his way to Manchester Square,
looking out for a number he hadn’t forgotten.  Miss Fancourt, however,
was not at home, so that he turned rather dejectedly from the door.  His
movement brought him face to face with a gentleman just approaching it
and recognised on another glance as Miss Fancourt’s father.  Paul saluted
this personage, and the General returned the greeting with his customary
good manner—a manner so good, however, that you could never tell whether
it meant he placed you.  The disappointed caller felt the impulse to
address him; then, hesitating, became both aware of having no particular
remark to make, and convinced that though the old soldier remembered him
he remembered him wrong.  He therefore went his way without computing the
irresistible effect his own evident recognition would have on the
General, who never neglected a chance to gossip.  Our young man’s face
was expressive, and observation seldom let it pass.  He hadn’t taken ten
steps before he heard himself called after with a friendly
semi-articulate “Er—I beg your pardon!”  He turned round and the General,
smiling at him from the porch, said: “Won’t you come in?  I won’t leave
you the advantage of me!”  Paul declined to come in, and then felt
regret, for Miss Fancourt, so late in the afternoon, might return at any
moment.  But her father gave him no second chance; he appeared mainly to
wish not to have struck him as ungracious.  A further look at the visitor
had recalled something, enough at least to enable him to say: “You’ve
come back, you’ve come back?”  Paul was on the point of replying that he
had come back the night before, but he suppressed, the next instant, this
strong light on the immediacy of his visit and, giving merely a general
assent, alluded to the young lady he deplored not having found.  He had
come late in the hope she would be in.  “I’ll tell her—I’ll tell her,”
said the old man; and then he added quickly, gallantly: “You’ll be giving
us something new?  It’s a long time, isn’t it?”  Now he remembered him
right.

“Rather long.  I’m very slow.” Paul explained.  “I met you at Summersoft
a long time ago.”

“Oh yes—with Henry St. George.  I remember very well.  Before his poor
wife—” General Fancourt paused a moment, smiling a little less.  “I dare
say you know.”

“About Mrs. St. George’s death?  Certainly—I heard at the time.”

“Oh no, I mean—I mean he’s to be married.”

“Ah I’ve not heard that!”  But just as Paul was about to add “To whom?”
the General crossed his intention.

“When did you come back?  I know you’ve been away—by my daughter.  She
was very sorry.  You ought to give her something new.”

“I came back last night,” said our young man, to whom something had
occurred which made his speech for the moment a little thick.

“Ah most kind of you to come so soon.  Couldn’t you turn up at dinner?”

“At dinner?” Paul just mechanically repeated, not liking to ask whom St.
George was going to marry, but thinking only of that.

“There are several people, I believe.  Certainly St. George.  Or
afterwards if you like better.  I believe my daughter expects—”  He
appeared to notice something in the visitor’s raised face (on his steps
he stood higher) which led him to interrupt himself, and the interruption
gave him a momentary sense of awkwardness, from which he sought a quick
issue.  “Perhaps then you haven’t heard she’s to be married.”

Paul gaped again.  “To be married?”

“To Mr. St. George—it has just been settled.  Odd marriage, isn’t it?”
Our listener uttered no opinion on this point: he only continued to
stare.  “But I dare say it will do—she’s so awfully literary!” said the
General.

Paul had turned very red.  “Oh it’s a surprise—very interesting, very
charming!  I’m afraid I can’t dine—so many thanks!”

“Well, you must come to the wedding!” cried the General.  “Oh I remember
that day at Summersoft.  He’s a great man, you know.”

“Charming—charming!” Paul stammered for retreat.  He shook hands with the
General and got off.  His face was red and he had the sense of its
growing more and more crimson.  All the evening at home—he went straight
to his rooms and remained there dinnerless—his cheek burned at intervals
as if it had been smitten.  He didn’t understand what had happened to
him, what trick had been played him, what treachery practised.  “None,
none,” he said to himself.  “I’ve nothing to do with it.  I’m out of
it—it’s none of my business.”  But that bewildered murmur was followed
again and again by the incongruous ejaculation: “Was it a plan—was it a
plan?”  Sometimes he cried to himself, breathless, “Have I been duped,
sold, swindled?”  If at all, he was an absurd, an abject victim.  It was
as if he hadn’t lost her till now.  He had renounced her, yes; but that
was another affair—that was a closed but not a locked door.  Now he
seemed to see the door quite slammed in his face.  Did he expect her to
wait—was she to give him his time like that: two years at a stretch?  He
didn’t know what he had expected—he only knew what he hadn’t.  It wasn’t
this—it wasn’t this.  Mystification bitterness and wrath rose and boiled
in him when he thought of the deference, the devotion, the credulity with
which he had listened to St. George.  The evening wore on and the light
was long; but even when it had darkened he remained without a lamp.  He
had flung himself on the sofa, where he lay through the hours with his
eyes either closed or gazing at the gloom, in the attitude of a man
teaching himself to bear something, to bear having been made a fool of.
He had made it too easy—that idea passed over him like a hot wave.
Suddenly, as he heard eleven o’clock strike, he jumped up, remembering
what General Fancourt had said about his coming after dinner.  He’d
go—he’d see her at least; perhaps he should see what it meant.  He felt
as if some of the elements of a hard sum had been given him and the
others were wanting: he couldn’t do his sum till he had got all his
figures.

He dressed and drove quickly, so that by half-past eleven he was at
Manchester Square.  There were a good many carriages at the door—a party
was going on; a circumstance which at the last gave him a slight relief,
for now he would rather see her in a crowd.  People passed him on the
staircase; they were going away, going “on” with the hunted herdlike
movement of London society at night.  But sundry groups remained in the
drawing-room, and it was some minutes, as she didn’t hear him announced,
before he discovered and spoke to her.  In this short interval he had
seen St. George talking to a lady before the fireplace; but he at once
looked away, feeling unready for an encounter, and therefore couldn’t be
sure the author of “Shadowmere” noticed him.  At all events he didn’t
come over though Miss Fancourt did as soon as she saw him—she almost
rushed at him, smiling rustling radiant beautiful.  He had forgotten what
her head, what her face offered to the sight; she was in white, there
were gold figures on her dress and her hair was a casque of gold.  He saw
in a single moment that she was happy, happy with an aggressive
splendour.  But she wouldn’t speak to him of that, she would speak only
of himself.

“I’m so delighted; my father told me.  How kind of you to come!”  She
struck him as so fresh and brave, while his eyes moved over her, that he
said to himself irresistibly: “Why to him, why not to youth, to strength,
to ambition, to a future?  Why, in her rich young force, to failure, to
abdication to superannuation?”  In his thought at that sharp moment he
blasphemed even against all that had been left of his faith in the
peccable Master.  “I’m so sorry I missed you,” she went on.  “My father
told me.  How charming of you to have come so soon!”

“Does that surprise you?” Paul Overt asked.

“The first day?  No, from you—nothing that’s nice.”  She was interrupted
by a lady who bade her good-night, and he seemed to read that it cost her
nothing to speak to him in that tone; it was her old liberal lavish way,
with a certain added amplitude that time had brought; and if this manner
began to operate on the spot, at such a juncture in her history, perhaps
in the other days too it had meant just as little or as much—a mere
mechanical charity, with the difference now that she was satisfied, ready
to give but in want of nothing.  Oh she was satisfied—and why shouldn’t
she be?  Why shouldn’t she have been surprised at his coming the first
day—for all the good she had ever got from him?  As the lady continued to
hold her attention Paul turned from her with a strange irritation in his
complicated artistic soul and a sort of disinterested disappointment.
She was so happy that it was almost stupid—a disproof of the
extraordinary intelligence he had formerly found in her.  Didn’t she know
how bad St. George could be, hadn’t she recognised the awful thinness—?
If she didn’t she was nothing, and if she did why such an insolence of
serenity?  This question expired as our young man’s eyes settled at last
on the genius who had advised him in a great crisis.  St. George was
still before the chimney-piece, but now he was alone—fixed, waiting, as
if he meant to stop after every one—and he met the clouded gaze of the
young friend so troubled as to the degree of his right (the right his
resentment would have enjoyed) to regard himself as a victim.  Somehow
the ravage of the question was checked by the Master’s radiance.  It was
as fine in its way as Marian Fancourt’s, it denoted the happy human
being; but also it represented to Paul Overt that the author of
“Shadowmere” had now definitely ceased to count—ceased to count as a
writer.  As he smiled a welcome across the place he was almost banal, was
almost smug.  Paul fancied that for a moment he hesitated to make a
movement, as if for all the world he _had_ his bad conscience; then they
had already met in the middle of the room and had shaken
hands—expressively, cordially on St. George’s part.  With which they had
passed back together to where the elder man had been standing, while St.
George said: “I hope you’re never going away again.  I’ve been dining
here; the General told me.”  He was handsome, he was young, he looked as
if he had still a great fund of life.  He bent the friendliest, most
unconfessing eyes on his disciple of a couple of years before; asked him
about everything, his health, his plans, his late occupations, the new
book.  “When will it be out—soon, soon, I hope?  Splendid, eh?  That’s
right; you’re a comfort, you’re a luxury!  I’ve read you all over again
these last six months.”  Paul waited to see if he would tell him what the
General had told him in the afternoon and what Miss Fancourt, verbally at
least, of course hadn’t.  But as it didn’t come out he at last put the
question.

“Is it true, the great news I hear—that you’re to be married?”

“Ah you have heard it then?”

“Didn’t the General tell you?” Paul asked.

The Master’s face was wonderful.  “Tell me what?”

“That he mentioned it to me this afternoon?”

“My dear fellow, I don’t remember.  We’ve been in the midst of people.
I’m sorry, in that case, that I lose the pleasure, myself, of announcing
to you a fact that touches me so nearly.  It _is_ a fact, strange as it
may appear.  It has only just become one.  Isn’t it ridiculous?”  St.
George made this speech without confusion, but on the other hand, so far
as our friend could judge, without latent impudence.  It struck his
interlocutor that, to talk so comfortably and coolly, he must simply have
forgotten what had passed between them.  His next words, however, showed
he hadn’t, and they produced, as an appeal to Paul’s own memory, an
effect which would have been ludicrous if it hadn’t been cruel.  “Do you
recall the talk we had at my house that night, into which Miss Fancourt’s
name entered?  I’ve often thought of it since.”

“Yes; no wonder you said what you did”—Paul was careful to meet his eyes.

“In the light of the present occasion?  Ah but there was no light then.
How could I have foreseen this hour?”

“Didn’t you think it probable?”

“Upon my honour, no,” said Henry St. George.  “Certainly I owe you that
assurance.  Think how my situation has changed.”

“I see—I see,” our young man murmured.

His companion went on as if, now that the subject had been broached, he
was, as a person of imagination and tact, quite ready to give every
satisfaction—being both by his genius and his method so able to enter
into everything another might feel.  “But it’s not only that; for
honestly, at my age, I never dreamed—a widower with big boys and with so
little else!  It has turned out differently from anything one could have
dreamed, and I’m fortunate beyond all measure.  She has been so free, and
yet she consents.  Better than any one else perhaps—for I remember how
you liked her before you went away, and how she liked you—you can
intelligently congratulate me.”

“She has been so free!”  Those words made a great impression on Paul
Overt, and he almost writhed under that irony in them as to which it so
little mattered whether it was designed or casual.  Of course she had
been free, and appreciably perhaps by his own act; for wasn’t the
Master’s allusion to her having liked him a part of the irony too?  “I
thought that by your theory you disapproved of a writer’s marrying.”

“Surely—surely.  But you don’t call me a writer?”

“You ought to be ashamed,” said Paul.

“Ashamed of marrying again?”

“I won’t say that—but ashamed of your reasons.”

The elder man beautifully smiled.  “You must let me judge of them, my
good friend.”

“Yes; why not?  For you judged wonderfully of mine.”

The tone of these words appeared suddenly, for St. George, to suggest the
unsuspected.  He stared as if divining a bitterness.  “Don’t you think
I’ve been straight?”

“You might have told me at the time perhaps.”

“My dear fellow, when I say I couldn’t pierce futurity—!”

“I mean afterwards.”

The Master wondered.  “After my wife’s death?”

“When this idea came to you.”

“Ah never, never!  I wanted to save you, rare and precious as you are.”

Poor Overt looked hard at him.  “Are you marrying Miss Fancourt to save
me?”

“Not absolutely, but it adds to the pleasure.  I shall be the making of
you,” St. George smiled.  “I was greatly struck, after our talk, with the
brave devoted way you quitted the country, and still more perhaps with
your force of character in remaining abroad.  You’re very strong—you’re
wonderfully strong.”

Paul tried to sound his shining eyes; the strange thing was that he
seemed sincere—not a mocking fiend.  He turned away, and as he did so
heard the Master say something about his giving them all the proof, being
the joy of his old age.  He faced him again, taking another look.  “Do
you mean to say you’ve stopped writing?”

“My dear fellow, of course I have.  It’s too late.  Didn’t I tell you?”

“I can’t believe it!”

“Of course you can’t—with your own talent!  No, no; for the rest of my
life I shall only read _you_.”

“Does she know that—Miss Fancourt?”

“She will—she will.”  Did he mean this, our young man wondered, as a
covert intimation that the assistance he should derive from that young
lady’s fortune, moderate as it was, would make the difference of putting
it in his power to cease to work ungratefully an exhausted vein?
Somehow, standing there in the ripeness of his successful manhood, he
didn’t suggest that any of his veins were exhausted.  “Don’t you remember
the moral I offered myself to you that night as pointing?” St. George
continued.  “Consider at any rate the warning I am at present.”

This was too much—he _was_ the mocking fiend.  Paul turned from him with
a mere nod for good-night and the sense in a sore heart that he might
come back to him and his easy grace, his fine way of arranging things,
some time in the far future, but couldn’t fraternise with him now.  It
was necessary to his soreness to believe for the hour in the intensity of
his grievance—all the more cruel for its not being a legal one.  It was
doubtless in the attitude of hugging this wrong that he descended the
stairs without taking leave of Miss Fancourt, who hadn’t been in view at
the moment he quitted the room.  He was glad to get out into the honest
dusky unsophisticating night, to move fast, to take his way home on foot.
He walked a long time, going astray, paying no attention.  He was
thinking of too many other things.  His steps recovered their direction,
however, and at the end of an hour he found himself before his door in
the small inexpensive empty street.  He lingered, questioning himself
still before going in, with nothing around and above him but moonless
blackness, a bad lamp or two and a few far-away dim stars.  To these last
faint features he raised his eyes; he had been saying to himself that he
should have been “sold” indeed, diabolically sold, if now, on his new
foundation, at the end of a year, St. George were to put forth something
of his prime quality—something of the type of “Shadowmere” and finer than
his finest.  Greatly as he admired his talent Paul literally hoped such
an incident wouldn’t occur; it seemed to him just then that he shouldn’t
be able to bear it.  His late adviser’s words were still in his
ears—“You’re very strong, wonderfully strong.”  Was he really?  Certainly
he would have to be, and it might a little serve for revenge.  _Is_ he?
the reader may ask in turn, if his interest has followed the perplexed
young man so far.  The best answer to that perhaps is that he’s doing his
best, but that it’s too soon to say.  When the new book came out in the
autumn Mr. and Mrs. St. George found it really magnificent.  The former
still has published nothing but Paul doesn’t even yet feel safe.  I may
say for him, however, that if this event were to occur he would really be
the very first to appreciate it: which is perhaps a proof that the Master
was essentially right and that Nature had dedicated him to intellectual,
not to personal passion.





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Lesson of the Master" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home