THE people of France have made it no secret, that those of England, as a general thing, are, to their perception, an inexpressive and speechless race, perpendicular and unsociable, unaddicted to modifying the bareness of juxtaposition by verbal or other concessions. This view might have derived encouragement, a few years ago, in Paris, from the manner in which four persons sat together in silence, one fine day about noon, in the garden, as it is called, of the Palais de l’Industrie — the central court of the great glazed bazaar where, among plants and parterres, graveled walks and thin fountains, are ranged the figures and groups, the monuments and busts, which form, in the annual exhibition of the Salon, the department of statuary. The spirit of observation is naturally high at the Salon, quickened by a thousand artful or ineffective appeals, but no particular tension of the visual sense would have been required to embrace the character of the four persons in question. As a solicitation of the eye on definite grounds, they too constituted a successful plastic fact: and even the most superficial observer would have perceived them to be striking products of an insular neighborhood, representatives of that tweed-and-waterproof class with which, on the recurrent occasions when the English turn out for a holiday — Christmas and Easter, Whitsuntide and the autumn — Paris besprinkles itself at a night’s notice. They had about them the indefinable professional look of the British traveler abroad ; that air of preparation for exposure, material and moral, which is so oddly combined with the serene revelation of security and of persistence, and which excites, according to individual susceptibility, the ire or the admiration of foreign communities. They were the more unmistakable as they illustrated very favorably the energetic race to which they had the honor to belong. The fresh, diffused light of the Salon made them clear and important.; they were finished productions, in their way, and ranged there motionless, on their green bench, they were almost as much on exhibition as if they had been hung on the line.
Three ladies and a young man, they were obviously a family — a mother, two daughters, and a son — a circumstance which had the effect at once of making each member of the group doubly typical and of helping to account for their fine taciturnity. They were not, with each other, on terms of ceremony, and moreover they were probably fatigued with their course among the pictures, the rooms on the upper floor. Their attitude, on the part of visitors who had superior features, even if they might appear to some passers-by to have neglected a rare opportunity for an expression, was, after all, a kind of tribute to the state of exhaustion, of bewilderment, to which the genius of France is still capable of reducing the proud. “ En v’la des abrutis!” more than one of their fellow-gazers might have been heard to exclaim ; and certain it is that there was something depressed and discouraged in this interesting group, who sat looking vaguely before them, not noticing the life of the place, somewhat as if each had a private anxiety. A very close observer would have guessed that though on many questions they were closely united, this present anxiety was not the same for each. If they looked grave, moreover, this was doubtless partly the result of their all being dressed in mourning, as if for a recent bereavement. The eldest of the three ladies had indeed a face of a fine austere mould, which would have been moved to gayety only by some force more insidious than any she was likely to recognize in Paris. Cold, still, and considerably worn, it was neither stupid nor hard, but it was firm, narrow, and sharp. This competent matron, acquainted evidently with grief, but not weakened by it, had a high forehead, to which the quality of the skin gave a singular polish — it glittered even when seen at a distance; a nose which achieved a high, free curve; and a tendency to throw back her head and carry it well above her, as if to disengage it from the possible entanglements of the rest of her person. If you had seen her walk, you would have perceived that she trod the earth in a manner suggesting that in a world where she had long since discovered that one could n’t have one’s own way, one could never tell what annoying aggression might take place, so that it was well, from hour to hour, to save what one could. Lady Agnes saved her head, her white triangular forehead. over which her closely crinkled flaxen hair, reproduced in different shades in her children, made a sort of looped silken canopy, like the marquee at a garden-party. Her daughters were tall, like herself — that was visible even as they sat there — and one of them, the younger evidently, was very pretty : a straight, slender, gray-eyed English girl, with a “ good ” figure and a fresh complexion. The sister, who was not pretty, was also straight and slender and grayeyed. Therefore it would be difficult to say why, with so much similarity of cause, there was such difference of effect. Perhaps, after all, she may have had her admirers, and the safest form of my assertion would be that she was not so pretty as the other. Her eyes were dull, and for a part of the impression of length that she produced, her face, in which the cheeks were flat, was excessively responsible. Her brother, beside her, had taken off his hat, as if he felt the air of the summer day heavy in the great pavilion. He was a lean, strong, clear-faced youth, with a straight nose and light-brown hair, which lay continuously and profusely back from his forehead. so that to smooth it from the brow to the neck but a single movement of the hand was required. I cannot describe him better than by saying that he was the sort of young Englishman who looks particularly well abroad, and whose general aspect — his inches, his limbs, his friendly eyes, the modulation of his voice, the cleanness of his flesh-tints, and the fashion of his garments — excites on the part ot those who encounter him in far countries, on the ground of a common speech, a delightful sympathy of race. This sympathy is sometimes qualified by an apprehension of undue literalness, but it almost revels as soon as such a danger is dispelled. We shall see quickly enough how accurate a measure it might have taken of Nicholas Dormer. There was food for suspicion, perhaps, in the wandering blankness that sat at moments in his eyes, as if he had no attention at all, not the least in the world, at his command; but it is no more than just to add, without delay, that this questionable symptom was known, among those who liked him, by the indulgent name of dreaminess. For his mother and sisters, for instance, his dreaminess was notorious. He is the more welcome to the benefit of such an interpretation as there is always held to be something engaging in the combination of the muscular and the musing, . the mildness of strength.
After some time — a period during which these good people might have appeared to have come, individually, to the Palais de l’Industrie much less to see the works of art than to think over their domestic affairs — the young man. rousing himself from his reverie, addressed one of the girls.
“ I say, Biddy, why should we sit moping here all day? Come and take a turn about with me.”
His younger sister, while he got up, leaned forward a little, looking round her, but she gave, for the moment, no further sign of complying with his invitation.
“ Where shall we find you, then, if Peter comes ? ” inquired the other Miss Dormer, making no movement at all.
“ I dare say Peter won’t come. He ’ll leave us here to cool our heels.”
“ Oh, Nick, dear ! ” Biddy exclaimed in a sweet little voice of protest. It was plainly her theory that Peter would come, and even, a little, her apprehension that she might miss him should she quit that spot.
“ We shall come back in a quarter of an hour. Really, I must look at these things,” Nick declared, turning his face to a marble group which stood near them, on the right — a man, with the skin of a beast round his loins, trying to wrench away a naked woman, who. to resist him, locked her arms round the trunk of a young tree. It appeared to represent some primitive act of courtship or capture — a wonderful entanglement of limbs and concussion of bosoms.
Lady Agnes followed the direction of her son’s eyes, and then observed —
“ Everything seems very dreadful. I should think Biddy had better sit still. Has n’t she seen enough horrors up above?”
“ I dare say that if Peter comes Julia will be with him,” the elder girl remarked irrelevantly.
“ Well, then, he can take Julia about. That will be more proper,” said Lady Agnes.
“ Mother, dear, she doesn’t care a button about art. It’s a fearful bore looking at fine things with Julia,” Nick rejoined.
“ Won’t you go with him, Grace ? ” said Biddy, appealing to her sister.
“ I think she has awfully good taste !” Grace exclaimed, not answering this inquiry.
“Don’t say nasty things about her!” Lady Agnes broke out, solemnly, to her son, after resting her eyes on him a moment with an air of reluctant reprobation.
“ I say nothing but what she’d say herself,” the young man replied. “ About, some things she has very good taste, but about this kind of thing she has no taste at all.”
“That’s better, I think,” said Lady Agnes, turning her eyes again to the “kind of thing” that her son appeared to designate.
“ She’s awfully clever — awfully !” Grace went on, with decision.
“ Awfully, awfully,” her brother repeated, standing in front of her and smiling down at her.
“You are nasty, Nick. You know you are.” said the young lady, but more in sorrow than in anger.
Biddy got up at this, as if the accusatory tone prompted her to place herself, generously, at his side. “ Might n’t you go and order lunch, in that place, you know ? ” she asked of her mother. “Then we would come back when it was ready.”
“My dear child, I can’t order lunch,” Lady Agnes replied, with a cold impatience which seemed to intimate that she had problems far more important than those of victualing to contend with.
“ I mean Peter, if he comes. I am sure he’s up in everything of that sort.”
“Oh. hang Peter! ” Nick exclaimed. “ Leave him out of account, and do order lunch, mother; but not cold beef and pickles.”
“ I must say — about him — you ‘re not nice,” Biddy ventured to remark to her brother, hesitating, and even blushing, a little.
“You make up for it, my dear,” the young man answered, giving her chin — a very charming, rotund little chin — a friendly whisk with his forefinger.
“ I can’t imagine what you ’ve got against him,” her ladyship murmured, gravely.
“ Dear mother, it’s disappointed fondness,” Nick argued. “They won’t answer one’s notes; they won’t let one know where they are nor what to expect. ‘ Hell has no fury like a woman scorned ; ’ nor like a man either.”
“ Peter has such a tremendous lot to do — it’s a very busy time at the embassy ; there are sure to be reasons,” Biddy explained, with her pretty eyes.
“ Reasons enough, no doubt! ” said Lady Agnes, who accompanied these words with an ambiguous sigh, however, as if in Paris even the best reasons would naturally be bad ones.
“ Does n’t Julia write to you, does n’t she answer you the very day ? ” Grace inquired, looking at Nick as if she were the courageous one.
He hesitated a moment, returning her glance with a certain severity. “ What do you know about my correspondence ? No doubt I ask too much,” he went on :
“ I 'm so attached to them. Dear old Peter, dear old Julia ! ”
“ She ’s younger than you. my dear ! ” cried the elder girl, still resolute.
“Yes, nineteen days.”
“ I 'm glad you know her birthday.”
“ She knows yours ; she always gives you something,” Lady Agnes resumed, to her son.
“Her taste is good then, is n’t it, Nick ? ” Grace Dormer continued.
“ She makes charming presents ; hut, dear mother, it is n’t her taste. It’s her husband’s.”
“ Her husband’s ? ”
“The beautiful objects of which she disposes so freely are the things he collected, for years, laboriously, devotedly, poor man! ”
“ She disposes of them to you, but not to others.” said Lady Agnes. “ But that ’s all right.” she added, as if this might have been taken for a complaint of the limitations of Julia’s bounty. “She has to select, among so many, and that ’s a proof of taste,” her ladyship went on.
“You can’t say she does n’t choose lovely ones,”Grace remarked to her brother, in a tone of some triumph.
“ My dear, they are all lovely. George Dallow’s judgment was so sure, he was incapable of making a mistake,” Nicholas Dormer returned.
“ I don’t see how you can talk of him ; he was dreadful,” said Lady Agnes.
“ My dear, if he was good enough for Julia to marry, he is good enough for one to talk of.”
“She did him a great honor.”
“ I dare say : but he was not unworthy of it. No such intelligent collection of beautiful objects has been made in England in our time.”
“ You think too much of beautiful objects,” returned her ladyship.
“I thought you were just now implying that I thought too little.”
“It’s very nice — his having left Julia so well off,” Biddy interposed, soothingly, as if she foresaw a tangle.
“He treated her en grand seigneur, absolutely,” Nick went on.
“ He used to look greasy, all the same,” Grace Dormer pursued, with a kind of dull irreconcilability. “ His name ought to have been Tallow.”
“You are not saying what Julia would like, if that’s what you are trying to say,” her brother remarked.
“ Don’t be vulgar, Grace,” said Lady Agnes.
“I know Peter Sherringham’s birthday ! ” Biddy broke out innocently, as a pacific diversion. She had passed her hand into her brother’s arm, to signify her readiness to go with him, while she scanned the remoter portions of the garden as if it had occurred to her that to direct their steps thither might after all be the shorter way to get at Peter.
“ He’s too much older than you, my dear,” Grace rejoined, diseouragingly.
“ That’s why I’ve noticed it — he’s thirty-four. Do you call that too old ? I don’t care for slobbering infants ! ” Biddy cried.
“Don’t be vulgar,” Lady Agnes enjoined again.
“Come, Bid, we 'll go and be vulgar together; for that’s what we are, I’m afraid,” her brother said to her. “ We 'll go and look at all these low works of art.”
“ Do you really think it’s necessary to the child’s development ? ” Lady Agnes demanded, as the pair turned away. Nicholas Dormer was struck as by a kind of challenge, and he paused, lingering a moment, with his little sister on his arm. ” What we’ve been through this morning in this place, and what you’ve paraded before our eyes — the murders, the tortures, all kinds of disease and indecency! ”
Nick looked at his mother as if this sudden protest surprised him, but as if also there were lurking explanations of it which he quickly guessed. Her resentment had the effect not so much of animating her cold face as of making it colder, less expressive, though visibly prouder. “ Ah, dear mother, don’t do the British matron ! ” he exclaimed, good-humoredly.
“British matron is soon said ! don’t know what they are coming to.”
“ How odd that you should have been struck only with the disagreeable things, when, for myself, I have felt it to be most interesting, the most suggestive morning I have passed for ever so many months! ”
“Oh, Nick, Nick!” Lady Agnes murmured, with a strange depth of feeling.
“I like them better in London — they are much less unpleasant,” said Grace Dormer.
“ They are things you can look at,” her ladyship went on. “ We ceitainly make the better show.”
“ The subject does n’t matter ; it’s the treatment, the treatment!” Biddy announced, in a voice like the tinkle of a silver bell.
“ Poor little Bid ! ” her brother cried, breaking into a laugh.
“How can I learn to model, mamma, dear, if I don’t look at things and if I don’t study them ? ” the girl continued.
This inquiry passed unheeded, and Nicholas Dormer said to his mother, more seriously, but with a certain kind explicitness, as if he could make a particular allowance: ‘‘This place is an immense stimulus to me ; it refreshes me, excites me, it’s such an exhibition of artistic life. It’s full of ideas, full of refinements; it gives one such an impression of artistic experience. They try everything, they feel everything. While you were looking at the murders, apparently, I observed an immense deal of curious and interesting work. There are too many of them, poor devils; so many who must make their way, who must attract attention. Some of them can only taper fort, stand on their heads, turn summersaults, or commit deeds of violence, to make people notice them. After that, no doubt, a good many will be quieter. But I don’t know ; to-day I’m in an appreciative mood — I feel indulgent even to them : they give me an impression of intelligence, of eager observation. All art is one — remem* ber that, Biddy, dear,” the young man continued, looking down at his sister with a smile. " It’s the same great, many-headed effort, and any ground that’s gained by an individual, any spark that ’s struck in any province, is of use and of suggestion to all the others. We are all in the same boat.”
“ ‘ We,’ you say, my dear? Are you really setting up for an artist ? ” Lady Agnes asked.
Nick hesitated a moment. “ I was speaking for Biddy ! ”
“ But you are one, Nick — you are ! ” the girl cried.
Lady Agnes looked for an instant as it she were going to say once more,
“ Don’t be vulgar !” But she suppressed these words, if she had intended them, and uttered others, few in number and not completely articulate, to the effect that she hated talking about art. While her son spoke she had watched him as it she failed to follow him ; yet something in the tone of her exclamation seemed to denote that she had understood him only too well.
“ We are all in the same boat,” Biddy repeated, smiling at her.
“ Not me, if you please ! ” Lady Agnes replied. " It’s horrid, messy work, your modeling.”
“ Ah, but look at the results! ” said the girl, eagerly, glancing about at the monuments in the garden as if in regard even to them she were in some degree an effective cause.
“ There’s a great deal being done here —a real vitality,” Nicholas Dormer went on, to his mother, in the same reasonable, informing way. “ Some of these fellows go very far.”
“ They do, indeed!” said Lady Agnes.
“I’m fond of young schools, like this movement in sculpture,“ Nick remarked, with his slightly provoking serenity.
“ They 're old enough to know better : ”
“May n’t I look, mamma? It is necessary to my development,” Biddy declared.
“ You may do as you like,” said Lady Agnes, with dignity.
“ She ought to see good work, you know,” the young man went on.
“ I leave it to your sense of responsibility.” This statement was somewhat majestic, and for a moment, evidently, it tempted Nick, almost provoked him, or at any rate suggested to him an occasion to say something that he had on his mind. Apparently, however, he judged the occasion on the whole not good enough, and his sister Grace interposed with the inquiry —
“ Please, mamma, are we never going to lunch?”
“ Ah, mother, mother ! ” the young man murmured, in a troubled way, looking down at Lady Agnes with a deep fold in his forehead.
For her, also, as she returned his look, it seemed an occasion; but with this difference, that she had no hesitation in taking advantage of it. She was encouraged by his slight embarrassment; for ordinarily Nick was not embarrassed. “You used to have so much,” she went on; “but sometimes I don’t know what has become of it — it seems all, all gone ! ”
“ Ah, mother, mother ! ” he exclaimed again, as if there were so many things to say that it was impossible to choose. But this time he stepped closer, bent over her, and, in spite of the publicity of their situation, gave her a quick, expressive kiss. The foreign observer whom I took for granted in beginning to sketch this scene would have had to admit that the rigid English family had, after all, a capacity for emotion. Grace Dormer, indeed, looked round her to see if at this moment they were noticed. She discovered with satisfaction that they had escaped.
Nick Dormer walked away with Biddy, but he had not gone far before he stopped in front of a clever bust, where his mother, in the distance, saw him playing in the air with his hand, carrying out by this gesture, which presumably was applausive, some critical remark he had made to his sister. Lady Agnes raised her glass to her eyes by the long handle to which rather a clanking chain was attached, perceiving that the bust represented an ugly old man with a bald head ; at which her ladyship indefinitely sighed, though it was not apparent in what way such an object could be detrimental to her daughter. Nick passed on, and quickly paused again ; this time, his mother discerned, it was before the marble image of a grimacing woman. Presently she lost sight of him; he wandered behind things, looking at them all round.
“ I ought to get plenty of ideas for my modeling, ought n’t I, Nick ? ” his sister inquired of him, after a moment.
“ Ah, my poor child, what shall I say ? ”
“ Don’t you think I have any capacity for ideas ? ” the girl continued, ruefully.
“ Lots of them, no doubt. But the capacity for applying them, for putting them into practice — how much of that have you ? ”
“ How can I tell till I try ? ”
“ What do you mean by trying, Biddy, dear ? ”
“ Why, you know—you’ve seen me.”
“Do you call that trying ? ” her brother asked, smiling at her.
“ Ah, Nick ! ” murmured the girl, sensitively. Then, with more spirit, she went on : “ And please, what do you ? ”
“ Well, this, for instance ; ” and her companion pointed to another bust — a head of a young man, in terracotta, at which they had just arrived; a modern young man, to whom, with his thick neck, his little cap, and his wide ring of dense curls, the artist had given the air of a Florentine of the time of Lorenzo.
Biddy looked at the image a moment.
“ Ah, that’s not trying ; that’s succeeding.”
“ Not altogether ; it’s only trying seriously.”
“ Well, why should n’t I be serious ? ”
“ Mother would n’t like it. She has inherited the queer old superstition that art is pardonable only so long as it ’s bad — So long as it’s done at odd hours, for a little distraction, like a game of tennis or of whist. The only thing that can justify it, the effort to carry it as far as one can (which you can’t do without time and singleness of purpose), she regards as just the dangerous, the criminal element. It ’s the oddest hind-parthefore view, the drollest immorality. ”
“ She does n’t want one to be professional,” Biddy remarked, as if she could do justice to every system.
“ Better leave it alone, then : there are duffers enough.”
“ I don’t want to be a duffer,” Biddy said. “ But I thought you encouraged me.”
“ So I did, my poor child. It was only to encourage myself.”
“ With your own work —your painting ? ”
“With my futile, my ill-starred endeavors. Union is strength; so that we might present a wider front, a larger surface of resistance.”
Biddy was silent a moment, while they continued their tour of observation. She noticed how her brother passed over some things quickly, his first glance sufficing to show him whether they were worth another, and recognized in a moment the figures that had something in them. His tone puzzled her, but his certainty of eye impressed her, and she felt what a difference there was yet between them — how much longer, in every ease, she would have taken to discriminate. She was aware that she could rarely tell whether a picture was good or bad until she had looked at it for ten minutes; and modest little Biddy was compelled privately to add, “ And often not even then.” She was mystified, as I say (Nick was often mystifying — it was his only fault), but one thing was definite: her brother was exceedingly clever. It was the consciousness of this that made her remark at last, “ I don’t so much care whether or no I please mamma, if I please you,”
“ Oh, don’t lean on me. I’m a wretched broken reed! ” Nick Dormer exclaimed.
“ Do you mean you ’re a duffer ? ” Biddy asked, alarmed.
“ Frightful, frightful! ”
“ So that you mean to give up your work—to let it alone, as you advise me ? ”
“ It has never been my work, Biddy. It it had, it would be different. I should stick to it.”
“And you won’t stick to it?” the girl exclaimed, standing before him, open eyed.
Her brother looked into her eyes a moment, and she had a compunction; she feared she was indiscreet and was worrying him. “ Your questions are much simpler than the elements out of which my answer should come.”
“ A great talent — what is simpler than that ? ”
“ One thing, dear Biddy: no talent at all ! ”
“ Well, yours is so real, you can’t help it.”
“ We shall see, we shall see,” said Nicholas Dormer. “ Let us go look at that big group.”
“ We shall see if it ’s real ? ” Biddy went on, as she accompanied him.
“ No ; we shall see if I can’t help it. What nonsense Paris makes one talk ! ” the young man added, as they stopped in front of the composition. This was true, perhaps, but not in a sense which he found himself tempted to deplore. The present was far from being his first visit to the French capital: he had often quitted England, and usually made a point of “ putting in,” as he called it, a few days there on the outward journey to the Continent or on the return ; but on this occasion the emotions, for the most part agreeable, attendant upon a change of air and of scene had been more punctual and more acute than for a long time before, and stronger the sense of novelty, refreshment, amusement, of manifold suggestions looking to that quarter of thought to which, on the whole, his attention was apt most frequently. though not most confessedly, to stray. He was fonder of Paris than most of his countrymen, though not so fond, perhaps, as the natives of some other lands : the place had always had the power of quickening sensibly the life of reflection and of observation within him. It was a good while since the reflections engendered by his situation there had been so favorable to the city by the Seine ; a good while, at all events, since they had ministered so to excitement, to exhilaration, to ambition, even to a restlessness which was not prevented from being agreeable by the nervous quality in it. Dormer could have given the reason of this unwonted glow; but his preference was very much to keep it to himself. Certainly, to persons not deeply knowing, or at any rate not deeply curious, in relation to the young man’s history, the explanation might have seemed to beg the question, consisting as it did of the simple formula that he had at last come to a crisis. Why a crisis — what was it, and why had he not come to it before ? The reader shall learn these things in time, if he cares enough for them. For several years Nicholas Dormer had not omitted to see the Salon, which the general voice, this season, pronounced not particularly good. None the less, it was the exhibition of this season that, for some cause connected with his " crisis,” made him think fast, produced that effect which he had spoken of to his mother as a sense of artistic life. The precinct of the marbles and bronzes appealed to him especially to-day ; the glazed garden, not florally rich, with its new productions alternating with perfunctory plants, and its queer, damp smell, partly the odor of plastic clay, of the studios of sculptors, spoke to him with the voice of old associations, of other visits, of companionships that were closed — an insinuating eloquence which was at the same time, somehow, identical with the general sharp contagion of Paris. There was youth in the air, and a multitudinous newness, forever reviving, and the diffusion of a hundred talents, ingenuities, experiments. The summer clouds made shadows on the roof of the great building ; the white images, hard in their crudity, spotted the place with provocations; the rattle of plates at the restaurant sounded sociable in the distance, and our young man congratulated himself more than ever that he had not missed the exhibition. He felt that it would help him to settle something. At the moment he made this reflection his eye fell upon a person who appeared — just in the first glimpse — to carry out the idea of help. He uttered a lively ejaculation, which, however, in its want of finish, Biddy failed to understand ; so pertinent, so relevant and congruous, was the other party to this encounter.
The girl’s attention followed her brother’s, and rested with his on a young man who faced them without seeing them, engaged as he was in imparting to two persons who were with him his ideas about one of the works exposed to view. What Biddy discerned was that this young man was fair and fat and of the middle stature ; he had a round face and a short beard, and on his crown a mere reminiscence of hair, as the fact that he carried his hat in his hand permitted it to be observed. Bridget Dormer, who was quick, estimated him immediately as a gentleman, but a gentleman unlike any other gentleman she had ever seen. She would have taken him for a foreigner, but that the words proceeding from his mouth reached her ear and imposed themselves as a variety of English. It was not that a foreigner might not have spoken excellent English, nor yet that the English of this young man was not excellent. It had, on the contrary, a conspicuous and aggressive perfection, and Biddy was sure that no alien would have ventured to play such tricks with the tongue. He seemed to draw rich effects and wandering airs from it — to modulate and manipulate it as he would have done a musical instrument. Her view of the gentleman’s companions was less operative, save that she made the rapid reflection that they were people whom in any country, from China to Peru, one would immediately have taken for natives. One of them was an old lady with a shawl; that was the most salient way in which she presented herself. The shawl was an ancient, voluminous fabric of embroidered cashmere, such as many ladies wore forty years ago in their walks abroad, and such as no lady wears to-day. It had fallen half off the back of the wearer, but at the moment Biddy permitted herself to consider her she gave it a violent jerk and brought it up to her shoulders again, where she continued to arrange and settle it, with a good deal of jauntiness and elegance, while she listened to the talk of the gentleman. Biddy guessed that this little transaction took place very frequently, and she was not unaware that it gave the old lady a droll, faded, superannuated appearance, as if she were singularly out of step with the age. The other person was very much younger — she might have been a daughter — and had a pale face, a low forehead, and thick, dark hair. What she chiefly had, however, Biddy rapidly discovered, was a pair of eyes. Our young friend was helped to the discovery by the accident of their resting at this moment, for a little while — it struck Biddy as very long — on her own. She had eyes as her mother (if it was her mother) had a shawl: they were what you would most promptly have described her by. Both of these ladies were clad in light, thin, scanty gowns, giving an impression of flowered figures and odd transparencies, and in low shoes, which showed a great deal of stocking and were ornamented with large rosettes. Biddy’s slightly agitated perception traveled directly to their shoes: they suggested to her vaguely that the wearers were dancers — connected possibly with the old-fashioned exhibition of the shawl-dance. By the time she had taken in so much as this the mellifluous young man had perceived and addressed himself to her brother. He came forward with an extended hand. Nick greeted him and said it was a happy chance — he was uncommonly glad to see him.
“ I never come across you — I don’t know why,” Nick remarked, while the two, smiling, looked each other up and down, like men reunited after a long interval.
“ Oh, it seems to me there ’s reason enough : our paths in life are so different.” Nick’s friend had a laugh which exhibited dimples, a circumstance that excited Biddy’s sense of the incongruous — he seemed too old for dimples. He had a great deal of manner, as was evinced by his fashion of saluting her without knowing her.
“ Different, yes, but not so different as that. Don’t we both live in London, after all, and in the nineteenth century ? ”
“ Ah, my dear Dormer, excuse me : I don’t live in the nineteenth century. Jamais de la vie ! ”
“ Nor in London, either ? ”
“ Yes — when I’m not in Samarcand ! But surely we’ve diverged since the old days. I adore what you burn ; you burn what I adore.” While the stranger spoke he looked cheerfully, hospitably, at Biddy ; not because it was she, she easily guessed, but because it was in his nature to desire a second auditor — a kind of sympathetic gallery. Her life, somehow, was filled with shy people, and she immediately knew that she had never encountered any one less shy than this bright, sonorous young man.
“ How do you know what I adore? ” Nicholas Dormer inquired.
“ I know well enough what you used to.”
“ That’s more than I do myself; there were so many things.”
“ Yes, there are many things —• many, many : that’s what makes life so amusing.”
” Do you find it amusing ? ”
“ My dear fellow, c’est à pouffer! Don’t you think so ? Ah, it was high time I should meet you — I see. I have an idea you need me.”
“ Upon my word, I think I do ! ” Nick said, in a tone which struck his sister, and made her wonder still more why, if the gentleman was so important as that, he did n’t introduce him.
“ There are many gods, and this is one of their temples,” the mysterious personage went on. “ It’s a house of strange idols — is n’t it ?— and of some curious and unnatural sacrifices.”
To Biddy, as much as to her brother, this remark appeared to be offered ; but the girl’s eyes turned back to the ladies, who, for the moment, had lost their companion. She felt irresponsive, and feared she should pass with this familiar cosmopolite for a stiff, scared English girl, which was not the type she aimed at; but there seemed an interdiction even of ocular commerce so long as she had not a sign from Nick. The elder of the strange women had turned her back and was looking at some bronze figure, losing her shawl again as she did so ; but the other stood where their escort had quitted her, giving all her attention to his sudden acquaintance. Her arms hung at her sides, her head was bent, her face lowered, so that she had an odd appearance of raising her eyes from under her brows ; and in this attitude she was striking, though her air was unconciliatory, almost dangerous. Did it express resentment at having been abandoned for another girl ? Biddy, who began to be frightened — there was a moment when the forsaken one resembled a tigress about to spring — was tempted to cry out that she had no wish whatever to appropriate the gentleman. Then she made the discovery that the young lady had a manner, almost as much as her cicerone, and the rapid induction that it perhaps meant no more than his. She only looked at Biddy from beneath her eyebrows, which were wonderfully arched, but there was a manner in the way she did it. Biddy had a momentary sense of being a figure in a ballet, a dramatic ballet — a subordinate, motionless figure, to be dashed at, to music, or capered up to. It would be a very dramatic ballet indeed if this young person were the heroine. She had magnificent hair, the girl reflected ; and at the same moment she heard Nick say to his interlocutor, “You’re not in London — one can’t meet you there ? ”
” I drift, I float,” was the answer ; “ my feelings direct me — if such a life as mine may be said to have a direction. Where there’s anything to feel, I try to be there ! ” the young man continued, with his confiding laugh.
“I should like to get hold of you,” Nick remarked.
“ Well, in that case there would be something to feel. Those are the currents — any sort of personal relation — that govern my career.”
“ I don’t want to lose you this time,”
Nick continued, in a manner that excited Biddy’s surprise. A moment before, when his friend had said that he tried to be where there was anything to feel, she had wondered how he could endure him.
“ Don’t lose me, don’t lose me !” exclaimed the stranger, with a countenance and a tone which affected the girl as the highest expression of irresponsibility that she had ever seen. “ After all, why should you ? Let us remain together, unless I interfere ” — and he looked, smiling and interrogative, at Biddy, who still remained blank, only observing again that Nick forbore to make them acquainted. This was an anomaly, since he prized the gentleman so ; but there could be no anomaly of Nick s that would not impose itself upon his younger sister.
“ Certainly, I keep you,” said Nick, “ unless, on my side, I deprive those ladies ” —
“Charming women, but it’s not an indissoluble union. We meet and we part! They are going — I am seeing them to the door. I shall come back.” With this Nick’s friend rejoined his companions, who moved away with him, the strange, fine eyes of the girl lingering on Nick, as well as on Biddy, as they receded.
“Who is he — who are they ? ” Biddy instantly asked.
“ He’s a gentleman,” Nick replied, unsatisfactorily, and even, as she thought, with a shade of hesitation. He spoke as if she might have supposed he was not one ; and if he was really one, why did n’t he introduce him? But Biddy would not for the world have put this question to her brother, who now moved to the nearest bench and dropped upon it, as if to wait for the other’s return. No sooner, however, had his sister seated herself than he said. “ See here, my dear, do you think you had better stay ? ”
“ Do you want me to go back to mother ? ” the girl asked, with a lengthening visage.
“ Well, what do you think ? ” and Nick smiled down at her.
“ Is your conversation to be about — about private affairs ? ”
“ No, I can’t say that. But I doubt whether mother would think it the sort of thing that’s ‘ necessary to your development.’ ”
This assertion appeared to inspire Biddy with the eagerness with which again she broke out : “ But who are they — who are they ? ”
“ I know nothing of the ladies. I never saw them before. The man ’s a fellow I knew very well at Balliol. He was a wonderful creature there. We have diverged, as he says, and I had almost lost sight of him, but not so much as he thinks, because I’ve read him, and read him with interest. He has written some able things.”
“ What kind of things ? ” “Verses, my dear.”
“ What kind of verses ? ”
“Well, very remarkable, very near perfection.” Biddy listened to this with so much interest that she thought it illogical her brother should add, “ I dare say Peter will have come, if you return to mother.”
“I don’t care if he has. Peter’s nothing to me. But I ’ll go if you wish it.”
Nick looked down at her again, and then said, “ It does n’t signify. We’ll all go.”
“ All ? ” Biddy echoed.
“ He won’t hurt us. On the contrary, he '11 do us good.”
This was possible, the girl reflected in silence, but none the less the idea struck her as courageous — the idea of their taking the odd young man back to breakfast with them and with the others, especially if Peter should be there. If Peter was nothing to her, it was singular she should have attached such importance to this contingency. The odd young man reappeared, and now that she saw him without his queer female appendages he seemed personally less unusual. He struck her, moreover, as generally a good deal accounted for by the poetic character, especially if he exemplified it in approximate perfection. As he took his place on the bench, Nick said to him, indicating her, “ My sister Bridget,” and then mentioned his name, “ Mr. Gabriel Nash.”
“You enjoy Paris — you are happy here? ” Mr. Nash inquired, leaning over his friend to speak to the girl.
Though his words were simple, he struck her as affected, and this made her answer him more dryly than she usually spoke. “Oh, yes, it’s very nice.”
“And French art interests you? You find things here that please ? ”
“ Oh, yes, I like some of them.”
Mr. Nash looked at her with kind eyes. “ I hoped you would say you like the Academy better.”
“ She would if she did n’t think you expected it,” said Nicholas Dormer.
“ Oh, Nick ! ” Biddy protested.
“ Miss Dormer is herself an English picture,” Gabriel Nash remarked, smiling like a man whose urbanity was a solvent.
“That’s a compliment, if you don’t like them ! ” Biddy exclaimed.
“ All, some of them, some of them ; there’s a certain sort of thing!” Mr. Nash continued. “ We must feel everything, everything that we can. We are here for that.”
“ You do like English art, then ? ” Nick demanded, with a slight accent of surprise.
Mr. Nash turned his smile upon him. “ My dear Dormer, do you remember the old complaint I used to make of you ? You had formulas that were like walking in one’s hat. One may see something in a case, and one may not.”
“ Upon my word,” said Nick, “ I don’t know any one who was fonder of a generalization than you. You turned them off as you 'd distribute handbills.”
“ They were my wild oats. I’ve sown them all.”
“We shall see that ! ”
“ Oh, they ’re nothing now — a tame, scanty, homely growth. My only generalizations are my actions.”
“We shall see them, then.
“ Ah, excuse me. You can’t see them with the naked eye. Moreover, mine are principally negative. People s actions, I know, are, for the most part, the things they do, but mine are the things I don’t do. There are so many of those, so many, but they don’t produce any effect. And then all the rest are shades — extremely fine shades.”
“ Shades of behavior? ” Nick inquired, with an interest which surprised his sister; Mr. Nash’s discourse striking her mainly as elegant moonshine.
“Shades of impression, of appreciation,” said the young man, with his explanatory smile. “ My only behavior is my feelings.”
“ Well, don’t you show your feelings ? You used to ! ”
“ Was n’t it mainly those of disgust? ” Nash asked. “ Those operate no longer.
I have closed that window.”
“ Do you mean you like everything? ” “ Dear me, no ! But I look only at what I do like. ”
“ Do you mean that you have lost the faculty of displeasure ? ”
“ I have n’t the least idea. I never try it. My dear fellow,” said Gabriel Nash, “ we have only one life that we know anything about: fancy taking it up with disagreeable impressions! When, then, shall we go in for pleasure ? ”
“ What do you mean by pleasure ? ” Nick Dormer asked.
“ The appreciation of the charming, the love of the beautiful, the exercise of admiration.”
Nick had excited a certain astonishment on the part of his sister, but it was now Biddy’s turn to make him open his eyes a little. She raised her sweet voice and inquired of Mr. Nash —
“ Don’t you think there are any wrongs in the world — any abuses and sufferings ? ”
“ Oh, so many, so many ! That’s why one must choose.”
“ Choose to stop them, to reform them — is n’t that the choice?” Biddy asked. “That’s Nick’s,” she added, blushing and looking at this personage.
“Ah, our divergence — yes ! ” sighed Gabriel Nash. “ There are all kinds of machinery for that — very complicated and ingenious. Your formulas, my dear Dormer, your formulas ! ”
“Hang ’em, I haven’t got any!” Nick exclaimed.
“ To me, personally, the simplest ways are those that appeal most, ” Mr. Nash went on. “ We pay too much attention to the ugly ; we notice it, we magnify it. The great thing is to leave it alone and encourage the beautiful.”
“ You must be very sure you get hold of the beautiful, ” said Nick.
“ Ah, precisely, and that’s just the importance of the faculty of appreciation. We must train our special sense. It is capable of extraordinary extension. Life’s none too long for that.”
“ But what’s the good of the extraordinary extension it there is no affirmation of it, if it all goes to the negative, as you say ? Where are the fine consequences? ” Dormer asked.
“ In one’s own spirit. One is one’s self a fine consequence. That ’s the most important one we have to do with. I am a fine consequence,” said Gabriel Nash.
Biddy rose from the bench at this, and stepped away a little, as if to look at a piece of statuary. But she had not gone far before, pausing and turning, she bent, her eyes upon Mr. Nash with a heightened color, an air of hesitation, and the question, after a moment, “ Are you an æsthete ? ”
“ Ah, there’s one of the formulas! That’s walking in one’s hat! I ‘ve no profession, my dear young lady. I’ve no état civil. These things are a part of the complicated, ingenious machinery. As I say, I keep to the simplest way. I find that gives one enough to do. Merely to be is such a métier ; to live is such an art; to feel is such a career ! ”
Bridget Dormer turned her back and examined her statue, and her brother said to his old friend, “ And to write ? ”
“ To write ? Oh, I ’ll never do it again ! ”
“ You have done it almost well enough to be inconsistent. Those things of yours are anything but negative; they are complicated and ingenious.”
“ My dear fellow, I am extremely ashamed of them,” said Gabriel Nash.
“ Ah, call yourself a bloated Buddhist and have done with it! ” his companion exclaimed.
“ Have done with it ? I have n’t the least desire for that. And why should one call one’s self anything ? One only deprives other people of their dearest occupation. Let me add that you don’t begin to have an insight into the art of life till it ceases to be of the smallest consequence to you what you may be called. That’s rudimentary.”
“ But if you go in for shades, you must also go in for names. You must distinguish,” Dormer objected. “The observer is nothing without his categories, his types, and his varieties.”
“ Ah, trust him to distinguish ! ” said Gabriel Nash, sweetly. “That’s for his own convenience ; he has, privately, a terminology to meet it. That’s one’s style. But from the moment it’s for the convenience of others, the signs have to be grosser, the shades begin to go. That’s a deplorable hour! Literature, you see, is for the convenience of others. It requires the most abject concessions. It plays such mischief with one’s style that really I have had to give it up.”
“ And politics? ” Nick Dormer asked.
“ Well, what about them ? ” was Mr. Nash’s reply, in a peculiar intonation, as he watched his friend’s sister, who was still examining her statue. Biddy was divided between irritation and curiosity. She had interposed space, but she had not gone beyond ear-shot. Nick’s question made her curiosity throb, especially in its second form, as a rejoinder to their companion’s.
“ That, no doubt you 'll say, is still far more for the convenience of others — is still worse for one’s style.”
Biddy turned round in time to hear Mr. Nash exclaim, “ It has simply nothing in life to do with shades ! I can’t say worse for it than that.”
Biddy stepped nearer at this, and, drawing still further on her courage, “ Won’t mamma be waiting? Ought n’t we to go to luncheon ? ” she asked.
Both the young men looked up at her, and Mr. Nash remarked —
“ You ought to protest! You ought to save him ! ”
“ To save him ? ” said Biddy.
“ He had a style; upon my word, he had ! But I’ve seen it go. I ’ve read his speeches,”
“ You were capable of that? ” Dormer demanded.
“For you, yes. But it was like listening to a nightingale in a brass band.”
“I think they were beautiful.” Biddy declared.
Her brother got up at this tribute, and Mr. Nash, rising too, said, with his bright, colloquial air —
“But, Miss Dormer, he had eyes. He was made to see — to see all over, to see everything. There are so few like that.”
“ I think he still sees,” Biddy rejoined, wondering a little why Nick did n’t defend himself.
“ He sees his side, dear young lady. Poor man, fancy your having a ‘ side ’ — you, you — and spending your days and your nights looking at it ! I’d as soon pass my life looking at a potato.”
“ You don’t see me some day a great statesman ? ” said Nick.
“My dear fellow, it’s exactly what I ’ve a terror of.”
“Mercy! don’t you admire them ? ” Biddy cried.
“It’s a trade like another, and a method of making one’s way which society certainly condones. But when one can be something better !
“Dear me, what is better ?” Biddy asked.
The young man hesitated, and Nick, replying for him, said —
“Gabriel Nash is better! You must come and lunch with us. I must keep you — I must! ” he added.
“We shall save him yet.” Mr. Nash observed genially to Biddy as they went, and the girl wondered still more what her mother would make of him.
After her companions left her Lady Agnes rested for five minutes in silence with her elder daughter, at the end of which time she observed, “ I suppose one must have food, at any rate,” and, getting up, quitted the place where they had been sitting. “ And where are we to go ? I hate eating out-of-doors,” she went on.
“ Dear me. when one comes to Paris ! ” Grace rejoined, in a tone which appeared to imply that in so rash an adventure one must be prepared for compromises and concessions. The two ladies wandered to where they saw a large sign of “ Buffet ” suspended in the air, entering a precinct reserved for little white-clothed tables, straw-covered chairs, and long-aproned waiters. One of these functionaries approached them with eagerness, and with a “ Mesdames sent seules ? ” receiving in return, from her ladyship, the announcement, “ Non; nous sommes beaucoup ! ” He introduced them to a table larger than most of the others, and under his protection they took their places at it, and began, rather languidly and vaguely, to consider the question of the repast. The waiter had placed a carte in Lady Agnes’s hands, and she studied it, through her eyeglass, with a failure of interest, while he enumerated, with professional fluency, the resources of the establishment, and Grace looked at the people at the other tables. She was hungry, and had already broken a morsel from a long glazed roll.
“Not cold beef and pickles,you know,” she observed to her mother. Lady Agnes gave no heed to this profane remark, but she dropped her eyeglass and laid down the greasy document. “ What does it signify ? I dare say it’s all nasty,” Grace continued ; and she added, inconsoquently, “ If Peter comes, he’s sure to be particular.”
“ Let him be particular to come, first! " her ladyship exclaimed, turning a cold eye upon the waiter.
“ Poulet chasseur, filets mignons, sauce béarnaise.” the man suggested.
“ You will give us what I tell you,” said Lady Agnes, and she mentioned, with distinctness and authority, the dishes of which she desired that the meal should be composed. He interposed three or four more suggestions, but as they produced absolutely no impression on her he became silent and submissive, doing justice, apparently, to her ideas. For Lady Agnes had ideas; and though it had suited her humor, ten minutes before, to profess herself helpless in such a case, the manner in which she imposed them upon the waiter as original, practical, and economical showed. the high, executive woman, the mother of children, the daughter of earls, the consort, of an official, the dispenser of hospitality, looking back upon a lifetime of luncheons. She carried many cares, and the feeding of multitudes (she was honorably conscious of having fed them decently, as she had always done everything) had ever been one of them.
“ Everything is absurdly dear,”she remarked to her daughter, as the waiter went away. To this remark Grace made no answer. She had been used, for a long time back, to hearing that everything was very dear; it was what one always expected. So she found the case herself, but she was silent and inventive about it.
Nothing further passed, in the way of conversation with her mother, while they waited for the latter’s orders to be executed, till Lady Agnes reflected, audibly, ‘‘ He makes me unhappy, the way he talks about Julia.”
“Sometimes I think he does it to torment one. One can’t mention her ! ” Grace responded.
“It’s better not to mention her, but to leave it alone.”
“ Yet he never mentions her of himself.”
“ In some cases that is supposed to show that people like people — though of course something more than that is required,”Lady Agnes continued to meditate. “ Sometimes I think he’s thinking of her ; then, at others, I can’t fancy what he ’s thinking of.”
“ It would be awfully suitable,”said Grace, biting her roll.
Her mother was silent a moment, as if she were looking for some higher ground to put it upon. Then she appeared to find this loftier level in the observation. “ Of course he must like her ; he has known her always.”
“Nothing can be plainer than that she likes him,”Grace declared.
“ Poor Julia ! " Lady Agnes exclaimed ; and her tone suggested that she knew more about that than she was ready to state.
“ It is n’t as if she was n’t clever and well read,” her daughter went on. “ If there were nothing else, there would be a reason in her being so interested in politics, in everything that he is,”
“ Ah, what he is — that’s what I sometimes wonder ! ”
Grace Dormer looked at her mother a moment. “ Why, mother, is n’t he going to be like papa ?” She waited for an answer that did n’t come ; then she pursued, “ I thought you thought him so like him already.”
“ Well, I don’t,” said Lady Agnes, quietly.
“Who is, then? Certainly Percy is n’t.”
Lady Agnes was silent a moment.
“ There is no one like your father.”
“Dear papa! ” Grace exclaimed.
Then, with a rapid transition, “It would be so jolly for all of us; she would be so nice to us.”
“ She is that already, in her way,” said Lady Agnes, conscientiously, having followed the return, quick as it was. “Much good does it do her!” And she reproduced the note of her ejaculation of a moment before.
“ It does her some, if one looks out for her. I do, and I think she knows it,” Grace declared. “ One can, at any rate, keep other women off.”
“ Don’t meddle ! you ’re very clumsy,” was her mother’s not particularly sympathetic rejoinder. “ There are other women who are beautiful, and there are others who are clever and rich.”
“ Yes, but not all in one; that’s what’s so nice in Julia. Her fortune would be thrown in ; he would n’t appear to have married her for it.”
“ If he does, he won’t,” said Lady Agnes, a trifle obscurely.
“ Yes, that ’s what ’s so charming. And he could do anything then, could n’t he ? ”
“ Well, your father had no fortune, to speak of.”
“ Yes, but did n’t uncle Percy help him ? ”
His wife helped him,”said Lady Agnes.
“ Dear mamma ! ” the girl exclaimed.
“ There ’s one thing,”she added : “ that Mr. Carteret will always help Nick.”
“ What do you mean by ‘always ’ ? ”
“ Why, whether he marries Julia or not.”
“ Things are not so easy,” responded Lady Agnes. “ It will all depend on Nick’s behavior. He can stop it to-morrow.”
Grace Dormer stared ; she evidently thought Mr. Carteret’s beneficence a part of the essence of things. “ How could he stop it ? ”
“ By not being serious. It is n’t so hard to prevent people giving you money.”
“Serious?” Grace repeated. “ Does he want him to be a prig, like Lord Egbert ? ”
“ Yes, he does. And what he ’ll do for him he ’ll do for him only if he marries Julia.”
“ Has be told you ? ” Grace inquired. And then, before her mother could answer, she exclaimed, “ I 'm delighted at that! ”
“ He has n’t told me, but that’s the way things happen.” Lady Agnes was less optimistic than her daughter, and such optimism as she cultivated appeared to be tempered by irony. “ If Nick becomes rich, Charles Carteret will make him more so. If he does n’t, he won’t give him a shilling.”
“ Oh, mamma ! ” Grace protested.
“ It’s all very well to say that in public life money is n’t necessary, as it used to be,” her ladyship went on, broodingly. “ Those who say so don’t know anything about it. It’s always necessary.”
Her daughter was visibly affected by the gloom of her manner, and felt impelled to evoke, as a corrective, a more cheerful idea. “ I dare say : but there’s the fact — is n’t there ? — that poor papa had so little.”
“ Yes, and there’s the fact that it killed him ! ”
These words came out with a strange, quick little flare of passion. They startled Grace Dormer, who jumped in her place, and cried. “Oh, mother!” The next instant, however, she added, in a different voice, “ Oh, Peter ! ” for, with an air of eagerness, a gentleman was walking up to them.
“ How d’ ye do, cousin Agnes ? How d’ye do, little Grace?” Peter Sherringham said, laughing and shaking hands with them ; and three minutes later he was settled in his chair at their table, on which the first elements of the repast had been placed. Explanations, on one side and the other, were demanded and produced; from which it appeared that the two parties had been in some degree at cross-purposes. The day before Lady Agnes and her companions traveled to Paris, Sherringham had gone to London for forty-eight hours, on private business of the ambassador’s, arriving, on his return by the night-train, only early that morning. There had accordingly been a delay in his receiving Nick Dormer’s two notes. If Nick had come to the embassy in person (he might have done him the honor to call), he would have learned that the second secretary was absent. Lady Agnes was not altogether successful in assigning a motive to her son’s neglect of this courteous form; she said, “ I expected him, I wanted him, to go ; and indeed, not hearing from you, he would have gone immediately— an hour or two hence, on leaving this place. But we are here so quietly, not to go out, not to seem to appeal to the ambassador. He said, ‘ Oh, mother, we ’ll keep out of it: a friendly note will do.’ I don’t know, definitely, what he wanted to keep out of, except it ’s anything like gayety. The embassy is n’t gay, I know. But I’m sure his note was friendly, was n’t it ? I dare say you ’ll see for yourself; he’s different directly he gets abroad ; he does n’t seem to care.” Lady Agnes paused a moment, not carrying out this particular elucidation; then she resumed : “ He said you would have seen Julia, and that you would understand everything from her. And when I asked how she would know, he said, ‘ Oh, she knows everything ! ’ ”
“He never said a word to me about Julia,” Peter Sherringham rejoined. Lady Agnes and her daughter exchanged a glance at this; the latter had already asked three times where Julia was, and her ladyship remarked that they had been hoping she would be able to come with Peter. The young man set forth that she was at that moment at an hotel in the Rue de la Paix, but had only been there since that morning; he had seen her before coming to the Champs Elysées. She had come up to Paris by an early train — she had been staying at Versailles, of all places in the world. She had been a week in Paris, on her return from Cannes (her stay there had been of nearly a month, — fancy !), and then had gone out to Versailles to see Mrs. Billinghurst. Perhaps they would remember her, poor Dallow’s sister. She was staying there to teach her daughters French (she had about thirty !), or something of that sort, and Julia had spent three days with her. She was to return to Kngland about the 25th. It would make seven weeks that she would have been away from town —a rare thing for her ; she usually stuck to it so in summer.
“Three days with Mrs. Billinghurst — how very good - natured of her ! ” Lady Agnes commented.
“ Oh, they 're very nice to her,” Sherringham said.
“Well. I hope so!” Grace Dormer remarked. “ Why did n’t you make her come here ? ”
“ I proposed it, but she would n’t.” Another eye-beam, at this, passed between the two ladies, and Peter went on : “ She said you must come and see her, at the Hôtel de Hollande.”
“ Of course we 'll do that,” Lady Agnes declared. “ Nick went to ask about her at the Mirabeau.”
“ She gave that up ; they would n’t give her the rooms she wanted, her usual set.”
“She ’s delightfully particular! ” Grace murmured. Then she added, “She does like pictures, does n’t she ?”
Peter Sherringham stared. “Oh. I dare say. But that’s not what she has in her head this morning. She has some news from London : she’s immensely excited.”
“ What has she in her head ? ” Lady Agnes asked.
“What’s her news from London?” Grace demanded.
“ She wants Nick to stand.”
“Nick to stand? ” both the ladies cried.
“ She undertakes to bring him in for Harsh. Mr. Pinks is dead — the fellow, you know, that got the seat at the general election. He dropped down in London — disease of the heart, or something of that sort. Julia has her telegram, but I see it was in last night’s papers.”
“ Imagine, Nick never mentioned it! ” said Lady Agnes.
“ Don’t you know, mother ? —abroad he only reads foreign papers.”
“Oh, I know. I’ve no patience with him,” her ladyship continued. “ Dear Julia ! ”
“It’s a nasty little place, and Pinks had a tight squeeze— 107, or something of that sort ; but if it returned a Liberal a year ago, very likely it will do so again. Julia, at any rate, se fait forte, as they say here, to put him in.”
“ I 'm sure if she can she will,” Grace reflected.
“ Dear, dear Julia! And Nick can do something for himself,” said the mother of this candidate.
“ I have no doubt he can do anything,” Peter Sherringham returned, good-naturedly. Then, “ Do you mean in expenses?” he inquired.
“ Ah, I 'm afraid he can’t do much in expenses, poor dear boy ! And it ’s dreadful, how little we can look to Percy.”
“ Well, I dare say you may look to Julia. I think that’s her idea.”
“ Delightful Julia!” Lady Agnes ejaculated. “ If poor Sir Nicholas could have known! Of course he must go straight home,” she added.
“ He won’t like that,” said Grace.
“ Then he ’ll have to go without liking it.”
“ It will rather spoil your little excursion, if you 've only just come,” Peter suggested; “and the great Biddy’s, if she’s enjoying Paris.”
“ We may stay, perhaps — with Julia to protect us,” said Lady Agnes.
“ Ah, she won’t stay; she 'll go over for her man.”
“ Her man ? ”
“ The fellow that stands, whoever he is; especially if he’s Nick.” These last words caused the eyes of Peter Sherringham’s companions to meet again, and he went on : “ She 'll go straight down to Harsh.”
“Wonderful Julia!” Lady Agnes breathed. “ Of course Nick must go straight there, too.”
“ Well. I suppose he must see first if they 'll have him.”
“ If they ’ll have him ? Why, how can he tell till he tries ? ”
“ I mean the people at headquarters, the fellows who arrange it.”
Lady Agnes colored a little. “ My dear Peter, do you suppose there will be the least doubt of their ‘ having’ the son of his father ? ”
“ Of course it ’s a great name, cousin Agnes — a very great name.”
“ One of the greatest, simply,” said Lady Agnes, smiling.
“ It’s the best name in the world ! ” Grace Dormer subjoined.
“ All the same it did n’t prevent his losing his seat.”
“ By half a dozen votes : it was too odious ! ” her ladyship cried.
“ I remember — I remember. And in such a case as that, why did n’t they immediately put him in somewhere else?”
“ How one sees that you live abroad, Peter! There happens to have been the most extraordinary lack of openings — I never saw anything like it — for a year. They’ve had their hand on him, keeping him all ready. I dare say they’ve telegraphed to him.”
“ And he has n’t told you ? ”
Lady Agnes hesitated. “ He ’s so odd when he ’s abroad ! ”
“At home, too, he lets things go,”Grace interposed. “ He does so little — takes no trouble.” Her mother suffered this statement to pass unchallenged, and she pursued, philosophically, “ I suppose it’s because he knows he ’s so clever.”
“So he is, dear old boy. But what does he do, what has he been doing, in a positive way ?
“ He has been painting.”
“Ah, not seriously!” Lady Agnes protested.
“ That’s the worst, way,” said Peter Sherringham. “ Good things ? ”
Neither of the ladies made a direct response to this, but Lady Agnes said. “ He has spoken repeatedly They are always calling on him.”
“ He speaks magnificently,” Grace attested.
“ That s another of the things I lose, living in far countries. And he’s doing the Salon, now, with the great Biddy ? ”
“ Just the things in this part. I can’t think what keeps them so long,” Lady Agnes rejoined. “ Did you ever see such a dreadful place?”
Sherringham stared. “ Are n’t the things good? I had an idea” —
“ Good ? ” cried Lady Agnes. “ They ’re too odious, too wicked.”
“ Ah,” said Peter, laughing, “ that ’s what people fall into, out of England.”
“ Here they come,” Grace announced, at this point; “ but they’ve got a strange man with them.”
“ That’s a bore, when we want to talk ! ” Lady Agnes exclaimed.
Peter got up, in the spirit of welcome, and stood a moment watching the others approach. “ There will be no difficulty in talking, to judge by the gentleman,”he dropped; and while he remains so conspicuous our eyes may rest on him briefly. He was middling high, and had a figure that looked flexible and active ; he was visibly a representative of the nervous rather than of the phlegmatic branch of his race. He had an oval face, delicate features, and a complexion that tended to the brown. Brown were his eyes, and women thought them soft; dark brown his hair, in which the same critics sometimes regret ted the absence of a little undulation. It was perhaps to conceal this plainness that he wore it. very short. His teeth were white; his moustache was pointed, and so was the small heard that adorned the extremity of his chin. His face expressed intelligence and was very much alive, and had the further distinction that it often struck superficial observers with a certain foreignness of cast. The deeper sort, however, usually perceived that it was English enough. There was an idea that, having taken up the diplomatic career and gone to live in strange lands, he cultivated the mask of an alien, an Italian or a Spaniard; of an alien in time, even —one of the wonderful ubiquitous diplomatic agents of the sixteenth century. In fact, it would have been impossible to be more modern than Peter Sherringham. and more of one’s class and one’s country. But this did not prevent a portion of the community— Bridget Dormer, for instance — from admiring the hue of his cheek for its olive richness and his moustache and beard for their resemblance to those of Charles I. At the same time — she rather jumbled her comparisons— she thought he looked like a Titian.