The Tragic Muse

VIII.

[Continued.]

AT this Mrs. Dallow turned away, leaving Nash the impression that she probably misunderstood his speech, thinking he meant that he drew from the living model, or some such platitude: as if there could have been any likelihood that he drew from the dead one. This, indeed, would not fully have explained the abruptness with which she dropped their conversation. Gabriel Nash, however, was used to sudden collapses, and even to sudden ruptures, on the part of his interlocutors, and no man had more the secret of remaining gracefully with his ideas on his hands. He saw Mrs. Dallow approach Nick Dormer, who was talking with one of the ladies of the embassy, and apparently signify to him that she wished to speak to him. He got up, they had a minute’s conversation, and then he turned and took leave of the secretary’s wife. Mrs. Dallow said a word to her brother, Dormer joined her, and then they came together to the door. In this movement they had to pass near Nash, and it gave her an opportunity to nod good-by to him, which he was by no means sure that she would have done if Nick had not been with her. The young man stopped a moment ; he said to Nash. “ I should like to see you this evening, late ; you must meet me somewhere.”

“ We ’ll take a walk — I should like that,” Nash replied. “ I shall smoke a cigar at the café on the corner of the Place de l’Opéra; you’ll find me there.” Gabriel prepared to compass his own departure, but before doing so he addressed himself to the duty of saying a few words of civility to Lady Agnes. This proved difficult, for on one side she was defended by the wall of the room, and on the other rendered inaccessible by Miriam’s mother, who clung to her with a quickly-rooted fidelity, showing no symptom of desistance. Gabriel compromised on her daughter Grace, who said to him —

“ You were talking with my cousin, Mrs. Dallow.”

To her rather than with her,” Nash smiled.

“ Ah, she’s very charming,” said Grace.

“ She’s very beautiful,” Nash rejoined.

“ And very clever,” Miss Dormer continued.

“ Very, very intelligent.” His conversation with the young lady went little further than this, and he presently took leave of Peter Sherringham; remarking to him, as he shook hands, that he was very sorry for him. But he had courted his fate.

“ What do you mean by my fate ? ” Sherringham asked.

You’ve got them for life.”

“ Why for life, when I now lucidly and courageously recognize that she is n’t good ? ”

“ Ah, but she 'll become so, said Gabriel Nash.

“ Do you think that? ” Sherringham inquired, with a candor which made his visitors laugh.

You will — that’s more to the purpose ! ” Gabriel exclaimed, as he went away.

Ten minutes later Lady Agnes achieved a rupture with Mrs. Rooth’s amiability and withdrew with her daughters. Peter had had very little talk with Biddy, but the girl kept her disappointment out of her pretty eyes and said to him —

“ You told us she did n’t know how — but she does!” There was no suggestion of disappointment in this.

Sherringham held her hand a moment. " Ah, it ’s you who know how, dear Biddy! ” he answered ; and he was conscious that if the occasion had been more private he would have lawfully kissed her.

Presently three others of his guests departed, and Mr. Nash’s assurance that he had them for life recurred to him as he observed that Mrs. Rooth and her daughter quite failed to profit by so many examples. The Lovicks remained — a colleague and his sociable wife — and Peter gave them a hint that they were not to leave him absolutely alone with the two ladies. Miriam quitted Mrs. Lovick, who had attempted, with no great subtlety, to engage her, and came up to Sherringham as if she suspected him of a design of stealing from the room and had the idea of preventing it.

“ I want some more tea; will you give me some more ? I feel quite faint. You don’t seem to suspect how that sort of thing takes it out of you.”

Sherringham apologized, extravagantly, for not having seen that she had the proper quantity of refreshment, and took her to the round table, in a corner, on which the little collation had been served. He poured out tea for her, and pressed bread and butter upon her, and petits fours, of all which she profusely and methodically partook. It was late ; the afternoon had faded, and a lamp had been brought in, the wide shade of which shed a fair glow upon the tea-service, the little plates of comestibles. The Lovicks sat with Mrs. Rooth at the other end of the room, and the girl stood at the table, drinking her tea and eating her bread and butter. She consumed these articles so freely that he wondered if she had been in serious want of food — if they were so poor as to have to count with that sort of privation. This supposition was softening, but still not so much so as to make him ask her to sit down. She appeared, indeed, to prefer to stand ; she looked better so, as if the freedom, the conspicuity of being on her feet and treading a stage, were agreeable to her. While Sherringham lingered near her, vaguely, with his hands in his pockets, not knowing exactly what to say and instinctively avoiding, now, the theatrical question (there were moments when he was plentifully tired of it), she broke out, abruptly, “ Confess that you think me intolerably bad ! ”

“ Intolerably — no.”

“ Only tolerably ! I think that’s worse.”

“ Every now and then you do something very clever,”Sherringham said.

“ How many such things did I do today ? ”

“Oh, three or four. I don’t know that I counted very carefully.”

She raised her cup to her lips, looking at him over the rim of it — a proceeding which gave her eyes a strange expression. " It bores you, and you think it disagreeable,”she said in a moment — “ a girl always talking about herself.” He protested that she could never bore him, and she went on: " Oh, I don’t want compliments — I want the truth. An actress has to talk about herself ; what else can she talk about, poor thing ? ”

“ She can talk sometimes about other actresses,” laughed Sherringham.

“ That comes to the same thing. You won’t be serious. I’m awfully serious.” There was something that caught his attention in the way she said this — a longing, half hopeless, half argumentative, to be believed in. “ If one really wants to do anything, one must worry it out ; of course everything does n’t come the first day,” she pursued. “ I can’t see everything at once : but I can see a little more — step by step — as I go: can’t I ? ”

“ That’s the way — that’s the way.” said Sherringham. If you see the things to do, the art of doing them will come, if you hammer away. The great point is to see them.”

“ Yes ; and you don’t think me clever enough for that.”

“ Why do you say so, when I 've asked you to come here, on purpose ? ”

“ You 've asked me to come, but I 've had no success.”

“ On the contrary; everyone thought you wonderful.”

“ Oh, they don’t know ! ” said Miriam Rooth. “ You 've not said a word to me. I don’t mind your not having praised me ; that would be too banal. But if I’m bad — and I know I 'm dreadful — I wish you would talk to me about it.”

“ It ’s delightful to talk to you,” Sherringham said.

“ No, it is n’t, but it’s kind,” she answered, looking away from him.

Her voice had a quality, as she uttered these words, which made him exclaim. " Every now and then you say something! — ”

She turned her eyes back to him, smiling. " I don’t want it to come by accident.” Then she added, “ If there ’s any good to be got from trying, from showing one’s sell, how can it, come unless one hears the simple truth, the truth that turns one inside out ? It’s all for that — to know what one is, if one’s a stick! ”

“ You have great courage, you have rare qualities,” said Sherringham. She had begun to touch him, to seem different : he was glad she had not gone.

For a moment she made no response to this, putting down her empty cup and looking vaguely over the table, as if to select something more to eat. Suddenly she raised her head and broke out with vehemence. “ I will, I will, I will !”

“ You 'll do what you want, evidently.”

“ I will succeed — I will be great. Of course I know too little, I 've seen too little. But I 've always liked it; I 've never liked anything else. I used to learn things, and to do scenes, and to rant about the room, when I was five years old.” She went on, communicative, persuasive, familiar, egotistical (as was necessary), and slightly common, or perhaps only natural ; with reminiscences, reasons, and anecdotes, an unexpected profusion, and with an air of comradeship, of freedom of intercourse, which appeared to plead that she was capable, at least, of embracing that side of the profession she desired to adopt. He perceived that if she had seen very little, as she said, she had also seen a great deal; but both her experience and her innocence had been accidental and irregular. She had seen very little acting— the theatre was always too expensive. If she could only go often — in Paris, for instance, every night for six months — to see the best, the worst, everything, she would make things out, she would observe and learn, what to do, what not to do : it would be a kind of school. But she could n’t, without selling the clothes off her back. It was vile and disgusting to be poor ; and if ever she were to know the bliss of having a few francs in her pocket, she would make up for it — that she could promise ! She had never been acquainted with any one who could tell her anything — if it was good or bad, or right or wrong — except Mrs. Delamere and poor Ruggieri. She supposed they had told her a great deal, but perhaps they had n’t, and she was perfectly willing to give it up if it was bad. Evidently Madame Carré thought so ; she thought it was horrid. Was n’t it perfectly divine, the way the old woman had said those verses, those speeches of Célie ? If she would only let her come and listen to her once in a while, like that, it was all she would ask. She had got lots of ideas, just from that; she had practiced them over, over and over again, the moment she got home. He might ask her mother — he might ask the people next door. If Madame Carré did n’t think she could work, she might have heard something that would show her. But she did n’t think her even good enough to criticise ; for that was n’t criticism, telling her her head was good. Of course her head was good ; she did n’t need to climb up three hundred stairs to find that out. It was her mother— the way she talked — who gave that idea, that she wanted to be elegant, and very moral, and a femme du monde, and all that sort of stuff. Of course that put people off, when they were only thinking of art. Did n’t she know, Miriam herself, that that was the only thing to think of? But any one would be kind to her mother who knew what a dear she was. “ She does n’t know when it’s right or wrong, but she ’s a perfect saint,”said the girl, obscuring considerably her vindication. " She does n’t mind when I say things over by the hour, dinning them into her ears while she sits there and reads. She’s a tremendous reader; she ’s awfully up in literature. She taught me everything herself — I mean all that sort of thing. Of course I 'm not so fond of reading; I go in for the book of life.” Sherringham wondered whether her mother had not, at any rate, taught her that phrase, and thought it highly probable. " It would give on my nerves, the life I lead her,” Miriam continued; " but she’s really a delicious woman.”

The oddity of this epithet made Sherringham laugh, and altogether, in a few minutes, which is perhaps a sign that he abused his right to be a man of moods, the young lady had produced a revolution of curiosity in him, reawakened bis sympathy. Her mixture, as it spread itself before one, was a quickening spectacle : she was intelligent and clumsy; she was underbred and fine. Certainly she was very various, and that was rare ; not at all, at this moment, the heavy-eyed, frightened creature who had pulled herself together with such an effort at Madame Carré’s, nor the elated “ phenomenon ” who had just been declaiming, nor the rather affected and contradictious young person with whom he had walked home from the Rue de Constantinople. Was this succession of phases a sign that she really possessed the celebrated artistic temperament, the nature that made people provoking and interesting ? That Sherringham himself was of that shifting complexion is perhaps proved by his odd capacity for being of two different minds at very nearly the same time. Miriam was pretty now, with likable looks and charming usual eyes. Yes, there were things he could do for her ; he had already forgotten the chill of Mr. Nash’s irony, of his prophecy. He was even scarcely conscious how much, in general, he detested hints, insinuations, favors asked obliquely and plaintively : that was doubtless also because the girl was so pretty and so fraternizing. Perhaps, indeed, it was unjust to qualify it as roundabout, the manner in which Miss Rooth conveyed to him that it was open to him not only to pay for lessons for her, but to meet the expense of her nightly attendance, with her mother, at instructive exhibitions of theatrical art. It was a large order, sending the pair to all the plays; but what Sherringham now found himself thinking about was not so much its largeness as that it would be rather interesting to go with them sometimes, and point the moral (the technical one), showing her the things he liked, the things he disapproved. She repeated her declaration that she recognized the fallacy of her mother’s views about " noble ” heroines and about the importance of her looking out for such tremendously proper people. " One must let her talk, but of course it creates a prejudice,” she said, with her eyes on Mr. and Mrs. Lovick, who had got up, terminating their communion with Mrs. Rooth. " It ’s a great muddle, I know, but she can’t hear anything coarse — and quite right, too. I should n’t, either, if I did n’t have to. But I don’t care where I go if I can act, or who they are if they ’ll help me. I want to act — that’s what I want to do ; I don’t want to meddle in people’s affairs. I can look out for myself — I’ m all right ! ” the girl exclaimed, roundly, frankly, with a ring of honesty which made her crude and pure. “ As for doing the bad ones, I’m not afraid of that.”

“ The bad ones ? ”

“ The bad women, in the plays — like Madame Carré. I ’ll do anything.”

“ I think you 'll do best what you are,” remarked Sherringham, laughing. “ You 've a strange girl.”

Je crois bien ! Does n’t one have to be, to want to go and exhibit one’s self to a loathsome crowd, on a platform, with trumpets and a big drum, for money — to parade one’s body and one’s soul? ”

Sherringham looked at her a moment. Her face changed constantly ; now there was a little flush and a noble delicacy in it.

“ Give it up ; you ’re too good for it,” he said, abruptly.

“ Never, never — never till I ’m pelted ! ”

“ Then stay on here a bit; I ’ll take you to the theatres.”

“ Oh, you dear ! ” Miriam delightedly exclaimed. Mr. and Mrs. Lovick, accompanied by Mrs. Rooth, now crossed the room to them, and the girl went on, in the same tone : “ Mamma, dear, he’s the best friend we’ve ever had ; he ’s a great deal nicer than I thought.”

“ So are you, mademoiselle,” said Peter Sherringham.

“ Oh, I trust Mr. Sherringham — I trust him infinitely,” Mrs. Rooth returned, covering him with her mild, respectable, wheedling eyes. “ The kindness of every one has been beyond everything. Mr. and Mrs. Lovick can’t say enough. They make the most obliging offers; they want you to know their brother.”

“ Oh, I say, he ’s no brother of mine,” Mr. Lovick protested, good-naturedly.

“ They think he ’ll be so suggestive, he’ll put us up to the right things,” Mrs. Rooth went on.

“ It ’s just a little brother of mine — such a dear, clever boy,” Mrs. Lovick explained.

“ Do you know she ’s got nine ? Upon ray honor she has ! ” said her hushand. “ This one is the sixth. Fancy if I had to take them over! ”

“ Yes, it makes it rather awkward.” Mrs. Lovick amiably conceded. “ He has gone on the stage, poor dear boy ; he acts rather well.”

“ He tried for the diplomatic service, but he did n’t precisely dazzle his examiners,” Mr. Lovick remarked.

“ Edmund ’s very nasty about him. There are lots of gentlemen on the stage ; he ’s not the first.”

“ It’s such a comfort to hear that,” said Mrs. Rooth.

“ I ’m much obliged to you. Has he got a theatre ? ” Miriam asked,

“ My dear young lady, he has n’t even got an engagement,” replied the young man’s unsympathizing brother-inlaw.

“ He has n’t been at it very long, but I 'm sure he ’ll get on. He ’s immensely in earnest, and he ’s very good-looking. I just said that if he should come over to see us you might rather like to meet him. He might give you some tips, as my husband says.”

“ I don’t care for his looks, but I should like his tips,” said Miriam, smiling.

“ And is he coming over to see you ? ” asked Sherringham, to whom, while this exchange of remarks, which he had not lost, was going on, Mrs. Rooth had, in lowered accents, addressed herself.

“ Not if I can help it. I think ! ” Mr. Lovick declared, but so jocosely that it was not embarrassing.

“ Oh, sir, I ‘m sure you ’re fond of him,” Mrs. Rooth remonstrated, as the party passed together into the antechamber.

“ No, really, I like some of the others—four or five of them ; but I don’t like Arty.”

“ We ’ll make it up to him, then; we ’ll like him,” Miriam declared, gayly ; and her voice rang in the staircase (Sherringham went a little way with them), with a charm which her host had not perceived in her sportive note the day before.

IX.

Nick Dormer found his friend Nash, that evening, on the spot he had designated, smoking a cigar, in the warm, bright night, in front of the café at the corner of the square before the Opéra. He sat down with him, but at the end of five minutes he uttered a protest against the crush and confusion, the publicity and vulgarity, of the place, the shuffling procession of the crowd, the jostle of fellow-customers, the perpetual brush of waiters. " Come away. I want to talk to you, and I can’t talk here,” he said to his companion. “ I don’t care where we go. It will be pleasant to walk ; we 'll stroll away to the quartiers séreux. Kaeh time I come to Paris, at, the end of three days, I take the boulevard, with its conventional grimace, into greater disfavor. I hate even to cross it, and go half a mile round to avoid it.”

The young men took their course together down the Rue de la Paix to the Rue de Rivoli, which they crossed, passing beside the gilded railing of the Tuileries. The beauty of the night— the only defect of which was that the immense illumination of Paris kept it from being quite night enough, made it a sort of bedizened, rejuvenated day — gave a charm to the quieter streets, drew our friends away to the right, to the river and the bridges, the older, duskier city. The pale ghost of the palace that had died by fire hung over them awhile, and, by the passage now open at all times across the garden of the Tuileries, they came out upon the Seine. They kept on and on, moving slowly, smoking, talking, pausing, stopping to look, to emphasize, to compare. They fell into discussion, into confidences, into inquiries, sympathetic or satiric, and into explanations which needed in turn to be explained. The balmy night, the time for talk, the amusement of Paris, the memory of young confabulations, gave a quality to the occasion. Nick had already forgotten the little brush he had had with Mrs. Dallow, when they quitted Peter’s tea-party together, and that he had been almost disconcerted by the manner in which she characterized the odious man he had taken it into his head to present to her. Impertinent and fatuous she had called him ; and when Nick began to explain that he was really neither of these things, though he could imagine his manner might sometimes suggest them, she had declared that she did n’t wish to argue about him or ever to hear of him again. Nick had not counted on her liking Gabriel Nash, but he had thought it would n’t matter much if she should dislike him a little. He had given himself the diversion, which he had not dreamed would be cruel to any one concerned, of seeing what she would make of a type she had never encountered before. She had made even less than he expected, and her implication that he had played her a trick had been irritating enough to prevent him from reflecting that the fault might have been in some degree with Nash. But he had recovered from his resentment sufficiently to ask this personage, with every possible circumstance of implied consideration for the lady, what he, on his side, had made of his charming cousin.

“ Upon my word, my dear fellow, I don’t regard that as a fair question,” was the answer. " Besides, if you think Mrs. Dallow charming, what on earth need it matter to you what I think?

The superiority of one man’s opinion over another’s is never so great as when the opinion is about a woman.”

It was to help me to find out what I think of yourself,” said Nick Dormer.

“Oh, that you’ll never do. I shall worry you to the end. The lady with whom you were so good as to make me acquainted is a beautiful specimen of the English garden-flower, the product of high cultivation and much tending; a tall, delicate stem, with the head set upon it in a manner which, as I recall it, is distinctly so much to the good in my day. She ’s the perfect type of the object raised, or bred, and everything about her is homogeneous, from the angle of her elbow to the way she drops that vague, conventional, dry little 'Oh !' That sort of completeness is always satisfying. But she did n’t understand me. I don’t think they usually understand. ”

“ She’s no worse than I, then.”

“ Ah, she did n’t try.”

“ No, she does n’t try. But she probably thought you conceited, and she would think so still more if she were to hear you talk about her trying.

“ Very likely —very likely,” said Gabriel Nash. “ I have an idea a good many people think that. It appears to me so droll. I suppose it’s a result of my little system.”

“ Your little system ? ”

“ Oh, it’s nothing wonderful. Only the idea of being just the same to every one. People have so bemuddled themselves that the last thing they can conceive is that one should be simple.”

“ Lord, do you call yourself simple ? ” Nick ejaculated.

“ Absolutely; in the sense of having no interest of my own to push, no nostrum to advertise, no power to conciliate, no axe to grind. I 'm not a savage— ah, far from it — but I really think I 'm perfectly independent.”

“ Oh, that’s always provoking ! ” laughed Nick.

“ So it would appear, to the great majority of one ’s fellow-mortals ; and I well remember the pang with which I originally made that discovery. It darkened my spirit, at a time when I had no thought of evil. What we like, when we are unregenerate, is that a newcomer should give us a password, come over to our side, join our little camp or religion, get into our little boat, in short, whatever it is, and help us to row it. It’s natural enough ; we are mostly in different tubs and cockles, paddling for life. Our opinions, our convictions and doctrines and standards, are simply the particular thing that will make the boat go — our boat, naturally, for they may very often be just the thing that will sink another. If you won’t get in, people generally hate you.”

“ Your metaphor is very lame,” said Nick; “ it’s the overcrowded boat that goes to the bottom.”

“Oh, I’ll give it another leg or two! Boats can be big, in the infinite of space, and a doctrine is a raft that floats the better the more passengers it carries. A passenger jumps over from time to time, not so much from fear of sinking as from a want of interest in the course or the company. He swims, he plunges, he dives, he dips down and visits the fishes and the mermaids and the submarine caves; he goes from craft to craft, and splashes about, on his own account, in the blue, cool water. The regenerate, as I call them, are the passengers who jump over, in search of better fun.

I turned my somersault long ago.”

“ And now, of course, you 're at the head of the regenerate; for, in your turn, you all form a select school of porpoises.”

“ Not a bit, and I know nothing about heads, in the sense you mean. I 've grown a tail, if you will; I’m the merman wandering free. It ’s a delightful trade ! ”

Before they had gone many steps further Nick Dormer stopped short, and said to his companion, “ I say, my dear fellow, do you mind mentioning to me whether you are the greatest humbug and charlatan on earth, or a genuine intelligence, that has sifted things for itself ?”

“ I do puzzle you — I 'm so sorry,”Nash replied, benignantly. " But I 'm very sincere. And I have tried to straighten out things a bit, for myself.”

“ Then why do you give people such a handle ? ”

“ Such a handle ? ”

“ For thinking you 're an — for thinking you 're not wise.”

“ I dare say it ’s my manner ; they ’re so unused to candor. ”

“ Why don’t you try another ?" Nick inquired.

“ One has the manner that one can ; and mine, moreover, is a part of my little system.”

“ Ah, if you 've got a system, you ’re no better than any one else,” said Nick, going on.

“ I don’t pretend to be better, for we are all miserable sinners ; I only pretend to be bad in a pleasanter, brighter way, by what I can see. It’s the simplest thing in the world ; I just take for granted a certain brightness in life, a certain frankness. What is essentially kinder than that, what is more harmless ? But the tradition of dreariness, of stodginess, of dull, dense, literal prose, has so sealed people’s eyes that they have ended by thinking the most normal thing in the world the most fantastic. Why be dreary, in our little day ? No one can tell me why, and almost every one calls me names for simply asking the question. But I keep on, for I believe one can do a little good by it. I want so much to do a little good,” Gabriel Nash continued, taking his companion’s arm. “ My persistence is systematic : don’t you see what I mean ? I won’t be dreary — no, no, no ; and I won’t recognize the necessity, or even, if there is any way out of it, the accident, of dreariness in the life that surrounds me. That ’s enough to make people stare ; they ’re so stupid ! ”

“ They think you ’re impertinent,” Dormer remarked.

At this his companion stopped him short, with an ejaculation of pain, and, turning his eyes, Nick saw, under the lamps of the quay, that he had brought a vivid blush into Nash’s face. “ I don’t strike you that way?” Gabriel asked, reproachfully.

“ Oh, me! Wasn’t it just admitted that I don’t in the least make you out? ”

“ That’s the last thing ! ” Nash murmured, as if he were thinking the idea over, with an air of genuine distress. “ But with a little patience we ’ll clear it up together, if you care enough about it,” he added, more cheerfully. He let his friend go on again, and he continued : “ Heaven help us all! what do people mean by impertinence ? There are many, I think, who don’t understand its nature or its limits ; and upon my word, I have literally seen mere quickness of intelligence or of perception, the jump of a step or two, a little whirr of the wings of talk, mistaken for it. Yes, I have encountered men and women who thought you were impertinent if you were not so Stupid as they. The only impertinence is aggression, and I indignantly protest that I am never guilty of that clumsiness. Ah, for what do they take one, with their presumptions ? Even to defend myself, sometimes, I have to make believe to myself that I care. I always feel as if I did n’t successfully make others think so. Perhaps they see an impertinence in that. But I dare say the offense is in the things that I take, as I say, for granted ; for if one tries to be pleased, one passes, perhaps inevitably, for being pleased above all with one’s self. That’s really not my case, for I find my capacity for pleasure deplorably below the mark I have set. That’s why, as I have told you, I cultivate it. I try to bring it up. And I am actuated by positive benevolence ; I have that pretension. That’s what I mean by being the same to every one, by having only one manner. If one is conscious and ingenious to that end, what’s the harm, when one’s motives are so pure ? By never, never making the concession, one may end by becoming a perceptible force for good.”

“ What concession are you talking about ? ” asked Nick Dormer.

“ Why, that we are only here for dreariness. It’s impossible to grant it sometimes, if you wish to withhold it ever.”

“ And what do you mean by dreariness ? That’s modern slang, and it’s terribly vague. Many good things are dreary — virtue and decency and charity, and perseverance and courage and honor.”

“Say at once that life is dreary, my dear fellow ! ” Gabriel Nash exclaimed.

“ That’s on the whole my most usual impression. ”

“C’est là que je vous attends ! I am precisely engaged in trying what can be done in taking it the other way. It’s my little personal experiment. Life consists of the personal experiments of each of us, and the point of an experiment is that it shall succeed. What we contribute is our treatment of the material, our rendering of the text, our style. A sense of the qualities of a style is so rare that many persons should doubtless be forgiven for not being able to read, or at all events to enjoy us ; but is that a reason for giving it up — for not being, in this other sphere, if one possibly can, a Macaulay, a Ruskin, a Voltaire? Ah, we must write our best; it’s the great thing we can do in the world, on the right side. One has one’s form, que diable, and a mighty good thing that one has. I 'm not afraid of putting all life into mine, without unduly squeezing it. I 'm not afraid of putting in honor and courage and charity, without spoiling them; on the contrary, I ’ll only do them good. People may not read you at sight, may not like you, but there ’s a chance they ’ll come round ; and the only way to court the chance is to keep it up — always to keep it up. That’s what I do, my dear fellow, if you don’t think I 've perseverance. If some one likes it here and there, if you give a little impression of solidity, that ’s your reward; besides, of course, the pleasure for yourself.”

“ Don’t you think your style is a little affected ? ” Nick asked, laughing, as they proceeded.

“ That’s always the charge against a personal manner; if you have any at all, people think you have too much. Perhaps, perhaps — who can say ? Of course one is n’t perfect; but that’s the delightful thing about art, that there is always more to learn and more to do ; one can polish and polish, and refine and refine. No doubt I 'm rough still, but I 'm in the right direction : I make it my business to take for granted an interest in the beautiful.”

“ Ah, the beautiful — there it stands, over there ! ” said Nick Dormer. “I am not so sure about yours — I don’t know what I 've got hold of. But Notre Dame is solid ; Notre Dame is wise ; on Notre Dame the distracted mind can rest. Come over and look at her ! ”

They had come abreast of the low island from which the great cathedral, disengaged to-day from her old contacts and adhesions, rises high and fair, with her front of beauty and her majestic mass, darkened at that hour, or at least simplified, under the stars, but only more serene and sublime for her happy union, far aloft, with the cool distance and the night. Our young men, gossiping as profitably as I leave the reader to estimate, crossed the wide, short bridge which made them face toward the monuments of old Paris — the Palais de Justice, the Conciergerie, the holy chapel of St. Louis. They came out before the church, which looks down on a square where the past, once so thick in the very heart of Paris, has been made rather a blank, pervaded, however, by the everlasting freshness of the great cathedral-face. It greeted Nick Dormer and Gabriel Nash with a kindness which the centuries had done nothing to dim. The lamplight of the great city washed its foundations, but the towers and buttresses, the arches, the galleries, the statues, the vast rosewindow, the large, full composition, seemed to grow clearer as they climbed higher, as if they had a conscious benevolent answer for the upward gaze of men.

“How it straightens things out and blows away one’s vapors — anything that’s done ! ” said Nick ; while his companion exclaimed, blandly and affectionately —

“ The dear old thing ! ”

“ The great point is to do something, instead of standing muddling and questioning ; and, by Jove, it makes me want to ! ”

“ Want to build a cathedral ? ” Nash inquired.

“ Yes, just that.”

“ It ’s you who puzzle me, then, my dear fellow. You can’t build them out of words.”

“ What is it the great poets do ? ” asked Nick.

Their words are ideas — their words are images, enchanting collocations and unforgettable signs. But the verbiage of parliamentary speeches ! ”

“ Well,” said Nick, with a candid, reflective sigh, “ you can rear a great structure of many things — not only of stones and timbers and painted glass.” They walked round Notre Dame, pausing, criticising, admiring, and discussing ; mingling the grave with the gay and paradox with contemplation. Behind and at the sides, the huge dusky vessel of the church seemed to dip into the Seine, or rise out of it, floating expansively — a ship of stone, with its flying buttresses thrown forth like an array of mighty oars. Nick Dormer lingered near it with joy, with a certain soothing content; as if it had been the temple of a faith so dear to him that there was peace and security in its precinct. And there was comfort, too, and consolation of the same sort, in the company, at this moment, of Nash’s equal response, of his appreciation, exhibited by his own signs, of the great effect. He felt it so freely and uttered his impression with such breadth that Nick was reminded of the luminosity his boyish admiration had found in him of old, the natural intelligence of everything of that kind. “ Everything of that kind ” was, in Nick’s mind, the description of a wide and bright domain.

They crossed to the further side of the river, where the influence of the Gothic monument threw a distinction even over the Parisian smartnesses — the municipal rule and measure, the importunate symmetries, the “ handsomeness ” of everything, the extravagance of gaslight, the perpetual click on the neat bridges. In front of a quiet little café on the right bank, Gabriel Nash said, “Let’s sit down " — he was always ready to sit down. It was a friendly establishment and an unfashionable quarter, far away from the Grand Hotel; there were the usual little tables and chairs on the quay, the muslin curtains behind the glazed front, the general sense of sawdust and of drippings of watery beer. The place was subdued to stillness, but not extinguished, by the lateness of the hour ; no vehicles passed, but only, now and then, a light Parisian foot. Beyond the parapet they could hear the flow of the Seine. Nick Dormer said it made him think of the old Paris, of the great Revolution, of Madame Roland, quoi! Gabriel Nash said they could have watery beer, but were not obliged to drink it. They sat a long time; they talked a great deal, and the more they said the more the unsaid came up. Presently Nash found occasion to remark, “ I go about my business, like any good citizen — that’s all.”

“ And what is your business ? ”

“ The spectacle of the world.”

Nick laughed out. “ And what do you do with that ? ”

“ What does any one do with a spectacle? I look at it.”

“ You are full of contradictions and inconsistencies. You described yourself to me half an hour ago as an apostle of beauty.”

“ Where is the inconsistency? I do it in the broad light of day, whatever I do : that ’s virtually what I meant. If I look at the spectacle of the world, I look in preference at what is charming in it. Sometimes I have to go far to find it — very likely ; but that’s just what I do. I go far — as far as my means permit me. Last year I heard of such a delightful little spot; a place where a wild fig-tree grows in the south wall, the outer side, of an old Spanish city. I was told it was a deliciously brown corner, with the sun making it warm in winter ! As soon as I could I went there.”

“ And what did you do ? ”

“ I lay on the first green grass — I liked it.”

“ If that sort of thing is all you accomplish, you are not encouraging.”

“ I accomplish my happiness — it seems to me that ’s something. I have feelings, I have sensations : let me tell you that ’s not so common. It ’s rare to have them; and if you chance to have them it’s rare not to be ashamed of them. I go after them — when I judge they won’t hurt any one.”

“ You ’re lucky to have money, for your traveling-expenses,” said Nick.

“ No doubt, no doubt; but I do it very cheap. I take my stand on my nature, on my disposition. I’m not ashamed of it, I don’t think it ’s so horrible, my disposition. But we ’ve befogged and befouled so the whole question of liberty, of spontaneity, of goodhummor, and inclination and enjoyment, that there ’s nothing that makes people stare so as to see one natural.”

“ You are always thinking too much of ‘ people.’ ”

“ They say I think too little,” Gabriel smiled.

“ Well, I ’ve agreed to stand for Harsh,” said Nick, with a roundabout transition.

“ It ’s you, then, who are lucky to have money.”

“ I have n’t,” Nick replied. " My expenses are to be paid.”

“ Then you too must think of ‘ people.' ”

Nick made no answer to this, but after a moment he said, “ I wish very much you had more to show for it.”

“ To show for what ? ”

“ Your little system — the æsthetic life.”

Nash hesitated, tolerantly, gayly, as he often did, with an air of being embarrassed to choose between several answers, any one of them would be so right. “ Oh, having something to show is such a poor business. It ’s a kind of confession of failure.”

“ Yes, you ’re more affected than anything else,” said Nick, impatiently.

“ No, my dear boy, I ’m more goodnatured: don’t I prove it? I’m rather disappointed to find that you are not worthy of the esoteric doctrine. But there is, I confess, another plane of intelligence. honorable, and very honorable in its way, from which it may legitimately appear important to have something to show. If you must contine yourself to that plane, I won 't refuse you my sympathy. After all, that ’s what I have to show ! But the degree of my sympathy must of course depend on the nature of the manifestation that you wish to make.”

You know it very well — you 've guessed it,” Nick rejoined, looking before him in a conscious, modest way, which, if he had been a few years younger, would have been called sheepish.

“ All, you’ve broken the scent, with telling me you are going to return to the House of Commons,” said Nash.

“ No wonder you don’t make it out! My situation is certainly absurd enough. What I really want to do is to be a painter. That’s the abject, crude, ridiculous fact. In this out-of-the-way corner, at the dead of night, in lowered tones, I venture to disclose it to you. Is n’t that the æsthetic life ?

“ Do you know how to paint?" asked Nash.

“ Not in the least. No element of burlesque is therefore wanting to my position.”

“ That does n’t make any difference. I ’m so glad !”

“ So glad I don’t know how ? ”

“ So glad of it all. Yes, that only makes it better. You ’re a delightful case, and I like delightful cases. We must see it through. I rejoice that I met you.”

“ Do you think I can do anything? ” Nick inquired.

“ Paint good pictures? How can I tell, till I ’ve seen some of your work ? Does n’t it come back to me that at Oxford you used to sketch prettily? But that’s the last thing that matters.”

“What does matter, then ? ” Nick demanded, turning his eyes on his companion.

“ To be on the right side — on the side of beauty.”

“ There will be precious little beauty, if I produce nothing but daubs.”

“ Ah, you cling to the old false measure of success. I must cure you of that. There will be the beauty of having been disinterested and independent; of having taken the world in the free, brave, personal way.”

“ I shall nevertheless paint decently if I can,” Nick declared.

“ I 'm almost sorry ! It will make your case less clear, your example less grand.”

“ My example will be grand enough, with the fight I shall have to make.”

“ The fight — with whom ? ”

“ With myself, first, of all. I ’m awfully against it.”

“ Ah, but you 'll have me on the other side,” smiled Nash.

“ Well, you ’ll have more than a handful to meet — everything, every one that belongs to me, that touches me, near or far : my family, my blood, my heredity, my traditions, my promises, my circumstances, my prejudices ; my little past, such as it is ; my great future, such as it has been supposed it may be.”

“ I see, I see ; it ’s admirable ! ” Nash exclaimed. “ And Mrs. Dallow into the bargain.” he added.

“ Yes, Mrs. Dallow, if you like.”

“ Are you in love with her? ”

“ Not in the least.”

“ Well, she is with you — so I perceived.”

“ Don’t say that,” said Nick Dormer, with sudden sternness.

“ Ah, you are, you are ! ” his companion rejoined, judging apparently from this accent.

“ I don’t know what I am — heaven help me ! ” Nick broke out, tossing his hat down on his little tin table with vehemence. “ I 'm a freak of nature and a sport of the mocking gods ! Why should they go out of their way to worry me? Why should they do everything so inconsequent, so improbable, so preposterous ? It ’s the vulgarest practical joke. There has never been anything of the sort among us ; we are all Philistines to the core, with about as much æsthetic sense as that hat. It ’s excellent soil — I don’t complain of it — but not a soil to grow that flower. From where the devil, then, has the seed been dropped ? I look back from generation to generation ; I scour our annals without finding the least little sketching grandmother, any sign of a building, or versifying, or collecting, or even tulipraising ancestor. They were all as blind as bats, and none the less happy for that. I ’m a wanton variation, an unaccountable monster. My dear father, rest his soul, went through life without a suspicion that there is anything in it that can’t be ground into blue-books ; and he became, in that conviction, a very distinguished person. He brought me up in the same simplicity, and in the hope of the same eminence. It would have been better if I had remained so. I think it’s partly your fault that I have n’t,” Nick went on. “ At Oxford you were very bad company for me, my evil genius : you opened my eyes, you communicated the poison. Since then, little by little, it has been working within me ; vaguely, covertly, insensibly, at first, but during the last, year or two with violence, pertinacity, cruelty. I have taken every antidote in life; but it ’s no use, — I ’m stricken. It tears me to pieces, as I may say.”

“ I see, I follow you,” said Nash, who had listened to this recital with radiant interest and curiosity. " And that’s why you are going to stand.”

“ Precisely — it ’s an antidote. And, at present, you ’re another.”

“ Another ? ”

“ That’s why I jumped at you. A bigger dose of you may disagree with me to that extent that I shall either die or get better.”

“ I shall control the dilution,” said Nash. “ Poor fellow — if you’re elected ! ” he added.

“ Poor fellow, either way. You don’t know the atmosphere in which I live, the horror, the scandal, that my apostasy would inspire, the injury and suffering that it would inflict. I believe it would kill my mother. She thinks my father is watching me from the skies.”

“ Jolly to make him jump ! ” Nash exclaimed.

“ He would jump indeed ; he would come straight down on top of me. And then the grotesqueness of it — to begin, all of a sudden, at my age.”

“ It’s perfect, indeed ; it’s a magnificent case,” Nash went on.

“ Think how it sounds — a paragraph in the London papers : ' Mr. Nicholas Dormer, M. P. for Harsh, and son of the late Right Honourable, and so forth and so forth, is about to give up his seat and withdraw from public life, in order to devote himself to the practice of portrait - painting. Orders respectfully solicited.’ ”

“ The nineteenth century is better than I thought,” said Nash. “ It ’s the portrait that preoccupies you ? ”

“ I wish you could see ; you must come, immediately, to my place in London.”

“ You wretch, you ’re capable of having talent ! ” cried Nash.

“ No, I’m too old, too old. It’s too late to go through the mill.”

“ You make me young ! Don’t miss your election, at your peril. Think of the edification.”

“ The edification ? ”

“ Of your throwing it all up the next moment.”

“ That would be pleasant for Mr. Carteret, Nick observed. ,

“ Mr. Carteret?”

“ A dear old fellow who will wish to pay my agent’s bill.”

“ Serve him right, for such depraved tastes.”

“ You do me good,” said Nick, getting up and turning away.

“ Don’t call me useless, then.”

“ Ah, but not in the way you mean. It’s only if I don’t get in that I shall perhaps console myself with the brush,” Nick continued, as they retraced their steps.

“ For the sake of all the muses, then, don’t stand. For you will get in.”

“ Very likely. At any rate, I’ve promised.”

“ You’ve promised Mrs. Dallow? ”

“ It ’s her place ; she 'll put me in,” Nick said.

“ Baleful woman ! But I ’ll pull you out ! ”

X.

FOR several days Peter Sherringham had business in hand which left him neither time nor freedom of mind to occupy himself actively with the ladies of the Hotel de la Mayenne. There were moments when they brushed across his memory, but their passage was rapid and not lighted up with any particular complacency of attention ; for he shrank considerably from bringing it to the proof — the question of whether Miriam would be an interest or only a bore. She had left him, after their second meeting, with a quickened expectation, but in the course of a few hours that flame had burned dim. Like many other men, Sherringham was a mixture of impulse and reflection; but he was peculiar in this, that thinking things over almost always made him think less well of them. He found illusions necessary, so that in order to keep an adequate number going he often earnestly forbade himself that exercise. Mrs. Rooth and her daughter were there, and could certainly be trusted to make themselves felt. He was conscious of their anxiety, their calculations, as of a kind of oppression, and knew that, whatever results might ensue, he should have to do something positive for them. An idea of tenacity, of worrying feminine duration, associated itself with their presence ; he would have assented, with a silent nod, to the proposition (enunciated by Gabriel Nash) that he was saddled with them. Remedies hovered before him, but they figured also, at the same time, as complications ; ranging vaguely from the expenditure of money to the discovery that he was in love. This latter accident would be particularly tedious ; he had a full perception of the arts by which the girl’s mother might succeed in making it so. It would not be a compensation for trouble, but a trouble which in itself would require compensation. Would that balm spring from the spectacle of the young lady’s genius The genius would have to be very great, to justify a rising young diplomatist in making a fool of himself.

With the excuse of pressing work he put off his young pupil from day to day, and from day to day he expected to hear her knock at his door. It would be time enough when they came after him ; and he was unable to see how, after all, he could serve them even then. He had proposed, impetuously, a course of theatres ; but that would be a considerable personal effort, now that the summer was about to begin, with bad air, stale pieces, and tired actors. When, however, more than a week had elapsed without a reminder of his neglected promise, it came over him that he must himself, in honor, give a sign. There was a delicacy in such discretion, and he was touched by being let alone. The flurry of work at the embassy was over, and he had time to ask himself what, in especial, he should do. He wished to have something definite to suggest before communicating with the Hotel de la Mayenne.

As a consequence of this speculation he went back to Madame Carré, to ask her to reconsider her unfavorable judgment and give the young English lady — to oblige him — a dozen lessons of the sort that she knew how to give. He was aware that this request scarcely stood on its feet; for in the first place Madame Carré never reconsidered, when once she had got her impression, and in the second she never wasted herself on subjects whom nature had not formed to do her honor. He knew that his asking her to strain a point to please him would give her a false idea (for that matter, she had it already) of his relations, actual or prospective, with the girl; but he reflected that he need n’t care for that, as Miriam herself probably would n’t care. What he had mainly in mind was to say to the old actress that she had been mistaken — the jeune Anglaise was not such a duffer. This would take some courage, but it would also add to the amusement of his visit.

He found her at home, but as soon as he had expressed the conviction I have mentioned she exclaimed, “ Oh, your jeune Anglaise, I know a great deal more about her than you ! She has been back to see me twice ; she does n’t go to her ends by four roads. She charges me like a grenadier, and she asks me to give her — guess a little what! — private recitations, all to herself. If she does n’t succeed, it won’t be for want of knowing how to thump at doors. The other day, when I came in, she was waiting for me ; she had been there for an hour. My private recitations — have you an idea what people pay for them ? ”

“ Between artists, you know, there are easier conditions,” Sherringham laughed.

“ How do I know if she ’s an artist ? She won’t open her mouth to me ; what she wants is to make me say things to her. She does make me—I don’t know how — and she sits there gaping at me with her big eyes. They look like open pockets! ”

“ I dare say she 'll profit by it,”said Sherringham.

“ I dare say you will ! Her face is stupid while she watches me, and when she has tired me out she simply walks away. However, as she comes back — Madame Carré paused a moment, listened, and then exclaimed, “ Did n’t I tell you ? ”

Sherringham heard a parley of voices in the little antechamber, and the next moment the door was pushed open and Miriam Rooth bounded into the room. She was flushed and breathless, without a smile, very direct.

“ Will you hear me to-day ? I know four things,” she immediately began. Then, perceiving Sherringham, she added in the same brisk, earnest tone, as if the matter were of the highest importance, “ Oh, how d’ ye do ? I ’m very glad you are here.” She said nothing else to him than this, appealed to him in no way, made no allusion to his having neglected her, but addressed herself entirely to Madame Carvé, as if he had not been there ; making no excuses and using no flattery ; taking, rather, a tone of equal authority, as if she considered that the celebrated artist had a duty toward her. This was another variation, Sherringham thought; it differed from each of the attitudes in which he had previously seen her. It came over him suddenly that so far from there being any question of her having the histrionic nature, she simply had it in such perfection that she was always acting; that her existence was a series of parts assumed for the moment, each changed for the next, before the perpetual mirror of some curiosity or admiration or wonder — some spectatorship that she perceived or imagined in the people about her. Interested as he had ever been in the profession of which she was potentially an ornament, this idea startled him by its novelty, and even lent, on the spot, a formidable, a really appalling character to Miriam Rooth. It struck him, abruptly, that a woman whose only being was to “make believe,” to make believe that she had any and every being that you liked, that would serve a purpose, produce a certain effect, and whose identity resided in the continuity of her personations, so that she had no moral privacy, as he phrased it to himself, but lived in a high wind of exhibition, of figuration — such a woman was a kind of monster, in whom, of necessity, there would be nothing to like, because there would be nothing to take hold of. He felt, for a moment, that he had been very simple not to have achieved before that analysis of the actress. The girl’s very face made it vivid to him now — the discovery that she positively had no countenance of her own, but only the countenance of the occasion, a sequence, a variety (capable possibly of becoming immense), of representative movements. She was always trying them, practicing them, for her amusement or profit, jumping from one to the other and extending her range; and this would doubtless he her occupation more and more as she acquired ease and confidence. The expression that came nearest to belonging to her, as it were, was the one that came nearest, to being a blank —an air of inanity when she forgot herself, watching something. Then her eye was heavy and her mouth rather common ; though it was perhaps just at such a moment that the fine line of her head told most. She had looked slightly bête even when Sherringham, on their first meeting at Madame Carré’s, said to Nick Dormer that she was the image of the Tragic Muse.

Now, at any rate, he had the apprehension that she might do what she liked with her face. It was an elastic substance, an element of gutta-percha, like the flexibility of the gymnast, the lady who, at a music-hall, is shot from the mouth of a cannon, He colored a little at this quickened view of the actress; he had always looked more poetically, somehow, at that priestess of art. But what was she, the priestess, when one came to think of it, but a female gymnast, a mountebank at higher wages ? She did n’t literally hang by her heels from a trapeze, holding a fat man in her teeth, but she made the same use of her tongue, of her eyes, of the imitative trick, that her muscular sister made of leg and jaw. It was an odd circumstance that Miriam Booth’s face seemed to him to-day a finer instrument than old Madame Carré’s. It was doubtless that the girl’s was fresh and strong, with a future in it, while poor Madame Carré’s was worn and weary, with only a past.

The old woman said something, half in jest, half in real resentment, about the brutality of youth, as Miriam A vent to a mirror and quickly took off her hat, patting and arranging her hair, as a preliminary to making herself heard. Sherringham saw, with surprise and amusement, that the clever Frenchwoman, who had, in her long life, exhausted every adroitness, was in a manner helpless, condemned, both protesting and consenting. Miriam had taken but a few days and a couple of visits to become a successful force ; she had imposed herself, and Madame Carré, while she laughed (yet looked terrible too, with artifices of eye and gesture), was reduced to the last line of defense — that of declaring her coarse and clumsy, saying she might knock her down, but that proved nothing. She spoke jestingly enough not to offend Miriam, but her manner betrayed the irritation of an intelligent woman who, at an advanced age, found herself for the first time failing to understand. What she did n’t understand was the kind of social product that had been presented to her by Gabriel Nash ; and this suggested to Sherringham that the jeune Anglaise was perhaps indeed rare, a new type, as Madame Carré must have seen innumerable varieties. He guessed that the girl was perfectly prepared to be abused, and that her indifference to what might be thought of her discretion was a proof of life, health, and spirit, the insolence of conscious power.

When she had given herself a touch at the glass she turned round, with a rapid

“Ecoutez maintenant ! ” and stood leaning a moment, slightly lowered and inclined backward, with her hands behind her and supporting her, on the table in front of the mirror. She waited an instant, turning her eyes from one of her companions to the other, as if she were taking possession of them (an eminently conscious, intentional proceeding, which made Sherringham ask himself what had become of her former terror and whether that and her tears had all been a comedy) ; after which, abruptly straightening herself, she began to repeat a short French poem, a composition modern and delicate, one of the things she had induced Madame Carré to say over to her. She had learned it, practiced it, rehearsed it to her mother, and now she had been childishly eager to show what she could do with it. What she mainly did was to reproduce with a crude fidelity, but with extraordinary memory, the intonations, the personal quavers and cadences, of her model.

“ How bad you make me seem to myself, and if I were you how much better I should say it! ” was Madame Carré’s first criticism.

Miriam allowed her little time to develop this idea, for she broke out, at the shortest intervals, with the five other specimens of verse to which the old actress had handed her the key. They were all delicate lyrics, of tender or pathetic intention, by contemporary poets — all things demanding perfect taste and art, a mastery of tone, of insinuation, in the interpreter. Miriam had gobbled them up, and she gave them forth in the same way as the first, with close, rude, audacious mimicry. There was a moment when Sherringham was afraid Madame Carré would think she was making fun of her manner, her celebrated simpers and grimaces, so extravagant did the girl’s performance cause these refinements to appear.

When she had finished, the old woman said, “Should you like now to hear how you do it ? ” and, without waiting for an answer, phrased the last of the pieces, from beginning to end, exactly as Miriam had done, making this imitation of an imitation the drollest thing conceivable. If she had been annoyed, it was a perfect revenge. Miriam had dropped on a sofa, exhausted, and she staved at first, looking flushed and wild ; then she gave way to merriment, laughing with a high sense of comedy. She said afterwards, to defend herself, that the verses in question, and indeed all those she had recited, were of the most difficult sort: you had to do them; they did n’t do themselves — they were things in which the gros moyens were of no avail. “Ah, my poor child, your means are all gros moyens ; you appear to have no others,”Madame Carré replied. “ You do what you can, but there are people like that; it ’s the way they are made. They can never come nearer to the delicate ; shades don’t exist for them, they don’t see certain differences. It was to show you a difference that I repeated that thing as you repeat it, as you represent my doing it. If you are struck with the little the two ways have in common, so much the better, But, you seem to me to coarsen everything you touch.”

Sherringham thought this judgment harsh to cruelty, and perceived that Miss Rooth had the power to set the teeth of her instructress on edge. She acted on her nerves; she was made of a thick, rough substance which the old woman was not accustomed to manipulate. This exasperation, however, was a kind of flattery ; it was neither indifference nor simple contempt; it acknowledged a mystifying reality in the girl, and even a degree of importance. Miriam remarked, serenely enough, that the things she wanted most to do were just those that were not for the gros moyens, the vulgar obvious dodges, the starts and shouts, that anyone could think of and that the gros public liked. She wanted to do what was most difficult, and to plunge into it from the first ; and she explained, as if it were a discovery of her own, that there were two kinds of scenes and speeches: those which acted themselves, of which the treatment was plain, the only way, so that you had just to take it; and those which were open to interpretation, with which you had to fight every step, rendering, arranging, doing it according to your idea. Home of the most effective things, and the most celebrated and admired, like the frenzy of Juliet with her potion, were of the former sort; but it, was the others she liked best.

Madame Carré received this revelation good-naturedly enough, considering its want of freshness, and only laughed at the young lady for looking nobly patronizing while she gave it. It was clear that her laughter was partly dedicated to the good faith with which Miriam described herself as preponderantly interested in the subtler problems of her art. Sherringham was charmed with the girl’s pluck — if it was pluck and not mere density — the brightness with which she submitted, for a purpose, to the old woman’s rough usage. He wanted to take her away, to give her a friendly caution, to advise her not to become a bore, not to expose herself. But she held up her beautiful head in a way that showed she did n’t care at present how she exposed herself, and that (it was half coarseness — Madame Carré was so far right — and half fortitude) she had no intention of coming away so long as there was anything to be picked up. She sat, and still she sat, challenging her hostess with every sort of question — some reasonable, some ingenious, some strangely futile, and some highly indiscreet; but all with the effect that, contrary to Sherringham’s expectation, Madame Carré warmed to the work of answering and explaining, became interested, was content to keep her and to talk. Yet she took her ease ; she relieved herself, with the rare cynicism of the artist, all the crudity, the irony and intensity of a discussion of esoteric things, of personal mysteries, of methods and secrets. It was the oddest hour Sherringham had ever spent, even in the course of investigation which had often led him into the cuisine, as the French called it, the distillery or back-shop, of the admired profession. He got up several times to come away ; then he remained, partly in order not to leave Miriam alone with her terrible initiatress, partly because he was both amused and edified, and partly because Madame Carré held him by the appeal of her sharp, confidential old eyes, addressing her talk to him, with Miriam as a subject, a vile illustration. She undressed this young lady, as it were, from head to foot, turned her inside out, weighed and measured and felt her : it was all, for Sherringham, a new revelation of the point to which, in her profession and nation, a ferocious analysis had been carried, with an intelligence of the business and a special vocabulary. What struck him, above all, was the way she knew her reasons and everything was sharp and clear in her mind and lay under her hand. If she had rare perceptions, she had traced them to their source; she could give an account of what she did ; she knew perfectly why; she could explain it, defend it, amplify it, fight for it: and all this was an intellectual joy to her, allowing her a chance to abound and insist and be clever. There was a kind of cruelty, or at least of hardness in it all, to Sherringham’s English sense, that sense which can never really reconcile itself to serious art and has extraneous sentiments to placate with compromises and superficialities, frivolities that have often a pleasant moral fragrance. In theory there was nothing that he valued more than just such a logical passion as Madame Carré’s; but in fact, when he found himself in close quarters with it, it was apt to seem to him an ado about nothing.

If the old woman was hard, it was not that many of her present conclusions, as regards Miriam, were not indulgent, but that she had a vision of the great manner, of right and wrong, of the just and the false, so high and religious that the individual was nothing before it — a prompt and easy sacrifice. It made Sherringham uncomfortable, as he had been made uncomfortable by certain feuilletons, reviews of the theatres in the Paris newspapers, which he was committed to thinking important, but of which, when they were very good, he was rather ashamed. When they were very good, that is when they were very thorough, they were very personal, as was inevitable in dealing with the most personal of the arts : they went into details ; they put the dots on the is ; they discussed, impartially, the qualities of appearance, the physical gifts of the actor or actress, finding them in some cases reprehensibly inadequate. Sherringham could not rid himself of a prejudice against these pronouncements ; in the case of the actresses especially they appeared to him brutal and indelicate — unmanly as coming from a critic sitting smoking in his chair. At the same time he was aware of the dilemma (he hated it; it made him blush still more) in which his objection lodged him. If one was right in liking the actor’s art, one ought to have been interested in every candid criticism of it, which, given the peculiar conditions, would be legitimate in proportion as it should be minute. If the criticism that recognized frankly these conditions seemed an inferior or an offensive thing, then what was to be said for the art itself ? What an implication, if the criticism was tolerable only so long as it was worthless — so long as it remained vague and timid ! This was a knot which Sherringham had never straightened out : he contented himself with saying that there was no reason a theatrical critic should n’t be a gentleman, at the same time that he often remarked that it was an odious trade, which no gentleman could possibly follow. The best of the fraternity, so conspicuous in Paris, were those who did n’t follow it — those who, while pretending to write about the stage, wrote about everything else.

It was as if Madame Carré, in pursuance of her inflamed sense that the art was everything and the individual nothing, save as he happened to serve it, had said, “Well, if she will have it she shall ; she shall know what she is in for, what I went through, battered and broken in as we all have been — all who are worthy, who have had the honor. She shall know the real point of view.”

It was as if she were still haunted with Mrs. Rooth’s nonsense, her hypocrisy, her scruples — something she felt a need to belabor, to trample on. Miriam took it all as a bath, a baptism, with passive exhilaration and gleeful shivers ; staring, wondering, sometimes blushing and failing to follow, but not shrinking nor wounded ; laughing, when it was necessary, at her own expense, and feeling, evidently, that this at last was the air of the profession, an initiation which nothing could undo. Sherringham said to her that he would see her home — that he wanted to talk to her and she must walk away with him. “ And it’s understood, then, she may come back,” he added to Madame Carré. “ It’s my affair, of course. You ’ll take an interest in her for a month or two; she will sit at your feet.”

“ Oh, I ‘ll knock her about; she seems stout enough !" said the old actress.

Henry James.