The Tragic Muse

XXIV.

GABRIEL NASH had plenty of further opportunity to elucidate this and other figurative remarks, for he not only spent several of the middle hours of the day with his friend, but came back with him in the evening (they dined together at a little foreign pot-house in Soho, revealed to Nick on this occasion) and discussed the great question far into the night. The great question was whether, on the showing of those examples of his ability with which the room in which they sat was now densely bestrewn, Nick Dormer would be justified in “ really going in ” for the practice of pictorial art. This may strike many of my readers as a limited and even trivial inquiry, with little of the heroic or the romantic in it ; but it was none the less carried to a very fine point by our clever young men. Nick suspected Nash of exaggerating his encouragement in order to play a malign trick on the political world, at whose expense it was his fancy to divert himself (without making that organization bankrupt assuredly), and reminded him that his present accusation of immorality was strangely inconsistent with the wanton hope expressed by him in Paris—the hope that the Liberal candidate at Harsh would be returned. Nash replied, first, “Oh, I had n’t been in this place then ! ” but he defended himself more effectually in saying that it was not of Nick’s having got elected that he complained : it was of his visible hesitancy to throw up his seat. Nick requested that he would n’t speak of this, and his gallantry failed to render him incapable of saying, “The fact is I have n’t the nerve for it.” They talked then for a while of what he could do, not of what he could n’t ; of the mysteries and miracles of reproduction and representation ; of the strong, sane joys of the artistic life. Nick made afresh, with more fullness, his great confession, that his private ideal of happiness was the life of a great painter of portraits. He uttered his thought about this so copiously and lucidly that Nash’s own abundance was stilled, and he listened almost as if he had been listening to something new, difficult as it was to suppose that there could be a point of view in relation to such a matter with which he was unacquainted.

“There it is,” said Nick at last,— “ there’s the naked, preposterous truth : that if I were to do exactly as I liked I should spend my years copying the more or less vacuous countenances of my fellow-mortals. I should find peace and pleasure and wisdom and worth, I should find fascination and a measure of success in it, out of the din and the dust and the scramble, the world of party labels, party cries, party bargains, and party treacheries— of humbuggery, hypocrisy, and cant. The cleanness and quietness of it, the independent effort to do something, to leave something which shall give joy to man long after the howling has died away to the last ghost of an echo — such a vision solicits me at certain hours with an almost irresistible force.”

As he dropped these remarks Nick lolled on a big divan, with one of his long legs folded up ; and his visitor stopped in front of him, after moving about the room vaguely and softly, almost on tiptoe, not to interrupt him. “You speak with the eloquence that rises to a man’s lips on a very particular occasion ; when he has, practically, whatever his theory may be, renounced the right and dropped, hideously, into the wrong. Then his regret for the right, a certain exquisite appreciation of it, takes on an accent which I know well how to recognize.”

Nick looked up at him a moment. “ You’ve hit it, if you mean by that that I have n’t resigned my seat and that I don’t intend to.”

“ I thought you took it only to give it up. Don’t you remember our talk in Paris ? ”

“ I like to be a part of the spectacle that amuses you, hut I could scarcely have taken so much trouble as that for it.”

“ But isn’t it an absurd comedy, the life you lead ? ”

“Comedy or tragedy — I don’t know which; whatever it is, I appear to be capable of it to please two or three people.”

“ Then you can take trouble?” said Nash.

“ Yes, for the woman I’m to marry.”

“ All, you ’re to marry ? ”

“ That’s what has come on since we met in Paris, and it makes just the difference.” “ Ah, my poor friend,” smiled Gabriel, standing there, “ no wonder you have an eloquence, an accent! ”

“ It’s a pity I have them in the wrong place. I ‘m expected to have them in the House of Commons.”

“ You will when you make your farewell speech there — to announce that you chuck it up. And may I venture to ask who’s to he your wife ? ” Gabriel went on.

“Mrs. Dallow has kindly consented. I think you saw her in Paris.”

“ Ah, yes : you spoke of her to me, and I remember asking you if you were in love with her.”

“ I was n’t then.”

Nash hesitated a moment. “ And are you now ? ”

“ Oh, dear, yes,” said Nick.

“ That would be better, if it was n’t worse.”

“Nothing could be better; it’s the best thing that can happen to me.”

“ Well,” said Nash, “you must let me, very respectfully, approach her. You must let me bring her round.”

“ Bring her round ? ”

“ Talk her over.”

“ Over to what ? ” Nick repeated his companion’s words, a little as if it were to gain time, remembering the effect Gabriel Nash had produced upon Julia — an effect which scantily ministered to the idea of another meeting. Julia had had no occasion to allude again to Nick’s imperturbable friend ; he had passed out of her life at once and forever ; but there flickered up a vivid recollection of the contempt he had led her to express, together with a sense of how odd she would think it that her intended should have thrown over two pleasant visits to cultivate such company.

“ Over to a proper pride in what you may do — what you may do above all if she will help you.”

“ I scarcely see how she can help me,” said Nick, with an air of thinking.

“ She’s extremely handsome, as I remember her : you could do great things with her.”

“ Ah, there’s the rub,” Nick went on. “ I wanted her to sit for me, this week, but she would n’t.”

“ Elle a bien tort. You should do some fine strong type. Is Mrs. Dallow in London ? ” Nash inquired.

“ For what do you take her ? She’s paying visits.”

“ Then I have a model for you.”

“ ‘ Then you have ’ ” — Nick stared. “ What has that to do with Mrs. Dallow’s being away ? ”

“ Does n’t it give you more time ? ”

“ Oh, the time flies ! ” sighed Nick, in a manner causing his companion to break into a laugh — a laugh in which, for a moment, he himself joined, blushing a little.

“ Does she like you to paint ? ” Nash continued, with one of his candid intonations.

“ So she says.”

“Well, do something fine to show her.”

“ I’d rather show it to you,” Nick confessed.

“ My dear fellow, I see it from here, if you do your duty. Do you remember the Tragic Muse ? ” Nash pursued, explicatively.

“ The Tragic Muse?”

“ That girl in Paris, whom we heard at the old actress’s, and whom we afterwards met at the charming entertainment given by your cousin (is n’t he ?), the secretary of embassy.”

“ Oh, Peter’s girl: of course I remember her.”

“Don’t call her Peter’s ; call her rather mine,” Nash said, with good-humored dissuasiveness, “ I invented her, I introduced her, I revealed her.”

“ I thought, on the contrary, you ridiculed and repudiated her.”

“ As an individual, surely not; I seem to myself to have been all the while rendering her services. I said I disliked tea-party ranters, and so I do; but If my estimate of her powers was below the mark, she has more than punished me.”

“ What has she done ? ” asked Nick.

“ She has become interesting, as I suppose you know.”

“ How should I know ? ”

“ You must see her, you must paint her,” said Nash. “She tells me that something was said about it that day at Madame Carré’s.”

“Oh, I remember — said by Peter.”

“ Then it will please Mr. Sherringham — you ‘ll be glad to do that. 1 suppose you know all he has done for Miriam ? ”

“ Not a bit. I know nothing about Peter’s affairs, unless it be, in general, that he goes in for mountebanks and mimes, and that it occurs to me I have heard one of my sisters mention — the rumor had come to her — that he has been backing Miss Rooth.

“ Miss Rooth delights to talk of his kindness; she is charming when she speaks of it. It’s to his goad offices that she owes her appearance here.”

“ Here ? Is she in London ? ” Nick inquired.

“ D’ où tombez-vous ? I thought you people read the papers.”

“ What should I read, when I sit (sometimes !) through the stuff they put into them ? ”

“ Of course I see that — that your engagement at your own theatre keeps you from going to the others. Learn then,”said Gabriel Nash, “ that you have a great competitor, and that you are distinctly not, much as you may suppose it, the rising comedian. The Tragic Muse is the great modern personage. Have n’t you heard people speak of her, have n’t you been taken to see her ? ”

“ I dare say I ’ve heard of her : but with a good many other things on my mind I had forgotten it.”

“ Certainly I can imagine what has been on your mind. Site remembers you, at any rate ; she repays neglect with sympathy. She wants to come and see you.”

“ To see me ? ”

“ To be seen by you — it comes to the same thing. She ’s worth seeing: you must let me bring her; you ’ll find her very suggestive. That idea that you should paint her — she appears to consider it a sort of bargain.”

“ A bargain ? What will she give me ? ” Nick asked.

“A splendid model. She is splendid.”

“Oh. then bring her,” said Nick.

XXV.

Nash brought her, the great modern personage, as he had described her, the very next day, and it took Nick Dormer but a short time to appreciate his declaration that Miriam Rooth was splendid. She had made an impression upon him ten months before, but it had haunted him only for a day, immediately overlaid with other images. Yet after Nash had spoken of her a few moments he evoked her again ; some of her attitudes, some of her tones, began to hover, richly, before him. He was pleased in advance with the idea of painting her. When she stood there in fact, however, it seemed to him that he had remembered her wrong: the brilliant young lady who instantly filled his studio with a presence that it had never known was exempt from the curious clumsiness which had interfused his former admiration of her with a certain pity. Miriam Rooth was light and bright and straight to-day — straight without being stiff, and bright without being garish. To Nick’s perhaps inadequately sophisticated mind the model, the actress, were figures with rather a tawdry setting; but it would have been impossible to show that taint less than his present extremely natural yet extremely distinguished visitor. She was more natural even than Gabriel Nash (“ nature ” was still Nick’s formula for his old friend), and beside her he appeared almost commonplace.

Nash recognized her superiority with a frankness that was honorable to both of them, testifying in this manner to his sense that they were all three serious beings, worthy to deal with realities. She attracted crowds to her theatre, but to his appreciation of such a fact as that, important doubtless in its way, there were limits which he had already expressed. What he now felt bound in all integrity to express was his perception that she had, in general and quite apart from the question of the boxoffice, a remarkable, a very remarkable artistic nature. He confessed that she had surprised him there; knowing of her in other days mainly that she was hungry to adopt the vulgarest profession, he had not imputed to her the normal measure of intelligence. Now he saw — he had had some talks with her — that she was intelligent; so much so that he was sorry for the embarrassment it would be to her. Nick could imagine the discomfort of having that sort of commodity to dispose of in such conditions. “ She’s a distinguished woman — really a distinguished woman,” Nash explained, kindly and lucidly, almost paternally ; “ and the head you can see for yourself.”

Miriam, smiling, as she sat on an old Venetian chair, held aloft, with the noblest effect, that portion of her person to which this patronage was extended, and remarked to Nick that, strange as it might appear, she had got quite to like poor Mr. Nash : she could make him go about with her; it was a relief to her mother.

“ When I take him she has perfect peace,” the girl said; “ then she can stay at home and see the interviewers. She delights in that and I hate it, so our friend here is a great comfort. Of course a femme de théâtre is supposed to be able to go out alone, but there’s a kind of appearance, an added chic, in having some one. People think he ’s my companion ; I ‘m sure they fancy I pay him. I would pay him rather than give him up, for it does n’t matter that he’s not a lady. He is one in tact and sympathy, as you see. And base as he thinks the sort of thing I do, he can’t keep away from the theatre. When you ’re celebrated, people will look at you who, before, could never find out for themselves why they should.”

“ When you ’re celebrated, you become handsomer ; at least that’s what has happened to you, though you were pretty, too, of old,” Gabriel argued. “ I go to the theatre to look at your head ; it gives me the greatest pleasure. I take up anything of that sort as soon as I find it; one never knows how long it may last.”

“ Are you speaking of my appearance?” Miriam asked.

“ Dear, no, of my own pleasure, the first freshness,” Nash went on. “ Dormer, at least, let me tell you in justice to him, has n’t waited till you were celebrated to want to see you again (he stands there open-eyed) ; for the simple reason that he had n’t the least idea of your renown, I had to announce it to him.”

“Have n’t you seen me act?” Miriam asked, without reproach, of her host.

“ I ‘ll go to-night,” said Nick.

“ You have your Parliament, have n’t you? What do they call it — the demands of public life ? ” Miriam continued : to which Gabriel Nash rejoined that he had the demands of private as well, inasmuch as he was in love—he was on the point of being married. Miriam listened to this with participation ; then she said : “ Ah, then, do bring your — what do they call her in English ? I’m always afraid of saying something improper —your future. I ‘ll send you a box, under the circumstances ; you’ll like that better.” She added that if he were to paint her he would have to see her often on the stage, would n’t he? to profit by the optique de la scène (what did they call that in English ?), studying her and fixing his impression. Before he had time to respond to this proposition she asked him if it disgusted him to hear her speak like that, as if she were always posing and flunking about herself, living only to be looked at, thrusting forward her person. She often got sick of doing so, already ; but àla guerre comme à la guerre.

“ That’s the fine artistic nature, you see — a sort of divine disgust breaking out in her,” Nash expounded.

“If you want to paint me at all, of course. I ’m struck with the way I ’m taking that for granted,” Miriam continued. “ When Mr. Nash spoke of it to me I jumped at the idea. I remembered our meeting in Paris and the kind things you said to me. But no doubt one ought n’t to jump at ideas when they represent serious sacrifices on the part of others.”

“ Does n’t she speak well ? ” Nash exclaimed to Nick. “ Oh, she ‘11 go far ! ”

“ It’s a great privilege to me to paint you : what title in the world have I to pretend to such a model? ” Nick replied to Miriam. “ The sacrifice is yours — a sacrifice of time and good-nature and credulity. You come, in your beauty and your genius, to this shabby place where I ’ve nothing to show, not a guarantee to offer you ; and I wonder what I’ve done to deserve such a gift of the gods.”

“ Does n’t he speak well ? ” Nash demanded, smiling, of Miriam.

She took no notice of him, but she repeated to Nick that she had n’t forgotten his friendly attitude in Paris; and when he answered that he surely had done very little she broke out, first resting her eyes on him a moment with a deep, reasonable smile, and then springing up quickly, “ Ah, well, if I must justify myself, I liked you ! ”

“ Fancy my appearing to challenge you!” laughed Nick. “To see you again is to want tremendously to try something; but you must have an infinite patience, because I’m an awful duffer.”

Miriam looked round the walls. “ I see what you have done — bien des choses.”

“ She understands — she understands,” Gabriel dropped. And he added to Miriam: “ Imagine, when he might do something, his choosing a life of shams! At bottom he’s like you — a wonderful artistic nature.”

“ I ’ll have patience,” said the girl, smiling at Nick.

“Then, my children, I leave you — the peace of the Lord he with you.” With these words Nash took his departure.

The others chose a position for Miriam’s sitting, after she had placed herself in many different attitudes and different lights ; but an hour had elapsed before Nick got to work — began, on a large canvas, to knock her in, as he called it. He was hindered a little even by a certain nervousness, the emotion of finding himself, out of a clear sky, confronted with such a sitter and launched in such a task. The situation was incongruous, just after he had formally renounced all manner of “ art ” — the renunciation taking effect not a bit the less from the whim that he had consciously treated himself to as a whim (the last he should ever indulge), the freak of relapsing for a fortnight into a fingering of old sketches, for the purpose, as he might have said, of burning them up, of clearing out his studio and terminating his lease. There were both embarrassment and inspiration in the strange chance of snatching back, for an hour, a relinquished joy : the jump with which he found he could still rise to such an occasion took away his breath a little, at the same time that the idea — the idea of what one might make of such material — touched him with an irresistible wand. On the spot, to his inner vision, Miriam became a magnificent result, drawing a hundred plastic sympathies out of their troubled sleep, defying him where he privately felt strongest, and imposing herself, triumphantly, in her own strength. He had the good fortune to see her, as a subject, without striking matches, in a strong light, and his quick attempt was as exciting as a sudden gallop — it was almost the sense of riding a runaway horse.

She was, in her way, so fine that he could only think how to “ do ” her : that hard calculation soon flattened out the consciousness, lively in him at first, that she was a beautiful woman who had sought him out in his retirement. At the end of their first sitting her having sought him out appeared the most natural thing in the world : he had a perfect right to entertain her there — explanations and complications were engulfed in the productive mood. The business of “knocking her in ” held up a lamp to her beauty, showed him how much there was of it and that she was infinitely interesting. He did n’t want to fall in love with her (il ne manquerait plus que ça! as he said to himself). and she promptly became much too interesting for that. Nick might have reflected, for simplification’s sake, as his cousin Peter had done, but with more validity, that he was engaged with Miss Rooth in an undertaking that did n’t in the least refer to themselves, that they were working together seriously, and that work was a suspension of sensibility. But after her first sitting (she came, poor girl, but twice), the need of such exorcisms passed from his spirit: he had so thoroughly, practically, taken her up. As to whether Miriam had the same bright, still sense of coöperation to a definite end, the sense of the distinctively technical nature of the answer to every question to which the occasion might give birth, that mystery would be cleared up only if it were open to us to regard this young lady through some other medium than the mind of her friends. We have chosen, as it happens, for some of the advantages it carries with it, the indirect vision ; and it fails as yet to tell us (what Nick of course wondered about before he ceased to care, as indeed he intimated to his visitor) why a young person crowned with success should have taken it into her head that there was something for her in so blighted a spot. She should have gone to one of the regular people, the great people : they would have welcomed her with open arms. When Nick asked her if some of the R. A.’s had n’t expressed a desire to have a crack at her, she said: “ Oh, dear, no, only the tiresome photographers ; and fancy them, in the future. If mamma could only do that for me ! ” And she added, with the charming bonhomie for which she was conspicuous on this occasion, “ You know I don’t think any one, yet, has been quite so much struck with me as you.”

“ Not even Peter Sherringham ? ” asked Nick, laughing and stepping back to judge of the effect of a line.

“ Oh, Mr. Sherringham’s different. You ‘re an artist.”

“ For Heaven’s sake, don’t say that! ” cried Nick. “And as regards your art, I thought Peter knew more than any one.”

“ Ah, you ‘re severe,” said Miriam.

“ Severe ? ”

“ Because that’s what he thinks. But he does know a lot — he has been a providence to me.”

“ And why has n’t he come here to see you act ? ”

Miriam hesitated a moment. “ How do you know he has n’t come ? ”

“ Because I take for granted he would have called on me if he had.”

“ Does he like you very much ? ” asked Miriam.

“ I don’t know. I like him.”

“He’s a gentleman—pour cela,” said Miriam.

“ Oh, yes, for that ! ” Nick went on absently, sketching hard.

“ But he’s afraid of me — afraid to see me.”

“Does n’t he think you’re good enough? ”

“On the contrary — he believes I shall carry him away, and he ’s in a terror of my doing it.”

“ He ought to like that,” said Nick.

“ That’s what I mean when I say he ’s not an artist. However, he declares he does like it, only it appears it is not the right thing for him. Oh, the right thing — he’s bent upon getting that. But it ’s not for me to blame him, for I am too. He’s coming, some night, however : he shall have a dose !

“ Poor Peter ! ” Nick exclaimed, with a compassion none the less real because it was mirthful ; the girl’s tone was so expressive of good-humored, unscrupulous power.

“ He’s such a curious mixture,” Miriam went on; “sometimes I lose patience with him. It is n’t exactly trying to serve both God and Mammon, but it ’s muddling up the stage and the world. The world be hanged ; the stage, or anything of that sort (I mean one’s faith), comes first.”

“ Brava, brava, you do me good,” Nick murmured, still hilarious and at his work. “ But it’s very kind of you, when I was in this absurd state of ignorance, to attribute to me the honor of having been more struck with you than any one else,” he continued, after a moment.

“Yes, I confess I don’t quite see — when the shops were full of my photographs.”

“ Oh, I’m so poor — I don’t go into shops,” returned Nick.

“ Are you very poor ? ”

“ I suffer from a kind of genteel misery.”

“ And don’t they pay you — the government, the ministry ? ”

“Dear young lady, for what? — for shutting myself up with beautiful women ? ”

“ Ah, you have others, then ? ” asked Miriam,

“ They are not so kind as you, I confess.”

“ I ‘11 buy it from you — what you ‘re doing: I ’ll pay you well, when it’s done,” said the girl. “ I ’ve got money now ; I make it, you know — a good lot of it. It ’s too delightful, after scraping and starving. Try it and you ’ll see. Give up the base, bad world.”

“ But is n’t it supposed to be the base, bad world that pays ? ”

“ Precisely; make it pay, without mercy — squeeze it dry. That’s what it ’s meant for — to pay for art. Ah, if it was n’t for that! I ‘11 bring you a quantity of photographs, to-morrow — you must let me come back to-morrow : it’s so amusing to have them, by the hundred, all for nothing, to give away. That’s what takes mamma most: she can’t get over it. That’s luxury and glory ; even at Castle Nugent they did n’t do that. People used to sketch me, but not so much as mamma veut bien le dire ; and in all my life I never had but one poor little carte-de-visite, when I was sixteen, in a plaid frock, with the banks of a river, at three francs the dozen.”

XXVI.

It was success, Nick felt, that had made Miriam finer — the full possession of her talent and the sense of the recognition of it. There was an intimation in her presence (if he had given his mind to it) that for him too the same cause would produce the same effect — that is, would show him that there is nothing like being launched in the practice of an art to learn what it may do for one. Nick felt clumsy beside a person who manifestly, now, had such an extraordinary familiarity with the point of view. He remembered, too, the clumsiness that had been in his visitor — something thick and vulgar and shabby, of quite another quality from her actual smartness, as London people would call it, her well-appointedness, and her evident command of more than one manner. Handsome as she had been the year before, she had suggested provincial lodgings, bread and butter, heavy tragedy, and tears ; and if then she was an ill-dressed girl with thick hair, who wanted to be an actress, she was already, in a few weeks, an actress who could act even at not acting. She showed what a light hand she could have, forbore to startle, and looked as well, for unprofessional life, as Julia, which was only the perfection of her professional character.

This function came out much in her talk, for there were many little bursts of confidence as well as many familiar pauses as she sat there ; and she was ready to tell Nick the whole history of her début — the chance that had suddenly turned up, and that she had caught, with a jump, as it passed. He missed some of the details, in his attention to his own task, and some of them he failed to understand, attached as they were to the name of Mr. Basil Dashwood, which he heard for the first time. It was through Mr. Dashwood’s extraordinary exertions that a hearing — a morning performance at a London theatre — had been obtained for her. That had been the great step, for it had led to the putting on at night of the play, at the same theatre, in place of a wretched thing they were trying (it was no use) to keep on its feet, and to her engagement for the principal part. She had made a hit in it (she could n’t pretend not to know that) ; but she was already tired of it, there were so many other things she wanted to do; and when she thought it would probably run a month or two more, she was in the humor to curse the odious conditions of artistic production in such an age. The play was a simplified version of a new French piece, a thing that had taken in Paris, at a third-rate theatre, and had now, in London, proved itself good enough for houses mainly made up of ten-shilling stalls. It was Dashwood who had said it would go, if they could get the rights and a fellow to make some changes; he had discovered it at a nasty little theatre she had never been to, over the Seine. They had got the rights, and the fellow who had made the changes was practically Dashwood himself ; there was another man, in London, Mr. Gushmore — Miriam did n’t know whether Nick would ever have heard of him (Nick had n’t) —who had done some of it. It had been awfully chopped down, to a mere bone, with the meat all gone ; but that was what people in London seemed to like. They were very innocent, like little dogs amusing themselves with a bone. At any rate, she had made something, she had made a figure, of the woman (a dreadful idiot, really, especially in what Dashwood had muddled her into) ; and Miriam added, in the complacency of her young expansion, “ Oh, give me fifty words, any time, and the ghost of a situation, and I ‘ll set you up a figure. Besides, I must n’t abuse poor Yolande—she has saved us,” she said.

“ Yolande ? ”

“ Our ridiculous play. That’s the name of the impossible woman. She has put bread into our mouths, and she’s a loaf on the shelf for the future. The rights are mine.”

“You’re lucky to have them,” said Nick a little vaguely, troubled about his sitter ’s nose, which was, somehow, Jewish without the convex arch.

“Indeed I am. He gave them to me. Was n’t it charming ? ”

“ He gave them — Mr. Dashwood ? ”

“Dear me, no; where should poor Dashwood have got them ? He has n’t a penny in the world. Besides, if he had got them he would have kept them. I mean your blessed cousin.”

“ I see — they ’re a present from Peter.”

“Like many other things. Is n’t he a dear? If it hadn’t been for him the shelf would have remained bare. He bought the play for this country and America for four hundred pounds, and on the chance ; fancy! There was no rush for it, and how could he tell ? And then he gracefully handed it to me. So I have my little capital. Isn’t he a duck ? You have nice cousins.”

Nick assented to the proposition, only putting in an amendment to the effect that surely Peter had nice cousins, also, and making, as he went on with his work, a tacit preoccupied reflection or two; such as that it, must be pleasant to render little services like that to youth, beauty, and genius (he rather wondered how Peter could afford them), and that, “ duck ” as he was, Miss Rooth’s benefactor was rather taken for granted. Sic vos non vobis faintly murmured itself in Nick’s brain. This community of interests, or at least of relations, quickened the flight of time, so that he was still fresh when the sitting came to an end. It was settled that Miriam should come back on the morrow, to enable her portrayer to make the most of the few days of the parliamentary recess; and just before she left him she asked —

“ Then you will come to-night ? ”

“ Without fail. I hate to lose an hour of you.”

“ Then I ’ll place you. It will be my affair.”

“ You ’re very kind,” he responded. “ Is n’t it a simple matter for me to take a stall? This week, I suppose, they re to be had.”

“ I ‘ll send you a box,” said Miriam.

“ You shall do it well. There are plenty now.”

“ Why should I be lost, all alone, in the grandeur of a box ? ”

“ Can’t you bring your friend ? ”

“ My friend ? ”

“ The lady you are engaged to.”

“Unfortunately she is out of town.”

Miriam looked at him with a grand profundity. “ Does she leave you alone like that ? ”

“ She thought I should like it — I should be more free to paint. You see I am.”

“Yes, perhaps it’s good for me. Have you got her portrait ? ” Miriam asked.

“ She does n’t like me to paint her.”

“ Really ? Perhaps, then, she won’t like you to paint me.”

“That’s why I want to be quick,” laughed Nick.

“Before she knows it ? ”

“She’ll know it to-morrow. I shall write to her.”

Miriam gave him another of her special looks ; then she said, “ I see; you are afraid of her.” And she added, “ Mention my name ; they ‘ll give you the box at the theatre.”

Whether or no Nick were afraid of Mrs. Dallow, he still protested against receiving this bounty from the hands of Miss Rooth—repeated that he would much rather take a stall, according to his wont, and pay for it. This led her to declare, with a sudden flicker of passion, that if he did n’t do as she wished she would never sit to him again.

“ Ah, then, you have me,” returned Nick. “ Only I don’t see why you should give me so many things.”

“ What in the world have I given you? ”

“ Why, an idea.” And Nick looked at his picture a little ruefully. “ I don’t mean to say I have n’t let it fall and smashed it.”

“ Ah, an idea — that is a great thing for people in our line. But you ’ll see me much better from the box, and I ’ll send you Gabriel Nash,” Miriam added, getting into the hansom which her host’s servant had fetched for her. As Nick turned back into his studio after watching her drive away, he laughed at the conception that they were in the same “ line.”

Nick shared his box at the theatre with Gabriel Nash, who talked during the entr’actes, not in the least about the performance or the performer, but about the possible greatness of the art of the portraitist — its reach, its range, its fascination, the magnificent examples it had left us in the past; windows open into history, into psychology, things that were among the most precious possessions of the human race. He insisted, above all, on the interest, the richness, arising from this great peculiarity of it: that, unlike most other forms, it was a revelation of two realities, the man whom it was the artist’s conscious effort to reveal, and the man (the interpreter) expressed in the very quality and temper of that effort. It offered a double vision, the strongest dose of life that art could give, the strongest dose of art that life could give. Nick Dormer had already become aware that he had two states of mind in listening to Gabriel Nash: one of them in which he laughed, doubted, sometimes even reprobated, and at any rate failed to follow or to accept; the other in which this contemplative genius seemed to take the words out of his month, to utter for him, better and more completely, the very things he was on the point of saying. Nash’s saying them, at such moments, appeared to make them true, and to-night he said a good many, especially as to the happiness of cultivating one’s own garden ; growing there, in stillness and freedom, certain strong, pure flowers that would bloom forever, long after the rank weeds of the hour were withered and blown away.

It was to keep Miriam Rooth in his eye, for his object, that Nick had come to the play ; and she dwelt there all the evening, being constantly on the stage. He was so occupied in watching her face (for he now saw pretty clearly what he should attempt to make of it) that he was conscious only in a secondary degree of the story she illustrated, and in regard to her acting, in particular, had mainly a surprised sense that she was extraordinarily quiet. He remembered her loudness, her violence, in Paris, at Peter Sherringham’s, her wild wails, the first time, at Madame Carré’s ; compared with which her present manner was eminently temperate and modern. Nick Dormer was not critical at the theatre; he believed what he saw, and had a pleasant sense of the inevitable; therefore he would not have guessed what Gabriel Nash had to tell him — that for Miriam, with her tragic cast and her peculiar attributes, her present performance, full of actuality, of light, fine indications, and in parts of pointed touches of comedy, was a rare tour de force. It went on altogether in a register that he had not supposed her to possess ; in which, as he said, she did n’t touch her capital, doing it wholly with her little savings. It gave him the idea that she was capable of almost anything.

In one of the intervals they went round to see her; but for Nick this purpose was partly defeated by the wonderful amiability with which he was challenged by Mrs. Rooth, whom they found sitting with her daughter, and who attacked him with a hundred questions about his dear mother and his charming sisters. She maintained that that day in Paris they had shown her a kindness she should never forget. She abounded also in gracious expressions in regard to the portrait he had so cleverly begun, and declared that she was so eager to see it, however little he might as yet have accomplished, that she should do herself the honor to wait upon him in the morning, when Miriam came to sit. “ I ‘m acting for you to-night,” the girl said to Nick, before he returned to his place.

“No, that s exactly what you are not doing,”Nash interposed, with one of his intellectual superiorities. “ You have stopped acting, you have reduced it to the least that will do, you simply are — you are just the visible image, the picture on the wall. It keeps you wonderfully in focus. I have never seen you so beautiful.”

Miriam stared at this ; then it could be seen that she colored. “ What a luxury in life to have everything explained ! He’s the great explainer,” she said, turning to Nick.

He shook hands with her for goodnight. “ Well, then, we must give him lots to do.”

She came to his studio in the morning, but unaccompanied by her mother ; in allusion to whom she simply said, “Mamma wished to come, but I would n’t let her.” They proceeded promptly to business. The girl divested herself of her hat and coat, taking the position already established for her. After they had worked for more than an hour with much less talk than the day before, Nick being extremely absorbed, and Miriam wearing, in silence, the kindest, most religious air of consideration for the sharp tension she imposed upon him — at the end of this period of patience, pervaded by a holy calm, our young lady suddenly got up and exclaimed, “ I say, I must see it ! ” with which, quickly, she stepped down from her place, and came round to the canvas. She had, at Nick’s request, not looked at his work the day before. He fell back, glad to rest, and put down his palette and brushes.

“Ah, ça, c’est tapé!” Miriam cried, as she stood before the easel. Dormer was pleased with her ejaculation, he was even pleased with what he had done; he had had a long, happy spurt, and felt excited and enlarged. Miriam, retreating also a little, sank into a highbacked, old-fashioned chair that stood two or three yards from the picture, and reclined in it, with her head on one side, looking at the rough resemblance. She made a remark or two about it, to which Nick replied, standing behind her and, after a moment, leaning on the top of the chair. He was away from his work, and his eyes searched it with a kind of fondness of hope. They rose, however, as he presently became conscious that the door of the large room opposite to him had opened without making a sound, and that some one stood upon the threshold. The person on the threshold was Julia Dallow.

As soon as he perceived her Nick wished he had posted a letter to her the night before. He had written only that morning. Nevertheless there was genuine joy in the words with which he bounded toward her — “Ah, my dear Julia, what a jolly surprise ! ” — for her unannounced descent spoke to him above all of an irresistible desire to see him again sooner than they had arranged. She had taken a step forward, but she had done no more, stopping short at the sight of the strange woman, so divested of visiting-gear that she looked half undressed, who lounged familiarly in the middle of the room, and over whom Nick had been still more familiarly hanging. Julia’s eyes rested on this embodied unexpectedness, and as they did so she grew pale — so pale that Nick, observing it, instinctively looked back to see what Miriam had done to produce such an effect. She had done nothing at all, which was precisely what was embarrassing; only staring at the intruder, motionless and superb. She seemed, somehow, in indolent possession of the room, and even in that instant Nick noted how handsome she looked; so that he exclaimed somewhere, inaudibly, in a region beneath his other emotions, “How I should like to paint her that way ! ” Mrs. Dallow transferred her eyes for a single moment, to Nick’s ; then they turned away — away from Miriam, ranging over the room.

“I’ve got a sitter, but you mustn’t mind that; we are taking a rest. I’m delighted to see you,” said Nick. He closed the door of the studio behind her; his servant was still at the outer door, which was open, and through which he saw Julia’s carriage drawn up. This made her advance a little further, but still she said nothing; she dropped no answer even when Nick went on, with a sense of awkwardness : “When did you come back? I hope nothing has gone wrong. You come at a very interesting moment,” he continued, thinking, as soon as he had spoken, that they were such words as might have made her laugh. She was far from laughing; she only managed to look neither at him nor at Miriam, and to say, after a little, when he had repeated his question about her return —

“ I came back this morning— I came straight here.”

“ And nothing is wrong, I hope ? ”

“ Oh, no — everything is all right,” she replied very quickly and without expression. She vouchsafed no explanation of her premature return, and took no notice of the seat Nick offered her; neither did she appear to hear him when he begged her not to look yet at the work on the easel — it was in such a dreadful state. He was conscious, as he phrased it, that this request gave to Miriam’s position, directly in front of his canvas, an air of privilege which her neglect to recognize in any way Mrs. Dallow’s entrance or her importance did nothing to correct. But that mattered less if the appeal failed to reach Julia’s intelligence, as he judged, seeing presently how deeply she was agitated. Nothing mattered, in face of the sense of danger which took possession of him after she had been in the room a few moments. He wanted to say, “ What ’s the difficulty ? Has anything happened ? ” but he felt that she would not like him to utter words so intimate in presence of the person she had been rudely startled to find between them. He pronounced Miriam’s name to Mrs. Dallow, and Mrs. Dallow’s to Miriam, but Julia’s recognition of the ceremony was so slight as to be scarcely perceptible. Miriam had the air of waiting for something more before she herself made a sign ; and as nothing more came she continued to be silent and not to budge. Nick added a remark to the effect that Mrs. Dallow would remember to have had the pleasure of meeting Miss Rooth the year before — in Paris, that day, at her brother Peter’s; to which Mrs. Dallow rejoined, “Ah, yes,” without any qualification, while she looked down at some rather rusty studies, on panels, which were ranged along the floor, resting against the base of the wall. Her agitation was evidently a pain to herself; she had had a shock of extreme violence, and Nick saw that as Miriam showed no symptom of offering to give up her sitting, her stay would be of the briefest. He wished Miriam would do something—say she would go, get up, move about; as it was, she had the appearance of watching, from her point of vantage, Mrs. Dallow’s discomfiture. He made a series of inquiries about Julia’s doings in the country, to two or three of which she gave answers monosyllabic and scarcely comprehensible, while she turned her eyes round and round the room, as if she were looking for something she could n’t find — for an escape, for something that was not Miriam. At last she said — it was at the end of a very few minutes —

“ I did n’t come to stay — when you are so busy. I only looked in to see if you were here. Good-by.”

“ It’s charming of you to have come. I’m so glad you’ve seen for yourself how well I ’m occupied,” Nick replied, not unaware that he was very red. This made Mrs. Dallow look at him, while Miriam considered them both. Julia’s eyes had something in them that he had never seen before — a flash of fright by which he was himself frightened. “ Of course I ’ll see you later,” he added, laughing awkwardly, while she reached the door, while she opened it herself and got out, without a goodday to Miriam. “ I wrote to you this morning — you’ve missed my letter,” he repeated behind her, having already given her this information. The door of the studio was very near that of the house, but before Mrs. Dallow had reached the street the visitors’ bell was set ringing. The passage was narrow, and she kept in advance of Nick, anticipating his motion to open the streetdoor. The bell was tinkling still when, by the action of her own hand, a gentleman on the step stood revealed.

“ Ah, my dear, don’t go ! ” Nick heard pronounced in quick, soft dissuasion, and in the now familiar accents of Gabriel Nash. The rectification followed more quickly still, if that were a rectification which scarcely improved the matter : “ I beg a thousand pardons. I thought you were Miriam.”

Gabriel gave way, and Mrs. Dallow dashed out of the house. Her carriage, a victoria with a pair of horses who had got hot, had taken a turn up the street, but the coachman had already perceived his mistress, and was rapidly coming back. He drew near ; not so fast, however, but that Gabriel Nash had time to accompany Mrs. Dallow to the edge of the pavement, with an apology for the freedom into which he had blundered. Nick was at her other hand, waiting to put her into her carriage, and freshly disconcerted by the encounter with Nash, who somehow, as he stood making Julia an explanation that she did n’t listen to, looked less eminent than usual, though not more conscious of difficulties. Nick colored deeper, and watched the footman spring down as the victoria drove up ; he heard Nash say something about the honor of having met Mrs. Dallow in Paris. Nick wanted him to go into the house; he damned inwardly his want of delicacy. He desired a word with Julia alone — as much alone as the two inconvenient servants would allow. But Nash was not too much discouraged to say : “ You came for a glimpse of the great model ? Does n’t she sit? That’s what I wanted too, this morning — just a look, for a blessing on the day. Ah, but you, madam ”—

Julia had sprung into the carriage while he was still speaking, and had flashed out to the coachman a “Home!” which of itself set the vehicle in motion. The carriage went a few yards, but while Gabriel, with a magnificent bow, turned away, Nick Dormer, with his hand on the edge of the hood, moved with it.

“You don’t like it, but I ‘11 explain,” he said, laughing and in a low tone.

“ Explain what ? ” Mrs. Dallow asked, still very pale and grave, but showing nothing in her voice. She was thinking of the servants. She could think of them even then.

“ Oh, it’s all right. I ’ll come in at five,” Nick returned, gallantly jocular, while the carriage rolled away.

Gabriel had gone into the studio, and Nick found him standing in admiration before Miriam, who had resumed the position in which she was sitting.

“ Lord, she’s good to-day ! Is n’t she good to-day ? ” Nash broke out, seizing Nick by the arm to give him a certain view. Miriam looked indeed still handsomer than before, and she had taken up her attitude again with a splendid sphinx-like air of being capable of keeping it forever. Nick said nothing, but he went back to work with a tingle of confusion, which proved, in fact, when he resumed his palette, to be a sharp and, after a moment, a delightful stimulus. Miriam spoke never a word, but she was doubly grand, and for more than an hour, till Nick, exhausted, declared he must stop, the industrious silence was broken only by the desultory discourse of Gabriel Nash.

XXVII.

Nick Dormer went to Great Stanhope Street at five o’clock, and learned, rather to his surprise, that Mrs. Dallow was not at home — to his surprise because he had told her he would come at that hour, and he attributed to her, with a certain simplicity, an eager state of mind in regard to his explanation. Apparently she was not eager ; the eagerness was his own — he was eager to explain. He recognized, not without a certain consciousness of magnanimity in doing so, that there had been reason for her quick withdrawal from his studio, or at any rate for her extreme discomposure there. He had, a few days before, put in a plea for a snatch of worship in that sanctuary, and she had accepted and approved it; but the worship, when the curtain happened to blow back, proved to be that of a magnificent young woman, an actress with disordered hair, who wore in a singular degree the aspect of a person arrived to spend the day. The explanation was easy ; it resided in the circumstance that when one was painting, even very badly and only for a moment, one had to have models. Nick was impatient to give it, with frank, affectionate lips, and a full, jocose admission that it was natural Julia should have been startled ; and he was the more impatient that, though he would not in the least have expected her to like finding a strange woman domesticated, for the hour, under his roof, she had disliked it even more than would have seemed probable. That was because, not having heard from him about the matter, the impression was, for the moment, irresistible with her that a trick had been played her. But three minutes with him alone would make the difference.

They would indeed have a considerable difference to make, Nick reflected, as minutes much more numerous elapsed without bringing Mrs. Dallow home. For he had said to the butler that he would come in and wait (though it was odd she should not have left a message for him) : she would doubtless return from one moment to the other. Nick had of course full license to wait, anywhere he preferred ; and he was ushered into Julia’s particular sitting-room, and supplied with tea and the evening papers. After a quarter of an hour, however, he gave little attention to these beguilements, owing to the increase of his idea that it was odd that when she definitely knew he was coming she should not have taken more pains to be at home. He walked up and down and looked out of the window, took up her books and dropped them again, and then, as half an hour had elapsed, began to feel rather angry. What could she be about when, at a moment when London was utterly empty, she could not be paying visits ? A footman came in to attend to the fire ; whereupon Nick questioned him as to the manner in which Mrs. Dallow was probably engaged. The man revealed the fact that his mistress had gone out only a quarter of an hour before Nick arrived, and, as if he appreciated the opportunity for a little decorous conversation, gave him still more information than he asked for. From this it appeared that, as Nick knew, or could surmise, she had the evening before, from the country, telegraphed for the victoria to meet her in the morning at Paddington, and had gone straight from the station to the studio, while her maid, with her luggage, proceeded in a cab to Great Stanhope Street. On leaving the studio, however, she had not come directly home ; she had chosen this unusual season for an hour’s drive in the Park. She had finally reëntered her house, but had remained up-stairs all day, seeing no one and not coming down to luncheon. At four o’clock she had ordered the brougham for four forty-five, and had got into it punctually, saying, “ To the Park ! ” as she did so.

Nick, after the footman had left him, felt himself much mystified by Julia’s sudden passion for the banks of the Serpentine, forsaken and foggy now, inasmuch as the afternoon had come on gray and the light was waning. She usually hated the Park and she hated a closed carriage. He had a discomfortable vision of her, shrunken into a corner of her brougham and veiled as if she had been crying, revolving round the solitude of the Drive. She had of course been deeply disconcerted, and she was nervous and upset: the motion of the carriage soothed her and made her fidget less. Nick remembered that in the morning, at his door, she had appeared to be going home ; so she had turned into the Park on second thoughts, as she passed. He lingered another half hour, walked up and down the room many times and thought of many things. Had she misunderstood him, when he said he would come at five ? Could n’t she be sure, even if she had, that he would come early rather than late, and might she not have left a message for him, on the chance ? Going out, that way, a few minutes before he was to come had even a little the air of a thing done on purpose to offend him; as if she had been so displeased that she had taken the nearest occasion of giving him a sign that she meant to break. But were these the things that Julia did, and was that the way she did them — his fine, proud, delicate, generous Julia ?

When six o’clock came poor Nick felt distinctly resentful ; but he stayed ten minutes longer, on the possibility that Mrs. Dallow would, in the morning. have understood him to mention that hour. The April dusk began to gather, and the unsociability of her behavior, especially if she were still rumbling about the Park, became absurd. Anecdotes came back to Nick, vaguely remembered, heard he could n’t have said when or where, of poor artists for whom life had been rendered difficult by wives who would n’t allow them the use of the living female model, and who made scenes if, on the staircase, they encountered such sources of inspiration. These ladies struck him as vulgar and odious persons, with whom it seemed grotesque that Julia should have anything in common. Of course she was not his wife yet, and of course, if she were, he should have washed his hands of every form of activity requiring the services of the sitter; but even these qualifications left him with a capacity to shudder at the way Julia just escaped ranking herself with the Philistines.

At a quarter past six he rang a bell, and told the servant who answered it that he was going, and that Mrs. Dallow was to be informed as soon as she came in that he had expected to find her, and had waited an hour and a quarter for her. But he had just reached the doorstep, on his departure, when her brougham, emerging from the evening mist, stopped in front of the house. Nick stood at the door, hanging back till she got out, allowing the servants to help her. She saw him—she was not veiled, like his mental image of her ; but this did not prevent her from pausing to give an order to the coachman, a matter apparently requiring some discussion. When she came to the door Nick remarked to her that he had been waiting an eternity for her ; to which she replied that he must not make a grievance to her of that — she was too unwell to do justice to it. He immediately professed regret and sympathy, adding, however, that in that case she had much better not have gone out. She made no answer to this—there were three servants in the hall, who looked as if they might understand at least, what was not said to them ; only when he followed her in she asked if his idea had been to stay longer.

“ Certainly, if you are not too ill to see me.”

“ Come in, then,” Julia said, turning back after having gone to the foot of the stairs.

This struck him immediately as a further restriction of his visit: she would not readmit him to the drawing-room or to her boudoir ; she would receive him in an impersonal apartment downstairs, in which she saw people on business. What did she want to do to him ? He was prepared, by this time, for a scene of jealousy ; for he was sure that he had learned to read her character justly in feeling that if she had the appearance of a cold woman she had also, on certain occasions, a liability to extreme emotion. She was very still, but every now and then she would fire off a pistol. As soon as Nick had closed the door she said, without sitting down —

“ I dare say you saw I did n’t like that at all.”

“ My having a sitter, that way ? I was very much annoyed at it myself,” Nick answered.

“ Why were you annoyed ? She’s very handsome,” said Mrs. Dallow perversely.

“ I did n’t. know you looked at her !" Nick laughed.

Julia hesitated a moment. “Was I very rude ? ”

“ Oh, it was all right ; it was only awkward for me, because you did n’t know,” Nick replied.

“I did know; that’s why I came.”

“ How do you mean ? My letter could n’t have reached you.”

“ I don’t know anything about your letter,” said Mrs. Dallow, casting about her for a chair, and then seating herself on the edge of a sofa, with her eyes on the floor.

“ She sat to me yesterday ; she was there all the morning; but I did n’t write to tell you. I went at her with great energy, and, absurd as it may seem to you, found myself very tired afterwards. Besides, in the evening, I went to see her act.”

“ Does she act ? ” ashed Mrs. Dallow.

“ She ’s an actress ; it’s her profession. Don’t you remember her that day, at Peter’s, in Paris ? She’s already a celebrity; she has great talent; she is engaged at a theatre here, and is making a sensation. As I tell you, I saw her last night.”

“You need n’t tell me,” Mrs. Dallow replied, looking up at him with a face of which the intense, the tragic sadness startled him.

He had been standing before her, but at this he instantly sat down beside her, taking her passive hand. “ I want to, please ; otherwise it must seem so odd to you. I knew she was coming when I wrote to you the day before yesterday. But I did n’t tell you then, because I did n’t know how it would turn out, and I did n’t want to exult, in advance, over a poor little attempt that might come to nothing. Moreover, it was no use speaking of the matter at all unless I told you exactly how it came about,” Nick went on, explaining kindly, copiously. “ It was the result of a visit unexpectedly paid me by Gabriel Nash.”

“That man—the man who spoke to me ? ” Julia asked, startled into a shuddering memory.

“He did what he thought would please you, but I dare say it did n’t. You met him in Paris and did n’t like him; so I thought it best to hold my tongue about him.”

“ Do you like him ? ”

“ Very much.”

“Great heaven ! ” Julia ejaculated, almost under her breath.

“The reason I was annoyed was because, somehow, when you came in, I suddenly had the air of having got out of those visits and shut myself up in town to do something that I had kept from you. And I have been very unhappy till I could explain.”

“You don’t explain — you can’t explain,” Mrs. Dallow declared, turning on her companion eyes which, in spite of her studied stillness, expressed deep excitement. “I knew it — I knew everything; that’s why I came.”

“It was a sort of second-sight — what they call a brain - wave,” Nick smiled.

“ I felt uneasy, I felt a kind of call; it came suddenly, yesterday. It was irresistible ; nothing could have kept me this morning.”

“ That’s very serious, but it’s still more delightful. You must n’t go away again,” said Nick. “ We must stick together — forever and ever.”

He put his arm round her, but she detached herself as soon as she felt its pressure.

She rose quickly, moving away, while, mystified, he sat looking up at her as she had looked a few moments before at him. “ I ’ve thought it all over ; I’ve been thinking of it all day,” she began, “That’s why I did n’t come in.”

“ Don’t think of it too much ; it is n’t worth it.”

“ You like it more than anything else. You do — you can’t deny it,” she went on.

“ My dear child, what are you talking about ? ” Nick asked, gently.

“That’s what you like — doing what you were this morning; with women lolling, with their things off, to be painted, and people like that man.”

Nick slowly got up, hesitating. “ My dear Julia, apart from the surprise, this morning, do you object to the living model ? ”

“Not a bit, for you.” “ What’s the inconvenience, then, since, in my studio, they are only for me ? ”

“ You love it, you revel in it; that ’s what you want, and that’s the only thing you want! ” Julia broke out.

“ To have models, lolling women, do you mean ? ”

“That’s what I felt, what I knew, what came over me and haunted me yesterday, so that I could n’t throw it off. It seemed to me that if I could see it with my eyes and have the perfect proof I should feel better, I should be quiet. And now I am— after a struggle of some hours, I confess. I have seen ; the whole thing’s clear and I’m satisfied.”

“ I’m not, and to me the whole thing is n’t clear. What, exactly, are you talking about ? ” Nick demanded.

“ About what you were doing this morning. That’s your innermost preference, that’s your secret passion.”

“ A little go at something serious ? Yes, it was almost serious,” said Nick. “ But it was an accident, this morning and yesterday : I got on better than I intended.”

“ I ’m sure you have immense talent,” Mrs. Dallow remarked, with a joylessness that was almost droll.

“No, no, I might have had. I’ve plucked it up: it ’s too late for it to flower. My dear Julia, I’m perfectly incompetent and perfectly resigned.”

“ Yes, you looked so this morning, when you hung over her. Oh, she’ll bring back your talent! ”

“ She ’s an obliging and even an intelligent creature, and I ‘ve no doubt she would if she could. But I’ve received from you all the help that any woman is destined to give me. No one can do for me again what you have done.”

“I should n’t try it again; I acted in ignorance. Oh, I ’ve thought it all out! " Julia declared. Then, with a strange face of anguish resting on his, she said, “ Before it’s too late — before it’s too late ! ”

“ Too late for what ? ”

“ For you to be free —for you to be free. And for me—for me to be free too. You hate everything I like ! ” she exclaimed, with a trembling voice. “ Don ‘t pretend, don’t pretend ! ” she went on, as a sound of protest broke from him.

“ I thought you wanted me to paint,” protested Nick, flushed and staring.

“ I do — I do. That’s why you must be free, why we must part.”

“ Why we must part ? ”

“Oh, I ’ve turned it over. I ’ve faced the truth. It would n’t do at all,” said Mrs. Dallow.

“ I like the way you talk of it, as if it were a trimming for your dress!" Nick rejoined, with bitterness. “ Won’t it do for you to be loved and cherished, as well as any woman in England ? ”

Mrs. Dallow turned away from him, closing her eyes as if materially not to see something that would be dangerous to her. “You mustn’t give anything up for me. I should feel it all the while, and I should hate it. I ’m not afraid of the truth, but you are.”

“The truth, dear Julia? I only want to know it,” said Nick. “It seems to me I’ve got hold of it. When two persons are united by the tenderest affection, and are sane and generous and just, no difficulties that occur in the union their life makes for them are insurmountable, no problems are insoluble.”

Mrs. Dallow appeared for a moment to reflect upon this ; it was spoken in a tone that might have touched her. At any rate, at the end of the moment, lifting her eyes, she announced : “ I hate art, as you call it. I thought I did, I knew I did ; but till this morning I did n’t know how much.”

“ That was n’t art,” pleaded Nick. “ The real thing will be a thousand miles away from us; it will never come into the house, soyez tranquille. Why then shouhld you worry ? ”

“ Because I want to understand, I want to know what I ’m doing, You ’re an artist: you are, you are!" Mrs. Dallow cried, accusing him passionately.

“ My poor Julia, it is n’t so easy as that, nor a character one can take on from one day to the other. There are all sorts of things ; one must be caught young, and put through the mill, and see things as they are. There would be sacrifices I never can make.”

“Well, then, there are sacrifices for both of us, and I can’t make them, either. I dare say it’s all right for you, but for me it would be a terrible mistake. When I think I ’m doing something, I must n’t do just the opposite,”Julia went on, as if she wished to explain and be clear. “ There are things 1 ’ve thought of, the things I like best; and they are not what you mean. It would be a great deception, and it’s not the way I see my life, and it would be misery if we don’t understand.”

Nick looked at her in hard perplexity, for she did not succeed in explaining as well as she wished. “ If we don’t understand what ? ”

“ That we are awfully different — that you are doing it all for me.”

“And is that an objection to me — what I do for you ?" asked Nick.

“ You do too much. You ’re awfully good, you ’re generous, you ’re a dear fellow; but I don’t believe in it. I did n’t, at bottom, from the first — that’s why I made you wait, why I gave you your freedom. Oh, I’ve suspected you. I had my ideas. It’s all right for you, but it won’t do for me : I ‘m different altogether. Why should it always be put upon me, when I hate it ? What have I done ? I was drenched with it, before.” These last words, as they broke forth, were accompanied, even as the speaker uttered them, with a quick blush ; so that Nick could as quickly discern in them the uncalculated betrayal of an old irritation, an old shame almost — her late husband ’s flat, inglorious taste for pretty things, his indifference to every chance to play a public part. This had been the mortification of her youth, and it was indeed a perversity of fate that a new alliance should contain for her even an oblique demand for the same spirit of accommodation, impose on her the secret bitterness of the same concessions. As Nick stood there before her, struggling sincerely with the force that he now felt to be strong in her, the intense resolution to break with him, a force matured in a few hours, he read a riddle that hitherto had baffled him, saw a great mystery become simple. A personal passion for him had all but thrown her into his arms (the sort of thing that even a vain man — and Nick was not especially vain — might hesitate to recognize the strength of) ; held in check, with a tension of the cord, at moments, of which he could still feel the vibration, by her deep, her rare ambition, and arrested, at the last, only just in time to save her calculations. His present glimpse of the immense extent of these calculations did not make him think her cold or poor ; there was in fact a positive strange heat in them, and they struck him rather as grand and high. The fact that she could drop him even while she longed for him — drop him because it was now fixed in her mind that he would not after all serve her determination to be associated, so far as a woman could, with great affairs ; that she could postpone, and postpone to an uncertainty, the satisfaction of a gnawing tenderness and judge for the long run—this exhibition of will and courage, of the large plan that possessed her, commanded his admiration on the spot. He paid the heavy penalty of being a man of imagination; he was capable of far excursions of the spirit, disloyalties to habit and even to faith, and open to wondrous communications. He ached, for the moment, to convince her that he would achieve what he would n’t, for the vision of his future that she had tried to entertain shone before him as a bribe and a challenge. It seemed to him there was nothing he could n’t fancy enough, to be so fancied by her. Presently he said —

“ You want to be sure the man you marry will be prime minister of England. But how can you be sure, with any one ? ”

“ I can be sure some men won’t,” Mrs. Dallow replied.

“ The only safe thing, perhaps, would be to marry Mr. Macgeorge,” Nick suggested.

“ Possibly not even him.”

“ You ’re a prime minister yourself,” Nick answered. “ To hold fast to you as I hold, to be determined to be of your party — is n’t that political enough, since you are the incarnation of politics ? ”

“ Ah, how you hate them! ” Julia moaned. “ I saw that when I saw you this morning. The whole place reeked of it.”

“ My dear child, the greatest statesmen have had their distractions. What do you make of my hereditary talent ? That’s a tremendous force.”

“ It would n’t carry yon far.” Then Mrs. Dallow added, “You must be a great artist.” Nick gave a laugh at the involuntary contempt of this, but she went on : “ It’s beautiful of you to want to give up anything, and I like you for it. I shall always like you. We shall be friends, and I shall always take an interest ” — he stopped her at this, he made a movement which interrupted her phrase, and she suffered him to hold her hand as if she were not afraid of him now. “It is n’t only for you,” he argued, gently ; “ you ‘re a great deal, but you ’re not everything. Innumerable vows and pledges repose upon my head, I ‘m inextricably committed and dedicated. I was brought up in the temple ; my father was a high priest, and I’m a child of the Lord. And then the life itself — when you speak of it I feel stirred to my depths; it’s like a herald’s trumpet. Fight with me, Julia — not against me! Be on my side, and we shall do everything. It is fascinating, to be a great man before the people — to be loved by them, to be followed by them. An artist is n’t — never, never. Why should he be ? Don’t forget how clever I am.”

“ Oh. if it was n’t for that!” she rejoined, flushed with the effort to resist his tone. She asked abruptly, “ Do you pretend that if I were to die tomorrow you would stay in the House ? ”

“ If you were to die ? God knows ! But you do singularly little justice to my incentives,” Nick continued. “ My political career is everything to my mother.”

Julia hesitated a moment; then she inquired, “ Are you afraid of your mother ? ”

“ Yes, particularly ; for she represents infinite possibilities of disappointment and distress. She represents all my father’s as well as all her own ; and in them my father tragically lives again. On the other hand, I see him in bliss, as I see my mother, over our marriage and our life of common aspirations ; though of course that ’s not a consideration that I can expect to have power with you.”

Mrs. Dallow shook her head slowly, even smiling a little, with an air of recovered calmness and lucidity. “ You ’ll never hold high office.”

“ But why not take me as I am ? ”

“ Because I ‘m abominably keen about that sort of thing; I must recognize it.

I must face the ugly truth. I’ve been through the worst; it’s all settled.”

“ The worst, I suppose, was when you found me this morning.”

“ Oh, that was all right — for you.”

“ You ’re magnanimous, Julia ; but evidently what’s good enough for me is n’t good enough for you.” Nick spoke with bitterness.

“ I don’t like you enough — that’s the obstacle,” said Mrs. Dallow, bravely.

“ You did a year ago ; you confessed to it.”

“ Well, a year ago was a year ago. Things are changed to-day.”

You ’re very fortunate — to be able to throw away a devotion,” Nick replied.

Julia had her pocket handkerchief in her hand, and at this she quickly pressed it to her lips, as if to check an exclamation. Then, for an instant, she appeared to be listening as if for a sound from outside. Nick interpreted her movement as an honorable impulse to repress the words, “ Do you mean the devotion that I was witness of this morning? ” But immediately afterwards she said something very different: “ I thought I heard a ring. I ’ve telegraphed for Mrs. Gresham.”

“ Why did you do that?” asked Nick.

“ Oh, I want her.”

He walked to the window, where the curtains had not been drawn, and saw, in the dusk, a cab at the door. When he turned back he said: “ Why won’t you trust me to make you like me, as you call it, better? If I make you like me as well as I like you,it will be about enough. I think.”

“ Oh, I like you enough, for your happiness. And I don’t throw away a devotion,” Mrs. Dallow continued. “ I shall be constantly kind to you. I shall be beautiful to you.”

“ You ’ll make me lose a fortune,” declared Nick.

Julia stared, then she colored. “Ah, you may have all the money you want.”

“ I don’t mean yours,” he answered, flushing in his turn. He had determined, on the instant, since it might serve, to tell her what he had never spoken of to her before. “ Mr. Carteret last year promised me a pot of money on the day I should stand up with you. He has set his heart on our marriage.” “ I ’m sorry to disappoint Mr. Carteret,” said Julia. “ I ’ll go and see him. I ’ll make it all right,” she went on. “Besides, you’ll make a fortune by your portraits. The great men get a thousand, just for a head.”

“I’m only joking,” Nick returned, with sombre eyes that contradicted this profession. “ But what things you deserve I should do ! ”

“ Do you mean striking likenesses ? ” “You do hate it! Pushed to that point, it’s curious,” the young man audibly mused.

“ Do you mean you are joking about Mr. Carteret’s promise ? ”

“No, the promise is real ; but I don’t seriously offer It as a reason.”

“ I shall go to Beauclere,” said Mrs. Dallow. “ You ’re an hour late,” she added in a different tone ; for at that moment the door of the room was thrown open, and Mrs. Gresham, the butler pronouncing her name, was ushered in.

“ Ah, don’t impugn my punctuality; it’s my character ! ” the useful lady exclaimed, putting a sixpence from the cabman into her purse. Nick went off, at this, with a simplified farewell — went off foreseeing exactly what he found the next day, that Mrs. Gresham would have received orders not to budge from her hostess’s side. He called on the morrow, late in the afternoon, and Julia saw him, liberally, in pursuance of her assertion that she would be “ beautiful ” to him, that she had not thrown away his devotion ; but Mrs. Gresham remained, immutably, a spectator of her liberality. Julia looked at him kindly, but her companion was more benignant still; so that what Nick did with his own eyes was not to appeal to Mrs. Dallow to see him for a moment alone, but to solicit, in the name of this luxury, the second occupant of the drawing-room. Mrs. Gresham seemed to say, while Julia said very little : “ I understand, my poor friend, I know everything (she has told me only her side, but I ’m so competent that I know yours too), and I enter into the whole thing deeply. But it would be as much as my place is worth to accommodate you.” Still, she did not go so far as to give him an inkling of what he learned on the third day and what he had not gone so far as to suspect — that the two ladies had made rapid arrangemeats for a scheme of foreign travel. These arrangements had already been carried out when, at the door of the house in Great Stanhope Street, the fact was imparted to Nick that Mrs. Dallow and her friend had started that morning for Paris.

Henry James.