THE really formidable thing, for Nick, was to tell his mother : a truth of which he was so conscious that he had the matter out with her the very morning he returned from Beauclere. She and Grace had come back, the afternoon before, from Lady St. Dunstans’, and knowing this (she had written him her intention, from the country), he drove straight from the station to Calcutta Gardens. There was a little room there, on the right of the house-door, which was known as his own room, but in which, of a morning, when he was not at home, Lady Agnes sometimes wrote her letters. These were always numerous, and when she heard our young man’s cab she happened to be engaged with them at the big brass-mounted bureau which had belonged to his father, and where, amid a margin of works of political reference, she seemed to herself to make public affairs feel the point of her elbow.
She came into the hall to meet her son and to hear about Mr. Carteret, and Nick went straight back into the room with her and closed the door. It would be in the evening paper and she would see it, and he had no right to allow her to wait for that. It proved indeed a terrible hour; and when, ten minutes later, Grace, who learned, up-stairs, that her brother had come back, went down for further news of him, she heard, from the hall, a sound of voices which made her first pause and then retrace her steps on tiptoe. She mounted to the drawing-room and crept about there, palpitating, looking at moments into the dull street and wondering what on earth was going on. She had no one to express her wonder to, for Florence Tressilian had departed, and Biddy, after breakfast, had betaken herself, in accordance with a custom now inveterate, to Rosedale Road. Her mother was crying, passionately — a circumstance tremendous in its significance, for Lady Agnes had not often been brought so low. Nick had seen her cry, but this almost awful spectacle had seldom been given to Grace ; and it forced her to believe, at present, that some dreadful thing had happened.
That was of course in order, after Nick’s mysterious quarrel with Julia, which had made his mother so ill and which now, apparently, had been followed up with new horrors. The row, as Grace mentally phrased it, had had something to do with this incident, some deeper depth of disappointment had opened up. Grace asked herself if they were talking about Broadwood ; if Nick had demanded that, in the conditions so unpleasantly changed, Lady Agnes should restore that pretty property to its owner. This was very possible, but why should he so suddenly have broken out about it ? And moreover their mother, though sore to bleeding about the whole business — for Broadwood, in its fresh comfort, was too delightful — would not have met this pretension with tears, inasmuch as she had already declared that they could n’t decently continue to make use of the place. Julia had said that of course they must go on, but Lady Agnes was prepared with an effective rejoinder to this. It did n’t consist of words — it was to be austerely practical, was to consist of letting Julia see, at the moment she should least expect it, that they quite would n’t go on. Lady Agnes was now waiting for that moment — the moment when her renunciation would be most impressive.
Grace was conscious of how, for many days, her mother and she had been moving in darkness, deeply stricken by Nick’s culpable (oh, he was culpable !) loss of his prize, but feeling there was an element in the matter they did n’t grasp, an undiscovered explanation which would perhaps make it still worse, but might make them a little better. Nick had explained nothing; he had simply said, “ Dear mother, we don’t hit it off, after all; it’s an awful bore, but we don’t,” as if that were, under the circumstances, an adequate balm for two aching hearts. From Julia, naturally, satisfying attenuations were not to be looked for ; and though Julia very often did the thing you would n’t suppose, she was not unexpectedly apologetic in this case. Grace recognized that in such a position it would savor of apology for her to impart to Lady Agnes her grounds for letting Nick off ; and she would not have liked to be the person to suggest to Julia that any one looked for anything from her. Neither of the disunited pair blamed the other or cast an aspersion, and it was all very magnanimous and superior and impenetrable and exasperating. With all this Grace had a suspicion that Biddy knew something more, that for Biddy the tormenting curtain had been lifted.
Biddy came and went, in these days, with a perceptible air of detachment from the tribulations of home. It made her, fortunately, very pretty — still prettier than usual; it sometimes happened that at moments when Grace was most angry she had a faint, sweet smile which might have been drawn from a source of private consolation. It was perhaps in some degree connected with Peter Sherringham’s visit, as to which the girl was not silent. When Grace asked her if she had secret information, and if it pointed to the idea that everything would be all right in the end, she pretended to know nothing (What should she know ? she asked, with the loveliest candor), and begged her sister not to let Lady Agnes believe that she was any better off than they. She contributed nothing to their gropings toward the light save a better patience than theirs, but she went with noticeable regularity, on the pretext of her foolish modeling, to Rosedale Road. She was frankly on Nick’s side ; not going so far as to say he had been right, but saying distinctly that she was sure that, whatever had happened, he could n’t help it. This was striking, because, as Grace knew, the younger of the sisters had been much favored by Julia and would not have sacrificed her easily. It associated itself, in the irritated mind of the elder, with Biddy’s frequent visits to the studio, and made Miss Dormer ask herself whether the crisis in Nick’s and Julia’s business had not, somehow, been linked to that unnatural spot.
She had gone there two or three times, while Biddy was working, to pick up any clue to the mystery that might peep out. But she had put her hand upon nothing, save once on the personality of Gabriel Nash. She found this strange creature, to her surprise, paying a visit to her sister — he had come for Nick, who was absent; she remembered how they had met him in Paris and how he had frightened her. When she asked Biddy, afterwards, how she could receive him that way, Biddy replied that even she, Grace, would have some charity for him if she could hear how fond he was of poor Nick. He talked to her only of Nick — of nothing else. Grace observed how she spoke of Nick as injured, and noted the implication that some one else had ceased to be fond of him and was thereby condemned in Biddy’s eyes. It seemed to Grace that some one else had at least a right not to like some of his friends. The studio struck her as mean and horrid: and so far from suggesting to her that it could have played a part in making Nick and Julia fall out, she only felt how little its dusty want of consequence could count, one way or the other, for Julia. Grace, who had opinions on art, saw no merit whatever in those “ impressions,” on canvas, from Nick’s hand, with which the place was bestrewn. She did n’t wish her brother to have talent in that direction ; yet it was secretly humiliating to her that he had not more.
Nick felt a pang of almost horrified penitence, in the little room on the right of the hall, the moment after he had made his mother really understand that he had thrown up his seat, that it would probably be in the evening papers. That she would take it badly was an idea that had pressed upon him hard enough ; but she took it even worse than he had feared. He measured, in the look that she gave him when the full truth loomed upon her, the mortal cruelty of her discomfiture; her face was like that of a passenger on a ship who sees the huge bows of another vessel towering close, out of the fog. There are visions of dismay before which the best conscience recoils ; and though Nick had made his choice on all the grounds, there were a few minutes in which he would gladly have admitted that his wisdom was a dark mistake. His heart was in his throat, he had gone too far ; he had been ready to distress his mother — he had not been ready to destroy her.
Lady Agnes, I hasten to add, was not destroyed ; she made, after her first drowning gasp, a tremendous scene of opposition, in the face of which Nick speedily fell back upon his intrenchments. She must know the worst, he had thought; so he told her everything, including the little story of the forfeiture of his “ expectations ” from Mr. Carteret. He showed her this time not only the face of the matter, but what lay below it ; narrated briefly the incident, in his studio, which had led to Julia Dallow’s deciding that she could n’t, after all, put up with him. This was wholly new to Lady Agnes, she had had no clue to it, and he could instantly see how it made the case worse for her, adding a hideous positive to a hideous negative. He perceived, now, that, defeated and distracted as she had been by his rupture with Julia, she had still held to the faith that their engagement would come on again ; believing evidently that he had a personal empire over the mistress of Harsh which would bring her back. Lady Agnes was forced to recognize that empire as precarious, to forswear the hope of a blessed renewal, from the moment it was a question of base infatuations on his own part. Nick confessed to an infatuation, but did his best to show her it was not base ; that it was not (since Julia had had faith in his loyalty) for the person of the young lady who had been discovered posturing to him and whom he had seen but half a dozen times in his life. He endeavored to give his mother a notion of who this young lady was, and to remind her of the occasion, in Paris, when they all had seen her together. But Lady Agnes’s mind and memory were a blank on the subject of Miss Miriam Rooth, and she wanted to know nothing about her: it was enough that she was the cause of their ruin, that she was mixed up with his unspeakable folly. Her ladyship needed to know nothing of Miss Rooth to allude to her as if it were superfluous to give a definite name to the class to which she belonged.
But she gave a name to the group in which Nick had now taken his place, and it made him feel, after the lapse of years, like a small blamed, sorry boy again ; for it was so far away he could scarcely remember it (besides there having been but a moment or two of that sort in his happy childhood), the time when his mother had slapped him and called him a little fool. He was a big fool now — a huge, immeasurable one ; she repeated the term over and over, with high - pitched passion. The most painful thing in this painful hour was perhaps his glimpse of the strange feminine cynicism that lurked in her fine sense of injury. Where there was such a complexity of revolt it would have been difficult to pick out particular complaints ; but Nick could see that, to Lady Agnes’s imagination, he was most a fool for not having kept his relations with the actress, whatever they were, better from Julia’s knowledge. He remained indeed freshly surprised at the ardor with which she had rested her hopes on Julia. Julia was certainly a combination — she was fascinating, she was a sort of leading woman, and she was rich ; hut after all (putting aside what she might be to a man in love with her), she was not the keystone of the universe. Yet the form in which the consequences of his apostasy appeared most to come home to Lady Agnes was the loss, for the Dormer family, of the advantages attached to the possession of Mrs. Dallow. The larger mortification would round itself later ; for the hour the damning thing was that Nick had really made Julia a present of an unforgivable grievance. He had clinched their separation by his letter to his electors ; and that, above all, was the wickedness of the letter. Julia would have got over the other woman, but she would never get over his becoming a nobody.
Lady Agnes challenged him upon this low prospect exactly as if he had embraced it with the malignant purpose of making Julia’s return impossible. She contradicted her premises and lost her way in her wrath. What had made him suddenly turn round if he had been in good faith before ? He had never been in good faith — never, never; he 1 had had from his earliest childhood the nastiest hankerings after a vulgar little daubing, trash-talking life; they were not in him, the grander, nobler aspirations — they never had been — and he had been anything but honest to lead her on, to lead them all on, to think he would do something ; the fall and the shame would have been less for them if they had come earlier. Moreover, what need under heaven had he to tell Charles Carteret of his cruel folly on his very deathbed ? — as if he might n’t have let it all alone and accepted the benefit the old man was so delighted to confer. No wonder the old man would keep his money for his heirs, if that was the way Nick proposed to repay him ; but where was the common sense, where was the common charity, where was the common decency, of tormenting him with such vile news in his last hours ? Was he trying what he could invent that would break her heart, that would send her in sorrow down to her grave ? Were n’t they all miserable enough, and had n’t he a ray of pity for his wretched sisters ?
The relation of effect and cause, in regard to his sisters’ wretchedness, was but dimly discernible to Nick, who, however, easily perceived that his mother genuinely considered that his action had disconnected them all, still more than she held they were already disconnected, from the good things of life. Julia was money, Mr. Carteret was money, and everything else was poverty. If these precious people had been primarily money for Nick, it was after all a gracious tribute to his distributive power to have taken for granted that for the rest of the family too the difference would have been so great. For days, for weeks and months afterward, the little room on the right of the hall seemed to our young man to vibrate, as if the very walls and window-panes still suffered, with the most disagreeable ordeal he had ever been through.
That evening — the evening of his return from Beauclere — Nick was conscious of a keen desire to get away, to go abroad, to leave behind him the little chatter his resignation would be sure to produce in an age of publicity which never discriminated as to the quality of events. Then he felt it was better to stay, to see the business through on the spot. Besides, he would have to meet his constituents (would a parcel of cheese-eating burgesses ever have been “met” on so queer an occasion?), and when that was over the worst would be over. Nick had an idea that he knew in advance how it would feel to be pointed at as a person who had given up a considerable chance of eventual “ office ” to take likenesses at so much a head. He would n’t attempt, down at Harsh, to touch on the question of motive ; for, given the nature of the public mind of Harsh, that would be a strain on his faculty of expression. But as regards the chaff of the political world and of society, he had an idea he should find chaff enough for answers. It was true that when his mother “ chaffed ” him, in her own effective way, he had felt rather flattened out; but then one’s mother might have a heavier hand than any one else.
He had not thrown up the House of Commons to amuse himself; he had thrown it up to work, to sit quietly down and bend over his task. If he should go abroad his mother might think he had some weak-minded view of joining Julia Dallow and trying, with however little hope, to win her back — an illusion it would be singularly pernicious to encourage. His desire for Julia’s society had succumbed, for the present at any rate, to an irresistible interruption — he had become more and more conscious that they spoke a different language. Nick felt like a young man who has gone to the Rhineland to “ get up ” his German for an examination — committed to talk, to read, to dream, only in the new idiom. Now that he had taken his jump everything was simplified, at the same time that everything was pitched on a higher, more excited key ; and he wondered how, in the absence of a common dialect, he had conversed, on the whole so happily, with Julia. Then he had after - tastes of understandings tolerably independent of words. He was excited, because every fresh responsibility is exciting, and there was no manner of doubt that he had accepted one. No one knew what it was but himself (Gabriel Nash scarcely counted — his whole attitude on the question of responsibility was so fantastic), and he would have to ask his dearest friends to take him on trust. Rather, he would ask nothing of any one, but would cultivate independence, mulishness, and gayety, and fix his thoughts on a bright, if distant, morrow. It was disagreeable to have to remember that his task would not be sweetened by a sense of heroism ; for if it might be heroic to give up the muses for the strife of great affairs, no romantic glamour worth speaking of would ever gather round an Englishman who, in the prime of his strength, had given up great, or even small, affairs for the muses. Such an original might himself, privately, doggedly, regard certain phases of this inferior commerce as a great affair; but who would give him the benefit of that sort of confidence — except indeed a faithful, clever, excited little sister Biddy, if he should have the good luck to have one ? Biddy was in fact all ready for heroic flights, and eager to think she might fight the battle of the beautiful by her brother’s side ; so that Nick had really to moderate her and to remind her that his actual job was not a crusade, with bugles and banners, but a gray, sedentary grind, whose charm was all at the core. You might have an emotion about it, and an emotion that would be a help, but this was not the sort of thing you could show — the end in view would seem ridiculously small for it. Nick asked Biddy how one could talk to people about the “responsibility” of what she would see him pottering at in his studio.
Nick therefore did n’t talk any more than he was forced to, having moreover a sense that that side of the situation would be plentifully looked after by Gabriel Nash. He left the burden of explanation to others, meeting them on the ground of inexhaustible satire. He saw that he should live for months in a thick cloud of irony, not the finest air of the season, and he adopted the weapon to which a person whose use of tobacco is only occasional resorts when every one else produces a cigar — he puffed the perfunctory, defensive cigarette. He accepted the idea of a mystery in his behavior, and abounded so in that sense that his critics were themselves bewildered. Some of them felt that they got, as the phrase is, little out of him — he rose, in his good-humor, so much higher than the “ rise ” they had looked for — on his very first encounter with the world after his scrimmage with his mother. He went to a dinner-party (he had accepted the invitation many days before), having seen his resignation, in the form of a telegram from Harsh, announced in the evening papers. The people he found there had seen it as well, and the most imaginative of them wanted to know what he was going to do. Even the least imaginative asked if it were true he had changed his politics. He gave different answers to different persons, but left most of them under the impression that he had remarkable conscientious scruples. This, however, was not a formidable occasion, for there happened to be no one present he was particularly fond of. There were old friends whom it would not be so easy to satisfy — Nick was almost sorry, for an hour, that he had so many old friends. If he had had more enemies the case would have been simpler; and he was fully aware that the hardest thing of all would be to be let off too easily. Then he would appear to himself to have been put on his generosity, and his deviation would wear its ugliest face.
When he left the place at which he had been dining he betook himself to Rosedale Road : he saw no reason why he should go down to the House, though he knew he had not done with that yet. He had a dread of behaving as if he supposed he should be expected to make a farewell speech, and was thankful his eminence was not of a nature to create, on such an occasion, a desire for his oratory. He had, in fact, nothing whatever to say in public — not a word, not a syllable. Though the hour was late, he found Gabriel Nash established in his studio, drawn thither by the fine exhilaration of having seen an evening paper. Trying it late, on the chance, he had been told by Nick’s servant that Nick would sleep there that night, and he had come in to wait, he was so eager to congratulate him. Nick submitted with a good grace to his society — he was tired enough to go to bed, but he was restless too — in spite of feeling now, oddly enough, that Nash’s congratulations could add little to his fortitude. He had felt a good deal, before, as if he were in Nash’s hands ; but now that he had made his final choice he seemed to himself to be altogether in his own. Gabriel was wonderful, but no Gabriel could assist him much henceforth.
Gabriel was indeed more wonderful than ever, while he lolled on a divan and emitted a series of reflections which were even more ingenious than opportune. Nick walked up and down the room, and it might have been supposed from his manner that he was impatient for his visitor to withdraw. This idea would have been contradicted, however, by the fact that subsequently, after Nash had taken leave, he continued to perambulate. He had grown used to Nash — had a sense that he had heard all he had to say. That was one’s penalty with persons whose main gift was for talk, however irrigating; talk engendered a sense of sameness much sooner than action. The things a man did were necessarily more different from each other than the things he said, even if he went in for surprising you. Nick felt Nash could never surprise him any more save by doing something.
He talked of his host’s future, he talked of Miriam Rooth and of Peter Sherringham, whom he had seen at Miriam Rooth’s and whom he described as in a predicament delightful to behold. Nick asked a question or two about Peter’s predicament, and learned, rather to his disappointment, that it consisted only of the fact that he was in love with Miss Rooth. He requested his visitor to do better than this ; whereupon Nash added the touch that Sherringham would n’t be able to have her. “ Oh, they have ideas ! ” he said, when Nick asked him why.
“ What ideas? So has he, I suppose.”
“ Yes, but they are not the same.”
“ Oh well, they ’ll arrange something,” said Nick.
“ You ’ll have to help them a bit. She’s in love with another man,” Nash returned.
“ Do you mean with you ? ”
“ Oh, I ’m never another man,” said Nash; “ I’m more the wrong one than the man himself. It’s you she’s after.” And upon Nick’s asking him what he meant by this he added, “ While you were engaged in transferring her image to your sensorium, you stamped your own upon hers.”
Nick stopped in his walk, staring. “ Ah, what a bore ! ”
“ A bore ? Don’t you think she ’s agreeable ? ”
Nick hesitated. “ I wanted to go on with her — now I can’t.”
“ My dear fellow, it only makes her handsomer: I wondered what was the matter with her.”
“ Oh, that’s twaddle,” said Nick, turning away. “ Besides, has she told you?”
“ No, but her mother has.”
“ Has she told her mother ? ”
“ Mrs. Rooth says not. But I have known Mrs. Rooth to say that which is n’t.”
“ Apply that rule, then, to the information you speak of.”
“ Well, since you press me, I know more,” said Nash. “Miriam knows you are engaged to a certain lady ; she told me as much, told me she had seen her here. That was enough to set Miriam off — she likes forbidden fruit.”
“ I ’m not engaged to any lady. I was, but we’ve altered our minds.”
“ Ah, what a pity! ” sighed Nash.
“ Mephistopheles ! ” Nick rejoined, stopping again and looking at his visitor gravely.
“ Pray, whom do you call Margaret ? May I ask if your failure of interest in the political situation is the cause of this change in your personal one ? ” Nash went on. Nick signified to him that he might not; whereupon Gabriel added: “ I am not in the least devilish — I only mean it’s a pity you’ve altered your minds, because now perhaps Miriam will alter hers. She goes from one thing to another. However, I won’t tell her.”
“ I will, then,” said Nick, between jest and earnest.
“ Would that really be prudent ? ” Nash asked, with an intonation that made hilarity prevail.
“ At any rate,” Nick resumed, “ nothing would induce me to interfere with Peter Sherringham. That sounds fatuous, but to you I don’t mind appearing an ass.”
“ The thing would be to get Sherringham — out of spite — to entangle himself with another woman.”
“ What good would that do ? ”
“ Oh, Miriam would begin to fancy him then.”
“ Spite surely is n’t a conceivable motive — for a healthy man.”
“ Ah, Sherringham is n’t a healthy man. He ’s too much in love.”
“ Then he won’t care for another woman.”
“ He would try to, and that would produce its effect — its effect on Miriam.”
“ You talk like an American novel. Let him try, and God keep us all straight.” Nick thought, in extreme silence, of his poor little Biddy, and hoped — he would have to see to it a little—that Peter would n’t “ try ” on her. He changed the subject and, before Nash went away, took occasion to remark to him — the occasion was offered by some new allusion of the visitor’s to the sport he hoped to extract from seeing Nick carry out everything to which he stood committed — that the great comedy would fall very flat, the great incident would pass unnoticed.
“ Oh, if you ’ll simply do your part, I ’ll take care of the rest,” said Nash.
“ If you mean by doing my part working like a beaver, it’s all right,” Nick replied.
“ Ah, you reprobate, you ’ll become a fashionable painter, a P. R. A. ! ” his companion groaned, getting up to go.
When he had gone Nick threw himself back on the cushions of the divan and, with his hands locked above his head, sat a long time lost in thought. He had sent his servant to bed ; he was unmolested. He gazed before him into the gloom produced by the unheeded burning out of the last candle. The vague outer light came in through the tall studio window, and the painted images, ranged about, looked confused in the dusk. If his mother had seen him she might have thought he was staring at his father’s ghost.
The night Peter Sherringham walked away from Balaklava Place with Gabriel Nash, the talk of the two men directed itself, as was natural under the circumstances, to the question of Miriam’s future renown and the pace, as Nash called it, at which she would go. Critical spirits as they both were, and one of them as dissimulative in passion as the other was paradoxical in the absence of it, they yet took this renown for granted as completely as the simpleminded, a pair of hot spectators in the pit, might have done, and exchanged observations on the assumption that the only uncertain element would be the pace. This was a proof of general subjugation. Peter wished not to show, but he wished to know ; and in the restlessnesses of his anxiety he was ready even to risk exposure, great as the sacrifice might be of the imperturbable, urbane skepticism most appropriate to a secretary of embassy. He was unable to rid himself of the sense that Gabriel Nash had got up earlier than he, had had opportunities in days already distant, the days of Mrs. Rooth’s hungry foreign rambles. Something of authority stuck to him from this, and it made Sherringham still more uncomfortable when he was most conscious that, at the best, even the trained diplomatic mind would never get a grasp of Miriam as a whole. She was constructed to revolve like the terrestrial globe ; some part or other of her was always out of sight or in shadow.
Sherringham talked to conceal his feelings, and, like every man doing a thing from that sort of intention, did it perhaps too much. They agreed that, putting strange accidents aside, Miriam would go further than any one had gone, in England at least, and within the memory of man; and that it was a pity, as regards marking the comparison, that for so long no one had gone any distance worth speaking of. They further agreed that it would naturally seem absurd to any one who did n’t know, their prophesying such big things on such small evidence ; and they agreed lastly that the absurdity quite vanished as soon as the prophets knew as they knew. Their knowledge (they quite recognized this) was simply confidence raised to a high point — the communication of the girl’s own confidence. The conditions were enormously to make, but it was of the very essence of Miriam’s confidence that she would make them. The parts, the plays, the theatres, the “ support,” the audiences, the critics, the money, were all to be found, but she cast a spell which prevented that from seeming a serious hitch. One might not see from one day to the other what she would do nor how she would do it, but she would none the less go on. She would have to construct her own road, as it were, but at the worst there would only be delays in putting it down. These delays would depend on the hardness of the stones she had to break.
As Sherringham had perceived, you never knew where to “ have ” Gabriel Nash; a truth exemplified in his unexpected delight at the prospect of Miriam’s drawing forth the modernness of the age. You might have thought he would loathe that modernness ; but he had a brilliant, amused, amusing vision of it — saw it as something huge and fantastically vulgar. Its vulgarity would rise to the grand style, like that of a London railway station, and Miriam’s publicity would be as big as the globe itself. All the machinery was ready, the platform laid; the facilities, the wires and bells and trumpets, the colossal, deafening newspaperism of the period — its most distinctive sign — were waiting for her, their predestined mistress, to press her foot on the spring and set them all in motion. Gabriel brushed in a large bright picture of her progress through the time and round the world, round it and round it again, from continent to continent and clime to clime; with populations and deputations, reporters and photographers, placards and interviews and banquets, steamers, railways, dollars, diamonds, speeches, and artistic ruin, all jumbled into her train. Regardless of expense the spectacle would be and thrilling, though somewhat monotonous the drama — a drama more bustling than any she would put on the stage, and a spectacle that would beat everything for scenery. In the end her divine voice would crack, screaming to foreign ears and antipodal barbarians, and her clever manner would lose all quality, simplified to a few unmistakable knock-down dodges. Then she would be at the fine climax of life and glory, still young and insatiate, but already coarse, hard and raddled, with nothing left to do and nothing left to do it with, the remaining years all before her and the raison d’être all behind. It would be curious and magnificent and grotesque.
“ Oh, she ’ll have some good years — they ’ll be worth having,” Sherringham insisted, as they went. “ Besides, you see her too much as a humbug and too little as an artist. She has ideas —great ones ; she loves the thing for itself. That may keep a woman serious.”
“ Her greatest idea must always be to show herself; and fortunately she has a splendid self to show. I think of her as the artist completely, but the artist whose art is her own person. No ‘person,’ even as fine a one as hers, will stand that for more than an hour, so that humbuggery has very soon to lend a hand. However,” Nash continued, “ if she’s a fine humbug it will do as well, and perfectly suit the time. We can all be saved by vulgarity ; that’s the solvent of all difficulties and the blessing of this delightful age. Let no man despair ; a new hope has dawned.”
“ She ’ll do her work like any other worker, with the advantage over many that her talent is rare,” Peter replied. “ Compared with the life of many women, that’s security and sanity of the highest order. Then she can’t help her beauty. You can’t vulgarize that.”
“ Oh, can’t you ? ” exclaimed Gabriel Nash.
“ It will abide with her till the day of her death. It is n’t a mere superficial freshness. She’s very noble.”
“ Yes, that’s the pity of it,” said Nash. “ She’s a capital girl, and I quite admit that she ’ll do, for a while, a lot of good. She will have brightened up the world for a great many people; she will have brought the ideal nearer to them, held it fast, for an hour, with its feet on earth and its great wings trembling. That’s always something, for blessed is he who has dropped even the smallest coin into the little iron box that contains the precious savings of mankind. Miriam will doubtless have dropped a big gold piece. It will be found, in the general division, on the day the race goes bankrupt. And then, for herself, she will have had a great go at life.”
“ Oh, yes, she 'll have got out of her hole; she won’t have vegetated,” said Sherringham. “ That makes her touching to me; it adds to the many good reasons for which one may want to help her. She ’s tackling a big job, and tackling it by herself ; throwing herself upon the world, in good faith, and dealing with it as she can ; meeting alone, in her youth and her beauty, and I think I may add in her generosity, all the embarrassments of notoriety and all the difficulties of a profession of which, if one half is what’s called brilliant, the other half is odious.”
“ She has great courage, but should you speak of her as solitary, with such a lot of us all round her ? ” Gabriel asked.
“ She ’s a great thing for you and me, but we ’re a small thing for her.”
“ Well, a good many small things may make up a considerable one,” Nash returned. “ There must always be the man ; he’s the indispensable element in such a life, and he ’ll be the last thing she ’ll ever want for.”
“ What man are you talking about?” Sherringham asked, rather confusedly.
“ The man of the hour, whoever he is. She ’ll inspire innumerable devotions.”
“ Of course she will, and they wall be precisely a part of the insufferable side of her life.”
“ Insufferable to whom ? ” Nash inquired. “ Don’t forget that the insufferable side of her life will be just the side she ’ll thrive on. You can’t eat your cake and have it, and you can’t make omelettes without breaking eggs. You can’t at once sit by the fire and fly about the world, and you can’t go round and round the globe without having adventures. You can’t be a great actress without quivering nerves. If you have n’t them, you will only be a small one. If you have them, your friends will be pretty sure to hear of them. Your nerves and your adventures, your eggs and your cake, are part of the cost of the most expensive of professions. If you do your business at all you should do it handsomely, so that the costs may run up tremendously. You play with human passions, with exaltations and ecstasies and terrors, and if you trade on the fury of the elements you must know how to ride the storm.”
“ Those are the fine old commonplaces about the artistic temperament, but I usually find the artist a very meek, decent little person,” said Sherringham.
“ You never find the artist — you only find his work, and that ’s all you need to find. When the artist is a woman, and the woman is an actress, meekness and decency will doubtless be there in the right proportions,” Nash went on. “ Miriam will represent them for you, if you give her her startingpoint, with the utmost charm.”
“ Of course she ’ll have devotions — that’s all right,” said Sherringham, impatiently.
“ And — don’t you see ? — they ’ll mitigate her solitude, they ’ll even enliven it,” Nash remarked.
“ She ’ll probably box a good many ears: that’ll be lively,” Peter rejoined, with some grimness.
“ Oh, magnificent! it will be a merry life. Yet with its tragic passages, its distracted or its pathetic hours,” Nash continued. “ In short, a little of everything.”
The two men walked on without further speech, till at last Sherringham said, “ The best thing for a woman in her situation is to marry some good fellow.”
“ Oh, I dare say she ’ll do that too ! ” Nash laughed ; a remark in consequence of which Peter again lapsed into silence. Gabriel left him to enjoy his silence for some minutes; after which he added, “ There’s a good fellow she ’d marry to-morrow.”
Peter hesitated. “ Do you mean her friend Dashwood ? ”
“ No, no, I mean Nick Dormer.”
“ She’d marry him ? ” Sherringham asked.
“ I mean her head’s full of him. But she ’ll hardly get the chance.”
“ Does she like him so much as that ? ” Sherringham went on.
“ I don’t know quite how much you mean, but enough for all practical ends.”
“ Marrying a fashionable actress — that’s hardly a practical end.”
“ Certainly not, but I’m not speaking from his point of view. Moreover, I thought you just now said it would be such a good thing for her.”
“ To marry Nick Dormer ? ”
“ You said a good fellow, and he’s the very best.”
“ I was n’t thinking of the man, but of the marriage. It would protect her, make things safe and comfortable for her, and keep a lot of cads and blackguards away.”
“ She ought to marry the prompter or the box-keeper,” said Nash. “ Then it would be all right. I think, indeed, they generally do, don’t they ? ”
Sherringham felt for a moment a strong disposition to drop his companion on the spot — to cross to the other side of the street and walk away without him. But there was a different impulse which struggled with this one and, after a minute, overcame it — the impulse which led to his saying presently, “Has she told you that — that she’s in love with Nick ? ”
“ No, no — that’s not the way I know it.”
“ Has Nick told you, then ? ”
“ On the contrary, I’ve told him.”
“ You have rendered him a questionable service if you have no proof,” said Peter.
“ My proof is only that I’ve seen her with him. She’s charming, poor thing.”
“ But surely she is n’t in love with every man she’s charming to.”
“ I mean she’s charming to me,” Nash replied. “ I see her that way. But judge for yourself — the first time you get a chance.”
“ When shall I get a chance ? Nick does n’t come near her.”
“ Oh, he ’ll come, he ’ll come ; his picture is n’t finished.”
“ You mean he ’ll be the box-keeper, then ? ”
“ My dear fellow, I shall never allow it,” said Gabriel Nash. “ It would be idiotic and quite unnecessary. He’s beautifully arranged, in quite a different line. Fancy his taking that sort of job on his hands ! Besides, she would never expect it; she ’s not such a goose. They are very good friends — it will go on that way. She ’s an excellent sort of woman for him to know ; she ’ll give him lots of ideas of the plastic kind. He would have been up there before this, but he has been absorbed in this delightful squabble with his constituents. That, of course, is pure amusement; but when once it’s well launched he ’ll get back to business, and his business will be a very different matter from Miriam’s. Imagine him writing her advertisements, living on her money, adding up her profits, having rows and recriminations with her agent, carrying her shawl, spending his days in her rougepot. The right man for that, if she must have one, will turn up. ‘ Pour le mariage, non.’ Miriam is n’t an idiot; she really, for a woman, quite sees things as they are.”
As Sherringham had not crossed the street and left Gabriel planted, he was obliged to brave the torment of this suggestive flow. But descrying, in the dusky vista of the Edgware Road, a vague and vigilant hansom, he waved his stick with eagerness and with the abrupt declaration that he was tired, must drive the rest of the way. He offered Nash, as he entered the vehicle, no seat, but this coldness was not reflected in the lucidity with which that master of every subject went on to affirm that there was, of course, a danger, — the danger that, in given circumstances, Miriam would leave the stage.
“ Leave it, you mean, for some man?”
“ For the man we are talking about.”
“ For Nick Dormer?” Peter asked, from his place in the cab, his paleness lighted by its lamps.
“ If he should make it a condition. But why should he — why should he make any conditions ? He ’s not an ass, either. You see it would be a bore,” Nash continued, while the hansom waited, “because if she were to do anything of that sort she would make him pay for the sacrifice.”
“ Oh, yes, she’d make him pay for the sacrifice,” Sherringham repeated.
“ And then, when he had paid, she’d go back to her footlights,” Gabriel added, explicatively, from the curbstone, as Sherringham closed the apron of the cab.
“ I see — she’d go back — goodnight,” Peter replied. “Please go on!” he cried to the driver through the hole in the roof. And when the vehicle rolled away, he subjoined, to himself, “ Of course she would — and quite right! ”
“ Judge for yourself when you get a chance,” Nash had said; and as it turned out Sherringham was able to judge two days later, for he found his cousin in Balaklava Road on the Tuesday following his walk with Gabriel. He had not only stayed away from the theatre on the Monday evening (he regarded this as an exploit of some importance). but had not been near Miriam during the day. He had meant to absent himself from her company on Tuesday as well; a determination confirmed by the fact that the afternoon turned out wet. But when, at ten minutes to five o’clock, he jumped into a hansom and directed its course to St. John’s Wood, it was precisely upon the weather that he shifted the responsibility of his behavior.
Miriam had dined when he reached the villa, but she was lying down — she was tired — before going to the theatre. Mrs. Rooth was, however, in the drawing-room with three gentlemen, in two of whom the fourth visitor was not startled to recognize Basil Dashwood and Gabriel Nash. Dashwood appeared to have become Miriam’s brother-in-arms very much as Mrs. Rooth was her mother ; it had come to Sherringham’s knowledge the last time he was in Balaklava Road that the young actor had finally moved his lodgings into the quarter, becoming a near neighbor for all sorts of convenience. “ Hang his convenience ! ” Peter said to himself, perceiving that Dashwood was now altogether one of the family. Oh, the family — it was a queer one to be connected with; that consciousness was acute in Sherringham’s breast to-day as he entered Mrs. Rooth’s little circle. The room was filled with cigarettesmoke and there was a messy coffeeservice on the piano, whose keys Basil Dashwood lightly touched for his own diversion. Nash, addressing the room, of course, was at one end of a little sofa, with his nose in the air, and Nick Dormer was at the other end, seated much at his ease, with a certain privileged appearance of having been there often before, though Sherringham knew he had not. He looked uncritical and very young, as rosy as a school-boy on a half holiday. It was past five o’clock in the day, but Mrs. Rooth was not dressed; there was, however, no want of finish in her elegant attitude — the same relaxed grandeur (she seemed to let you understand) for which she used to be distinguished at Castle Nugent when the house was full. She toyed incongruously, in her unbuttoned wrapper, with a large tinsel fan which resembled a theatrical property.
It was one of the discomforts of Sherringham’s situation that many of those minor matters which are, superficially at least, most characteristic of the histrionic life had power to displease him, so that he was obliged to make the effort of indulgence. He disliked besmoked drawing-rooms and irregular meals and untidy arrangements ; he could suffer from the vulgarity of Mrs. Rooth’s apartments, the importunate photographs (they gave on his nerves), the barbarous absence of signs of an orderly domestic life, the odd volumes from the circulating library (you could see what they were — the very covers told you — at a glance) tumbled about with cups or glasses on them. He had not waited till now to make the reflection that it was a strange thing fate should have goaded him into that sort of contact; but, as he stood before Mrs. Rooth and her companions, he made it, perhaps, more pointedly than ever. Her companions, somehow, who were not responsible, did n’t keep him from making it; which was particularly odd, as they were not, superficially, in the least of Bohemian type. Almost the first thing that struck him, as it happened, in coming into the room, was the essential good looks of his cousin, who was a gentleman to the eye in a different degree from the high-collared Dashwood. Peter did n’t hate him for being such a pleasant young Englishman; his consciousness was traversed rather by a fresh wave of annoyance at Julia’s failure to get on with him on that ample basis.
It was Sherringham’s first encounter with Nick since his arrival in London; they had been, on one side and the other, so much taken up with their own affairs. Since their last meeting Nick had, as we know, to his kinsman’s perception, really taken on a new character ; he had done a fine stroke of business in a quiet way. This made him a figure to be counted with, and in just the sense in which Peter desired least to count with him. Poor Sherringham, after his somersault in the blue, was much troubled these last days ; he was ravaged by contending passions; he paid, every hour, in a torment of unrest, for what was false in his position, the impossibility of being consistent, the opposition of interest and desire. Nick, his junior, and a lighter weight, had settled his problem and showed no wounds; there was something impertinent and mystifying in it. He looked too innocently young and happy there, and too careless and modest and amateurish for a rival or for the genius that he was apparently going to try to be — the genius that, the other day, in the studio with Biddy, Peter had got a startled glimpse of his capacity for being. Sherringham would have liked to feel that he had grounds of resentment, that Julia had been badly treated, or that Nick was fatuous, for in that case he might have regarded him as offensive. But where was the offense of his merely being liked by a woman in respect to whom Peter had definitely denied himself the luxury of pretensions, especially if the offender had taken no action in the matter ? It could scarcely be called culpable action to call, casually, on an afternoon when the lady was invisible. Peter, at any rate, was distinctly glad Miriam was invisible; and he proposed to himself to suggest to Nick, after a little, that they should adjourn together — they had such interesting things to talk about. Meanwhile, Nick greeted him with genial, usual tones and candid, friendly eyes, in which he could read neither confusion nor defiance. Sherringham was reassured against a danger he believed he did n’t recognize and puzzled by a mystery he flattered himself he did n’t mind. And he was still more ashamed of being reassured than of being puzzled.
It must be recorded that Miriam remained invisible only a few minutes longer. Nick, as Sherringham gathered, had been about a quarter of an hour in the house, which would have given the girl, aroused from her repose, about time to array herself to come down to him. At all events she was in the room, prepared, apparently, to go to the theatre, very shortly after Sherringham had become sensible of how glad he was she was out of it. Familiarity had never yet cured him of a certain tremor of expectation, and even of suspense, in regard to her entrances ; a flutter caused by the simple circumstance of her infinite variety. To say she was always acting suggests too much that she was often fatiguing; for her changing face affected this particular admirer, at least, not as a series of masks, but as a response to perceived differences, an intensity of sensibility, or still more as something cleverly constructive, like the shifting of the scene in a play or a room with many windows. Her incarnations were incalculable, but if her present denied her past and declined responsibility for her future, it made a good thing of the hour and kept the actual very actual. This time the actual was a bright, gentle, graceful, smiling young woman in a new dress, eager to go out, drawing on fresh gloves, who looked as if she were about to step into a carriage and (it was Gabriel Nash WHO thus formulated her physiognomy) do a lot of London things.
The young woman had time to spare, however, and she sat down and talked and laughed, and presently gave, as it seemed to Sherringham, a finer character to the tawdry little room. It was honorable enough if it belonged to her. She described herself as in a state of nervous bewilderment — exhausted, stupefied, blinded, with the rehearsals of the forthcoming piece (the first night was close at hand, and it was going to be d’un mauvais — they would all see!), but there was no correspondence between this account of the matter and her present kindly gayety. She sent her mother away — to “ put on some clothes or something ” — and, left alone with the visitors, went to a long glass between the windows, talking always to Nick Dormer, and revised and rearranged, a little, her own attire. She talked to Nick, over her shoulder, and to Nick only, as if he were the guest to recognize and the others did n’t count. She broke out, immediately, about his having thrown up his seat, wished to know if the strange story told her by Mr. Nash were true — that he had knocked all the hopes of his party into pie.
Nick took it in this way and gave a jocular picture of his party’s ruin, the critical condition of public affairs : evidently, as yet, he remained inaccessible to shame or repentance. Sherringham, before Miriam’s entrance, had not, in shaking hands with Nick, made even a roundabout allusion to his odd “ game ; ” there seemed a sort of muddled good taste in being silent about it. He winced a little on seeing how his scruples had been wasted, and was struck with the fine, jocose, direct turn of his kinsman’s conversation with the young actress. It was a part of her unexpectedness that she took just the inartistic view of Nick’s behavior ; declared frankly, though without ill-nature, that she had no patience with his folly. She was horribly disappointed — she had set her heart on his being a great statesman, one of the rulers of the people and the glories of England. What was so useful, what was so noble ? — how it belittled everything else ! She had expected him to wear a cordon and a star some day (and to get them very soon), and to come and see her in her loge: it would look so well. She talked like a lovely Philistine, except, perhaps, when she expressed surprise at hearing — she heard it from Gabriel Nash — that in England gentlemen accoutred with those emblems of their sovereign’s esteem did n’t so far forget themselves as to stray into the dressing-rooms of actresses. She admitted, after a moment, that they were quite right — the dressing-rooms of actresses were nasty places; but she was sorry, for that was the sort of thing she had always figured, in a corner — a distinguished man, slightly bald, in evening dress, with orders, admiring the smallness of a satin shoe and saying witty things. Gabriel Nash was convulsed with hilarity at this — such a vision of the British political hero. Coming back from the glass and making him give her his place on the sofa, she seated herself near Nick and continued to express her regret at his perversity.
“ They all say that — all the charming women, but I should n’t have looked for it from you,” Nick replied. “ I’ve given you such an example of what I can do in another line.”
“ Do you mean my portrait ? Oh, I’ve got it, with your name, and ‘M. P.’ in the corner, and that’s precisely why I’m content. ‘M. P.’ in the corner of a picture is delightful, but I want to break the mould: I don’t in the least insist on your giving specimens to others. And the artistic life, when you can lead another — if you have any alternative, however modest — is a very poor business. It comes last, in dignity — after everything else. Ain’t I up to my eyes in it, and don’t I know ? ”
“ You talk like my broken-hearted mother,” said Nick.
“ Does she hate it so intensely ? ”
“ She has the darkest ideas about it — the wildest theories. I can’t imagine where she gets them ; partly, I think, from a general conviction that the ‘æsthetic’ — a horrible insidious foreign disease — is eating the healthy core out of English life (dear old English life !), and partly from the charming drawings in Punch and the clever satirical articles, pointing at mysterious depths of contamination, in the other weekly papers. She believes there’s a dreadful coterie of dangerously clever and desperately refined people, who wear a kind of loose, faded uniform and worship only beauty — which is a fearful thing — that Nash has introduced me to it, that I now spend all my time in it, and that, for its sweet sake, I have repudiated the most sacred engagements. Poor Nash, who, so far as I can make out, is n’t in any sort of society, however bad ! ”
“ But I ’m dangerously clever,” Nash interposed, “ and though I can’t afford the uniform (I believe you get it best somewhere in South Audley Street), I do worship beauty. I really think it’s I the weekly papers mean.”
“ Oh, I’ve read the articles — I know the sort ! ” said Basil Dashwood.
Miriam looked at him. “ Go and see if the brougham is there — I ordered it early.”
Dashwood, without moving, consulted his watch. “ It is n’t time yet — I knowmore about the brougham than you. I ’ve made a rattling good arrangement for her — it really costs her nothing,” the young actor continued confidentially to Sherringham, near whom he had placed himself.
“ Your mother is quite right to be broken-hearted,” Miriam declared, “ and I can imagine exactly what she has been through. I should like to talk with her — I should like to see her.” Nick broke into ringing laughter, reminding her that she had talked to him, while she sat for her portrait, in directly the opposite sense, most suggestively and inspiringly; and Nash explained that she was studying the part of a Tory duchess and wished to take observations for it, to work herself into the character. Miriam might in fact have been a Tory duchess, as she sat with her head erect and her gloved hands folded, smiling with aristocratic dimness at Nick. She shook her head with stately sadness ; she might have been representing Mary Stuart in Schiller’s play. “ I’ve changed since that. I want you to be the grandest thing there is — the counselor of kings.”
Peter Sherringham wondered if, possibly, it were not since she had met his sister in Nick’s studio that she had changed, if perhaps it had not occurred to her that it would give Julia the sense of being more effectually routed to know that the woman who had thrown the bomb was one who also tried to keep Nick in the straight path. This indeed would involve an assumption that Julia might know, whereas it was perfectly possible that she might n’t, and more than possible that if she should she would n’t care. Miriam’s essential fondness for trying different ways was always there as an adequate reason for any particular way ; a truth which, however, sometimes only half prevented the particular way from being vexatious to Sherringham.
“ Yet, after all, who is more æsthetic than you, and who goes in more for the beautiful? ” Nick asked. “ You are never so beautiful as when you pitch into it.”
“ Oh, I ’m an inferior creature, of an inferior sex, and I have to earn my bread as I can. I’d give it all up in a moment, my odious trade — for an inducement.”
“ And pray what do you mean by an inducement ? ” Nick demanded.
“ My dear fellow, she means you — if you ’ll give her a permanent engagement to sit for you ! ” exclaimed Gabriel Nash. “ What singularly crude questions you ask ! ”
“ I like the way she talks,” Basil Dashwood broke in, “ when I gave up the most brilliant prospects, of very much the same kind as Mr. Dormer’s, expressly to go on the stage.”
“ You ’re an inferior creature too,” said Miriam.
“ Miss Rooth is very hard to satisfy,” Sherringham observed. “ A man of distinction, slightly bald, in evening dress, with orders, in the corner of her loge — she has such a personage ready made to her hand, and she does n’t so much as look at him. Am I not an inducement? Have I not offered you a permanent engagement ? ”
“ Your orders — where are your orders ? ” Miriam inquired, with a sweet smile, getting up.
“ I shall be a minister next year, and an ambassador before you know it. Then I shall stick on everything that can be had.”
“ And they call us mountebanks! ” cried the girl. “ I’ve been so glad to see you again — do you want another sitting?” she went on, to Nick, as if to take leave of him.
“ As many as you ’ll give me — I shall be grateful for all,” Nick answered. “ I should like to do you as you are at present. You are totally different from the woman I painted — you are wonderful.”
“ The Comic Muse ! ” laughed Miriam. “ Well, you must wait till our first nights are over — I ’m sur les dents till then. There ’s everything to do, and I have to do it all. That fellow’s good for nothing — for nothing but domestic life,” and she glanced at Basil Dashwood. “ He has n’t an idea— not one that you’d willingly tell of him, though he ’s rather useful for the stables. We ’ve got stables now — or we try to look as if we had : Dashwood’s ideas are de cette force.In ten days I shall have more time.”
“ The Comic Muse ? Never, never,” Sherringham protested. “ You are not to go smirking through the age and down to posterity — I ’d rather see you as Medusa, crowned with serpents. That’s what you look like when you look best.”
“ That ’s consoling — when I’ve just bought a new bonnet! I forgot to tell you just now that when you are an ambassador you may propose anything you like,” Miriam went on. “ But excuse me if I make that condition. Seriously speaking, come to me glittering with orders and I shall probably succumb. I can’t resist stars and garters. Only you must, as you say, have them all. I don’t like to hear Mr. Dormer talk the slang of the studio — like that phrase just now: it is a fall to a lower state. However, when one is low one must crawl, and I’m crawling down to the Strand. Dashwood, see if mamma’s ready. If she is n’t, I decline to wait; you must bring her in a hansom. I ’ll take Mr. Dormer in the brougham ; I want to talk with Mr. Dormer ; he must drive with me to the theatre. His situation is full of interest.” Miriam led the way out of the room as she continued to chatter, and when she reached the housedoor, with the four men in her train, the carriage had just drawn up at the garden-gate. It appeared that Mrs. Rooth was not ready, and the girl, in spite of a remonstrance from Nick, who had the sense of usurping the old lady’s place, repeated her injunction that she should be brought on in a cab. Miriam’s companions accompanied her to the gate, and she insisted upon Nick’s taking his seat in the brougham and taking it first. Before she entered she put out her hand to Sherringham, and, looking up at him, held his own kindly. “ Dear old master, are n’t you coming to-night ? I miss you when you are not there.”
“ Don’t go — don’t go — it’s too much,” Nash interposed.
“ She is wonderful,” said Basil Dashwood, regarding her admiringly ; “ she has gone into the rehearsals, tooth and nail. But nothing takes it out of her.”
“ Nothing puts it into you, my dear ! ” Miriam returned. Then she went on, to Sherringham : “ You ’re the faithful one —you ’re the one I count on.” He was not looking at her ; his eyes traveled into the carriage, where they rested on Nick Dormer, established on the further seat, with his face turned away, toward the further window. He was the one, faithful or no, counted on or no, whom a charming woman had preferred to carry off, and there was a certain triumph for him in that fact; but it pleased Sherringham to imagine that his attitude was a little foolish. Miriam discovered something of this sort in Sherringham’s eyes ; for she exclaimed, abruptly, “ Don’t kill him — he does n’t care for me.” With this she passed into the carriage, which rolled away.
Sherringham stood watching it a moment, till he heard Basil Dashwood again beside him. “ You would n’t believe what I make him do it for — a little fellow I know.”
“ Good-by ; take good care of Mrs. Rooth,” said Gabriel Nash, waving a cheerful farewell to the young actor. He gave a smiling survey of the heavens and remarked to Sherringham that the rain had stopped. Was he walking, was he driving, should they be going in the same direction ? Sherringham cared little about his direction and had little account of it to give ; he simply moved away in silence, with Gabriel at his side. Gabriel was partly an affliction to him; indeed, the fact that he had assumed a baleful fascination made him only a deeper affliction. Sherringham, moreover, did him the justice to observe that he could hold his peace occasionally : he had, for instance, this afternoon, taken little part in the conversation in Balaklava Place. Peter greatly disliked to talk to him of Miriam, but he liked Nash to talk of her, and he even liked him to say such things as he might contradict. He was not, however, moved to contradict an assertion dropped by his companion, disconnectedly, at the end of a few minutes, to the effect that she was after all the most good-natured creature alive. All the same, Nash added, it would n’t do for her to take possession of an organization like Nick’s; and he repeated that, for his part, he would never allow it. It would be on his conscience to interfere. To which Sherringham replied, disingenuously, that they might all do as they liked — it did n’t matter a button to him. And with an effort to carry off that comedy, he changed the subject.