The Tragic Muse


MIRIAM had guessed happily in saying to Nick that to offer to paint Gabriel Nash would be the way to get rid of him. It was with no such invidious purpose, indeed, that our young man proposed to his intermittent friend to sit; rather, as August was dusty in the London streets, he had too little hope that Nash would remain in town at such a time to oblige him. Nick had no wish to get rid of his private philosopher ; he liked his philosophy, and though of course premeditated paradox was the light to read him by, yet he had frequently, in detail, an inspired unexpectedness. He remained, in Rosedale Road, the man in the world who had most the quality of company. All the other men of Nick’s acquaintance, all his political friends, represented, often very communicatively, their own affairs, and their own affairs alone; which, when they did it well, was the most their host could ask them. But Nash had the rare distinction that he seemed somehow to stand for his affairs, the said host’s, with an interest in them unaffected by the ordinary social limitations of capacity. This relegated him to the class of high luxuries, and Nick was well aware that we hold our luxuries by a fitful and precarious tenure. If a friend without personal eagerness was one of the greatest of these, it would be evident to the simplest mind that by the law of distribution of earthly boons such a convenience should be expected to forfeit in duration what it displayed in intensity. He had never been without a suspicion that Nash was too good to last, though, for that matter, nothing had happened to confirm a vague apprehension that the particular way he would break up, or break down, would be by wishing to put Nick in relation with his other disciples.

That would practically amount to a catastrophe, Nick felt; for it was odd that one could both have a great kindness for him and not in the least, when it came to the point, yearn for a view of his belongings. His originality had always been that he appeared to have none ; and if, in the first instance, he had introduced Nick to Miriam and her mother, that was an exception for which Peter Sherringham’s interference had been in a great measure responsible. All the same, however, it was some time before Nick ceased to think it might eventually very well happen that to complete his education, as it were, Gabriel would wish him to foregather a little with minds formed by the same mystical influence. Nick had an instinct, in which there was no consciousness of detriment to Nash, that the pupils, perhaps even the imitators, of such a genius would be, as he mentally phrased it, something awful, He could be sure, even Gabriel himself could be sure, of his own reservations, but how could either of them be sure of those of others ? Imitation is a fortunate homage only in proportion as it is delicate, and there was an indefinable something in Nash’s doctrine that would have been discredited by exaggeration or by zeal. Providence, happily, appeared to have spared it this probation ; so that, after months, Nick had to remind himself that his friend had never pressed upon his attention the least little group of fellow-mystics, nor offered to produce them for his edification. It, scarcely mattered now that he was just the man to whom the superficial would attribute that sort of tail; it would probably have been hard, for example, to persuade Lady Agnes, or Julia Dallow, or Peter Slierringham, that he was not most at home in some dusky, untidy, dimly-imagined suburb of " culture,” peopled by unpleasant phrasemongers who thought him a gentleman and who had no human use hut to be held up in the comic press, which was probably restrained by decorum from touching upon the worst of their aberrations.

Nick, at any rate, never discovered his academy, nor the suburb in question; never caught, from the impenetrable background of his life, the least reverberation of flitting or flirting, the smallest aesthetic ululation. There were moments when he was even moved to a degree of pity by the silence that poor Gabriel’s own faculty of sound made around him — when at least it qualified with a slight poorness the mystery he could never wholly dissociate from him, the sense of the transient and occasional, the likeness to vapor or murmuring wind or shifting light. It was, for instance, a symbol of this unclassified condition, the lack of all position as a name in well-kept books, that Nick in point of fact had no idea where he lived, would not have known how to go and see him or send him a doctor if he had heard he was ill. He had never walked with him to any door of Gabriel’s own, even to pause at the threshold, though indeed Nash had a club, the Anonymous, in some improbable square, of which Nick suspected him of being the only member — he had never heard of another — where it was vaguely understood that letters would some day or other find him. Fortunately it was not necessary to worry about him, so comfortably his whole aspect seemed to imply that be could never be ill. And this was not, perhaps, because his bloom was healthy, but because it was morbid, as if he had been universally inoculated.

He turned up in Rosedale Road, one day, after Miriam had left London; he had just come back from a fortnight in Brittany, where be had drawn unusual refreshment from the subtle sadness of the landscape. He was on his way somewhere else ; he was going abroad for the autumn, but he was not particular what he did, professing that he had returned to London on purpose to take one last superintending look at Nick. “ It’s very nice, it’s very nice ; yes, yes, I see,” he remarked, giving a little general assenting sigh as his eyes wandered over the simple scene — a sigh which, to a suspicious ear, would have testified to an insidious reaction.

Nick’s ear, as we know, was already suspicious ; a fact which would sufficiently account for the expectant smile (it indicated the pleasant apprehension of a theory confirmed) with which he inquired, “ Do you mean my pictures are nice? ”

“ Yes, yes, your pictures and the whole thing.”

“ The whole thing ? ”

“ Your existence here, in this little remote independent corner of the great city. The disinterestedness of your attitude, the persistence of your effort, the piety, the beauty, in short the example of the whole spectacle.”

Nick broke into a laugh. “ How near to having had enough of me you must be when you talk of my example ! ” Nash changed color slightly at this ; it was the first time in Nick’s remembrance that he had given a sign of embarrassment. “ Vous allez me lâcher, I see it coming ; and who can blame you ? — for I’ve ceased to be in the least spectacular. I had my little hour; it was a great deal, for some people don’t even have that. I’ve given you your curious case, and I’ve been generous ; I made the drama last, for you, as long as I could. You ’ll ‘ slope,’ my dear fellow — you ’ll quietly slope ; and it will be all right and inevitable, though I shall miss you greatly at first. Who knows whether, without you, I should n’t still have been representing Harsh, heaven help me ? You rescued me; you converted me from a representative into an example — that’s a shade better. But don’t I know where you must be when you ’re reduced to praising my piety ? ”

“ Don’t turn me away,” said Nash plaintively ; “ give me a eigarette. ”

“ I shall never dream of turning you away ; I shall cherish you till the latest possible hour. I ‘m only trying to keep myself in tune with the logic of things. The proof of how I cling is that, precisely, I want you to sit to me.”

“To sit to you ? ” Nick thought his visitor looked a little blank.

“Certainly, for after all it is n’t much to ask. Here we are, and the hour is peculiarly propitious — long light days, with no one coming near me, so that I have plenty of time. I had a hope I should have some orders : my younger sister, whom you know and who is a great optimist, plied me with that vision. In fact, we invented together a charming sordid little theory that there might he rather a ‘ run ‘ on me, from the chatter (such as it was) produced by my taking up this line. My sister struck out the idea that a good many of the pretty ladies would think me interesting, would want to be done. Perhaps they do, but they’ve controlled themselves, for I can’t say the run has commenced. They have n’t even come to look, but I dare say they don’t yet quite take it in. Of course it’s a bad time, with every one out of town ; though you know they might send for me to come and do them at home. Perhaps they will, when they settle down. A portrait-tour of a dozen country-houses, for the autumn and winter — what do you say to that for a superior programme ? I know I excruciate you,” Nick added, “ but don’t you see how it’s my interest to try how much you ’ll still stand ? ”

Gabriel puffed his cigarette with a serenity so perfect that it might have been assumed to falsify Nick’s words. “ Mrs. Dallow will send for you —vous allez voir ça,” he said in a moment, brushing aside all vagueness.

“ She ’ll send for me ? ”

“To paint her portrait; she ’ll recapture you on that basis. She ‘ll get you down to one of the country-houses, and it will all go off as charmingly — with sketching in the morning, on days you can’t hunt, and anything you like in the afternoon, and fifteen courses in the evening ; there ’ll be bishops and ambassadors staying — as if you were a ‘wellknown ’ awfully clever amateur. Take care, take care, for, fickle as you may think me, I can read the future : don’t imagine you’ve come to the end of me yet. Mrs. Dallow and your sister, of both of whom I speak with the greatest respect, are capable of hatching together the most conscientious, delightful plan for you. Your differences with the beautiful lady will be patched up, and you ‘ll each come round a little and meet the other half-way. Mrs. Dallow will swallow your profession if you ‘ll swallow hers. She ‘ll put up with the palette if you ‘11 put up with the country-house. It will be a very unusual one in which you won’t find a good north room where you can paint. You ‘11 go about with her and do all her friends, all the bishops and ambassadors, and you ‘11 eat your cake and have it, and every one, beginning with your wife, will forget there is anything queer about you, and everything will be for the best in the best of worlds ; so that, together — you and she — you ‘11 become a great social institution, and every one will think she has a delightful husband; to say nothing, of course, of your having a delightful wife. Ah, my dear fellow, you turn pale, and with reason ! ” Nash went on: “that’s to pay you for having tried to make me let you have it. You have it, then, there ! I may be a bore ” — the emphasis of this, though a mere shade, testified to the first personal resentment Nick had ever heard his visitor express — “ I may be a bore, but once in a while I strike a light, I make things out. Then I venture to repeat, * Take care, take care.’ If, as I say, I respect those ladies infinitely, it is because they will be acting according to the highest wisdom of their sex. That’s the sort of thing women invent when they ’re exceptionally good and clever. When they ’re not, they don’t do so well; but it’s not for want of trying. There’s only one thing in the world that s better than their charm : it’s their conscience. That indeed is a part of their charm. And when they club together, when they earnestly consider, as in the case we re supposing,” Nash continued, “ then the whole thing takes a lift; for it’s no longer the conscience of the individual, it’s that of the sex.”

“ You ’re so remarkable that, more than ever, I must paint you,” Nick returned, “ though I ’m so agitated by your prophetic words that my hand trembles and I shall doubtless scarcely be able to hold my brush. Look how I rattle my easel trying to put it into position. I see it all there, just as you say it. Yes, it will be a droll day, and more modern than anything yet, when the conscience of women perceives objections to men’s being in love with them. You talk of their goodness and cleverness, and it’s much to the point. I don’t know what else they themselves might do with these things, but I don’t see what men can do with them but be fond of them.”

“Oh, you’ll do it — you’ll do it!” cried Nash, brightly jubilant.

“ What is it I shall do ? ”

“ Exactly what I just said ; if not next year, then the year after, or the year after that. You ’ll go half-way to meet her, and she ’ll drag you about and pass you off. You ’ll paint the bishops and become a social institution. That is, yon will if you don’t take great care.”

“ I shall, no doubt, and that’s why I cling to you. You must still look after me; don’t melt away into a mere improbable reminiscence, a delightful symbolic fable — don’t, if you can possibly help it. The trouble is, you see, that you can’t really keep hold very tight, because at bottom it will amuse you much more to see me in another pickle than to find me simply jogging down the vista of the years on the straight course. Let me, at any rate, have some sort of sketch of you, as a kind of feather from the angel’s wing, or a photograph of the ghost, to prove to me in the future that you were once a solid, sociable fact, that I did n’t invent and elaborate you. Of course I shall be able to say to myself that you can’t have been a fable — otherwise you would have had a moral; but that won’t be enough, because I’m not sure you won’t have had one. Some day you ’ll peep in here, languidly, and find me in such an attitude of piety — presenting my bent back to you as I niggle over some interminable botch — that I shall give cruelly on your nerves, and you ’ll draw away, closing the door softly (for you ’ll be gentle and considerate about it and spare me — you won’t even make me look round), and steal off on tiptoe, never, never to return.”

Gabriel consented to sit; he professed he should enjoy it and be glad to give up for it his immediate Continental projects, so vague to Nick, so definite, apparently, to himself ; and he came back three times for the purpose. Nick promised himself a great deal of interest from this experiment; for from the first hour he began to feel that really, as yet, compared to the scrutiny to which he now subjected him, he had never, with any intensity, looked at his friend. His impression had been that Nash had a head quite fine enough to be a challenge, and that as he sat there, day by day, all sorts of pleasant and paintable things would come out in his face. This impression was not falsified, but the whole problem became more complicated. It struck our young man that he had never seen his subject before, and yet, somehow, this revelation was not produced by the sense of actually seeing it. What was revealed was the difficulty — what he saw was the indefinite and the elusive. He had taken things for granted which literally were not there, and he found things there (except that he could n’t catch them) which he had not hitherto counted in. This baffling effect, being eminently in Nash’s line, might have been the result of his whimsical volition, had it not appeared to Nick, after a few hours of the job, that his sitter was not the one who enjoyed it most. He was uncomfortable, at first vaguely and then definitely so —silent, restless, gloomy, dim, as if, when it came to the test, it proved less of a pleasure to him than he could have had an idea of in advance to be infinitely examined and handled, sounded and sifted. He had been willing to try it, in good faith; but, frankly, he didn’t like it. He was not cross, but he was clearly unhappy, and Nick had never heard him say so little, seen him give so little.

Nick felt, accordingly, as if he had laid a trap for him ; he asked himself if it were really fair. At the same time there was something fascinating in the oddity of such a relation between the subject and the artist, and Nick was disposed to go on until he should have to stop for very pity. He caught, eventually, a glimmer of the truth that lay at the bottom of this anomaly ; guessed that what made his friend uncomfortable was simply the reversal, in such a combination, of his usual terms of intercourse. He was so accustomed to living upon irony and the interpretation of things that it was strange to him to be himself interpreted, and (as a gentleman who sits for his portrait is always liable to be) interpreted ironically. From being outside of the universe he was suddenly brought into it, and from the position of a free commentator and critic, a sort of amateurish editor of the whole affair, reduced to that of humble ingredient and contributor. It occurred afterwards to Nick that he had perhaps brought on a catastrophe by having happened to say to his companion, in the course of their disjointed pauses, and not only without any cruel intention, but with an impulse of genuine solicitude, But, my dear fellow, what will you do when you ‘re old ? ”

Old ? What do you call old ? ” Nash had replied bravely enough, but with another perceptible tinge of irritation. “ Must I really inform you, at this time of day, that that term has no application to such a condition as mine? It only belongs to you wretched people who have the incurable superstition of doing ; ’ it’s the ignoble collapse you ‘prepare for yourselves when you cease to be able to do. For me there’ll be no collapse, no transition, no clumsy readjustment of attitude; for I shall only be, more and more, with all the accumulations of experience, the longer I live.”

“ Oh, I ’m not particular about the term,” said Nick. “ If you don’t call it old, the ultimate state, call it weary — call it exhausted. The accumulations of experience are practically accumulations of fatigue.”

“ I don’t know anything about weariness. I live easily — it does n’t fatigue me.”

“ Then you need never die, rejoined Nick.

“Certainly; I dare say I m eternal.”

Nick laughed out at this — it would be such fine news to some people. But it was uttered with perfect gravity, and it might very well have been in the spirit of that gravity that Nash failed to observe his agreement to sit again the next day. The next, and the next, and the next passed, but he never came hack.

True enough, punctuality was not important for a man who felt that he had the command of all time. Nevertheless, his disappearance, “ without a trace,” like a personage in a fairy-tale or a melodrama, made a considerable impression on his friend, as the months went on ; so that, though he had never before had the least difficulty about entering into the play of Gabriel’s humor, Nick now recalled, with a certain fanciful awe, the unusual seriousness with which he had ranked himself among imperishable things. He wondered a little whether he had at last gone quite mad. He had never before had such a literal air, and he would have had to be mad to be so commonplace. Perhaps indeed he was acting only more than usual in his customary spirit — thoughtfully contributing, for Nick’s enlivenment, a mystery to an horizon now grown unromantic. The mystery, at any rate, remained ; another, too, came near being added to it. Nick had the prospect, for the future, of the harmless excitement of waiting to see when Nash would turn up, if ever, and the further diversion (it almost consoled him for the annoyance of being left with a second unfinished portrait on his hands) of imagining that the picture he had begun had a singular air of gradually fading from the canvas. He could n’t catch it in the act, but he could have a suspicion, when he glanced at it, that the hand of time was rubbing it away little by little (for all the world as in some delicate Hawthorne tale), making the surface indistinct and bare — bare of all resemblance to the model. Of course the moral of the Hawthorne tale would be that this personage would come hack on the day when the last adumbration should have vanished.


One day, toward the end of March of the following year, or in other words more than six months after the incident I have last had occasion to narrate, Bridget Dormer came into her brother’s studio and greeted him with the effusion that accompanies a return from an absence. She had been staying at Broadwood— she had been staying at Harsh. She had various things to tell him about these episodes, about his mother, about Grace, about herself, and about Percy’s having come, just before, over to Broadwood for two days; the longest visit with which, almost since they could remember. the head of the family had honored Lady Agnes. Nick noted, however, that it had apparently been taken as a great favor, and Biddy loyally testified to the fact that her elder brother was awfully jolly, and that his presence had been a pretext for tremendous fun. Nick asked her what had passed about his marriage — what their mother had said to him.

“Oh, nothing,” Biddy replied ; and he had said nothing to Lady Agnes and not a word to herself. This partly explained, for Nick, the awful jollity and the tremendous fun — none but cheerful topics had been produced ; but he questioned his sister further, to a point which led her to say, “ Oh. I dare say that before long she’ll write to her.”

“ Who will write to whom ? ”

“ Mamma ’ll write to his wife. I ’m sure he’d like it. Of course we shall end by going to see her. He was awfully disappointed at what he found in Spain — he did n’t find anything.”

Biddy spoke of his disappointment almost with commiseration, for she was evidently inclined, this morning, to a fresh and kindly view of things. Nick could share her feeling only so far as was permitted by a recognition merely general of what his brother must have looked for. It might have been snipe, and it might have been bristling boars. Biddy was indeed brief, at first, about everything, in spite of the two months that had intervened since their last meeting ; for he saw, in a few minutes, that she had something behind — something that made her gay and that she wanted to come to quickly. Nick was vaguely vexed at her being, fresh from Broadwood, so gay as that; for (it was impossible to shut one’s eyes to it) what had come to pass, in practice, in regard to that rural retreat, was exactly what he had desired to avert. All winter, while it had been taken for granted that his mother and sisters were doing what he wished, they had been doing the precise contrary. He Held Biddy, perhaps, least responsible, and there was no one he could exclusively blame. He washed his hands of the matter, and succeeded fairly well, for the most part, in forgetting that he was not pleased. Julia Dallow herself, in fact, appeared to have been the most active member of the little group united to make light of his scruples. There had been a formal restitution of the place, but the three ladies were there more than ever, with the slight difference that they were mainly there with its mistress. Mahomet had declined to go any more to the mountain, so the mountain had virtually gone to Mahomet.

After their long visit in the autumn, Lady Agnes and her girls had come back to town ; but they had gone down again for Christinas, and Julia had taken this occasion to write to Nick that she hoped very much he wouldn’t refuse them all his own company for just a little scrap of the supremely sociable time. Nick, after reflection, judged it best not to refuse, and he spent three days under Mrs. Dallow’s roof. The “all” proved a great many people, for she had taken care to fill the house. She was a magnificent. entertainer, and Nick had never seen her so splendid, so free-handed, so gracefully practical. She was a perfect mistress ot the revels ; she had organized something festive for every day and for every night. The Dormers were so much in it, as the phrase was, that after all their discomfiture their fortune seemed, in an hour, to have come back. There had been a moment when, in extemporized charades, Lady Agnes, an elderly figure being required, appeared on the point of undertaking the part of the housekeeper at a castle, who, dropping her h’s, showed sheeplike tourists about; but she waived the opportunity in favor of her daughter Grace. Even Grace had a great success. Nick, of course, was in the charades, and in everything, but Julia was not; she only invented, directed, led the applause. When nothing else was going on Nick “ sketched ” the whole company : they followed him about, they waylaid him on staircases, clamoring to he allowed to sit. He obliged them, so far as he could, all save Julia, who did n’t clamor ; and, growing rather red, he thought of Gabriel Nash while he bent over the paper. Early in the new yearh he went abroad for six weeks, but only as far as Paris. It was a new Paris for him then: a Paris of the Rue Bonaparte and three or four professional friends (he had more of these there than in London) ; a Paris of studios and studies and models, of researches and revelations, comparisons and contrasts, of strong impressions and long discussions and rather uncomfortable economies, small cafés and bad tires and the general sense of being twenty again.

While he was away his mother and sisters (Lady Agnes now sometimes wrote to him) returned to London for a month, and before he was again established in Rosedale Road they went back, for a third period, to Broadwood. After they had been there five days — and this was the salt of the whole dish — Julia took herself off to Harsh, leaving them in undisturbed possession. They had remained so; they would not come up to town till after Easter. The trick was played, and Biddy, as I have mentioned, was now very content. Her brother presently learned, however, that the reason of this was not wholly the success of the trick; unless indeed her further ground were only a continuation of it. She was not in London as a forerunner of her mother; she was not even, as yet, in Calcutta Gardens. She had come to spend a week with Florence Tressilian, who had lately taken the dearest little flat in a charming new place, just put up, on the other side of the Park, with all kinds of lifts and tubes and electricities. Florence had been awfully nice to her — she had been with them ever so long at Broadwood, while the flat was being painted and prepared — and mamma had then let her, let Biddy, promise to come to her, when everything was ready, so that they might have a kind of old maids’ house-warming together. If Florence could do without a chaperon now (she had two latch-keys and went alone on the top of omnibuses, and her name was in the Red Book), she was enough of a duenna for another girl. Biddy alluded, with sweet and cynical eyes, to the fine, happy stride she had thus taken in the direction of enlightened spinsterhood ; and Nick hung his head, somewhat abashed and humiliated, for, modern as he had supposed himself, there were evidently currents more modern yet.

It so happened that on this particular morning Nick had drawn out of a corner his interrupted study of Gabriel Nash; for no purpose more definite (he had only been looking round the room in a rummaging spirit) than to see, curiously, how much or how little of it remained. It had become, to his apprehension, such a shadowy affair (he was sure of this, and it made him laugh) that it, did n’t seem worth putting away, and he left it leaning against a table, as if it had been a blank canvas or a “ preparation ” to he painted over. In this attitude it attracted Biddy’s attention, for to her, on a second glance, it had distinguishable features. She had not seen it before, and she asked whom it might represent, remarking also that she could almost guess, but not quite: she had known the original, but she could n’t name him.

“ Six months ago, for a few days, it was Gabriel Nash,” Nick replied. “But it is n’t anybody or anything now.”

“ Six months ago ? What’s the matter with it, and why don’t you go on ? ”

“ What’s the matter with it. is more than I can toll you. But I can’t go on, because I ’ve lost my model.”

Biddy stared an instant. “ Is he dead ? ”

Her brother laughed out at the candid cheerfulness, hopefulness almost, with which this inquiry broke from her. “ He’s only dead to me. He has gone away.”

“ Where has he gone? ”

“ I have n’t the least idea.”

“ Why, have you quarreled ? ” Biddy asked.

“ Quarreled ? For what do you take us ? Does the nightingale quarrel with the moon ? ”

“ I need n’t ask which of you is the moon,” said Biddy.

“ Of course I’m the nightingale. But, more literally,” Nick continued, “ Nash has melted back into the elements — he is part of the ambient air.” Then, as even with this literalness he saw that his sister was mystified, he added, “ I have a notion he has gone to India, and at the present moment is reclining on a bank of flowers in the vale of Cashmere.”

Biddy was silent a minute, after which she dropped, “Julia will be glad — she dislikes him so.”

“ If she dislikes him, why should she be glad he’s in such a delightful situation ? ”

“ I mean about his going away; she ‘ll be glad of that.”

“My poor child, what has Julia to do with it? ”

“ She has more to do with things than you think,” Biddy replied, with some eagerness ; but she had no sooner uttered the words than she perceptibly blushed. Hereupon, to attenuate the foolishness of her blush (only it had the opposite effect), she added, “ She thinks he has been a bad element in your life.”

Nick shook his head, smiling. “ She thinks, perhaps, but she does n’t think enough; otherwise, she would arrive at this thought — that she knows nothing whatever about my life.”

“Ah, Nick,” the girl pleaded, with solemn eyes, “you don’t imagine what an interest she takes in it. She has told me, many times — she has talked lots to me about it.” Biddy paused, and then went on, with an anxious little smile shining through her gravity, as if she were trying, cautiously, how much her brother would take : “ She has a conviction that it was Mr. Nash who made trouble between you.”

“ My dear Biddy,” Nick rejoined, “ those are thoroughly second-rate ideas, the result of a perfectly superficial view. Excuse my possibly priggish tone, but they really attribute to Nash a part he’s quite incapable of playing. He can neither make trouble nor take trouble ; no trouble could ever either have come out of him or have gone into him. Moreover,” our young man continued, “ if Julia has talked to you so much about the matter, there’s no harm in my talking to you a little. When she threw me over, in an hour, it was on a perfectly definite occasion. That occasion was the presence in my studio of a disheveled actress.”

“ Oh, Nick, she has not thrown you over ! ” Biddy protested. “ She has not — I have the proof.”

Nick felt, at this direct denial, a certain stir of indignation, and he looked at his sister with momentary sternness. “ Has she sent you here to tell me this ? What do you mean by the proof? ”

Biddy’s eyes, at these questions, met her brother’s with a strange expression, and for a few seconds, while she looked entrcatingly into his own, she wavered there, with parted lips, vaguely stretching out her hands. The next minute she had burst into tears — she was sobbing on his breast. He said “ Hallo ! ” and soothed her ; but it was very quickly over. Then she told him what she meant by her “ proof,” and what she had had on her mind ever since she came into the room. It was a message from Julia, but not to say— not to say what be had asked her just before if she meant; though indeed Biddy, more familiar now, since her brother had had his arm round her, boldly expressed the hope that it might in the end come to the same thing. Julia simply wanted to know (she had instructed Biddy to sound him, discreetly) if Nick would undertake her portrait; and the girl wound up this experiment in “ sounding ” by the statement that their beautiful kinswoman was dying to sit.

“ Dying to sit ? ” repeated Nick, whose turn it was, this time, to feel his color rise.

“ Any time you like, after Easter, when she conies up to town. She wants a full-length, and your very best, your most splendid work.”

Nick stared, not caring that he had blushed. “ Is she serious? ”

“ Ah, Nick — serious ! ” Biddy reasoned tenderly. She came nearer to him, and he thought she was going to weep again. He took her by the shoulders, looking into her eyes.

“It’s all right, if she knows I am. But why does n’t she come like any one else ? I don’t refuse people ! ”

“ Nick, dearest Nick ! ” she went on, with her eyes conscious and pleading. He looked into them intently — as well as she, he could play at sounding — and for a moment, between these young persons, the air was lighted by the glimmer of mutual searchings and suppressed confessions. Nick read deep, and then, suddenly releasing his sister, he turned away. She did n’t see his face in that movement, but an observer to whom it had been presented might have fancied that it denoted a foreboding which was not exactly a dread, yet was not exclusively a joy.

The first thing Nick made out in the room, when he could distinguish, was Gabriel Nash’s portrait, which immediately filled him with an unreasoning resentment. He seized it and turned it about ; he jammed it back into its corner, with its face against the wall. This bustling transaction might have served to carry off the embarrassment with which he had finally averted himself from Biddy. The embarrassment, however, was all his own ; none of it was reflected in the way Biddy resumed, after a silence in which she had followed his disposal of the picture —

“ If she’s so eager to come here (for it’s here that she wants to sit, not in Great Stanhope Street — never!), how can she prove better that she does n’t care a bit if she meets Miss Rooth ? ”

“ She won’t meet Miss Rooth,” Nick replied, rather dryly.

“ Oh, I’m sorry! ” said Biddy. She was as frank as if she had achieved a sort of victory over her companion; and she seemed to regret the loss of a chance for Mrs. Dallow to show magnanimity. Her tone made her brother laugh, but she went on, with confidence: “ Slie thought it was Mr. Nash who made Miss Rooth come.”

“So he did, by the way,” said Nick.

“ Well, then, was n’t that making trouble ? ”

I thought you admitted there was no harm in her being here.”

“ Yes, but he hoped there would be.”

“Poor Nash’s hopes ! ” Nick laughed. “ My dear child, it would take a cleverer head than you or me, or even Julia, who must have invented that wise theory, to say what they were. However, let us agree that, even if they were perfectly devilish, my good sense has been a match for them.”

“ Oh, Nick, that’s delightful! ” chanted Biddy. Then she added, “ Do you mean she does n’t come any more ? ”

“ The disheveled actress ? She has n’t been near me for months.”

“ But she’s in London — she’s always acting? I’ve been away so much I’ve scarcely observed,” Biddy explained, with a slight change of note.

“ The same part, poor creature, for nearly a year, it appears that that’s success, in her profession. I saw her in the character several times last summer, but I have n’t set foot in her theatre since.”

Biddy was silent a moment; then she suggested, " Peter would n’t have liked that.”

“ Oh, Peter’s likes! ” sighed Nick, at his easel, beginning to work.

“ I mean her acting the same part for a year.”

“ I ‘m sure I don’t know; he has never written me a word.”

“ Nor me either,” Biddy returned.

There was another short silence, during which Nick brushed at a panel. It was terminated by his presently saying, “ There’s one thing, certainly, Peter would like — that is, simply to be here to-night. It’s a great night — another great night — for the disheveled one. She ’s to act Juliet for the first time.”

“Ah, how I should like to see her! ” the girl cried.

Nick glanced at her ; she sat watching him. “ She has sent me a stall; I wish she had sent me two. I should have been delighted to take you.”

“ Don’t you think you could get another ? ” asked Biddy.

“ They must be in tremendous demand. But who knows, after all ? ” Nick added, at the same moment, looking round. “ Here’s a chance — here’s a quite extraordinary chance ! ”

His servant had opened the door and was ushering in a lady whose identity was indeed justly indicated in those words. “ Miss Booth ! ” the man announced ; but he was caught up by a gentleman who came next and who exclaimed. laughing and with a gesture gracefully corrective, “ No, no — no longer Miss Rooth ! ”

Miriam entered the place with her charming familiar grandeur, as she might have appeared, as she appeared every night, early in her first act, at the back of the stage, by the immemorial central door, presenting herself to the house, taking easy possession, repeating old movements, looking from one to the other of the actors before the footlights. The rich “ Good morning ” that she threw into the air, holding out her right hand to Biddy Dormer and then giving her left to Nick (as she might have given it to her own brother), had nothing to tell of intervals or alienations. She struck Biddy as still more terrible, in her splendid practice, than when she had seen her before — the practice and the splendor had now something almost royal. The girl had had occasion to make her courtesy to majesties and highnesses, but the flutter those effigies produced was nothing to the way in which, at the approach of this young lady, the agitated air seemed to recognize something supreme. So the deep, mild eyes that she bent upon Biddy were not soothing, though they were evidently intended to soothe. The girl wondered that Kick could have got so used to her (he joked at her as she came), and later in the day, still under the great impression of this incident, she even wondered that Peter could. It was true that Peter apparently had n’t.

“ You never came — you never came,” said Miriam to Biddy, kindly, sadly ; and Biddy, recognizing the allusion, the invitation to visit the actress at home, had to explain how much she had been absent from London, and then even that her brother had n’t proposed to take her, “ Very true — he has n’t come himself. What is he doing now ? ” Miriam asked, standing near Biddy, but looking at Nick, who had immediately engaged in conversation with his other visitor, a gentleman whose face came hack to the girl. She had seen this gentleman on the stage with Miss Booth — that was it, the night Peter took her to the theatre with Florence Tressilian. Oh, that Nick would only do something of that sort now! This desire, quickened by the presence of the strange, expressive woman, by the way she scattered sweet syllables as if she were touching the pianokeys, combined with other things to make Biddy’s head swim — other things too mingled to name, admiration and fear and dim divination and purposeless pride, and curiosity and resistance, the impulse to go away and the determination not to go. The actress courted her with her voice (what was the matter with her and what did she want?), and Biddy tried, in return, to give an idea of what Nick was doing. Not succeeding very well, she was going to appeal to her brother, but Miriam stopped her, saying it did n’t matter ; besides, Dashwood was telling Nick something — something they wanted him to know. “ We ’re in a great excitement — he has taken a theatre,” Miriam added.

“Taken a theatre ? ” Biddy was vague.

“ We ’re going to set up for ourselves. He’s going to do for me altogether. It has all been arranged only within a day or two. It remains to be seen how it will answer,” Miriam smiled. Biddy murmured some friendly hope, and her interlocutress went on : “ Do you know why I’ve broken in here to-day, after a long absence — interrupting your poor brother, taking up his precious time ? It’s because I’m so nervous.”

“About your first night?” Biddy risked.

“ Do you know about that — are you coming ? ” Miriam asked quickly.

“ No, I’m not coining — I have n’t a place.”

“ Will you come if I send you one ? ”

“ Oh, but really, it’s too beautiful of you ! ” stammered the girl.

“You shall have a box ; your brother shall bring you. You can’t squeeze in a pin, I ’m told; but I’ve kept a box, I ’ll manage it. Only, if I do, you know, mind you come! ” Miriam exclaimed, in suppliance, resting her hand on Biddy’s.

“ Don’t he afraid ! And may I bring a friend — the friend with whom I’m staying ? ”

Miriam looked at her. “ Do you mean Mrs. Dallow ? ”

“ No, no — Miss Tressilian. She puts me up, she has got a flat. Did you ever see a flat?” asked Biddy expansively. “ My cousin ’s not in London.” Miriam replied that she might bring whom she liked, and Biddy broke out, to her brother, “ Fancy what kindness, Nick : we ’re to have a box to-night, and you ‘re to take me! ”

Nick turned to her, smiling, with an expression in his face which struck her even at the time as odd, but which she understood when the sense of it recurred to her later. Mr. Dashwood interposed with the remark that it was all very well to talk about boxes, but that he did n’t see where, at that time of day, any such luxury was to come from.

“You haven’t kept one, as I told you ? ” Miriam demanded.

“ As you told me, my deal1 ? Tell the lamb to keep its tender mutton from the wolves! ”

“ You shall have one : we ’ll arrange it,” Miriam went on, to Biddy.

“ Let me qualify that statement a little, Miss Dormer,” said Basil Dashwood. “ We ’ll arrange it if it’s humanly possible.”

“ We ’ll arrange it even if it’s inhumanly impossible — that’s just the point.” Miriam declared, to the girl. “ Don’t talk about trouble — what ’s he meant for but to take it ? Cela s’annonce bien, you see,” she continued, to Nick : “ does n’t it look as if we should pull beautifully together ? ” And as be replied that he heartily congratulated her — he was immensely interested in what he had been told — she exclaimed, after resting her eyes on him a moment, “ What will you have ? It seemed simpler ! It was clear there had to be some one.” She explained, further, to Nick, what had led her to come in at that moment, while Dashwood approached Biddy with civil assurances that they would see, they would leave no stone unturned, though he would not have taken it upon himself to promise.

Miriam reminded Nick of the blessing he had been to her nearly a year before, on her other first night, when she was fidgety and impatient: how he had let her come and sit there for hours — helped her to possess her soul till the evening and keep out of harm’s way. The ease was the same at present, with the aggravation, indeed, that he would understand — Dashwood’s nerves as well as her own: they wore a great deal worse than hers. Everything was ready for Juliet; they had been rehearsing for five months (it had kept her from going mad, with the eternity of the other piece), and he had occurred to her again, in the last intolerable hours, as the friend in need, the salutary stop-gap, no matter how much she bothered him. She shouldn’t be turned out? Biddy broke away from Basil Dashwood : she must go, she must hurry off to Miss Tressilian with her news. Florence might make some other stupid engagement for the evening: she must be warned in time. The girl took a flushed, excited leave, after having received a renewal of Miriam’s pledge, and even heard her say to Nick that he must now give back the stall that had been sent him — they would be sure to have another use for it.


That night, at the theatre, in the box (the miracle had been wrought, the treasure was found), Nick Dormer pointed out to his two companions the stall he had relinquished, which was close in front — noting how oddly, during the whole of the first act, it remained vacant. The house was magnificent, the actress was magnificent, everything was magnificent. To describe again so famous an occasion (it has been described, repeatedly, by other reporters) is not in the compass of the closing words of a history already too sustained. It is enough to say that this great night marked an era in contemporary art, and that for those who had a spectator’s share in it the word “ triumph ” acquired a new illustration. Miriam’s Juliet was an exquisite image of young passion and young despair, expressed in the divinest, truest music that had ever poured from tragic lips. The great childish audience, gaping at her points, expanded there before her like a lap to catch flowers.

During the first interval our three friends in the box had plenty to talk about, and they were so occupied with it that for some time they failed to observe that a gentleman had at last come into the empty stall near the front. This discovery was presently formulated by Miss Tressilian, in the cheerful exclamation, “Only fancy — there’s Mr. Slierringham ! ” This of course immediately became a high wonder — a wonder for Nick and Biddy, who had not heard of his return ; and the marvel was increased by the fact that he gave no sign of looking for them, or even at them. Having taken possession of his place, he sat very still in it, staring straight before him at the curtain. His abrupt reappearance contained mystifying elements both for Biddy and for Nick, so that it was mainly Miss Tressilian who bad freedom of mind to throw off the theory that he had come back that very hour — had arrived from a long journey. Could n’t they see how strange he was and how brown, how burnt and liow red, how tired and how worn ? They all inspected him, though Biddy declined Miss Tressilian’s glass ; but he was evidently unconscious of observation, and finally Biddy, leaning back in her chair, dropped the fantastic words —

“ He has come home to marry Juliet.”

Nick glanced at her; then be replied, “ What a disaster — to make such a journey as that and to be late for the fair! ”

“ Late for the fair ? ”

“Why, she’s married — these three days. They did it very quietly; Miriam says because her mother hated it and hopes it won’t be much known ! All the same she ’s Basil Dashwood’s wedded wife — he has come in just in time to take the receipts for Juliet. It’s a good thing, no doubt, for there are at least two fortunes to be made out of her, and he ’ll give up the stage.” Nick explained to Miss Tressilian, who had inquired, that the gentleman in question was the actor who was playing Mercutio, and he asked Biddy if she had not known that this was what they were telling him, in Rosedale Road, in the morning. She replied that she had not understood, and she sank considerably behind the drapery of the box. From this cover she was able to launch, creditably enough, the exclamation —

“ Poor Peter ! ”

Nick got up and stood looking at poor Peter. “ He ought to come round and speak to us, but if he does n’t see us I suppose he does n’t.” Nick quitted the box as if to go to the returned exile. I may add that as soon as he had done so Florence Tressilian bounded over to the dusky corner in which Biddy had nestled. What passed, immediately, between these young ladies need not concern us : it is sufficient to mention that two minutes later Miss Tressilian broke out —

“ Look at him, dearest; he’s turning his head this way! ”

“Thank you. I don’t care to look at him,” said Biddy; and she doubtless demeaned herself in the high spirit of these words. It nevertheless happened that directly afterwards she became aware that he had glanced at his watch, as if to judge how soon the curtain would rise again, and then had jumped up and passed quickly out of his place. The curtain had risen again without his coming back and without Nick’s reappearing in the box. Indeed, by the time Nick slipped in a good deal of the third act was over; and even then, even when the curtain descended, Peter Sherringham had not returned. Nick sat down in silence, to watch the stage, to which the breathless attention of his companions seemed to be attached, though Biddy, after a moment, threw back at him a single quick look. At the end of the act they were all occupied with the recalls, the applause, and the responsive loveliness of Juliet as she was led out (Mercutio had to give her up to Romeo), and even for a few minutes after the uproar had subsided nothing was said among the three. At last Nick began —

“ It’s quite true, he has just arrived ; he’s in Great Stanhope Street. They’ve given him several weeks, to make up for the uncomfortable way they bundled him off (to arrive in time for some special business that had suddenly to be gone into) when he first went out: he tells me they promised that at the time. He got into Southampton only a few hours ago, rushed up by the first train he could catch, and came off here without any dinner.”

“ Fancy ! ” said Miss Tressilian ; while Biddy asked if Peter might be in good health and had been happy. Nick replied that he said it was a beastly place, but he appeared all right. He was to be in England probably a month, he was awfully brown, he sent his love to Biddy. Miss Tressilian looked at his empty stall, and was of the opinion that it would he more to the point for him to come in to see her.

“ Oh, he ’ll turn up ; we had a goodish talk in the lobby, where be met me. I think he went out somewhere.”

“ How odd to come so many thousand miles for this, and then not to stay ! ” Biddy reflected.

“ Did he come on purpose for this ? ” Miss Tressilian asked.

“ Perhaps he’s gone out to get his dinner ! ” joked Biddy.

Her friend suggested that he might he behind the scenes, but Nick expressed a doubt of this ; and Biddy asked her brother if he himself were not going round. At this moment the curtain rose ; Nick said he would go in the next interval. As soon as it came he quitted the box, remaining absent while it lasted.

All this time, in the house, there was no sign of Peter. Nick reappeared only as the fourth act was beginning, and uttered no word to his companions till it was over. Then, after a further delay produced by renewed evidences of the actress s victory, he described his visit to the stage and the wonderful spectacle of Miriam on the field of battle. Miss Tressilian inquired if he had found Mr. Sherringham with her ; to which he replied that, save across the footlights, she had not seen him. At this a soft exclamation broke from Biddy —

“ Poor Peter ! Where is he, then ? ”

Nick hesitated a moment. “ He’s walking the streets.”

“ Walking the streets? ”

“ I don’t know — I give it up ! ” Nick replied; and his tone, for some minutes, reduced his companions to silence. But a little later Biddy said —

“ Was it for him, this morning, she wanted that place, when she asked you to give yours back ? ”

“For him, exactly. It. ’s very odd that she just managed to keep it, for all the use he makes of it! She told me just now that she heard from him, at his post, a short time ago, to the effect that he had seen in a newspaper a statement she was going to do Juliet, and that he firmly intended, though the ways and means were not clear to him (his leave of absence had n’t yet come out, and he couldn’t he sure when it would come), to be present on her first night: therefore she must do him the service to keep a seat for him. She thought this a speech rather in the air, so that in the midst of all her cares she took no particular pains about the matter. She had an idea she had really done with him for a long time. But this afternoon what does he do but telegraph her from Southampton that he keeps his appointment and counts upon her for a stall ? Unless she had got. hack mine she would n’t have been able to accommodate him. When she was in Rosedale Road this morning she had n’t received his telegram ; but his promise, his threat, whatever it was, came hack to her ; she had a sort of foreboding, and thought that, on the chance, she had better have something ready. When she got home she found his telegram, and she told me that he was the first person she saw in the house, through her fright, when she came on in the second act. It appears she was terrified this time, and it lasted half through the play.”

“ She must be rather annoyed at his having gone away,” Miss Tressilian observed.

“Annoyed? I’m not so sure!” laughed Nick.

“Ah, here he comes back! ” cried Biddy, behind her fan, as the absentee edged into his seat in time for the fifth act. He stood there a moment, first looking round the theatre ; then he turned his eyes upon the box occupied by his relatives, smiling and waving his hand.

“After that he ’ll surely come and see you. said Miss Tressilian.

“ We shall see him as we go out,” Biddy replied : “ he must lose no more time.”

Nick looked at him with a glass ; then he exclaimed, “ Well, I’m glad he has pulled himself together ! ”

“ Why, what’s the matter with him, since he was n’t disappointed in his seat? ” Miss Tressilian demanded.

“ The matter with him is that a couple of hours ago he had a great shock.”

“ A great shock ? ”

“ I may as well mention it at last,” Nick went on. “ I had to say something to him in the lobby there, when we met — something I was pretty sure he could n’t like. I let him have it full in the face — it seemed to me better and wiser. I told him Juliet’s married.”

“ Did n’t lie know it ?” asked Biddy, who, with her face raised, had listened in deep stillness to every word that fell from her brother.

“ How should he have known it ? It has only just happened, and they’ve been so clever, for reasons of their own (those people move among a lot of considerations that are absolutely foreign to us), about keeping it out of the papers. They put in a lot of lies, and they leave out the real things.”

“ You don’t mean to say Mr. Sherringham wanted to marry her ! ” Miss Tressilian ejaculated.

“ Don’t ask me what he wanted — I dare say we shall never know. One thing is very certain : that he did n’t like my news, and that I sha’n’t soon forget the look in his face as he turned away from me, slipping out into the street. He was too much upset — he could n’t trust himself to come back ; he had to walk about — he tried to walk it off.”

“ Let us hope that he has walked it off!”

“Ah, poor fellow — he could n’t hold out to the end ; he has had to come back and look at her once more. He knows she ’ll be sublime in these last scenes.”

“ Is he so much in love with her as that ? What difference does it make, with an actress, if she is mar— ” But in this rash inquiry Miss Tressilian suddenly checked herself.

“ We shall probably never know how much he has been in love with her nor what difference it makes. We shall never know exactly what he came back for, nor why he could n’t stand it out there any longer without relief, nor why he scrambled down here all but straight from the station, nor why, after all, for the last two hours, he has been roaming the streets. And it does n’t matter, for it ’s none of our business. But I’m sorry for him — she is going to be sublime,” Nick added. The curtain was rising on the tragic climax of the play.

Miriam Booth was sublime; yet it. may be confided to the reader that during these supreme scenes Bridget Dormer directed her eyes less to the inspired actress than to a figure in the stalls who sat with his own gaze fastened to the stage. It may further be intimated that Peter Sherringham, though he saw but a fragment of the performance, read clear, at the last, in the intense light of genius that this fragment shed, that even so, after all, he had been rewarded for his formidable journey. The great trouble of his infatuation subsided, leaving behind it something tolerably deep and pure. This assuagement was far from being immediate, but it was helped on, unexpectedly to him, it began to dawn, at least, the very next night he saw the play, when he sat through the whole of it. Then he felt, somehow, recalled to reality by the very perfection of the representation. He began to come back to it from a period of miserable madness. He had been baffled, He had got his answer; it must last him — that was plain. He did n’t fully accept it the first week or the second ; but he accepted it sooner than he would have supposed, had he known what it was to be when he paced at night, under the southern stars, the deck of the ship that was bringing him to England.

It had been, as we know, Miss Tressilian’s view, and even Biddy’s, that evening, that Peter Sherringham would join them as they left the theatre. This view, however, was not confirmed by the event, for the gentleman in question vanished utterly (disappointingly crude behavior on the part of a young diplomatist who had distinguished himself), before any one could put a hand on him. And he failed to make up for his crudity by coming to see any one the next day, or even the next. Indeed, many days elapsed, and very little would have been known about him had it not been that, in the country, Mrs. Dallow knew. What Mrs. Dallow knew was eventually known to Biddy Dormer; and in this way it could be established in his favor that he had remained some extraordinarily small number of days in London, had almost directly gone over to Paris to see his old chief. He came back from Paris — Biddy knew this not from Mrs. Dallow, but in a much more immediate way : she knew it by his pressing the little electric button at the door of Florence Tressilian’s flat, one day when the good Florence was out and she herself was at home. He made, on this occasion, a very long visit. The good Florence knew it not much later, you may be sure (and how he had got their address from Nick), and she took an extravagant satisfaction in it. Mr. Sherringham had never been to see her — the like of her — in his life: therefore it was clear what had made him begin. When he had once begun he kept it up, and Miss Tressilian’s satisfaction increased.

Good as she was, she could remember without the slightest relenting what Nick Dormer had repeated to them at the theatre about Peter’s present post’s being a beastly place. However, she was not bound to make a stand at this if persons more nearly concerned, Lady Agnes and the girl herself, did n’t mind it. How little they minded it, and Grace, and Julia Dallow, and even Nick, was proved in the course of a meeting that took place at Harsh during the Faster holidays. Mrs. Dallow had a small and intimate party to celebrate her brother’s betrothal. The two ladies came over from Broadwood; even Nick, for two days, went back to his old huntingground, and Miss Tressilian relinquished for as long a time the delights of her newly arranged flat. Peter Sherringham obtained an extension of leave, so that he might go back to his legation with a wife. Fortunately, as it turned out, Biddy’s ordeal, in the more or less torrid zone, was not cruelly prolonged, for the pair have already received a superior appointment. It is Lady Agnes’s proud opinion that her daughter is even now shaping their destiny. I say “ even now,” for these facts bring me very close to contemporary history. During those two days at Harsh, Nick arranged with Julia Dallow the conditions, as they might be called, under which she should sit to him ; and every one will remember in how recent an exhibition general attention was attracted, as the newspapers said in describing the private view, to the noble portrait of a lady which was the final outcome of that arrangement. Gabriel Nash had been at many a private view, but he was not at that one.

These matters are highly recent, however, as I say ; so that in glancing about the little circle of the interests I have tried to evoke, I am suddenly warned by a sharp sense of modernness. This renders it difficult for me, for example, in taking leave of our wonderful Miriam, to do much more than allude to the general impression that her remarkable career is even yet only in its early prime. Basil Dashwood has got his theatre, and his wife (people know now she is his wife) has added three or four new parts to her repertory ; but every one is agreed that both in public and in private she has a great deal more to show. This is equally true of Nick Dormer, in regard to whom I may finally say that his friend Nash’s predictions about his reunion with Mrs. Dallow have not, up to this time, been justified. On the other hand, I must not omit to add, this lady has not, at the latest accounts, married Mr. Macgeorge. It is very true there has been a rumor that Mr. Macgeorge is worried about her — has even ceased to believe in her.

Henry James.