Mrs. Humphry Ward
Part 3 out of 6
It was natural, she supposed; he was clearly very sensitive on the
subject of his own humble origin and bringing-up; but she sighed that
a perverse youth should so mismanage his opportunities.
As to 'chances,' she declared rather tartly that they had nothing to
do with it. It was natural to Arthur Welby to make himself agreeable.
'Yes--like all other kinds of aristocrats,' said Fenwick, grimly.
Madame de Pastourelles frowned.
'Of all the words in the dictionary--that word is the most
detestable!' she declared. 'It ought to be banished. Well, thank
goodness, it _is_ generally banished.'
'That's only because we all like to hide our heads in the sand--you
who possess the privileges--and we who envy them!'
'I vow I don't possess any privileges at all,' she said, with
'You say so, because you breathe them--live in them--like the
air--without knowing it,' said Fenwick, also trying to speak lightly.
Then he added, suddenly putting down his palette and brushes, while
his black eyes lightened--'And so does Mr. Welby. You can see from
his pictures that he doesn't know anything about common, coarse
people--_real_ people--who make up the world. He paints wax, and calls
it life; and you--'
'Go on!--_please_ go on!'
'I shall only make a fool of myself,' he said, taking up his brushes
'Not at all. And I praise humbug?--and call it manners?'
He paused, then blurted out--'I wouldn't say anything rude to you for
She smiled--a smile that turned all the delicate severity of her face
to sweetness. 'That's very nice of you. But if you knew Mr. Welby
better, you'd never want to say anything rude to _him_ either!'
Fenwick was silent. Madame de Pastourelles, feeling that for the
moment she also had come to the end of her tether, fell into a
reverie, from which she was presently roused by finding Fenwick
standing before her, palette in hand.
'I don't want you to think me an envious brute,' he said, stammering.
'Of course, I know the "Polyxena" is a fine thing--a very fine thing.'
She looked a little surprised--as though he offered her moods to which
she had no key. 'Shall I show you something I like much better?' she
said, with quick resource. And drawing towards her a small portfolio
she had brought with her, she took out a drawing and handed it to him.
'I am taking it to be framed. Isn't it beautiful?'
It was a drawing, in silver-point, of an orange-tree in mingled fruit
and bloom--an exquisite piece of work, of a Japanese truth, intricacy,
and perfection. Fenwick looked at it in silence. These silver-point
drawings of Welby's were already famous. In the preceding May there
had been an exhibition of them at an artistic club. At the top of
the drawing was an inscription in a minute handwriting--'Sorrento:
Christmas Day,' with the monogram 'A.W.' and a date three years old.
As Madame de Pastourelles perceived that his eyes had caught the
inscription, she rather hastily withdrew the sketch and returned it to
'I watched him draw it,' she explained--'in a Sorrento garden. My
father and I were there for the winter. Mr. Welby was in a villa near
ours, and I used to watch him at work.'
It seemed to Fenwick that her tone had grown rather hurried and
reserved, as though she regretted the impulse which had made her show
him the drawing. He praised it as intelligently as he could; but his
mind was guessing all the time at the relation which lay behind the
drawing. According to Cuningham's information, it was now three years
since a separation had been arranged between Madame de Pastourelles
and her husband, Comte Albert de Pastourelles, owing to the Comte's
outrageous misconduct. Lord Findon had no doubt taken her abroad after
the catastrophe. And, besides her father, Welby had also been near,
apparently--watching over her?
He returned to his work upon the hands, silent, but full of
speculation. The evident bond between these two people had excited
his imagination and piqued his curiosity from the first moment of his
acquaintance with them. They were both of a rare and fine quality; and
the signs of an affection between them, equally rare and fine, had
not been lost on those subtler perceptions in Fenwick which belonged
perhaps to his heritage as an artist. If he gave the matter an
innocent interpretation, and did not merely say to himself, 'She has
lost a husband and found a lover,' it was because the woman herself
had awakened in him fresh sources of judgement. His thoughts simply
did not dare besmirch her.
* * * * *
The clock struck five; and thereupon a sound of voices on the stairs
'Papa!' said Madame de Pastourelles, jumping up--in very evident
relief--her teeth chattering.
The door opened and Lord Findon put in a reconnoitring head.
'May I--or we--come in?'
And behind him, on the landing, Fenwick with a start perceived the
smiling face of Arthur Welby.
'I've come to carry off my daughter,' said Findon, with a friendly nod
to the artist. 'But don't let us in if you don't want to.'
'Turn me out, please, at once, if I'm in the way,' said Welby. 'Lord
Findon made me come up.'
It was the first time that Welby had visited the Bernard Street
studio. Fenwick's conceit had sometimes resented the fact. Yet now
that Welby was there he was unwilling to show his work. He muttered
something about there being 'more to see in a day or two.'
'There's a great deal to see already,' said Lord Findon. 'But, of
course, do as you like. Eugenie, are you ready?'
'Please!--may I be exhibited?' said Madame de Pastourelles to Fenwick,
with a smiling appeal.
He gave way, dragged the easel into the best light, and fell back
while the two men examined the portrait.
'Stay where you are, Eugenie,' said Lord Findon, holding up his hand.
'Let Arthur see the pose.'
She sat down obediently. Fenwick heard an exclamation from Welby, and
a murmured remark to Lord Findon; then Welby turned to the painter,
his face aglow.
'I say, I do congratulate you! You _are_ making a success of it! The
whole scheme's delightful. You've got the head admirably.'
'I'm glad you like it,' said Fenwick, rather shortly, ready at once to
suspect a note of patronage in the other's effusion. Welby--a little
checked--returned to the picture, studying it closely, and making a
number of shrewd, or generous comments upon it, gradually quenched,
however, by Fenwick's touchy or ungracious silence. Of course the
picture was good. Fenwick wanted no one to tell him that.
Meanwhile, Lord Findon--though in Fenwick's studio he always behaved
himself with a certain jauntiness, as a man should who has discovered
a genius--was a little discontented.
'It's a fine thing, Eugenie,' he was saying to her, as he helped
her put on her furs, 'but I'm not altogether satisfied. It wants
animation. It's too--too--'
'Too sad?' she asked, quietly.
'Too grave, my dear--too grave. I want your smile.'
Madame de Pastourelles shook her head.
'What do you mean?' he asked.
'I can't go smiling to posterity!' she said; first gaily--then
suddenly her lip quivered.
'Eugenie, darling--for God's sake--'
'I'm all right,' she said, recovering herself instantly. 'Mr. Arthur,
are you coming?'
'One moment,' said Welby; then, turning to Fenwick as the others
approached them, he said, 'Might I make two small criticisms?'
'The right hand seems to me too large--and the chin wants fining.
Look!' He took a little ivory paper-cutter from his pocket, and
pointed to the line of the chin, with a motion of the head towards
Madame de Pastourelles.
Fenwick looked--and said nothing.
'By George, I think he's right,' said Lord Findon, putting on
spectacles. 'That right hand's certainly too big.'
'In my opinion, it's not big enough,' said Fenwick, doggedly.
Welby withdrew instantly from the picture, and took up his hat. Lord
Findon looked at the artist--half angry, half amused. 'You don't buy
her gloves, sir--I do.'
Eugenie's eyes meanwhile had begun to sparkle, as she stood in her
sable cap and cloak, waiting for her companions. Fenwick approached
'Will you sit to-morrow?'
'I think not--I have some engagements.'
'I will let you know.'
Fenwick's colour rose.
'There is a good deal to do still--and I must work at my other
'Yes, I know. I will write.'
And with a little dry nod of farewell she slipped her hand into her
father's arm and led him away. Welby also saluted pleasantly, and
followed the others.
* * * * *
Fenwick was left to pace his room in a tempest, denouncing himself as
a 'damned fool,' bent on destroying all his own chances in life. Why
was it that Welby's presence always had this effect upon him:--setting
him on edge, and making a bear of him? No!--it was not allowed to
be so handsome, so able, so ingratiating. Yet he knew very well
that Welby made no enemies, and that in his grudging jealousy of a
delightful artist he, Fenwick, stood alone.
He walked to the window. Yes, there they were, all three--Mademoiselle
Barras seemed to have gone her ways separately--just disappearing into
Russell Square. He saw that Welby had possessed himself of the
fair lady's portfolio, and was carrying her shawl. He watched their
intimate, laughing ways--how different from the stiffness she had
just shown _him_--from the friendly, yet distant relations she always
maintained between herself and her painter! A fierce and irritable
ambition swept through him--rebellion against the hampering conditions
of birth and poverty, which he felt as so many chains upon body and
soul. Why was he born the son of a small country tradesman,
narrow, ignorant, and tyrannical?--harassed by penury, denied
opportunities--while a man like Welby found life from the beginning a
broad road, as it were, down a widening valley, to a land of abundance
But the question led immediately to an answering outburst of vanity.
He paced up and down, turning from the injustice of the past to
challenge the future. A few more years, and the world would know where
to place _him_--with regard to the men now in the running--men with
half his power--Welby and the like. A mad arrogance, a boundless
confidence in himself, flamed through all his veins. Let him paint,
paint, _paint_--think of nothing, care for nothing but the maturing of
How long he lost himself in this passion of egotism and defiance he
hardly knew. He was roused from it by the servant bringing a lamp; and
as she set it down, the light fell upon a memorandum scrawled on the
edge of a sketch which was lying on the table: 'Feb. 21--10 o'clock.'
His mood collapsed. He sat down by the dying fire, brooding and
miserable. How on earth was he going to get through the next few
weeks? Abominable!--thoughtlessly cruel!--that neither Lord Findon nor
Madame de Pastourelles should ever yet have spoken to him of money!
These months of work on the portrait--this constant assumption on the
part of the Findon circle that both the portrait and the 'Genius Loci'
were to become Findon possessions--and yet no sum named--no clear
agreement even--nothing, as it seemed to Fenwick's suspicious temper,
in either case, that really bound Lord Findon. 'Write to the old
boy'--so Cuningham had advised again and again--'get something
definite out of him.' But Fenwick had once or twice torn up a letter
of the kind in morbid pride and despair. Suppose he were rebuffed?
That would be an end of the Findon connexion, and he could not bring
himself to face it. He must keep his _entree_ to the house; above all,
he clung to the portrait and the sittings.
But the immediate outlook was pretty dark. He was beginning to be
pestered with debts and duns--the appointment on the morrow was with
an old frame-maker who had lent him twenty pounds before Christmas,
and was now begging piteously for his money. There was nothing to pay
him with--nothing to send Phoebe, in spite of a constant labour at
paying jobs in black-and-white that often kept him up till three or
four in the morning. He wondered whether Watson would help him with a
loan. According to Cuningham, the queer fellow had private means.
The fact was he was overstrained--he knew it. The year had been the
hardest of his life, and now that he was approaching the time of
crisis--the completion of his two pictures, the judgement of the
Academy and the public, his nerve seemed to be giving way. As he
thought of all that success or failure might mean, he plunged into
a melancholy no less extravagant than the passion of self-confidence
from which he had emerged. Suppose that he fell ill before the
pictures were finished--what would become of Phoebe and the child?
As he thought of Phoebe, suddenly his heart melted within him. Was
she, too, hating the hours? As he bowed his head on his arms a few
hot, unwilling tears forced themselves into his eyes. Had he been
unkind and harsh to her?--his poor little Phoebe! An imperious impulse
seemed to sweep him back into her arms. She was his own, his very own;
one flesh with him; of the same clay, the same class, the same customs
and ideals. Let him only recover her, and his child--and live his own
life as he pleased. No more dependence on the moods of fine people.
He hated them all! Clearly he had offended Madame de Pastourelles.
Perhaps she would not sit again--the portrait would be thrown on his
hands--because he had not behaved with proper deference to her spoilt
and petted favourite.
Involuntarily he looked up. The lamp-light fell on the portrait.
There she sat, the delicate, ethereal being, her gentle brow bent
forward, her eyes fixed upon him. He perceived, as though for the
first time, what an image of melancholy grace it was which he had
built up there. He had done it, as it were, without knowing--had
painted something infinitely pathetic and noble without realising it
in the doing.
As he looked, his irritation died away, and something wholly
contradictory took its place. He felt a rush of self-pity, and then of
trust. What if he called on her to help him--unveiled himself to
this kind and charming woman--confessed to her his remorse about
Phoebe--his secret miseries and anxieties--the bitterness of his
envies and ambitions? Would she not rain balm upon him--quiet
He yearned towards her, as he sat there in the semi-darkness--seeking
the _ewig-weibliche_ in the sweetness of her face--without a touch of
passion--as a Catholic might yearn towards his Madonna. Her slight and
haughty farewell showed that he had tried her patience--had behaved
like an ungenerous cur. But he must and would propitiate her--win
her friendship for himself and Phoebe. The weakness of the man threw
itself strangely, instinctively, on the moral strength of the woman;
as though in this still young and winning creature he might recover
something of what he had lost in childhood, when his mother died. He
mocked at his own paradox, but it held him. That very night would
he write to her; not yet about Phoebe--not yet!--but letting her
understand, at least, that he was _not_ ungrateful, that he valued her
sympathy and good-will. Already the phrases of the letter, warm and
eloquent, yet restrained, began to flow through his mind. It might be
an unusual thing to do; but she was no silly conventional woman; she
By Jove! Welby was perfectly right. The hand was too big. It should be
altered at the next sitting. Then he sprang up, found pen and paper,
and began to write to Phoebe--still in the same softened and agitated
state. He wrote in haste and at length, satisfying some hungry
instinct in himself by the phrases of endearment which he scattered
plentifully through the letter.
* * * * *
That letter found Phoebe on a mid-March morning, when the thrushes
were beginning to sing, when the larches were reddening, and only in
the topmost hollows of the pikes did any snow remain, to catch the
As she opened it, she looked at its length with astonishment. Then the
tone of it brought the rushing colour to her cheek, and when it
was finished she kissed it and hid it in her dress. After weeks of
barrenness, of stray post-cards and perfunctory notes, these ample
pages, with their rhetorical and sentimental effusion, brought new
life to the fretting, lonely woman. She went about in penitence.
Surely she had done injustice to her John; and she dreaded lest any
inkling of those foolish or morbid thoughts she had been harbouring
should ever reach him.
She wrote back with passion--like one throwing herself on his breast.
The letter was long and incoherent, written at night beside Carrie's
bed--and borrowing much, unconsciously, from the phraseology of the
novels she still got from Bowness. Alack! it is to be feared that John
Fenwick--already at another point in spiritual space when the letter
reached him--gave it but a hasty reading.
But, for the time, it was an untold relief to the writer. Afterwards,
she settled down to wait again, working meanwhile night and day at her
beautiful embroidery that John had designed for her. Miss Anna came
to see her, exclaimed at her frail looks, wanted to lend her money.
Phoebe in a new exaltation, counting the weeks, and having still three
or four sovereigns in the drawer, refused--would say nothing about
their straits. John, she declared, was on the eve of an _enormous_
success. It would be all right presently.
* * * * *
Weeks passed. The joy of that one golden letter faded; and gradually
the shadows re-closed about her. Fenwick's letters dwindled again to
post-cards, and then almost ceased. When the hurried lines came,
the strain and harass expressed in them left no room for affection.
Something wrong with the 'Genius Loci'!--some bad paints--hours of
work needed to get the beastly thing right--the portrait still far
from complete--but the dress would be a _marvel_!--without quenching
the head in the least. And not a loving word!--scarcely an inquiry
after the child.
April came. The little shop in the neighbouring village gave Mrs.
Fenwick credit--but Phoebe, brought up in frugal ways, to loathe the
least stain of debt, hated to claim it, and went there in the dusk,
that she might not be seen.
Meanwhile not a line from John to tell her that his pictures had gone
in to the Academy. She saw a paragraph, however, in the local papers
describing 'Show Sunday.' Had John been entertaining smart people to
tea, and showing his pictures, with the rest? If so, couldn't he find
ten minutes in which to send her news of it? It _was_ unkind! All her
suspicions and despair revived.
As she carried her child back from the village, tottering often under
the weight, gusts of mingled weakness and passion would sweep over
her. She would not be treated so--John should see! She would get her
money for her work and go to London--whether he liked it or no--tax
him with his indifference to her--find out what he was really doing.
The capacity for these moments of violence was something new in
her--probably depending, if the truth were known, on some obscure
physical misery. She felt that they degraded her, yet could not curb
And, in this state, the obsession of the winter seized her again. She
brooded perpetually over the doleful Romney story--the tale of a great
painter, born, like her John, in this Northern air, and reared in
Kendal streets, deserting his peasant wife--enslaved by Emma Hamilton
through many a passionate year--and coming back at last that the
drudge of his youth might nurse him through his decrepit old age. She
remembered going with John in their sweetheart days to see the house
where Romney died, imbecile and paralysed, with Mary Romney beside
'I would never have done it--_never_!' she said to herself in a mad
recoil. 'He had chosen--he should have paid!'
She sat closer and closer at her work, in a feverish eagerness to
finish it, sleeping little and eating little. When she wrote to
her husband it was in a bitter, reproachful tone she had never yet
employed to him. 'I have had one nice letter from you this winter,
and only one. As you can't take the trouble to write any more, you'll
hardly wonder if I think you sent that one to keep me quiet.' She
wrote too often in this style. But, whether in this style or another,
John made no answer--had apparently ceased to write.
One afternoon towards the end of April she was sitting at her work
in the parlour, with the window open to the lengthening day, when she
heard the gate open and shut. A woman in black came up the pathway,
and, seeing Phoebe at the window, stopped short. Phoebe rose, and, as
the visitor threw back her veil, recognised the face of Mr. Morrison's
She gave a slight cry; then, full of pity and emotion, she hastened to
open the door.
'Oh, Miss Morrison!' She held out her hand; her attitude, her
beautiful eyes, breathed compassion, and also embarrassment. The
thought of the debt rushed into her mind. Had Miss Morrison come to
press for it? It was within a fortnight of twelve months since the
loan was granted. She felt a vague terror.
The visitor just touched her hand, then looked at her with an
expression which stirred increasing alarm in the woman before her. It
was so hard and cold; it threatened, without speech.
'I came to return you something I don't want any more,' said the girl,
with a defiant air; and Phoebe noticed, as she spoke, that she carried
in her left hand a large, paper-covered roll. In her deep black she
was more startling than ever, with spots of flame-colour on either
cheek, the eyes fixed and staring, the lips wine-red. It might have
been a face taken from one of those groups of crudely painted wood
or terra-cotta, in which northern Italy--as at Orta or Varallo--has
expressed the scenes of the Passion. The Magdalen in one of the ruder
groups might have looked so.
'Will you please to come in?' said Phoebe, leading the way to the
parlour, which smelled musty and damp for lack of fire, and was still
littered with old canvases, studies, casts, and other gear of the
painter who had once used it as his studio.
Bella Morrison came in, but she refused a chair.
'There's no call for me to stay,' she said, sharply. 'You won't like
what I came to do--I know that.'
Phoebe looked at her, bewildered.
'I've brought back that picture of me your husband painted,' said the
girl, putting down her parcel on the table. 'It's in there.'
'What have you done that for?' said Phoebe, wondering.
'Because I loathe it--and all my friends loathe it, too. Papa--'
'Oh! do tell me--how is Mrs. Morrison?' cried Phoebe, stepping
forward, her whole aspect quivering with painful pity.
'She's all right,' said Bella, looking away. 'We're going to live in
Guernsey. We're selling this house. It's hers, of course. Papa settled
it on her, years before--'
She stopped--then drew herself together.
'So, you see, I got that picture out of mother. I've never forgiven
Mr. Fenwick for taking it home, saying he'd improve it, and then
sending it back as bad as ever. I knew he'd done that to spite
me--he'd disliked me from the first.'
'John never painted a portrait to spite anybody in his life,' cried
Phoebe. 'I never heard such nonsense.'
'Well, anyway, he can take it back,' said the girl. 'Mother wouldn't
let me destroy it, but she said I might give it back; so there it is.
We kept the frame--that's decent--that might do for something else.'
Phoebe's eyes flashed.
'Thank you, Miss Morrison. It would, indeed, be a great pity to waste
my husband's work on some one who couldn't appreciate it.' She took
the roll and stood with her hand upon it, protecting it. 'I'll tell
him what you've done.'
'Oh, then, you do know where he is!' said Bella, with a laugh.
'What do you mean?'
'What I say.' The eyes of the two women met across the table. A flash
of cruelty showed itself in those of the girl. 'I thought, perhaps,
you mightn't--as he's been passing in London for an unmarried man.'
There was a pause--a moment's dead silence.
'That, of course, is a lie!' said Phoebe at last, drawing in her
breath--and then, restraining herself, 'or else a silly mistake.'
'It's no mistake at all,' said Bella, with a toss of the head. 'I
thought you ought to know, and mother agreed with me. The men are all
alike. There's a letter I got the other day from a friend of mine.'
She drew a letter from a stringbag on her wrist, and handed it to
Phoebe made no motion to take it. She stood rigid, her fierce, still
look fixed on her visitor.
'You'd better,' said Bella; 'I declare you'd better. If my husband had
been behaving like this, I should want to know the truth--and pay him
Phoebe took the letter, opened it with steady fingers, and read it.
While she was reading it the baby Carrie, escaped from the little
servant's tutelage, ran in and hid her face in her mother's skirts,
peering sometimes at the stranger.
When she had finished the letter, Phoebe handed it back to its owner.
'Who wrote that?'
'A friend of mine who's working at South Kensington. You can see--she
knows a lot about artists.'
'And what she doesn't know she makes up,' said Phoebe, with slow
contempt. 'You tell her, Miss Morrison, from me, she might be better
employed than writing nasty, lying gossip about people she never saw.'
She caught up her child, who flung her arms round her mother's neck,
nestling on her shoulder.
'Oh, well, if you're going to take it like that--' said the other,
with a laugh.
'I _am_ taking it like that, you see,' said Phoebe, walking to the
door and throwing it wide. 'You'd better go, Miss Morrison. I am sure
I can't imagine why you came. I should have thought you'd have
had sorrow enough of your own, without trying to make it for other
The other winced.
'Well, of course, if you don't want to know the truth, you needn't.'
'It isn't truth,' she said. 'But if it was--Did you want to know the
truth about your father?' Her white face, encircled by the child's
arms, quivered as she spoke.
'Don't you abuse my father,' cried Bella, furiously.
Phoebe's eyes wavered and fell.
'I wasn't going to abuse him,' she said, in a choked voice. 'I was
sorry for him--and for your mother. But _you've_ got a hard, wicked
heart--and I hope I'll never see you again, Miss Morrison. I'll thank
you, please, to leave my house.'
The other drew down her veil with an affected smile and shrug.
'Good-bye, Mrs. Fenwick. Perhaps you'll find out before long that my
friend wasn't such a fool to write that letter--and I wasn't such a
beast to tell you--as you think now. Good-bye!'
Phoebe said nothing. The girl passed her insolently, and left the
Phoebe put the child to bed, sat without touching a morsel while Daisy
supped, and then shut herself into the parlour, saying that she was
going to sit up over her work, to which only a few last touches
were wanting. It had been her intention to go with the carrier to
Windermere the following day in order to hand it over to the shop that
had got her the commission, and ask for payment.
But as soon as she was alone in the room, with her lamp and her work,
she swept its silken, many-coloured mass aside, found a sheet of
paper, and began to write.
She was trying to write down, as nearly as she could remember, the
words of the letter which Bella had shown her.
'Didn't you tell me about a man called John Fenwick, who painted your
portrait?--a beastly thing you couldn't abide? Well, they say he's
going to be awfully famous soon, and make a pile of money. I don't
know him, but I have a friend who knows one of the two men who used
to lodge in the same house with him--I believe they've just moved to
Chelsea. He says that Mr. Fenwick will have two ripping pictures in
the Academy, and is sure to get his name up. And, besides that,
there is some lord or other who's wild about him--and means to
buy everything he can paint. But I thought you said your man was
married?--do you remember I chaffed you about him when he began, and
you said, "No fear--he is married to a school-teacher," or something
of that sort? Well, I asked about the wife, and my friend says,
"Nonsense! he isn't married--nothing of the sort--or, at any rate,
if he is, he makes everybody believe he isn't--and there must be
something wrong somewhere." By the way, one of the pictures he's
sending in is a wonderful portrait. An awfully beautiful woman--with a
white _velvet_ dress, my dear--and they say the painting of the dress
is marvellous. She's the daughter of the Lord Somebody who's taken
him up. They've introduced him to all sorts of smart people, and, as
I said before, he's going to have a _tremendous_ success. Some people
have luck, haven't they?'
She reproduced it as accurately as she could, read it through again,
and then pushed it aside. With set lips she resumed her work, and by
midnight she had put in the last stitch and fastened the last thread.
That she should do so was essential to the plan she had in her mind.
For she had already determined what to do. Within forty-eight hours
she would be in London. If he had really disowned and betrayed her--or
if he had merely grown tired of her and wished to be quit of her--in
either case she would soon discover what it behoved her to know.
When at last, in the utter silence of midnight, she took up her candle
to go to bed, its light fell, as she moved towards the door, on the
portrait of himself that Fenwick had left with her at Christmas. She
looked at it long, dry-eyed. It was as though it began already to be
the face of a stranger.
Eugenie, are you there?'
Lord Findon, peering short-sightedly into the big drawing-room,
obstructed by much furniture and darkened by many pictures, had not
at first perceived the slender form of his daughter. The April day
was receding, and Eugenie de Pastourelles was sitting very still, her
hands lightly clasped upon a letter which lay outspread upon her lap.
These moments of pensive abstraction were characteristic of her. Her
life was turned within; she lived more truly in thought than in speech
Lord Findon came in gaily. 'I say, Eugenie, that fellow's made a hit.'
'What fellow, papa?'
'Why, Fenwick, of course. Give me a cup of tea, there's a dear. I've
just seen Welby, who's been hob-nobbing with somebody on the Hanging
Committee. Both pictures accepted, and the portrait will be on the
line in the big room--the other very well hung, too, in one of
the later rooms. Lucky dog! Millais came up and spoke to me about
him--said he heard we had discovered him. Of course, there's lots
of criticism. Drawing and design, modern and realistic--the whole
_painting_ method, traditional and old-fashioned, except for some
wonderful touches of pre-Raphaelitism--that's what most people say. Of
course, the new men think it'll end in manner and convention; and the
old men don't quite know _what_ to say. Well, it don't much matter. If
he's genius, he'll do as he likes--and if he hasn't--'
Lord Findon shrugged his shoulders, and then, throwing back his head
against the back of his capacious chair, proceeded to 'sip' his tea,
held in both hands, according to an approved digestive method--ten
seconds to a sip--he had lately adopted. He collected new doctors with
the same zeal that he spent in pushing new artists.
Eugenie put out a hand and patted his shoulder tenderly. She and her
father were the best of comrades, and they showed it most plainly in
Lady Findon's absence. That lady was again on her travels, occupied
in placing her younger daughter for a time in a French family, with
a view to 'finishing.' Eugenie or Lord Findon wrote to her every day;
they discussed her letters when they arrived with all proper _egards_;
and, for the rest, enjoyed their _tete-a-tete,_ and never dreamed of
missing her. _Tete-a-tete_, indeed, it scarcely was; for there was
still another daughter in the house, whom Madame de Pastourelles--her
much older half-sister--mothered with great assiduity in Lady Findon's
absence; and the elder son also, who was still unmarried, lived mainly
at home. Nevertheless, it was recognised that 'papa' and Eugenie had
special claims upon each other, and as the household adored them both,
they were never interfered with.
On this occasion Eugenie was bent on business as well as affection.
She withdrew her hand from her father's shoulder in order to raise a
'Genius or no, papa, it's time you paid him his money.'
'How you go on, Eugenie!' said Lord Findon, crossing his knees
luxuriously, as the tea filtered down. 'Pray, what money do I owe
'Well, of course, if you wait till he's made a hit, prices will go
up,' said Eugenie, calmly. 'I advise you to agree with him quickly,
while you are in the way with him.'
'I never asked him to paint you,' said Lord Findon, hastily,
swallowing a sip of tea under the regulation time, and frowning at the
'Oh, shuffling papa! Come--how much?--two hundred?'
'Upon my word! A painter shouldn't propose to paint a picture, my
dear, and then expect to get paid for it as if he'd been commissioned.
The girls might as well propose matrimony to the men.'
'Nobody need accept,' said Eugenie, slyly, replenishing his cup. 'I
consider, papa, that you have bolted that cup.'
'Then for goodness' sake, don't give me any more!' cried Lord Findon.
'It's no joke, Eugenie, this sipping business--Where were we? Oh,
well, of course I knew we should have to take it--and I don't say I'm
not pleased with it. But two hundred!'
'Not a penny less,' said Eugenie--'and the apotheosis of my frock
alone is worth the money. Two hundred for that--and two-fifty for the
'Welby told me that actually was the price he had put on it! The young
man won't starve, my dear, for want of knowing his own value.'
'I shouldn't wonder if he had been rather near starving,' said
'Nothing of the kind, Eugenie,' said her father, testily. 'You think
everybody as sensitive as yourself. I assure you, young men are tough,
and can stand a bit of hardship.'
'They seem to require butcher's meat, all the same,' said Eugenie.
'Do you know, papa, that I have been extremely uncomfortable about our
behaviour to Mr. Fenwick?'
'I entirely fail to see why,' said Lord Findon, absently. He was
holding his watch in his hand, and calculating seconds.
'We have let him paint my portrait without ever saying a word of
money--and you have always behaved as though you meant to buy the
'Well, so I do mean to buy it,' said Lord Findon, closing his watch
with a sigh of satisfaction.
'You should have told him so, papa, and advanced him some money.'
'It is an excellent thing, my dear Eugenie, for a young man to be kept
on tenterhooks. Otherwise they soon get above themselves.'
'You have driven him into debt, papa.'
'What on earth do you mean?'
'I have been questioning Mr. Cuningham. He doesn't know, but he
_thinks_ Mr. Watson has been lending him money.'
'Artists are always so good to one another,' said Lord Findon,
complacently. 'Nice fellow, Watson--but quite mad.'
'Papa, you are incorrigible. I tell you he has been in great straits.
He has not been able to buy a winter overcoat, and Mr. Cuningham
suspects he has often not had enough to eat. He does illustration-work
the greater part of the night--_et cetera_.'
'The way you pile on the agony, my dear!' said Lord Findon, rising.
'What I see you want is that I should write the check, and then go
with you to call on the young man?'
'Precisely!' said Eugenie, nodding.
Lord Findon looked at her.
'And that you suppose is your own idea?'
'Do you know why I have never said a word to the young man about
'Because you forgot it,' said Eugenie, smiling.
'Not in the least,' said Lord Findon, flushing like a school-boy found
out; 'I wanted my little sensation at the end.'
'My very epicurean papa!' said Eugenie, caressing him. 'I see! Young
man in a garret--starving--_au desespoir._ Enter Providence, _alias_
my papa--with fame in one hand and gold in the other. Ah, _que tu es
comedien, mon pere. A la bonne heure_!--I now order the carriage!'
She moved toward the bell, but paused suddenly:--
'I forgot--Arthur was to come before six.'
A slight silence fell between the father and daughter.
Lord Findon cleared his throat, took up the evening paper and laid it
Lord Findon went up to her and took her hand. She stood with downcast
eyes, the other hand playing with the folds of her dress. Her father's
face was discomposed.
'Eugenie!' he broke out. 'I don't think he ought to come so much.
Forgive me, dear!'
'You only think what I have thought for a long time,' she said, in a
low voice, without raising her eyes. 'But to-day I sent for him.'
'Because?'--Lord Findon's face expressed a quick and tender anxiety.
'I want to persuade him--to marry Elsie Bligh.'
Lord Findon made a hurried exclamation, drew her to him, kissed her on
the brow, and then, releasing her, turned away.
'I might have known--what you would do,' he said, in a muffled voice.
'I ought to have done it long ago,' she said, passionately; then,
immediately curbing herself, she turned deliberately to a vase of
roses that stood near and began to rearrange them, picking out a few
faded blooms and throwing them on the wood-fire.
Lord Findon watched her, the delicate, drooping figure in its grey
dress, the thin hand among the roses.
'Eugenie!--tell me one thing!--you are in the same mind as ever about
She made a sign of assent.
'Just the same. I am Albert's wife--unless he himself asks me to
release him--and then the release would only be--for him.'
'You are too hard on yourself, Eugenie!' cried Lord Findon. 'I vow you
are! You set an impossible standard.'
'I am his wife'--she repeated, gently--'while he lives. And if he sent
for me--at any hour of the day or night--I would go.'
Lord Findon gave an angry sigh.
'You can't wonder, Eugenie,' he said, impetuously, 'that I often wish
A shudder ran through her.
'Don't, papa! Never, never wish that. He loves life so.'
'Yes!--now that he has ruined yours.'
'He didn't mean to,' she said, almost inaudibly. 'You know what I
Lord Findon restrained himself. In his eyes there was no excuse
whatever for his scoundrel of a son-in-law, who after six years of
marriage had left his wife for an actress, and was now living with
another woman of his own class, a Comtesse S., ten years older than
himself. He knew that Eugenie believed her husband to be insane;
as for him, he had never admitted anything of the kind. But if it
comforted her to believe it, let her, for Heaven's sake, believe
So he said nothing--as he paced up and down--and Eugenie finished the
rearrangement of the roses. Then she turned to him, smiling.
'You didn't know I saw Elsie yesterday?'
'Did she confide in you?'
'Oh, that--long ago! The poor child's dreadfully in love.'
'Then it's a great responsibility,' said Lord Findon, gravely. 'How is
he going to satisfy her?'
'Only too easily. She would marry him blindly--on any terms.'
There was a short silence. Then Eugenie gathered up the letter she had
been reading when her father entered.
'Let's talk of something else, papa! Do you know that I've had a very
interesting letter from Mr. Fenwick this afternoon?'
Lord Findon stared.
'Fenwick? What on earth does he write to you about?'
'Oh! this is not the first time by a long way!' said Eugenie, smiling.
'He began it in March, when he thought he had offended me--by being
rude to Arthur.'
'So he was--abominably rude. But what can one expect? He hasn't had
the bringing-up of a gentleman--and there you are. That kind of thing
'I wonder whether it matters--to a genius?' said Eugenie, musing.
'It matters to everybody!' cried Lord Findon. 'Gentlefolk, my dear,
say what you will, are the result of a long natural selection--and you
can't make 'em in a hurry.'
'And what about genius? You will admit, papa, that a good many
gentlefolk in the world go to one genius!'
The light was still good enough to show Lord Findon that, in spite of
her flicker of gaiety, Eugenie was singularly pale. And he knew
well that they were both listening for the same step on the stairs.
However, he tried to keep it up.
'Genius?' he said, humming and hawing--'genius? How do we know what it
is--or who has it? Everybody's so diabolically clever nowadays. Take
my advice, Eugenie--I know you want to play Providence to that young
fellow--you think you'll civilise him, and that kind of thing; but I
warn you--he hasn't got breeding enough to stand it.'
Eugenie drew a long breath.
'Well, don't scold me, papa--if I try--I must'--her voice escaped her,
and she began again, firmly--'I must have something to fill up.'
'Fill up what?'
She looked round to make sure that the servants had finished clearing
away the tea, and that they were alone.
'The days--and the hours,' she said, softly. 'One must have something
to think of.'
Lord Findon frowned.
'He will fall in love with you, Eugenie--and then where shall we be?'
He heard a laugh--very sweet--very feminine, yet, to his ear, very
'I'll take care of that. We'll find him a wife, too, papa--when he
"arrives." We shall be in practice--you and I.'
Lord Findon sprang up.
'Here he is!' he said, with very evident agitation.
The pronoun clearly had no reference to Fenwick. Eugenie sat
motionless, looking into the fire, her hands on her knee. Lord Findon
listened a moment.
'I'm going to my room. Eugenie!--if I could be the slightest use--'
'Dear papa!' she looked up, smiling. 'It's very simple.'
With a muttered exclamation, Lord Findon walked to the further end of
the drawing-room, and vanished through an inner door.
The footman announced 'Mr. Welby.'
As soon as the door was shut, Eugenie rose.
Welby hurriedly approached her. 'You say in your note that you have
something important to tell me?'
She made a sign of assent, and as he grasped her hand, she allowed
herself a moment's pause. Her eyes rested--just perceptibly--on the
face of the man whose long devotion to her, expressed through every
phase of delicate and passionate service, had brought them both at
last to that point where feeling knows itself--where illusions die
away--and the deep foundations of our life appear.
Welby's dark face quivered. In the touch of his friend's hand, in the
look of her eyes there was that which told him that she had bidden
him to no common meeting. The air between them was in an instant alive
with memories. Days of first youth; youth's high impressions of great
and lovely things; all the innocent, stingless joys of art and travel,
of happy talk and ripening faculty, of pure ambitions, hero-worships,
compassions, shared and mutually enkindled: these were for ever
intertwined with their thoughts of each other.
But much more than these!
For him, the unspoken agony of loss suffered when she married; for
her, the memories of her marriage, of the dreary languor into which
its wreck had plunged her, and of the gradual revival in her of the
old intellectual pleasures, the old joys of the spirit, under the
influence of Arthur's life and Arthur's companionship. How simply he
had offered all that his art, his tact, his genius had to give!--and
how pitifully, how hungrily she had leaned upon it! It had seemed so
natural. Her own mind was clear, her own pulses calm; their friendship
had appeared a thing apart, and she was able to feel, with sincerity
and dignity, that if she received much, she also gave much--the hours
of relief and pleasure which ease the labour, the inevitable torment
of the artist, all that protecting environment which a woman's sweet
and agile wit can build around a man's taxed brain or ruffled nerves.
To chat with her, in success or failure; to be sure of her welcome,
her smile at all times; to ask her sympathy in matters where he had
himself trained in her the faculty of response; to rouse in her the
gentle, diffident humour which seemed to him a much rarer and more
distinguished thing than other women's brilliance; to watch the ways
of a personality which appeared to many people a little cold, pale,
and over-refined, and was to him supreme distinction; to search for
pleasures for her, as a botanist hunts rare flowers; to save her from
the most trifling annoyance, if time and brains could do it;--these
things, for three years, had made the charm of Welby's life. And
Eugenie knew it--knew it with an affectionate gratitude that had
for long seemed both to her and to the world the last word of their
situation on both sides--a note, a tone, which could always be evoked
from it, touch or strike it where you would.
Through what subtle phases and developments had time led them to
this moment of change and consciousness?--representing in her, sharp
recoil, an instant girding of the will--and in him a new despair,
which was also a new docility, a readiness to content and tranquillise
her at any cost. As they stood thus, for these few seconds, amid the
shadows of the rich encumbered room, the picture of the weeks
and months they had just passed through flashed through both
minds--illuminated--thrown into true relation with surrounding and
irrevocable fact. Both trembled--she under the admonition of her own
higher life--he, because existence beside her could never again be as
sweet to him to-morrow as it had been yesterday.
She moved. The trance was broken.
'I do, indeed, want to talk to you,' she said, in her gentlest voice.
'We shan't have very long. Papa wants me in half an hour.'
She motioned to the seat beside her; and their talk began.
* * * * *
Lord Findon sat alone in his study on the ground-floor, balancing
a paper-knife on one finger, fidgeting with a newspaper of which he
never read a word, and otherwise beguiling the time until the sound of
Welby's step on the stairs should tell him that the interview upstairs
His mind was full of disagreeable thoughts. Eugenie was dearer to him
than any other human being, and Welby--his ward, the orphan child of
one of his oldest friends--had been from his boyhood almost a son of
the house. Eight years before, what more natural than that these two
should marry? Welby had been then deeply in love; Eugenie in her first
maiden bloom had been difficult to read, but a word from the father
she adored would probably have been enough to incline her towards
her lover, to transform and fire a friendship which was already more
romantic than she knew. But Lord Findon could not make up his mind to
it. Arthur was a dear fellow; but from the worldly point of view it
was not good enough. Eugenie was born for a large sphere; it was her
father's duty to find it for her if he could.
Hence the French betrothal--the crowning point of a summer visit to
a French chateau where Eugenie had been the spoiled child of a party
containing some of the greatest names in France. It flattered both
Lord Findon's vanity and imagination to find himself brought into
connexion with historic families all the more attractive because
of that dignified alienation from affairs, imposed on them by their
common hatred of the Second Empire. Eugenie, too, had felt the romance
of the _milieu_; had invested her French suitor with all that her
own poetic youth could bring to his glorification; had gone to him a
timid, willing, and most innocent bride.
Ah, well! it did not do to think of the sequel. Perhaps the man was
mad, as Eugenie insisted; perhaps much was due to some obscure brain
effects of exposure and hardship during the siege of Paris--for the
war had followed close on their honeymoon. But, madness or wickedness,
it was all the same; Eugenie's life was ruined, and her father could
neither mend it nor avenge it.
For owing to some--in his eyes--quixotic tenderness of conscience on
Eugenie's part, she would not sue for her divorce. She believed that
Albert was not responsible--that he might return to her. And that
passionate spiritual life of hers, the ideas of which Lord Findon only
half understood, forbade her, it seemed, any step which would finally
bar the way of that return; unless Albert should himself ask her to
take it. But the Comte had never made a sign. Lord Findon could only
suppose that he found himself as free as he wished to be, that the
ladies he consorted with were equally devoid of scruples, and that he,
therefore, very naturally, preferred to avoid publicity.
So here was Eugenie, husbandless and childless at
eight-and-twenty--for the only child of the marriage had died within
a year of its birth; the heroine of an odious story which, if it had
never reached the law courts, was none the less perfectly well known
in society; and, in the eyes of those who loved her, one of the
bravest, saddest, noblest of women. Of course Welby had shared in the
immense effort of the family to comfort and console her. They had
been so eager to accept his help; he had given it with such tact and
self-effacement; and now, meanly, they must help Eugenie to dismiss
him! For it was becoming too big a thing, this devotion of his, both
in Eugenie's life and also in the eyes of the world. Lord Findon must
needs suppose--he did not choose to _know_--that people were talking;
and if Eugenie would not free herself from her wretched Albert, she
must not provide him--poor child!--with any plausible excuse.
All of which reasoning was strictly according to the canons as Lord
Findon understood them; but it did not leave him much the happier. He
was a sensitive, affectionate man, with great natural cleverness,
and much natural virtue--wholly unleavened by either thought or
discipline. He did the ordinary things from the ordinary motives; but
he suffered when the ordinary things turned out ill, more than another
man would have done. It would certainly have been better, he ruefully
admitted, if he had not meddled so much with Eugenie's youth. And
presently he supposed he should have to forgive Charlie!--(Charlie was
the son who had married his nurse)--if only to prove to himself that
he was not really the unfeeling or snobbish father of the story-books.
Ah! there was the upstairs door! Should he show himself, and make
Arthur understand that he was their dear friend all the same, and
always would be?--it was only a question of a little drawing-in.
But his courage failed him. He heard the well-known step come
downstairs and cross the hall. The front door closed, and Lord Findon
was still balancing the paper-knife.
Would he really marry that nice child Elsie? Elsie Bligh was a cousin
of the Findons; a fair-haired, slender slip of a thing, the daughter
of a retired Indian general. The Findons had given a ball the year
before for her coming-out, and she had danced through the season,
haloed, Euphrosyne-like, by a charm of youth and laughter--till she
met Arthur Welby. Since then Euphrosyne had grown a little white
and piteous, and there had been whisperings and shakings of the head
amongst the grown-ups who were fond of her.
Well, well; he supposed Eugenie would give him some notion of the way
things had gone. As to her--his charming, sweet-natured Eugenie!--it
comforted him to remember the touch of resolute and generally cheerful
stoicism in her character. If a hard thing had to be done, she would
not only do it without flinching, but without avenging it on the
bystanders afterwards. A quality rare in women!
* * * * *
'Papa!--is the carriage there?'
It was her voice calling. Lord Findon noticed with relief its even,
silvery note. The carriage was waiting, and in a few minutes she was
seated beside him, and they were making their way eastwards through
the sunset streets.
'Dear?' he said, with timid interrogation, laying his hand momentarily
Eugenie was looking out of window with her face turned away.
'He was very--kind,' she said, rather deliberately. 'Don't let us talk
about it, papa--but wait--and see!'
Lord Findon understood that she referred to Elsie Bligh--that she had
sown her seed, and must now let it germinate.
But herself--what had it cost her? And he knew well that he should
never ask the question; and that, if he did, she would never answer
By the time they were threading the slums of Seven Dials, she was
talking rather fast and flowingly of Fenwick.
'You have brought the cheque, papa?'
'I have my cheque-book.'
'And you are quite certain about the pictures?'
'It will be nice to make him happy,' she said, softly. 'His letters
have been pretty doleful.'
'What has he found to write about?' exclaimed Lord Findon, wondering.
'Himself, mostly!' she laughed. 'He likes rhetoric--and he seems
to have found out that I do too. As I told you, he began with an
apology--and since then he writes about books and art--and--and the
evils of aristocracy.'
'Bless my soul, what the deuce does he know about it! And you answer
'Yes. You see he writes extremely well--and it amuses me.'
Privately, he thought that if she encouraged him beyond a very
moderate point, Fenwick would soon become troublesome. But whenever
she pleaded that anything 'amused' her, he could never find a word to
Every now and then he watched her, furtively trying to pierce that
grey veil in which she had wrapt herself. To-morrow morning, he
supposed, he should hear her step on the stairs, towards eight
o'clock--should hear it passing his door in going, and an hour
later in coming back--and should know that she had been to a little
Ritualist church close by, where what Lady Findon called 'fooleries'
went on, in the shape of 'daily celebrations' and 'vestments' and
'reservation.' How lightly she stepped; what a hidden act it was;
never spoken of, except once, between him and her! It puzzled him
often; for he knew very well that Eugenie was no follower of things
received. She had been a friend of Renan and of Taine in her French
days; and he, who was a Gallic with a leaning to the Anglican Church,
had sometimes guessed with discomfort that Eugenie was in truth what
his Low Church wife called a 'free-thinker.' She never spoke of her
opinions, directly, even to him. But the books she ordered from Paris,
or Germany, and every now and then the things she let fall about them,
were enough for any shrewd observer. It was here too, perhaps, that
she and Arthur were in closest sympathy; and every one knew that
Arthur, poor old boy, was an agnostic.
And yet this daily pilgrimage--and that light and sweetness it
breathed into her aspect!--
So one day he had asked her abruptly why she liked the little church
so much, and its sacramental 'goings-on.'
'One wouldn't expect it, you know, darling--from the things you
Eugenie had coloured faintly.
'Wouldn't you, papa? It seems to me so simple. It's an _Action_--not
words--and an action means anything you like to put into it--one thing
to me--another to you. Some day we shall all be tired, shan't we?--of
creeds, and sermons, but never of "This _do,_ in remembrance of Me!'"
And she had put up her hand to caress his, with such a timid sweetness
of lip, and such a shining of the eye, that he had been silenced,
feeling himself indeed in the presence of something he was not
particularly well fitted to explore.
Well, if she was inconsequent, she was dear!--and if her mystical
fancies comforted and sustained her, nobody should ever annoy or check
her in the pursuit of them. He put a very summary stop to his wife's
'Protestant nonsense,' whenever it threatened to worry Eugenie; though
on other occasions it amused him.
* * * * *
The landlady in Bernard Street greeted them with particular effusion.
If they had only known, they represented to her--cautious yet not
unkindly soul!--the main security for those very long arrears of rent
she had allowed her lodger to run up. Were they now come--at this
unusual hour--to settle up with Mr. Fenwick? If so, her own settling
up--sweet prospect!--might be in sight. Cuningham and Watson had
recently left her, and taken a joint studio in Chelsea. Their rooms,
moreover, were still unlet. Her anxieties therefore were many, and it
was with lively expectation that she watched the 'swells' grope their
way upstairs to Mr. Fenwick's room. She always knew it must come right
some day, with people like that about.
Lord Findon and Eugenie mounted the stairs. The studio door was
half-open. As they approached the threshold they heard Fenwick
'I say, hand me that rag--and look sharp and bring me some more
oil--quick! And where the devil is that sketch? Well, get the oil--and
then look for it--under that pile over there--No!--hi!--stand still
a moment--just where you are--I want to see the tone of your head
against this background! Hang it!--the light's going!'
The visitors paused--to see Fenwick standing between them and a large
canvas covered with the first 'laying-in' of an important subject. The
model, a thin, dark-faced fellow, was standing meekly on the spot to
which Fenwick had motioned him, while the artist, palette on thumb,
stood absorbed and frowning, his keen eye travelling from the man's
head to the canvas behind it.
Lord Findon smiled. He was a clever amateur, and relished the details
of the business.
'Smells good!' he said, in Eugenie's ear, sniffing the scents of the
studio. 'Looks like a fine subject too. And just now he's king of it.
The torments are all ahead. Hullo, Fenwick!--may we come in?'
Fenwick turned sharply and saw them in the doorway. He came to meet
them with mingled pleasure and embarrassment.
'Come in, please! Hope you don't mind this get-up.' He pointed to his
'It's we who apologise!' smiled Eugenie. 'You are in a great moment!'
She glanced at the canvas, filled with a rhythmical group of dim
figures, already beautiful, though they had caught the artist and his
work in the very act of true creation--when after weeks or months
of brooding, of hard work, of searching study of this or that, of
inspiration tested and verified, of mechanical drudgery, of patient
construction, _birth_ begins--the birth of values, relations,
distances, the _drawing of colour_.
Fenwick shrugged his shoulders. His eyes sparkled in a strained
and haggard face, with such an ardour that Eugenie had the strange
impression of some headlong force, checked in mid-career, and filling
the quiet studio with the thrill of its sudden reining-up; and Lord
Findon's announcement was checked on his lips.
'Why, it is my subject!' she cried, looking again at the picture.
'Well, of course!' said Fenwick, flushing.
It was only a few weeks before that she had read him, from a privately
printed volume, a poem, of which the new, strange music was then
freshly in men's ears--suggesting that he should take it as a theme.
The poem is called 'An Elegy on a Lady, whom grief for the death of
her betrothed killed.' Its noble verse summons all true maids and
lovers to bear the dead company, in that burial procession which
should have been her bridal triumph. The priests go before,
white-robed; the 'dark-stoled minstrels follow'; then the bier with
And then the maidens in a double row,
Each singing soft and low,
And each on high a torch upstaying:
Unto her lover lead her forth with light,
With music, and with singing, and with praying.
'Here is the finished sketch,' he said, placing it in her hands and
watching her eagerly.
She bent over it in emotion, conscious of that natural delight of
woman when she has fired an artist.
'How fine!--and how you must have worked!'
'Night and day. It possessed me. I didn't want you to see it yet a
while. But you understand?--it is to be romantic--not sentimental.
Strong form. Every figure discriminated, and yet kept subordinate to
the whole. No monotony! Character everywhere--expressing grief--and
longing. An evening light-between sunset and moonrise. The sky
gold--and the torches. Then below--in the crowd, the autumn woods, the
distant River of Death, towards which the procession moves--a massing
of blues and purples'--his hand--pointing--worked rapidly over the
canvas; 'and here, some pale rose, black, emerald green, dimly woven
in--and lastly, the whites of the bride-maidens, and of the bride upon
her bier--towards which, of course, the whole construction mounts.'
'I see!--a sort of Mantegna Triumph--with a difference!'
'The drawing's all right,' said Fenwick, with a long breath, and
a stretch. 'If I can only get the paint as I want it'--he stooped
forward again peering into the canvas--'it's the _handling of the
paint_--that's what excites me! I want to get it broad and pure--no
messing--no working over!--a fine surface!--and yet none of your waxy
prettiness. The forms like Millet--simple--but full of knowledge.
_Ah!_'--he took up a brush, flung it down bitterly, and turned on his
heel--'I can draw!--but why did no one ever teach me to paint?'
Eugenie lifted her eyebrows--amused at the sudden despair. Lord Findon
laughed. He had restrained himself so far with difficulty while these
two romanced; and now, bursting with his tidings, he laid a hand on
'Look here, young man--we didn't come just on the loose--to bother
you. Have you heard--?'
Fenwick made a startled movement.
'Why, that your two pictures are _accepted_!--and will be admirably
hung--both on the line, and one in the big room.'
The colour rushed again into Fenwick's cheeks.
'Are you sure?' he stammered, looking from one to the other.
Lord Findon gave his authority, and then Eugenie held out her hand.
'We _are_ so glad!'
She had thrown back the gauze veil in which she had shrouded herself
during her drive with her father, and her charming face--still so
pale!--shone in sympathy.
Fenwick awkwardly accepted her congratulation, and shook the proffered
'I expect it's your doing,' he said, abruptly.
'Not in the least!' cried Lord Findon. His eye twinkled. 'My dear
fellow, what are you thinking of? These are the days of merit, and
publicity!--when every man comes to his own.' Fenwick grinned a
little. 'You've earned _your_ success anyway, and it'll be a thumper.
Now look here, where can we talk business?'
Fenwick put down his palette, and slipped his arms into his coat.
The model lit a lamp, and disappeared. Eugenie meanwhile withdrew
discreetly to the further end of the room, where she busied herself
with some wood-blocks on which Fenwick had been drawing. The two men
remained hidden behind the large canvas, and she heard nothing of
their conversation. She was aware, however, of the scratching of a
pen, and immediately after her father called to her.
'Eugenie, come!--we must get back for dinner.'
Fenwick, looking up, saw her emerging from the shadows of the further
room into the bright lamp-light, her grey veil floating cloudwise
round her. As she came towards him, he felt her once more the emblem
and angel of his good-fortune. All the inspiration she had been to
him, all that closer acquaintance, to which during the preceding weeks
she had admitted him, throbbed warm at his heart. His mind was full of
gratitude--full also of repentance!--towards Phoebe and towards her.
That very night would he write his confession to her, at last!--tell
all his story, beg her to excuse his foolish lack of frankness and
presence of mind to Lord Findon, and ask her kindness for Phoebe and
the child. He already saw little Carrie on her knee, and the _aegis_
of her protecting sweetness spread over them all.
Meanwhile the impression upon her was that he had taken the news of
his success with admirable self-restraint, that he was growing and
shaping as a human being, no less than as an artist, that his manner
to her father was excellent, neither tongue-tied nor effusive, and
his few words of thanks manly and sincere. She thought to herself
that here was the beginning of a great career--the moment when the
streamlet finds its bed, and enters upon its true and destined course.
And in the warm homage, the evident attachment she had awakened in
the man before her, there was for Eugenie at the moment a peculiar
temptation. Had she not just given proof that she was set apart--that
for her there could be no more thought of love in its ordinary sense?
In her high-strung consciousness of Welby's dismissal, she felt
herself not only secure against the vulgar snares of vanity and sex,
but, as it were, endowed with a larger spiritual freedom. She had sent
away the man of whom she was in truth afraid--the man whom she might
have loved. But in this distant, hesitating, and yet strong devotion
that Fenwick was beginning to show her, there was something that
appealed--and with peculiar force, in the immediate circumstances,--to
a very sore and lonely heart. Here was no danger to be feared!--nothing
but a little kind help to a man of genius, whose great gifts might be
so easily nullified and undone by his thorny vehemence of character,
his lack of breeding and education.
The correspondence indeed which had arisen between them out of
Fenwick's first remarkable letter to her, had led unconsciously to
a new attitude on the part of Madame de Pastourelles. That he was an
interesting and promising artist she knew; that on subjects connected
with his art he could talk copiously and well, that also, she
knew; but that he could write, with such pleasant life, detail, and
ingenuity, was a surprise, and it attracted her, as it would have
attracted a French-woman of the eighteenth century. Her maimed life
had made her perforce an 'intellectual'; and in these letters, the
man's natural poetry and force stirred her enthusiasm. Hence a new
interest and receptivity in her, quickened by many small and natural
incidents--books lent and discussed, meetings in picture-galleries,
conversations in her father's house, and throughout it that tempting,
dangerous pleasure of 'doing good,' that leads astray so many on whom
Satan has no other hold! She was introducing him every week to new
friends--her friends, the friends she wished him to have; she was
making his social way plain before him; she had made her father buy
his pictures; and she meant to look after his career in the future.
So that, quivering as she still was under the strain of her scene
with Welby--so short, so veiled, and at bottom so tragic!--she showed
herself glitteringly cheerful--almost gay--as she stood talking a
few minutes with her father and Fenwick. The restless happiness in
Fenwick's face and movements gave his visitors indeed so much pleasure
that they found it hard to go; several times they said good-bye, only
to plunge again into the sketches and studies that lay littered
about the room, to stand chatting before the new canvas, to laugh and
gossip--till Lord Findon remembered that Eugenie did not yet know
that he had offered Fenwick five hundred pounds for the two pictures
instead of four hundred and fifty pounds; and that he might have
the prompt satisfaction of telling her that he had bettered her
instructions, he at last dragged her away. On this day of all days,
did he wish to please her!--if it were only in trifles.
When Fenwick was alone, he walked to a chest of drawers in which he
kept a disorderly multitude of possessions, and took out a mingled
handful of letters, photographs, and sketches. Throwing them on a
table, he looked for and found a photograph of Phoebe with Carrie on
her knee, and a little sketch of Phoebe--one of the first ideas for
the 'Genius Loci.' He propped them up against some books, and looked
at them in a passion of triumph.
'It's all right, old woman--it's all right!' he murmured, smiling.
Then he spread out Lord Findon's cheque before the photograph, as
though he offered it at Phoebe's shrine.
Five hundred pounds! Well, it was only what his work was worth--what
he had every right to expect. None the less, the actual possession of
the money seemed to change his whole being. What would his old
father say? He gave a laugh, half-scornful, half-good-humoured, as
he admitted to himself that not even now--probably--would the old man
And Phoebe!--he imagined the happy wonder in her eyes--the rolling
away of all clouds between them. For six weeks now he had been a
veritable brute about letters! First, the strain of his work (and the
final wrestle with the 'Genius Loci,' including the misfortune of
the paints, had really been a terrible affair!)--then--he confessed
it--the intellectual excitement of the correspondence with Madame de
Pastourelles: between these two obsessions, or emotions, poor Phoebe
had fared ill.
'But you'll forgive me now, old girl--won't you?' he said, kissing her
photograph in an effusion that brought the moisture to his eyes. Then
he replaced it, with the sketches, in the drawer, forgetting in his
excitement the letters which lay scattered on the table.
What should he do now? Impossible to settle down to any work! The
North post had gone, but he might telegraph to Phoebe and write
later. Meanwhile he would go over to Chelsea, and see Cuningham and
Watson--repay Watson his debt!--or promise it at least for the morrow,
when he should have had time to cash the cheque--perhaps even--pompous
thought!--to open a banking account.
Suddenly a remembrance of Morrison crossed his mind and he stood a
moment with bent head--sobered--as though a ghost passed through the
room. Must he send a hundred pounds to Mrs. Morrison? He envisaged
it, unwillingly. Already his treasure seemed to be melting away. Time
enough, surely, for that. He and Phoebe had so much to do--to get a
house and furnish it, to pay pressing bills, to provide models for the
new picture! Why, it would be all gone directly!
He locked up the cheque safely, took his hat, and was just running
out when his eye fell on the three-hours' sketch of Madame de
Pastourelles, which had been the foundation of the portrait. He had
recently framed it, but had not yet found a place for it. It stood
on the floor, against the wall. He took it up, looked at it with
delight--by Jove! it was a brilliant thing!--and placing it on a small
easel, he arranged two lamps with moveable shades, which he often used
for drawing in the evening, so as to show it off. There was in him
more than a touch of theatricality, and as he stood back from this
little arrangement to study its effect, he was charmed with his own
fancy. There she queened it, in the centre of the room--his patron
saint, and Phoebe's. He knew well what he owed her--and Phoebe should
soon know. He was in a hurry to be off; but he could not make up his
mind--superstitiously--to put out the lights. So, after lingering a
few moments before her, in this tremor of imagination and of pleasure,
he left her thus, radiant and haloed!--the patron saint in charge.
On his way out he found an anxious landlady upon his path. Mrs. Gibbs
was soon made happy, so far as promises could do it, and in another
minute he was in a hansom speeding westward. It was nearly seven
o'clock on a mild April evening. The streets were full, the shops
still open. As he passed along Oxford Street, monarch it seemed of all
he beheld, his eyes fell on Peter Robinson's windows, glittering with
lights, and gay with spring ribbons, laces, and bright silks. An idea
rushed into his mind. Only the week before, on his first visit to
the new Chelsea quarters whither Cuningham and Watson had betaken
themselves, he had stumbled upon an odd little scene in the still
bare, ungarnished studio. Cuningham, who had been making money with
some rapidity of late, was displaying before the half-sympathetic,
half-sarcastic eyes of Watson, some presents that he was just sending
off to his mother and sisters in Scotland. A white dress, a lace
shawl, some handkerchiefs, a sash, a fan--there they lay, ranged on
brown paper on the studio floor. Cuningham was immensely proud of
them, and had been quite ready to show them to Fenwick also, fingering
their fresh folds, enlarging on their beauties. And Fenwick had
thought sorely of Phoebe as he watched Cuningham turn the pretty
things over. When had he ever been able to give her any feminine
gauds? Always this damned poverty, pressing them down!
But now--by Jove!--
He made the hansom stop, rushed into Peter Robinson's, bought a
dress-length of pink-and-white cotton, a blue sash for Carrie, and a
fichu of Indian muslin and lace. Thrusting his hand into his pocket
for money, he found only a sovereign--pretty nearly his last!--and
some silver. 'That's on account,' he said loftily, giving
the sovereign to the shopman; 'send the things home to-morrow
afternoon--to-morrow _afternoon_, mind--and I'll pay for them on
Then he jumped into his hansom again, and for sheer excitement told
the man to hurry, and he should have an extra shilling. On they sped
down Park Lane. The beds of many-coloured hyacinths in the Park shone
through the cheerful dusk; the street was crowded, and beyond, the
railings, the seats under the trees were full of idlers. There was a
sparkle of flowers in the windows of the Park Lane houses, together
with golden sunset touches on the glass; and pretty faces wrapt in
lace or gauze looked out from the hansoms as they passed him by. Again
the London of the rich laid hold on him; not threateningly this time,
but rather as though a door were opened and a hand beckoned. His own
upward progress had begun; he was no longer jealous of the people who
Dorchester House, Dudley House;--he looked at them with a
good-humoured tolerance. After all, London was pleasant; there
was some recognition of merit; and even something to be said for
Then his picture began to hover before him. It was a big thing;
suppose it took him years? Well, there would be portraits to keep
him alive. Meanwhile it was true enough what he had said to Madame de
Pastourelles. As a _painter_ he had never been properly trained. His
values were uncertain; and he had none of the sureness of method which
men with half his talent had got out of study under a man like, say,
Supposing now, he went to Paris for a year? No, no!--too many of
the Englishmen who went to Paris lost their individuality and became
third-rate Frenchmen. He would puzzle out things for himself--stick to
his own programme and ideas.
English poetic feeling, combined with as much of French technique as
it could assimilate--there was the line of progress. Not the technique
of these clever madmen--Manet, Degas, Monet, and the rest--with the
mean view of life of some, and the hideous surface of others. No!--but
the Barbizon men--and Mother Nature, first and foremost! Beauty too,
beauty of idea and selection--not mere beauty of paint, to which
everything else--line, modelling, construction--was to be vilely
In his exaltation he began an imaginary article denouncing the
Impressionists, spouting it aloud as he went along; so that the
passers-by caught a word or two, through the traffic, now and then,
and turned to look, astonished, at the handsome, gesticulating fellow
in the hansom. Till he stopped abruptly, first to laugh at himself,
and then to chuckle over the thought of Phoebe, and the presents he
had just bought.
* * * * *
Meanwhile, at the very moment, probably, that Fenwick was in Peter
Robinson's shop, an omnibus coming from Euston passed through Russell
Square, and a woman, volubly advised by the conductor, alighted from
it at the corner of Bernard Street. She was very tall and slender; her
dress was dusty and travel-stained, and as she left the omnibus she
drew down a thickly spotted veil over a weary face. She walked quickly
down Bernard Street, looking at the numbers, and stopped before the
door of Fenwick's lodgings.
The door was opened by Mrs. Gibbs, the landlady.
'Is Mr. Fenwick at home?'
'No; he's just this minute gone out. Did you want to see him, Miss?'
The young woman hung back a moment in hesitation. Then she advanced
into the hall.
'I've got a parcel for him'--she showed it under her arm. 'If you'll
allow me, I'll go up, and leave it in his room. It's important.'
'And what name, Miss--if I may ask?'
The visitor hesitated again--then she said, quietly:
'I am Mrs. Fenwick--Mr. Fenwick's wife.'
'His wife!' cried the other, startled. 'Oh no; there is some
mistake--he hasn't got no wife!'
Phoebe drew herself up fiercely.
'You mustn't say such things to me, please! I _am_ Mr. Fenwick's
wife--and you must please show me his rooms.'
The emphasis and the passion with which these words were said left
Mrs. Gibbs gaping. She was a worthy woman, for whom the world--so far
as it could be studied from a Bernard Street lodging-house--had few
surprises; and a number of alternative conjectures ran through her
mind as she studied Phoebe's appearance.
'I'm sure, ma'am, I meant no offence,' she said, hurriedly; 'but, you
see, Mr. Fenwick has never--as you might say--'
'No,' said Phoebe, proudly, interrupting her; 'there was no reason why
he should speak of his private affairs. I have been in the country,
waiting till he could make a home for me. Now will you show me his
But Mrs. Gibbs did not move. She stood staring at Phoebe,
irresolute--thinking, no doubt, of the penny novelettes on which she
fed her leisure moments--till Phoebe impatiently drew a letter from
'I see you doubt what I say. Of course it is quite right that you
should be careful about admitting anybody to my husband's rooms in his
absence. But here is the last letter I received from him a week or two
And, drawing it from its envelope, Phoebe showed first the signature,
'John Fenwick,' and then pointed to the address on the envelope--'Mrs.
John Fenwick, Green Nab Cottage, Great Langdale.'
'Well, I never!' said Mrs. Gibbs, staring still more widely, and
slowly retreating--'and he never lettin' me post a letter since he
came here--not once--no confidence nowhere--and I'm sure I have been
his good friend!'
Phoebe moved towards the staircase.
'Is Mr. Fenwick's room on the first floor or the second?'
Lost in protesting wonder, Mrs. Gibbs wheezily mounted the stairs far
enough to point to the door of Fenwick's room.
'Here's matches'--she fumbled in her apron-pocket. 'There's a candle
on the mantelpiece. Though I dare say he's left his lamp going. He
generally does--he don't take no account of what I says to him about
Phoebe passed on. Mrs. Gibbs called after her:
'So I'm to say "Mrs. Fenwick," am I, madam--when Mr. Fenwick gets
She stood leaning against the banisters, one hand behind her, looking
her visitor up and down with impertinent eyes.
'Certainly,' said Phoebe. Then she put her hand to her head, and said,
in a low, bewildered voice, 'At least, if I'm here--if he comes back
soon--but I can't stay.'
Mrs. Gibbs went downstairs again, consumed with conjecture and
'Wife indeed!--that's what they all say--bound to. But of all the
cool young women! I hope I haven't done no harm, letting her into the
studio. But that letter and all--it was enough to make a jelly of you
things a-turnin' out like this. And me all a-tremblin', and givin'
* * * * *
Phoebe opened the studio door, noticed the bright light with
amazement, and shut the door behind her. She stood there, with her
back to it, sharply arrested, her eyes held by the spectacle before
Close to her, in the centre of the freest portion of the floor, rose
the sketch of Eugenie de Pastourelles, lit by the two lamps, which
threw a concentrated glow upon the picture, and left all the rest of
the room shadowy. Nothing could have been more strange than the aspect
of the drawing, thus solitary, and brightly illuminated. Phoebe looked
at it in bewilderment, then round the littered studio. Beyond
the lamps, she saw the large new canvas, showing dimly the first
'laying-in' of its important subject. On the floor, and running round
the walls, was a thin line of sketches and canvases. The shallow,
semi-circular window at the further end of the room was not yet
curtained, and the branches of the still leafless plane-tree outside
showed darkly in the gathering dusk. The room, apart from its one spot
of light, struck bare and chill. Except for the 'throne' and a few
chairs, it contained scarcely any furniture. But, for Phoebe, it was
held by two presences. Everything around her spoke of John. Here
was his familiar belongings--his clothes that she had mended--his
books--his painting-things. And over John's room--her husband's
room--the woman in the picture held sway.
She slowly approached the drawing, while a sob mounted in her throat.
She was still in the grip of that violent half-hysterical impulse
which had possessed her since the evening of Bella Morrison's visit.
Nights almost sleepless, arrangements made and carried out in a tumult
of excitement, a sense of impending tragedy, accepted, and almost
welcomed, as the end of long weeks of doubt and self-torment, which
had become at last unbearable--into this fatal coil of actions and
impressions, the young wife had been sinking deeper and deeper with
each successive hour. She had neither friend nor adviser. Her father,
a weak inarticulate man, was dying; her stepmother hated her; and
she had long ceased to write to Miss Anna, because it was she who had
urged John to go to London! All sane inference and normal reasoning
were now indeed, and had been for some time, impossible to her.
Fenwick, possessed by the imaginations of his art, had had no
imagination--alack!--to spend upon his wife's case, and those morbid
processes of brain developed in her by solitude, and wounded love,
and mortified vanity. One hour with him!--one hour of love, scolding,
tears--would have saved them both. Alone, she was incapable of the
merest common sense. She came prepared to discover the worst--to find
evidence for all her fears. And for the worst she had elaborately laid
her plans. Only if it should turn out that she had been an unkind,
unreasonable wife, wrongly suspicious of her husband, was she
uncertain what she would do.
With dry, reddened eyes, she stared at the portrait of the woman
who must have stolen John from her. The mere arrangement of the room
seemed to her excited nerves a second outrage;--Mrs. Gibbs's reception
of her and all that it had implied, had been the first. What could
this strange illumination mean but that John's thoughts were taken
up with his sitter in an unusual and unlawful way? For weeks he could
leave his wife without a letter, a word of affection. But before going
out for an hour, he must needs light these lamps and place them so--in
order that this finicking lady should not feel herself deserted, that
he should still seem to be admiring and adoring her!
And after all, was she so pretty? Phoebe looked at the pale and subtle
face, at the hair and eyes so much less brilliant than her own, at the
thin figure, and the repose of the hands. Not pretty at all!--she said
to herself, violently--but selfish, and artful, and full, of course,
of all the tricks and wiles of 'society people.' _Didn't_ she know
that John was married? Phoebe scornfully refused to believe it. Such
women simply didn't care what stood in their way. If they took a
fancy to a man, what did it matter whether he were married or no?
The poor girl stood there, seething with passion, pluming herself on
a knowledge of the world which enabled her to 'see through' these
abominable great ladies.
But if she didn't know, if Bella Morrison's tale were true, then it
was John, on whom Phoebe's rage returned to fling itself with fresh
and maddened bitterness. That he should have thus utterly ignored
her in his new surroundings--have never said a word about her to the
landlady with whom he had lodged for nearly a year, or to any of his
new acquaintances and friends--should have deliberately hidden the
very fact of his marriage--could a husband give a wife any more
humiliating proof of his indifference, or of her insignificance in his
[Illustration: _Phoebe's Rival_]
Meanwhile the picture possessed her more and more. Closer and closer
she came, her chest heaving. Was it not as though John had foreseen
her coming, her complaints--and had prepared for her this silent, this
cruel answer? The big picture of course was gone in to the Academy,
but his wife, if she came, was to see that he could not do without
Madame de Pastourelles. So the sketch, with which he had finished,
really, months ago, was dragged out, and made queen of all it
surveyed, because, no doubt, he was miserable at parting with the
picture. Ingenuity and self-torment grew with what they fed on.
The burning lamps--the solitude--the graceful woman, with her slim,
fine-lady hands--with every moment they became in Phoebe's eyes a more
bitter, a more significant offence. Presently, in her foolish agony,
she did actually believe that he had thought she might descend upon
him, provoked beyond bearing by his silence and neglect, and had
carefully planned this infamous way of telling her--what he wanted her
Waves of unreasoning passion swept across her. The gentleness and
docility of her youth had been perhaps mechanical, half-conscious; she
came in truth of a hard stock, capable of violence. She put her hands
to her face, trembled, and turned away. She began to be afraid of
With a restless hand, as though she caught hold of anything that might
distract her from the picture, she began to rummage among the papers
on the table. Suddenly her attention pounced upon them; she bent her
head, took up some and carried them to the lamp. Five or six large
envelopes, bearing a crest and monogram, addressed in a clear hand,
and containing each a long letter--she found a packet, of these, tied
round with string. Throwing off her hat and veil, she sat down under
the lamp, and, without an instant's demur, began to read.
First, indeed, she turned to the signature--'Eugenie de Pastourelles.'
Why, pray, should Madame de Pastourelles write these long letters to
another woman's husband? The hands which held them shook with anger
and misery. These pages filled with discussion of art and books, which
had seemed to the woman of European culture, and French associations,
so natural to write, which had been written as the harmless and kindly
occupation of an idle hour, with the shades of Madame de Sevigne and
Madame du Deffand standing by, were messengers of terror and despair
to this ignorant and yet sentimental Westmoreland girl. Why should
they be written at all to _her_ John, her own husband? No nice woman
that she had ever known wrote long letters to married men. What could
have been the object of writing these pages and pages about John's
pictures and John's prospects?--affected stuff!--and what was the
meaning of these appointments to see pictures, these invitations to
St. James's Square, these thanks 'for the kind and charming things you
say'--above all, of the constant and crying omission, throughout these
delicately written sheets, of any mention whatever of Fenwick's wife
and child? But of course for the two correspondents whom these letters
implied, such dull, stupid creatures did not exist.
Ah! but wait a moment. Her eye caught a sentence--then fastened
greedily on the following passage:
'I hardly like to repeat what I said the other day--you will think
me a very intrusive person!--but when you talk of melancholy and
loneliness, of feeling the strain of competition, and the nervous
burden of work, so that you are sometimes tempted to give it up
altogether, I can't help repeating that some day a wife will save you
from all this. I have seen so much of artists!--they of all men
should marry. It is quite a delusion to suppose that art--whatever
art means--is enough for them, or for anybody. Imagination is the most
exhausting of all professions!--and if we women are good for nothing
else we _can_ be cushions--we can "stop a chink and keep the wind
away." So pay no attention, please, to my father's diatribes. You will
very soon be prosperous--sooner perhaps than you think. A _home_ is
what you want.'
Kind and simple sentences!--written so innocently and interpreted
so perversely! And yet the fierce and blind bewilderment with which
Phoebe read or misread them was natural enough. She never doubted for
a moment but that the bad woman who wrote them meant to offer herself
to John. She was separated from her husband, John had said, declaring
of course that it was not her fault. As if any one could be sure
of that! But, at any rate, if she were separated, she might be
divorced--some time. And then--_then_!--_she_ would be so obliging as
to make a 'cushion,' and a home, for Phoebe Fenwick's husband! As to
his not being grand enough for her, that was all nonsense. When a man
was as clever as John, he was anybodies equal--one saw that every day.
No, this creature would make people buy his pictures--she would push
him on--and after a while--
With a morbid and devastating rapidity, a whole scheme, by which the
woman before her might possess herself of John, unfolded itself in
Phoebe's furious mind.
Yet, surely, it would only want one word from her--from her, his
She felt herself trembling. Her limbs began to sink under her. She
dropped upon a chair, sobbing. What was the use of fighting, of
protesting? John had forgotten her--John's heart had grown cold to
her. She might dismay and trample on her rival--how would that give
her back her husband?
Oh, how could he, how _could_ he have treated her so! 'I know I
was ill-tempered and cross, John,--I couldn't write letters like
that--but I did, _did_ love you--you know, you know--I did!'
It seemed as though she twined her arms round him, and he sat rigid as
a stone, with a hard, contemptuous mouth. A lonely agony, a blackness
of despair, seized on Phoebe, as she crouched there, the letters on
her lap, her hands hanging, her beautiful eyes, blurred with tears and
sleeplessness, fixed on the picture. What she felt was absurd; but how
many tragedies--aye, the deepest--are at bottom ridiculous! She had
lost him; he cared no more for her; he had passed into another world
out of her ken; and what was to become of her?
She started up, goaded by a blind instinct of revenge, seizing she
scarcely knew what. On the table lay a palette, laden with some dark
pigment with which Fenwick had just been sketching in part of his new
picture. In a pot beside it were brushes.
She caught up a large brush, dipped it in the paint, and going to
the picture--panting and crimson--she daubed it from top to bottom,
blotting out the eyes, the mouth, the beautiful outline of the
head--above all, the hands, whose delicate whiteness specially enraged
When the work of wreck was done, she stood a moment gazing at it.
Then, violently, she looked for writing-paper. She could see none:
but there was an unused half-sheet at the back of one of Madame de
Pastourelles' letters, and she roughly tore it off. Making use of a
book held on her knee, and finding the pen and ink with which, only
half an hour before, Lord Findon had written his cheque, she began to
Good-bye, John,--I have found out all I want to know, and you will
never see me again. I will never be a burden on a man who is ashamed
of me, and has behaved as though I were dead. It is no good wasting
words--you know it's true. Perhaps you may think I have no right to
take Carrie. But I can't be alone--and, after all, she is more mine
than yours. Don't trouble about me. I have some money, and I mean to
support myself and Carrie. It was only last night this idea came to
me, though it was the night before that--Never mind--I can't write
about it, it would take too long, and it doesn't really matter to
either of us. I don't want you to find me here; you might persuade me
to come back to you, and I know it would be for the misery of both of
us. What was I saying?--oh, the money--Well, last night, a cousin of
mine, from Keswick, perhaps you remember him--Freddie Tolson--came
to see me. Father sent him. You didn't believe what I told you about
father--you thought I was making up. You'll be sorry, I think, when
you read this, for by now, most likely, father has passed away.
Freddie told me the doctor had given him up, and he was very near
going. But he sent Freddie to me, with some money he had really left
me in his will--only he was afraid Mrs. Gibson would get hold of it,
and never let me have it. So he sent it by hand, with his love and
blessing--and Freddie was to say he was sorry you had left me so long,
and he didn't think it was a right thing for a man to do. Never mind
how much it was. It's my very own, and I'm glad it comes from my
father, and not from you. I have my embroidery money too, and I shall
be all right--though very, very miserable. The idea of what I would do
came into my head while I was talking with Freddie--and since I came
into this room, I have made up my mind. I'm sorry I can't set you free
altogether. There's Carrie to think of, and I must live for her sake.
But at any rate you won't have to look after me, or to feel that I'm
disgracing you with the smart people who have taken you up--
Don't look for us, for you will never, never find us.
Good-bye, John. Do you remember that night in the ghyll, and all the
things we said?
I've spoiled your sketch--I couldn't help it--and I'm not sorry--not
yet, anyway. She has everything in the world, and I had nothing--but
you. Why did you leave the lamps?--just to mock at me?
Good-bye. I have left my wedding-ring on this paper. You'll know I
couldn't do that, if I ever meant to come back!
She rose, and moved a small table in front of the ruined picture.
On it she placed, first, the parcel she had brought with her, which
contained papers and small personal possessions belonging to her
husband; in front of the packet she laid the five letters of Madame de
Pastourelles, her own letter in an envelope addressed to him, and upon
it her ring.
Then she put on her hat and veil, tying the veil closely round her
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