Mrs. Humphry Ward
Part 4 out of 6
face, and, with one last look round the room, she crept to the door
and unlocked it. So quietly did she descend the stairs that Mrs.
Gibbs, who was listening sharply, with the kitchen door open, for any
sound of her departure, heard nothing. The outer door opened and shut
without the smallest noise, and the slender, veiled figure was quickly
lost in the darkness and the traffic of the street.
AFTER TWELVE YEARS
'Our acts our angels are, or good or ill,
Our fatal shadows that walk by us still.'
'Quand vous arriverez au troisieme, monsieur, montez, montez toujours!
Vous trouverez un petit escalier tournant, en bois. Ca vous conduira a
Thus advised by the wife of the concierge, Fenwick crossed the
courtyard of an old house in the Rue du Bac, looked up a moment at the
sober and distinguished charm of its architecture, at the corniced,
many-paned windows, so solidly framed and plentifully lined in white,
upon the stone walls, and the high roof, with its lucarne windows just
touched with classical decoration; each line and tint contributing
to a seemly, restrained whole, as of something much worn by time, yet
merely enhanced thereby, something deliberately built, moreover, to
stand the years, and abide the judgement of posterity. The house in
Saint-Simon's day had belonged to one of those newly ennobled dukes,
his contemporaries and would-be brethren, whose monstrous claims to
rank with himself and the other real magnificences among the _ducs
et pairs de France_ drove him to distraction. It was now let out to a
multitude of families, who began downstairs in affluence and ended
in the genteel or artistic penury of the garrets. The first floor was
occupied by a deputy and ex-minister, one of the leaders of the Centre
Gauche--in the garrets it was possible for a _rapin_ to find a bedroom
at sixteen francs a month. But it was needful that he should be
a seemly _rapin_, orderly and quietly ambitious, like the house,
otherwise he would not have been long suffered within its tranquil and
Fenwick climbed and climbed, discovered the little wooden staircase,
and still climbed. At the very top he found a long and narrow
corridor, along which he groped in darkness. Suddenly, at the end, a
door opened, and a figure appeared on the threshold.
'Fenwick!--that you? All right!--no steps! The floor was left _au
naturel_ about 1680--but you won't come to grief.'
Fenwick arrived at the open door, and Dick Watson drew him into the
large studio beyond. Fenwick looked round him in astonishment. The
room was a huge _grenier_ in the roof of the old house, roughly
adapted to the purposes of a studio. A large window to the north had
been put in, and the walls had been rudely plastered. But all the
blasts of heaven seemed still to blow through them, and through the
chinks or under the eaves of the roof; while in the middle of the
floor a pool of water, the remains of a recent heavy shower, testified
to the ease with which the weather could enter if it chose.
'I say'--said Fenwick, pointing to the water--'can you stand this kind
'Not in this weather. I'm off next week. In the summer it's pleasant
enough. Well, it's deuced lucky I caught sight of you at that show
yesterday! How are you? I believe it's nearly two years since we met
'I'm all right,' said Fenwick, accepting a shaky seat and a cigarette.
Watson lighted a fresh one for himself, and then with arms akimbo
surveyed his visitor.
'I've seen you look better. What's the matter? Have you been working
through the summer in London?'
'I'm all right,' Fenwick repeated; then, with a little grimace--'or
I should be, if I could pay my way, and paint the things I want to
He looked up.
'Well, why don't you?'
'Because--somehow--one has to live.'
Watson climbed on to his high stool, still observing his visitor.
For a good many years now, Fenwick had been always well and carefully
dressed--an evident Londoner, accustomed to drawing-rooms and
frequenting expensive tailors. But to-day there was something in his
tired, dishevelled look, and comparatively shabby coat, which reminded
Watson of years long gone by--of a studio in Bernard Street, and a
broad-browed, handsome fellow, with queer manners and a North-Country
accent. As to good looks, Fenwick's face and head were now far finer
than they had been in first youth; Watson's critical eye took note of
it. The hair, touched lightly with grey, had receded slightly on the
temples, and the more ample brow, heavily lined, gave a nobler
shelter than of old to the still astonishing vivacity of the eyes.
The carriage of the head, too, was prouder and more assured. Fenwick,
indeed, as far as years went, was, as Watson knew, in the very prime
of life. Nevertheless, there was in his aspect, as he sat there, a
prophetic note of discouragement, of ebbing vitality which startled
'I say,' said Watson, abruptly, 'you've been over-doing it. Have you
made it up with the Academy?'
'Where have you been exhibiting this year?'
'At the gallery I always take. And I sent some things to the
Watson shook his head.
'It's an awful pity. You'd got in--you should have stayed in--and made
yourself a power.'
Fenwick's attitude stiffened.
'I have never regretted it for a single hour--except that the scene
itself was ridiculous.'
Watson knew very well to what he referred. Some two years before,
it had been the nine days wonder of artistic London. Fenwick, then a
newly elected Associate of the Academy, and at what seemed to be the
height of his first success as an artist, had sent in a picture to
the Spring Exhibition which appeared to the Hanging Committee of
the moment a perfunctory thing. They gave it a bad place, and an
Academician told Fenwick what had happened. He rushed to Burlington
House, tore down his picture from the wall, stormed at the astonished
members of the Hanging Committee, carried off his property, and vowed
that he would resign his Associateship. He was indeed called upon to
do so; and he signalised his withdrawal by a furious letter to the
_Times_ in which the rancours, grievances, and contempts of ten
chequered and ambitious years found full and rhetorical expression.
The letter naturally made a breach between the writer and England's
official art. Watson, who was abroad when the whole thing happened,
had heard of it with mingled feelings. 'It will either make him--or
finish him!' was his own judgement, founded on a fairly exhaustive
knowledge of John Fenwick; and he had waited anxiously for results.
So far no details had reached him since. Fenwick seemed to be still
exhibiting, still writing to the papers, and, as far as he knew, still
selling. But the aspect of the man before him was not an aspect of
Watson, however, having started a subject which he well knew to be
interminable, would instantly have liked to escape from it. He was
himself nervous, critical, and easily bored. He did not know what he
should do with Fenwick's outpourings when he had listened to them.
But Fenwick had come over--charged--and Watson had touched the spring.
He sat there, smoking and declaiming, his eyes blazing, one hand
playing with Watson's favourite dog, an Aberdeen terrier who was
softly smelling and pushing against him. All that litany of mockery
and bitterness, which the Comic Spirit kindles afresh on the lips of
each rising generation, only to quench it again on the lips of those
who 'arrive,' flowed from him copiously. He was the age indeed for
'arrival,' when, as so often happens, the man of middle life, appeased
by success, dismisses the revolts of his youth. But this was still the
language--and the fierce language--of revolt! The decadence of English
art and artists, the miserable commercialism of the Academy, the
absence of any first-rate teaching, of any commanding traditions, of
any 'school' worth the name--the vulgarity of the public, from royalty
downward, the snobbery of the rich world in its dealings with art:
all these jeremiads which he recited were much the same--_mutatis
mutandis_--as those with which, half a century before, poor Benjamin
Haydon had filled the 'autobiography' which is one of the capital
'documents' of the artistic life. This very resemblance, indeed,
occurred to Watson.
'Upon my word,' he said, with a queer smile, 'you remind me of
Fenwick started; with an impatient movement he pushed away the dog,
'Oh, come--I hope it's not as bad as that,' he said, roughly.
Watson sharply regretted his remark. Through the minds of both there
passed the same image of Haydon lying dead by his own hand beneath the
vast pictures that no one would buy.
'Why you talk like this, I'm sure I don't know,' Watson said, with an
impatient laugh. 'I'm always seeing your name in the papers. You have
a great reputation, and I don't expect the Academy matters to your
Fenwick shook his head. 'I haven't sold a picture for more than a
year--except a beastly portrait--one of the worst things I ever did.'
'That's bad,' said Watson. 'Of course that's my state--perennially!
But you're not used to it.'
Fenwick said nothing, and the delicate sensibility of the other
instantly divined that, friends as they were, the comparison with
himself had not been at all welcome to his companion. And, indeed, at
the time when Watson left England to begin the wandering life he had
been leading for some three years, it would have been nothing less
than grotesque. Fenwick was then triumphant, in what, it was supposed,
would be his 'first period'--that 'young man's success,' brilliant,
contested, noisy, from which, indeed, many roads lead, to many goals;
but with him, at that time, the omens were of the best. His pictures
were always among the events of the spring exhibitions; he had
gathered round him a group of enthusiastic pupils who worked in the
studio of the new house; and he had already received a good many
honours at the hands of foreign juries. He was known to be on the
threshold of the Academy, and to be making, besides, a good deal
of money. 'Society' had first admitted him as the _protege_ of Lord
Findon and the friend of Madame de Pastourelles, and was now ready to
amuse itself with him, independently, as a genius and an 'eccentric.'
He had many enemies; but so have all 'fighters.' The critics spoke
severely of certain radical defects in his work, due to insufficiency
of early training; defects which time might correct--or stereotype.
But the critics 'must be talking'; and the public, under the spell of
a new and daring talent, appeared to take no notice.
As these recollections passed through Watson's mind, another
expression showed itself in the hollow-cheeked, massive face. It was
the look of the visionary who sees in events the strange verification
of obscure instincts and divinations in which he himself perhaps
has only half-believed. He and Fenwick had been friends now--in some
respects, close friends--for a good many years. Of late, they had
met rarely, and neither of the men was a good correspondent. But the
friendship, the strong sense of congruity and liking, persisted. It
had sprung, originally--unexpectedly enough--from that loan made to
Fenwick in his days of stress and poverty; and there were many who
prophesied that it would come to an end with Fenwick's success.
Watson had no interest in and small tolerance for the prosperous. His
connexion with Cuningham, in spite of occasional letters, had dropped
long ago, ever since that clever Scotch painter had shown himself
finally possessed of the usual Scotch power to capture London and a
competence. But his liking for Fenwick had never wavered through all
the blare of Fenwick's success.
Was it that the older man with his melancholy Celtic instinct had
divined from the first that he and Fenwick were in truth of the same
race--the race of the [Greek: dusammoroi]--the ill-fated--those for
whom happiness is not written in the stars?
He sat staring at his companion, his eyes dreamily intent, taking
note of the restless depression of the man before him, and of the
disagreeable facts which emerged from his talk--declining reputation,
money difficulties, and--last and most serious--a new doubt of himself
and his powers, which Watson never remembered to have noticed in him
'But you must have made a great deal of money!' he said to him once,
Fenwick turned away uneasily.
'So I did. But there was the new house and studio. I have been trying
to sell the house. But it's a white elephant.'
'Building's the deuce,' said Watson, gloomily. 'It ruins everybody
from Louis Quatorze and Walter Scott downward. Have no barns--that's
my principle--and then you can't pull 'em down and build greater! But,
you know, it's all great nonsense, your talking like this! You're as
clever as ever--cleverer. You've only got to _paint_--and it'll be
all right. But, of course, if you will spend all your time in writing
letters to the papers, and pamphlets, and that kind of thing--well!--'
He shrugged his shoulders.
Fenwick took the remark good-temperedly. 'I've finished three large
pictures in eight months--if only somebody would buy 'em. And I'm in
Paris now'--he hesitated a moment--'on a painting job. I've promised
C----' (he named a well-known actor-manager in London) 'to help
him with the production of a new play! I never did such a thing
He looked up uncertainly, his colour rising.
'What?--scenery for _The Queen's Necklace?_ I've seen the puffs in the
papers. Why not? Hope he pays well. Then you're going to Versailles,
Fenwick replied that he had taken some rooms at the Hotel des
Reservoirs and must make some sketches in the palace; also in the
park, and the Trianon garden. Then he rose abruptly.
'Well, and what have you been after?'
'The same old _machines_,' said Watson, tranquilly, pointing to a
couple of large canvases. 'My subjects are no gayer than they used to
be. Except that--ah, yes--I forgot--I had a return upon myself this
spring--and set to work on some Bacchantes.' He stopped, and picked up
a canvas which was standing with its face to the wall.
It represented a dance of Bacchantes. Fenwick looked at it in silence.
Watson replaced it with a patient sigh. 'Theophile Gautier said
of some other fellow's Bacchantes that they had got drunk on
"philosophical" wine. He might, I fear, have said it of mine. Anyway,
I felt I was not made for Bacchantes--so I fell back on the usual
And he showed an 'Execution of a Witch'--filled with gruesome and
poignant detail--excellent in some of its ideas and single figures,
but as a whole crude, horrible, and weak.
'I don't improve,' he said, abruptly, turning away--'but it keeps me
contented--that and my animals. Anatole!--_vaurien_!--_ou es-tu_?'
A small monkey, in a red jacket, who had been sitting unnoticed on
the top of a cabinet since Fenwick's entrance, clattered down to the
floor, and, running to his master, was soon sitting on his shoulder,
staring at Fenwick with a pair of grave, soft eyes. Watson caressed
him;--and then pointed to a wicker cage outside the window in which a
pigeon was pecking at some Indian-corn. The cage door was wide open.
'She comes to feed here by day. In the morning I wake up and hear her
there--the darling! In the evening she spreads her wings, and I watch
her fly toward Saint-Cloud. No doubt the jade keeps a family there.
Oh! some day she'll go--like the rest of them--and I shall miss her
'You seem also to be favoured by mice?' said Fenwick, idly looking at
two traps on the floor beside him.
'My _femme de service_ sets those traps every night. She says we are
overrun--the greatest nonsense! As if there wasn't enough for all of
us! Then in the night--I sleep there, you see, behind that screen--I
wake, and hear some little fool squeaking. So I get up, and take the
trap downstairs in the dark--right away down--to the first floor. And
there I let the mouse go--those folk down there are rich enough to
keep him. The only drawback is that my old woman is so cross in the
morning, and she spends her life thinking of new traps. _Ah, ben!--Je
la laisse faire!_'
'And this place suits you?'
'Admirably--till the cold comes. Then I march. I must have the sun.'
He shivered again. Fenwick, struck by something in his tone, looked at
him more closely.
'How are you, by the way?' he asked, repentantly, 'I ought to have
inquired before. You mentioned consulting some big man here. What did
he say to you?'
'Oh, that I am phthisical, and must take care,' said Watson,
carelessly--'that's no news. Ah! by the way'--he hurried the change of
subject--'you know, of course, that Lord Findon and madame are to be
'They will be there to-night,' said Fenwick, after a moment.
'Ah! to-night. Then you meet them?'
'I shall see them, of course.'
'What a blessed thing to be rid of that fellow!--What's she been doing
Fenwick replied that since the death of her husband--about a year
before this date--Madame de Pastourelles, worn out with nursing, had
been pursuing health--in Egypt and elsewhere. Her father, stepmother,
and sister had been travelling with her. The sister and she were to
stay at Versailles till Christmas. It was a place for which Madame de
Pastourelles had an old affection.
'And I suppose you know that you will find the Welbys there too?'
Fenwick made a startled movement.
'The _Welbys_? How did you hear that?'
'I had my usual half-yearly letter from Cuningham yesterday. He's
the fellow for telling you the news. Welby has begun a big picture of
Marie Antoinette, at Trianon, and has taken a studio in Versailles for
Fenwick turned away and began to pace the bare floor of the studio.
'I didn't know,' he said, evidently discomposed.
'By the way, I have often meant to ask you. I trust he wasn't mixed
up in the "hanging" affair?' said Watson, with a quick look at his
'He was ill the day it was done, but in my opinion he behaved in an
extremely mean and ungenerous manner afterwards!' exclaimed Fenwick,
suddenly flushing from brow to chin.
'You mean he didn't support you?'
'He shilly-shallied. He thought--I have very good reason to
believe--that I had been badly treated--that there was personal
feeling in the matter--resentment of things that I had written--and so
on but he would never come out into the open and say so!'
The excitement with which Fenwick spoke made it evident that Watson
had touched an extremely sore point.
Watson was silent a little, lit another cigarette, and then said, with
'Poor Madame de Pastourelles!'
Fenwick looked up with irritation.
'What on earth do you mean?'
'I am wondering how she kept the peace between you--her two great
'She sees very little of Welby.'
'Ah! Since when?'
'Oh! for a long time. Of course they meet occasionally--'
A big, kindly smile flickered over Watson's face.
'What--was little Madame Welby jealous?'
'She would be a great goose if she were,' said Fenwick, turning aside
to look through some sketches that lay on a chair beside him.
Watson shook his head, still smiling, then remarked:
'By the way, I understand she has become quite an invalid.'
'Has she?' said Fenwick. 'I know nothing of them.'
Watson began to talk of other things. But as he and Fenwick discussed
the pictures on the easels, or Fenwick's own projects, as they talked
of Manet, and Zola's 'L'Oeuvre,' and the Goncourts, as they compared
the state of painting in London and Paris, employing all the latest
phrases, both of them astonishingly well informed as to men and
tendencies--Watson as an outsider, Fenwick as a passionate partisan,
loathing the Impressionists, denouncing a show of Manet and Renoir
recently opened at a Paris dealer's--Watson's inner mind was really
full of Madame de Pastourelles, and that _salon_ of hers in the
old Westminster house in Dean's Yard, of which during so many years
Fenwick had made one of the principal figures. It should perhaps
be explained that some two years after Fenwick's arrival in London,
Madame de Pastourelles had thought it best to establish a little
_menage_ of her own, distinct from the household in St. James's
Square. Her friends and her stepmother's were not always congenial to
each other; and in many ways both Lord Findon and she were the happier
for the change. Her small panelled rooms had quickly become the
meeting-place of a remarkable and attractive society. Watson himself,
indeed, had never been an _habitue_ of that or any other drawing-room.
As he had told Lord Findon long ago, he was not for the world, nor the
world for him. But whereas his volatile lordship could never draw him
from his cell, Lord Findon's daughter was sometimes irresistible, and
Watson's great shaggy head and ungainly person was occasionally to
be seen beside her fire, in the years before he left London. He had,
therefore, been a spectator of Fenwick's gradual transformation at the
hands of a charming woman; he had marked the stages of the process;
and he knew well that it had never excited a shadow of scandal in the
minds of any reasonable being. All the same, the deep store of hidden
sentiment which this queer idealist possessed had been touched by
the position. The young woman isolated and childless, so charming,
so nobly sincere, so full of heart--was she to be always Ariadne,
and forsaken? The man--excitable, nervous, selfish, yet, in truth,
affectionate and dependent--what folly, or what chivalry kept him
unmarried? Ever since the death of M. le Comte de Pastourelles, dreams
concerning these two people had been stirring in the brain of Watson,
and these dreams spoke now in the dark eyes he bent on Fenwick.
Presently, Fenwick began to talk gloomily of the death of his old
Bernard Street landlady, who had become his housekeeper and factotum
in the new Chelsea house and studio, which he had built for himself.
'I don't know what I shall do without her. For eleven years I've never
paid a bill or engaged a servant for myself. She's done everything.
Every morning she used to give me my pocket-money for the day.'
'The remedy, after all, is simple,' said Watson, with a sudden turn of
Fenwick raised his eyebrows interrogatively.
'I imagine that what Mrs. Gibbs did well, "Mrs. Fenwick" might do even
Fenwick sprang up.
'Mrs.--?' he repeated, vaguely.
He stood a moment bending over Watson--his eyes staring, his mouth
open. Then he controlled himself.
'You talk as though she were round the corner,' he said, turning away
and buttoning his coat afresh. 'But please understand, my dear fellow,
that she is not round the corner, nor likely to be.'
He spoke with a hard emphasis, smiling, and slapping the breast of his
Watson looked at him and said no more.
Fenwick walked rapidly along the Quai Voltaire, crossed the Pont Neuf,
and found himself inside the enclosure of the Louvre. Twenty minutes
to four. Some impulse, born of the seething thoughts within, took him
to the door of the Musee. He mounted rapidly, and found himself in the
large room devoted to the modern French school.
He went straight to two pictures by Hippolyte Flandrin--'Madame Vinet'
and 'Portrait de Jeune Fille.' When, in the first year of his London
life, he had made his hurried visits to Paris, these pictures, then in
the Luxembourg, had been among those which had most vitally affected
him. The beautiful surface and keeping which connected them with
the old tradition, together with the modern spirit, the trenchant
simplicity of their portraiture, had sent him back--eager and
palpitating--to his own work on the picture of Madame de Pastourelles,
or on the last stages of the 'Genius Loci.'
He looked into them now, sharply, intently, his heart beating to
suffocation under the stress of that startling phrase of Watson's.
Still tremulous--as one in flight--he made himself recognise certain
details of drawing and modelling in 'Madame Vinet' which had given him
hints for the improvement of the portrait of Phoebe; and, again,
the ease with which the head moves on its shoulders, its relief, its
refinement--how he had toiled to rival them in his picture of Madame
Eugenie!--translating as he best could the cold and disagreeable
colour of the Ingres school into the richer and more romantic handling
of an art influenced by Watts and Burne-Jones!
Then he passed on to the young girl's portrait--the girl in white
muslin, turning away her graceful head from the spectator, and showing
thereby the delicacy of her profile, the wealth of her brown hair, the
beauty of her young and virginal form. Suddenly, his eyes clouded;
he turned abruptly away, left the room without looking at another
picture, and was soon hurrying through the crowded streets northward
towards the Gare Saint-Lazare.
Carrie!--his child!--his own flesh and blood. His heart cried out for
her. Watson's _brusquerie_--the young girl of the picture--and his
own bitter and disappointed temper--they had all their share in the
emotion which possessed him.
The child whom he remembered, with her mother's eyes, and that light
mutinous charm, which was not Phoebe's--why, she was now seventeen!--a
little younger--only a little younger, than the girl of the portrait.
His longing fancy pursued her--saw her a wild, pretty, laughing thing,
nearly a woman--and then fell back passionately on a more familiar
image!--of the baby at his knee, open-mouthed, her pink lips rounded
for the tidbit just about to descend upon them, her sweet and
sparkling eyes fixed upon her father.
'My God!--where are they?--are they alive, or dead? How
cruel--_cruel_!' And he ground his teeth in one of those paroxysms
which every now and then, at long intervals, represented the return
upon him of the indestructible past. Often for months together it
meant little or nothing to him, but the dull weight of his secret;
twelve years had inevitably deadened feeling, and filled the mind with
fresh interests, while of late the tumult of his Academy and Press
campaign had silenced the stealing, distant voices. Yet there were
moments when all was as fresh and poignant as it had been in the first
hours, when Phoebe, with her golden head and her light, springing
step, seemed to move beside him, and he felt the drag of a small hand
He stiffened himself--like one attacked. The ghosts of dead hours came
trooping and eddying round him, like the autumn leaves that had begun
to strew the Paris streets--all the scenes of that first ghastly week
when he had hunted in desperation for his lost wife and child. His
joyous return from Chelsea, on the evening of his good-fortune--Mrs.
Gibbs's half-sulky message on the door-step that 'Mrs. Fenwick' was
in the studio--his wild rush upstairs--the empty room, the letter, the
ring:--his hurried journey North--the arrival at the Langdale cottage,
only to find on the table of the deserted parlour another letter from
Phoebe, written before she left Westmoreland, in the prevision that
he would come there in search of a clue, and urging him for both their
sakes to make no scandal, no hue and cry, to accept the inevitable,
and let her go in peace--his interview with the servant Daisy, who had
waited with the child in an hotel close to Euston, while Phoebe went
to Bernard Street, and had been sent back to the North immediately
after Phoebe's return, without the smallest indication of what
her mistress meant to do--his fruitless consultations with Anna
Mason!--the whole dismal story rose before him, as it was wont to do
periodically, filling him with the same rage, the same grief, the same
fierce and inextinguishable resentment.
Phoebe had destroyed his life. She had not only robbed him of herself
and of their child, she had forced him into an acted lie which had
poisoned his whole existence, and, first and foremost, that gracious
and beautiful friendship which was all, save his art, that she had
left him. For, in the first moments of his despair and horror, he had
remembered what it would mean to Madame de Pastourelles, did she ever
know that his mad wife had left him out of jealousy of her. He was
not slow to imagine the effect of Phoebe's action on that proud, pure
nature and sensitive conscience; and he knew what she and her
father must feel towards the deception which had led her into such a
position, and made such a tragedy possible. He foresaw her recoil, her
bitter condemnation, the final ruin of the relation between himself
and her; and yet more than these did he dread her pain, her causeless,
innocent pain. To stab the hand which had helped him, the heart which
had already suffered so much, in the very first hours of his own shock
and misery, he had shrunk from this, he had tried his best to protect
Madame de Pastourelles.
Hence the compact with his landlady, by which he had in fact bribed
her to silence, and transformed her into a devoted servant always
under his eye; hence the various means by which he had found it
possible to quiet the members of his own family and of Phoebe's--needy
folk, most of them, cannily unwilling to make an enemy of a man who
was likely, so they understood, to be rich, and who already showed a
helpful disposition. When once he had convinced himself that he had
no clue, and that Phoebe had disappeared, it had not been difficult
indeed to keep his secret, and to hide the traces of his own
wrong-doing, his own share in the catastrophe. Between Phoebe's world
and the world in which he was now to live, there were few or no links.
Bella Morrison might have supplied one. But she and her mother
had moved to Guernsey, and a year after Phoebe's flight Fenwick
ascertained that old Mrs. Morrison was dead, and that Bella had gone
to South America as companion to a lady.
So in an incredibly short time the crisis was over. The last phase was
connected with the cousin--Freddy Tolson--who had visited Phoebe the
night before her journey to London, and was now in New South Wales.
A letter from Fenwick to this young man, containing a number of
questions as to his conversation with Phoebe, and written immediately
after Phoebe's flight, obtained an answer after some three or four
months, but Tolson's reply was wholly unprofitable. He merely avowed
that he had discovered nothing at all of Phoebe's intention, and
could throw no light whatever upon her disappearance. The letter
was laboriously written by a man of imperfect education, and barely
covered three loosely written sides of ordinary note-paper. It arrived
when Fenwick's own researches were already at a standstill, and seemed
to leave nothing more to hope for. The police inquiries which had been
initiated went on intermittently for a while, then ceased; the waters
of life closed over Phoebe Fenwick and her child.
What was Fenwick's present feeling towards his wife? If amid this
crowded Paris he had at last beheld her coming to him, had seen the
tall figure and the childish look, and the lovely, pleading eyes,
would his heart have leapt within him?--would his hands have been
outstretched to enfold and pardon her?--or would he have looked at her
sombrely, unable to pass the gulf between them--to forget what she had
In truth, he could not have answered the question; he was uncertain
of himself. Her act, by its independence, its force of will, and the
ability she had shown in planning and carrying it out, had transformed
his whole conception of her. In a sense, he knew her no longer. That
she could do a thing at once so violent and so final, was so wholly
out of keeping with all his memories of her, that he could only think
of the woman who had come in his absence to the Bernard Street studio,
and defaced the sketch of Madame de Pastourelles, as in some sort a
stranger--one whom, were she to step back into his life, he would
have had to learn afresh. Sometimes, when anything reminded him of her
suddenly--as, for instance, the vision in a shop-window of the very
popular mezzotint which had been made from the 'Genius Loci' the year
after its success in the Academy--the pang from which he suffered
would seem to show that he still loved her, as indeed he had always
loved her, through all the careless selfishness of his behaviour. But,
again, there were many months when she dropped altogether--or seemed
to drop--out of his mind and memory, when he was entirely absorbed in
the only interests she had left him--his art, his quarrels, and his
relation to Eugenie de Pastourelles.
There was a time, indeed--some two or three years after the
catastrophe--when he passed through a stage of mental and moral
tumult, natural to a man of strong passions and physique. Even in
their first married life, Phoebe had been sometimes jealous, and with
reason. It was her memory of these occasions that had predisposed her
to the mad suspicion which wrecked her. And when she had deserted him,
he came violently near, on one or two occasions, to things base and
irreparable. But he was saved--first by the unconscious influence, the
mere trust, of a good woman--and, secondly, by his keen and advancing
intelligence. Dread lest he should cast himself out of Eugenie's
delightful presence; and the fighting life of the mind: it was by
these he was rescued, by these he ultimately conquered.
And yet, was it, perhaps, his bitterest grievance against his wife
that she had, in truth, left him _nothing_!--not even friendship, not
even art. In so wrenching herself from him, she had perpetuated in
him that excitable and unstable temper it should have been her first
object to allay, and had thus injured and maimed his artistic power;
while at the same time she had so troubled, so falsified his whole
attitude towards the woman who on his wife's disappearance from his
life had become naturally and insensibly his dearest friend, that
not even the charm of Madame de Pastourelles' society, of her
true, delicate, and faithful affection, could give him any lasting
happiness. He himself had begun the falsification, but it was Phoebe's
act which had prolonged and compelled it, through twelve years.
For a long time, indeed, his success as an artist steadily developed.
The very energy of his resentment--his inner denunciation--of his
wife's flight, the very force of his fierce refusal to admit that he
had given her the smallest real justification for such a step, had
quickened in him for a time all the springs of life. Through his
painting, as we have seen, he wrestled out his first battles with
fate and with temptation; and those early years were the years of
his artistic triumph, as they were also the years of Madame de
Pastourelles' strongest influence upon him. But the concealment on
which his life was based, the tragedy at the heart of it, worked
like 'a worm i' the bud.' The first check to his artistic career--the
'hanging' incident and its sequel--produced an effect of shock
and disintegration out of all proportion to its apparent
cause--inexplicable indeed to the spectators.
Madame de Pastourelles wondered, and sorrowed. But she could do
nothing to arrest the explosion of egotism, arrogance, and passion
which Fenwick allowed himself, after his breach with the Academy. The
obscure causes of it were hidden from her; she could only pity and
grieve; and Fenwick, unable to satisfy her, unable to re-establish his
own equilibrium, full of remorse towards her, and of despair about his
art, whereof the best forces and inspirations seemed to have withered
within him like a gourd in the night, went from one folly to another,
while his pictures steadily deteriorated, his affairs became involved,
and a shrewd observer like Lord Findon wondered who or what the deuce
had got hold of him--whether he had begun to take morphia--or had
fallen into the clutches of a woman.
In the midst of these developments, so astonishing and disappointing
to Fenwick's best friends, Eugenie de Pastourelles was suddenly
summoned to the death-bed of the husband from whom she had been
separated for nearly fifteen years. It was now nearly twelve months
since Fenwick had seen her; and it was his eagerness to meet her
again, much more than the necessities of his new commission, which
had brought him out post-haste to Paris and Versailles, where, indeed,
Lord Findon, in a kind letter, had suggested that he should join them.
* * * * *
Amid these memories and agitations, he found himself presently at
the Gare Saint-Lazare, taking his ticket at the _guichet_. It was
characteristic of him that he bought a first-class return without
thinking of it, and then, when he found himself pompously alone in
his compartment, while crowds were hurrying into the second-class, he
reproached himself for extravagance, and passed the whole journey in
a fume of discomfort. For eight or nine years he had been rich; and he
loathed the small ways of poverty.
Versailles was in the glow of an autumn sunset, as he walked from the
station to the famous Hotel des Reservoirs on the edge of the Park.
The white houses, the wide avenues, the chateau on its hill, were
steeped in light--a light golden, lavish, and yet melancholy, as
though the autumn day still remembered the October afternoon when
Marie Antoinette turned to look for the last time at the lake and the
woods of Trianon.
As Fenwick crossed the Rue de la Paroisse, a lady on the other side of
the road, who was hurrying in the opposite direction, stopped suddenly
at sight of him, and stared excitedly. She was a woman no longer
young, much sunburnt, with high cheek-bones and a florid complexion.
He did not notice her, and after a moment's hesitation she resumed her
He went into the Park, where the statues shone flamelike amid the
bronze and orange of the trees, where the water of the fountains was
dyed in blue and rose, and all the faded magnificence and decaying
grace of the vast incomparable scene were kindling into an hour's rich
life, under the last attack of the sun. He wandered a while, restless
and unhappy--yet always counting the hours till he should see the
slight, worn figure which for a year had been hidden from him.
He dined in the well-known restaurant, wandered again in the mild
dusk, then mounted to his room and worked a while at some of the
sketches he was making for his new commission. While he was so
engaged, a carriage drew up below, and two persons descended. He
recognised Lord Findon, much aged and whitened in these last years.
The lady in deep mourning behind him paused a moment on the broad
pathway, and looked round her, at the hill of the chateau, at
the bright lights in the restaurant. She threw back her veil, and
Fenwick's heart leapt as he recognised the spiritual beauty, the
patient sweetness of a face which through twelve troubled years had
kept him from evil and held him to good--had been indeed 'the master
light' of all his seeing.
And to his best and only friend he had lied, persistently and
unforgiveably, for twelve years. There was the sting--and there the
pity of it.
Eugenie de Pastourelles was sitting on the terrace at Versailles. Or
rather she was established in one of the deep embrasures between the
windows, on the western side. The wind was cold, but again a glorious
sun bathed the terrace and the chateau. It was a day of splendour--a
day when heaven and earth seemed to have conspired to flatter and to
adorn the vast creation of Louis Quatorze, this white, flaming palace,
amid the gold and bronze of its autumn trees, and the blue of its
waters. Superb clouds, of a royal sweep and amplitude, sailed through
the brilliant sky; the woods that girdled the horizon were painted
broadly and solidly in the richest colour upon an immense canvas
steeped in light. In some of the nearer alleys which branch from the
terrace, the eye travelled, through a deep magnificence of shade, to
an arched and framed sunlight beyond, embroidered with every radiant
or sparkling colour; in others, the trees, almost bare, met lightly
arched above a carpet of intensest green--a _tapis vert_ stretching
toward a vaporous distance, and broken by some god, or nymph, on whose
white shoulders the autumn leaves were dropping softly one by one.
Wide horizons, infinitely clear--a blazing intensity of light, beating
on the palace, the gardens, the statues, and the distant water of
the 'Canal de Versailles'--each tint and outline, sharp and vehement,
full-bodied and rich--the greenest greens, the bluest blues, the most
dazzling gold:--this was Versailles, as Eugenie saw it, on this autumn
day. And through it all, the blowing of a harsh and nipping wind
sounded the first approach of winter, still defied, as it were, by
these bright woods decked for a last festival.
It was the 5th of October--the very anniversary of the day when Marie
Antoinette, sitting alone beside the lake at Trianon, was startled by
a page from the chateau bringing the news of the arrival of the Paris
mob, and the urgent summons to return at once;--the day when she
passed the Temple of Love, gleaming amid the quiet streams, for
the last time, and fled back through the leafy avenues leading to
Versailles, under a sky--cloudy and threatening rain--which was
remembered by a later generation as blending fitly with the first act
of that most eminent tragedy--'The Fall of the House of France.'
Madame de Pastourelles had in her hand a recent book in which a French
man of letters, both historian and poet, had told once again the most
piteous of stories; a story, however, which seemed then, and still
seems, to be not even yet ripe for history--so profound and living
are the sympathies and the passions which to this day surround it in
Eugenie had closed the book, and her eyes, as they looked out upon the
astonishing light and shade of the terrace and its surroundings, had
filled unconsciously with tears, not so much for Marie Antoinette,
as for all griefs!--for this duped, tortured, struggling life
of ours--for the 'mortalia' which grip all hearts, which none
escape--pain, and separation, and remorse, hopes deceived, and promise
mocked, decadence in one's self, change in others, and that iron
gentleness of death which closes all.
For nearly a year she had been trying to recover her forces after an
experience which had shaken her being to its depths. Not because,
when she went to nurse his last days, she had any love left, in the
ordinary sense, for her ruined and debased husband; but because of
that vast power of pity, that genius for compassion to which she
was born. Not a tremor of body or soul, not a pang of physical or
spiritual fear, but she had passed through them, in common with the
man she upheld; a man who, like Louis the Well-Beloved, former master
of the building beneath whose shadow she was sitting, was ready to
grovel for her pardon, when threatened with a priest and the last
terrors, and would have recalled his mistress, rejoicing, with the
first day of recovered health.
He and she had asked for respite in vain, however; and M. de
Pastourelles slept with his fathers.
Since his death, her strength had failed her. There had been no
definite illness, but a giving way for some six or seven months of
nature's resisting powers. Also--significant sign of the strength of
all her personal affections!--in addition to the moral and physical
strain she had undergone, she had suffered much about this time from
the loss of her maid, an old servant and devoted friend, who left her
shortly after M. de Pastourelles' death--incited, forced thereto by
Eugenie--in order to marry and go out to Canada. Eugenie had missed
her sorely; and insensibly, the struggle to get well had been the
harder. The doctors ordered travel and change, and she had wandered
from place to place; only half-conscious, as it often seemed to her;
the most docile of patients; accompanied now by one member of the
family, now by another; standing as it were, like the bather who has
wandered too far from shore, between the onward current which means
destruction, and that backward struggle of the will which leads to
life. And little by little the tide of being had turned. After
a winter in Egypt, strength had begun to come back; since then
Switzerland and high air had quickened recovery; and now, physically,
Eugenie was almost herself again.
But morally, she retained a deep and lasting impress of what she had
gone through. More than ever was she a creature of tenderness, of the
most delicate perceptions, of a sensibility, as our ancestors would
have called it, too great for this hurrying world. Her unselfishness,
always one of her cradle-gifts, had become almost superhuman; and had
she been of another temperament, the men and women about her might
have instinctively shrunk from her, as too perfect--now--for human
nature's daily food. But from that she was saved by a score of most
womanish, most mundane qualities. Nobody knew her, luckily, for the
saint she was; she herself least of all. As her strength renewed
itself, her soft fun, too, came back, her gentle, inexhaustible
delight in the absurdities of men and things, which gave to her talk
and her personality a kind of crackling charm, like the crispness of
dry leaves upon an autumn path. Naturally, and invincibly, she loved
life and living; all the high forces and emotions called to her, but
also all the patches, stains, and follies of this queer world; and
there is no saint, man or woman, of whom this can be said, that has
ever repelled the sinners. It is the difference between St. Francis
and St. Dominic!
How very little--all the same--could Eugenie feel herself with the
saints, on this October afternoon! She sat, to begin with, on the
threshold of Madame de Pompadour's apartment; and in the next place,
she had never been more tremulously steeped in doubts and yearnings,
entirely concerned with her friends and her affections. It was a
re-birth; not of youth--how could that be, she herself would have
asked, seeing that she was now thirty-seven?--but of the natural
Eugenie, who, 'intellectual' though she were, lived really by the
heart, and the heart only. And since it is the heart that makes youth
and keeps it--it _was_ a return of youth--and of beauty--that had come
upon her. In her black dress and shady hat, her collar and cuffs of
white lawn, she was very discreetly, quietly beautiful; the passer-by
did not know what it was that had touched and delighted him, till she
had gone, and he found himself, perhaps, looking after the slim
yet stately figure; but it was beauty none the less. And the autumn
violets, her sister's gift, that were fastened to-day in profusion
at her waist, marked in truth the re-awakening of buried things, of
feminine instincts long repressed. For months, her maid Fanchette had
dressed her, and she had worn obediently all the long crape gowns and
veils dictated by the etiquette of French mourning. But to-day she
had chosen for herself; and in this more ordinary garb, she was
vaguely--sometimes remorsefully--conscious of relief and deliverance.
Two subjects filled her mind. First, a conversation with Fenwick that
she had held that morning, strolling through the upper alleys of
the Park. Poor friend, poor artist! Often and often, during her
wanderings, had her thoughts dwelt anxiously on his discontents and
calamities; she had made her sister or her father write to him when
she could not write herself--though Lord Findon indeed had been for
long much out of patience with him; and during the last few months she
herself had written every week. But she had never felt so clearly the
inexorable limits of her influence with him. This morning, just as
of old, he had thrown himself tempestuously upon her advice, her
sympathy; and she had given him counsel as she best could. But a woman
knows when her counsel is likely to be followed, or no. Eugenie had no
illusions. In his sore, self-tormented state he was, she saw, at
the mercy of any passing idea, of anything that seemed to offer him
vengeance on his enemies, or the satisfaction of a vanity that writhed
under the failure he was all the time inviting and assuring.
Yet as she thought of him, she liked him better than ever. He might be
perverse, yet he appealed to her profoundly! The years of his success
had refined and civilised him no doubt, but they had tended to make
him like anybody else. Whereas this passionate accent of revolt--as of
some fierce, helpless creature, struggling blindly in bonds of its own
making--had perhaps restored to him that more dramatic element which
his personality had possessed in his sulky, gifted youth. He
had expressed himself with a bitter force on the decline of his
inspiration and the weakening of his will. He was going to the dogs,
he declared; had lost all his hold on the public; and had nothing more
to say or to paint. And she had been very, very sorry for him, but
conscious all the time that he had never been so eloquent, and never
in such good looks, what with the angry energy of the eyes, and the
sweep of grizzled hair across the powerful brow, and the lines cut by
life and thought round the vigorous, impatient mouth. How could he be
at once so able and so childish! Her woman's wit pondered it; while
at the same time she remembered with emotion the joy with which he had
greeted her, his eager, stammering sympathy, his rough grasp of her
hand, his frowning scrutiny of her pale face.
Yes, he was a great, great friend--and, somehow, she _must_ help him!
Her lips parted in a sigh of aspiration. If only this unlucky thing
had not happened!--this meeting of Arthur and of Fenwick, before the
time, before she had prepared and engineered it.
And so she came to her second topic of meditation. Gradually as her
mind pursued it, her aspect seemed to lose its new and tremulous
brightness; the face became once more a little grey and pinched. They
had somehow missed all the letters which should have warned them. To
find Arthur established here, with his poor invalid wife--nothing
had been more unexpected, and, alack, more unwelcome, considering the
relations between them and John Fenwick--Fenwick who was practically
her father's guest and hers.
Did Arthur think it strange, unkind? Wouldn't he really believe that
it was pure accident! If so, it would be only because Elsie was there,
influencing him against his old friends--poor, bitter, stricken Elsie.
Eugenie's lips quivered. There flitted before her the image of the
girl of eighteen--muse of laughter and delight. And she recalled
the taciturn woman whom she had seen on her sofa the night before,
speaking coldly, in dry, sharp sentences, to her husband, her cousin,
her maid--evidently unhappy and in pain.
Eugenie shaded her eyes from the light of the terrace. Her heart
seemed to be sinking, contracting. Mrs. Welby had been already ill,
and therewith jealous and tyrannical, for some little time before
Madame de Pastourelles had been summoned to the death-bed of her
husband! But now!--Eugenie shrank aghast before what she saw and what
And it was, too, as if the present state of things--as if the new
hardness in Elsie's eyes, and the strange hostility of her manner,
especially towards the Findons, and her cousin Eugenie--threw light on
earlier years, on many a puzzling trait and incident of the past.
There had been a terrible confinement, at the end of years of
childlessness--a still-born child--and then, after a short apparent
recovery, a rapid loss of strength and power. Poor, poor Elsie! But
why--why should this trouble have awakened in her this dumb tyranny
towards Arthur, this alienation from Arthur's friends?
Eugenie sharply drew herself together. She banished her thoughts.
Elsie was young, and would get well. And when she recovered, she would
know who were her friends, and Arthur's.
A figure came towards her, crossing the _parterre d'eau_. She
perceived her father--just released, no doubt, from two English
acquaintances with whom he had been exploring the 'Bosquet d'Apollon.'
He hurried towards her--a tall Don Quixote of a man, gaunt, active,
grey-haired, with a stride like a youth of eighteen, and the very
minimum of flesh on his well-hung frame. Lord Findon had gone through
many agitations during the last ten or twelve years. In his own
opinion, he had upset a Ministry, he had recreated the army, and saved
the Colonies to the Empire. That history was not as well aware of
these feats as it should be, he knew; but in the memoirs, of which
there were now ten volumes privately printed in his drawer, he
had provided for that. Meanwhile, in the rush of his opinions and
partisanships, two things at least had persisted unchanged--his
adoration for Eugenie--and his belief that if only man--and much more
woman--would but exchange 'gulping' for 'chewing'--would only, that
is to say, reform their whole system of mastication, and thereby of
digestion, the world would be another and a happier place.
He came up now, frowning, and out of temper.
'Upon my word, Eugenie, the blindness of some people is too amazing!'
'Is it? Sit down, papa, and look at that!'
She pushed a chair towards him, smiling, and pointed to the terrace,
the woods, the sky.
'It's all very well, my dear,' said Lord Findon, seating himself--'but
this place tries me a good deal.'
'Because the ladies in the restaurant are so stout?' said Eugenie.
'Dear papa--somebody must keep these cooks in practice!'
'Never did I see such spectacles!' said Lord Findon, fuming. 'And when
one knows that the very smallest attention to their diet--and they
might be sylphs again--as young as their grandchildren!--it's really
'It is,' said Eugenie. 'Shall we announce a little conference in the
salon? I'm sure the ladies would flock.'
'The amount the French eat is appalling!' exclaimed Lord
Findon--without noticing. 'And they have such ridiculous ideas about
us! I said something about their gluttony to M. de Villeton this
morning--and he fired up!--declared he had spent this summer in
English country-houses, and we had seven meals a day--all told--and
there wasn't a Frenchman in the world had more than three--counting
his coffee in the morning.'
'He had us there,' said Eugenie.
'Not at all! It doesn't matter _when_ you eat--it's what and how much
you eat. We _can't_ produce such women as one sees here. I tell you,
Eugenie, we _can't_. It takes all the poetry out of the sex.'
'Haven't you been walking with Lady Marney, papa?'
Lord Findon looked a little annoyed.
'She's an exception, my dear--a hideous exception.'
'I wouldn't mind her size,' said Eugenie, softly--'if only the
complexion were better done.'
Lord Findon laughed.
'Paint is on the increase,' he declared--'and gambling too. Villeton
tells me there was baccarat in the Marney's' apartment last night,
and Lady Marney lost enormously. Age seems to have no effect on these
people. She must be nearly seventy-five.'
'You may be sure she'll play till the last trump,' said Eugenie.
'Papa!'--her tone changed--'is that Elsie's chair?'
The group to which she pointed was still distant, but Lord Findon,
even at seventy, had the eyes of an eagle, and could read an _affiche_
a mile off.
'It is.' Lord Findon looked a little disturbed, and, turning, he
scanned the terrace up and down before he bent towards Eugenie.
'You know, darling, it's an awkward business about these two men. I
don't believe Arthur's patience will hold out.'
'Oh yes, it will, papa. For our sakes, Arthur would keep the peace.'
'If the other will let him! I used to think, Eugenie, you had tamed
the bear--but, upon my soul!'--Lord Findon threw up his hands in
'He's in low spirits, papa. It will be better soon,' said Eugenie,
softly, and as she spoke she rose and went down the steps to meet the
Lord Findon followed her, tormented by a queer, unwelcome thought.
Was it possible that Eugenie was now--with her widowhood--beginning to
take a more than friendly interest in that strange fellow, Fenwick? If
so, _he_ would be tolerably punished for his meddling of long ago!
To have snatched her from Arthur, in order to hand her to John
Fenwick!--Lord Findon crimsoned hotly at the notion, all his pride of
race and caste up in arms.
Of course she ought now to marry. He wished to see her before he died
the wife of some good fellow, and the mistress of a great house. Why
not? Eugenie's distinctions of person and family--leaving her fortune,
which was considerable, out of count--were equal to any fate. 'It's
all very well to despise such things--but we have to keep up the
traditions,' he said to himself, testily.
And in spite of her thirty-seven years a suitable bridegroom would not
be at all hard to find. Lord Findon had perceived that in Egypt,
where they had spent the winter and early spring. Several of the most
distinguished men then in Cairo had been her devoted slaves--ill as
she was and at half-power. Alderney--almost certain to be the next
Viceroy of India--one of the most charming of widowers, with an only
daughter--it had been plain both to Lord Findon and his stupid wife
that Eugenie had made a deep impression upon a man no less romantic
than fastidious. Eugenie had but to lift her hand, and he would have
followed them to Syria. On the contrary, she had taken special pains
to prevent it. And General F,--and that clever fellow X,--who was now
reorganising Egyptian finance--and several more--they were all under
But Eugenie had this quixotic liking for the 'intellectuals' of a
particular sort, for artists and poets, and people in difficulties
generally. Well, he had it himself, he reflected, frowning, as he
strolled after her; but there were limits. Marriage was a thing apart;
in that quarter, at any rate, it was no good supposing you could
escape from the rules of the game.
Not that the rules always led you right--witness De Pastourelles and
his villainies. But matrimonial anarchy was not to be justified,
any more than social anarchy, by the failures and drawbacks of
arrangements which were on the whole for people's good. _Passe
encore_!--if Fenwick had only fulfilled the promise of his
youth!--were at least a successful artist, instead of promising to
become a quarrelsome failure!
Now if Arthur himself were free! Supposing this poor girl were to
At this point Lord Findon checked himself roughly, and a minute
afterwards was shaking Welby by the hand and stooping with an old
man's courtesy over the invalid carriage in which Mrs. Welby lay
Euphrosyne, indeed, had shed her laughter! A face with sunken eyes
and drawn lips, and with that perpetual suspicious furrow in the brow,
which meant a terror lest any movement or jar should let loose the
enemy, pain; an emaciated body, from which all the soft mouldings of
youth had departed; a frail hand, lying in mute appeal on the shawl
with which she was covered:--this was now Elsie Welby, whose beauty
in the first years of her marriage had been one of the adornments of
Eugenie was bending over her, and Mrs. Welby was pettishly answering.
'It's so stiff and formal. I don't admire this kind of thing. And
there isn't a bit of shade on this terrace. _I_ think it's ugly!'
Welby laid a hand on hers, smiling.
'But to-day, Bebe, you like the sun?--in October?'
Mrs. Welby was very decidedly of opinion that even in October there
was a glare--and in August--she shuddered to think of it! It was so
tiresome, too, to have missed the Grandes Eaux. So like French red
tape, to insist on stopping them on a particular date. Why should they
be stopped? As to expense, that was nonsense. How could water
cost anything! It was because the French were so _doctrinaire_, so
tyrannical--so fond of managing for managing's sake.
So the pettish voice rambled on, the others tenderly and sadly
listening, till presently Lord Findon shook his gaunt shoulders.
'Upon my word, it begins to get cold. With your leave, Elsie, I could
do with a little more sun! Arthur, shall we take a brisk walk round
the canal before tea?'
Welby looked anxiously at his wife. She had closed her eyes, and her
pale lips, tightly shut, made no movement.
'I think I promised Elsie to stay with her,' he said, uncertainly.
'Let _me_ stay with Elsie, please,' said Eugenie.
The blue eyes unclosed.
'Don't be more than an hour, Arthur,' said the young wife,
ungraciously. 'You know I asked Mrs. Westmacott to tea.'
The gentlemen walked off, and a sharp sensation impressed upon Madame
de Pastourelles that Arthur was only allowed to go with Lord Findon,
because _she_ was not of the party.
A sudden colour rose into her cheeks. For the hour that followed,
she devoted herself to her cousin. But Mrs. Welby was difficult and
querulous. Amongst other complaints she expressed herself bitterly
as to the appearance of Mr. Fenwick at Versailles. Arthur had been so
taken aback--Mr. Fenwick was always so atrociously rude to him! Arthur
would have never come to Versailles had he known; but of course, as
Uncle Findon and Eugenie liked Mr. Fenwick, as he was their friend,
Arthur couldn't now avoid meeting him. It was extremely disagreeable.
'I think they needn't meet very much,' said Eugenie, soothingly--'and
papa and I will do our best to keep Mr. Fenwick in order.'
'I wonder why he came,' said Elsie, fretfully.
'He has some work to do for the production of this play on Marie
Antoinette. And I suppose he wanted to meet us. You see, we didn't
know about Arthur.'
'I can't think why you like him so much.'
'He is an old friend, my dear!--and just now very unhappy, and out of
'All his own fault, Arthur says. He had the ball at his feet.'
'I know,' said Eugenie, smiling sadly. 'That's the tragedy of it!'
There was silence. Mrs. Welby still observed her companion. A variety
of expressions, all irritable or hostile, passed through the large,
* * * * *
The afternoon faded--on the blue surface of the distant 'canal,' the
great poplars that stand sentinel at the western edge of the Park,
one to right, and one to left--last _gardes du corps_ of the House of
France!--threw long shadows on the water; and across the opening
which they marked, drifted the smoke of burning weeds, the only but
sufficient symbol, amid the splendid scene, of that peasant France
which destroyed Versailles. It was four o'clock, and to their left, as
they sat sheltered on the southern side of the chateau, the visitors
of the day were pouring out into the gardens. The shutters of the
lower rooms, in the apartments of the Dauphin and of Mesdames, were
being closed one by one, by the _gardiens_ within. Eugenie peered
through the window beside her. She saw before her a long vista of
darkened and solitary rooms, dim portraits of the marshals of France
just visible on their walls. Suddenly--under a gleam of light from a
shutter not yet fastened--there shone out amid the shadows a bust
of Louis Seize! The Bourbon face, with its receding brow, its heavy,
good-natured lips, its smiling incapacity, held--dominated--the
Eugenie watched, holding her breath. Slowly the light died; the marble
withdrew into the dark; and Louis Seize was once more with the ghosts.
Eugenie's fancy pursued him. She thought of the night of the 20th
of January, 1793, when Madame Royale, in the darkness of the Temple,
heard her mother turning miserably on her bed, sleepless with grief
and cold, waiting for that last rendezvous of seven o'clock which the
King had promised her--waiting--waiting--till the great bell of Notre
Dame told her that Louis had passed to another meeting, more urgent,
more peremptory still.
'Oh, poor soul!--poor soul!' she said, aloud, pressing her hands on
'What on earth do you mean!' said Mrs. Welby's voice beside
her--startled--stiff--a little suspicious.
Eugenie looked up and blushed.
'I beg your pardon!--I was thinking of Marie Antoinette.'
'I'm so tired of Marie Antoinette!' said the invalid, raising a
petulant hand, and letting it fall again, inert. 'All the silly
memorials of her they sell here!--and the sentimental talk about her!
Arthur, of course, now--with his picture--thinks of nothing else.'
'I don't know. People are bored with Marie Antoinette. I wish he'd
taken another subject. And as to her beauty--how could she have been
beautiful, with those staring eyes, and that lower lip! I say so to
Arthur--and he raves--and quotes Horace Walpole--and all sorts of
people. But one can see for one's self. People are much prettier now
than they ever were then! We should think nothing of their beauties.'
And the delicate lips of this once lovely child, this flower withered
before its time, made a cold gesture of contempt.
In Eugenie's eyes, as they rested upon her companion, there was a
flash--was it of horror?
Was she jealous even of the dead women whom Arthur painted?--no less
than of his living friends?
Eugenie came close to her, took the irresponsive hand in hers, tucked
the shawls closer round the wasted limbs, bent over her, chatting
and caressing. Then, as the sun began to drop quickly, Madame de
Pastourelles rose, and went to the corner of the chateau, to see if
the gentlemen were in sight. But in less than a minute Mrs. Welby
called her back.
'I must go in now,' she said, fretfully. 'This place is really _too_
'She won't let me go to meet them,' thought Eugenie, involuntarily;
sharply reproaching herself, a moment afterwards, for the mere
But when Elsie had been safely escorted home, Eugenie slipped back
through the darkening streets, taking good care that her path should
not lead her across her father and Arthur Welby.
She fled towards the western flight of the Hundred Steps, and ran down
the vast staircase towards the Orangerie, and the still shining lake
beyond, girdled with vaporous woods. A majesty of space and light
enwrapt her, penetrated, as everywhere at Versailles, with memory,
with the bitterness and the glory of human things. In the distance the
voices of the children, still playing beside their nurses on the upper
terrace, died away. Close by, a white Artemis on her pedestal bent
forward--eager--her gleaming bow in air, watching, as it were, the
arrow she had just sped toward the windows of Madame de Pompadour;
and beside her, a nymph, daughter of gods, turned to the palace with a
free, startled movement, shading her eyes that she might gaze the more
intently on that tattered tricolour which floats above the palace of
'Le Roi Soleil.'
* * * * *
'Oh, poor Arthur--poor Arthur! And I did it!--I did it!'
It was the cry of Eugenie's inmost life.
And before she knew, she found herself enveloped in memories that
rolled in upon her like waves of storm. How long it had been before
she would allow herself to see anything amiss with this marriage she
had herself made! And, indeed, it was only since Elsie's illness that
things dimly visible before had sprung into that sharp and
piteous relief in which they stood to-day. Before it, indications,
waywardnesses, the faults of a young and petted wife. But since the
physical collapse, the inner motives and passions had stood up bare
and black, like the ribs of a wrecked ship from the sand. And as
Eugenie had been gradually forced to understand them, they had worked
upon her own mind as a silent, yet ever-growing accusation, against
which she defended herself in vain.
Surely, surely she had done no wrong! To have allowed Arthur to go on
binding his life ever more and more closely to hers, would have been a
crime. What could she give him, that such a nature most deeply needed?
Home, wifely love, and children--it was to these dear enwrapping
powers she had committed him in what she had done. She had feared for
herself indeed. But is it a sin to fear sin?--the declension of one's
own best will, the staining of one's purest feeling?
On her part she could proudly answer for herself. Never since Welby's
marriage, either in thought or act, had she given Arthur's wife the
smallest just cause of offence. Eugenie's was often an anxious and
a troubled conscience; but not here, not in this respect. She knew
But from Elsie's point of view? Had she in truth sacrificed an
ignorant child to her impetuous wish for Arthur's happiness, a too
scrupulous care for her own peace? How 'sacrifice'? She had given
the child her heart's desire. Arthur was not in love; but Elsie Bligh
would have accepted him as a husband on any terms. Tenderly, in good
faith, trusting to the girl's beauty, and Arthur's rich and loving
nature, Eugenie had joined their hands.
Was that in reality her offence? In spite of all the delicacy with
which it had been done, had the girl's passion guessed the truth? And
having guessed it, had she then failed--and failed consciously--to
make the gift her own?
Eugenie had watched--often with a sinking spirit--the development of
a nature, masked by youth and happiness, but essentially narrow and
poor, full of mean ambitions and small antipathies. Arthur had played
his part bravely, with all the chivalry and the conscience that might
have been expected of him. And there had been moments--intervals--of
apparent happiness, when Eugenie's own conscience had been laid to
Was there anything she might have done for those two people, that she
had not done? And Elsie had seemed--she sadly remembered--to love her,
to trust her--till this tragic breakdown. Indeed, so long as she
could dress, dance, dine, and chatter as much as she pleased, with
her husband in constant attendance, Mrs. Welby had shown no open
discontent with her lot; and if her caresses often hurt Eugenie more
than they pleased, there had been no outward dearth of them.
Alack!--Eugenie's heart was wrung with pity for the young maimed
creature; but the peevish image of the wife was swept away by the
more truly tragic image of the husband. Eugenie might try to persuade
herself of the possibility of Elsie's recovery; her real instinct
denied it. Yet life was not necessarily threatened, it seemed, though
certain fatal accidents might end it in a week. The omens pointed to
a long and fluctuating case--to years of hopeless nursing for Arthur,
and complaining misery for his wife.
Years! Eugenie sat down in a corner of the Orangerie garden, locking
her hands together, in a miserable pity for Arthur. She knew well what
a shining pinnacle of success and fame Welby occupied in the eyes of
the world; she knew how envious were the lesser men--such a man as
John Fenwick, for instance--of a reputation and a success they thought
overdone and undeserved. But Arthur himself! She seemed to be looking
into his face, graven on the dusk, the face of a man tragically
silent, patient, eternally disappointed; of an artist conscious of
ideals and discontents, loftier, more poignant, far than his fellows
will ever know--of a poet, alone at heart, forbidden to 'speak out,'
blighted, and in pain.
'_Arthur--Arthur_!' She leaned her head against the pedestal of a
marble vase--wrestling with herself.
Then, quick as fire, there flew through her veins the alternate
possibility--Elsie's death--freedom for herself and Arthur--the power
to retrace her own quixotic, fatal step....
Madame de Pastourelles rose to her feet, rigid and straight in her
black dress, wrestling as though with an attacking Apollyon. She
seemed to herself a murderess in thought--the lowest and vilest of
In an anguish she looked through the darkness, in a wild appeal to
Heaven to save her from herself--this new self, unknown to her!--to
shut down and trample on this mutiny of a sinful and selfish heart--to
make it impossible--_impossible_!--that ever again, even without her
will, against her will, a thought so hideous, so incredible, should
enter and defile her mind.
She walked on blindly towards the water and the woods. Her eyes were
full of tears, which she could not stop. Unconsciously, to hide them,
she threw round her head a black lace scarf she had brought out with
her against the evening chill, and drew it close round her face.
'How late you are!' said a joyous voice beside her.
She looked up. Fenwick emerging from the wood, towards the shelter
of which she was hurrying, stood before her, bareheaded, as he often
walked, his eyes unable to hide the pleasure with which he beheld her.
She gave a little gasp.
'You startled me!'
In the dim light he could only see her slight, fluttering smile; and
it seemed to him that she was or had been in agitation. But at least
it was nothing hostile to himself; nay, it was borne in upon him as he
turned his steps, and she walked beside him with a quick yet gradually
subsiding breath, that his appearance had been a relief to her, that
she was glad of his companionship.
And he--miserable fellow!--to him it was peace after struggle, balm
after torment. For his thoughts, as he wandered through the Satory
woods alone, had been the thoughts of a hypochondriac. He hastened to
leave them, now that she was near.
They wandered along the eastern edge of the 'Swiss Water,' towards the
woods amid which the railway runs. Through the gold-and-purple air
the thin autumn trees rose lightly into the evening sky, marching in
ordered ranks beside the water. Young men were fishing in the lake;
boys and children were playing near it, and sweethearts walking in
the dank grass. The evening peace, with its note of decay and death,
seemed to stir feeling rather than soothe it. It set the nerves
He began to talk of some pictures he had been studying in the
Palace that day--Nattiers, Rigauds, Drouais--examples of that happy,
sensuous, confident art, produced by a society that knew no doubts of
itself, which not to have enjoyed--so the survivors of it thought--was
to be for ever ignorant of what the charm of life might be.
Fenwick spoke of it with envy and astonishment. The _pleasure_ of it
had penetrated him, its gay, perpetual _festa_--as compared with the
strain of thought and conscience under which the modern lives.
'It gives me a perfect hunger for fine clothes, and jewels, and
masquerades--and "fetes de nuit"--and every sort of theatricality and
expense! Nature has sent us starvelings on the scene a hundred years
late. We are like children in the rain, flattening our noses against a
'There were plenty of them then,' said Eugenie. 'But they broke in and
sacked the ballroom.'
'Yes. What folly!' he said, bitterly. 'We are all still groping among
'No, no! Build a new Palace of Beauty--and bring everybody in--out of
'Ridiculous!' he declared, with sparkling eyes. Art and pleasure were
only for the few. Try and spread them, make current coin of them, and
they vanished like fairy gold.
'So only the artist may be happy?'
'The artist is never happy!' he said, roughly. 'But the few people who
appreciate him and rob him, enjoy themselves. By the way, I took one
of your ideas this morning, and made a sketch of it. I haven't noted
a composition of any sort for weeks--except for this beastly play. It
came to me while we talked.'
'Ah!' Her face, turned to him, received the news with a shrinking
He developed his idea before her, drawing it on the air with his
stick, or on the sand of the alleys where the arching trees overhead
seemed still to hold a golden twilight captive. The picture was to
represent that fine metal-worker of the _ancien regime_ who, when the
Revolution came, took his ragged children with him and went to the
palace which contained his work--work for which he had never been
paid--and hammered it to pieces.
Fenwick talked himself at last into something like enthusiasm; and
Eugenie listened to him with a pitiful eagerness, only anxious to lead
him on, to put this friendship, and the pure sympathy and compassion
of her feeling for him, between her and the ugly memory which hovered
round her like a demon thing. These dreams of the intellect and of
art, as they gradually rose and took shape between them, were so
infinitely welcome! Clean, blameless, strengthening--they put the
ghosts to flight, they gave her back herself.
'Oh, you must paint it!' she said--'you must.'
He stopped, and walked on abruptly. Then she pressed him to promise
her a time and date. It must be ready for a new gallery, and a
distinguished exhibition, just about to open.
He shook his head.
'I probably shan't care about it to-morrow.'
'Just now you were so keen!'
He hesitated--then blurted out--'Because I was talking to you! When
you're not there--I know very well--I shall fall back to where I was
She tried to laugh at him for a too dependent friend, who must always
be fed on sugar-plums of praise; but the silence with which he met
her, checked her. It was too full of emotion; and she ran away from
She ran, however, in vain. They reached the end of the lake, and went
to look at the mouldering statue of Louis Quatorze at its further
end--fantastic work of the great Bernini--Louis on a vast, curly-maned
beast, with flames bursting round him--flung out into the wilderness
and the woods, because Louis, after adding the flames to Bernini's
composition, finally pronounced the statue unworthy of himself and
of the sacred enclosure of the Park. So here, on the outer edge of
Versailles, the crumbling failure rises, in exile to this day, without
so much as a railing to protect it from the scribbling tourist who
writes his name all over it. In the realm of Art, it seemed, the
King's writ still ran, and the King's doom stood.
Fenwick's rhetorical sense was touched by the statue and its history.
He examined it, talking fast and well, Eugenie meanwhile winning from
him all he had to give, by the simplest words and looks--he the reed,
and she the player. His mind, his fancy, worked easily once more,
under the stimulus of her presence. His despondency began to give way.
He believed in himself--felt himself an artist--again. The relief,
physical and mental, was too tempting. He flung himself upon it with
reckless desire, incapable of denying himself, or of counting the
cost. And meanwhile, the effect of her black scarf, loosened, and
eddying round her head and face in the soft night wind, defining their
small oval, and the beauty of the brow, enchanted his painter's eye.
There was a moment, just as they reentered the Park, when, as she
stood looking at a moon-touched vista before them, the floating scarf
suddenly recalled to him the outline of that lovely hood in which
Romney framed the radiant head of Lady Hamilton as 'The Sempstress.'
The recollection startled him. Romney! Involuntarily there flashed
across him Phoebe's use of the Romney story--her fierce comments
on the deserted wife--the lovely mistress. Perhaps, while she stood
looking at the portrait in his studio, she was thinking of Lady
Hamilton, and all sorts of other ludicrous and shameful things!
And _this_, all the while, was the reality--this pure, ethereal being,
in whose presence he was already a better and a more hopeful man!--who
seemed to bring a fellow comfort, and moral renewal, in the mere touch
of her kind hand.
The shock of inner debate still further weakened his self-control.
He slipped, hardly knowing how or why, into a far more intimate
confession of himself than he had yet made to her. In the morning he
had given her the _outer_ history of his life, during the year of
her absence. But this was the inner history of a man's weakness
and failure--of his quarrels and hatreds, his baffled ambitions
and ideals. She put it together as best she could from his hurried,
excited talk--from stories half told, fierce charges against
'charlatans' and 'intriguers,' mingled with half-serious, half-comic
returns upon himself, attacks on all the world, alternating with a
ruthless self-analysis--the talk of a man who challenges society
one moment with an angry '_J'accuse!_'--and sees himself the
next--sardonically--as the chief obstacle in his own way.
Then suddenly a note of intense loneliness--anguish--inexplicable
despair. Eugenie could not stop it, could not withdraw herself.
There was a strange feeling that it brought her the answer to her
prayer.--They hurried on through the lower walks of the Park--plunging
now through tunnelled depths of shade, and now emerging into spaces
where sunset and moonrise rained a mingled influence on glimmering
water, on the dim upturned faces of Ceres or Flora, or the limbs
of flower-crowned nymphs and mermaids. It seemed impossible to turn
homeward, to break off their conversation. When they reached the
'Bassin de Neptune' they left the Park, turning down the Trianon
Avenue, in the growing dark, till they saw to their right, behind its
iron gates, the gleaming facade of the Petit Trianon; woods all about
them, and to their left, again, the shimmer of wide water. Meanwhile
the dying leaves, driven by the evening wind, descended on them in
a soft and ceaseless shower; the woods, so significant and human in
their planned and formal beauty, brought their 'visionary majesties'
of moonlight and of gloom to bear on nerve and sense, turned all that
was said and all that was felt, beneath their spell, to poetry.
Suddenly, at the Trianon gate, Eugenie stopped.
'I'm very tired,' she said, faintly. 'I am afraid we must go back.'
Fenwick denounced himself for a selfish brute; and they turned
homeward. But it was not physical fatigue she felt. It was rather the
burden of a soul thrown headlong upon hers--the sudden appeal of a
task which seemed to be given her by God--for the bridling of her own
heart, and the comforting and restoring of John Fenwick. From all
the conflicting emotion of an evening which changed her life, what
remained--or seemed to remain--was a missionary call of duty and
affection. 'Save him!--and master thyself!'
So, yet again, poor Eugenie slipped into the snare which Fate had set
for one who was only too much a woman.
The Rue des Reservoirs was very empty as Fenwick and Madame de
Pastourelles mounted the paved slope leading towards the hotel. The
street-lamps were neither many nor bright--but from the glazed gallery
of the restaurant, a broad, cheerful illumination streamed upon the
passers-by. They stepped within its bounds. And at the moment, a
woman who had just crossed to the opposite side of the street stopped
abruptly to look at them. They paused a few minutes in the entrance,
still chatting; the woman opposite made a movement as though to
re-cross the street, then shook her head, laughed, and walked away.
Fenwick went into the restaurant and Eugenie hurried through the
courtyard to the door of the Findon's apartment.
But in her reflexions of the night, Eugenie came to the conclusion
that the situation, as it then stood at Versailles, was not one to be
Next day she proposed to her father and sister a change of plan.
On the whole, she said, she was anxious to get back to London; the
holiday was overspreading its due limits; and she urged pressing on
and home. Lord Findon was puzzled, but submissive; the bookish sister
Theresa, now a woman of thirty, welcomed anything that would bring her
back to the London Library and the British Museum. But suddenly, just
as the maids had been warned, and Lord Findon's man had been sent to
look out trains, his master caught a chill, going obstinately, and in
a mocking spirit, to see what 'Faust' might be like, as given at
the Municipal Theatre of Versailles. There was fever, and a touch of
bronchitis; nothing serious; but the doctor who had been summoned
from Paris would not hear of travelling. Lord Findon hoarsely preached
'chewing' to him, through the greater part of his visits; he revenged
himself by keeping a tight hold on his patient, in all that was not
his tongue. Eugenie yielded, with what appeared to Theresa a strange
amount of reluctance; and they settled down for a week or two.
In the middle of the convalescence, the elder son, Marmaduke, came
over to see his father. He was a talkative Evangelical, like his
mother; a partner in the brewery owned by his mother's kindred; and
recently married to a Lady Louisa.
After spending three days at the hotel, he suddenly said to Lord
Findon, as he was mounting guard one night, while Eugenie wrote some
'I say, pater, do you want Eugenie to marry that fellow Fenwick?'
Lord Findon turned uneasily in his bed.
'What makes you say that?'
'Well, he's dreadfully gone on her--never happy except when she's
there--and she--well, she encourages him a good bit, father.'
'You don't understand, Marmie. You see, you don't care for books and
pictures; Eugenie does.'
'I suppose she does,' said Marmaduke, doubtfully--'but she wouldn't
care so much if Fenwick wasn't there to talk about them.'
'His talk is admirable!' said Lord Findon.
'I dare say it is, but he isn't my sister's equal,' replied the son,
'A good artist is anybodyies equal,' cried Lord Findon, much heated.
'You don't really think it, papa,' said Marmaduke, firmly. 'Shall I
give Eugenie a talking to?--as you're not in a condition.'
Lord Findon laughed, though not gaily.
'You'd better try! Or rather, I don't advise you to try!'
Marmaduke, however, did try; with the only result that Eugenie soon
grew a little vexed and tremulous, and begged him to go home. He
might be a master of brewing finance, and a dear, kind, well-meaning
brother, but he really did not understand his sister's affairs.
Marmaduke went home, much puzzled, urgently commanding Theresa to
write to him, and announcing to Arthur Welby, who listened silently,
as he talked, that if Fenwick did propose, he should think it a damned
Lord Findon meanwhile held his peace. Every day Eugenie came in from
her walk with Fenwick, to sit with or read to her father. She
always spoke of what she had been doing, quite naturally and simply,
describing their walk and their conversation, giving the news of
Fenwick's work--bringing his sketches to show. Lord Findon would lie
and listen--a little suspicious and ill at ease--sometimes a little
sulky. But he let his illness and his voicelessness excuse him from
grappling with her. She must, of course, please herself. If she chose,
as she seemed about to choose--why, they must all make the best of
it!--Marmaduke might talk as he liked. Naturally, Arthur kept away
from them. Poor Arthur! But what a darling she looked in her black,
with this fresh touch of colour in her pale cheeks!
The Welbys certainly had but little to do with the party at the
Reservoirs. Welby seemed to be absorbed in his new picture, and Mrs.
Welby let it be plainly understood that at home Arthur was too busy,
and she too ill, to receive visitors; while out-of-doors they neither
of them wished to be thrown across Mr. Fenwick.
Every evening, after taking his wife home, Welby went out by himself
for a solitary walk. He avoided the Park and the woods; chose rather
the St. Cyr road, or the Avenue de Paris. He walked, wrapt, a little
too picturesquely perhaps, in an old Campagna cloak, relic of his
years in Rome--with a fine collie for his companion. Once or twice in
the distance he caught sight of Eugenie and Fenwick--only to turn down
a side street, out of their way.
His thoughts meanwhile, day by day, his silent, thronging thoughts,
dealt with his own life--and theirs. Would she venture it? He
discussed it calmly with himself. It presented itself to him as an
act altogether unworthy of her. What hurt him most, however, at these
times, was the occasional sudden memory of Eugenie's face, trembling
with pain, under some slight or unkindness shown her by his wife.
One day Welby was sitting beside his wife on the sheltered side of
the Terrace, when Eugenie and Fenwick came in sight, emerging from the
Hundred Steps. Suddenly Welby bent over his wife.
'Elsie!--have _you_ noticed anything?'
He motioned towards the distant figures. His gesture was a little dry
Elsie in amazement raised herself painfully on her elbow to look.
'Eugenie!' she said, breathlessly--'Eugenie--and Mr. Fenwick!'
Arthur Welby watched the transformation in her face. It was the first
time he had seen her look happy for months.
'What an _excellent_ thing!' she cried; all flushed and vehement.
'Arthur, you know you said how lonely she must be!'
'Is he worthy of her?' he said, slowly, finding his words with
'Well, of course, _we_ don't like him!--but then Uncle Findon does.
And if he didn't, it's Eugenie that matters--isn't it?--only Eugenie!
At her age, you can't be choosing her husband for her! Well, I never,
never thought--Eugenie's so close!--she'd make up her mind to marry
And she rattled on, in so much excitement that Welby hastily and
urgently impressed discretion upon her.
But when she and Eugenie next met, Eugenie was astonished by her
gaiety and good temper--her air of smiling mystery. Madame de
Pastourelles hoped it meant real physical improvement, and would have
liked to talk of it to Arthur; but all talk between them grew rarer
and more difficult. Thus Eugenie's walks with Fenwick through
the enchanted lands that surround Versailles became daily more
significant, more watched. Lord Findon groaned in his sick-room, but
still restrained himself.
It was a day--or rather a night--of late October--a wet and windy
night, when the autumn leaves were coming down in swirling hosts on
the lawns and paths of Trianon.
Fenwick was hard at work, in the small apartment which he occupied
on the third floor of the Hotel des Reservoirs. It consisted of a
sitting-room and two bedrooms looking on an inner _cour_. One of
the bedrooms he had turned into a sort of studio. It was now full of
drawings and designs for the sumptuous London 'production' on which
he was engaged--rooms at Versailles and Trianon--views in the Trianon
gardens--fragments of decoration--designs for stage grouping--for the
reproduction of one of the famous _fetes de nuit_ in the gardens of
the 'Hameau'--studies of costume even.
His proud ambition hated the work; he thought it unworthy of him;
only his poverty had consented. But he kept it out of sight of his
companions as much as he could, and worked as much as possible at
And here and there, amongst the rest, were the sketches and fragments,
often the grandiose fragments, which represented his 'buried
life'--the life which only Eugenie de Pastourelles seemed now to have
the power to evoke. When some hours of other work had weakened the
impulse received from her, he would look at these things sadly, and
put them aside.
To-night, as he drew, he was thinking incessantly of Eugenie; pierced
often by intolerable remorse. But whose fault was it? Will you ask a
man, perishing of need, to put its satisfaction from him? The tests of
life are too hard. The plain, selfish man must always fail under them.
Why act and speak as though he were responsible for what Nature and
the flesh impose?
But how was it all to end?--that was what tormented him. His
conscience shrank from the half-perceived villainies before him; but
his will failed him. What was the use of talking? He was the slave
of an impulse, which was not passion, which had none of the excuse of
passion, but represented rather the blind search of a man who, like a
child in the dark, recoils in reckless terror from loneliness and the
phantoms of his own mind.
Eleven o'clock struck. He was busying himself with a cardboard model,
on which he had been trying the effect of certain arrangements, when
he heard a knock at his door.
'_Entrez_!' he said, in astonishment.
At this season of the year the hotel kept early hours, and there was
not a light to be seen in the _cour_.
The door opened. On the threshold stood Arthur Welby. Fenwick gazed at
'You?--you came to see me?'
He advanced, head foremost, hand outstretched.
'I have something important to say to you.' Welby took no notice of
the hand. 'Shall we be undisturbed?'
'I imagine so!' said Fenwick, fiercely retreating; 'but, as you see, I
am extremely busy!' He pointed to the room and its contents.
'I am sorry to interrupt you'--Welby's voice was carefully
controlled--'but I think you will admit that I had good reason to come
and find you.' He looked round to see that the door was shut, then
advanced a step nearer. 'You are, I think, acquainted with that lady?'
He handed Fenwick a card. Fenwick took it to the light. On it was
lithographed 'Miss Isabel Morrison,' and a written address, 'Corso de
Madrid, Buenos Ayres,' had been lightly scratched out in one corner.
Fenwick put down the card.
'Well,' he said, sharply--'and if I am--what then?'
Welby began to speak--paused--and cleared his throat. He was standing,
with one hand lightly resting on the table, his eyes fixed on Fenwick.
There was a moment of shock, of mutual defiance.
'This lady seems to have observed the movements of our party here,'
said Welby, commanding himself. 'She followed my wife and me to-day,
after we met you in the Park. She spoke to us. She gave us the
astonishing news that you were a married man--that your wife--'
Fenwick rushed forward and gripped the speaker's arm.
'My God! Tell me!--is she alive?'
His eyes starting out of his head--his crimson face--his anguish,
seemed to affect the other with indescribable repulsion.
Welby wrenched himself free.
'That was what Miss Morrison wished to ask _you_. She says that when
you and she last met you were not on very good terms; she shrank,
therefore, from addressing you. But she had a respect for your
wife--she wished to know what had become of her--and her curiosity
impelled her to speak to us. She seems to have been in Buenos Ayres
for many years. This year she returned--as governess--with the family
of a French engineer, who have taken an apartment in Versailles. She
first saw you in the street nearly a month ago.'
Fenwick had dropped into a chair, his face in his hands. As Welby
ceased speaking, he looked up.
'And she said nothing about my wife's where-abouts?'
'Nothing. She knows nothing.'
'Nor of why she left me?'
'Miss Morrison seems to have her own ideas as to that.'
'Where is she?' Fenwick rose hurriedly.
'Rue des Ecuries, 27. Naturally, you can't see her to-night.'
'No'--said Fenwick, sitting down again, like a man in a dream--'no.
Did she say anything else?'
'She mentioned something about a debt you owed her,' said Welby,
coldly--'some matter that she had only just discovered. I had no
concern with that.'
Fenwick's face, which had become deathly pale, was suddenly overspread
with a rush of crimson. More almost than by the revelation of his long
deception as to his wife was he humiliated and tortured by these words
relating to his debt to Morrison on Welby's lips. This successful
rival, this fine gentleman!--admitted to his sordid affairs. He rose
uncertainly, pulling himself passionately together.
'Now that she has reappeared, I shall pay my debt to Miss Morrison--if
it exists,' he said, haughtily; 'she need be in no fear as to that.
Well, now then'--he leaned heavily on the mantelpiece, his face still
twitching--'you know, Mr. Welby--by this accident--the secret of my
life. My wife left me--for the maddest, emptiest reasons--and she took
our child with her. I did everything I could to discover them. It was
all in vain--and if Miss Morrison cannot enlighten me, I am as much
in the dark to-night as I was yesterday, whether my wife is alive--or
dead. Is there anything more to be said?'
'By God, yes!' cried Welby, with a sudden gesture of passion,
approaching Fenwick. 'There is everything to be said!'
Fenwick was silent. Their eyes met.
'When you first made acquaintance with Lord Findon,' said Welby,
controlling himself, 'you made him--you made all of us--believe that
you were an unmarried man?'
'I did. It was the mistake--the awkwardness of a moment. I hadn't your
easy manners! I was a raw country fellow--and I hadn't the courage,
the mere self-possession, to repair it.'
'You let Madame de Pastourelles sit to you,' said Welby,
steadily--'week after week, month after month--you accepted her
kindness--you became her friend. Later on, you allowed her to advise
you--write to you--talk to you about marrying, when your means should
be sufficient--without ever allowing her to guess for a moment that
you had already a wife and child!'
'That is true,' said Fenwick, nodding. 'The second false step was the
consequence of the first.'
'The consequence! You had but to say a word--one honest word! Then,
when your conduct, I suppose--I don't dare to judge you--had driven
your wife away--for twelve years'--he dragged the words between his
teeth--'you masquerade to Madame de Pastourelles--and when her long
martyrdom as a wife is at last over--when in the tenderness
and compassion of her heart she begins to show you a friendship
which--which those who know her'--he laboured for breath and
words--'can only--presently--interpret in one way--you who owe her
everything--everything!--you _dare_ to play with her innocent, her
stainless life--you _dare_ to let her approach--to let those about
her approach--the thought of her marrying you--while all the time you
knew--what you know! If there ever was a piece of black cruelty in
this world, it is you, _you_ that have been guilty of it!'
The form of Arthur Welby, drawn to its utmost height, towered above
the man he accused. Fenwick sat, struck dumb. Welby's increasing
stoop, which of late had marred his natural dignity of gait; the
slight touches of affectation, of the _petit-maitre_, which were now
often perceptible; the occasional note of littleness, or malice, such
as his youth had never known:--all these defects, physical and moral,
had been burnt out of the man, as he spoke these words, by the flame
of his only, his inextinguishable passion. For his dear mistress--in
the purest, loftiest sense of that word--he stood champion, denouncing
with all his soul the liar who had deceived and endangered her; a
stern, unconscious majesty expressed itself in his bearing, his voice;
and the man before him--artist and poet like himself--was sensible of
it in the highest, the most torturing degree.
Fenwick turned away. He stooped mechanically to the fire, put it
together, lifted a log lying in front of it, laid it carefully on the
others. Then he looked at Welby, who on his side had walked to the
window and opened it, as though the room suffocated him.
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