The Lesson of the Master
The Lesson of the Master by Henry James
Scanned and proofed by David Price
The Lesson of the Master
He had been told the ladies were at church, but this was corrected
by what he saw from the top of the steps - they descended from a
great height in two arms, with a circular sweep of the most
charming effect - at the threshold of the door which, from the long
bright gallery, overlooked the immense lawn. Three gentlemen, on
the grass, at a distance, sat under the great trees, while the
fourth figure showed a crimson dress that told as a "bit of colour"
amid the fresh rich green. The servant had so far accompanied Paul
Overt as to introduce him to this view, after asking him if he
wished first to go to his room. The young man declined that
privilege, conscious of no disrepair from so short and easy a
journey and always liking to take at once a general perceptive
possession of a new scene. He stood there a little with his eyes
on the group and on the admirable picture, the wide grounds of an
old country-house near London - that only made it better - on a
splendid Sunday in June. "But that lady, who's SHE?" he said to
the servant before the man left him.
"I think she's Mrs. St. George, sir."
"Mrs. St. George, the wife of the distinguished - " Then Paul
Overt checked himself, doubting if a footman would know.
"Yes, sir - probably, sir," said his guide, who appeared to wish to
intimate that a person staying at Summersoft would naturally be, if
only by alliance, distinguished. His tone, however, made poor
Overt himself feel for the moment scantly so.
"And the gentlemen?" Overt went on.
"Well, sir, one of them's General Fancourt."
"Ah yes, I know; thank you." General Fancourt was distinguished,
there was no doubt of that, for something he had done, or perhaps
even hadn't done - the young man couldn't remember which - some
years before in India. The servant went away, leaving the glass
doors open into the gallery, and Paul Overt remained at the head of
the wide double staircase, saying to himself that the place was
sweet and promised a pleasant visit, while he leaned on the
balustrade of fine old ironwork which, like all the other details,
was of the same period as the house. It all went together and
spoke in one voice - a rich English voice of the early part of the
eighteenth century. It might have been church-time on a summer's
day in the reign of Queen Anne; the stillness was too perfect to be
modern, the nearness counted so as distance, and there was
something so fresh and sound in the originality of the large smooth
house, the expanse of beautiful brickwork that showed for pink
rather than red and that had been kept clear of messy creepers by
the law under which a woman with a rare complexion disdains a veil.
When Paul Overt became aware that the people under the trees had
noticed him he turned back through the open doors into the great
gallery which was the pride of the place. It marched across from
end to end and seemed - with its bright colours, its high panelled
windows, its faded flowered chintzes, its quickly-recognised
portraits and pictures, the blue-and-white china of its cabinets
and the attenuated festoons and rosettes of its ceiling - a
cheerful upholstered avenue into the other century.
Our friend was slightly nervous; that went with his character as a
student of fine prose, went with the artist's general disposition
to vibrate; and there was a particular thrill in the idea that
Henry St. George might be a member of the party. For the young
aspirant he had remained a high literary figure, in spite of the
lower range of production to which he had fallen after his first
three great successes, the comparative absence of quality in his
later work. There had been moments when Paul Overt almost shed
tears for this; but now that he was near him - he had never met him
- he was conscious only of the fine original source and of his own
immense debt. After he had taken a turn or two up and down the
gallery he came out again and descended the steps. He was but
slenderly supplied with a certain social boldness - it was really a
weakness in him - so that, conscious of a want of acquaintance with
the four persons in the distance, he gave way to motions
recommended by their not committing him to a positive approach.
There was a fine English awkwardness in this - he felt that too as
he sauntered vaguely and obliquely across the lawn, taking an
independent line. Fortunately there was an equally fine English
directness in the way one of the gentlemen presently rose and made
as if to "stalk" him, though with an air of conciliation and
reassurance. To this demonstration Paul Overt instantly responded,
even if the gentleman were not his host. He was tall, straight and
elderly and had, like the great house itself, a pink smiling face,
and into the bargain a white moustache. Our young man met him
halfway while he laughed and said: "Er - Lady Watermouth told us
you were coming; she asked me just to look after you." Paul Overt
thanked him, liking him on the spot, and turned round with him to
walk toward the others. "They've all gone to church - all except
us," the stranger continued as they went; "we're just sitting here
- it's so jolly." Overt pronounced it jolly indeed: it was such a
lovely place. He mentioned that he was having the charming
impression for the first time.
"Ah you've not been here before?" said his companion. "It's a nice
little place - not much to DO, you know". Overt wondered what he
wanted to "do" - he felt that he himself was doing so much. By the
time they came to where the others sat he had recognised his
initiator for a military man and - such was the turn of Overt's
imagination - had found him thus still more sympathetic. He would
naturally have a need for action, for deeds at variance with the
pacific pastoral scene. He was evidently so good-natured, however,
that he accepted the inglorious hour for what it was worth. Paul
Overt shared it with him and with his companions for the next
twenty minutes; the latter looked at him and he looked at them
without knowing much who they were, while the talk went on without
much telling him even what it meant. It seemed indeed to mean
nothing in particular; it wandered, with casual pointless pauses
and short terrestrial flights, amid names of persons and places -
names which, for our friend, had no great power of evocation. It
was all sociable and slow, as was right and natural of a warm
His first attention was given to the question, privately
considered, of whether one of the two younger men would be Henry
St. George. He knew many of his distinguished contemporaries by
their photographs, but had never, as happened, seen a portrait of
the great misguided novelist. One of the gentlemen was
unimaginable - he was too young; and the other scarcely looked
clever enough, with such mild undiscriminating eyes. If those eyes
were St. George's the problem, presented by the ill-matched parts
of his genius would be still more difficult of solution. Besides,
the deportment of their proprietor was not, as regards the lady in
the red dress, such as could be natural, toward the wife of his
bosom, even to a writer accused by several critics of sacrificing
too much to manner. Lastly Paul Overt had a vague sense that if
the gentleman with the expressionless eyes bore the name that had
set his heart beating faster (he also had contradictory
conventional whiskers - the young admirer of the celebrity had
never in a mental vision seen HIS face in so vulgar a frame) he
would have given him a sign of recognition or of friendliness,
would have heard of him a little, would know something about
"Ginistrella," would have an impression of how that fresh fiction
had caught the eye of real criticism. Paul Overt had a dread of
being grossly proud, but even morbid modesty might view the
authorship of "Ginistrella" as constituting a degree of identity.
His soldierly friend became clear enough: he was "Fancourt," but
was also "the General"; and he mentioned to the new visitor in the
course of a few moments that he had but lately returned from twenty
years service abroad.
"And now you remain in England?" the young man asked.
"Oh yes; I've bought a small house in London."
"And I hope you like it," said Overt, looking at Mrs. St. George.
"Well, a little house in Manchester Square - there's a limit to the
enthusiasm THAT inspires."
"Oh I meant being at home again - being back in Piccadilly."
"My daughter likes Piccadilly - that's the main thing. She's very
fond of art and music and literature and all that kind of thing.
She missed it in India and she finds it in London, or she hopes
she'll find it. Mr. St. George has promised to help her - he has
been awfully kind to her. She has gone to church - she's fond of
that too - but they'll all be back in a quarter of an hour. You
must let me introduce you to her - she'll be so glad to know you.
I dare say she has read every blest word you've written."
"I shall be delighted - I haven't written so very many," Overt
pleaded, feeling, and without resentment, that the General at least
was vagueness itself about that. But he wondered a little why,
expressing this friendly disposition, it didn't occur to the
doubtless eminent soldier to pronounce the word that would put him
in relation with Mrs. St. George. If it was a question of
introductions Miss Fancourt - apparently as yet unmarried - was far
away, while the wife of his illustrious confrere was almost between
them. This lady struck Paul Overt as altogether pretty, with a
surprising juvenility and a high smartness of aspect, something
that - he could scarcely have said why - served for mystification.
St. George certainly had every right to a charming wife, but he
himself would never have imagined the important little woman in the
aggressively Parisian dress the partner for life, the alter ego, of
a man of letters. That partner in general, he knew, that second
self, was far from presenting herself in a single type:
observation had taught him that she was not inveterately, not
necessarily plain. But he had never before seen her look so much
as if her prosperity had deeper foundations than an ink-spotted
study-table littered with proof-sheets. Mrs. St. George might have
been the wife of a gentleman who "kept" books rather than wrote
them, who carried on great affairs in the City and made better
bargains than those that poets mostly make with publishers. With
this she hinted at a success more personal - a success peculiarly
stamping the age in which society, the world of conversation, is a
great drawing-room with the City for its antechamber. Overt
numbered her years at first as some thirty, and then ended by
believing that she might approach her fiftieth. But she somehow in
this case juggled away the excess and the difference - you only saw
them in a rare glimpse, like the rabbit in the conjurer's sleeve.
She was extraordinarily white, and her every element and item was
pretty; her eyes, her ears, her hair, her voice, her hands, her
feet - to which her relaxed attitude in her wicker chair gave a
great publicity - and the numerous ribbons and trinkets with which
she was bedecked. She looked as if she had put on her best clothes
to go to church and then had decided they were too good for that
and had stayed at home. She told a story of some length about the
shabby way Lady Jane had treated the Duchess, as well as an
anecdote in relation to a purchase she had made in Paris - on her
way back from Cannes; made for Lady Egbert, who had never refunded
the money. Paul Overt suspected her of a tendency to figure great
people as larger than life, until he noticed the manner in which
she handled Lady Egbert, which was so sharply mutinous that it
reassured him. He felt he should have understood her better if he
might have met her eye; but she scarcely so much as glanced at him.
"Ah here they come - all the good ones!" she said at last; and Paul
Overt admired at his distance the return of the church-goers -
several persons, in couples and threes, advancing in a flicker of
sun and shade at the end of a large green vista formed by the level
grass and the overarching boughs.
"If you mean to imply that WE'RE bad, I protest," said one of the
gentlemen - "after making one's self agreeable all the morning!"
"Ah if they've found you agreeable - !" Mrs. St. George gaily
cried. "But if we're good the others are better."
"They must be angels then," said the amused General.
"Your husband was an angel, the way he went off at your bidding,"
the gentleman who had first spoken declared to Mrs. St. George.
"At my bidding?"
"Didn't you make him go to church?"
"I never made him do anything in my life but once - when I made him
burn up a bad book. That's all!" At her "That's all!" our young
friend broke into an irrepressible laugh; it lasted only a second,
but it drew her eyes to him. His own met them, though not long
enough to help him to understand her; unless it were a step towards
this that he saw on the instant how the burnt book - the way she
alluded to it! - would have been one of her husband's finest
"A bad book?" her interlocutor repeated.
"I didn't like it. He went to church because your daughter went,"
she continued to General Fancourt. "I think it my duty to call
your attention to his extraordinary demonstrations to your
"Well, if you don't mind them I don't," the General laughed.
"Il s'attache e ses pas. But I don't wonder - she's so charming."
"I hope she won't make him burn any books!" Paul Overt ventured to
"If she'd make him write a few it would be more to the purpose,"
said Mrs. St. George. "He has been of a laziness of late - !"
Our young man stared - he was so struck with the lady's
phraseology. Her "Write a few" seemed to him almost as good as her
"That's all." Didn't she, as the wife of a rare artist, know what
it was to produce one perfect work of art? How in the world did
she think they were turned on? His private conviction was that,
admirably as Henry St. George wrote, he had written for the last
ten years, and especially for the last five, only too much, and
there was an instant during which he felt inwardly solicited to
make this public. But before he had spoken a diversion was
effected by the return of the absentees. They strolled up
dispersedly - there were eight or ten of them - and the circle
under the trees rearranged itself as they took their place in it.
They made it much larger, so that Paul Overt could feel - he was
always feeling that sort of thing, as he said to himself - that if
the company had already been interesting to watch the interest
would now become intense. He shook hands with his hostess, who
welcomed him without many words, in the manner of a woman able to
trust him to understand and conscious that so pleasant an occasion
would in every way speak for itself. She offered him no particular
facility for sitting by her, and when they had all subsided again
he found himself still next General Fancourt, with an unknown lady
on his other flank.
"That's my daughter - that one opposite," the General said to him
without lose of time. Overt saw a tall girl, with magnificent red
hair, in a dress of a pretty grey-green tint and of a limp silken
texture, a garment that clearly shirked every modern effect. It
had therefore somehow the stamp of the latest thing, so that our
beholder quickly took her for nothing if not contemporaneous.
"She's very handsome - very handsome," he repeated while he
considered her. There was something noble in her head, and she
appeared fresh and strong.
Her good father surveyed her with complacency, remarking soon:
"She looks too hot - that's her walk. But she'll be all right
presently. Then I'll make her come over and speak to you."
"I should be sorry to give you that trouble. If you were to take
me over THERE - !" the young man murmured.
"My dear sir, do you suppose I put myself out that way? I don't
mean for you, but for Marian," the General added.
"I would put myself out for her soon enough," Overt replied; after
which he went on: "Will you be so good as to tell me which of
those gentlemen is Henry St. George?"
"The fellow talking to my girl. By Jove, he IS making up to her -
they're going off for another walk."
"Ah is that he - really?" Our friend felt a certain surprise, for
the personage before him seemed to trouble a vision which had been
vague only while not confronted with the reality. As soon as the
reality dawned the mental image, retiring with a sigh, became
substantial enough to suffer a slight wrong. Overt, who had spent
a considerable part of his short life in foreign lands, made now,
but not for the first time, the reflexion that whereas in those
countries he had almost always recognised the artist and the man of
letters by his personal "type," the mould of his face, the
character of his head, the expression of his figure and even the
indications of his dress, so in England this identification was as
little as possible a matter of course, thanks to the greater
conformity, the habit of sinking the profession instead of
advertising it, the general diffusion of the air of the gentleman -
the gentleman committed to no particular set of ideas. More than
once, on returning to his own country, he had said to himself about
people met in society: "One sees them in this place and that, and
one even talks with them; but to find out what they DO one would
really have to be a detective." In respect to several individuals
whose work he was the opposite of "drawn to" - perhaps he was wrong
- he found himself adding "No wonder they conceal it - when it's so
bad!" He noted that oftener than in France and in Germany his
artist looked like a gentleman - that is like an English one -
while, certainly outside a few exceptions, his gentlemen didn't
look like an artist. St. George was not one of the exceptions;
that circumstance he definitely apprehended before the great man
had turned his back to walk off with Miss Fancourt. He certainly
looked better behind than any foreign man of letters - showed for
beautifully correct in his tall black hat and his superior frock
coat. Somehow, all the same, these very garments - he wouldn't
have minded them so much on a weekday - were disconcerting to Paul
Overt, who forgot for the moment that the head of the profession
was not a bit better dressed than himself. He had caught a glimpse
of a regular face, a fresh colour, a brown moustache and a pair of
eyes surely never visited by a fine frenzy, and he promised himself
to study these denotements on the first occasion. His superficial
sense was that their owner might have passed for a lucky
stockbroker - a gentleman driving eastward every morning from a
sanitary suburb in a smart dog-cart. That carried out the
impression already derived from his wife. Paul's glance, after a
moment, travelled back to this lady, and he saw how her own had
followed her husband as he moved off with Miss Fancourt. Overt
permitted himself to wonder a little if she were jealous when
another woman took him away. Then he made out that Mrs. St. George
wasn't glaring at the indifferent maiden. Her eyes rested but on
her husband, and with unmistakeable serenity. That was the way she
wanted him to be - she liked his conventional uniform. Overt
longed to hear more about the book she had induced him to destroy.
As they all came out from luncheon General Fancourt took hold of
him with an "I say, I want you to know my girl!" as if the idea had
just occurred to him and he hadn't spoken of it before. With the
other hand he possessed himself all paternally of the young lady.
"You know all about him. I've seen you with his books. She reads
everything - everything!" he went on to Paul. The girl smiled at
him and then laughed at her father. The General turned away and
his daughter spoke - "Isn't papa delightful?"
"He is indeed, Miss Fancourt."
"As if I read you because I read 'everything'!"
"Oh I don't mean for saying that," said Paul Overt. "I liked him
from the moment he began to be kind to me. Then he promised me
"It isn't for you he means it - it's for me. If you flatter
yourself that he thinks of anything in life but me you'll find
you're mistaken. He introduces every one. He thinks me
"You speak just like him," laughed our youth.
"Ah but sometimes I want to" - and the girl coloured. "I don't
read everything - I read very little. But I HAVE read you."
"Suppose we go into the gallery," said Paul Overt. She pleased him
greatly, not so much because of this last remark - though that of
course was not too disconcerting - as because, seated opposite to
him at luncheon, she had given him for half an hour the impression
of her beautiful face. Something else had come with it - a sense
of generosity, of an enthusiasm which, unlike many enthusiasms, was
not all manner. That was not spoiled for him by his seeing that
the repast had placed her again in familiar contact with Henry St.
George. Sitting next her this celebrity was also opposite our
young man, who had been able to note that he multiplied the
attentions lately brought by his wife to the General's notice.
Paul Overt had gathered as well that this lady was not in the least
discomposed by these fond excesses and that she gave every sign of
an unclouded spirit. She had Lord Masham on one side of her and on
the other the accomplished Mr. Mulliner, editor of the new high-
class lively evening paper which was expected to meet a want felt
in circles increasingly conscious that Conservatism must be made
amusing, and unconvinced when assured by those of another political
colour that it was already amusing enough. At the end of an hour
spent in her company Paul Overt thought her still prettier than at
the first radiation, and if her profane allusions to her husband's
work had not still rung in his ears he should have liked her - so
far as it could be a question of that in connexion with a woman to
whom he had not yet spoken and to whom probably he should never
speak if it were left to her. Pretty women were a clear need to
this genius, and for the hour it was Miss Fancourt who supplied the
want. If Overt had promised himself a closer view the occasion was
now of the best, and it brought consequences felt by the young man
as important. He saw more in St. George's face, which he liked the
better for its not having told its whole story in the first three
minutes. That story came out as one read, in short instalments -
it was excusable that one's analogies should be somewhat
professional - and the text was a style considerably involved, a
language not easy to translate at sight. There were shades of
meaning in it and a vague perspective of history which receded as
you advanced. Two facts Paul had particularly heeded. The first
of these was that he liked the measured mask much better at
inscrutable rest than in social agitation; its almost convulsive
smile above all displeased him (as much as any impression from that
source could), whereas the quiet face had a charm that grew in
proportion as stillness settled again. The change to the
expression of gaiety excited, he made out, very much the private
protest of a person sitting gratefully in the twilight when the
lamp is brought in too soon. His second reflexion was that, though
generally averse to the flagrant use of ingratiating arts by a man
of age "making up" to a pretty girl, he was not in this case too
painfully affected: which seemed to prove either that St. George
had a light hand or the air of being younger than he was, or else
that Miss Fancourt's own manner somehow made everything right.
Overt walked with her into the gallery, and they strolled to the
end of it, looking at the pictures, the cabinets, the charming
vista, which harmonised with the prospect of the summer afternoon,
resembling it by a long brightness, with great divans and old
chairs that figured hours of rest. Such a place as that had the
added merit of giving those who came into it plenty to talk about.
Miss Fancourt sat down with her new acquaintance on a flowered
sofa, the cushions of which, very numerous, were tight ancient
cubes of many sizes, and presently said: "I'm so glad to have a
chance to thank you."
"To thank me - ?" He had to wonder.
"I liked your book so much. I think it splendid."
She sat there smiling at him, and he never asked himself which book
she meant; for after all he had written three or four. That seemed
a vulgar detail, and he wasn't even gratified by the idea of the
pleasure she told him - her handsome bright face told him - he had
given her. The feeling she appealed to, or at any rate the feeling
she excited, was something larger, something that had little to do
with any quickened pulsation of his own vanity. It was responsive
admiration of the life she embodied, the young purity and richness
of which appeared to imply that real success was to resemble THAT,
to live, to bloom, to present the perfection of a fine type, not to
have hammered out headachy fancies with a bent back at an ink-
stained table. While her grey eyes rested on him - there was a
wideish space between these, and the division of her rich-coloured
hair, so thick that it ventured to be smooth, made a free arch
above them - he was almost ashamed of that exercise of the pen
which it was her present inclination to commend. He was conscious
he should have liked better to please her in some other way. The
lines of her face were those of a woman grown, but the child
lingered on in her complexion and in the sweetness of her mouth.
Above all she was natural - that was indubitable now; more natural
than he had supposed at first, perhaps on account of her aesthetic
toggery, which was conventionally unconventional, suggesting what
he might have called a tortuous spontaneity. He had feared that
sort of thing in other cases, and his fears had been justified;
for, though he was an artist to the essence, the modern reactionary
nymph, with the brambles of the woodland caught in her folds and a
look as if the satyrs had toyed with her hair, made him shrink not
as a man of starch and patent leather, but as a man potentially
himself a poet or even a faun. The girl was really more candid
than her costume, and the best proof of it was her supposing her
liberal character suited by any uniform. This was a fallacy, since
if she was draped as a pessimist he was sure she liked the taste of
life. He thanked her for her appreciation - aware at the same time
that he didn't appear to thank her enough and that she might think
him ungracious. He was afraid she would ask him to explain
something he had written, and he always winced at that - perhaps
too timidly - for to his own ear the explanation of a work of art
sounded fatuous. But he liked her so much as to feel a confidence
that in the long run he should be able to show her he wasn't rudely
evasive. Moreover she surely wasn't quick to take offence, wasn't
irritable; she could be trusted to wait. So when he said to her,
"Ah don't talk of anything I've done, don't talk of it HERE;
there's another man in the house who's the actuality!" - when he
uttered this short sincere protest it was with the sense that she
would see in the words neither mock humility nor the impatience of
a successful man bored with praise.
"You mean Mr. St. George - isn't he delightful?"
Paul Overt met her eyes, which had a cool morning-light that would
have half-broken his heart if he hadn't been so young. "Alas I
don't know him. I only admire him at a distance."
"Oh you must know him - he wants so to talk to you," returned Miss
Fancourt, who evidently had the habit of saying the things that, by
her quick calculation, would give people pleasure. Paul saw how
she would always calculate on everything's being simple between
"I shouldn't have supposed he knew anything about me," he
"He does then - everything. And if he didn't I should be able to
"To tell him everything?" our friend smiled.
"You talk just like the people in your book!" she answered.
"Then they must all talk alike."
She thought a moment, not a bit disconcerted. "Well, it must be so
difficult. Mr. St. George tells me it IS - terribly. I've tried
too - and I find it so. I've tried to write a novel."
"Mr. St. George oughtn't to discourage you," Paul went so far as to
"You do much more - when you wear that expression."
"Well, after all, why try to be an artist?" the young man pursued.
"It's so poor - so poor!"
"I don't know what you mean," said Miss Fancourt, who looked grave.
"I mean as compared with being a person of action - as living your
"But what's art but an intense life - if it be real?" she asked.
"I think it's the only one - everything else is so clumsy!" Her
companion laughed, and she brought out with her charming serenity
what next struck her. "It's so interesting to meet so many
"So I should think - but surely it isn't new to you."
"Why I've never seen any one - any one: living always in Asia."
The way she talked of Asia somehow enchanted him. "But doesn't
that continent swarm with great figures? Haven't you administered
provinces in India and had captive rajahs and tributary princes
chained to your car?"
It was as if she didn't care even SHOULD he amuse himself at her
cost. "I was with my father, after I left school to go out there.
It was delightful being with him - we're alone together in the
world, he and I - but there was none of the society I like best.
One never heard of a picture - never of a book, except bad ones."
"Never of a picture? Why, wasn't all life a picture?"
She looked over the delightful place where they sat. "Nothing to
compare to this. I adore England!" she cried.
It fairly stirred in him the sacred chord. "Ah of course I don't
deny that we must do something with her, poor old dear, yet."
"She hasn't been touched, really," said the girl.
"Did Mr. St. George say that?"
There was a small and, as he felt, harmless spark of irony in his
question; which, however, she answered very simply, not noticing
the insinuation. "Yes, he says England hasn't been touched - not
considering all there is," she went on eagerly. "He's so
interesting about our country. To listen to him makes one want so
to do something."
"It would make ME want to," said Paul Overt, feeling strongly, on
the instant, the suggestion of what she said and that of the
emotion with which she said it, and well aware of what an
incentive, on St. George's lips, such a speech might be.
"Oh you - as if you hadn't! I should like so to hear you talk
together," she added ardently.
"That's very genial of you; but he'd have it all his own way. I'm
prostrate before him."
She had an air of earnestness. "Do you think then he's so
"Far from it. Some of his later books seem to me of a queerness -
"Yes, yes - he knows that."
Paul Overt stared. "That they seem to me of a queerness - !"
"Well yes, or at any rate that they're not what they should be. He
told me he didn't esteem them. He has told me such wonderful
things - he's so interesting."
There was a certain shock for Paul Overt in the knowledge that the
fine genius they were talking of had been reduced to so explicit a
confession and had made it, in his misery, to the first comer; for
though Miss Fancourt was charming what was she after all but an
immature girl encountered at a country-house? Yet precisely this
was part of the sentiment he himself had just expressed: he would
make way completely for the poor peccable great man not because he
didn't read him clear, but altogether because he did. His
consideration was half composed of tenderness for superficialities
which he was sure their perpetrator judged privately, judged more
ferociously than any one, and which represented some tragic
intellectual secret. He would have his reasons for his psychology
e fleur de peau, and these reasons could only be cruel ones, such
as would make him dearer to those who already were fond of him.
"You excite my envy. I have my reserves, I discriminate - but I
love him," Paul said in a moment. "And seeing him for the first
time this way is a great event for me."
"How momentous - how magnificent!" cried the girl. "How delicious
to bring you together!"
"Your doing it - that makes it perfect," our friend returned.
"He's as eager as you," she went on. "But it's so odd you
shouldn't have met."
"It's not really so odd as it strikes you. I've been out of
England so much - made repeated absences all these last years."
She took this in with interest. "And yet you write of it as well
as if you were always here."
"It's just the being away perhaps. At any rate the best bits, I
suspect, are those that were done in dreary places abroad."
"And why were they dreary?"
"Because they were health-resorts - where my poor mother was
"Your poor mother?" - she was all sweet wonder.
"We went from place to place to help her to get better. But she
never did. To the deadly Riviera (I hate it!) to the high Alps, to
Algiers, and far away - a hideous journey - to Colorado."
"And she isn't better?" Miss Fancourt went on.
"She died a year ago."
"Really? - like mine! Only that's years since. Some day you must
tell me about your mother," she added.
He could at first, on this, only gaze at her. "What right things
you say! If you say them to St. George I don't wonder he's in
It pulled her up for a moment. "I don't know what you mean. He
doesn't make speeches and professions at all - he isn't
"I'm afraid you consider then that I am."
"No, I don't" - she spoke it rather shortly. And then she added:
"He understands - understands everything."
The young man was on the point of saying jocosely: "And I don't -
is that it?" But these words, in time, changed themselves to
others slightly less trivial: "Do you suppose he understands his
Miss Fancourt made no direct answer, but after a moment's
hesitation put it: "Isn't she charming?"
"Not in the least!"
"Here he comes. Now you must know him," she went on. A small
group of visitors had gathered at the other end of the gallery and
had been there overtaken by Henry St. George, who strolled in from
a neighbouring room. He stood near them a moment, not falling into
the talk but taking up an old miniature from a table and vaguely
regarding it. At the end of a minute he became aware of Miss
Fancourt and her companion in the distance; whereupon, laying down
his miniature, he approached them with the same procrastinating
air, his hands in his pockets and his eyes turned, right and left,
to the pictures. The gallery was so long that this transit took
some little time, especially as there was a moment when he stopped
to admire the fine Gainsborough. "He says Mrs. St. George has been
the making of him," the girl continued in a voice slightly lowered.
"Ah he's often obscure!" Paul laughed.
"Obscure?" she repeated as if she heard it for the first time. Her
eyes rested on her other friend, and it wasn't lost upon Paul that
they appeared to send out great shafts of softness. "He's going to
speak to us!" she fondly breathed. There was a sort of rapture in
her voice, and our friend was startled. "Bless my soul, does she
care for him like THAT? - is she in love with him?" he mentally
enquired. "Didn't I tell you he was eager?" she had meanwhile
asked of him.
"It's eagerness dissimulated," the young man returned as the
subject of their observation lingered before his Gainsborough. "He
edges toward us shyly. Does he mean that she saved him by burning
"That book? what book did she burn?" The girl quickly turned her
face to him.
"Hasn't he told you then?"
"Not a word."
"Then he doesn't tell you everything!" Paul had guessed that she
pretty much supposed he did. The great man had now resumed his
course and come nearer; in spite of which his more qualified
admirer risked a profane observation: "St. George and the Dragon
is what the anecdote suggests!"
His companion, however, didn't hear it; she smiled at the dragon's
adversary. "He IS eager - he is!" she insisted.
"Eager for you - yes."
But meanwhile she had called out: "I'm sure you want to know Mr.
Overt. You'll be great friends, and it will always be delightful
to me to remember I was here when you first met and that I had
something to do with it."
There was a freshness of intention in the words that carried them
off; nevertheless our young man was sorry for Henry St. George, as
he was sorry at any time for any person publicly invited to be
responsive and delightful. He would have been so touched to
believe that a man he deeply admired should care a straw for him
that he wouldn't play with such a presumption if it were possibly
vain. In a single glance of the eye of the pardonable Master he
read - having the sort of divination that belonged to his talent -
that this personage had ever a store of friendly patience, which
was part of his rich outfit, but was versed in no printed page of a
rising scribbler. There was even a relief, a simplification, in
that: liking him so much already for what he had done, how could
one have liked him any more for a perception which must at the best
have been vague? Paul Overt got up, trying to show his compassion,
but at the same instant he found himself encompassed by St.
George's happy personal art - a manner of which it was the essence
to conjure away false positions. It all took place in a moment.
Paul was conscious that he knew him now, conscious of his handshake
and of the very quality of his hand; of his face, seen nearer and
consequently seen better, of a general fraternising assurance, and
in particular of the circumstance that St. George didn't dislike
him (as yet at least) for being imposed by a charming but too
gushing girl, attractive enough without such danglers. No
irritation at any rate was reflected in the voice with which he
questioned Miss Fancourt as to some project of a walk - a general
walk of the company round the park. He had soon said something to
Paul about a talk - "We must have a tremendous lot of talk; there
are so many things, aren't there?" - but our friend could see this
idea wouldn't in the present case take very immediate effect. All
the same he was extremely happy, even after the matter of the walk
had been settled - the three presently passed back to the other
part of the gallery, where it was discussed with several members of
the party; even when, after they had all gone out together, he
found himself for half an hour conjoined with Mrs. St. George. Her
husband had taken the advance with Miss Fancourt, and this pair
were quite out of sight. It was the prettiest of rambles for a
summer afternoon - a grassy circuit, of immense extent, skirting
the limit of the park within. The park was completely surrounded
by its old mottled but perfect red wall, which, all the way on
their left, constituted in itself an object of interest. Mrs. St.
George mentioned to him the surprising number of acres thus
enclosed, together with numerous other facts relating to the
property and the family, and the family's other properties: she
couldn't too strongly urge on him the importance of seeing their
other houses. She ran over the names of these and rang the changes
on them with the facility of practice, making them appear an almost
endless list. She had received Paul Overt very amiably on his
breaking ground with her by the mention of his joy in having just
made her husband's acquaintance, and struck him as so alert and so
accommodating a little woman that he was rather ashamed of his MOT
about her to Miss Fancourt; though he reflected that a hundred
other people, on a hundred occasions, would have been sure to make
it. He got on with Ms. St. George, in short, better than he
expected; but this didn't prevent her suddenly becoming aware that
she was faint with fatigue and must take her way back to the house
by the shortest cut. She professed that she hadn't the strength of
a kitten and was a miserable wreck; a character he had been too
preoccupied to discern in her while he wondered in what sense she
could be held to have been the making of her husband. He had
arrived at a glimmering of the answer when she announced that she
must leave him, though this perception was of course provisional.
While he was in the very act of placing himself at her disposal for
the return the situation underwent a change; Lord Masham had
suddenly turned up, coming back to them, overtaking them, emerging
from the shrubbery - Overt could scarcely have said how he appeared
- and Mrs. St. George had protested that she wanted to be left
alone and not to break up the party. A moment later she was
walking off with Lord Masham. Our friend fell back and joined Lady
Watermouth, to whom he presently mentioned that Mrs. St. George had
been obliged to renounce the attempt to go further.
"She oughtn't to have come out at all," her ladyship rather
"Is she so very much of an invalid?"
"Very bad indeed." And his hostess added with still greater
austerity: "She oughtn't really to come to one!" He wondered what
was implied by this, and presently gathered that it was not a
reflexion on the lady's conduct or her moral nature: it only
represented that her strength was not equal to her aspirations.
The smoking-room at Summersoft was on the scale of the rest of the
place; high light commodious and decorated with such refined old
carvings and mouldings that it seemed rather a bower for ladies who
should sit at work at fading crewels than a parliament of gentlemen
smoking strong cigars. The gentlemen mustered there in
considerable force on the Sunday evening, collecting mainly at one
end, in front of one of the cool fair fireplaces of white marble,
the entablature of which was adorned with a delicate little Italian
"subject." There was another in the wall that faced it, and,
thanks to the mild summer night, a fire in neither; but a nucleus
for aggregation was furnished on one side by a table in the
chimney-corner laden with bottles, decanters and tall tumblers.
Paul Overt was a faithless smoker; he would puff a cigarette for
reasons with which tobacco had nothing to do. This was
particularly the case on the occasion of which I speak; his motive
was the vision of a little direct talk with Henry St. George. The
"tremendous" communion of which the great man had held out hopes to
him earlier in the day had not yet come off, and this saddened him
considerably, for the party was to go its several ways immediately
after breakfast on the morrow. He had, however, the disappointment
of finding that apparently the author of "Shadowmere" was not
disposed to prolong his vigil. He wasn't among the gentlemen
assembled when Paul entered, nor was he one of those who turned up,
in bright habiliments, during the next ten minutes. The young man
waited a little, wondering if he had only gone to put on something
extraordinary; this would account for his delay as well as
contribute further to Overt's impression of his tendency to do the
approved superficial thing. But he didn't arrive - he must have
been putting on something more extraordinary than was probable.
Our hero gave him up, feeling a little injured, a little wounded,
at this loss of twenty coveted words. He wasn't angry, but he
puffed his cigarette sighingly, with the sense of something rare
possibly missed. He wandered away with his regret and moved slowly
round the room, looking at the old prints on the walls. In this
attitude he presently felt a hand on his shoulder and a friendly
voice in his ear "This is good. I hoped I should find you. I came
down on purpose." St. George was there without a change of dress
and with a fine face - his graver one - to which our young man all
in a flutter responded. He explained that it was only for the
Master - the idea of a little talk - that he had sat up, and that,
not finding him, he had been on the point of going to bed.
"Well, you know, I don't smoke - my wife doesn't let me," said St.
George, looking for a place to sit down. "It's very good for me -
very good for me. Let us take that sofa."
"Do you mean smoking's good for you?"
"No no - her not letting me. It's a great thing to have a wife
who's so sure of all the things one can do without. One might
never find them out one's self. She doesn't allow me to touch a
cigarette." They took possession of a sofa at a distance from the
group of smokers, and St. George went on: "Have you got one
"Do you mean a cigarette?"
"Dear no - a wife."
"No; and yet I'd give up my cigarette for one."
"You'd give up a good deal more than that," St. George returned.
"However, you'd get a great deal in return. There's a something to
be said for wives," he added, folding his arms and crossing his
outstretched legs. He declined tobacco altogether and sat there
without returning fire. His companion stopped smoking, touched by
his courtesy; and after all they were out of the fumes, their sofa
was in a far-away corner. It would have been a mistake, St. George
went on, a great mistake for them to have separated without a
little chat; "for I know all about you," he said, "I know you're
very remarkable. You've written a very distinguished book."
"And how do you know it?" Paul asked.
"Why, my dear fellow, it's in the air, it's in the papers, it's
everywhere." St. George spoke with the immediate familiarity of a
confrere - a tone that seemed to his neighbour the very rustle of
the laurel. "You're on all men's lips and, what's better, on all
women's. And I've just been reading your book."
"Just? You hadn't read it this afternoon," said Overt.
"How do you know that?"
"I think you should know how I know it," the young man laughed.
"I suppose Miss Fancourt told you."
"No indeed - she led me rather to suppose you had."
"Yes - that's much more what she'd do. Doesn't she shed a rosy
glow over life? But you didn't believe her?" asked St. George.
"No, not when you came to us there."
"Did I pretend? did I pretend badly?" But without waiting for an
answer to this St. George went on: "You ought always to believe
such a girl as that - always, always. Some women are meant to be
taken with allowances and reserves; but you must take HER just as
"I like her very much," said Paul Overt.
Something in his tone appeared to excite on his companion's part a
momentary sense of the absurd; perhaps it was the air of
deliberation attending this judgement. St. George broke into a
laugh to reply. "It's the best thing you can do with her. She's a
rare young lady! In point of fact, however, I confess I hadn't
read you this afternoon."
"Then you see how right I was in this particular case not to
believe Miss Fancourt."
"How right? how can I agree to that when I lost credit by it?"
"Do you wish to pass exactly for what she represents you?
Certainly you needn't be afraid," Paul said.
"Ah, my dear young man, don't talk about passing - for the likes of
me! I'm passing away - nothing else than that. She has a better
use for her young imagination (isn't it fine?) than in
'representing' in any way such a weary wasted used-up animal!" The
Master spoke with a sudden sadness that produced a protest on
Paul's part; but before the protest could be uttered he went on,
reverting to the latter's striking novel: "I had no idea you were
so good - one hears of so many things. But you're surprisingly
"I'm going to be surprisingly better," Overt made bold to reply.
"I see that, and it's what fetches me. I don't see so much else -
as one looks about - that's going to be surprisingly better.
They're going to be consistently worse - most of the things. It's
so much easier to be worse - heaven knows I've found it so. I'm
not in a great glow, you know, about what's breaking out all over
the place. But you MUST be better - you really must keep it up. I
haven't of course. It's very difficult - that's the devil of the
whole thing, keeping it up. But I see you'll be able to. It will
be a great disgrace if you don't."
"It's very interesting to hear you speak of yourself; but I don't
know what you mean by your allusions to your having fallen off,"
Paul Overt observed with pardonable hypocrisy. He liked his
companion so much now that the fact of any decline of talent or of
care had ceased for the moment to be vivid to him.
"Don't say that - don't say that," St. George returned gravely, his
head resting on the top of the sofa-back and his eyes on the
ceiling. "You know perfectly what I mean. I haven't read twenty
pages of your book without seeing that you can't help it."
"You make me very miserable," Paul ecstatically breathed.
"I'm glad of that, for it may serve as a kind of warning. Shocking
enough it must be, especially to a young fresh mind, full of faith
- the spectacle of a man meant for better things sunk at my age in
such dishonour." St. George, in the same contemplative attitude,
spoke softly but deliberately, and without perceptible emotion.
His tone indeed suggested an impersonal lucidity that was
practically cruel - cruel to himself - and made his young friend
lay an argumentative hand on his arm. But he went on while his
eyes seemed to follow the graces of the eighteenth-century ceiling:
"Look at me well, take my lesson to heart - for it IS a lesson.
Let that good come of it at least that you shudder with your
pitiful impression, and that this may help to keep you straight in
the future. Don't become in your old age what I have in mine - the
depressing, the deplorable illustration of the worship of false
"What do you mean by your old age?" the young man asked.
"It has made me old. But I like your youth."
Paul answered nothing - they sat for a minute in silence. They
heard the others going on about the governmental majority. Then
"What do you mean by false gods?" he enquired.
His companion had no difficulty whatever in saying, "The idols of
the market; money and luxury and 'the world;' placing one's
children and dressing one's wife; everything that drives one to the
short and easy way. Ah the vile things they make one do!"
"But surely one's right to want to place one's children."
"One has no business to have any children," St. George placidly
declared. "I mean of course if one wants to do anything good."
"But aren't they an inspiration - an incentive?"
"An incentive to damnation, artistically speaking."
"You touch on very deep things - things I should like to discuss
with you," Paul said. "I should like you to tell me volumes about
yourself. This is a great feast for ME!"
"Of course it is, cruel youth. But to show you I'm still not
incapable, degraded as I am, of an act of faith, I'll tie my vanity
to the stake for you and burn it to ashes. You must come and see
me - you must come and see us," the Master quickly substituted.
"Mrs. St. George is charming; I don't know whether you've had any
opportunity to talk with her. She'll be delighted to see you; she
likes great celebrities, whether incipient or predominant. You
must come and dine - my wife will write to you. Where are you to
"This is my little address" - and Overt drew out his pocketbook and
extracted a visiting-card. On second thoughts, however, he kept it
back, remarking that he wouldn't trouble his friend to take charge
of it but would come and see him straightway in London and leave it
at his door if he should fail to obtain entrance.
"Ah you'll probably fail; my wife's always out - or when she isn't
out is knocked up from having been out. You must come and dine -
though that won't do much good either, for my wife insists on big
dinners." St. George turned it over further, but then went on:
"You must come down and see us in the country, that's the best way;
we've plenty of room, and it isn't bad."
"You've a house in the country?" Paul asked enviously.
"Ah not like this! But we have a sort of place we go to - an hour
from Euston. That's one of the reasons."
"One of the reasons?"
"Why my books are so bad."
"You must tell me all the others!" Paul longingly laughed.
His friend made no direct rejoinder to this, but spoke again
abruptly. "Why have I never seen you before?"
The tone of the question was singularly flattering to our hero, who
felt it to imply the great man's now perceiving he had for years
missed something. "Partly, I suppose, because there has been no
particular reason why you should see me. I haven't lived in the
world - in your world. I've spent many years out of England, in
different places abroad."
"Well, please don't do it any more. You must do England - there's
such a lot of it."
"Do you mean I must write about it?" and Paul struck the note of
the listening candour of a child.
"Of course you must. And tremendously well, do you mind? That
takes off a little of my esteem for this thing of yours - that it
goes on abroad. Hang 'abroad!' Stay at home and do things here -
do subjects we can measure."
"I'll do whatever you tell me," Overt said, deeply attentive. "But
pardon me if I say I don't understand how you've been reading my
book," he added. "I've had you before me all the afternoon, first
in that long walk, then at tea on the lawn, till we went to dress
for dinner, and all the evening at dinner and in this place."
St. George turned his face about with a smile. "I gave it but a
quarter of an hour."
"A quarter of an hour's immense, but I don't understand where you
put it in. In the drawing-room after dinner you weren't reading -
you were talking to Miss Fancourt."
"It comes to the same thing, because we talked about 'Ginistrella.'
She described it to me - she lent me her copy."
"Lent it to you?"
"She travels with it."
"It's incredible," Paul blushed.
"It's glorious for you, but it also turned out very well for me.
When the ladies went off to bed she kindly offered to send the book
down to me. Her maid brought it to me in the hall and I went to my
room with it. I hadn't thought of coming here, I do that so
little. But I don't sleep early, I always have to read an hour or
two. I sat down to your novel on the spot, without undressing,
without taking off anything but my coat. I think that's a sign my
curiosity had been strongly roused about it. I read a quarter of
an hour, as I tell you, and even in a quarter of an hour I was
"Ah the beginning isn't very good - it's the whole thing!" said
Overt, who had listened to this recital with extreme interest.
"And you laid down the book and came after me?" he asked.
"That's the way it moved me. I said to myself 'I see it's off his
own bat, and he's there, by the way, and the day's over and I
haven't said twenty words to him.' It occurred to me that you'd
probably be in the smoking-room and that it wouldn't be too late to
repair my omission. I wanted to do something civil to you, so I
put on my coat and came down. I shall read your book again when I
Our friend faced round in his place - he was touched as he had
scarce ever been by the picture of such a demonstration in his
favour. "You're really the kindest of men. Cela s'est passe comme
ca? - and I've been sitting here with you all this time and never
apprehended it and never thanked you!"
"Thank Miss Fancourt - it was she who wound me up. She has made me
feel as if I had read your novel."
"She's an angel from heaven!" Paul declared.
"She is indeed. I've never seen any one like her. Her interest in
literature's touching - something quite peculiar to herself; she
takes it all so seriously. She feels the arts and she wants to
feel them more. To those who practise them it's almost humiliating
- her curiosity, her sympathy, her good faith. How can anything be
as fine as she supposes it?"
"She's a rare organisation," the younger man sighed.
"The richest I've ever seen - an artistic intelligence really of
the first order. And lodged in such a form!" St. George exclaimed.
"One would like to represent such a girl as that," Paul continued.
"Ah there it is - there's nothing like life!" said his companion.
"When you're finished, squeezed dry and used up and you think the
sack's empty, you're still appealed to, you still get touches and
thrills, the idea springs up - out of the lap of the actual - and
shows you there's always something to be done. But I shan't do it
- she's not for me!"
"How do you mean, not for you?"
"Oh it's all over - she's for you, if you like."
"Ah much less!" said Paul. "She's not for a dingy little man of
letters; she's for the world, the bright rich world of bribes and
rewards. And the world will take hold of her - it will carry her
"It will try - but it's just a case in which there may be a fight.
It would be worth fighting, for a man who had it in him, with youth
and talent on his side."
These words rang not a little in Paul Overt's consciousness - they
held him briefly silent. "It's a wonder she has remained as she
is; giving herself away so - with so much to give away."
"Remaining, you mean, so ingenuous - so natural? Oh she doesn't
care a straw - she gives away because she overflows. She has her
own feelings, her own standards; she doesn't keep remembering that
she must be proud. And then she hasn't been here long enough to be
spoiled; she has picked up a fashion or two, but only the amusing
ones. She's a provincial - a provincial of genius," St. George
went on; "her very blunders are charming, her mistakes are
interesting. She has come back from Asia with all sorts of excited
curiosities and unappeased appetities. She's first-rate herself
and she expends herself on the second-rate. She's life herself and
she takes a rare interest in imitations. She mixes all things up,
but there are none in regard to which she hasn't perceptions. She
sees things in a perspective - as if from the top of the Himalayas
- and she enlarges everything she touches. Above all she
exaggerates - to herself, I mean. She exaggerates you and me!"
There was nothing in that description to allay the agitation caused
in our younger friend by such a sketch of a fine subject. It
seemed to him to show the art of St. George's admired hand, and he
lost himself in gazing at the vision - this hovered there before
him - of a woman's figure which should be part of the glory of a
novel. But at the end of a moment the thing had turned into smoke,
and out of the smoke - the last puff of a big cigar - proceeded
the voice of General Fancourt, who had left the others and come and
planted himself before the gentlemen on the sofa. "I suppose that
when you fellows get talking you sit up half the night."
"Half the night? - jamais de la vie! I follow a hygiene" - and St.
George rose to his feet.
"I see - you're hothouse plants," laughed the General. "That's the
way you produce your flowers."
"I produce mine between ten and one every morning - I bloom with a
regularity!" St. George went on.
"And with a splendour!" added the polite General, while Paul noted
how little the author of "Shadowmere" minded, as he phrased it to
himself, when addressed as a celebrated story-teller. The young
man had an idea HE should never get used to that; it would always
make him uncomfortable - from the suspicion that people would think
they had to - and he would want to prevent it. Evidently his great
colleague had toughened and hardened - had made himself a surface.
The group of men had finished their cigars and taken up their
bedroom candlesticks; but before they all passed out Lord
Watermouth invited the pair of guests who had been so absorbed
together to "have" something. It happened that they both declined;
upon which General Fancourt said: "Is that the hygiene? You don't
water the flowers?"
"Oh I should drown them!" St. George replied; but, leaving the room
still at his young friend's side, he added whimsically, for the
latter's benefit, in a lower tone: "My wife doesn't let me."
"Well I'm glad I'm not one of you fellows!" the General richly
The nearness of Summersoft to London had this consequence, chilling
to a person who had had a vision of sociability in a railway-
carriage, that most of the company, after breakfast, drove back to
town, entering their own vehicles, which had come out to fetch
them, while their servants returned by train with their luggage.
Three or four young men, among whom was Paul Overt, also availed
themselves of the common convenience; but they stood in the portico
of the house and saw the others roll away. Miss Fancourt got into
a victoria with her father after she had shaken hands with our hero
and said, smiling in the frankest way in the world, "I MUST see you
more. Mrs. St. George is so nice: she has promised to ask us both
to dinner together." This lady and her husband took their places
in a perfectly-appointed brougham - she required a closed carriage
- and as our young man waved his hat to them in response to their
nods and flourishes he reflected that, taken together, they were an
honourable image of success, of the material rewards and the social
credit of literature. Such things were not the full measure, but
he nevertheless felt a little proud for literature.
Before a week had elapsed he met Miss Fancourt in Bond Street, at a
private view of the works of a young artist in "black-and-white"
who had been so good as to invite him to the stuffy scene. The
drawings were admirable, but the crowd in the one little room was
so dense that he felt himself up to his neck in a sack of wool. A
fringe of people at the outer edge endeavoured by curving forward
their backs and presenting, below them, a still more convex surface
of resistance to the pressure of the mass, to preserve an interval
between their noses and the glazed mounts of the pictures; while
the central body, in the comparative gloom projected by a wide
horizontal screen hung under the skylight and allowing only a
margin for the day, remained upright dense and vague, lost in the
contemplation of its own ingredients. This contemplation sat
especially in the sad eyes of certain female heads, surmounted with
hats of strange convolution and plumage, which rose on long necks
above the others. One of the heads Paul perceived, was much the so
most beautiful of the collection, and his next discovery was that
it belonged to Miss Fancourt. Its beauty was enhanced by the glad
smile she sent him across surrounding obstructions, a smile that
drew him to her as fast as he could make his way. He had seen for
himself at Summersoft that the last thing her nature contained was
an affectation of indifference; yet even with this circumspection
he took a fresh satisfaction in her not having pretended to await
his arrival with composure. She smiled as radiantly as if she
wished to make him hurry, and as soon as he came within earshot she
broke out in her voice of joy: "He's here - he's here - he's
coming back in a moment!"
"Ah your father?" Paul returned as she offered him her hand.
"Oh dear no, this isn't in my poor father's line. I mean Mr. St.
George. He has just left me to speak to some one - he's coming
back. It's he who brought me - wasn't it charming?"
"Ah that gives him a pull over me - I couldn't have 'brought' you,
"If you had been so kind as to propose it - why not you as well as
he?" the girl returned with a face that, expressing no cheap
coquetry, simply affirmed a happy fact.
"Why he's a pere de famille. They've privileges," Paul explained.
And then quickly: "Will you go to see places with ME?" he asked.
"Anything you like!" she smiled. "I know what you mean, that girls
have to have a lot of people - " Then she broke off: "I don't
know; I'm free. I've always been like that - I can go about with
any one. I'm so glad to meet you," she added with a sweet
distinctness that made those near her turn round.
"Let me at least repay that speech by taking you out of this
squash," her friend said. "Surely people aren't happy here!"
"No, they're awfully mornes, aren't they? But I'm very happy
indeed and I promised Mr. St. George to remain in this spot till he
comes back. He's going to take me away. They send him invitations
for things of this sort - more than he wants. It was so kind of
him to think of me."
"They also send me invitations of this kind - more than I want.
And if thinking of YOU will do it - !" Paul went on.
"Oh I delight in them - everything that's life - everything that's
"They don't have private views in Asia, I suppose," he laughed.
"But what a pity that for this year, even in this gorged city,
they're pretty well over."
"Well, next year will do, for I hope you believe we're going to be
friends always. Here he comes!" Miss Fancourt continued before
Paul had time to respond.
He made out St. George in the gaps of the crowd, and this perhaps
led to his hurrying a little to say: "I hope that doesn't mean I'm
to wait till next year to see you."
"No, no - aren't we to meet at dinner on the twenty-fifth?" she
panted with an eagerness as happy as his own.
"That's almost next year. Is there no means of seeing you before?"
She stared with all her brightness. "Do you mean you'd COME?"
"Like a shot, if you'll be so good as to ask me!"
"On Sunday then - this next Sunday?"
"What have I done that you should doubt it?" the young man asked
Miss Fancourt turned instantly to St. George, who had now joined
them, and announced triumphantly: "He's coming on Sunday - this
"Ah my day - my day too!" said the famous novelist, laughing, to
"Yes, but not yours only. You shall meet in Manchester Square; you
shall talk - you shall be wonderful!"
"We don't meet often enough," St. George allowed, shaking hands
with his disciple. "Too many things - ah too many things! But we
must make it up in the country in September. You won't forget
you've promised me that?"
"Why he's coming on the twenty-fifth - you'll see him then," said
"On the twenty-fifth?" St. George asked vaguely.
"We dine with you; I hope you haven't forgotten. He's dining out
that day," she added gaily to Paul.
"Oh bless me, yes - that's charming! And you're coming? My wife
didn't tell me," St. George said to him. "Too many things - too
many things!" he repeated.
"Too many people - too many people!" Paul exclaimed, giving ground
before the penetration of an elbow.
"You oughtn't to say that. They all read you."
"Me? I should like to see them! Only two or three at most," the
young man returned.
"Did you ever hear anything like that? He knows, haughtily, how
good he is!" St. George declared, laughing to Miss Fancourt. "They
read ME, but that doesn't make me like them any better. Come away
from them, come away!" And he led the way out of the exhibition.
"He's going to take me to the Park," Miss Fancourt observed to
Overt with elation as they passed along the corridor that led to
"Ah does he go there?" Paul asked, taking the fact for a somewhat
unexpected illustration of St. George's moeurs.
"It's a beautiful day - there'll be a great crowd. We're going to
look at the people, to look at types," the girl went on. "We shall
sit under the trees; we shall walk by the Row."
"I go once a year - on business," said St. George, who had
overheard Paul's question.
"Or with a country cousin, didn't you tell me? I'm the country
cousin!" she continued over her shoulder to Paul as their friend
drew her toward a hansom to which he had signalled. The young man
watched them get in; he returned, as he stood there, the friendly
wave of the hand with which, ensconced in the vehicle beside her,
St. George took leave of him. He even lingered to see the vehicle
start away and lose itself in the confusion of Bond Street. He
followed it with his eyes; it put to him embarrassing things.
"She's not for ME!" the great novelist had said emphatically at
Summersoft; but his manner of conducting himself toward her
appeared not quite in harmony with such a conviction. How could he
have behaved differently if she HAD been for him? An indefinite
envy rose in Paul Overt's heart as he took his way on foot alone; a
feeling addressed alike strangely enough, to each of the occupants
of the hansom. How much he should like to rattle about London with
such a girl! How much he should like to go and look at "types"
with St. George!
The next Sunday at four o'clock he called in Manchester Square,
where his secret wish was gratified by his finding Miss Fancourt
alone. She was in a large bright friendly occupied room, which was
painted red all over, draped with the quaint cheap florid stuffs
that are represented as coming from southern and eastern countries,
where they are fabled to serve as the counterpanes of the
peasantry, and bedecked with pottery of vivid hues, ranged on
casual shelves, and with many water-colour drawings from the hand
(as the visitor learned) of the young lady herself, commemorating
with a brave breadth the sunsets, the mountains, the temples and
palaces of India. He sat an hour - more than an hour, two hours -
and all the while no one came in. His hostess was so good as to
remark, with her liberal humanity, that it was delightful they
weren't interrupted; it was so rare in London, especially at that
season, that people got a good talk. But luckily now, of a fine
Sunday, half the world went out of town, and that made it better
for those who didn't go, when these others were in sympathy. It
was the defect of London - one of two or three, the very short list
of those she recognised in the teeming world-city she adored - that
there were too few good chances for talk; you never had time to
carry anything far.
"Too many things - too many things!" Paul said, quoting St.
George's exclamation of a few days before.
"Ah yes, for him there are too many - his life's too complicated."
"Have you seen it NEAR? That's what I should like to do; it might
explain some mysteries," her visitor went on. She asked him what
mysteries he meant, and he said: "Oh peculiarities of his work,
inequalities, superficialities. For one who looks at it from the
artistic point of view it contains a bottomless ambiguity."
She became at this, on the spot, all intensity. "Ah do describe
that more - it's so interesting. There are no such suggestive
questions. I'm so fond of them. He thinks he's a failure -
fancy!" she beautifully wailed.
"That depends on what his ideal may have been. With his gifts it
ought to have been high. But till one knows what he really
proposed to himself - ? Do YOU know by chance?" the young man
"Oh he doesn't talk to me about himself. I can't make him. It's
Paul was on the point of asking what then he did talk about, but
discretion checked it and he said instead: "Do you think he's
unhappy at home?"
She seemed to wonder. "At home?"
"I mean in his relations with his wife. He has a mystifying little
way of alluding to her."
"Not to me," said Marian Fancourt with her clear eyes. "That
wouldn't be right, would it?" she asked gravely.
"Not particularly; so I'm glad he doesn't mention her to you. To
praise her might bore you, and he has no business to do anything
else. Yet he knows you better than me."
"Ah but he respects YOU!" the girl cried as with envy.
Her visitor stared a moment, then broke into a laugh. "Doesn't he
"Of course, but not in the same way. He respects what you've done
- he told me so, the other day."
Paul drank it in, but retained his faculties. "When you went to
look at types?"
"Yes - we found so many: he has such an observation of them! He
talked a great deal about your book. He says it's really
"Important! Ah the grand creature!" - and the author of the work
in question groaned for joy.
"He was wonderfully amusing, he was inexpressibly droll, while we
walked about. He sees everything; he has so many comparisons and
images, and they're always exactly right. C'est d'un trouve, as
"Yes, with his gifts, such things as he ought to have done!" Paul
"And don't you think he HAS done them?"
Ah it was just the point. "A part of them, and of course even that
part's immense. But he might have been one of the greatest.
However, let us not make this an hour of qualifications. Even as
they stand," our friend earnestly concluded, "his writings are a
mine of gold."
To this proposition she ardently responded, and for half an hour
the pair talked over the Master's principal productions. She knew
them well - she knew them even better than her visitor, who was
struck with her critical intelligence and with something large and
bold in the movement in her mind. She said things that startled
him and that evidently had come to her directly; they weren't
picked-up phrases - she placed them too well. St. George had been
right about her being first-rate, about her not being afraid to
gush, not remembering that she must be proud. Suddenly something
came back to her, and she said: "I recollect that he did speak of
Mrs. St. George to me once. He said, apropos of something or
other, that she didn't care for perfection."
"That's a great crime in an artist's wife," Paul returned.
"Yes, poor thing!" and the girl sighed with a suggestion of many
reflexions, some of them mitigating. But she presently added: "Ah
perfection, perfection - how one ought to go in for it! I wish I
"Every one can in his way," her companion opined.
"In HIS way, yes - but not in hers. Women are so hampered - so
condemned! Yet it's a kind of dishonour if you don't, when you
want to DO something, isn't it?" Miss Fancourt pursued, dropping
one train in her quickness to take up another, an accident that was
common with her. So these two young persons sat discussing high
themes in their eclectic drawing-room, in their London "season" -
discussing, with extreme seriousness, the high theme of perfection.
It must be said in extenuation of this eccentricity that they were
interested in the business. Their tone had truth and their emotion
beauty; they weren't posturing for each other or for some one else.
The subject was so wide that they found themselves reducing it; the
perfection to which for the moment they agreed to confine their
speculations was that of the valid, the exemplary work of art. Our
young woman's imagination, it appeared, had wandered far in that
direction, and her guest had the rare delight of feeling in their
conversation a full interchange. This episode will have lived for
years in his memory and even in his wonder; it had the quality that
fortune distils in a single drop at a time - the quality that
lubricates many ensuing frictions. He still, whenever he likes,
has a vision of the room, the bright red sociable talkative room
with the curtains that, by a stroke of successful audacity, had the
note of vivid blue. He remembers where certain things stood, the
particular book open on the table and the almost intense odour of
the flowers placed, at the left, somewhere behind him. These facts
were the fringe, as it were, of a fine special agitation which had
its birth in those two hours and of which perhaps the main sign was
in its leading him inwardly and repeatedly to breathe "I had no
idea there was any one like this - I had no idea there was any one
like this!" Her freedom amazed him and charmed him - it seemed so
to simplify the practical question. She was on the footing of an
independent personage - a motherless girl who had passed out of her
teens and had a position and responsibilities, who wasn't held down
to the limitations of a little miss. She came and went with no
dragged duenna, she received people alone, and, though she was
totally without hardness, the question of protection or patronage
had no relevancy in regard to her. She gave such an impression of
the clear and the noble combined with the easy and the natural that
in spite of her eminent modern situation she suggested no sort of
sister-hood with the "fast" girl. Modern she was indeed, and made
Paul Overt, who loved old colour, the golden glaze of time, think
with some alarm of the muddled palette of the future. He couldn't
get used to her interest in the arts he cared for; it seemed too
good to be real - it was so unlikely an adventure to tumble into
such a well of sympathy. One might stray into the desert easily -
that was on the cards and that was the law of life; but it was too
rare an accident to stumble on a crystal well. Yet if her
aspirations seemed at one moment too extravagant to be real they
struck him at the next as too intelligent to be false. They were
both high and lame, and, whims for whims, he preferred them to any
he had met in a like relation. It was probable enough she would
leave them behind - exchange them for politics or "smartness" or
mere prolific maternity, as was the custom of scribbling daubing
educated flattered girls in an age of luxury and a society of
leisure. He noted that the water-colours on the walls of the room
she sat in had mainly the quality of being naives, and reflected
that naivete in art is like a zero in a number: its importance
depends on the figure it is united with. Meanwhile, however, he
had fallen in love with her. Before he went away, at any rate, he
said to her: "I thought St. George was coming to see you to-day,
but he doesn't turn up."
For a moment he supposed she was going to cry "Comment donc? Did
you come here only to meet him?" But the next he became aware of
how little such a speech would have fallen in with any note of
flirtation he had as yet perceived in her. She only replied: "Ah
yes, but I don't think he'll come. He recommended me not to expect
him." Then she gaily but all gently added: "He said it wasn't
fair to you. But I think I could manage two."
"So could I," Paul Overt returned, stretching the point a little to
meet her. In reality his appreciation of the occasion was so
completely an appreciation of the woman before him that another
figure in the scene, even so esteemed a one as St. George, might
for the hour have appealed to him vainly. He left the house
wondering what the great man had meant by its not being fair to
him; and, still more than that, whether he had actually stayed away
from the force of that idea. As he took his course through the
Sunday solitude of Manchester Square, swinging his stick and with a
good deal of emotion fermenting in his soul, it appeared to him he
was living in a world strangely magnanimous. Miss Fancourt had
told him it was possible she should be away, and that her father
should be, on the following Sunday, but that she had the hope of a
visit from him in the other event. She promised to let him know
should their absence fail, and then he might act accordingly.
After he had passed into one of the streets that open from the
Square he stopped, without definite intentions, looking sceptically
for a cab. In a moment he saw a hansom roll through the place from
the other side and come a part of the way toward him. He was on
the point of hailing the driver when he noticed a "fare" within;
then he waited, seeing the man prepare to deposit his passenger by
pulling up at one of the houses. The house was apparently the one
he himself had just quitted; at least he drew that inference as he
recognised Henry St. George in the person who stepped out of the
hansom. Paul turned off as quickly as if he had been caught in the
act of spying. He gave up his cab - he preferred to walk; he would
go nowhere else. He was glad St. George hadn't renounced his visit
altogether - that would have been too absurd. Yes, the world was
magnanimous, and even he himself felt so as, on looking at his
watch, he noted but six o'clock, so that he could mentally
congratulate his successor on having an hour still to sit in Miss
Fancourt's drawing-room. He himself might use that hour for
another visit, but by the time he reached the Marble Arch the idea
of such a course had become incongruous to him. He passed beneath
that architectural effort and walked into the Park till he got upon
the spreading grass. Here he continued to walk; he took his way
across the elastic turf and came out by the Serpentine. He watched
with a friendly eye the diversions of the London people, he bent a
glance almost encouraging on the young ladies paddling their
sweethearts about the lake and the guardsmen tickling tenderly with
their bearskins the artificial flowers in the Sunday hats of their
partners. He prolonged his meditative walk; he went into
Kensington Gardens, he sat upon the penny chairs, he looked at the
little sail-boats launched upon the round pond and was glad he had
no engagement to dine. He repaired for this purpose, very late, to
his club, where he found himself unable to order a repast and told
the waiter to bring whatever there was. He didn't even observe
what he was served with, and he spent the evening in the library of
the establishment, pretending to read an article in an American
magazine. He failed to discover what it was about; it appeared in
a dim way to be about Marian Fancourt.
Quite late in the week she wrote to him that she was not to go into
the country - it had only just been settled. Her father, she
added, would never settle anything, but put it all on her. She
felt her responsibility - she had to - and since she was forced
this was the way she had decided. She mentioned no reasons, which
gave our friend all the clearer field for bold conjecture about
them. In Manchester Square on this second Sunday he esteemed his
fortune less good, for she had three or four other visitors. But
there were three or four compensations; perhaps the greatest of
which was that, learning how her father had after all, at the last
hour, gone out of town alone, the bold conjecture I just now spoke
of found itself becoming a shade more bold. And then her presence
was her presence, and the personal red room was there and was full
of it, whatever phantoms passed and vanished, emitting
incomprehensible sounds. Lastly, he had the resource of staying
till every one had come and gone and of believing this grateful to
her, though she gave no particular sign. When they were alone
together he came to his point. "But St. George did come - last
Sunday. I saw him as I looked back."
"Yes; but it was the last time."
"The last time?"
"He said he would never come again."
Paul Overt stared. "Does he mean he wishes to cease to see you?"
"I don't know what he means," the girl bravely smiled. "He won't
at any rate see me here."
"And pray why not?"
"I haven't the least idea," said Marian Fancourt, whose visitor
found her more perversely sublime than ever yet as she professed
this clear helplessness.
"Oh I say, I want you to stop a little," Henry St. George said to
him at eleven o'clock the night he dined with the head of the
profession. The company - none of it indeed OF the profession -
had been numerous and was taking its leave; our young man, after
bidding good-night to his hostess, had put out his hand in farewell
to the master of the house. Besides drawing from the latter the
protest I have cited this movement provoked a further priceless
word about their chance now to have a talk, their going into his
room, his having still everything to say. Paul Overt was all
delight at this kindness; nevertheless he mentioned in weak jocose
qualification the bare fact that he had promised to go to another
place which was at a considerable distance.
"Well then you'll break your promise, that's all. You quite awful
humbug!" St. George added in a tone that confirmed our young man's
"Certainly I'll break it - but it was a real promise."
"Do you mean to Miss Fancourt? You're following her?" his friend
He answered by a question. "Oh is SHE going?"
"Base impostor!" his ironic host went on. "I've treated you
handsomely on the article of that young lady: I won't make another
concession. Wait three minutes - I'll be with you." He gave
himself to his departing guests, accompanied the long-trained
ladies to the door. It was a hot night, the windows were open, the
sound of the quick carriages and of the linkmen's call came into
the house. The affair had rather glittered; a sense of festal
things was in the heavy air: not only the influence of that
particular entertainment, but the suggestion of the wide hurry of
pleasure which in London on summer nights fills so many of the
happier quarters of the complicated town. Gradually Mrs. St.
George's drawing-room emptied itself; Paul was left alone with his
hostess, to whom he explained the motive of his waiting. "Ah yes,
some intellectual, some PROFESSIONAL, talk," she leered; "at this
season doesn't one miss it? Poor dear Henry, I'm so glad!" The
young man looked out of the window a moment, at the called hansoms
that lurched up, at the smooth broughams that rolled away. When he
turned round Mrs. St. George had disappeared; her husband's voice
rose to him from below - he was laughing and talking, in the
portico, with some lady who awaited her carriage. Paul had
solitary possession, for some minutes, of the warm deserted rooms
where the covered tinted lamplight was soft, the seats had been
pushed about and the odour of flowers lingered. They were large,
they were pretty, they contained objects of value; everything in
the picture told of a "good house." At the end of five minutes a
servant came in with a request from the Master that he would join
him downstairs; upon which, descending, he followed his conductor
through a long passage to an apartment thrown out, in the rear of
the habitation, for the special requirements, as he guessed, of a
busy man of letters.
St. George was in his shirt-sleeves in the middle of a large high
room - a room without windows, but with a wide skylight at the top,
that of a place of exhibition. It was furnished as a library, and
the serried bookshelves rose to the ceiling, a surface of
incomparable tone produced by dimly-gilt "backs" interrupted here
and there by the suspension of old prints and drawings. At the end
furthest from the door of admission was a tall desk, of great
extent, at which the person using it could write only in the erect
posture of a clerk in a counting-house; and stretched from the
entrance to this structure was a wide plain band of crimson cloth,
as straight as a garden-path and almost as long, where, in his
mind's eye, Paul at once beheld the Master pace to and fro during
vexed hours - hours, that is, of admirable composition. The
servant gave him a coat, an old jacket with a hang of experience,
from a cupboard in the wall, retiring afterwards with the garment
he had taken off. Paul Overt welcomed the coat; it was a coat for
talk, it promised confidences - having visibly received so many -
and had tragic literary elbows. "Ah we're practical - we're
practical!" St. George said as he saw his visitor look the place
over. "Isn't it a good big cage for going round and round? My
wife invented it and she locks me up here every morning."
Our young man breathed - by way of tribute - with a certain
oppression. "You don't miss a window - a place to look out?"
"I did at first awfully; but her calculation was just. It saves
time, it has saved me many months in these ten years. Here I
stand, under the eye of day - in London of course, very often, it's
rather a bleared old eye - walled in to my trade. I can't get away
- so the room's a fine lesson in concentration. I've learnt the
lesson, I think; look at that big bundle of proof and acknowledge
it." He pointed to a fat roll of papers, on one of the tables,
which had not been undone.
"Are you bringing out another -?" Paul asked in a tone the fond
deficiencies of which he didn't recognise till his companion burst
out laughing, and indeed scarce even then.
"You humbug, you humbug!" - St. George appeared to enjoy caressing
him, as it were, with that opprobrium. "Don't I know what you
think of them?" he asked, standing there with his hands in his
pockets and with a new kind of smile. It was as if he were going
to let his young votary see him all now.
"Upon my word in that case you know more than I do!" the latter
ventured to respond, revealing a part of the torment of being able
neither clearly to esteem nor distinctly to renounce him.
"My dear fellow," said the more and more interesting Master, "don't
imagine I talk about my books specifically; they're not a decent
subject - il ne manquerait plus que ca! I'm not so bad as you may
apprehend! About myself, yes, a little, if you like; though it
wasn't for that I brought you down here. I want to ask you
something - very much indeed; I value this chance. Therefore sit
down. We're practical, but there IS a sofa, you see - for she does
humour my poor bones so far. Like all really great administrators
and disciplinarians she knows when wisely to relax." Paul sank
into the corner of a deep leathern couch, but his friend remained
standing and explanatory. "If you don't mind, in this room, this
is my habit. From the door to the desk and from the desk to the
door. That shakes up my imagination gently; and don't you see what
a good thing it is that there's no window for her to fly out of?
The eternal standing as I write (I stop at that bureau and put it
down, when anything comes, and so we go on) was rather wearisome at
first, but we adopted it with an eye to the long run; you're in
better order - if your legs don't break down! - and you can keep it
up for more years. Oh we're practical - we're practical!" St.
George repeated, going to the table and taking up all mechanically
the bundle of proofs. But, pulling off the wrapper, he had a
change of attention that appealed afresh to our hero. He lost
himself a moment, examining the sheets of his new book, while the
younger man's eyes wandered over the room again.
"Lord, what good things I should do if I had such a charming place
as this to do them in!" Paul reflected. The outer world, the world
of accident and ugliness, was so successfully excluded, and within
the rich protecting square, beneath the patronising sky, the dream-
figures, the summoned company, could hold their particular revel.
It was a fond prevision of Overt's rather than an observation on
actual data, for which occasions had been too few, that the Master
thus more closely viewed would have the quality, the charming gift,
of flashing out, all surprisingly, in personal intercourse and at
moments of suspended or perhaps even of diminished expectation. A
happy relation with him would be a thing proceeding by jumps, not
by traceable stages.
"Do you read them - really?" he asked, laying down the proofs on
Paul's enquiring of him how soon the work would be published. And
when the young man answered "Oh yes, always," he was moved to mirth
again by something he caught in his manner of saying that. "You go
to see your grandmother on her birthday - and very proper it is,
especially as she won't last for ever. She has lost every faculty
and every sense; she neither sees, nor hears, nor speaks; but all
customary pieties and kindly habits are respectable. Only you're
strong if you DO read 'em! I couldn't, my dear fellow. You are
strong, I know; and that's just a part of what I wanted to say to
you. You're very strong indeed. I've been going into your other
things - they've interested me immensely. Some one ought to have
told me about them before - some one I could believe. But whom can
one believe? You're wonderfully on the right road - it's awfully
decent work. Now do you mean to keep it up? - that's what I want
to ask you."
"Do I mean to do others?" Paul asked, looking up from his sofa at
his erect inquisitor and feeling partly like a happy little boy
when the school-master is gay, and partly like some pilgrim of old
who might have consulted a world-famous oracle. St. George's own
performance had been infirm, but as an adviser he would be
"Others - others? Ah the number won't matter; one other would do,
if it were really a further step - a throb of the same effort.
What I mean is have you it in your heart to go in for some sort of
"Ah decency, ah perfection -!" the young man sincerely sighed. "I
talked of them the other Sunday with Miss Fancourt."
It produced on the Master's part a laugh of odd acrimony. "Yes,
they'll 'talk' of them as much as you like! But they'll do little
to help one to them. There's no obligation of course; only you
strike me as capable," he went on. "You must have thought it all
over. I can't believe you're without a plan. That's the sensation
you give me, and it's so rare that it really stirs one up - it
makes you remarkable. If you haven't a plan, if you DON'T mean to
keep it up, surely you're within your rights; it's nobody's
business, no one can force you, and not more than two or three
people will notice you don't go straight. The others - ALL the
rest, every blest soul in England, will think you do - will think
you are keeping it up: upon my honour they will! I shall be one
of the two or three who know better. Now the question is whether
you can do it for two or three. Is that the stuff you're made of?"
It locked his guest a minute as in closed throbbing arms. "I could
do it for one, if you were the one."
"Don't say that; I don't deserve it; it scorches me," he protested
with eyes suddenly grave and glowing. "The 'one' is of course
one's self, one's conscience, one's idea, the singleness of one's
aim. I think of that pure spirit as a man thinks of a woman he has
in some detested hour of his youth loved and forsaken. She haunts
him with reproachful eyes, she lives for ever before him. As an
artist, you know, I've married for money." Paul stared and even
blushed a little, confounded by this avowal; whereupon his host,
observing the expression of his face, dropped a quick laugh and
pursued: "You don't follow my figure. I'm not speaking of my dear
wife, who had a small fortune - which, however, was not my bribe.
I fell in love with her, as many other people have done. I refer
to the mercenary muse whom I led to the altar of literature.
Don't, my boy, put your nose into THAT yoke. The awful jade will
lead you a life!"
Our hero watched him, wondering and deeply touched. "Haven't you
"Happy? It's a kind of hell."
"There are things I should like to ask you," Paul said after a
"Ask me anything in all the world. I'd turn myself inside out to
"To 'save' me?" he quavered.
"To make you stick to it - to make you see it through. As I said
to you the other night at Summersoft, let my example be vivid to
"Why your books are not so bad as that," said Paul, fairly laughing
and feeling that if ever a fellow had breathed the air of art - !
"So bad as what?"
"Your talent's so great that it's in everything you do, in what's
less good as well as in what's best. You've some forty volumes to
show for it - forty volumes of wonderful life, of rare observation,
of magnificent ability."
"I'm very clever, of course I know that" - but it was a thing, in
fine, this author made nothing of. "Lord, what rot they'd all be
if I hadn't been I'm a successful charlatan," he went on - "I've
been able to pass off my system. But do you know what it is? It's
"Carton-pierre?" Paul was struck, and gaped.
"Ah don't say such things - you make me bleed!" the younger man
protested. "I see you in a beautiful fortunate home, living in
comfort and honour."
"Do you call it honour?" - his host took him up with an intonation
that often comes back to him. "That's what I want YOU to go in
for. I mean the real thing. This is brummagem."
"Brummagem?" Paul ejaculated while his eyes wandered, by a movement
natural at the moment, over the luxurious room.
"Ah they make it so well to-day - it's wonderfully deceptive!"
Our friend thrilled with the interest and perhaps even more with
the pity of it. Yet he wasn't afraid to seem to patronise when he
could still so far envy. "Is it deceptive that I find you living
with every appearance of domestic felicity - blest with a devoted,
accomplished wife, with children whose acquaintance I haven't yet
had the pleasure of making, but who MUST be delightful young
people, from what I know of their parents?"
St. George smiled as for the candour of his question. "It's all
excellent, my dear fellow - heaven forbid I should deny it. I've
made a great deal of money; my wife has known how to take care of
it, to use it without wasting it, to put a good bit of it by, to
make it fructify. I've got a loaf on the shelf; I've got
everything in fact but the great thing."
"The great thing?" Paul kept echoing.
"The sense of having done the best - the sense which is the real
life of the artist and the absence of which is his death, of having
drawn from his intellectual instrument the finest music that nature
had hidden in it, of having played it as it should be played. He
either does that or he doesn't - and if he doesn't he isn't worth
speaking of. Therefore, precisely, those who really know DON'T
speak of him. He may still hear a great chatter, but what he hears
most is the incorruptible silence of Fame. I've squared her, you
may say, for my little hour - but what's my little hour? Don't
imagine for a moment," the Master pursued, "that I'm such a cad as
to have brought you down here to abuse or to complain of my wife to
you. She's a woman of distinguished qualities, to whom my
obligations are immense; so that, if you please, we'll say nothing
about her. My boys - my children are all boys - are straight and
strong, thank God, and have no poverty of growth about them, no
penury of needs. I receive periodically the most satisfactory
attestation from Harrow, from Oxford, from Sandhurst - oh we've
done the best for them! - of their eminence as living thriving
"It must be delightful to feel that the son of one's loins is at
Sandhurst," Paul remarked enthusiastically.
"It is - it's charming. Oh I'm a patriot!"
The young man then could but have the greater tribute of questions
to pay. "Then what did you mean - the other night at Summersoft -
by saying that children are a curse?"
"My dear youth, on what basis are we talking?" and St. George
dropped upon the sofa at a short distance from him. Sitting a
little sideways he leaned back against the opposite arm with his
hands raised and interlocked behind his head. "On the supposition
that a certain perfection's possible and even desirable - isn't it
so? Well, all I say is that one's children interfere with
perfection. One's wife interferes. Marriage interferes."
"You think then the artist shouldn't marry?"
"He does so at his peril - he does so at his cost."
"Not even when his wife's in sympathy with his work?"
"She never is - she can't be! Women haven't a conception of such
"Surely they on occasion work themselves," Paul objected.
"Yes, very badly indeed. Oh of course, often, they think they
understand, they think they sympathise. Then it is they're most
dangerous. Their idea is that you shall do a great lot and get a
great lot of money. Their great nobleness and virtue, their
exemplary conscientiousness as British females, is in keeping you
up to that. My wife makes all my bargains with my publishers for
me, and has done so for twenty years. She does it consummately
well - that's why I'm really pretty well off. Aren't you the
father of their innocent babes, and will you withhold from them
their natural sustenance? You asked me the other night if they're
not an immense incentive. Of course they are - there's no doubt of
Paul turned it over: it took, from eyes he had never felt open so
wide, so much looking at. "For myself I've an idea I need
"Ah well then, n'en parlons plus!" his companion handsomely smiled.
"YOU are an incentive, I maintain," the young man went on. "You
don't affect me in the way you'd apparently like to. Your great
success is what I see - the pomp of Ennismore Gardens!"
"Success?" - St. George's eyes had a cold fine light. "Do you call
it success to be spoken of as you'd speak of me if you were sitting
here with another artist - a young man intelligent and sincere like
yourself? Do you call it success to make you blush - as you would
blush! - if some foreign critic (some fellow, of course I mean, who
should know what he was talking about and should have shown you he
did, as foreign critics like to show it) were to say to you: 'He's
the one, in this country, whom they consider the most perfect,
isn't he?' Is it success to be the occasion of a young
Englishman's having to stammer as you would have to stammer at such
a moment for old England? No, no; success is to have made people
wriggle to another tune. Do try it!"
Paul continued all gravely to glow. "Try what?"
"Try to do some really good work."
"Oh I want to, heaven knows!"
"Well, you can't do it without sacrifices - don't believe that for
a moment," the Master said. "I've made none. I've had everything.
In other words I've missed everything."
"You've had the full rich masculine human general life, with all
the responsibilities and duties and burdens and sorrows and joys -
all the domestic and social initiations and complications. They
must be immensely suggestive, immensely amusing," Paul anxiously
"For a strong man - yes."
"They've given me subjects without number, if that's what you mean;
but they've taken away at the same time the power to use them.
I've touched a thousand things, but which one of them have I turned
into gold? The artist has to do only with that - he knows nothing
of any baser metal. I've led the life of the world, with my wife
and my progeny; the clumsy conventional expensive materialised
vulgarised brutalised life of London. We've got everything
handsome, even a carriage - we're perfect Philistines and
prosperous hospitable eminent people. But, my dear fellow, don't
try to stultify yourself and pretend you don't know what we HAVEN'T
got. It's bigger than all the rest. Between artists - come!" the
Master wound up. "You know as well as you sit there that you'd put
a pistol-ball into your brain if you had written my books!"
It struck his listener that the tremendous talk promised by him at
Summersoft had indeed come off, and with a promptitude, a fulness,
with which the latter's young imagination had scarcely reckoned.
His impression fairly shook him and he throbbed with the excitement
of such deep soundings and such strange confidences. He throbbed
indeed with the conflict of his feelings - bewilderment and
recognition and alarm, enjoyment and protest and assent, all
commingled with tenderness (and a kind of shame in the
participation) for the sores and bruises exhibited by so fine a
creature, and with a sense of the tragic secret nursed under his
trappings. The idea of HIS, Paul Overt's, becoming the occasion of
such an act of humility made him flush and pant, at the same time
that his consciousness was in certain directions too much alive not
to swallow - and not intensely to taste - every offered spoonful
of the revelation. It had been his odd fortune to blow upon the
deep waters, to make them surge and break in waves of strange
eloquence. But how couldn't he give out a passionate contradiction
of his host's last extravagance, how couldn't he enumerate to him
the parts of his work he loved, the splendid things he had found in
it, beyond the compass of any other writer of the day? St. George
listened a while, courteously; then he said, laying his hand on his
visitor's: "That's all very well; and if your idea's to do nothing
better there's no reason you shouldn't have as many good things as
I - as many human and material appendages, as many sons or
daughters, a wife with as many gowns, a house with as many
servants, a stable with as many horses, a heart with as many
aches." The Master got up when he had spoken thus - he stood a
moment - near the sofa looking down on his agitated pupil. "Are
you possessed of any property?" it occurred to him to ask.
"None to speak of."
"Oh well then there's no reason why you shouldn't make a goodish
income - if you set about it the right way. Study ME for that -
study me well. You may really have horses."
Paul sat there some minutes without speaking. He looked straight
before him - he turned over many things. His friend had wandered
away, taking up a parcel of letters from the table where the roll
of proofs had lain. "What was the book Mrs. St. George made you
burn - the one she didn't like?" our young man brought out.
"The book she made me burn - how did you know that?" The Master
looked up from his letters quite without the facial convulsion the
pupil had feared.
"I heard her speak of it at Summersoft."
"Ah yes - she's proud of it. I don't know - it was rather good."
"What was it about?"
"Let me see." And he seemed to make an effort to remember. "Oh
yes - it was about myself." Paul gave an irrepressible groan for
the disappearance of such a production, and the elder man went on:
"Oh but YOU should write it - YOU should do me." And he pulled up
- from the restless motion that had come upon him; his fine smile a
generous glare. "There's a subject, my boy: no end of stuff in
Again Paul was silent, but it was all tormenting. "Are there no
women who really understand - who can take part in a sacrifice?"
"How can they take part? They themselves are the sacrifice.
They're the idol and the altar and the flame."
"Isn't there even ONE who sees further?" Paul continued.
For a moment St. George made no answer; after which, having torn up
his letters, he came back to the point all ironic. "Of course I
know the one you mean. But not even Miss Fancourt."
"I thought you admired her so much."
"It's impossible to admire her more. Are you in love with her?"
St. George asked.
"Yes," Paul Overt presently said.
"Well then give it up."
Paul stared. "Give up my 'love'?"
"Bless me, no. Your idea." And then as our hero but still gazed:
"The one you talked with her about. The idea of a decent
"She'd help it - she'd help it!" the young man cried.
"For about a year - the first year, yes. After that she'd be as a
millstone round its neck."
Paul frankly wondered. "Why she has a passion for the real thing,
for good work - for everything you and I care for most."
"'You and I' is charming, my dear fellow!" his friend laughed.
"She has it indeed, but she'd have a still greater passion for her
children - and very proper too. She'd insist on everything's being
made comfortable, advantageous, propitious for them. That isn't
the artist's business."
"The artist - the artist! Isn't he a man all the same?"
St. George had a grand grimace. "I mostly think not. You know as
well as I what he has to do: the concentration, the finish, the
independence he must strive for from the moment he begins to wish
his work really decent. Ah my young friend, his relation to women,
and especially to the one he's most intimately concerned with, is
at the mercy of the damning fact that whereas he can in the nature
of things have but one standard, they have about fifty. That's
what makes them so superior," St. George amusingly added. "Fancy
an artist with a change of standards as you'd have a change of
shirts or of dinner-plates. To DO it - to do it and make it divine
- is the only thing he has to think about. 'Is it done or not?' is
his only question. Not 'Is it done as well as a proper solicitude
for my dear little family will allow?' He has nothing to do with
the relative - he has only to do with the absolute; and a dear
little family may represent a dozen relatives."
"Then you don't allow him the common passions and affections of
men?" Paul asked.
"Hasn't he a passion, an affection, which includes all the rest?
Besides, let him have all the passions he likes - if he only keeps
his independence. He must be able to be poor."
Paul slowly got up. "Why then did you advise me to make up to
St. George laid his hand on his shoulder. "Because she'd make a
splendid wife! And I hadn't read you then."
The young man had a strained smile. "I wish you had left me
"I didn't know that that wasn't good enough for you," his host
"What a false position, what a condemnation of the artist, that
he's a mere disfranchised monk and can produce his effect only by
giving up personal happiness. What an arraignment of art!" Paul
went on with a trembling voice.
"Ah you don't imagine by chance that I'm defending art?
'Arraignment' - I should think so! Happy the societies in which it
hasn't made its appearance, for from the moment it comes they have
a consuming ache, they have an incurable corruption, in their
breast. Most assuredly is the artist in a false position! But I
thought we were taking him for granted. Pardon me," St. George
continued: "'Ginistrella' made me!"
Paul stood looking at the floor - one o'clock struck, in the
stillness, from a neighbouring church-tower. "Do you think she'd
ever look at me?" he put to his friend at last.
"Miss Fancourt - as a suitor? Why shouldn't I think it? That's
why I've tried to favour you - I've had a little chance or two of
bettering your opportunity."
"Forgive my asking you, but do you mean by keeping away yourself?"
Paul said with a blush.
"I'm an old idiot - my place isn't there," St. George stated
"I'm nothing yet, I've no fortune; and there must be so many
others," his companion pursued.
The Master took this considerably in, but made little of it.
"You're a gentleman and a man of genius. I think you might do
"But if I must give that up - the genius?"
"Lots of people, you know, think I've kept mine," St. George
"You've a genius for mystification!" Paul declared; but grasping
his hand gratefully in attenuation of this judgement.
"Poor dear boy, I do worry you! But try, try, all the same. I
think your chances are good and you'll win a great prize."
Paul held fast the other's hand a minute; he looked into the
strange deep face. "No, I AM an artist - I can't help it!"
"Ah show it then!" St. George pleadingly broke out. "Let me see
before I die the thing I most want, the thing I yearn for: a life
in which the passion - ours - is really intense. If you can be
rare don't fail of it! Think what it is - how it counts - how it
They had moved to the door and he had closed both his hands over
his companion's. Here they paused again and our hero breathed
deep. "I want to live!"
"In what sense?"
"In the greatest."
"Well then stick to it - see it through."
"With your sympathy - your help?"
"Count on that - you'll be a great figure to me. Count on my
highest appreciation, my devotion. You'll give me satisfaction -
if that has any weight with you." After which, as Paul appeared
still to waver, his host added: "Do you remember what you said to
me at Summersoft?"
"Something infatuated, no doubt!"
"'I'll do anything in the world you tell me.' You said that."
"And you hold me to it?"
"Ah what am I?" the Master expressively sighed.
"Lord, what things I shall have to do!" Paul almost moaned as be
"It goes on too much abroad - hang abroad!" These or something
like them had been the Master's remarkable words in relation to the
action of "Ginistrella"; and yet, though they had made a sharp
impression on the author of that work, like almost all spoken words
from the same source, he a week after the conversation I have noted
left England for a long absence and full of brave intentions. It
is not a perversion of the truth to pronounce that encounter the
direct cause of his departure. If the oral utterance of the
eminent writer had the privilege of moving him deeply it was
especially on his turning it over at leisure, hours and days later,
that it appeared to yield him its full meaning and exhibit its
extreme importance. He spent the summer in Switzerland and, having
in September begun a new task, determined not to cross the Alps
till he should have made a good start. To this end he returned to
a quiet corner he knew well, on the edge of the Lake of Geneva and
within sight of the towers of Chillon: a region and a view for
which he had an affection that sprang from old associations and was
capable of mysterious revivals and refreshments. Here he lingered
late, till the snow was on the nearer hills, almost down to the
limit to which he could climb when his stint, on the shortening
afternoons, was performed. The autumn was fine, the lake was blue
and his book took form and direction. These felicities, for the
time, embroidered his life, which he suffered to cover him with its
mantle. At the end of six weeks he felt he had learnt St. George's
lesson by heart, had tested and proved its doctrine. Nevertheless
he did a very inconsistent thing: before crossing the Alps he
wrote to Marian Fancourt. He was aware of the perversity of this
act, and it was only as a luxury, an amusement, the reward of a
strenuous autumn, that he justified it. She had asked of him no
such favour when, shortly before he left London, three days after
their dinner in Ennismore Gardens, he went to take leave of her.
It was true she had had no ground - he hadn't named his intention
of absence. He had kept his counsel for want of due assurance: it
was that particular visit that was, the next thing, to settle the
matter. He had paid the visit to see how much he really cared for
her, and quick departure, without so much as an explicit farewell,
was the sequel to this enquiry, the answer to which had created
within him a deep yearning. When he wrote her from Clarens he
noted that he owed her an explanation (more than three months
after!) for not having told her what he was doing.
She replied now briefly but promptly, and gave him a striking piece
of news: that of the death, a week before, of Mrs. St. George.
This exemplary woman had succumbed, in the country, to a violent
attack of inflammation of the lungs - he would remember that for a
long time she had been delicate. Miss Fancourt added that she
believed her husband overwhelmed by the blow; he would miss her too
terribly - she had been everything in life to him. Paul Overt, on
this, immediately wrote to St. George. He would from the day of
their parting have been glad to remain in communication with him,
but had hitherto lacked the right excuse for troubling so busy a
man. Their long nocturnal talk came back to him in every detail,
but this was no bar to an expression of proper sympathy with the
head of the profession, for hadn't that very talk made it clear
that the late accomplished lady was the influence that ruled his
life? What catastrophe could be more cruel than the extinction of
such an influence? This was to be exactly the tone taken by St.
George in answering his young friend upwards of a month later. He
made no allusion of course to their important discussion. He spoke
of his wife as frankly and generously as if he had quite forgotten
that occasion, and the feeling of deep bereavement was visible in
his words. "She took everything off my hands - off my mind. She
carried on our life with the greatest art, the rarest devotion, and
I was free, as few men can have been, to drive my pen, to shut
myself up with my trade. This was a rare service - the highest she
could have rendered me. Would I could have acknowledged it more
A certain bewilderment, for our hero, disengaged itself from these
remarks: they struck him as a contradiction, a retractation,
strange on the part of a man who hadn't the excuse of witlessness.
He had certainly not expected his correspondent to rejoice in the
death of his wife, and it was perfectly in order that the rupture
of a tie of more than twenty years should have left him sore. But
if she had been so clear a blessing what in the name of consistency
had the dear man meant by turning him upside down that night - by
dosing him to that degree, at the most sensitive hour of his life,
with the doctrine of renunciation? If Mrs. St. George was an
irreparable loss, then her husband's inspired advice had been a bad
joke and renunciation was a mistake. Overt was on the point of
rushing back to London to show that, for his part, he was perfectly
willing to consider it so, and he went so far as to take the
manuscript of the first chapters of his new book out of his table-
drawer, to insert it into a pocket of his portmanteau. This led to
his catching a glimpse of certain pages he hadn't looked at for
months, and that accident, in turn, to his being struck with the
high promise they revealed - a rare result of such retrospections,
which it was his habit to avoid as much as possible: they usually
brought home to him that the glow of composition might be a purely
subjective and misleading emotion. On this occasion a certain
belief in himself disengaged itself whimsically from the serried
erasures of his first draft, making him think it best after all to
pursue his present trial to the end. If he could write as well
under the rigour of privation it might be a mistake to change the
conditions before that spell had spent itself. He would go back to
London of course, but he would go back only when he should have
finished his book. This was the vow he privately made, restoring
his manuscript to the table-drawer. It may be added that it took
him a long time to finish his book, for the subject was as
difficult as it was fine, and he was literally embarrassed by the
fulness of his notes. Something within him warned him that he must
make it supremely good - otherwise he should lack, as regards his
private behaviour, a handsome excuse. He had a horror of this
deficiency and found himself as firm as need be on the question of
the lamp and the file. He crossed the Alps at last and spent the
winter, the spring, the ensuing summer, in Italy, where still, at
the end of a twelvemonth, his task was unachieved. "Stick to it -
see it through": this general injunction of St. George's was good
also for the particular case. He applied it to the utmost, with
the result that when in its slow order the summer had come round
again he felt he had given all that was in him. This time he put
his papers into his portmanteau, with the address of his publisher
attached, and took his way northward.
He had been absent from London for two years - two years which,
seeming to count as more, had made such a difference in his own
life - through the production of a novel far stronger, he believed,
than "Ginistrella" - that he turned out into Piccadilly, the
morning after his arrival, with a vague expectation of changes, of
finding great things had happened. But there were few
transformations in Piccadilly - only three or four big red houses
where there had been low black ones - and the brightness of the end
of June peeped through the rusty railings of the Green Park and
glittered in the varnish of the rolling carriages as he had seen it
in other, more cursory Junes. It was a greeting he appreciated; it
seemed friendly and pointed, added to the exhilaration of his
finished book, of his having his own country and the huge
oppressive amusing city that suggested everything, that contained
everything, under his hand again. "Stay at home and do things here
- do subjects we can measure," St. George had said; and now it
struck him he should ask nothing better than to stay at home for
ever. Late in the afternoon he took his way to Manchester Square,
looking out for a number he hadn't forgotten. Miss Fancourt,
however, was not at home, so that he turned rather dejectedly from
the door. His movement brought him face to face with a gentleman
just approaching it and recognised on another glance as Miss
Fancourt's father. Paul saluted this personage, and the General
returned the greeting with his customary good manner - a manner so
good, however, that you could never tell whether it meant he placed
you. The disappointed caller felt the impulse to address him;
then, hesitating, became both aware of having no particular remark
to make, and convinced that though the old soldier remembered him
he remembered him wrong. He therefore went his way without
computing the irresistible effect his own evident recognition would
have on the General, who never neglected a chance to gossip. Our
young man's face was expressive, and observation seldom let it
pass. He hadn't taken ten steps before he heard himself called
after with a friendly semi-articulate "Er - I beg your pardon!" He
turned round and the General, smiling at him from the porch, said:
"Won't you come in? I won't leave you the advantage of me!" Paul
declined to come in, and then felt regret, for Miss Fancourt, so
late in the afternoon, might return at any moment. But her father
gave him no second chance; he appeared mainly to wish not to have
struck him as ungracious. A further look at the visitor had
recalled something, enough at least to enable him to say: "You've
come back, you've come back?" Paul was on the point of replying
that he had come back the night before, but he suppressed, the next
instant, this strong light on the immediacy of his visit and,
giving merely a general assent, alluded to the young lady he
deplored not having found. He had come late in the hope she would
be in. "I'll tell her - I'll tell her," said the old man; and then
he added quickly, gallantly: "You'll be giving us something new?
It's a long time, isn't it?" Now he remembered him right.
"Rather long. I'm very slow." Paul explained. "I met you at
Summersoft a long time ago."
"Oh yes - with Henry St. George. I remember very well. Before his
poor wife - " General Fancourt paused a moment, smiling a little
less. "I dare say you know."
"About Mrs. St. George's death? Certainly - I heard at the time."
"Oh no, I mean - I mean he's to be married."
"Ah I've not heard that!" But just as Paul was about to add "To
whom?" the General crossed his intention.
"When did you come back? I know you've been away - by my daughter.
She was very sorry. You ought to give her something new."
"I came back last night," said our young man, to whom something had
occurred which made his speech for the moment a little thick.
"Ah most kind of you to come so soon. Couldn't you turn up at
"At dinner?" Paul just mechanically repeated, not liking to ask
whom St. George was going to marry, but thinking only of that.
"There are several people, I believe. Certainly St. George. Or
afterwards if you like better. I believe my daughter expects - "
He appeared to notice something in the visitor's raised face (on
his steps he stood higher) which led him to interrupt himself, and
the interruption gave him a momentary sense of awkwardness, from
which he sought a quick issue. "Perhaps then you haven't heard
she's to be married."
Paul gaped again. "To be married?"
"To Mr. St. George - it has just been settled. Odd marriage, isn't
it?" Our listener uttered no opinion on this point: he only
continued to stare. "But I dare say it will do - she's so awfully
literary!" said the General.
Paul had turned very red. "Oh it's a surprise - very interesting,
very charming! I'm afraid I can't dine - so many thanks!"
"Well, you must come to the wedding!" cried the General. "Oh I
remember that day at Summersoft. He's a great man, you know."
"Charming - charming!" Paul stammered for retreat. He shook hands
with the General and got off. His face was red and he had the
sense of its growing more and more crimson. All the evening at
home - he went straight to his rooms and remained there dinnerless
- his cheek burned at intervals as if it had been smitten. He
didn't understand what had happened to him, what trick had been
played him, what treachery practised. "None, none," he said to
himself. "I've nothing to do with it. I'm out of it - it s none
of my business." But that bewildered murmur was followed again and
again by the incongruous ejaculation: "Was it a plan - was it a
plan?" Sometimes he cried to himself, breathless, "Have I been
duped, sold, swindled?" If at all, he was an absurd, an abject
victim. It was as if he hadn't lost her till now. He had
renounced her, yes; but that was another affair - that was a closed
but not a locked door. Now he seemed to see the door quite slammed
in his face. Did he expect her to wait - was she to give him his
time like that: two years at a stretch? He didn't know what he
had expected - he only knew what he hadn't. It wasn't this - it
wasn't this. Mystification bitterness and wrath rose and boiled in
him when he thought of the deference, the devotion, the credulity
with which he had listened to St. George. The evening wore on and
the light was long; but even when it had darkened he remained
without a lamp. He had flung himself on the sofa, where he lay
through the hours with his eyes either closed or gazing at the
gloom, in the attitude of a man teaching himself to bear something,
to bear having been made a fool of. He had made it too easy - that
idea passed over him like a hot wave. Suddenly, as he heard eleven
o'clock strike, he jumped up, remembering what General Fancourt had
said about his coming after dinner. He'd go - he'd see her at
least; perhaps he should see what it meant. He felt as if some of
the elements of a hard sum had been given him and the others were
wanting: he couldn't do his sum till he had got all his figures.
He dressed and drove quickly, so that by half-past eleven he was at
Manchester Square. There were a good many carriages at the door -
a party was going on; a circumstance which at the last gave him a
slight relief, for now he would rather see her in a crowd. People
passed him on the staircase; they were going away, going "on" with
the hunted herdlike movement of London society at night. But
sundry groups remained in the drawing-room, and it was some
minutes, as she didn't hear him announced, before he discovered and
spoke to her. In this short interval he had seen St. George
talking to a lady before the fireplace; but he at once looked away,
feeling unready for an encounter, and therefore couldn't be sure
the author of "Shadowmere" noticed him. At all events he didn't
come over though Miss Fancourt did as soon as she saw him - she
almost rushed at him, smiling rustling radiant beautiful. He had
forgotten what her head, what her face offered to the sight; she
was in white, there were gold figures on her dress and her hair was
a casque of gold. He saw in a single moment that she was happy,
happy with an aggressive splendour. But she wouldn't speak to him
of that, she would speak only of himself.
"I'm so delighted; my father told me. How kind of you to come!"
She struck him as so fresh and brave, while his eyes moved over
her, that he said to himself irresistibly: "Why to him, why not to
youth, to strength, to ambition, to a future? Why, in her rich
young force, to failure, to abdication to superannuation?" In his
thought at that sharp moment he blasphemed even against all that
had been left of his faith in the peccable Master. "I'm so sorry I
missed you," she went on. "My father told me. How charming of you
to have come so soon!"
"Does that surprise you?" Paul Overt asked.
"The first day? No, from you - nothing that's nice." She was
interrupted by a lady who bade her good-night, and he seemed to
read that it cost her nothing to speak to him in that tone; it was
her old liberal lavish way, with a certain added amplitude that
time had brought; and if this manner began to operate on the spot,
at such a juncture in her history, perhaps in the other days too it
had meant just as little or as much - a mere mechanical charity,
with the difference now that she was satisfied, ready to give but
in want of nothing. Oh she was satisfied - and why shouldn't she
be? Why shouldn't she have been surprised at his coming the first
day - for all the good she had ever got from him? As the lady
continued to hold her attention Paul turned from her with a strange
irritation in his complicated artistic soul and a sort of
disinterested disappointment. She was so happy that it was almost
stupid - a disproof of the extraordinary intelligence he had
formerly found in her. Didn't she know how bad St. George could
be, hadn't she recognised the awful thinness -? If she didn't she
was nothing, and if she did why such an insolence of serenity?
This question expired as our young man's eyes settled at last on
the genius who had advised him in a great crisis. St. George was
still before the chimney-piece, but now he was alone - fixed,
waiting, as if he meant to stop after every one - and he met the
clouded gaze of the young friend so troubled as to the degree of
his right (the right his resentment would have enjoyed) to regard
himself as a victim. Somehow the ravage of the question was
checked by the Master's radiance. It was as fine in its way as
Marian Fancourt's, it denoted the happy human being; but also it
represented to Paul Overt that the author of "Shadowmere" had now
definitely ceased to count - ceased to count as a writer. As he
smiled a welcome across the place he was almost banal, was almost
smug. Paul fancied that for a moment he hesitated to make a
movement, as if for all the world he HAD his bad conscience; then
they had already met in the middle of the room and had shaken hands
- expressively, cordially on St. George's part. With which they
had passed back together to where the elder man had been standing,
while St. George said: "I hope you're never going away again.
I've been dining here; the General told me." He was handsome, he
was young, he looked as if he had still a great fund of life. He
bent the friendliest, most unconfessing eyes on his disciple of a
couple of years before; asked him about everything, his health, his
plans, his late occupations, the new book. "When will it be out -
soon, soon, I hope? Splendid, eh? That's right; you're a comfort,
you're a luxury! I've read you all over again these last six
months." Paul waited to see if he would tell him what the General
had told him in the afternoon and what Miss Fancourt, verbally at
least, of course hadn't. But as it didn't come out he at last put
"Is it true, the great news I hear - that you're to be married?"
"Ah you have heard it then?"
"Didn't the General tell you?" Paul asked.
The Master's face was wonderful. "Tell me what?"
"That he mentioned it to me this afternoon?"
"My dear fellow, I don't remember. We've been in the midst of
people. I'm sorry, in that case, that I lose the pleasure, myself,
of announcing to you a fact that touches me so nearly. It IS a
fact, strange as it may appear. It has only just become one.
Isn't it ridiculous?" St. George made this speech without
confusion, but on the other hand, so far as our friend could judge,
without latent impudence. It struck his interlocutor that, to talk
so comfortably and coolly, he must simply have forgotten what had
passed between them. His next words, however, showed he hadn't,
and they produced, as an appeal to Paul's own memory, an effect
which would have been ludicrous if it hadn't been cruel. "Do you
recall the talk we had at my house that night, into which Miss
Fancourt's name entered? I've often thought of it since."
"Yes; no wonder you said what you did" - Paul was careful to meet
"In the light of the present occasion? Ah but there was no light
then. How could I have foreseen this hour?"
"Didn't you think it probable?"
"Upon my honour, no," said Henry St. George. "Certainly I owe you
that assurance. Think how my situation has changed."
"I see - I see," our young man murmured.
His companion went on as if, now that the subject had been
broached, he was, as a person of imagination and tact, quite ready
to give every satisfaction - being both by his genius and his
method so able to enter into everything another might feel. "But
it's not only that; for honestly, at my age, I never dreamed - a
widower with big boys and with so little else! It has turned out
differently from anything one could have dreamed, and I'm fortunate
beyond all measure. She has been so free, and yet she consents.
Better than any one else perhaps - for I remember how you liked her
before you went away, and how she liked you - you can intelligently
"She has been so free!" Those words made a great impression on
Paul Overt, and he almost writhed under that irony in them as to
which it so little mattered whether it was designed or casual. Of
course she had been free, and appreciably perhaps by his own act;
for wasn't the Master's allusion to her having liked him a part of
the irony too? "I thought that by your theory you disapproved of a
"Surely - surely. But you don't call me a writer?"
"You ought to be ashamed," said Paul.
"Ashamed of marrying again?"
"I won't say that - but ashamed of your reasons."
The elder man beautifully smiled. "You must let me judge of them,
my good friend."
"Yes; why not? For you judged wonderfully of mine."
The tone of these words appeared suddenly, for St. George, to
suggest the unsuspected. He stared as if divining a bitterness.
"Don't you think I've been straight?"
"You might have told me at the time perhaps."
"My dear fellow, when I say I couldn't pierce futurity -!"
"I mean afterwards."
The Master wondered. "After my wife's death?"
"When this idea came to you."
"Ah never, never! I wanted to save you, rare and precious as you
Poor Overt looked hard at him. "Are you marrying Miss Fancourt to
"Not absolutely, but it adds to the pleasure. I shall be the
making of you," St. George smiled. "I was greatly struck, after
our talk, with the brave devoted way you quitted the country, and
still more perhaps with your force of character in remaining
abroad. You're very strong - you're wonderfully strong."
Paul tried to sound his shining eyes; the strange thing was that he
seemed sincere - not a mocking fiend. He turned away, and as he
did so heard the Master say something about his giving them all the
proof, being the joy of his old age. He faced him again, taking
another look. "Do you mean to say you've stopped writing?"
"My dear fellow, of course I have. It's too late. Didn't I tell
"I can't believe it!"
"Of course you can't - with your own talent! No, no; for the rest
of my life I shall only read YOU."
"Does she know that - Miss Fancourt?"
"She will - she will." Did he mean this, our young man wondered,
as a covert intimation that the assistance he should derive from
that young lady's fortune, moderate as it was, would make the
difference of putting it in his power to cease to work ungratefully
an exhausted vein? Somehow, standing there in the ripeness of his
successful manhood, he didn't suggest that any of his veins were
exhausted. "Don't you remember the moral I offered myself to you
that night as pointing?" St. George continued. "Consider at any
rate the warning I am at present."
This was too much - he WAS the mocking fiend. Paul turned from him
with a mere nod for goodnight and the sense in a sore heart that he
might come back to him and his easy grace, his fine way of
arranging things, some time in the far future, but couldn't
fraternise with him now. It was necessary to his soreness to
believe for the hour in the intensity of his grievance - all the
more cruel for its not being a legal one. It was doubtless in the
attitude of hugging this wrong that he descended the stairs without
taking leave of Miss Fancourt, who hadn't been in view at the
moment he quitted the room. He was glad to get out into the honest
dusky unsophisticating night, to move fast, to take his way home on
foot. He walked a long time, going astray, paying no attention.
He was thinking of too many other things. His steps recovered
their direction, however, and at the end of an hour he found
himself before his door in the small inexpensive empty street. He
lingered, questioning himself still before going in, with nothing
around and above him but moonless blackness, a bad lamp or two and
a few far-away dim stars. To these last faint features he raised
his eyes; he had been saying to himself that he should have been
"sold" indeed, diabolically sold, if now, on his new foundation, at
the end of a year, St. George were to put forth something of his
prime quality - something of the type of "Shadowmere" and finer
than his finest. Greatly as he admired his talent Paul literally
hoped such an incident wouldn't occur; it seemed to him just then
that he shouldn't be able to bear it. His late adviser's words
were still in his ears - "You're very strong, wonderfully strong."
Was he really? Certainly he would have to be, and it might a
little serve for revenge. IS he? the reader may ask in turn, if
his interest has followed the perplexed young man so far. The best
answer to that perhaps is that he's doing his best, but that it's
too soon to say. When the new book came out in the autumn Mr. and
Mrs. St. George found it really magnificent. The former still has
published nothing but Paul doesn't even yet feel safe. I may say
for him, however, that if this event were to occur he would really
be the very first to appreciate it: which is perhaps a proof that
the Master was essentially right and that Nature had dedicated him
to intellectual, not to personal passion.
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