Part 1 out of 3
This etext was scanned by David Price, email email@example.com
from the 1922 Macmillan and Co. edition. Proofing was by David,
Marc Davis and Andy McLauchlan.
SOME SHORT STORIES
BY HENRY JAMES
The Real Thing
The Story of It
We are scattered now, the friends of the late Mr. Oliver Offord;
but whenever we chance to meet I think we are conscious of a
certain esoteric respect for each other. "Yes, you too have been
in Arcadia," we seem not too grumpily to allow. When I pass the
house in Mansfield Street I remember that Arcadia was there. I
don't know who has it now, and don't want to know; it's enough to
be so sure that if I should ring the bell there would be no such
luck for me as that Brooksmith should open the door. Mr. Offord,
the most agreeable, the most attaching of bachelors, was a retired
diplomatist, living on his pension and on something of his own over
and above; a good deal confined, by his infirmities, to his
fireside and delighted to be found there any afternoon in the year,
from five o'clock on, by such visitors as Brooksmith allowed to
come up. Brooksmith was his butler and his most intimate friend,
to whom we all stood, or I should say sat, in the same relation in
which the subject of the sovereign finds himself to the prime
minister. By having been for years, in foreign lands, the most
delightful Englishman any one had ever known, Mr. Offord had in my
opinion rendered signal service to his country. But I suppose he
had been too much liked--liked even by those who didn't like IT--so
that as people of that sort never get titles or dotations for the
horrid things they've NOT done, his principal reward was simply
that we went to see him.
Oh we went perpetually, and it was not our fault if he was not
overwhelmed with this particular honour. Any visitor who came once
came again; to come merely once was a slight nobody, I'm sure, had
ever put upon him. His circle therefore was essentially composed
of habitues, who were habitues for each other as well as for him,
as those of a happy salon should be. I remember vividly every
element of the place, down to the intensely Londonish look of the
grey opposite houses, in the gap of the white curtains of the high
windows, and the exact spot where, on a particular afternoon, I put
down my tea-cup for Brooksmith, lingering an instant, to gather it
up as if he were plucking a flower. Mr. Offord's drawing-room was
indeed Brooksmith's garden, his pruned and tended human parterre,
and if we all flourished there and grew well in our places it was
largely owing to his supervision.
Many persons have heard much, though most have doubtless seen
little, of the famous institution of the salon, and many are born
to the depression of knowing that this finest flower of social life
refuses to bloom where the English tongue is spoken. The
explanation is usually that our women have not the skill to
cultivate it--the art to direct through a smiling land, between
suggestive shores, a sinuous stream of talk. My affectionate, my
pious memory of Mr. Offord contradicts this induction only, I fear,
more insidiously to confirm it. The sallow and slightly smoked
drawing-room in which he spent so large a portion of the last years
of his life certainly deserved the distinguished name; but on the
other hand it couldn't be said at all to owe its stamp to any
intervention throwing into relief the fact that there was no Mrs.
Offord. The dear man had indeed, at the most, been capable of one
of those sacrifices to which women are deemed peculiarly apt: he
had recognised--under the influence, in some degree, it is true, of
physical infirmity--that if you wish people to find you at home you
must manage not to be out. He had in short accepted the truth
which many dabblers in the social art are slow to learn, that you
must really, as they say, take a line, and that the only way as yet
discovered of being at home is to stay at home. Finally his own
fireside had become a summary of his habits. Why should he ever
have left it?--since this would have been leaving what was
notoriously pleasantest in London, the compact charmed cluster
(thinning away indeed into casual couples) round the fine old last-
century chimney-piece which, with the exception of the remarkable
collection of miniatures, was the best thing the place contained.
Mr. Offord wasn't rich; he had nothing but his pension and the use
for life of the somewhat superannuated house.
When I'm reminded by some opposed discomfort of the present hour
how perfectly we were all handled there, I ask myself once more
what had been the secret of such perfection. One had taken it for
granted at the time, for anything that is supremely good produces
more acceptance than surprise. I felt we were all happy, but I
didn't consider how our happiness was managed. And yet there were
questions to be asked, questions that strike me as singularly
obvious now that there's nobody to answer them. Mr. Offord had
solved the insoluble; he had, without feminine help--save in the
sense that ladies were dying to come to him and that he saved the
lives of several--established a salon; but I might have guessed
that there was a method in his madness, a law in his success. He
hadn't hit it off by a mere fluke. There was an art in it all, and
how was the art so hidden? Who indeed if it came to that was the
occult artist? Launching this inquiry the other day I had already
got hold of the tail of my reply. I was helped by the very wonder
of some of the conditions that came back to me--those that used to
seem as natural as sunshine in a fine climate.
How was it for instance that we never were a crowd, never either
too many or too few, always the right people WITH the right people-
-there must really have been no wrong people at all--always coming
and going, never sticking fast nor overstaying, yet never popping
in or out with an indecorous familiarity? How was it that we all
sat where we wanted and moved when we wanted and met whom we wanted
and escaped whom we wanted; joining, according to the accident of
inclination, the general circle or falling in with a single talker
on a convenient sofa? Why were all the sofas so convenient, the
accidents so happy, the talkers so ready, the listeners so willing,
the subjects presented to you in a rotation as quickly foreordained
as the courses at dinner? A dearth of topics would have been as
unheard of as a lapse in the service. These speculations couldn't
fail to lead me to the fundamental truth that Brooksmith had been
somehow at the bottom of the mystery. If he hadn't established the
salon at least he had carried it on. Brooksmith in short was the
We felt this covertly at the time, without formulating it, and were
conscious, as an ordered and prosperous community, of his even-
handed justice, all untainted with flunkeyism. He had none of that
vulgarity--his touch was infinitely fine. The delicacy of it was
clear to me on the first occasion my eyes rested, as they were so
often to rest again, on the domestic revealed, in the turbid light
of the street, by the opening of the house-door. I saw on the spot
that though he had plenty of school he carried it without
arrogance--he had remained articulate and human. L'Ecole Anglaise
Mr. Offord used laughingly to call him when, later on, it happened
more than once that we had some conversation about him. But I
remember accusing Mr. Offord of not doing him quite ideal justice.
That he wasn't one of the giants of the school, however, was
admitted by my old friend, who really understood him perfectly and
was devoted to him, as I shall show; which doubtless poor
Brooksmith had himself felt, to his cost, when his value in the
market was originally determined. The utility of his class in
general is estimated by the foot and the inch, and poor Brooksmith
had only about five feet three to put into circulation. He
acknowledged the inadequacy of this provision, and I'm sure was
penetrated with the everlasting fitness of the relation between
service and stature. If HE had been Mr. Offord he certainly would
have found Brooksmith wanting, and indeed the laxity of his
employer on this score was one of many things he had had to condone
and to which he had at last indulgently adapted himself.
I remember the old man's saying to me: "Oh my servants, if they
can live with me a fortnight they can live with me for ever. But
it's the first fortnight that tries 'em." It was in the first
fortnight for instance that Brooksmith had had to learn that he was
exposed to being addressed as "my dear fellow" and "my poor child."
Strange and deep must such a probation have been to him, and he
doubtless emerged from it tempered and purified. This was written
to a certain extent in his appearance; in his spare brisk little
person, in his cloistered white face and extraordinarily polished
hair, which told of responsibility, looked as if it were kept up to
the same high standard as the plate; in his small clear anxious
eyes, even in the permitted, though not exactly encouraged, tuft on
his chin. "He thinks me rather mad, but I've broken him in, and
now he likes the place, he likes the company," said the old man. I
embraced this fully after I had become aware that Brooksmith's main
characteristic was a deep and shy refinement, though I remember I
was rather puzzled when, on another occasion, Mr. Offord remarked:
"What he likes is the talk--mingling in the conversation." I was
conscious I had never seen Brooksmith permit himself this freedom,
but I guessed in a moment that what Mr. Offord alluded to was a
participation more intense than any speech could have represented--
that of being perpetually present on a hundred legitimate pretexts,
errands, necessities, and breathing the very atmosphere of
criticism, the famous criticism of life. "Quite an education, sir,
isn't it, sir?" he said to me one day at the foot of the stairs
when he was letting me out; and I've always remembered the words
and the tone as the first sign of the quickening drama of poor
Brooksmith's fate. It was indeed an education, but to what was
this sensitive young man of thirty-five, of the servile class,
Practically and inevitably, for the time, to companionship, to the
perpetual, the even exaggerated reference and appeal of a person
brought to dependence by his time of life and his infirmities and
always addicted moreover--this was the exaggeration--to the art of
giving you pleasure by letting you do things for him. There were
certain things Mr. Offord was capable of pretending he liked you to
do even when he didn't--this, I mean, if he thought YOU liked them.
If it happened that you didn't either--which was rare, yet might
be--of course there were cross-purposes; but Brooksmith was there
to prevent their going very far. This was precisely the way he
acted as moderator; he averted misunderstandings or cleared them
up. He had been capable, strange as it may appear, of acquiring
for this purpose an insight into the French tongue, which was often
used at Mr. Offord's; for besides being habitual to most of the
foreigners, and they were many, who haunted the place or arrived
with letters--letters often requiring a little worried
consideration, of which Brooksmith always had cognisance--it had
really become the primary language of the master of the house. I
don't know if all the malentendus were in French, but almost all
the explanations were, and this didn't a bit prevent Brooksmith's
following them. I know Mr. Offord used to read passages to him
from Montaigne and Saint-Simon, for he read perpetually when alone-
-when THEY were alone, that is--and Brooksmith was always about.
Perhaps you'll say no wonder Mr. Offord's butler regarded him as
"rather mad." However, if I'm not sure what he thought about
Montaigne I'm convinced he admired Saint-Simon. A certain feeling
for letters must have rubbed off on him from the mere handling of
his master's books, which he was always carrying to and fro and
putting back in their places.
I often noticed that if an anecdote or a quotation, much more a
lively discussion, was going forward, he would, if busy with the
fire or the curtains, the lamp or the tea, find a pretext for
remaining in the room till the point should be reached. If his
purpose was to catch it you weren't discreet, you were in fact
scarce human, to call him off, and I shall never forget a look, a
hard stony stare--I caught it in its passage--which, one day when
there were a good many people in the room, he fastened upon the
footman who was helping him in the service and who, in an
undertone, had asked him some irrelevant question. It was the only
manifestation of harshness I ever observed on Brooksmith's part,
and I at first wondered what was the matter. Then I became
conscious that Mr. Offord was relating a very curious anecdote,
never before perhaps made so public, and imparted to the narrator
by an eye-witness of the fact, bearing on Lord Byron's life in
Italy. Nothing would induce me to reproduce it here, but
Brooksmith had been in danger of losing it. If I ever should
venture to reproduce it I shall feel how much I lose in not having
my fellow auditor to refer to.
The first day Mr Offord's door was closed was therefore a dark date
in contemporary history. It was raining hard and my umbrella was
wet, but Brooksmith received it from me exactly as if this were a
preliminary for going upstairs. I observed however that instead of
putting it away he held it poised and trickling over the rug, and I
then became aware that he was looking at me with deep acknowledging
eyes--his air of universal responsibility. I immediately
understood--there was scarce need of question and answer as they
passed between us. When I took in that our good friend had given
up as never before, though only for the occasion, I exclaimed
dolefully: "What a difference it will make--and to how many
"I shall be one of them, sir!" said Brooksmith; and that was the
beginning of the end.
Mr. Offord came down again, but the spell was broken, the great
sign being that the conversation was for the first time not
directed. It wandered and stumbled, a little frightened, like a
lost child--it had let go the nurse's hand. "The worst of it is
that now we shall talk about my health--c'est la fin de tout," Mr.
Offord said when he reappeared; and then I recognised what a note
of change that would be--for he had never tolerated anything so
provincial. We "ran" to each other's health as little as to the
daily weather. The talk became ours, in a word--not his; and as
ours, even when HE talked, it could only be inferior. In this form
it was a distress to Brooksmith, whose attention now wandered from
it altogether: he had so much closer a vision of his master's
intimate conditions than our superficialities represented. There
were better hours, and he was more in and out of the room, but I
could see he was conscious of the decline, almost of the collapse,
of our great institution. He seemed to wish to take counsel with
me about it, to feel responsible for its going on in some form or
other. When for the second period--the first had lasted several
days--he had to tell me that his employer didn't receive, I half
expected to hear him say after a moment "Do you think I ought to,
sir, in his place?"--as he might have asked me, with the return of
autumn, if I thought he had better light the drawing-room fire.
He had a resigned philosophic sense of what his guests--our guests,
as I came to regard them in our colloquies--would expect. His
feeling was that he wouldn't absolutely have approved of himself as
a substitute for Mr. Offord; but he was so saturated with the
religion of habit that he would have made, for our friends, the
necessary sacrifice to the divinity. He would take them on a
little further and till they could look about them. I think I saw
him also mentally confronted with the opportunity to deal--for once
in his life--with some of his own dumb preferences, his limitations
of sympathy, WEEDING a little in prospect and returning to a purer
tradition. It was not unknown to me that he considered that toward
the end of our host's career a certain laxity of selection had
At last it came to be the case that we all found the closed door
more often than the open one; but even when it was closed
Brooksmith managed a crack for me to squeeze through; so that
practically I never turned away without having paid a visit. The
difference simply came to be that the visit was to Brooksmith. It
took place in the hall, at the familiar foot of the stairs, and we
didn't sit down, at least Brooksmith didn't; moreover it was
devoted wholly to one topic and always had the air of being already
over--beginning, so to say, at the end. But it was always
interesting--it always gave me something to think about. It's true
that the subject of my meditation was ever the same--ever "It's all
very well, but what WILL become of Brooksmith?" Even my private
answer to this question left me still unsatisfied. No doubt Mr.
Offord would provide for him, but WHAT would he provide?--that was
the great point. He couldn't provide society; and society had
become a necessity of Brooksmith's nature. I must add that he
never showed a symptom of what I may call sordid solicitude--
anxiety on his own account. He was rather livid and intensely
grave, as befitted a man before whose eyes the "shade of that which
once was great" was passing away. He had the solemnity of a person
winding up, under depressing circumstances, a long-established and
celebrated business; he was a kind of social executor or
liquidator. But his manner seemed to testify exclusively to the
uncertainty of OUR future. I couldn't in those days have afforded
it--I lived in two rooms in Jermyn Street and didn't "keep a man";
but even if my income had permitted I shouldn't have ventured to
say to Brooksmith (emulating Mr. Offord) "My dear fellow, I'll
take you on." The whole tone of our intercourse was so much more
an implication that it was I who should now want a lift. Indeed
there was a tacit assurance in Brooksmith's whole attitude that he
should have me on his mind.
One of the most assiduous members of our circle had been Lady
Kenyon, and I remember his telling me one day that her ladyship had
in spite of her own infirmities, lately much aggravated, been in
person to inquire. In answer to this I remarked that she would
feel it more than any one. Brooksmith had a pause before saying in
a certain tone--there's no reproducing some of his tones--"I'll go
and see her." I went to see her myself and learned he had waited
on her; but when I said to her, in the form of a joke but with a
core of earnest, that when all was over some of us ought to
combine, to club together, and set Brooksmith up on his own
account, she replied a trifle disappointingly: "Do you mean in a
public-house?" I looked at her in a way that I think Brooksmith
himself would have approved, and then I answered: "Yes, the Offord
Arms." What I had meant of course was that for the love of art
itself we ought to look to it that such a peculiar faculty and so
much acquired experience shouldn't be wasted. I really think that
if we had caused a few black-edged cards to be struck off and
circulated--"Mr. Brooksmith will continue to receive on the old
premises from four to seven; business carried on as usual during
the alterations"--the greater number of us would have rallied.
Several times he took me upstairs--always by his own proposal--and
our dear old friend, in bed (in a curious flowered and brocaded
casaque which made him, especially as his head was tied up in a
handkerchief to match, look, to my imagination, like the dying
Voltaire) held for ten minutes a sadly shrunken little salon. I
felt indeed each time as if I were attending the last coucher of
some social sovereign. He was royally whimsical about his
sufferings and not at all concerned--quite as if the Constitution
provided for the case about his successor. He glided over OUR
sufferings charmingly, and none of his jokes--it was a gallant
abstention, some of them would have been so easy--were at our
expense. Now and again, I confess, there was one at Brooksmith's,
but so pathetically sociable as to make the excellent man look at
me in a way that seemed to say: "Do exchange a glance with me, or
I shan't be able to stand it." What he wasn't able to stand was
not what Mr. Offord said about him, but what he wasn't able to say
in return. His idea of conversation for himself was giving you the
convenience of speaking to him; and when he went to "see" Lady
Kenyon for instance it was to carry her the tribute of his
receptive silence. Where would the speech of his betters have been
if proper service had been a manifestation of sound? In that case
the fundamental difference would have had to be shown by their
dumbness, and many of them, poor things, were dumb enough without
that provision. Brooksmith took an unfailing interest in the
preservation of the fundamental difference; it was the thing he had
most on his conscience.
What had become of it however when Mr. Offord passed away like any
inferior person--was relegated to eternal stillness after the
manner of a butler above-stairs? His aspect on the event--for the
several successive days--may be imagined, and the multiplication by
funereal observance of the things he didn't say. When everything
was over--it was late the same day--I knocked at the door of the
house of mourning as I so often had done before. I could never
call on Mr. Offord again, but I had come literally to call on
Brooksmith. I wanted to ask him if there was anything I could do
for him, tainted with vagueness as this inquiry could only be. My
presumptuous dream of taking him into my own service had died away:
my service wasn't worth his being taken into. My offer could only
be to help him to find another place, and yet there was an
indelicacy, as it were, in taking for granted that his thoughts
would immediately be fixed on another. I had a hope that he would
be able to give his life a different form--though certainly not the
form, the frequent result of such bereavements, of his setting up a
little shop. That would have been dreadful; for I should have
wished to forward any enterprise he might embark in, yet how could
I have brought myself to go and pay him shillings and take back
coppers, over a counter? My visit then was simply an intended
compliment. He took it as such, gratefully and with all the tact
in the world. He knew I really couldn't help him and that I knew
he knew I couldn't; but we discussed the situation--with a good
deal of elegant generality--at the foot of the stairs, in the hall
already dismantled, where I had so often discussed other situations
with him. The executors were in possession, as was still more
apparent when he made me pass for a few minutes into the dining-
room, where various objects were muffled up for removal.
Two definite facts, however, he had to communicate; one being that
he was to leave the house for ever that night (servants, for some
mysterious reason, seem always to depart by night), and the other--
he mentioned it only at the last and with hesitation--that he was
already aware his late master had left him a legacy of eighty
pounds. "I'm very glad," I said, and Brooksmith was of the same
mind: "It was so like him to think of me." This was all that
passed between us on the subject, and I know nothing of his
judgement of Mr. Offord's memento. Eighty pounds are always eighty
pounds, and no one has ever left ME an equal sum; but, all the
same, for Brooksmith, I was disappointed. I don't know what I had
expected, but it was almost a shock. Eighty pounds might stock a
small shop--a VERY small shop; but, I repeat, I couldn't bear to
think of that. I asked my friend if he had been able to save a
little, and he replied: "No, sir; I've had to do things." I
didn't inquire what things they might have been; they were his own
affair, and I took his word for them as assentingly as if he had
had the greatness of an ancient house to keep up; especially as
there was something in his manner that seemed to convey a prospect
of further sacrifice.
"I shall have to turn round a bit, sir--I shall have to look about
me," he said; and then he added indulgently, magnanimously: "If
you should happen to hear of anything for me--"
I couldn't let him finish; this was, in its essence, too much in
the really grand manner. It would be a help to my getting him off
my mind to be able to pretend I COULD find the right place, and
that help he wished to give me, for it was doubtless painful to him
to see me in so false a position. I interposed with a few words to
the effect of how well aware I was that wherever he should go,
whatever he should do, he would miss our old friend terribly--miss
him even more than I should, having been with him so much more.
This led him to make the speech that has remained with me as the
very text of the whole episode.
"Oh sir, it's sad for YOU, very sad indeed, and for a great many
gentlemen and ladies; that it is, sir. But for me, sir, it is, if
I may say so, still graver even than that: it's just the loss of
something that was everything. For me, sir," he went on with
rising tears, "he was just ALL, if you know what I mean, sir. You
have others, sir, I daresay--not that I would have you understand
me to speak of them as in any way tantamount. But you have the
pleasures of society, sir; if it's only in talking about him, sir,
as I daresay you do freely--for all his blest memory has to fear
from it--with gentlemen and ladies who have had the same honour.
That's not for me, sir, and I've to keep my associations to myself.
Mr. Offord was MY society, and now, you see, I just haven't any.
You go back to conversation, sir, after all, and I go back to my
place," Brooksmith stammered, without exaggerated irony or dramatic
bitterness, but with a flat unstudied veracity and his hand on the
knob of the street-door. He turned it to let me out and then he
added: "I just go downstairs, sir, again, and I stay there."
"My poor child," I replied in my emotion, quite as Mr. Offord used
to speak, "my dear fellow, leave it to me: WE'LL look after you,
we'll all do something for you."
"Ah if you could give me some one LIKE him! But there ain't two
such in the world," Brooksmith said as we parted.
He had given me his address--the place where he would be to be
heard of. For a long time I had no occasion to make use of the
information: he proved on trial so very difficult a case. The
people who knew him and had known Mr. Offord didn't want to take
him, and yet I couldn't bear to try to thrust him among strangers--
strangers to his past when not to his present. I spoke to many of
our old friends about him and found them all governed by the odd
mixture of feelings of which I myself was conscious--as well as
disposed, further, to entertain a suspicion that he was "spoiled,"
with which, I then would have nothing to do. In plain terms a
certain embarrassment, a sensible awkwardness when they thought of
it, attached to the idea of using him as a menial: they had met
him so often in society. Many of them would have asked him, and
did ask him, or rather did ask me to ask him, to come and see them,
but a mere visiting-list was not what I wanted for him. He was too
short for people who were very particular; nevertheless I heard of
an opening in a diplomatic household which led me to write him a
note, though I was looking much less for something grand than for
something human. Five days later I heard from him. The
secretary's wife had decided, after keeping him waiting till then,
that she couldn't take a servant out of a house in which there
hadn't been a lady. The note had a P.S.: "It's a good job there
wasn't, sir, such a lady as some."
A week later he came to see me and told me he was "suited,"
committed to some highly respectable people--they were something
quite immense in the City--who lived on the Bayswater side of the
Park. "I daresay it will be rather poor, sir," he admitted; "but
I've seen the fireworks, haven't I, sir?--it can't be fireworks
EVERY night. After Mansfield Street there ain't much choice."
There was a certain amount, however, it seemed; for the following
year, calling one day on a country cousin, a lady of a certain age
who was spending a fortnight in town with some friends of her own,
a family unknown to me and resident in Chester Square, the door of
the house was opened, to my surprise and gratification, by
Brooksmith in person. When I came out I had some conversation with
him from which I gathered that he had found the large City people
too dull for endurance, and I guessed, though he didn't say it,
that he had found them vulgar as well. I don't know what judgement
he would have passed on his actual patrons if my relative hadn't
been their friend; but in view of that connexion he abstained from
None was necessary, however, for before the lady in question
brought her visit to a close they honoured me with an invitation to
dinner, which I accepted. There was a largeish party on the
occasion, but I confess I thought of Brooksmith rather more than of
the seated company. They required no depth of attention--they were
all referable to usual irredeemable inevitable types. It was the
world of cheerful commonplace and conscious gentility and
prosperous density, a full-fed material insular world, a world of
hideous florid plate and ponderous order and thin conversation.
There wasn't a word said about Byron, or even about a minor bard
then much in view. Nothing would have induced me to look at
Brooksmith in the course of the repast, and I felt sure that not
even my overturning the wine would have induced him to meet my eye.
We were in intellectual sympathy--we felt, as regards each other, a
degree of social responsibility. In short we had been in Arcadia
together, and we had both come to THIS! No wonder we were ashamed
to be confronted. When he had helped on my overcoat, as I was
going away, we parted, for the first time since the earliest days
of Mansfield Street, in silence. I thought he looked lean and
wasted, and I guessed that his new place wasn't more "human" than
his previous one. There was plenty of beef and beer, but there was
no reciprocity. The question for him to have asked before
accepting the position wouldn't have been "How many footmen are
kept?" but "How much imagination?"
The next time I went to the house--I confess it wasn't very soon--I
encountered his successor, a personage who evidently enjoyed the
good fortune of never having quitted his natural level. Could any
be higher? he seemed to ask--over the heads of three footmen and
even of some visitors. He made me feel as if Brooksmith were dead;
but I didn't dare to inquire--I couldn't have borne his "I haven't
the least idea, sir." I despatched a note to the address that
worthy had given me after Mr. Offord's death, but I received no
answer. Six months later however I was favoured with a visit from
an elderly dreary dingy person who introduced herself to me as Mr.
Brooksmith's aunt and from whom I learned that he was out of place
and out of health and had allowed her to come and say to me that if
I could spare half an hour to look in at him he would take it as a
I went the next day--his messenger had given me a new address--and
found my friend lodged in a short sordid street in Marylebone, one
of those corners of London that wear the last expression of sickly
meanness. The room into which I was shown was above the small
establishment of a dyer and cleaner who had inflated kid gloves and
discoloured shawls in his shop-front. There was a great deal of
grimy infant life up and down the place, and there was a hot moist
smell within, as of the "boiling" of dirty linen. Brooksmith sat
with a blanket over his legs at a clean little window where, from
behind stiff bluish-white curtains, he could look across at a
huckster's and a tinsmith's and a small greasy public-house. He
had passed through an illness and was convalescent, and his mother,
as well as his aunt, was in attendance on him. I liked the nearer
relative, who was bland and intensely humble, but I had my doubts
of the remoter, whom I connected perhaps unjustly with the opposite
public-house--she seemed somehow greasy with the same grease--and
whose furtive eye followed every movement of my hand as to see if
it weren't going into my pocket. It didn't take this direction--I
couldn't, unsolicited, put myself at that sort of ease with
Brooksmith. Several times the door of the room opened and
mysterious old women peeped in and shuffled back again. I don't
know who they were; poor Brooksmith seemed encompassed with vague
prying beery females.
He was vague himself, and evidently weak, and much embarrassed, and
not an allusion was made between us to Mansfield Street. The
vision of the salon of which he had been an ornament hovered before
me however, by contrast, sufficiently. He assured me he was really
getting better, and his mother remarked that he would come round if
he could only get his spirits up. The aunt echoed this opinion,
and I became more sure that in her own case she knew where to go
for such a purpose. I'm afraid I was rather weak with my old
friend, for I neglected the opportunity, so exceptionally good, to
rebuke the levity which had led him to throw up honourable
positions--fine stiff steady berths in Bayswater and Belgravia,
with morning prayers, as I knew, attached to one of them. Very
likely his reasons had been profane and sentimental; he didn't want
morning prayers, he wanted to be somebody's dear fellow; but I
couldn't be the person to rebuke him. He shuffled these episodes
out of sight--I saw he had no wish to discuss them. I noted
further, strangely enough, that it would probably be a questionable
pleasure for him to see me again: he doubted now even of my power
to condone his aberrations. He didn't wish to have to explain; and
his behaviour was likely in future to need explanation. When I
bade him farewell he looked at me a moment with eyes that said
everything: "How can I talk about those exquisite years in this
place, before these people, with the old women poking their heads
in? It was very good of you to come to see me; it wasn't my idea--
SHE brought you. We've said everything; it's over; you'll lose all
patience with me, and I'd rather you shouldn't see the rest." I
sent him some money in a letter the next day, but I saw the rest
only in the light of a barren sequel.
A whole year after my visit to him I became aware once, in dining
out, that Brooksmith was one of the several servants who hovered
behind our chairs. He hadn't opened the door of the house to me,
nor had I recognised him in the array of retainers in the hall.
This time I tried to catch his eye, but he never gave me a chance,
and when he handed me a dish I could only be careful to thank him
audibly. Indeed I partook of two entrees of which I had my doubts,
subsequently converted into certainties, in order not to snub him.
He looked well enough in health, but much older, and wore in an
exceptionally marked degree the glazed and expressionless mask of
the British domestic de race. I saw with dismay that if I hadn't
known him I should have taken him, on the showing of his
countenance, for an extravagant illustration of irresponsive
servile gloom. I said to myself that he had become a reactionary,
gone over to the Philistines, thrown himself into religion, the
religion of his "place," like a foreign lady sur le retour. I
divined moreover that he was only engaged for the evening--he had
become a mere waiter, had joined the band of the white-waistcoated
who "go out." There was something pathetic in this fact--it was a
terrible vulgarisation of Brooksmith. It was the mercenary prose
of butlerhood; he had given up the struggle for the poetry. If
reciprocity was what he had missed where was the reciprocity now?
Only in the bottoms of the wine-glasses and the five shillings--or
whatever they get--clapped into his hand by the permanent man.
However, I supposed he had taken up a precarious branch of his
profession because it after all sent him less downstairs. His
relations with London society were more superficial, but they were
of course more various. As I went away on this occasion I looked
out for him eagerly among the four or five attendants whose
perpendicular persons, fluting the walls of London passages, are
supposed to lubricate the process of departure; but he was not on
duty. I asked one of the others if he were not in the house, and
received the prompt answer: "Just left, sir. Anything I can do
for you, sir?" I wanted to say "Please give him my kind regards";
but I abstained--I didn't want to compromise him; and I never came
across him again.
Often and often, in dining out, I looked for him, sometimes
accepting invitations on purpose to multiply the chances of my
meeting him. But always in vain; so that as I met many other
members of the casual class over and over again I at last adopted
the theory that he always procured a list of expected guests
beforehand and kept away from the banquets which he thus learned I
was to grace. At last I gave up hope, and one day at the end of
three years I received another visit from his aunt. She was
drearier and dingier, almost squalid, and she was in great
tribulation and want. Her sister, Mrs. Brooksmith, had been dead a
year, and three months later her nephew had disappeared. He had
always looked after her a bit since her troubles; I never knew what
her troubles had been--and now she hadn't so much as a petticoat to
pawn. She had also a niece, to whom she had been everything before
her troubles, but the niece had treated her most shameful. These
were details; the great and romantic fact was Brooksmith's final
evasion of his fate. He had gone out to wait one evening as usual,
in a white waistcoat she had done up for him with her own hands--
being due at a large party up Kensington way. But he had never
come home again and had never arrived at the large party, nor at
any party that any one could make out. No trace of him had come to
light--no gleam of the white waistcoat had pierced the obscurity of
his doom. This news was a sharp shock to me, for I had my ideas
about his real destination. His aged relative had promptly, as she
said, guessed the worst. Somehow, and somewhere he had got out of
the way altogether, and now I trust that, with characteristic
deliberation, he is changing the plates of the immortal gods. As
my depressing visitant also said, he never HAD got his spirits up.
I was fortunately able to dismiss her with her own somewhat
improved. But the dim ghost of poor Brooksmith is one of those
that I see. He had indeed been spoiled.
THE REAL THING
When the porter's wife, who used to answer the house-bell,
announced "A gentleman and a lady, sir," I had, as I often had in
those days--the wish being father to the thought--an immediate
vision of sitters. Sitters my visitors in this case proved to be;
but not in the sense I should have preferred. There was nothing at
first however to indicate that they mightn't have come for a
portrait. The gentleman, a man of fifty, very high and very
straight, with a moustache slightly grizzled and a dark grey
walking-coat admirably fitted, both of which I noted
professionally--I don't mean as a barber or yet as a tailor--would
have struck me as a celebrity if celebrities often were striking.
It was a truth of which I had for some time been conscious that a
figure with a good deal of frontage was, as one might say, almost
never a public institution. A glance at the lady helped to remind
me of this paradoxical law: she also looked too distinguished to
be a "personality." Moreover one would scarcely come across two
Neither of the pair immediately spoke--they only prolonged the
preliminary gaze suggesting that each wished to give the other a
chance. They were visibly shy; they stood there letting me take
them in--which, as I afterwards perceived, was the most practical
thing they could have done. In this way their embarrassment served
their cause. I had seen people painfully reluctant to mention that
they desired anything so gross as to be represented on canvas; but
the scruples of my new friends appeared almost insurmountable. Yet
the gentleman might have said "I should like a portrait of my
wife," and the lady might have said "I should like a portrait of my
husband." Perhaps they weren't husband and wife--this naturally
would make the matter more delicate. Perhaps they wished to be
done together--in which case they ought to have brought a third
person to break the news.
"We come from Mr. Rivet," the lady finally said with a dim smile
that had the effect of a moist sponge passed over a "sunk" piece of
painting, as well as of a vague allusion to vanished beauty. She
was as tall and straight, in her degree, as her companion, and with
ten years less to carry. She looked as sad as a woman could look
whose face was not charged with expression; that is her tinted oval
mask showed waste as an exposed surface shows friction. The hand
of time had played over her freely, but to an effect of
elimination. She was slim and stiff, and so well-dressed, in dark
blue cloth, with lappets and pockets and buttons, that it was clear
she employed the same tailor as her husband. The couple had an
indefinable air of prosperous thrift--they evidently got a good
deal of luxury for their money. If I was to be one of their
luxuries it would behove me to consider my terms.
"Ah Claude Rivet recommended me?" I echoed and I added that it was
very kind of him, though I could reflect that, as he only painted
landscape, this wasn't a sacrifice.
The lady looked very hard at the gentleman, and the gentleman
looked round the room. Then staring at the floor a moment and
stroking his moustache, he rested his pleasant eyes on me with the
remark: "He said you were the right one."
"I try to be, when people want to sit."
"Yes, we should like to," said the lady anxiously.
"Do you mean together?"
My visitors exchanged a glance. "If you could do anything with ME
I suppose it would be double," the gentleman stammered.
"Oh yes, there's naturally a higher charge for two figures than for
"We should like to make it pay," the husband confessed.
"That's very good of you," I returned, appreciating so unwonted a
sympathy--for I supposed he meant pay the artist.
A sense of strangeness seemed to dawn on the lady. "We mean for
the illustrations--Mr. Rivet said you might put one in."
"Put in--an illustration?" I was equally confused.
"Sketch her off, you know," said the gentleman, colouring.
It was only then that I understood the service Claude Rivet had
rendered me; he had told them how I worked in black-and-white, for
magazines, for story-books, for sketches of contemporary life, and
consequently had copious employment for models. These things were
true, but it was not less true--I may confess it now; whether
because the aspiration was to lead to everything or to nothing I
leave the reader to guess--that I couldn't get the honours, to say
nothing of the emoluments, of a great painter of portraits out of
my head. My "illustrations" were my pot-boilers; I looked to a
different branch of art--far and away the most interesting it had
always seemed to me--to perpetuate my fame. There was no shame in
looking to it also to make my fortune but that fortune was by so
much further from being made from the moment my visitors wished to
be "done" for nothing. I was disappointed; for in the pictorial
sense I had immediately SEEN them. I had seized their type--I had
already settled what I would do with it. Something that wouldn't
absolutely have pleased them, I afterwards reflected.
"Ah you're--you're--a -?" I began as soon as I had mastered my
surprise. I couldn't bring out the dingy word "models": it seemed
so little to fit the case.
"We haven't had much practice," said the lady.
"We've got to do something, and we've thought that an artist in
your line might perhaps make something of us," her husband threw
off. He further mentioned that they didn't know many artists and
that they had gone first, on the off-chance--he painted views of
course, but sometimes put in figures; perhaps I remembered--to Mr.
Rivet, whom they had met a few years before at a place in Norfolk
where he was sketching.
"We used to sketch a little ourselves," the lady hinted.
"It's very awkward, but we absolutely must do something," her
husband went on.
"Of course we're not so VERY young," she admitted with a wan smile.
With the remark that I might as well know something more about them
the husband had handed me a card extracted from a neat new pocket-
book--their appurtenances were all of the freshest--and inscribed
with the words "Major Monarch." Impressive as these words were
they didn't carry my knowledge much further; but my visitor
presently added: "I've left the army and we've had the misfortune
to lose our money. In fact our means are dreadfully small."
"It's awfully trying--a regular strain,", said Mrs. Monarch.
They evidently wished to be discreet--to take care not to swagger
because they were gentlefolk. I felt them willing to recognise
this as something of a drawback, at the same time that I guessed at
an underlying sense--their consolation in adversity--that they HAD
their points. They certainly had; but these advantages struck me
as preponderantly social; such for instance as would help to make a
drawing-room look well. However, a drawing-room was always, or
ought to be, a picture.
In consequence of his wife's allusion to their age Major Monarch
observed: "Naturally it's more for the figure that we thought of
going in. We can still hold ourselves up." On the instant I saw
that the figure was indeed their strong point. His "naturally"
didn't sound vain, but it lighted up the question. "SHE has the
best one," he continued, nodding at his wife with a pleasant after-
dinner absence of circumlocution. I could only reply, as if we
were in fact sitting over our wine, that this didn't prevent his
own from being very good; which led him in turn to make answer:
"We thought that if you ever have to do people like us we might be
something like it. SHE particularly--for a lady in a book, you
I was so amused by them that, to get more of it, I did my best to
take their point of view; and though it was an embarrassment to
find myself appraising physically, as if they were animals on hire
or useful blacks, a pair whom I should have expected to meet only
in one of the relations in which criticism is tacit, I looked at
Mrs. Monarch judicially enough to be able to exclaim after a moment
with conviction: "Oh yes, a lady in a book!" She was singularly
like a bad illustration.
"We'll stand up, if you like," said the Major; and he raised
himself before me with a really grand air.
I could take his measure at a glance--he was six feet two and a
perfect gentleman. It would have paid any club in process of
formation and in want of a stamp to engage him at a salary to stand
in the principal window. What struck me at once was that in coming
to me they had rather missed their vocation; they could surely have
been turned to better account for advertising purposes. I couldn't
of course see the thing in detail, but I could see them make
somebody's fortune--I don't mean their own. There was something in
them for a waistcoat-maker, an hotel-keeper or a soap-vendor. I
could imagine "We always use it" pinned on their bosoms with the
greatest effect; I had a vision of the brilliancy with which they
would launch a table d'hote.
Mrs. Monarch sat still, not from pride but from shyness, and
presently her husband said to her: "Get up, my dear, and show how
smart you are." She obeyed, but she had no need to get up to show
it. She walked to the end of the studio and then came back
blushing, her fluttered eyes on the partner of her appeal. I was
reminded of an incident I had accidentally had a glimpse of in
Paris--being with a friend there, a dramatist about to produce a
play, when an actress came to him to ask to be entrusted with a
part. She went through her paces before him, walked up and down as
Mrs. Monarch was doing. Mrs. Monarch did it quite as well, but I
abstained from applauding. It was very odd to see such people
apply for such poor pay. She looked as if she had ten thousand a
year. Her husband had used the word that described her: she was
in the London current jargon essentially and typically "smart."
Her figure was, in the same order of ideas, conspicuously and
irreproachably "good." For a woman of her age her waist was
surprisingly small; her elbow moreover had the orthodox crook. She
held her head at the conventional angle, but why did she come to
ME? She ought to have tried on jackets at a big shop. I feared my
visitors were not only destitute but "artistic"--which would be a
great complication. When she sat down again I thanked her,
observing that what a draughtsman most valued in his model was the
faculty of keeping quiet.
"Oh SHE can keep quiet," said Major Monarch. Then he added
jocosely: "I've always kept her quiet."
"I'm not a nasty fidget, am I?" It was going to wring tears from
me, I felt, the way she hid her head, ostrich-like, in the other
The owner of this expanse addressed his answer to me. "Perhaps it
isn't out of place to mention--because we ought to be quite
business-like, oughtn't we?--that when I married her she was known
as the Beautiful Statue."
"Oh dear!" said Mrs. Monarch ruefully.
"Of course I should want a certain amount of expression," I
"Of COURSE!"--and I had never heard such unanimity.
"And then I suppose you know that you'll get awfully tired."
"Oh we NEVER get tired!" they eagerly cried.
"Have you had any kind of practice?"
They hesitated--they looked at each other. We've been
photographed--IMMENSELY," said Mrs. Monarch.
"She means the fellows have asked us themselves," added the Major.
"I see--because you're so good-looking."
"I don't know what they thought, but they were always after us."
"We always got our photographs for nothing,"
smiled Mrs. Monarch.
"We might have brought some, my dear," her husband remarked.
"I'm not sure we have any left. We've given quantities away," she
explained to me.
"With our autographs and that sort of thing," said the Major.
"Are they to be got in the shops?" I inquired as a harmless
"Oh yes, HERS--they used to be."
"Not now," said Mrs. Monarch with her eyes on the floor.
I could fancy the "sort of thing" they put on the presentation
copies of their photographs, and I was sure they wrote a beautiful
hand. It was odd how quickly I was sure of everything that
concerned them. If they were now so poor as to have to cam
shillings and pence they could never have had much of a margin.
Their good looks had been their capital, and they had good-
humouredly made the most of the career that this resource marked
out for them. It was in their faces, the blankness, the deep
intellectual repose of the twenty years of country-house visiting
that had given them pleasant intonations. I could see the sunny
drawing-rooms, sprinkled with periodicals she didn't read, in which
Mrs. Monarch had continuously sat; I could see the wet shrubberies
in which she had walked, equipped to admiration for either
exercise. I could see the rich covers the Major had helped to
shoot and the wonderful garments in which, late at night, he
repaired to the smoking-room to talk about them. I could imagine
their leggings and waterproofs, their knowing tweeds and rugs,
their rolls of sticks and cases of tackle and neat umbrellas; and I
could evoke the exact appearance of their servants and the compact
variety of their luggage on the platforms of country stations.
They gave small tips, but they were liked; they didn't do anything
themselves, but they were welcome. They looked so well everywhere;
they gratified the general relish for stature, complexion and
"form." They knew it without fatuity or vulgarity, and they
respected themselves in consequence. They weren't superficial:
they were thorough and kept themselves up--it had been their line.
People with such a taste for activity had to have some line. I
could feel how even in a dull house they could have been counted on
for the joy of life. At present something had happened--it didn't
matter what, their little income had grown less, it had grown
least--and they had to do something for pocket-money. Their
friends could like them, I made out, without liking to support
them. There was something about them that represented credit--
their clothes, their manners, their type; but if credit is a large
empty pocket in which an occasional chink reverberates, the chink
at least must be audible. What they wanted of me was help to make
it so. Fortunately they had no children--I soon divined that.
They would also perhaps wish our relations to be kept secret: this
was why it was "for the figure"--the reproduction of the face would
I liked them--I felt, quite as their friends must have done--they
were so simple; and I had no objection to them if they would suit.
But somehow with all their perfections I didn't easily believe in
them. After all they were amateurs, and the ruling passion of my
life was--the detestation of the amateur. Combined with this was
another perversity--an innate preference for the represented
subject over the real one: the defect of the real one was so apt
to be a lack of representation. I liked things that appeared; then
one was sure. Whether they WERE or not was a subordinate and
almost always a profitless question. There were other
considerations, the first of which was that I already had two or
three recruits in use, notably a young person with big feet, in
alpaca, from Kilburn, who for a couple of years had come to me
regularly for my illustrations and with whom I was still--perhaps
ignobly--satisfied. I frankly explained to my visitors how the
case stood, but they had taken more precautions than I supposed.
They had reasoned out their opportunity, for Claude Rivet had told
them of the projected edition de luxe of one of the writers of our
day--the rarest of the novelists--who, long neglected by the
multitudinous vulgar, and dearly prized by the attentive (need I
mention Philip Vincent?) had had the happy fortune of seeing, late
in life, the dawn and then the full light of a higher criticism; an
estimate in which on the part of the public there was something
really of expiation. The edition preparing, planned by a publisher
of taste, was practically an act of high reparation; the woodcuts
with which it was to be enriched were the homage of English art to
one of the most independent representatives of English letters.
Major and Mrs. Monarch confessed to me they had hoped I might be
able to work THEM into my branch of the enterprise. They knew I
was to do the first of the books, Rutland Ramsay, but I had to make
clear to them that my participation in the rest of the affair--this
first book was to be a test--must depend on the satisfaction I
should give. If this should be limited my employers would drop me
with scarce common forms. It was therefore a crisis for me, and
naturally I was making special preparations, looking about for new
people, should they be necessary, and securing the best types. I
admitted however that I should like to settle down to two or three
good models who would do for everything.
"Should we have often to--a--put on special clothes?" Mrs. Monarch
"Dear yes--that's half the business."
"And should we be expected to supply our own costumes?
"Oh no; I've got a lot of things. A painter's models put on--or
put off--anything he likes."
"And you mean--a--the same?"
Mrs. Monarch looked at her husband again.
"Oh she was just wondering," he explained, "if the costumes are in
GENERAL use." I had to confess that they were, and I mentioned
further that some of them--I had a lot of, genuine greasy last-
century things--had served their time, a hundred years ago, on
living world-stained men and women; on figures not perhaps so far
removed, in that vanished world, from THEIR type, the Monarchs',
quoi! of a breeched and bewigged age. "We'll put, on anything that
FITS," said the Major.
"Oh I arrange that--they fit in the pictures."
"I'm afraid I should do better for the modern books. I'd come as
you like," said Mrs. Monarch.
"She has got a lot of clothes at home: they might do for
contemporary life," her husband continued.
"Oh I can fancy scenes in which you'd be quite natural." And
indeed I could see the slipshod re-arrangements of stale
properties--the stories I tried to produce pictures for without the
exasperation of reading them--whose sandy tracts the good lady
might help to people. But I had to return to the fact that--for
this sort of work--the daily mechanical grind--I was already
equipped: the people I was working with wore fully adequate.
"We only thought we might be more like SOME characters," said Mrs.
Monarch mildly, getting up.
Her husband also rose; he stood looking at me with a dim
wistfulness that was touching in so fine a man. "Wouldn't it be
rather a pull sometimes to have--a--to haven?" He hung fire; he
wanted me to help him by phrasing what he meant. But I couldn't--I
didn't know. So he brought it out awkwardly: "The REAL thing; a
gentleman, you know, or a lady." I was quite ready to give a
general assent--I admitted that there was a great deal in that.
This encouraged Major Monarch to say, following up his appeal with
an unacted gulp: "It's awfully hard--we've tried everything." The
gulp was communicative; it proved too much for his wife. Before I
knew it Mrs. Monarch had dropped again upon a divan and burst into
tears. Her husband sat down beside her, holding one of her hands;
whereupon she quickly dried her eyes with the other, while I felt
embarrassed as she looked up at me. "There isn't a confounded job
I haven't applied for--waited for--prayed for. You can fancy we'd
be pretty bad first. Secretaryships and that sort of thing? You
might as well ask for a peerage. I'd be ANYTHING--I'm strong; a
messenger or a coalheaver. I'd put on a gold-laced cap and open
carriage-doors in front of the haberdasher's; I'd hang about a
station to carry portmanteaux; I'd be a postman. But they won't
LOOK at you; there are thousands as good as yourself already on the
ground. GENTLEMEN, poor beggars, who've drunk their wine, who've
kept their hunters!"
I was as reassuring as I knew how to be, and my visitors were
presently on their feet again while, for the experiment, we agreed
on an hour. We were discussing it when the door opened and Miss
Churm came in with a wet umbrella. Miss Churm had to take the
omnibus to Maida Vale and then walk half a mile. She looked a
trifle blowsy and slightly splashed. I scarcely ever saw her come
in without thinking afresh how odd it was that, being so little in
herself, she should yet be so much in others. She was a meagre
little Miss Churm, but was such an ample heroine of romance. She
was only a freckled cockney, but she could represent everything,
from a fine lady to a shepherdess, she had the faculty as she might
have had a fine voice or long hair. She couldn't spell and she
loved beer, but she had two or three "points," and practice, and a
knack, and mother-wit, and a whimsical sensibility, and a love of
the theatre, and seven sisters,--and not an ounce of respect,
especially for the H. The first thing my visitors saw was that her
umbrella was wet, and in their spotless perfection they visibly
winced at it. The rain had come on since their arrival.
"I'm all in a soak; there WAS a mess of people in the 'bus. I wish
you lived near a stytion," said Miss Churm. I requested her to get
ready as quickly as possible, and she passed into the room in which
she always changed her dress. But before going out she asked me
what she was to get into this time.
"It's the Russian princess, don't you know?" I answered; "the one
with the 'golden eyes,' in black velvet, for the long thing in the
"Golden eyes? I SAY!" cried Miss Churm, while my companions
watched her with intensity as she withdrew. She always arranged
herself, when she was late, before I could turn round; and I kept
my visitors a little on purpose, so that they might get an idea,
from seeing her, what would be expected of themselves. I mentioned
that she was quite my notion of ail excellent model--she was really
"Do you think she looks like a Russian princess?" Major Monarch
asked with lurking alarm.
"When I make her, yes."
"Oh if you have to MAKE her--!" he reasoned, not without point.
"That's the most you can ask. There are so many who are not
"Well now, HERE'S a lady"--and with a persuasive smile he passed
his arm into his wife's--"who's already made!"
"Oh I'm not a Russian princess," Mrs. Monarch protested a little
coldly. I could see she had known some and didn't like them.
There at once was a complication of a kind I never had to fear with
This young lady came back in black velvet--the gown was rather
rusty and very low on her lean shoulders--and with a Japanese fan
in her red hands. I reminded her that in the scene I was doing she
had to look over some one's head. "I forget whose it is but it
doesn't matter. Just look over a head."
"I'd rather look over a stove," said Miss Churm and she took her
station near the fire. She fell into Position, settled herself
into a tall attitude, gave a certain backward inclination to her
head and a certain forward droop to her fan, and looked, at least
to my prejudiced sense, distinguished and charming, foreign and
dangerous. We left her looking so while I went downstairs with
Major and Mrs. Monarch.
"I believe I could come about as near it as that," said Mrs.
"Oh you think she's shabby, but you must allow for the alchemy of
However, they went off with an evident increase of comfort founded
on their demonstrable advantage in being the real thing. I could
fancy them shuddering over Miss Churm. She was very droll about
them when I went back, for I told her what they wanted.
"Well, if SHE can sit I'll tyke to bookkeeping," said my model.
"She's very ladylike," I replied as an innocent form of
"So much the worse for YOU. That means she can't turn round."
"She'll do for the fashionable novels."
"Oh yes, she'll DO for them!" my model humorously declared. "Ain't
they bad enough without her?" I had often sociably denounced them
to Miss Churm.
It was for the elucidation of a mystery in one of these works that
I first tried Mrs. Monarch. Her husband came with her, to be
useful if necessary--it was sufficiently clear that as a general
thing he would prefer to come with her. At first I wondered if
this were for "propriety's" sake--if he were going to be jealous
and meddling. The idea was too tiresome, and if it had been
confirmed it would speedily have brought our acquaintance to a
close. But I soon saw there was nothing in it and that if he
accompanied Mrs. Monarch it was--in addition to the chance of being
wanted--simply because he had nothing else to do. When they were
separate his occupation was gone, and they never HAD been separate.
I judged rightly that in their awkward situation their close union
was their main comfort and that this union had no weak spot. It
was a real marriage, an encouragement to the hesitating, a nut for
pessimists to crack. Their address was humble--I remember
afterwards thinking it had been the only thing about them that was
really professional--and I could fancy the lamentable lodgings in
which the Major would have been left alone. He could sit there
more or less grimly with his wife--he couldn't sit there anyhow
He had too much tact to try and make himself agreeable when he
couldn't be useful; so when I was too absorbed in my work to talk
he simply sat and waited. But I liked to hear him talk--it made my
work, when not interrupting it, less mechanical, less special. To
listen to him was to combine the excitement of going out with the
economy of staying at home. There was only one hindrance--that I
seemed not to know any of the people this brilliant couple had
known. I think he wondered extremely, during the term of our
intercourse, whom the deuce I DID know. He hadn't a stray sixpence
of an idea to fumble for, so we didn't spin it very fine; we
confined ourselves to questions of leather and even of liquor-
saddlers and breeches-makers and how to get excellent claret cheap-
-and matters like "good trains" and the habits of small game. His
lore on these last subjects was astonishing--he managed to
interweave the station-master with the ornithologist. When he
couldn't talk about greater things he could talk cheerfully about
smaller, and since I couldn't accompany him into reminiscences of
the fashionable world he could lower the conversation without a
visible effort to my level.
So earnest a desire to please was touching in a man who could so
easily have knocked one down. He looked after the fire and had an
opinion on the draught of the stove without my asking him, and I
could see that he thought many of my arrangements not half knowing.
I remember telling him that if I were only rich I'd offer him a
salary to come and teach me how to live. Sometimes he gave a
random sigh of which the essence might have been: "Give me even
such a bare old-barrack as this, and I'd do something with it!"
When I wanted to use him he came alone; which was an illustration
of the superior courage of women. His wife could bear her solitary
second floor, and she was in general more discreet; showing by
various small reserves that she was alive to the propriety of
keeping our relations markedly professional--not letting them slide
into sociability. She wished it to remain clear that she and the
Major were employed, not cultivated, and if she approved of me as a
superior, who could be kept in his place, she never thought me
quite good enough for an equal.
She sat with great intensity, giving the whole of her mind to it,
and was capable of remaining for an hour almost as motionless as
before a photographer's lens. I could see she had been
photographed often, but somehow the very habit that made her good
for that purpose unfitted her for mine. At first I was extremely
pleased with her ladylike air, and it was a satisfaction, on coming
to follow her lines, to see how good they were and how far they
could lead the pencil. But after a little skirmishing I began to
find her too insurmountably stiff; do what I would with it my
drawing looked like a photograph or a copy of a photograph. Her
figure had no variety of expression--she herself had no sense of
variety. You may say that this was my business and was only a
question of placing her. Yet I placed her in every conceivable
position and she managed to obliterate their differences. She was
always a lady certainly, and into the bargain was always the same
lady. She was the real thing, but always the same thing. There
were moments when I rather writhed under the serenity of her
confidence that she WAS the real thing. All her dealings with me
and all her husband's were an implication that this was lucky for
ME. Meanwhile I found myself trying to invent types that
approached her own, instead of making her own transform itself--in
the clever way that was not impossible for instance to poor Miss
Churm. Arrange as I would and take the precautions I would, she
always came out, in my pictures, too tall--landing me in the
dilemma of having represented a fascinating woman as seven feet
high, which (out of respect perhaps to my own very much scantier
inches) was far from my idea of such a personage.
The case was worse with the Major--nothing I could do would keep
HIM down, so that he became useful only for the representation of
brawny giants. I adored variety and range, I cherished human
accidents, the illustrative note; I wanted to characterise closely,
and the thing in the world I most hated was the danger of being
ridden by a type. I had quarrelled with some of my friends about
it; I had parted company with them for maintaining that one HAD to
be, and that if the type was beautiful--witness Raphael and
Leonardo--the servitude was only a gain. I was neither Leonardo
nor Raphael--I might only be a presumptuous young modern searcher;
but I held that everything was to be sacrificed sooner than
character. When they claimed that the obsessional form could
easily BE character I retorted, perhaps superficially, "Whose?" It
couldn't be everybody's--it might end in being nobody's.
After I had drawn Mrs. Monarch a dozen times I felt surer even than
before that the value of such a model as Miss Churm resided
precisely in the fact that she had no positive stamp, combined of
course with the other fact that what she did have was a curious and
inexplicable talent for imitation. Her usual appearance was like a
curtain which--she could draw up at request for a capital
performance. This performance was simply suggestive; but it was a
word to the wise--it was vivid and pretty. Sometimes even I
thought it, though she was plain herself, too insipidly pretty; I
made it a reproach to her that the figures drawn from her were
monotonously (betement, as we used to say) graceful. Nothing made
her more angry: it was so much her pride to feel she could sit for
characters that had nothing in common with each other. She would
accuse me at such moments of taking away her "reputytion."
It suffered a certain shrinkage, this queer quantity, from the
repeated visits of my new friends. Miss Churm was greatly in
demand, never in want of employment, so I had no scruple in putting
her off occasionally, to try them more at my ease. It was
certainly amusing at first to do the real thing--it was amusing to
do Major Monarch's trousers. They WERE the real thing, even if he
did come out colossal. It was amusing to do his wife's back hair--
it was so mathematically neat--and the particular "smart" tension
of her tight stays. She lent herself especially to positions in
which the face was somewhat averted or blurred, she abounded in
ladylike back views and profils perdus. When she stood erect she
took naturally one of the attitudes in which court-painters
represent queens and princesses; so that I found myself wondering
whether, to draw out this accomplishment, I couldn't get the editor
of the Cheapside to publish a really royal romance, "A Tale of
Buckingham Palace." Sometimes however the real thing and the make-
believe came into contact; by which I mean that Miss Churm, keeping
an appointment or coming to make one on days when I had much work
in hand, encountered her invidious rivals. The encounter was not
on their part, for they noticed her no more than if she had been
the housemaid; not from intentional loftiness, but simply because
as yet, professionally, they didn't know how to fraternise, as I
could imagine they would have liked--or at least that the Major
would. They couldn't talk about the omnibus--they always walked;
and they didn't know what else to try--she wasn't interested in
good trains or cheap claret. Besides, they must have felt--in the
air--that she was amused at them, secretly derisive of their ever
knowing how. She wasn't a person to conceal the limits of her
faith if she had had a chance to show them. On the other hand Mrs.
Monarch didn't think her tidy; for why else did she take pains to
say to me--it was going out of the way, for Mrs. Monarch--that she
didn't like dirty women?
One day when my young lady happened to be present with my other
sitters--she even dropped in, when it was convenient, for a chat--I
asked her to be so good as to lend a hand in getting tea, a service
with which she was familiar and which was one of a class that,
living as I did in a small way, with slender domestic resources, I
often appealed to my models to render. They liked to lay hands on
my property, to break the sitting, and sometimes the china--it made
them feel Bohemian. The next time I saw Miss Churm after this
incident she surprised me greatly by making a scene about it--she
accused me of having wished to humiliate her. She hadn't resented
the outrage at the time, but had seemed obliging and amused,
enjoying the comedy of asking Mrs. Monarch, who sat vague and
silent, whether she would have cream and sugar, and putting an
exaggerated simper into the question. She had tried intonations--
as if she too wished to pass for the real thing--till I was afraid
my other visitors would take offence.
Oh they were determined not to do this, and their touching patience
was the measure of their great need. They would sit by the hour,
uncomplaining, till I was ready to use them; they would come back
on the chance of being wanted and would walk away cheerfully if it
failed. I used to go to the door with them to see in what
magnificent order they retreated. I tried to find other employment
for them--I introduced them to several artists. But they didn't
"take," for reasons I could appreciate, and I became rather
anxiously aware that after such disappointments they fell back upon
me with a heavier weight. They did me the honour to think me most
their form. They weren't romantic enough for the painters, and in
those days there were few serious workers in black-and-white.
Besides, they had an eye to the great job I had mentioned to them--
they had secretly set their hearts on supplying the right essence
for my pictorial vindication of our fine novelist. They knew that
for this undertaking I should want no costume--effects, none of the
frippery of past ages--that it was a case in which everything would
be contemporary and satirical and presumably genteel. If I could
work them into it their future would be assured, for the labour
would of course be long and the occupation steady.
One day Mrs. Monarch came without her husband--she explained his
absence by his having had to go to the City. While she sat there
in her usual relaxed majesty there came at the door a knock which I
immediately recognised as the subdued appeal of a model out of
work. It was followed by the entrance of a young man whom I at
once saw to be a foreigner and who proved in fact an Italian
acquainted with no English word but my name, which he uttered in a
way that made it seem to include all others. I hadn't then visited
his country, nor was I proficient in his tongue; but as he was not
so meanly constituted--what Italian is?--as to depend only on that
member for expression he conveyed to me, in familiar but graceful
mimicry, that he was in search of exactly the employment in which
the lady before me was engaged. I was not struck with him at
first, and while I continued to draw I dropped few signs of
interest or encouragement. He stood his ground however--not
importunately, but with a dumb dog-like fidelity in his eyes that
amounted to innocent impudence, the manner of a devoted servant--he
might have been in the house for years--unjustly suspected.
Suddenly it struck me that this very attitude and expression made a
picture; whereupon I told him to sit down and wait till I should be
free. There was another picture in the way he obeyed me, and I
observed as I worked that there were others still in the way he
looked wonderingly, with his head thrown back, about the high
studio. He might have been crossing himself in Saint Peter's.
Before I finished I said to myself "The fellow's a bankrupt orange-
monger, but a treasure."
When Mrs. Monarch withdrew he passed across the room like a flash
to open the door for her, standing there with the rapt pure gaze of
the young Dante spellbound by the young Beatrice. As I never
insisted, in such situations, on the blankness of the British
domestic, I reflected that he had the making of a servant--and I
needed one, but couldn't pay him to be only that--as well as of a
model; in short I resolved to adopt my bright adventurer if he
would agree to officiate in the double capacity. He jumped at my
offer, and in the event my rashness--for I had really known nothing
about him--wasn't brought home to me. He proved a sympathetic
though a desultory ministrant, and had in a wonderful degree the
sentiment de la pose. It was uncultivated, instinctive, a part of
the happy instinct that had guided him to my door and helped him to
spell out my name on the card nailed to it. He had had no other
introduction to me than a guess, from the shape of my high north
window, seen outside, that my place was a studio and that as a
studio it would contain an artist. He had wandered to England in
search of fortune, like other itinerants, and had embarked, with a
partner and a small green hand-cart, on the sale of penny ices.
The ices had melted away and the partner had dissolved in their
train. My young man wore tight yellow trousers with reddish
stripes and his name was Oronte. He was sallow but fair, and when
I put him into some old clothes of my own he looked like an
Englishman. He was as good as Miss Churm, who could look, when
requested, like an Italian.
I thought Mrs. Monarch's face slightly convulsed when, on her
coming back with her husband, she found Oronte installed. It was
strange to have to recognise in a scrap of a lazzarone a competitor
to her magnificent Major. It was she who scented danger first, for
the Major was anecdotically unconscious. But Oronte gave us tea,
with a hundred eager confusions--he had never been concerned in so
queer a process--and I think she thought better of me for having at
last an "establishment." They saw a couple of drawings that I had
made of the establishment, and Mrs. Monarch hinted that it never
would have struck her he had sat for them. "Now the drawings you
make from US, they look exactly like us," she reminded me, smiling
in triumph; and I recognised that this was indeed just their
defect. When I drew the Monarchs I couldn't anyhow get away from
them--get into the character I wanted to represent; and I hadn't
the least desire my model should be discoverable in my picture.
Miss Churm never was, and Mrs. Monarch thought I hid her, very
properly, because she was vulgar; whereas if she was lost it was
only as the dead who go to heaven are lost--in the gain of an angel
By this time I had got a certain start with "Rutland Ramsay," the
first novel in the great projected series; that is I had produced a
dozen drawings, several with the help of the Major and his wife,
and I had sent them in for approval. My understanding with the
publishers as I have already hinted, had been that I was to be left
to do my work, in this particular case, as I liked, with the whole
book committed to me; but my connexion with the rest of the series
was only contingent. There were moments when, frankly, it WAS a
comfort to have the real thing under one's hand for there were
characters in "Rutland Ramsay" that were very much like it. There
were people presumably as erect as the Major and women of as good a
fashion as Mrs. Monarch. There was a great deal of country-house
life-treated, it is true, in a fine fanciful ironical generalised
way--and there was a considerable implication of knickerbockers and
kilts. There were certain things I had to settle at the outset;
such things for instance as the exact appearance of the hero and
the particular bloom and figure of the heroine. The author of
course gave me a lead, but there was a margin for interpretation.
I took the Monarchs into my confidence, I told them frankly what I
was about, I mentioned my embarrassments and alternatives. "Oh
take HIM!" Mrs. Monarch murmured sweetly, looking at her husband;
and "What could you want better than my wife?" the Major inquired
with the comfortable candour that now prevailed between us.
I wasn't obliged to answer these remarks--I was only obliged to
place my sitters. I wasn't easy in mind, and I postponed a little
timidly perhaps the solving of my question. The book was a large
canvas, the other figures were numerous, and I worked off at first
some of the episodes in which the hero and the heroine were not
concerned. When once I had set THEM up I should have to stick to
them--I couldn't make my young man seven feet high in one place and
five feet nine in another. I inclined on the whole to the latter
measurement, though the Major more than once reminded me that he
looked about as young as any one. It was indeed quite possible to
arrange him, for the figure, so that it would have been difficult
to detect his age. After the spontaneous Oronte had been with me a
month, and after I had given him to understand several times over
that his native exuberance would presently constitute an
insurmountable barrier to our further intercourse, I waked to a
sense of his heroic capacity. He was only five feet seven, but the
remaining inches were latent. I tried him almost secretly at
first, for I was really rather afraid of the judgement my other
models would pass on such a choice. If they regarded Miss Churm as
little better than a snare what would they think of the
representation by a person so little the real thing as an Italian
street-vendor of a protagonist formed by a public school?
If I went a little in fear of them it wasn't because they bullied
me, because they had got an oppressive foothold, but because in
their really pathetic decorum and mysteriously permanent newness
they counted on me so intensely. I was therefore very glad when
Jack Hawley came home: he was always of such good counsel. He
painted badly himself, but there was no one like him for putting
his finger on the place. He had been absent from England for a
year; he had been somewhere--I don't remember where--to get a fresh
eye. I was in a good deal of dread of any such organ, but we were
old friends; he had been away for months and a sense of emptiness
was creeping into my life. I hadn't dodged a missile for a year.
He came back with a fresh eye, but with the same old black velvet
blouse, and the first evening he spent in my studio we smoked
cigarettes till the small hours. He had done no work himself, he
had only got the eye; so the field was clear for the production of
my little things. He wanted to see what I had produced for the
Cheapside, but he was disappointed in the exhibition. That at
least seemed the meaning of two or three comprehensive groans
which, as he lounged on my big divan, his leg folded under him,
looking at my latest drawings, issued from his lips with the smoke
of the cigarette.
"What's the matter with you?" I asked.
"What's the matter with you?"
"Nothing save that I'm mystified."
"You are indeed. You're quite off the hinge. What's the meaning
of this new fad?" And he tossed me, with visible irreverence, a
drawing in which I happened to have depicted both my elegant
models. I asked if he didn't think it good, and he replied that it
struck him as execrable, given the sort of thing I had always
represented myself to him as wishing to arrive at; but I let that
pass--I was so anxious to see exactly what he meant. The two
figures in the picture looked colossal, but I supposed this was not
what he meant, inasmuch as, for aught he knew to the contrary, I
might have been trying for some such effect. I maintained that I
was working exactly in the same way as when he last had done me the
honour to tell me I might do something some day. "Well, there's a
screw loose somewhere," he answered; "wait a bit and I'll discover
it." I depended upon him to do so: where else was the fresh eye?
But he produced at last nothing more luminous than "I don't know--I
don't like your types." This was lame for a critic who had never
consented to discuss with me anything but the question of
execution, the direction of strokes and the mystery of values.
"In the drawings you've been looking at I think my types are very
"Oh they won't do!"
"I've been working with new models."
"I see you have. THEY won't do."
"Are you very sure of that?"
"You mean I am--for I ought to get round that."
"You can't--with such people. Who are they?"
I told him, so far as was necessary, and he concluded heartlessly:
"Ce sont des gens qu'il faut mettre a la porte."
"You've never seen them; they're awfully good"--I flew to their
"Not seen them? Why all this recent work of yours drops to pieces
with them. It's all I want to see of them."
"No one else has said anything against it--the Cheapside people are
"Every one else is an ass, and the Cheapside people the biggest
asses of all. Come, don't pretend at this time of day to have
pretty illusions about the public, especially about publishers and
editors. It's not for SUCH animals you work--it's for those who
know, coloro che sanno; so keep straight for me if you can't keep
straight for yourself. There was a certain sort of thing you used
to try for--and a very good thing it was. But this twaddle isn't
in it." When I talked with Hawley later about "Rutland Ramsay" and
its possible successors he declared that I must get back into my
boat again or I should go to the bottom. His voice in short was
the voice of warning.
I noted the warning, but I didn't turn my friends out of doors.
They bored me a good deal; but the very fact that they bored me
admonished me not to sacrifice them--if there was anything to be
done with them--simply to irritation. As I look back at this phase
they seem to me to have pervaded my life not a little. I have a
vision of them as most of the time in my studio, seated against the
wall on an old velvet bench to be out of the way, and resembling
the while a pair of patient courtiers in a royal antechamber. I'm
convinced that during the coldest weeks of the winter they held
their ground because it saved them fire. Their newness was losing
its gloss, and it was impossible not to feel them objects of
charity. Whenever Miss Churm arrived they went away, and after I
was fairly launched in "Rutland Ramsay" Miss Churm arrived pretty
often. They managed to express to me tacitly that they supposed I
wanted her for the low life of the book, and I let them suppose it,
since they had attempted to study the work--it was lying about the
studio--without discovering that it dealt only with the highest
circles. They had dipped into the most brilliant of our novelists
without deciphering many passages. I still took an hour from them,
now and again, in spite of Jack Hawley's warning: it would be time
enough to dismiss them, if dismissal should be necessary, when the
rigour of the season was over. Hawley had made their acquaintance-
-he had met them at my fireside--and thought them a ridiculous
pair. Learning that he was a painter they tried to approach him,
to show him too that they were the real thing; but he looked at
them across the big room, as if they were miles away: they were a
compendium of everything he most objected to in the social system
of his country. Such people as that, all convention and patent-
leather, with ejaculations that stopped conversation, had no
business in a studio. A studio was a place to learn to see, and
how could you see through a pair of feather-beds?
The main inconvenience I suffered at their hands was that at first
I was shy of letting it break upon them that my artful little
servant had begun to sit to me for "Rutland Ramsay." They knew I
had been odd enough--they were prepared by this time to allow
oddity to artists--to pick a foreign vagabond out of the streets
when I might have had a person with whiskers and credentials; but
it was some time before they learned how high I rated his
accomplishments. They found him in an attitude more than once, but
they never doubted I was doing him as an organ-grinder. There were
several things they never guessed, and one of them was that for a
striking scene in the novel, in which a footman briefly figured, it
occurred to me to make use of Major Monarch as the menial. I kept
putting this off, I didn't like to ask him to don the livery--
besides the difficulty of finding a livery to fit him. At last,
one day late in the winter, when I was at work on the despised
Oronte, who caught one's idea on the wing, and was in the glow of
feeling myself go very straight, they came in, the Major and his
wife, with their society laugh about nothing (there was less and
less to laugh at); came in like country-callers--they always
reminded me of that--who have walked across the park after church
and are presently persuaded to stay to luncheon. Luncheon was
over, but they could stay to tea--I knew they wanted it. The fit
was on me, however, and I couldn't let my ardour cool and my work
wait, with the fading daylight, while my model prepared it. So I
asked Mrs. Monarch if she would mind laying it out--a request which
for an instant brought all the blood to her face. Her eyes were on
her husband's for a second, and some mute telegraphy passed between
them. Their folly was over the next instant; his cheerful
shrewdness put an end to it. So far from pitying their wounded
pride, I must add, I was moved to give it as complete a lesson as I
could. They bustled about together and got out the cups and
saucers and made the kettle boil. I know they felt as if they were
waiting on my servant, and when the tea was prepared I said:
"He'll have a cup, please--he's tired." Mrs. Monarch brought him
one where he stood, and he took it from her as if he had been a
gentleman at a party squeezing a crush-hat with an elbow.
Then it came over me that she had made a great effort for me--made
it with a kind of nobleness--and that I owed her a compensation.
Each time I saw her after this I wondered what the compensation
could be. I couldn't go on doing the wrong thing to oblige them.
Oh it WAS the wrong thing, the stamp of the work for which they
sat--Hawley was not the only person to say it now. I sent in a
large number of the drawings I had made for "Rutland Ramsay," and I
received a warning that was more to the point than Hawley's. The
artistic adviser of the house for which I was working was of
opinion that many of my illustrations were not what had been looked
for. Most of these illustrations were the subjects in which the
Monarchs had figured. Without going into the question of what HAD
been looked for, I had to face the fact that at this rate I
shouldn't get the other books to do. I hurled myself in despair on
Miss Churm--I put her through all her paces. I not only adopted
Oronte publicly as my hero, but one morning when the Major looked
in to see if I didn't require him to finish a Cheapside figure for
which he had begun to sit the week before, I told him I had changed
my mind--I'd do the drawing from my man. At this my visitor turned
pale and stood looking at me. "Is HE your idea of an English
gentleman?" he asked.
I was disappointed, I was nervous, I wanted to get on with my work;
so. I replied with irritation: "Oh my dear Major--I can't be
ruined for YOU!"
It was a horrid speech, but he stood another moment--after which,
without a word, he quitted the studio. I drew a long breath, for I
said to myself that I shouldn't see him again. I hadn't told--him
definitely that I was in danger of having my work rejected, but I
was vexed at his not having felt the catastrophe in the air, read
with me the moral of our fruitless collaboration, the lesson that
in the deceptive atmosphere of art even the highest respectability
may fail of being plastic.
I didn't owe my friends money, but I did see them again. They
reappeared together three days later, and, given all the other
facts, there was something tragic in that one. It was a clear
proof they could find nothing else in life to do. They had
threshed the matter out in a dismal conference--they had digested
the bad news that they were not in for the series. If they weren't
useful to me even for the Cheapside their function seemed difficult
to determine, and I could only judge at first that they had come,
forgivingly, decorously, to take a last leave. This made me
rejoice in secret that I had little leisure for a scene; for I had
placed both my other models in position together and I was pegging
away at a drawing from which I hoped to derive glory. It had been
suggested by the passage in -which Rutland Ramsay, drawing up a
chair to Artemisia's piano-stool, says extraordinary things to her
while she ostensibly fingers out a difficult piece of music. I had
done Miss Churm at the piano before--it was an attitude in which
she knew how to take on an absolutely poetic grace. I wished the
two figures to "compose" together with intensity, and my little
Italian had entered perfectly into my conception. The pair were
vividly before me, the piano had been pulled out; it was a charming
show of blended youth and murmured love, which I had only to catch
and keep. My visitors stood and looked at it, and I was friendly
to them over my shoulder.
They made no response, but I was used to silent company and went on
with my work, only a little disconcerted--even though exhilarated
by the sense that this was at least the ideal thing--at not having
got rid of them after all. Presently I heard Mrs. Monarch's sweet
voice beside or rather above me: "I wish her hair were a little
better done." I looked up and she was staring with a strange
fixedness at Miss Churm, whose back was turned to her. "Do you
mind my just touching it?" she went on--a question which made me
spring up for an instant as with the instinctive fear that she
might do the young lady a harm. But she quieted me with a glance I
shall never forget--I confess I should like to have been able to
paint that--and went for a moment to my model. She spoke to her
softly, laying a hand on her shoulder and bending over her; and as
the girl, understanding, gratefully assented, she disposed her
rough curls, with a few quick passes, in such a way as to make Miss
Churm's head twice as charming. It was one of the most heroic
personal services I've ever seen rendered. Then Mrs. Monarch
turned away with a low sigh and, looking about her as if for
something to do, stooped to the floor with a noble humility and
picked up a dirty rag that had dropped out of my paint-box.
The Major meanwhile had also been looking for something to do, and,
wandering to the other end of the studio, saw before him my
breakfast-things neglected, unremoved. "I say, can't I be useful
HERE?" he called out to me with an irrepressible quaver. I
assented with a laugh that I fear was awkward, and for the next ten
minutes, while I worked, I heard the light clatter of china and the
tinkle of spoons and glass. Mrs. Monarch assisted her husband--
they washed up my crockery, they put it away. They wandered off
into my little scullery, and I afterwards found that they had
cleaned my knives and that my slender stock of plate had an
unprecedented surface. When it came over me, the latent eloquence
of what they were doing, I confess that my drawing was blurred for
a moment--the picture swam. They had accepted their failure, but
they couldn't accept their fate. They had bowed their heads in
bewilderment to the perverse and cruel law in virtue of which the
real thing could be so much less precious than the unreal; but they
didn't want to starve. If my servants were my models, then my
models might be my servants. They would reverse the parts--the
others would sit for the ladies and gentlemen and THEY would do the
work. They would still be in the studio--it was an intense dumb
appeal to me not to turn them out. "Take us on," they wanted to
say--"we'll do ANYTHING."
My pencil dropped from my hand; my sitting was spoiled and I got
rid of my sitters, who were also evidently rather mystified and
awestruck. Then, alone with the Major and his wife I had a most
uncomfortable moment. He put their prayer into a single sentence:
"I say, you know--just let US do for you, can't you?" I couldn't--
it was dreadful to see them emptying my slops; but I pretended I
could, to oblige them, for about a week. Then I gave them a sum of
money to go away, and I never saw them again. I obtained the
remaining books, but my friend Hawley repeats that Major and Mrs.
Monarch did me a permanent harm, got me into false ways. If it be
true I'm content to have paid the price--for the memory.
THE STORY OF IT
The weather had turned so much worse that the rest of the day was
certainly lost. The wind had risen and the storm gathered force;
they gave from time to time a thump at the firm windows and dashed
even against those protected by the verandah their vicious
splotches of rain. Beyond the lawn, beyond the cliff, the great
wet brush of the sky dipped deep into the sea. But the lawn,
already vivid with the touch of May, showed a violence of watered
green; the budding shrubs and trees repeated the note as they
tossed their thick masses, and the cold troubled light, filling the
pretty saloon, marked the spring afternoon as sufficiently young.
The two ladies seated there in silence could pursue without
difficulty--as well as, clearly, without interruption--their
respective tasks; a confidence expressed, when the noise of the
wind allowed it to be heard, by the sharp scratch of Mrs. Dyott's
pen at the table where she was busy with letters.
Her visitor, settled on a small sofa that, with a palm-tree, a
screen, a stool, a stand, a bowl of flowers and three photographs
in silver frames, had been arranged near the light wood-fire as a
choice "corner"--Maud Blessingbourne, her guest, turned audibly,
though at intervals neither brief nor regular, the leaves of a book
covered in lemon-coloured paper and not yet despoiled of a certain
fresh crispness. This effect of the volume, for the eye, would
have made it, as presumably the newest French novel--and evidently,
from the attitude of the reader, "good"--consort happily with the
special tone of the room, a consistent air of selection and
suppression, one of the finer aesthetic evolutions. If Mrs. Dyott
was fond of ancient French furniture and distinctly difficult about
it, her inmates could be fond--with whatever critical cocks of
charming dark-braided heads over slender sloping shoulders--of
modern French authors. Nothing bad passed for half an hour--
nothing at least, to be exact, but that each of the companions
occasionally and covertly intermitted her pursuit in such a manner
as to ascertain the degree of absorption of the other without
turning round. What their silence was charged with therefore was
not only a sense of the weather, but a sense, so to speak, of its
own nature. Maud Blessingbourne, when she lowered her book into
her lap, closed her eyes with a conscious patience that seemed to
say she waited; but it was nevertheless she who at last made the
movement representing a snap of their tension. She got up and
stood by the fire, into which she looked a minute; then came round
and approached the window as if to see what was really going on.
At this Mrs. Dyott wrote with refreshed intensity. Her little pile
of letters had grown, and if a look of determination was compatible
with her fair and slightly faded beauty the habit of attending to
her business could always keep pace with any excursion of her
thought. Yet she was the first who spoke.
"I trust your book has been interesting."
"Well enough; a little mild."
A louder throb of the tempest had blurred the sound of the words.
"A little wild?"
"Dear no--timid and tame; unless I've quite lost my sense."
"Perhaps you have," Mrs. Dyott placidly suggested--"reading so
Her companion made a motion of feigned despair. "Ah you take away
my courage for going to my room, as I was just meaning to, for
"Another French one?"
"Do you carry them by the dozen--?"
"Into innocent British homes?" Maud tried to remember. "I believe
I brought three--seeing them in a shop-window as I passed through
town. It never rains but it pours! But I've already read two."
"And are they the only ones you do read?"
"French ones?" Maud considered. "Oh no. D'Annunzio."
"And what's that?" Mrs. Dyott asked as she affixed a stamp.
"Oh you dear thing!" Her friend was amused, yet almost showed
pity. "I know you don't read," Maud went on; "but why should you?
"Yes--wretchedly enough," Mrs. Dyott returned, getting her letters
together. She left her place, holding them as a neat achieved
handful, and came over to the fire, while Mrs. Blessingbourne
turned once more to the window, where she was met by another
Maud spoke then as if moved only by the elements. "Do you expect
him through all this?"
Mrs. Dyott just waited, and it had the effect, indescribably, of
making everything that had gone before seem to have led up to the
question. This effect was even deepened by the way she then said
"Whom do you mean?"
"Why I thought you mentioned at luncheon that Colonel Voyt was to
walk over. Surely he can't."
"Do you care very much?" Mrs. Dyott asked.
Her friend now hesitated. "It depends on what you call 'much.' If
you mean should I like to see him--then certainly."
"Well, my dear, I think he understands you're here."
"So that as he evidently isn't coming," Maud laughed, "it's
particularly flattering! Or rather," she added, giving up the
prospect again, "it would be, I think, quite extraordinarily
flattering if he did. Except that of course," she threw in, "he
might come partly for you."
"'Partly' is charming. Thank you for 'partly.' If you ARE going
upstairs, will you kindly," Mrs Dyott pursued, "put these into the
box as you pass?"
The younger woman, taking the little pile of letters, considered
them with envy. "Nine! You ARE good. You're always a living
Mrs. Dyott gave a sigh. "I don't do it on purpose. The only
thing, this afternoon," she went on, reverting to the other
question, "would be their not having come down."
"And as to that you don't know."
"No--I don't know." But she caught even as she spoke a rat-tat-tat
of the knocker, which struck her as a sign. "Ah there!"
"Then I go." And Maud whisked out.
Mrs. Dyott, left alone, moved with an air of selection to the
window, and it was as so stationed, gazing out at the wild weather,
that the visitor, whose delay to appear spoke of the wiping of
boots and the disposal of drenched mackintosh and cap, finally
found her. He was tall lean fine, with little in him, on the
whole, to confirm the titular in the "Colonel Voyt" by which he was
announced. But he had left the army, so that his reputation for
gallantry mainly depended now on his fighting Liberalism in the
House of Commons. Even these facts, however, his aspect scantily
matched; partly, no doubt, because he looked, as was usually said,
un-English. His black hair, cropped close, was lightly powdered
with silver, and his dense glossy beard, that of an emir or a
caliph, and grown for civil reasons, repeated its handsome colour
and its somewhat foreign effect. His nose had a strong and shapely
arch, and the dark grey of his eyes was tinted with blue. It had
been said of him--in relation to these signs--that he would have
struck you as a Jew had he not, in spite of his nose, struck you so
much as an Irishman. Neither responsibility could in fact have
been fixed upon him, and just now, at all events, he was only a
pleasant weather-washed wind-battered Briton, who brought in from a
struggle with the elements that he appeared quite to have enjoyed a
certain amount of unremoved mud and an unusual quantity of easy
expression. It was exactly the silence ensuing on the retreat of
the servant and the closed door that marked between him and his
hostess the degree of this ease. They met, as it were, twice: the
first time while the servant was there and the second as soon as he
was not. The difference was great between the two encounters,
though we must add in justice to the second that its marks were at
first mainly negative. This communion consisted only in their
having drawn each other for a minute as close as possible--as
possible, that is, with no help but the full clasp of hands. Thus
they were mutually held, and the closeness was at any rate such
that, for a little, though it took account of dangers, it did
without words. When words presently came the pair were talking by
the fire and she had rung for tea. He had by this time asked if
the note he had despatched to her after breakfast had been safely
"Yes, before luncheon. But I'm always in a state when--except for
some extraordinary reason--you send such things by hand. I knew,
without it, that you had come. It never fails. I'm sure when
you're there--I'm sure when you're not."
He wiped, before the glass, his wet moustache. "I see. But this
morning I had an impulse."
"It was beautiful. But they make me as uneasy, sometimes, your
impulses, as if they were calculations; make me wonder what you
have in reserve."
"Because when small children are too awfully good they die? Well,
I AM a small child compared to you--but I'm not dead yet. I cling
He had covered her with his smile, but she continued grave. "I'm
not half so much afraid when you're nasty."
"Thank you! What then did you do," he asked, "with my note?"
"You deserve that I should have spread it out on my dressing-table-
-or left it, better still, in Maud Blessingbourne's room."
He wondered while he laughed. "Oh but what does SHE deserve?"
It was her gravity that continued to answer. "Yes--it would
probably kill her."
"She believes so in you?"