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Greville Fane by Henry James

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This etext was scanned by David Price, email ccx074@coventry.ac.uk,
from the 1893 Macmillan and Co. edition. Proofing was by Nina
Hall, Mohua Sen, Bridie, Francine Smith and David.

Greville Fane

by Henry James

Coming in to dress for dinner, I found a telegram: "Mrs. Stormer
dying; can you give us half a column for to-morrow evening? Let her
off easy, but not too easy." I was late; I was in a hurry; I had
very little time to think, but at a venture I dispatched a reply:
"Will do what I can." It was not till I had dressed and was rolling
away to dinner that, in the hansom, I bethought myself of the
difficulty of the condition attached. The difficulty was not of
course in letting her off easy but in qualifying that indulgence. "I
simply won't qualify it," I said to myself. I didn't admire her, but
I liked her, and I had known her so long that I almost felt heartless
in sitting down at such an hour to a feast of indifference. I must
have seemed abstracted, for the early years of my acquaintance with
her came back to me. I spoke of her to the lady I had taken down,
hut the lady I had taken down had never heard of Greville Fane. I
tried my other neighbour, who pronounced her books "too vile." I had
never thought them very good, but I should let her off easier than
that.

I came away early, for the express purpose of driving to ask about
her. The journey took time, for she lived in the north-west
district, in the neighbourhood of Primrose Hill. My apprehension
that I should be too late was justified in a fuller sense than I had
attached to it--I had only feared that the house would be shut up.
There were lights in the windows, and the temperate tinkle of my bell
brought a servant immediately to the door, but poor Mrs. Stormer had
passed into a state in which the resonance of no earthly knocker was
to be feared. A lady, in the hall, hovering behind the servant, came
forward when she heard my voice. I recognised Lady Luard, but she
had mistaken me for the doctor.

"Excuse my appearing at such an hour," I said; "it was the first
possible moment after I heard."

"It's all over," Lady Luard replied. "Dearest mamma!"

She stood there under the lamp with her eyes on me; she was very
tall, very stiff, very cold, and always looked as if these things,
and some others beside, in her dress, her manner and even her name,
were an implication that she was very admirable. I had never been
able to follow the argument, but that is a detail. I expressed
briefly and frankly what I felt, while the little mottled maidservant
flattened herself against the wall of the narrow passage and tried to
look detached without looking indifferent. It was not a moment to
make a visit, and I was on the point of retreating when Lady Luard
arrested me with a queer, casual, drawling "Would you--a--would you,
perhaps, be WRITING something?" I felt for the instant like an
interviewer, which I was not. But I pleaded guilty to this
intention, on which she rejoined: "I'm so very glad--but I think my
brother would like to see you." I detested her brother, but it
wasn't an occasion to act this out; so I suffered myself to be
inducted, to my surprise, into a small back room which I immediately
recognised as the scene, during the later years, of Mrs. Stormer's
imperturbable industry. Her table was there, the battered and
blotted accessory to innumerable literary lapses, with its contracted
space for the arms (she wrote only from the elbow down) and the
confusion of scrappy, scribbled sheets which had already become
literary remains. Leolin was also there, smoking a cigarette before
the fire and looking impudent even in his grief, sincere as it well
might have been.

To meet him, to greet him, I had to make a sharp effort; for the air
that he wore to me as he stood before me was quite that of his
mother's murderer. She lay silent for ever upstairs--as dead as an
unsuccessful book, and his swaggering erectness was a kind of symbol
of his having killed her. I wondered if he had already, with his
sister, been calculating what they could get for the poor papers on
the table; but I had not long to wait to learn, for in reply to the
scanty words of sympathy I addressed him he puffed out: "It's
miserable, miserable, yes; but she has left three books complete."
His words had the oddest effect; they converted the cramped little
room into a seat of trade and made the "book" wonderfully feasible.
He would certainly get all that could be got for the three. Lady
Luard explained to me that her husband had been with them but had had
to go down to the House. To her brother she explained that I was
going to write something, and to me again she made it clear that she
hoped I would "do mamma justice." She added that she didn't think
this had ever been done. She said to her brother: "Don't you think
there are some things he ought thoroughly to understand?" and on his
instantly exclaiming "Oh, thoroughly--thoroughly!" she went on,
rather austerely: "I mean about mamma's birth."

"Yes, and her connections," Leolin added.

I professed every willingness, and for five minutes I listened, but
it would be too much to say that I understood. I don't even now, but
it is not important. My vision was of other matters than those they
put before me, and while they desired there should be no mistake
about their ancestors I became more and more lucid about themselves.
I got away as soon as possible, and walked home through the great
dusky, empty London--the best of all conditions for thought. By the
time I reached my door my little article was practically composed--
ready to be transferred on the morrow from the polished plate of
fancy. I believe it attracted some notice, was thought "graceful"
and was said to be by some one else. I had to be pointed without
being lively, and it took some tact. But what I said was much less
interesting than what I thought--especially during the half-hour I
spent in my armchair by the fire, smoking the cigar I always light
before going to bed. I went to sleep there, I believe; but I
continued to moralise about Greville Fane. I am reluctant to lose
that retrospect altogether, and this is a dim little memory of it, a
document not to "serve." The dear woman had written a hundred
stories, but none so curious as her own.

When first I knew her she had published half-a-dozen fictions, and I
believe I had also perpetrated a novel. She was more than a dozen
years older than I, but she was a person who always acknowledged her
relativity. It was not so very long ago, but in London, amid the big
waves of the present, even a near horizon gets hidden. I met her at
some dinner and took her down, rather flattered at offering my arm to
a celebrity. She didn't look like one, with her matronly, mild,
inanimate face, but I supposed her greatness would come out in her
conversation. I gave it all the opportunities I could, but I was not
disappointed when I found her only a dull, kind woman. This was why
I liked her--she rested me so from literature. To myself literature
was an irritation, a torment; but Greville Fane slumbered in the
intellectual part of it like a Creole in a hammock. She was not a
woman of genius, but her faculty was so special, so much a gift out
of hand, that I have often wondered why she fell below that
distinction. This was doubtless because the transaction, in her
case, had remained incomplete; genius always pays for the gift, feels
the debt, and she was placidly unconscious of obligation. She could
invent stories by the yard, but she couldn't write a page of English.
She went down to her grave without suspecting that though she had
contributed volumes to the diversion of her contemporaries she had
not contributed a sentence to the language. This had not prevented
bushels of criticism from being heaped upon her head; she was worth a
couple of columns any day to the weekly papers, in which it was shown
that her pictures of life were dreadful but her style really
charming. She asked me to come and see her, and I went. She lived
then in Montpellier Square; which helped me to see how dissociated
her imagination was from her character.

An industrious widow, devoted to her daily stint, to meeting the
butcher and baker and making a home for her son and daughter, from
the moment she took her pen in her hand she became a creature of
passion. She thought the English novel deplorably wanting in that
element, and the task she had cut out for herself was to supply the
deficiency. Passion in high life was the general formula of this
work, for her imagination was at home only in the most exalted
circles. She adored, in truth, the aristocracy, and they constituted
for her the romance of the world or, what is more to the point, the
prime material of fiction. Their beauty and luxury, their loves and
revenges, their temptations and surrenders, their immoralities and
diamonds were as familiar to her as the blots on her writing-table.
She was not a belated producer of the old fashionable novel, she had
a cleverness and a modernness of her own, she had freshened up the
fly-blown tinsel. She turned off plots by the hundred and--so far as
her flying quill could convey her--was perpetually going abroad. Her
types, her illustrations, her tone were nothing if not cosmopolitan.
She recognised nothing less provincial than European society, and her
fine folk knew each other and made love to each other from Doncaster
to Bucharest. She had an idea that she resembled Balzac, and her
favourite historical characters were Lucien de Rubempre and the
Vidame de Pamiers. I must add that when I once asked her who the
latter personage was she was unable to tell me. She was very brave
and healthy and cheerful, very abundant and innocent and wicked. She
was clever and vulgar and snobbish, and never so intensely British as
when she was particularly foreign.

This combination of qualities had brought her early success, and I
remember having heard with wonder and envy of what she "got," in
those days, for a novel. The revelation gave me a pang: it was such
a proof that, practising a totally different style, I should never
make my fortune. And yet when, as I knew her better she told me her
real tariff and I saw how rumour had quadrupled it, I liked her
enough to be sorry. After a while I discovered too that if she got
less it was not that _I_ was to get any more. My failure never had
what Mrs. Stormer would have called the banality of being relative--
it was always admirably absolute. She lived at ease however in those
days--ease is exactly the word, though she produced three novels a
year. She scorned me when I spoke of difficulty--it was the only
thing that made her angry. If I hinted that a work of art required a
tremendous licking into shape she thought it a pretension and a pose.
She never recognised the "torment of form"; the furthest she went was
to introduce into one of her books (in satire her hand was heavy) a
young poet who was always talking about it. I couldn't quite
understand her irritation on this score, for she had nothing at stake
in the matter. She had a shrewd perception that form, in prose at
least, never recommended any one to the public we were condemned to
address, and therefore she lost nothing (putting her private
humiliation aside) by not having any. She made no pretence of
producing works of art, but had comfortable tea-drinking hours in
which she freely confessed herself a common pastrycook, dealing in
such tarts and puddings as would bring customers to the shop. She
put in plenty of sugar and of cochineal, or whatever it is that gives
these articles a rich and attractive colour. She had a serene
superiority to observation and opportunity which constituted an
inexpugnable strength and would enable her to go on indefinitely. It
is only real success that wanes, it is only solid things that melt.
Greville Fane's ignorance of life was a resource still more unfailing
than the most approved receipt. On her saying once that the day
would come when she should have written herself out I answered: "Ah,
you look into fairyland, and the fairies love you, and THEY never
change. Fairyland is always there; it always was from the beginning
of time, and it always will be to the end. They've given you the key
and you can always open the door. With me it's different; I try, in
my clumsy way, to be in some direct relation to life." "Oh, bother
your direct relation to life!" she used to reply, for she was always
annoyed by the phrase--which would not in the least prevent her from
using it when she wished to try for style. With no more prejudices
than an old sausage-mill, she would give forth again with patient
punctuality any poor verbal scrap that had been dropped into her. I
cheered her with saying that the dark day, at the end, would be for
the like of ME; inasmuch as, going in our small way by experience and
observation, we depended not on a revelation, but on a little
tiresome process. Observation depended on opportunity, and where
should we be when opportunity failed?

One day she told me that as the novelist's life was so delightful and
during the good years at least such a comfortable support (she had
these staggering optimisms) she meant to train up her boy to follow
it. She took the ingenious view that it was a profession like
another and that therefore everything was to be gained by beginning
young and serving an apprenticeship. Moreover the education would be
less expensive than any other special course, inasmuch as she could
administer it herself. She didn't profess to keep a school, but she
could at least teach her own child. It was not that she was so very
clever, but (she confessed to me as if she were afraid I would laugh
at her) that HE was. I didn't laugh at her for that, for I thought
the boy sharp--I had seen him at sundry times. He was well grown and
good-looking and unabashed, and both he and his sister made me wonder
about their defunct papa, concerning whom the little I knew was that
he had been a clergyman. I explained them to myself by suppositions
and imputations possibly unjust to the departed; so little were they-
-superficially at least--the children of their mother. There used to
be, on an easel in her drawing-room, an enlarged photograph of her
husband, done by some horrible posthumous "process" and draped, as to
its florid frame, with a silken scarf, which testified to the candour
of Greville Fane's bad taste. It made him look like an unsuccessful
tragedian; but it was not a thing to trust. He may have been a
successful comedian. Of the two children the girl was the elder, and
struck me in all her younger years as singularly colourless. She was
only very long, like an undecipherable letter. It was not till Mrs.
Stormer came back from a protracted residence abroad that Ethel
(which was this young lady's name) began to produce the effect, which
was afterwards remarkable in her, of a certain kind of high
resolution. She made one apprehend that she meant to do something
for herself. She was long-necked and near-sighted and striking, and
I thought I had never seen sweet seventeen in a form so hard and high
and dry. She was cold and affected and ambitious, and she carried an
eyeglass with a long handle, which she put up whenever she wanted not
to see. She had come out, as the phrase is, immensely; and yet I
felt as if she were surrounded with a spiked iron railing. What she
meant to do for herself was to marry, and it was the only thing, I
think, that she meant to do for any one else; yet who would be
inspired to clamber over that bristling barrier? What flower of
tenderness or of intimacy would such an adventurer conceive as his
reward?

This was for Sir Baldwin Luard to say; but he naturally never
confided to me the secret. He was a joyless, jokeless young man,
with the air of having other secrets as well, and a determination to
get on politically that was indicated by his never having been known
to commit himself--as regards any proposition whatever--beyond an
exclamatory "Oh!" His wife and he must have conversed mainly in prim
ejaculations, but they understood sufficiently that they were kindred
spirits. I remember being angry with Greville Fane when she
announced these nuptials to me as magnificent; I remember asking her
what splendour there was in the union of the daughter of a woman of
genius with an irredeemable mediocrity. "Oh! he's awfully clever,"
she said; but she blushed for the maternal fib. What she meant was
that though Sir Baldwin's estates were not vast (he had a dreary
house in South Kensington and a still drearier "Hall" somewhere in
Essex, which was let), the connection was a "smarter" one than a
child of hers could have aspired to form. In spite of the social
bravery of her novels she took a very humble and dingy view of
herself, so that of all her productions "my daughter Lady Luard" was
quite the one she was proudest of. That personage thought her mother
very vulgar and was distressed and perplexed by the occasional
license of her pen, but had a complicated attitude in regard to this
indirect connection with literature. So far as it was lucrative her
ladyship approved of it, and could compound with the inferiority of
the pursuit by doing practical justice to some of its advantages. I
had reason to know (my reason was simply that poor Mrs. Stormer told
me) that she suffered the inky fingers to press an occasional bank-
note into her palm. On the other hand she deplored the "peculiar
style" to which Greville Fane had devoted herself, and wondered where
an author who had the convenience of so lady-like a daughter could
have picked up such views about the best society. "She might know
better, with Leolin and me," Lady Luard had been known to remark; but
it appeared that some of Greville Fane's superstitions were
incurable. She didn't live in Lady Luard's society, and the best was
not good enough for her--she must make it still better.

I could see that this necessity grew upon her during the years she
spent abroad, when I had glimpses of her in the shifting sojourns
that lay in the path of my annual ramble. She betook herself from
Germany to Switzerland and from Switzerland to Italy; she favoured
cheap places and set up her desk in the smaller capitals. I took a
look at her whenever I could, and I always asked how Leolin was
getting on. She gave me beautiful accounts of him, and whenever it
was possible the boy was produced for my edification. I had entered
from the first into the joke of his career--I pretended to regard him
as a consecrated child. It had been a joke for Mrs. Stormer at
first, but the boy himself had been shrewd enough to make the matter
serious. If his mother accepted the principle that the intending
novelist cannot begin too early to see life, Leolin was not
interested in hanging back from the application of it. He was eager
to qualify himself, and took to cigarettes at ten, on the highest
literary grounds. His poor mother gazed at him with extravagant envy
and, like Desdemona, wished heaven had made HER such a man. She
explained to me more than once that in her profession she had found
her sex a dreadful drawback. She loved the story of Madame George
Sand's early rebellion against this hindrance, and believed that if
she had worn trousers she could have written as well as that lady.
Leolin had for the career at least the qualification of trousers, and
as he grew older he recognised its importance by laying in an immense
assortment. He grew up in gorgeous apparel, which was his way of
interpreting his mother's system. Whenever I met her I found her
still under the impression that she was carrying this system out and
that Leolin's training was bearing fruit. She was giving him
experience, she was giving him impressions, she was putting a
gagnepain into his hand. It was another name for spoiling him with
the best conscience in the world. The queerest pictures come back to
me of this period of the good lady's life and of the extraordinarily
virtuous, muddled, bewildering tenor of it. She had an idea that she
was seeing foreign manners as well as her petticoats would allow;
but, in reality she was not seeing anything, least of all fortunately
how much she was laughed at. She drove her whimsical pen at Dresden
and at Florence, and produced in all places and at all times the same
romantic and ridiculous fictions. She carried about her box of
properties and fished out promptly the familiar, tarnished old
puppets. She believed in them when others couldn't, and as they were
like nothing that was to be seen under the sun it was impossible to
prove by comparison that they were wrong. You can't compare birds
and fishes; you could only feel that, as Greville Fane's characters
had the fine plumage of the former species, human beings must be of
the latter.

It would have been droll if it had not been so exemplary to see her
tracing the loves of the duchesses beside the innocent cribs of her
children. The immoral and the maternal lived together in her
diligent days on the most comfortable terms, and she stopped curling
the mustaches of her Guardsmen to pat the heads of her babes. She
was haunted by solemn spinsters who came to tea from continental
pensions, and by unsophisticated Americans who told her she was just
loved in THEIR country. "I had rather be just paid there," she
usually replied; for this tribute of transatlantic opinion was the
only thing that galled her. The Americans went away thinking her
coarse; though as the author of so many beautiful love-stories she
was disappointing to most of these pilgrims, who had not expected to
find a shy, stout, ruddy lady in a cap like a crumbled pyramid. She
wrote about the affections and the impossibility of controlling them,
but she talked of the price of pension and the convenience of an
English chemist. She devoted much thought and many thousands of
francs to the education of her daughter, who spent three years at a
very superior school at Dresden, receiving wonderful instruction in
sciences, arts and tongues, and who, taking a different line from
Leolin, was to be brought up wholly as a femme du monde. The girl
was musical and philological; she made a specialty of languages and
learned enough about them to be inspired with a great contempt for
her mother's artless accents. Greville Fane's French and Italian
were droll; the imitative faculty had been denied her, and she had an
unequalled gift, especially pen in hand, of squeezing big mistakes
into small opportunities. She knew it, but she didn't care;
correctness was the virtue in the world that, like her heroes and
heroines, she valued least. Ethel, who had perceived in her pages
some remarkable lapses, undertook at one time to revise her proofs;
but I remember her telling me a year after the girl had left school
that this function had been very briefly exercised. "She can't read
me," said Mrs. Stormer; "I offend her taste. She tells me that at
Dresden--at school--I was never allowed." The good lady seemed
surprised at this, having the best conscience in the world about her
lucubrations. She had never meant to fly in the face of anything,
and considered that she grovelled before the Rhadamanthus of the
English literary tribunal, the celebrated and awful Young Person. I
assured her, as a joke, that she was frightfully indecent (she hadn't
in fact that reality any more than any other) my purpose being solely
to prevent her from guessing that her daughter had dropped her not
because she was immoral but because she was vulgar. I used to figure
her children closeted together and asking each other while they
exchanged a gaze of dismay: "Why should she BE so--and so FEARFULLY
so--when she has the advantage of our society? Shouldn't WE have
taught her better?" Then I imagined their recognising with a blush
and a shrug that she was unteachable, irreformable. Indeed she was,
poor lady; but it is never fair to read by the light of taste things
that were not written by it. Greville Fane had, in the topsy-turvy,
a serene good faith that ought to have been safe from allusion, like
a stutter or a faux pas.

She didn't make her son ashamed of the profession to which he was
destined, however; she only made him ashamed of the way she herself
exercised it. But he bore his humiliation much better than his
sister, for he was ready to take for granted that he should one day
restore the balance. He was a canny and far-seeing youth, with
appetites and aspirations, and he had not a scruple in his
composition. His mother's theory of the happy knack he could pick up
deprived him of the wholesome discipline required to prevent young
idlers from becoming cads. He had, abroad, a casual tutor and a
snatch or two of a Swiss school, but no consecutive study, no
prospect of a university or a degree. It may be imagined with what
zeal, as the years went on, he entered into the pleasantry of there
being no manual so important to him as the massive book of life. It
was an expensive volume to peruse, but Mrs. Stormer was willing to
lay out a sum in what she would have called her premiers frais.
Ethel disapproved--she thought this education far too unconventional
for an English gentleman. Her voice was for Eton and Oxford, or for
any public school (she would have resigned herself) with the army to
follow. But Leolin never was afraid of his sister, and they visibly
disliked, though they sometimes agreed to assist, each other. They
could combine to work the oracle--to keep their mother at her desk.

When she came back to England, telling me she had got all the
continent could give her, Leolin was a broad-shouldered, red-faced
young man, with an immense wardrobe and an extraordinary assurance of
manner. She was fondly obstinate about her having taken the right
course with him, and proud of all that he knew and had seen. He was
now quite ready to begin, and a little while later she told me he HAD
begun. He had written something tremendously clever, and it was
coming out in the Cheapside. I believe it came out; I had no time to
look for it; I never heard anything about it. I took for granted
that if this contribution had passed through his mother's hands it
had practically become a specimen of her own genius, and it was
interesting to consider Mrs. Stormer's future in the light of her
having to write her son's novels as well as her own. This was not
the way she looked at it herself; she took the charming ground that
he would help her to write hers. She used to tell me that he
supplied passages of the greatest value to her own work--all sorts of
technical things, about hunting and yachting and wine--that she
couldn't be expected to get very straight. It was all so much
practice for him and so much alleviation for her. I was unable to
identify these pages, for I had long since ceased to "keep up" with
Greville Fane; but I was quite able to believe that the wine-question
had been put, by Leolin's good offices, on a better footing, for the
dear lady used to mix her drinks (she was perpetually serving the
most splendid suppers) in the queerest fashion. I could see that he
was willing enough to accept a commission to look after that
department. It occurred to me indeed, when Mrs. Stormer settled in
England again, that by making a shrewd use of both her children she
might be able to rejuvenate her style. Ethel had come back to
gratify her young ambition, and if she couldn't take her mother into
society she would at least go into it herself. Silently, stiffly,
almost grimly, this young lady held up her head, clenched her long
teeth, squared her lean elbows and made her way up the staircases she
had elected. The only communication she ever made to me, the only
effusion of confidence with which she ever honoured me, was when she
said: "I don't want to know the people mamma knows; I mean to know
others." I took due note of the remark, for I was not one of the
"others." I couldn't trace therefore the steps of her process; I
could only admire it at a distance and congratulate her mother on the
results. The results were that Ethel went to "big" parties and got
people to take her. Some of them were people she had met abroad, and
others were people whom the people she had met abroad had met. They
ministered alike to Miss Ethel's convenience, and I wondered how she
extracted so many favours without the expenditure of a smile. Her
smile was the dimmest thing in the world, diluted lemonade, without
sugar, and she had arrived precociously at social wisdom, recognising
that if she was neither pretty enough nor rich enough nor clever
enough, she could at least in her muscular youth be rude enough.
Therefore if she was able to tell her mother what really took place
in the mansions of the great, give her notes to work from, the quill
could be driven at home to better purpose and precisely at a moment
when it would have to be more active than ever. But if she did tell,
it would appear that poor Mrs. Stormer didn't believe. As regards
many points this was not a wonder; at any rate I heard nothing of
Greville Fane's having developed a new manner. She had only one
manner from start to finish, as Leolin would have said.

She was tired at last, but she mentioned to me that she couldn't
afford to pause. She continued to speak of Leolin's work as the
great hope of their future (she had saved no money) though the young
man wore to my sense an aspect more and more professional if you
like, but less and less literary. At the end of a couple of years
there was something monstrous in the impudence with which he played
his part in the comedy. When I wondered how she could play HER part
I had to perceive that her good faith was complete and that what kept
it so was simply her extravagant fondness. She loved the young
impostor with a simple, blind, benighted love, and of all the heroes
of romance who had passed before her eyes he was by far the most
brilliant.

He was at any rate the most real--she could touch him, pay for him,
suffer for him, worship him. He made her think of her princes and
dukes, and when she wished to fix these figures in her mind's eye she
thought of her boy. She had often told me she was carried away by
her own creations, and she was certainly carried away by Leolin. He
vivified, by potentialities at least, the whole question of youth and
passion. She held, not unjustly, that the sincere novelist should
feel the whole flood of life; she acknowledged with regret that she
had not had time to feel it herself, and it was a joy to her that the
deficiency might be supplied by the sight of the way it was rushing
through this magnificent young man. She exhorted him, I suppose, to
let it rush; she wrung her own flaccid little sponge into the
torrent. I knew not what passed between them in her hours of
tuition, but I gathered that she mainly impressed on him that the
great thing was to live, because that gave you material. He asked
nothing better; he collected material, and the formula served as a
universal pretext. You had only to look at him to see that, with his
rings and breastpins, his cross-barred jackets, his early embonpoint,
his eyes that looked like imitation jewels, his various indications
of a dense, full-blown temperament, his idea of life was singularly
vulgar; but he was not so far wrong as that his response to his
mother's expectations was not in a high degree practical. If she had
imposed a profession on him from his tenderest years it was exactly a
profession that he followed. The two were not quite the same,
inasmuch as HIS was simply to live at her expense; but at least she
couldn't say that he hadn't taken a line. If she insisted on
believing in him he offered himself to the sacrifice. My impression
is that her secret dream was that he should have a liaison with a
countess, and he persuaded her without difficulty that he had one. I
don't know what countesses are capable of, but I have a clear notion
of what Leolin was.

He didn't persuade his sister, who despised him--she wished to work
her mother in her own way, and I asked myself why the girl's judgment
of him didn't make me like her better. It was because it didn't save
her after all from a mute agreement with him to go halves. There
were moments when I couldn't help looking hard into his atrocious
young eyes, challenging him to confess his fantastic fraud and give
it up. Not a little tacit conversation passed between us in this
way, but he had always the best of it. If I said: "Oh, come now,
with ME you needn't keep it up; plead guilty, and I'll let you off,"
he wore the most ingenuous, the most candid expression, in the depths
of which I could read: "Oh, yes, I know it exasperates you--that's
just why I do it." He took the line of earnest inquiry, talked about
Balzac and Flaubert, asked me if I thought Dickens DID exaggerate and
Thackeray OUGHT to be called a pessimist. Once he came to see me, at
his mother's suggestion he declared, on purpose to ask me how far, in
my opinion, in the English novel, one really might venture to "go."
He was not resigned to the usual pruderies--he suffered under them
already. He struck out the brilliant idea that nobody knew how far
we might go, for nobody had ever tried. Did I think HE might safely
try--would it injure his mother if he did? He would rather disgrace
himself by his timidities than injure his mother, but certainly some
one ought to try. Wouldn't _I_ try--couldn't I be prevailed upon to
look at it as a duty? Surely the ultimate point ought to be fixed--
he was worried, haunted by the question. He patronised me
unblushingly, made me feel like a foolish amateur, a helpless novice,
inquired into my habits of work and conveyed to me that I was utterly
vieux jeu and had not had the advantage of an early training. I had
not been brought up from the germ, I knew nothing of life--didn't go
at it on HIS system. He had dipped into French feuilletons and
picked up plenty of phrases, and he made a much better show in talk
than his poor mother, who never had time to read anything and could
only be vivid with her pen. If I didn't kick him downstairs it was
because he would have alighted on her at the bottom.

When she went to live at Primrose Hill I called upon her and found
her weary and wasted. It had waned a good deal, the elation caused
the year before by Ethel's marriage; the foam on the cup had subsided
and there was a bitterness in the draught.

She had had to take a cheaper house and she had to work still harder
to pay even for that. Sir Baldwin was obliged to be close; his
charges were fearful, and the dream of her living with her daughter
(a vision she had never mentioned to me) must be renounced. "I would
have helped with things, and I could have lived perfectly in one
room," she said; "I would have paid for everything, and--after all--
I'm some one, ain't I? But I don't fit in, and Ethel tells me there
are tiresome people she MUST receive. I can help them from here, no
doubt, better than from there. She told me once, you know, what she
thinks of my picture of life. 'Mamma, your picture of life is
preposterous!' No doubt it is, but she's vexed with me for letting
my prices go down; and I had to write three novels to pay for all her
marriage cost me. I did it very well--I mean the outfit and the
wedding; but that's why I'm here. At any rate she doesn't want a
dingy old woman in her house. I should give it an atmosphere of
literary glory, but literary glory is only the eminence of nobodies.
Besides, she doubts my glory--she knows I'm glorious only at Peckham
and Hackney. She doesn't want her friends to ask if I've never known
nice people. She can't tell them I've never been in society. She
tried to teach me better once, but I couldn't learn. It would seem
too as if Peckham and Hackney had had enough of me; for (don't tell
any one!) I've had to take less for my last than I ever took for
anything." I asked her how little this had been, not from curiosity,
but in order to upbraid her, more disinterestedly than Lady Luard had
done, for such concessions. She answered "I'm ashamed to tell you,"
and then she began to cry.

I had never seen her break down, and I was proportionately moved; she
sobbed, like a frightened child, over the extinction of her vogue and
the exhaustion of her vein. Her little workroom seemed indeed a
barren place to grow flowers, and I wondered, in the after years (for
she continued to produce and publish) by what desperate and heroic
process she dragged them out of the soil. I remember asking her on
that occasion what had become of Leolin, and how much longer she
intended to allow him to amuse himself at her cost. She rejoined
with spirit, wiping her eyes, that he was down at Brighton hard at
work--he was in the midst of a novel--and that he FELT life so, in
all its misery and mystery, that it was cruel to speak of such
experiences as a pleasure. "He goes beneath the surface," she said,
"and he FORCES himself to look at things from which he would rather
turn away. Do you call that amusing yourself? You should see his
face sometimes! And he does it for me as much as for himself. He
tells me everything--he comes home to me with his trouvailles. We
are artists together, and to the artist all things are pure. I've
often heard you say so yourself." The novel that Leolin was engaged
in at Brighton was never published, but a friend of mine and of Mrs.
Stormer's who was staying there happened to mention to me later that
he had seen the young apprentice to fiction driving, in a dogcart, a
young lady with a very pink face. When I suggested that she was
perhaps a woman of title with whom he was conscientiously flirting my
informant replied: "She is indeed, but do you know what her title
is?" He pronounced it--it was familiar and descriptive--but I won't
reproduce it here. I don't know whether Leolin mentioned it to his
mother: she would have needed all the purity of the artist to
forgive him. I hated so to come across him that in the very last
years I went rarely to see her, though I knew that she had come
pretty well to the end of her rope. I didn't want her to tell me
that she had fairly to give her books away--I didn't want to see her
cry. She kept it up amazingly, and every few months, at my club, I
saw three new volumes, in green, in crimson, in blue, on the book-
table that groaned with light literature. Once I met her at the
Academy soiree, where you meet people you thought were dead, and she
vouchsafed the information, as if she owed it to me in candour, that
Leolin had been obliged to recognise insuperable difficulties in the
question of FORM, he was so fastidious; so that she had now arrived
at a definite understanding with him (it was such a comfort) that SHE
would do the form if he would bring home the substance. That was now
his position--he foraged for her in the great world at a salary.
"He's my 'devil,' don't you see? as if I were a great lawyer: he
gets up the case and I argue it." She mentioned further that in
addition to his salary he was paid by the piece: he got so much for
a striking character, so much for a pretty name, so much for a plot,
so much for an incident, and had so much promised him if he would
invent a new crime.

"He HAS invented one," I said, "and he's paid every day of his life."

"What is it?" she asked, looking hard at the picture of the year;
"Baby's Tub," near which we happened to be standing.

I hesitated a moment. "I myself will write a little story about it,
and then you'll see."

But she never saw; she had never seen anything, and she passed away
with her fine blindness unimpaired. Her son published every scrap of
scribbled paper that could be extracted from her table-drawers, and
his sister quarrelled with him mortally about the proceeds, which
showed that she only wanted a pretext, for they cannot have been
great. I don't know what Leolin lives upon, unless it be on a queer
lady many years older than himself, whom he lately married. The last
time I met him he said to me with his infuriating smile: "Don't you
think we can go a little further still--just a little?" HE really
goes too far.

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