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The Tree of Knowledge

I


It was one of the secret opinions, such as we all have, of Peter
Brench that his main success in life would have consisted in his never
having committed himself about the work, as it was called, of his
friend Morgan Mallow. This was a subject on which it was, to the
best of his belief, impossible with veracity to quote him, and it was
nowhere on record that he had, in the connexion, on any occasion and
in any embarrassment, either lied or spoken the truth. Such a triumph
had its honour even for a man of other triumphs--a man who had reached
fifty, who had escaped marriage, who had lived within his means, who
had been in love with Mrs Mallow for years without breathing it, and
who, last but not least, had judged himself once for all. He had so
judged himself in fact that he felt an extreme and general humility
to be his proper portion; yet there was nothing that made him think
so well of his parts as the course he had steered so often through the
shallows just mentioned. It became thus a real wonder that the friends
in whom he had most confidence were just those with whom he had
most reserves. He couldn't tell Mrs Mallow--or at least he supposed,
excellent man, he couldn't--that she was the one beautiful reason he
had never married; any more than he could tell her husband that the
sight of the multiplied marbles in that gentleman's studio was an
affliction of which even time had never blunted the edge. His victory,
however, as I have intimated, in regard to these productions, was not
simply in his not having let it out that he deplored them; it was,
remarkably, in his not having kept it in by anything else.

The whole situation, among these good people, was verily a marvel, and
there was probably not such another for a long way from the spot that
engages us--the point at which the soft declivity of Hampstead began
at that time to confess in broken accents to Saint John's Wood.
He despised Mallow's statues and adored Mallow's wife, and yet was
distinctly fond of Mallow, to whom, in turn, he was equally dear. Mrs
Mallow rejoiced in the statues--though she preferred, when pressed,
the busts; and if she was visibly attached to Peter Brench it was
because of his affection for Morgan. Each loved the other moreover for
the love borne in each case to Lancelot, whom the Mallows respectively
cherished as their only child and whom the friend of their fireside
identified as the third--but decidedly the handsomest--of his godsons.
Already in the old years it had come to that--that no one, for such
a relation, could possibly have occurred to any of them, even to the
baby itself, but Peter. There was luckily a certain independence, of
the pecuniary sort, all round: the Master could never otherwise have
spent his solemn _Wanderjahre_ in Florence and Rome, and continued
by the Thames as well as by the Arno and the Tiber to add unpurchased
group to group and model, for what was too apt to prove in the
event mere love, fancy-heads of celebrities either too busy or too
buried--too much of the age or too little of it--to sit. Neither could
Peter, lounging in almost daily, have found time to keep the whole
complicated tradition so alive by his presence. He was massive but
mild, the depositary of these mysteries--large and loose and ruddy and
curly, with deep tones, deep eyes, deep pockets, to say nothing of
the habit of long pipes, soft hats and brownish greyish weather-faded
clothes, apparently always the same.

He had 'written', it was known, but had never spoken, never spoken
in particular of that; and he had the air (since, as was believed,
he continued to write) of keeping it up in order to have something
more--as if he hadn't at the worst enough--to be silent about.
Whatever his air, at any rate, Peter's occasional unmentioned prose
and verse were quite truly the result of an impulse to maintain
the purity of his taste by establishing still more firmly the right
relation of fame to feebleness. The little green door of his domain
was in a garden-wall on which the discoloured stucco made patches,
and in the small detached villa behind it everything was old, the
furniture, the servants, the books, the prints, the immemorial habits
and the new improvements. The Mallows, at Carrara Lodge, were within
ten minutes, and the studio there was on their little land, to which
they had added, in their happy faith, for building it. This was the
good fortune, if it was not the ill, of her having brought him in
marriage a portion that put them in a manner at their ease and enabled
them thus, on their side, to keep it up. And they did keep it up--they
always had--the infatuated sculptor and his wife, for whom nature
had refined on the impossible by relieving them of the sense of the
difficult. Morgan had at all events everything of the sculptor but
the spirit of Phidias--the brown velvet, the becoming _beretto_, the
'plastic' presence, the fine fingers, the beautiful accent in Italian
and the old Italian factotum. He seemed to make up for everything when
he addressed Egidio with the 'tu' and waved him to turn one of the
rotary pedestals of which the place was full. They were tremendous
Italians at Carrara Lodge, and the secret of the part played by this
fact in Peter's life was in a large degree that it gave him, sturdy
Briton as he was, just the amount of 'going abroad' he could bear. The
Mallows were all his Italy, but it was in a measure for Italy he liked
them. His one worry was that Lance--to which they had shortened his
godson--was, in spite of a public school, perhaps a shade too Italian.
Morgan meanwhile looked like somebody's flattering idea of somebody's
own person as expressed in the great room provided at the Uffizi
Museum for the general illustration of that idea by eminent hands. The
Master's sole regret that he hadn't been born rather to the brush than
to the chisel sprang from his wish that he might have contributed to
that collection.

It appeared with time at any rate to be to the brush that Lance had
been born; for Mrs Mallow, one day when the boy was turning twenty,
broke it to their friend, who shared, to the last delicate morsel,
their problems and pains, that it seemed as if nothing would really do
but that he should embrace the career. It had been impossible longer
to remain blind to the fact that he was gaining no glory at Cambridge,
where Brench's own college had for a year tempered its tone to him as
for Brench's own sake. Therefore why renew the vain form of preparing
him for the impossible? The impossible--it had become clear--was that
he should be anything but an artist.

'Oh dear, dear!' said poor Peter.

'Don't you believe in it?' asked Mrs Mallow, who still, at more than
forty, had her violet velvet eyes, her creamy satin skin and her
silken chestnut hair.

'Believe in what?'

'Why in Lance's passion.'

'I don't know what you mean by "believing in it". I've never been
unaware, certainly, of his disposition, from his earliest time, to
daub and draw; but I confess I've hoped it would burn out.'

'But why should it,' she sweetly smiled, 'with his wonderful heredity?
Passion is passion--though of course indeed _you_, dear Peter, know
nothing of that. Has the Master's ever burned out?'

Peter looked off a little and, in his familiar formless way, kept up
for a moment, a sound between a smothered whistle and a subdued hum.
'Do you think he's going to be another Master?'

She seemed scarce prepared to go that length, yet she had on the whole
a marvellous trust. 'I know what you mean by that. Will it be a career
to incur the jealousies and provoke the machinations that have been
at times almost too much for his father? Well--say it may be, since
nothing but clap-trap, in these dreadful days, _can_, it would seem,
make its way, and since, with the curse of refinement and distinction,
one may easily find one's self begging one's bread. Put it at the
worst--say he _has_ the misfortune to wing his flight further than the
vulgar taste of his stupid countrymen can follow. Think, all the same,
of the happiness--the same the Master has had. He'll _know_.'

Peter looked rueful. 'Ah but _what_ will he know?'

'Quiet joy!' cried Mrs Mallow, quite impatient and turning away.


II


He had of course before long to meet the boy himself on it and to hear
that practically everything was settled. Lance was not to go up again,
but to go instead to Paris where, since the die was cast, he would
find the best advantages. Peter had always felt he must be taken as
he was, but had never perhaps found him so much of that pattern as on
this occasion. 'You chuck Cambridge then altogether? Doesn't that seem
rather a pity?'

Lance would have been like his father, to his friend's sense, had he
had less humour, and like his mother had he had more beauty. Yet it
was a good middle way for Peter that, in the modern manner, he was,
to the eye, rather the young stock-broker than the young artist. The
youth reasoned that it was a question of time--there was such a mill
to go through, such an awful lot to learn. He had talked with fellows
and had judged. 'One has got, today,' he said, 'don't you see? to
know.'

His interlocutor, at this, gave a groan. 'Oh hang it, _don't_ know!'

Lance wondered. '"Don't"? Then what's the use--?'

'The use of what?'

'Why of anything. Don't you think I've talent?'

Peter smoked away for a little in silence; then went on: 'It isn't
knowledge, it's ignorance that--as we've been beautifully told--is
bliss.'

'Don't you think I've talent?' Lance repeated.

Peter, with his trick of queer kind demonstrations, passed his arm
round his godson and held him a moment. 'How do I know?'

'Oh,' said the boy, 'if it's your own ignorance you're defending--!'

Again, for a pause, on the sofa, his godfather smoked. 'It isn't. I've
the misfortune to be omniscient.'

'Oh well,' Lance laughed again, 'if you know _too_ much--!'

'That's what I do, and it's why I'm so wretched.'

Lance's gaiety grew. 'Wretched? Come, I say!'

'But I forgot,' his companion went on--'you're not to know about that.
It would indeed for you too make the too much. Only I'll tell you what
I'll do.' And Peter got up from the sofa. 'If you'll go up again I'll
pay your way at Cambridge.'

Lance stared, a little rueful in spite of being still more amused. 'Oh
Peter! You disapprove so of Paris?'

'Well, I'm afraid of it.'

'Ah I see!'

'No, you don't see--yet. But you will--that is you would. And you
mustn't.'

The young man thought more gravely. 'But one's innocence, already--!'

'Is considerably damaged? Ah that won't matter,' Peter
persisted--'we'll patch it up here.'

'Here? Then you want me to stay at home?'

Peter almost confessed to it. 'Well, we're so right--we four
together--just as we are. We're so safe. Come, don't spoil it.'

The boy, who had turned to gravity, turned from this, on the real
pressure of his friend's tone, to consternation. 'Then what's a fellow
to be?'

'My particular care. Come, old man'--and Peter now fairly
pleaded--'_I'll_ look out for you.'

Lance, who had remained on the sofa with his legs out and his hands in
his pockets, watched him with eyes that showed suspicion. Then he got
up. 'You think there's something the matter with me--that I can't make
a success.'

'Well, what do you call a success?'

Lance thought again. 'Why the best sort, I suppose, is to please one's
self. Isn't that the sort that, in spite of cabals and things, is--in
his own peculiar line--the Master's?'

There were so much too many things in this question to be answered
at once that they practically checked the discussion, which became
particularly difficult in the light of such renewed proof that, though
the young man's innocence might, in the course of his studies, as
he contended, somewhat have shrunken, the finer essence of it still
remained. That was indeed exactly what Peter had assumed and what
above all he desired; yet perversely enough it gave him a chill. The
boy believed in the cabals and things, believed in the peculiar line,
believed, to be brief, in the Master. What happened a month or two
later wasn't that he went up again at the expense of his godfather,
but that a fortnight after he had got settled in Paris this personage
sent him fifty pounds.

He had meanwhile at home, this personage, made up his mind to the
worst; and what that might be had never yet grown quite so vivid to
him as when, on his presenting himself one Sunday night, as he never
failed to do, for supper, the mistress of Carrara Lodge met him
with an appeal as to--of all things in the world--the wealth of the
Canadians. She was earnest, she was even excited. 'Are many of them
_really_ rich?'

He had to confess he knew nothing about them, but he often thought
afterwards of that evening. The room in which they sat was adorned
with sundry specimens of the Master's genius, which had the merit of
being, as Mrs Mallow herself frequently suggested, of an unusually
convenient size. They were indeed of dimensions not customary in the
products of the chisel, and they had the singularity that, if the
objects and features intended to be small looked too large, the
objects and features intended to be large looked too small. The
Master's idea, either in respect to this matter or to any other, had
in almost any case, even after years, remained undiscoverable to
Peter Brench. The creations that so failed to reveal it stood about on
pedestals and brackets, on tables and shelves, a little staring white
population, heroic, idyllic, allegoric, mythic, symbolic, in which
'scale' had so strayed and lost itself that the public square and the
chimney-piece seemed to have changed places, the monumental being all
diminutive and the diminutive all monumental; branches at any rate,
markedly, of a family in which stature was rather oddly irrespective
of function, age and sex. They formed, like the Mallows themselves,
poor Brench's own family--having at least to such a degree the note of
familiarity. The occasion was one of those he had long ago learnt to
know and to name--short flickers of the faint flame, soft gusts of a
kinder air. Twice a year regularly the Master believed in his fortune,
in addition to believing all the year round in his genius. This time
it was to be made by a bereaved couple from Toronto, who had given him
the handsomest order for a tomb to three lost children, each of
whom they desired to see, in the composition, emblematically and
characteristically represented.

Such was naturally the moral of Mrs Mallow's question: if their wealth
was to be assumed, it was clear, from the nature of their admiration,
as well as from mysterious hints thrown out (they were a little
odd!) as to other possibilities of the same mortuary sort, what their
further patronage might be; and not less evident that should the
Master become at all known in those climes nothing would be more
inevitable than a run of Canadian custom. Peter had been present
before at runs of custom, colonial and domestic--present at each of
those of which the aggregation had left so few gaps in the marble
company round him; but it was his habit never at these junctures to
prick the bubble in advance. The fond illusion, while it lasted, eased
the wound of elections never won, the long ache of medals and diplomas
carried off, on every chance, by everyone but the Master; it moreover
lighted the lamp that would glimmer through the next eclipse. They
lived, however, after all--as it was always beautiful to see--at a
height scarce susceptible of ups and downs. They strained a point at
times charmingly, strained it to admit that the public was here and
there not too bad to buy; but they would have been nowhere without
their attitude that the Master was always too good to sell. They were
at all events deliciously formed, Peter often said to himself, for
their fate; the Master had a vanity, his wife had a loyalty, of which
success, depriving these things of innocence, would have diminished
the merit and the grace. Anyone could be charming under a charm,
and as he looked about him at a world of prosperity more void of
proportion even than the Master's museum he wondered if he knew
another pair that so completely escaped vulgarity.

'What a pity Lance isn't with us to rejoice!' Mrs Mallow on this
occasion sighed at supper.

'We'll drink to the health of the absent,' her husband replied,
filling his friend's glass and his own and giving a drop to their
companion; 'but we must hope he's preparing himself for a happiness
much less like this of ours this evening--excusable as I grant it to
be!--than like the comfort we have always (whatever has happened or
has not happened) been able to trust ourselves to enjoy. The comfort,'
the Master explained, leaning back in the pleasant lamplight and
firelight, holding up his glass and looking round at his marble
family, quartered more or less, a monstrous brood, in every room--'the
comfort of art in itself!'

Peter looked a little shyly at his wine. 'Well--I don't care what you
may call it when a fellow doesn't--but Lance must learn to _sell_, you
know. I drink to his acquisition of the secret of a base popularity!'

'Oh yes, _he_ must sell,' the boy's mother, who was still more,
however, this seemed to give out, the Master's wife, rather artlessly
allowed.

'Ah,' the sculptor after a moment confidently pronounced, 'Lance
_will_. Don't be afraid. He'll have learnt.'

'Which is exactly what Peter,' Mrs Mallow gaily returned--'why in the
world were you so perverse, Peter?--wouldn't, when he told him, hear
of.'

Peter, when this lady looked at him with accusatory affection--a grace
on her part not infrequent--could never find a word; but the Master,
who was always all amenity and tact, helped him out now as he had
often helped him before. 'That's his old idea, you know--on which
we've so often differed: his theory that the artist should be all
impulse and instinct. _I_ go in of course for a certain amount of
school. Not too much--but a due proportion. There's where his protest
came in,' he continued to explain to his wife, 'as against what
_might_, don't you see? be in question for Lance.'

'Ah well'--and Mrs Mallow turned the violet eyes across the table
at the subject of this discourse--'he's sure to have meant of course
nothing but good. Only that wouldn't have prevented him, if Lance
_had_ taken his advice, from being in effect horribly cruel.'

They had a sociable way of talking of him to his face as if he had
been in the clay or--at most--in the plaster, and the Master was
unfailingly generous. He might have been waving Egidio to make him
revolve. 'Ah but poor Peter wasn't so wrong as to what it may after
all come to that he _will_ learn.'

'Oh but nothing artistically bad,' she urged--still, for poor Peter,
arch and dewy.

'Why just the little French tricks,' said the Master: on which their
friend had to pretend to admit, when pressed by Mrs Mallow, that these
ęsthetic vices had been the objects of his dread.


III


'I know now,' Lance said to him the next year, 'why you were so much
against it.' He had come back supposedly for a mere interval and was
looking about him at Carrara Lodge, where indeed he had already on two
or three occasions since his expatriation briefly reappeared. This had
the air of a longer holiday. 'Something rather awful has happened to
me. It _isn't_ so very good to know.'

'I'm bound to say high spirits don't show in your face,' Peter was
rather ruefully forced to confess. 'Still, are you very sure you do
know?'

'Well, I at least know about as much as I can bear.' These remarks
were exchanged in Peter's den, and the young man, smoking cigarettes,
stood before the fire with his back against the mantel. Something of
his bloom seemed really to have left him.

Poor Peter wondered. 'You're clear then as to what in particular I
wanted you not to go for?'

'In particular?' Lance thought. 'It seems to me that in particular
there can have been only one thing.'

They stood for a little sounding each other. 'Are you quite sure?'

'Quite sure I'm a beastly duffer? Quite--by this time.'

'Oh!'--and Peter turned away as if almost with relief.

'It's _that_ that isn't pleasant to find out.'

'Oh I don't care for "that",' said Peter, presently coming round
again. 'I mean I personally don't.'

'Yet I hope you can understand a little that I myself should!'

'Well, what do you mean by it?' Peter sceptically asked.

And on this Lance had to explain--how the upshot of his studies in
Paris had inexorably proved a mere deep doubt of his means. These
studies had so waked him up that a new light was in his eyes; but what
the new light did was really to show him too much. 'Do you know what's
the matter with me? I'm too horribly intelligent. Paris was really the
last place for me. I've learnt what I can't do.'

Poor Peter stared--it was a staggerer; but even after they had had, on
the subject, a longish talk in which the boy brought out to the full
the hard truth of his lesson, his friend betrayed less pleasure than
usually breaks into a face to the happy tune of 'I told you so!' Poor
Peter himself made now indeed so little a point of having told him so
that Lance broke ground in a different place a day or two after. 'What
was it then that--before I went--you were afraid I should find out?'
This, however, Peter refused to tell him--on the ground that if
he hadn't yet guessed perhaps he never would, and that in any case
nothing at all for either of them was to be gained by giving the thing
a name. Lance eyed him on this an instant with the bold curiosity of
youth--with the air indeed of having in his mind two or three names,
of which one or other would be right. Peter nevertheless, turning his
back again, offered no encouragement, and when they parted afresh it
was with some show of impatience on the side of the boy. Accordingly
on their next encounter Peter saw at a glance that he had now, in the
interval, divined and that, to sound his note, he was only waiting
till they should find themselves alone. This he had soon arranged
and he then broke straight out. 'Do you know your conundrum has been
keeping me awake? But in the watches of the night the answer came
over me--so that, upon my honour, I quite laughed out. Had you been
supposing I had to go to Paris to learn _that_? Even now, to see him
still so sublimely on his guard, Peter's young friend had to laugh
afresh. 'You won't give a sign till you're sure? Beautiful old Peter!'
But Lance at last produced it. 'Why, hang it, the truth about the
Master.'

It made between them for some minutes a lively passage, full of
wonder for each at the wonder of the other. 'Then how long have you
understood--'

'The true value of his work? I understood it,' Lance recalled, 'as
soon as I began to understand anything. But I didn't begin fully to do
that, I admit, till I got _lą-bas_.'

'Dear, dear!'--Peter gasped with retrospective dread.

'But for what have you taken me? I'm a hopeless muff--that I _had_
to have rubbed in. But I'm not such a muff as the Master!' Lance
declared.

'Then why did you never tell me--?'

'That I hadn't, after all'--the boy took him up--'remained such an
idiot? Just because I never dreamed _you_ knew. But I beg your pardon.
I only wanted to spare you. And what I don't now understand is how the
deuce then for so long you've managed to keep bottled.'

Peter produced his explanation, but only after some delay and with a
gravity not void of embarrassment. 'It was for your mother.'

'Oh!' said Lance.

'And that's the great thing now--since the murder _is_ out. I want
a promise from you. I mean'--and Peter almost feverishly followed it
up--'a vow from you, solemn and such as you owe me here on the spot,
that you'll sacrifice anything rather than let her ever guess--'

'That _I've_ guessed?'--Lance took it in. 'I see.' He evidently after
a moment had taken in much. 'But what is it you've in mind that I may
have a chance to sacrifice?'

'Oh one has always something.'

Lance looked at him hard. 'Do you mean that _you've_ had--?' The look
he received back, however, so put the question by that he found soon
enough another. 'Are you really sure my mother doesn't know?'

Peter, after renewed reflexion, was really sure. 'If she does she's
too wonderful.'

'But aren't we all too wonderful?'

'Yes,' Peter granted--'but in different ways. The thing's so
desperately important because your father's little public consists
only, as you know then,' Peter developed--'well, of how many?'

'First of all,' the Master's son risked, 'of himself. And last of all
too. I don't quite see of whom else.'

Peter had an approach to impatience. 'Of your mother, I
say--_always_.'

Lance cast it all up. 'You absolutely feel that?'

'Absolutely.'

'Well then with yourself that makes three.'

'Oh _me_!'--and Peter, with a wag of his kind old head, modestly
excused himself. The number's at any rate small enough for any
individual dropping out to be too dreadfully missed. Therefore, to put
it in a nutshell, take care, my boy--that's all--that _you're_ not!'

'_I've_ got to keep on humbugging?' Lance wailed.

'It's just to warn you of the danger of your failing of that that I've
seized this opportunity.'

'And what do you regard in particular,' the young man asked, 'as the
danger?'

'Why this certainty: that the moment your mother, who feels so
strongly, should suspect your secret--well,' said Peter desperately,
'the fat would be on the fire.'

Lance for a moment seemed to stare at the blaze. 'She'd throw me
over?'

'She'd throw _him_ over.'

'And come round to us?'

Peter, before he answered, turned away. 'Come round to _you_.' But
he had said enough to indicate--and, as he evidently trusted, to
avert--the horrid contingency.


IV


Within six months again, none the less, his fear was on more occasions
than one all before him. Lance had returned to Paris for another
trial; then had reappeared at home and had had, with his father, for
the first time in his life, one of the scenes that strike sparks. He
described it with much expression to Peter, touching whom (since they
had never done so before) it was the sign of a new reserve on the part
of the pair at Carrara Lodge that they at present failed, on a matter
of intimate interest, to open themselves--if not in joy then in
sorrow--to their good friend. This produced perhaps practically
between the parties a shade of alienation and a slight intermission
of commerce--marked mainly indeed by the fact that to talk at his ease
with his old playmate Lance had in general to come to see him. The
closest if not quite the gayest relation they had yet known together
was thus ushered in. The difficulty for poor Lance was a tension at
home--begotten by the fact that his father wished him to be at
least the sort of success he himself had been. He hadn't 'chucked'
Paris--though nothing appeared more vivid to him than that Paris had
chucked him: he would go back again because of the fascination in
trying, in seeing, in sounding the depths--in learning one's lesson,
briefly, even if the lesson were simply that of one's impotence in the
presence of one's larger vision. But what did the Master, all aloft
in his senseless fluency, know of impotence, and what vision--to be
called such--had he in all his blind life ever had? Lance, heated and
indignant, frankly appealed to his godparent on this score.

His father, it appeared, had come down on him for having, after
so long, nothing to show, and hoped that on his next return this
deficiency would be repaired. _The_ thing, the Master complacently set
forth was--for any artist, however inferior to himself--at least
to 'do' something. 'What can you do? That's all I ask!' _He_ had
certainly done enough, and there was no mistake about what he had to
show. Lance had tears in his eyes when it came thus to letting his old
friend know how great the strain might be on the 'sacrifice' asked
of him. It wasn't so easy to continue humbugging--as from son to
parent--after feeling one's self despised for not grovelling in
mediocrity. Yet a noble duplicity was what, as they intimately faced
the situation, Peter went on requiring; and it was still for a time
what his young friend, bitter and sore, managed loyally to comfort him
with. Fifty pounds more than once again, it was true, rewarded both
in London and in Paris the young friend's loyalty; none the less
sensibly, doubtless, at the moment, that the money was a direct
advance on a decent sum for which Peter had long since privately
prearranged an ultimate function. Whether by these arts or others, at
all events, Lance's just resentment was kept for a season--but only
for a season--at bay. The day arrived when he warned his companion
that he could hold out--or hold in--no longer. Carrara Lodge had
had to listen to another lecture delivered from a great height--an
infliction really heavier at last than, without striking back or in
some way letting the Master have the truth, flesh and blood could
bear.

'And what I don't see is,' Lance observed with a certain irritated
eye for what was after all, if it came to that, owing to himself too;
'what I don't see is, upon my honour, how _you_, as things are going,
can keep the game up.'

'Oh the game for me is only to hold my tongue,' said placid Peter.
'And I have my reason.'

'Still my mother?'

Peter showed a queer face as he had often shown it before--that is
by turning it straight away. 'What will you have? I haven't ceased to
like her.'

'She's beautiful--she's a dear of course,' Lance allowed; 'but what
is she to you, after all, and what is it to you that, as to anything
whatever, she should or she shouldn't?'

Peter, who had turned red, hung fire a little. 'Well--it's all simply
what I make of it.'

There was now, however, in his young friend a strange, an adopted
insistence. 'What are you after all to _her_?'

'Oh nothing. But that's another matter.'

'She cares only for my father,' said Lance the Parisian.

'Naturally--and that's just why.'

'Why you've wished to spare her?'

'Because she cares so tremendously much.'

Lance took a turn about the room, but with his eyes still on his host.
'How awfully--always--you must have liked her!'

'Awfully. Always,' said Peter Brench.

The young man continued for a moment to muse--then stopped again in
front of him. 'Do you know how much she cares?' Their eyes met on it,
but Peter, as if his own found something new in Lance's, appeared to
hesitate, for the first time in an age, to say he did know. '_I've_
only just found out,' said Lance. 'She came to my room last night,
after being present, in silence and only with her eyes on me, at
what I had had to take from him: she came--and she was with me an
extraordinary hour.'

He had paused again and they had again for a while sounded each other.
Then something--and it made him suddenly turn pale--came to Peter.
'She _does_ know?'

'She does know. She let it all out to me--so as to demand of me no
more than "that", as she said, of which she herself had been capable.
She has always, always known,' said Lance without pity.

Peter was silent a long time; during which his companion might have
heard him gently breathe, and on touching him might have felt within
him the vibration of a long low sound suppressed. By the time he spoke
at last he had taken everything in. 'Then I do see how tremendously
much.'

'Isn't it wonderful?' Lance asked.

'Wonderful,' Peter mused.

'So that if your original effort to keep me from Paris was to keep me
from knowledge--!' Lance exclaimed as if with a sufficient indication
of this futility.

It might have been at the futility Peter appeared for a little to
gaze. 'I think it must have been--without my quite at the time knowing
it--to keep _me_!' he replied at last as he turned away.

Henry James