Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 10

When Francie, two days later, passed with Mr. Flack into Charles
Waterlow's studio she found Mme. de Cliche before the great canvas. She
enjoyed every positive sign that the Proberts took an interest in her,
and this was a considerable symptom, Gaston's second sister's coming all
that way--she lived over by the Invalides--to look at the portrait once
more. Francie knew she had seen it at an earlier stage; the work had
excited curiosity and discussion among the Proberts from the first of
their making her acquaintance, when they went into considerations about
it which had not occurred to the original and her companions--frequently
as, to our knowledge, these good people had conversed on the subject.
Gaston had told her that opinions differed much in the family as to the
merit of the work, and that Margaret, precisely, had gone so far as to
say that it might be a masterpiece of tone but didn't make her look like
a lady. His father on the other hand had no objection to offer to the
character in which it represented her, but he didn't think it well
painted. "Regardez-moi ca, et ca, et ca, je vous demande!" he had
exclaimed, making little dashes at the canvas with his glove, toward
mystifying spots, on occasions when the artist was not at hand. The
Proberts always fell into French when they spoke on a question of art.
"Poor dear papa, he only understands le vieux jeu!" Gaston had
explained, and he had still further to expound what he meant by the old
game. The brand-newness of Charles Waterlow's game had already been a
bewilderment to Mr. Probert.

Francie remembered now--she had forgotten it--Margaret de Cliche's
having told her she meant to come again. She hoped the marquise thought
by this time that, on canvas at least, she looked a little more like a
lady. Mme. de Cliche smiled at her at any rate and kissed her, as if in
fact there could be no mistake. She smiled also at Mr. Flack, on
Francie's introducing him, and only looked grave when, after she had
asked where the others were--the papa and the grande soeur--the girl
replied that she hadn't the least idea: her party consisted only of
herself and Mr. Flack. Then Mme. de Cliche's grace stiffened, taking on
a shade that brought back Francie's sense that she was the individual,
among all Gaston's belongings, who had pleased her least from the first.
Mme. de Douves was superficially more formidable, but with her the
second impression was comparatively comforting. It was just this second
impression of the marquise that was not. There were perhaps others
behind it, but the girl hadn't yet arrived at them. Mr. Waterlow
mightn't have been very much prepossessed with Mr. Flack, but he was
none the less perfectly civil to him and took much trouble to show him
the work he had in hand, dragging out canvases, changing lights, moving
him off to see things at the other end of the great room. While the two
gentlemen were at a distance Mme. de Cliche expressed to Francie the
conviction that she would allow her to see her home: on which Francie
replied that she was not going home, but was going somewhere else with
Mr. Flack. And she explained, as if it simplified the matter, that this
gentleman was a big editor. Her sister-in-law that was to be echoed the
term and Francie developed her explanation. He was not the only big
editor, but one of the many big editors, of an enormous American paper.
He was going to publish an article--as big, as enormous, as all the rest
of the business--about her portrait. Gaston knew him perfectly: it was
Mr. Flack who had been the cause of Gaston's being presented to her.
Mme. de Cliche looked across at him as if the inadequacy of the cause
projected an unfavourable light upon an effect hitherto perhaps not
exactly measured; she appealed as to whether Francie thought Gaston
would like her to drive about Paris alone with one of ces messieurs.
"I'm sure I don't know. I never asked him!" said Francie. "He ought to
want me to be polite to a person who did so much for us." Soon after
this Mme. de Cliche retired with no fresh sign of any sense of the
existence of Mr. Flack, though he stood in her path as she approached
the door. She didn't kiss our young lady again, and the girl observed
that her leave-taking consisted of the simple words "Adieu
mademoiselle." She had already noted that in proportion as the Proberts
became majestic they became articulately French. She and Mr. Flack
remained in the studio but a short time longer, and when they were
seated in the carriage again, at the door--they had come in Mr. Dosson's
open landau--her companion said "And now where shall we go?" He spoke as
if on their way from the hotel he hadn't touched upon the pleasant
vision of a little turn in the Bois. He had insisted then that the day
was made on purpose, the air full of spring. At present he seemed to
wish to give himself the pleasure of making his companion choose that
particular alternative. But she only answered rather impatiently:

"Wherever you like, wherever you like!" And she sat there swaying her
parasol, looking about her, giving no order.

"Au Bois," said George Flack to the coachman, leaning back on the soft
cushions. For a few moments after the carriage had taken its easy
elastic start they were silent; but he soon began again. "Was that lady
one of your new relatives?"

"Do you mean one of Mr. Probert's old ones? She's his sister."

"Is there any particular reason in that why she shouldn't say good-
morning to me?"

"She didn't want you to remain with me. She doesn't like you to go round
with me. She wanted to carry me off."

"What has she got against me?" Mr. Flack asked with a kind of portentous
calm.

Francie seemed to consider a little. "Oh it's these funny French ideas."

"Funny? Some of them are very base," said George Flack.

His companion made no answer; she only turned her eyes to right and
left, admiring the splendid day and shining city. The great
architectural vista was fair: the tall houses, with their polished shop-
fronts, their balconies, their signs with accented letters, seemed to
make a glitter of gilt and crystal as they rose in the sunny air. The
colour of everything was cool and pretty and the sound of everything
gay; the sense of a costly spectacle was everywhere. "Well, I like Paris
anyway!" Francie exhaled at last with her little harmonising flatness.

"It's lucky for you, since you've got to live here."

"I haven't got to; there's no obligation. We haven't settled anything
about that."

"Hasn't that lady settled it for you?"

"Yes, very likely she has," said Francie placidly enough. "I don't like
her so well as the others."

"You like the others very much?"

"Of course I do. So would you if they had made so much of you."

"That one at the studio didn't make much of me, certainly," Mr. Flack
declared.

"Yes, she's the most haughty," Francie allowed.

"Well, what is it all about?" her friend demanded. "Who are they
anyway?"

"Oh it would take me three hours to tell you," the girl cheerfully
sighed. "They go back a thousand years."

"Well, we've GOT a thousand years--I mean three hours." And George Flack
settled himself more on his cushions and inhaled the pleasant air. "I AM
getting something out of this drive, Miss Francie," he went on. "It's
many a day since I've been to the old Bois. I don't fool round much in
woods."

Francie replied candidly that for her too the occasion was most
agreeable, and Mr. Flack pursued, looking round him with his hard smile,
irrelevantly but sociably: "Yes, these French ideas! I don't see how you
can stand them. Those they have about young ladies are horrid."

"Well, they tell me you like them better after you're married."

"Why after they're married they're worse--I mean the ideas. Every one
knows that."

"Well, they can make you like anything, the way they talk," Francie
said.

"And do they talk a great deal?"

"Well, I should think so. They don't do much else, and all about the
queerest things--things I never heard of."

"Ah THAT I'll bet my life on!" Mr. Flack returned with understanding.

"Of course," his companion obligingly proceeded, "'ve had most
conversation with Mr. Probert."

"The old gentleman?"

"No, very little with him. I mean with Gaston. But it's not he that has
told me most--it's Mme. de Brecourt. She's great on life, on THEIR
life--it's very interesting. She has told me all their histories, all
their troubles and complications."

"Complications?" Mr. Flack threw off. "That's what she calls them. It
seems very different from America. It's just like a beautiful story--
they have such strange feelings. But there are things you can see--
without being told."

"What sort of things?"

"Well, like Mme. de Cliche's--" But Francie paused as if for a word.

Her friend was prompt with assistance. "Do you mean her complications?"

"Yes, and her husband's. She has terrible ones. That's why one must
forgive her if she's rather peculiar. She's very unhappy."

"Do you mean through her husband?"

"Yes, he likes other ladies better. He flirts with Mme. de Brives."

Mr. Flack's hand closed over it. "Mme. de Brives?"

"Yes, she's lovely," said Francie. "She ain't very young, but she's
fearfully attractive. And he used to go every day to have tea with Mme.
de Villepreux. Mme. de Cliche can't bear Mme. de Villepreux."

"Well, he seems a kind of MEAN man," George Flack moralised.

"Oh his mother was very bad. That was one thing they had against the
marriage."

"Who had?--against what marriage?"

"When Maggie Probert became engaged."

"Is that what they call her--Maggie?"

"Her brother does; but every one else calls her Margot. Old Mme. de
Cliche had a horrid reputation. Every one hated her."

"Except those, I suppose, who liked her too much!" Mr. Flack permitted
himself to guess. "And who's Mme. de Villepreux?" he proceeded.

"She's the daughter of Mme. de Marignac."

"And who's THAT old sinner?" the young man asked.

"Oh I guess she's dead," said Francie. "She used to be a great friend of
Mr. Probert--of Gaston's father."

"He used to go to tea with her?"

"Almost every day. Susan says he has never been the same since her
death."

"The way they do come out with 'em!" Mr. Flack chuckled. "And who the
mischief's Susan?"

"Why Mme. de Brecourt. Mr. Probert just loved Mme. de Marignac. Mme. de
Villepreux isn't so nice as her mother. She was brought up with the
Proberts, like a sister, and now she carries on with Maxime."

"With Maxime?"

"That's M. de Cliche."

"Oh I see--I see!" and George Flack engulfed it. They had reached the
top of the Champs Elysees and were passing below the wondrous arch to
which that gentle eminence forms a pedestal and which looks down even on
splendid Paris from its immensity and across at the vain mask of the
Tuileries and the river-moated Louvre and the twin towers of Notre Dame
painted blue by the distance. The confluence of carriages--a sounding
stream in which our friends became engaged--rolled into the large avenue
leading to the Bois de Boulogne. Mr. Flack evidently enjoyed the scene;
he gazed about him at their neighbours, at the villas and gardens on
either hand; he took in the prospect of the far-stretching brown
boskages and smooth alleys of the wood, of the hour they had yet to
spend there, of the rest of Francie's pleasant prattle, of the place
near the lake where they could alight and walk a little; even of the
bench where they might sit down. "I see, I see," he repeated with
appreciation. "You make me feel quite as if I were in the grand old
monde."

Henry James

Sorry, no summary available yet.