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Chapter 3

The young ladies consented to return to the Avenue des Villiers; and
this time they found the celebrity of the future. He was smoking
cigarettes with a friend while coffee was served to the two gentlemen--
it was just after luncheon--on a vast divan covered with scrappy
oriental rugs and cushions; it looked, Francie thought, as if the artist
had set up a carpet-shop in a corner. He struck her as very pleasant;
and it may be mentioned without circumlocution that the young lady
ushered in by the vulgar American reporter, whom he didn't like and who
had already come too often to his studio to pick up "glimpses" (the
painter wondered how in the world he had picked HER up), this charming
candidate for portraiture rose on the spot before Charles Waterlow as a
precious model. She made, it may further be declared, quite the same
impression on the gentleman who was with him and who never took his eyes
off her while her own rested afresh on several finished and unfinished
canvases. This gentleman asked of his friend at the end of five minutes
the favour of an introduction to her; in consequence of which Francie
learned that his name--she thought it singular--was Gaston Probert. Mr.
Probert was a kind-eyed smiling youth who fingered the points of his
moustache; he was represented by Mr. Waterlow as an American, but he
pronounced the American language--so at least it seemed to Francie--as
if it had been French.

After she had quitted the studio with Delia and Mr. Flack--her father on
this occasion not being of the party--the two young men, falling back on
their divan, broke into expressions of aesthetic rapture, gave it to
each other that the girl had qualities--oh but qualities and a charm of
line! They remained there an hour, studying these rare properties
through the smoke of their cigarettes. You would have gathered from
their conversation--though as regards much of it only perhaps with the
aid of a grammar and dictionary--that the young lady had been endowed
with plastic treasures, that is with physical graces, of the highest
order, of which she was evidently quite unconscious. Before this,
however, Mr. Waterlow had come to an understanding with his visitors--it
had been settled that Miss Francina should sit for him at his first hour
of leisure. Unfortunately that hour hovered before him as still rather
distant--he was unable to make a definite appointment. He had sitters on
his hands, he had at least three portraits to finish before going to
Spain. He adverted with bitterness to the journey to Spain--a little
excursion laid out precisely with his friend Probert for the last weeks
of the spring, the first of the southern summer, the time of the long
days and the real light. Gaston Probert re-echoed his regrets, for
though he had no business with Miss Francina, whose name he yet liked,
he also wanted to see her again. They half-agreed to give up Spain--they
had after all been there before--so that Waterlow might take the girl in
hand without delay, the moment he had knocked off his present work. This
amendment broke down indeed, for other considerations came up and the
artist resigned himself to the arrangement on which the young women had
quitted him: he thought it so characteristic of their nationality that
they should settle a matter of that sort for themselves. This was simply
that they should come back in the autumn, when he should be
comparatively free: then there would be a margin and they might all take
their time. At present, before long--by the time he should be ready--the
question of the pretty one's leaving Paris for the summer would be sure
to rise, and that would be a tiresome interruption. The pretty one
clearly liked Paris, she had no plans for the autumn and only wanted a
reason to come back about the twentieth of September. Mr. Waterlow
remarked humorously that she evidently bossed the shop. Meanwhile,
before starting for Spain, he would see her as often as possible--his
eye would take possession of her.

His companion envied his eye, even expressed jealousy of his eye. It was
perhaps as a step towards establishing his right to jealousy that Mr.
Probert left a card upon the Miss Dossons at the Hotel de l'Univers et
de Cheltenham, having first ascertained that such a proceeding would
not, by the young American sisters, be regarded as an unwarrantable
liberty. Gaston Probert was an American who had never been in America
and was obliged to take counsel on such an emergency as that. He knew
that in Paris young men didn't call at hotels on blameless maids, but he
also knew that blameless maids, unattended by a parent, didn't visit
young men in studios; and he had no guide, no light he could trust--none
save the wisdom of his friend Waterlow, which was for the most part
communicated to him in a derisive and misleading form. Waterlow, who was
after all himself an ornament of the French, and the very French,
school, jeered at the other's want of native instinct, at the way he
never knew by which end to take hold of a compatriot. Poor Probert was
obliged to confess to his terrible paucity of practice, and that in the
great medley of aliens and brothers--and even more of sisters--he
couldn't tell which was which. He would have had a country and
countrymen, to say nothing of countrywomen, if he could; but that matter
had never been properly settled for him, and it's one there's ever a
great difficulty in a gentleman's settling for himself. Born in Paris,
he had been brought up altogether on French lines, in a family that
French society had irrecoverably absorbed. His father, a Carolinian and
a Catholic, was a Gallomaniac of the old American type. His three
sisters had married Frenchmen, and one of them lived in Brittany while
the others were ostensibly seated in Touraine. His only brother had
fallen, during the Terrible Year, in defence of their adopted country.
Yet Gaston, though he had had an old Legitimist marquis for godfather,
was not legally one of its children; his mother had, on her death-bed,
extorted from him the promise that he wouldn't take service in its
armies; she considered, after the death of her elder son--Gaston, in
1870, had been a boy of ten--that the family had sacrificed enough on
the altar of sympathy.

The young man therefore, between two stools, had no clear sitting-place:
he wanted to be as American as he could and yet not less French than he
was; he was afraid to give up the little that he was and find that what
he might be was less--he shrank from a flying leap which might drop him
in the middle of the sea. At the same time he thought himself sure that
the only way to know how it feels to be an American is to try it, and he
had had many a purpose of making the pious pilgrimage. His family
however had been so completely Gallicised that the affairs of each
member of it were the affairs of all the rest, and his father, his
sisters and his brothers-in-law had not yet begun sufficiently to regard
this scheme as their own for him to feel it substantially his. It was a
family in which there was no individual but only a collective property.
Meanwhile he tried, as I say, by affronting minor perils, and especially
by going a good deal to see Charles Waterlow in the Avenue de Villiers,
whom he believed to be his dearest friend, formed for his affection by
Monsieur Carolus. He had an idea that in this manner he kept himself in
touch with his countrymen; and he had never pitched his endeavour so
high as in leaving that card on the Misses Dosson. He was in search of
freshness, but he needn't have gone far: he would have had but to turn
his lantern on his own young breast to find a considerable store of it.
Like many of his dawdling coaevals he gave much attention to art,
lived as much as possible in that more select world where it is a
positive duty not to bustle. To make up for his want of talent he
espoused the talent of others--that is of several--and was as sensitive
and conscientious about them as he might have been about himself. He
defended certain of Waterlow's purples and greens as he would have
defended his own honour, and there was a genius or two, not yet fully
acclaimed by the vulgar, in regard to whom he had convictions that
belonged almost to the undiscussable part of life. He had not, for
himself, any very high sense of performance, but what kept it down
particularly was his untractable hand, the fact that, such as they were,
Waterlow's purples and greens, for instance, were far beyond him. If he
hadn't failed there other failures wouldn't have mattered, not even that
of not having a country; and it was on the occasion of his friend's
agreement to paint that strange lovely girl, whom he liked so much and
whose companions he didn't like, that he felt supremely without a
vocation. Freshness was in HER at least, if he had only been organised
for catching it. He prayed earnestly, in relation to such a triumph, for
a providential re-enforcement of Waterlow's sense of that source of
charm. If Waterlow had a fault it was that his freshnesses were
sometimes too crude.

He avenged himself for the artist's profanation of his first attempt to
approach Miss Francie by indulging at the end of another week in a
second. He went about six o'clock, when he supposed she would have
returned from her day's wanderings, and his prudence was rewarded by the
sight of the young lady sitting in the court of the hotel with her
father and sister. Mr. Dosson was new to Gaston Probert, but the young
man might have been a naturalist visiting a rank country with a net of
such narrow meshes as to let no creature of the air escape. The little
party was as usual expecting Mr. Flack at any moment, and they had
collected downstairs, so that he might pick them up easily. They had, on
the first floor, an expensive parlour, decorated in white and gold, with
sofas of crimson damask; but there was something lonely in that grandeur
and the place had become mainly a receptacle for their tall trunks, with
a half-emptied paper of chocolates or marrons glaces on every table.
After young Probert's first call his name was often on the lips of the
simple trio, and Mr. Dosson grew still more jocose, making nothing of a
secret of his perception that Francie hit the bull's-eye "every time."
Mr. Waterlow had returned their visit, but that was rather a matter of
course, since it was they who had gone after him. They had not gone
after the other one; it was he who had come after them. When he entered
the hotel, as they sat there, this pursuit and its probable motive
became startlingly vivid.

Delia had taken the matter much more seriously than her father; she said
there was ever so much she wanted to find out. She mused upon these
mysteries visibly, but with no great advance, and she appealed for
assistance to George Flack, with a candour which he appreciated and
returned. If he really knew anything he ought to know at least who Mr.
Probert was; and she spoke as if it would be in the natural course that
as soon as he should find out he would put it for them somehow into his
paper. Mr. Flack promised to "nose round"; he said the best plan would
be that the results should "come back" to her in the Reverberator; it
might have been gathered from him that "the people over there"--in other
words the mass of their compatriots--wouldn't be unpersuadable that they
wanted about a column on Mr. Probert. His researches were to prove none
the less fruitless, for in spite of the vivid fact the girl was able to
give him as a starting-point, the fact that their new acquaintance had
spent his whole life in Paris, the young journalist couldn't scare up a
single person who had even heard of him. He had questioned up and down
and all over the place, from the Rue Scribe to the far end of Chaillot,
and he knew people who knew others who knew every member of the American
colony; that select settled body, which haunted poor Delia's
imagination, glittered and re-echoed there in a hundred tormenting
roundabout glimpses. That was where she wanted to "get" Francie, as she
said to herself; she wanted to get her right in there. She believed the
members of this society to constitute a little kingdom of the blest; and
she used to drive through the Avenue Gabriel, the Rue de Marignan and
the wide vistas which radiate from the Arch of Triumph and are always
changing their names, on purpose to send up wistful glances to the
windows--she had learned that all this was the happy quarter--of the
enviable but unapproachable colonists. She saw these privileged mortals,
as she supposed, in almost every victoria that made a languid lady with
a pretty head dash past her, and she had no idea how little honour this
theory sometimes did her expatriated countrywomen. Her plan was already
made to be on the field again the next winter and take it up seriously,
this question of getting Francie in.

When Mr. Flack remarked that young Probert's net couldn't be either the
rose or anything near it, since they had shed no petal, at any general
shake, on the path of the oldest inhabitant, Delia had a flash of
inspiration, an intellectual flight that she herself didn't measure at
the time. She asked if that didn't perhaps prove on the contrary quite
the opposite--that they were just THE cream and beyond all others.
Wasn't there a kind of inner, very FAR in, circle, and wouldn't they be
somewhere about the centre of that? George Flack almost quivered at this
weird hit as from one of the blind, for he guessed on the spot that
Delia Dosson had, as he would have said, got there.

"Why, do you mean one of those families that have worked down so far you
can't find where they went in?"--that was the phrase in which he
recognised the truth of the girl's grope. Delia's fixed eyes assented,
and after a moment of cogitation George Flack broke out: "That's the
kind of family we want to handle!"

"Well, perhaps they won't want to be handled," Delia had returned with a
still wilder and more remarkable play of inspiration. "You had better
find out," she had added.

The chance to find out might have seemed to present itself after Mr.
Probert had walked in that confiding way into the hotel; for his arrival
had been followed a quarter of an hour later by that of the
representative of the Reverberator. Gaston had liked the way they
treated him--though demonstrative it was not artificial. Mr. Dosson had
said they had been hoping he would come round again, and Delia had
remarked that she supposed he had had quite a journey--Paris was so big;
and had urged his acceptance of a glass of wine or a cup of tea.
Mentioning that that wasn't the place where they usually received--she
liked to hear herself talk of "receiving"--she led the party up to her
white-and-gold saloon, where they should be so much more private: she
liked also to hear herself talk of privacy. They sat on the red silk
chairs and she hoped Mr. Probert would at least taste a sugared chestnut
or a chocolate; and when he declined, pleading the imminence of the
dinner-hour, she sighed: "Well, I suppose you're so used to them--to the
best--living so long over here." The allusion to the dinner-hour led Mr.
Dosson to the frank hope that he would go round and dine with them
without ceremony; they were expecting a friend--he generally settled it
for them--who was coming to take them round.

"And then we're going to the circus," Francie said, speaking for the
first time.

If she had not spoken before she had done something still more to the
purpose; she had removed any shade of doubt that might have lingered in
the young man's spirit as to her charm of line. He was aware that the
education of Paris, acting upon a natural aptitude, had opened him much-
-rendered him perhaps even morbidly sensitive--to impressions of this
order; the society of artists, the talk of studios, the attentive study
of beautiful works, the sight of a thousand forms of curious research
and experiment, had produced in his mind a new sense, the exercise of
which was a conscious enjoyment and the supreme gratification of which,
on several occasions, had given him as many indelible memories. He had
once said to his friend Waterlow: "I don't know whether it's a
confession of a very poor life, but the most important things that have
happened to me in this world have been simply half a dozen visual
impressions--things that happened through my eyes."

"Ah malheureux, you're lost!" the painter had exclaimed in answer to
this, and without even taking the trouble to explain his ominous speech.
Gaston Probert however had not been frightened by it, and he continued
to be thankful for the sensitive plate that nature had lodged in his
brain and that culture had brought to so high a polish. The experience
of the eye was doubtless not everything, but it was so much gained, so
much saved, in a world in which other treasures were apt to slip through
one's fingers; and above all it had the merit that so many things gave
it and that nothing could take it away. He had noted in a moment how
straight Francie Dosson gave it; and now, seeing her a second time, he
felt her promote it in a degree which made acquaintance with her one of
those "important" facts of which he had spoken to Charles Waterlow. It
was in the case of such an accident as this that he felt the value of
his Parisian education. It made him revel in his modern sense.

It was therefore not directly the prospect of the circus that induced
him to accept Mr. Dosson's invitation; nor was it even the charm exerted
by the girl's appearing, in the few words she uttered, to appeal to him
for herself. It was his feeling that on the edge of the glittering ring
her type would attach him to her, to her only, and that if he knew it
was rare she herself didn't. He liked to be intensely conscious, but
liked others not to be. It seemed to him at this moment, after he had
told Mr. Dosson he should be delighted to spend the evening with them,
that he was indeed trying hard to measure how it would feel to recover
the national tie; he had jumped on the ship, he was pitching away to the
west. He had led his sister, Mme. de Brecourt, to expect that he would
dine with her--she was having a little party; so that if she could see
the people to whom, without a scruple, with a quick sense of refreshment
and freedom, he now sacrificed her! He knew who was coming to his
sister's in the Place Beauvau: Mme. d'Outreville and M. de Grospre, old
M. Courageau, Mme. de Drives, Lord and Lady Trantum, Mile de Saintonge;
but he was fascinated by the idea of the contrast between what he
preferred and what he gave up. His life had long been wanting--painfully
wanting--in the element of contrast, and here was a chance to bring it
in. He saw it come in powerfully with Mr. Flack, after Miss Dosson had
proposed they should walk off without their initiator. Her father didn't
favour this suggestion; he said "We want a double good dinner to-day and
Mr. Flack has got to order it." Upon this Delia had asked the visitor if
HE couldn't order--a Frenchman like him; and Francie had interrupted,
before he could answer the question, "Well, ARE you a Frenchman? That's
just the point, ain't it?" Gaston Probert replied that he had no wish
but to be a citizen of HER country, and the elder sister asked him if he
knew many Americans in Paris. He was obliged to confess he knew almost
none, but hastened to add he was eager to go on now he had taken such a
charming start.

"Oh we ain't anything--if you mean that," Delia said. "If you go on
you'll go on beyond us."

"We ain't anything here, my dear, but we're a good deal at home," Mr.
Dosson jocosely interjected.

"I think we're very nice anywhere!" Francie exclaimed; upon which Gaston
Probert declared that they were as delightful as possible. It was in
these amenities that George Flack found them engaged; but there was none
the less a certain eagerness in his greeting of the other guest, as if
he had it in mind to ask him how soon he could give him half an hour. I
hasten to add that with the turn the occasion presently took the
correspondent of the Reverberator dropped the conception of making the
young man "talk" for the benefit of the subscribers to that journal.
They all went out together, and the impulse to pick up something,
usually so irresistible in George Flack's mind, suffered an odd check.
He found himself wanting to handle his fellow visitor in a sense other
than the professional. Mr. Probert talked very little to Francie, but
though Mr. Flack didn't know that on a first occasion he would have
thought this aggressive, even rather brutal, he knew it was for Francie,
and Francie alone, that the fifth member of the party was there. He said
to himself suddenly and in perfect sincerity that it was a mean class
anyway, the people for whom their own country wasn't good enough. He
didn't go so far, however, when they were seated at the admirable
establishment of M. Durand in the Place de la Madeleine, as to order a
bad dinner to spite his competitor; nor did he, to spoil this
gentleman's amusement, take uncomfortable seats at the pretty circus in
the Champs Elysees to which, at half-past eight o'clock, the company was
conveyed--it was a drive of but five minutes--in a couple of cabs. The
occasion therefore was superficially smooth, and he could see that the
sense of being disagreeable to an American newspaper-man was not needed
to make his nondescript rival enjoy it. That gentleman did indeed hate
his crude accent and vulgar laugh and above all the lamblike submission
to him of their friends. Mr. Flack was acute enough for an important
observation: he cherished it and promised himself to bring it to the
notice of his clinging charges. Their imperturbable guest professed a
great desire to be of service to the young ladies--to do what would help
them to be happy in Paris; but he gave no hint of the intention that
would contribute most to such a result, the bringing them in contact
with the other members, especially with the female members, of his
family. George Flack knew nothing about the matter, but he required for
purposes of argument that Mr. Probert's family should have female
members, and it was lucky for him that his assumption was just. He
grasped in advance the effect with which he should impress it on Francie
and Delia--but notably on Delia, who would then herself impress it on
Francie--that it would be time for their French friend to talk when he
had brought his mother round. BUT HE NEVER WOULD--they might bet their
pile on that! He never did, in the strange sequel--having, poor young
man, no mother to bring. Moreover he was quite mum--as Delia phrased it
to herself--about Mme. de Brecourt and Mme. de Cliche: such, Miss Dosson
learned from Charles Waterlow, were the names of his two sisters who had
houses in Paris--gleaning at the same time the information that one of
these ladies was a marquise and the other a comtesse. She was less
exasperated by their non-appearance than Mr. Flack had hoped, and it
didn't prevent an excursion to dine at Saint-Germain a week after the
evening spent at the circus, which included both the new admirers. It
also as a matter of course included Mr. Flack, for though the party had
been proposed in the first instance by Charles Waterlow, who wished to
multiply opportunities for studying his future sitter, Mr. Dosson had
characteristically constituted himself host and administrator, with the
young journalist as his deputy. He liked to invite people and to pay for
them, and disliked to be invited and paid for. He was never inwardly
content on any occasion unless a great deal of money was spent, and he
could be sure enough of the large amount only when he himself spent it.
He was too simple for conceit or for pride of purse, but always felt any
arrangements shabby and sneaking as to which the expense hadn't been
referred to him. He never named what he paid for anything. Also Delia
had made him understand that if they should go to Saint-Germain as
guests of the artist and his friend Mr. Flack wouldn't be of the
company: she was sure those gentlemen wouldn't rope HIM in. In fact she
was too sure, for, though enjoying him not at all, Charles Waterlow
would on this occasion have made a point of expressing by an act of
courtesy his sense of obligation to a man who had brought him such a
subject. Delia's hint however was all-sufficient for her father; he
would have thought it a gross breach of friendly loyalty to take part in
a festival not graced by Mr. Flack's presence. His idea of loyalty was
that he should scarcely smoke a cigar unless his friend was there to
take another, and he felt rather mean if he went round alone to get
shaved. As regards Saint-Germain he took over the project while George
Flack telegraphed for a table on the terrace at the Pavilion Henri
Quatre. Mr. Dosson had by this time learned to trust the European
manager of the Reverberator to spend his money almost as he himself
would.

Henry James

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