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Chapter 9

Mr. Flack's relations with his old friends didn't indeed, after his
return, take on the familiarity and frequency of their intercourse a
year before: he was the first to refer to the marked change in the
situation. They had got into the high set and they didn't care about the
past: he alluded to the past as if it had been rich in mutual vows, in
pledges now repudiated.

"What's the matter all the same? Won't you come round there with us some
day?" Mr. Dosson asked; not having perceived for himself any reason why
the young journalist shouldn't be a welcome and easy presence in the
Cours la Reine.

Delia wanted to know what Mr. Flack was talking about: didn't he know a
lot of people that they didn't know and wasn't it natural they should
have their own society? The young man's treatment of the question was
humorous, and it was with Delia that the discussion mainly went forward.
When he maintained that the Dossons had shamelessly "shed" him Mr.
Dosson returned "Well, I guess you'll grow again!" And Francie made the
point that it was no use for him to pose as a martyr, since he knew
perfectly well that with all the celebrated people he saw and the way he
flew round he had the most enchanting time. She was aware of being a
good deal less accessible than the previous spring, for Mesdames de
Brecourt and de Cliche--the former indeed more than the latter--
occupied many of her hours. In spite of her having held off, to Gaston,
from a premature intimacy with his sisters, she spent whole days in
their company--they had so much to tell her of how her new life would
shape, and it seemed mostly very pleasant--and she thought nothing could
be nicer than that in these intervals he should give himself to her
father, and even to Delia, as had been his wont.

But the flaw of a certain insincerity in Mr. Flack's nature was
suggested by his present tendency to rare visits. He evidently didn't
care for her father in himself, and though this mild parent always took
what was set before him and never made fusses she is sure he felt their
old companion to have fallen away. There were no more wanderings in
public places, no more tryings of new cafes. Mr. Dosson used to look
sometimes as he had looked of old when George Flack "located" them
somewhere--as if he expected to see their heated benefactor rush back to
them with his drab overcoat flying in the wind; but this appearance
usually and rather touchingly subsided. He at any rate missed Gaston
because Gaston had this winter so often ordered his dinner for him; and
his society was not, to make it up, sought by the count and the marquis,
whose mastery of English was small and their other distractions great.
Mr. Probert, it was true, had shown something of a conversible spirit;
he had come twice to the hotel since his son's departure and had said,
smiling and reproachful, "You neglect us, you neglect us, my dear sir!"
The good man had not understood what was meant by this till Delia
explained after the visitor had withdrawn, and even then the remedy for
the neglect, administered two or three days later, had not borne any
copious fruit. Mr. Dosson called alone, instructed by his daughter, in
the Cours la Reine, but Mr. Probert was not at home. He only left a card
on which Delia had superscribed in advance, almost with the legibility
of print, the words "So sorry!" Her father had told her he would give in
the card if she wanted, but would have nothing to do with the writing.
There was a discussion as to whether Mr. Probert's remark was an
allusion to a deficiency of politeness on the article of his sons-in-
law. Oughtn't Mr. Dosson perhaps to call personally, and not simply
through the medium of the visits paid by his daughters to their wives,
on Messieurs de Brecourt and de Cliche? Once when this subject came up
in George Flack's presence the old man said he would go round if Mr.
Flack would accompany him. "All right, we'll go right along!" Mr. Flack
had responded, and this nspiration had become a living fact qualified
only by the "mercy," to Delia Dosson, that the other two gentlemen were
not at home. "Suppose they SHOULD get in?" she had said lugubriously to
her sister.

"Well, what if they do?" Francie had asked.

"Why the count and the marquis won't be interested in Mr. Flack."

"Well then perhaps he'll be interested in them. He can write something
about them. They'll like that"

"Do you think they would?" Delia had solemnly weighed it.

"Why, yes, if he should say fine things."

"They do like fine things," Delia had conceded. "They get off so many
themselves. Only the way Mr. Flack does it's a different style."

"Well, people like to be praised in any style."

"That's so," Delia had continued to brood.

One afternoon, coming in about three o'clock, Mr. Flack found Francie
alone. She had expressed a wish after luncheon for a couple of hours of
independence: intending to write to Gaston, and having accidentally
missed a post, she had determined her letter should be of double its
usual length. Her companions had respected her claim for solitude, Mr.
Dosson taking himself off to his daily session in the reading-room of
the American bank and Delia--the girls had now at their command a landau
as massive as the coach of an ambassador--driving away to the
dressmaker's, a frequent errand, to superintend and urge forward the
progress of her sister's wedding-clothes. Francie was not skilled in
composition; she wrote slowly and had in thus addressing her lover much
the same sense of sore tension she supposed she should have in standing
at the altar with him. Her father and Delia had a theory that when she
shut herself up that way she poured forth pages that would testify to
her costly culture. When George Flack was ushered in at all events she
was still bent over her blotting-book at one of the gilded tables, and
there was an inkstain on her pointed forefinger. It was no disloyalty to
Gaston, but only at the most an echo as of the sweetness of "recess
time" in old school mornings that made her glad to see her visitor.

She hadn't quite known how to finish her letter, in the infinite of the
bright propriety of her having written it, but Mr. Flack seemed to set a
practical human limit.

"I wouldn't have ventured," he observed on entering, "to propose this,
but I guess I can do with it now it's come."

"What can you do with?" she asked, wiping her pen.

"Well this happy chance. Just you and me together."

"I don't know what it's a chance for."

"Well, for me to be a little less miserable for a quarter of an hour. It
makes me so to see you look so happy."

"It makes you miserable?"--Francie took it gaily but guardedly.

"You ought to understand--when I say something so noble." And settling
himself on the sofa Mr. Flack continued: "Well, how do you get on
without Mr. Probert?"

"Very well indeed, thank you." The tone in which the girl spoke was not
an encouragement to free pleasantry, so that if he continued his
enquiries it was with as much circumspection as he had perhaps ever in
his life recognised himself as having to apply to a given occasion. He
was eminently capable of the sense that it wasn't in his interest to
strike her as indiscreet and profane; he only wanted still to appear a
real reliable "gentleman friend." At the same time he was not
indifferent to the profit for him of her noticing in him a sense as of a
good fellow once badly "sold," which would always give him a certain
pull on what he called to himself her lovely character. "Well, you're in
the real 'grand' old monde now, I suppose," he resumed at last, not with
an air of undue derision--rather with a kind of contemporary but
detached wistfulness.

"Oh I'm not in anything; I'm just where I've always been."

"I'm sorry; I hoped you'd tell me a good lot about it," said Mr. Flack,
not with levity.

"You think too much of that. What do you want to know so much about it

Well, he took some trouble for his reason. "Dear Miss Francie, a poor
devil of a journalist who has to get his living by studying-up things
has to think TOO much, sometimes, in order to think, or at any rate to
do, enough. We find out what we can--AS we can, you see."

She did seem to catch in it the note of pathos. "What do you want to

"Everything! I take in everything. It all depends on my opportunity. I
try and learn--I try and improve. Every one has something to tell--or to
sell; and I listen and watch--well, for what I can drink in or can buy.
I hoped YOU'D have something to tell--for I'm not talking now of
anything but THAT. I don't believe but what you've seen a good deal of
new life. You won't pretend they ain't working you right in, charming as
you are."

"Do you mean if they've been kind and sweet to me? They've been very
kind and sweet," Francie mid. "They want to do even more than I'll let

"Ah why won't you let them?" George Flack asked almost coaxingly.

"Well, I do, when it comes to anything," the girl went on. "You can't
resist them really; they've got such lovely ways."

"I should like to hear you talk right out about their ways," her
companion observed after a silence.

"Oh I could talk out right enough if once I were to begin. But I don't
see why it should interest you."

"Don't I care immensely for everything that concerns you? Didn't I tell
you that once?"--he put it very straight.

"Well, you were foolish ever, and you'd be foolish to say it again,"
Francie replied.

"Oh I don't want to say anything, I've had my lesson. But I could listen
to you all day." Francie gave an exclamation of impatience and
incredulity, and Mr. Flack pursued: "Don't you remember what you told me
that time we had that talk at Saint-Germain, on the terrace? You said I
might remain your friend."

"Well, that's all right," said the girl.

"Then ain't we interested in the development of our friends--in their
impressions, their situations and adventures? Especially a person like
me, who has got to know life whether he wants to or no--who has got to
know the world."

"Do you mean to say I could teach you about life?" Francie beautifully

"About some kinds certainly. You know a lot of people it's difficult to
get at unless one takes some extraordinary measures, as you've done."

"What do you mean? What measures have I done?"

"Well, THEY have--to get right hold of you--and its the same thing.
Pouncing on you, to secure you first--I call that energetic, and don't
you think I ought to know?" smiled Mr. Flack with much meaning. "I
thought _I_ was energetic, but they got in ahead of me. They're a
society apart, and they must be very curious."

"Yes, they're very curious," Francie admitted with a resigned sigh. Then
she said: "Do you want to put them in the paper?"

George Flack cast about--the air of the question was so candid,
suggested so complete an exemption From prejudice. "Oh I'm very careful
about what I put in the paper. I want everything, as I told you; Don't
you remember the sketch I gave you of my ideals? But I want it in the
right way and of the right brand. If I can't get it in the shape I like
it I don't want it at all; first-rate first-hand information, straight
from the tap, is what I'm after. I don't want to hear what some one or
other thinks that some one or other was told that some one or other
believed or said; and above all I don't want to print it. There's plenty
of that flowing in, and the best part of the job's to keep it out.
People just yearn to come in; they make love to me for it all over the
place; there's the biggest crowd at the door. But I say to them: 'You've
got to do something first, then I'll see; or at any rate you've got to
BE something!'"

"We sometimes see the Reverberator. You've some fine pieces," Francie
humanely replied.

"Sometimes only? Don't they send it to the old gentleman--the weekly
edition? I thought I had fixed that," said George Flack.

"I don't know; it's usually lying round. But Delia reads it more than I;
she reads pieces aloud. I like to read books; I read as many as I can."

"Well, it's all literature," said Mr. Flack; "it's all the press, the
great institution of our time. Some of the finest books have come out
first in the papers. It's the history of the age."

"I see you've got the same aspirations," Francie remarked kindly.

"The same aspirations?"

"Those you told me about that day at Saint-Germain."

"Oh I keep forgetting that I ever broke out to you that way.
Everything's so changed."

"Are you the proprietor of the paper now?" the girl went on, determined
not to catch this sentimental echo.

"What do you care? It wouldn't even be delicate in me to tell you; for I
DO remember the way you said you'd try and get your father to help me.
Don't say you've forgotten it, because you almost made me cry. Anyway,
that isn't the sort of help I want now and it wasn't the sort of help I
meant to ask you for then. I want sympathy and interest; I want some one
to say to me once in a while 'Keep up your old heart, Mr. Flack; you'll
come out all right.' You see I'm a working-man and I don't pretend to be
anything else," Francie's companion went on. "I don't live on the
accumulations of my ancestors. What I have I earn--what I am I've fought
for: I'm a real old travailleur, as they say here. I rejoice in it, but
there's one dark spot in it all the same."

"And what's that?" Francie decided not quite at once to ask.

"That it makes you ashamed of me."

"Oh how can you say?" And she got up as if a sense of oppression, of
vague discomfort, had come over her. Her visitor troubled such peace as
she had lately arrived at.

"You wouldn't be ashamed to go round with me?"

"Round where?"

"Well, anywhere: just to have one more walk. The very last." George
Flack had got up too and stood there looking at her with his bright
eyes, his hands in the pockets of his overcoat. As she hesitated he
continued: "Then I'm not such a friend after all."

She rested her eyes a moment on the carpet; then raising them: "Where
would you like to go?"

"You could render me a service--a real service--without any
inconvenience probably to yourself. Isn't your portrait finished?"

"Yes, but he won't give it up."

"Who won't give it up?"

"Why Mr. Waterlow. He wants to keep it near him to look at it in case he
should take a fancy to change it. But I hope he won't change it--it's so
lovely as it is!" Francie made a mild joke of saying.

"I hear it's magnificent and I want to see it," said George Flack.

"Then why don't you go?"

"I'll go if you'll take me; that's the service you can render me."

"Why I thought you went everywhere--into the palaces of kings!" Francie

"I go where I'm welcome, not where I ain't. I don't want to push into
that studio alone; he doesn't want me round. Oh you needn't protest,"
the young man went on; "if a fellow's made sensitive he has got to stay
so. I feel those things in the shade of a tone of voice. He doesn't like
newspaper-men. Some people don't, you know. I ought to tell you that

Francie considered again, but looking this time at her visitor. "Why if
it hadn't been for you "--I'm afraid she said "hadn't have been"--"I'd
never have sat to him."

Mr. Flack smiled at her in silence for a little. "If it hadn't been for
me I think you'd never have met your future husband."

"Perhaps not," said Francie; and suddenly she blushed red, rather to her
companion's surprise.

"I only say that to remind you that after all I've a right to ask you to
show me this one little favour. Let me drive with you to-morrow, or next
day or any day, to the Avenue de Villiers, and I shall regard myself as
amply repaid. With you I shan't be afraid to go in, for you've a right
to take any one you like to see your picture. That's the rule here."

"Oh the day you're afraid, Mr. Flack--!" Francie laughed without fear.
She had been much struck by his reminder of what they all owed him; for
he truly had been their initiator, the instrument, under providence,
that had opened a great new interest to them, and as she was more
listless about almost anything than at the sight of a person wronged she
winced at his describing himself as disavowed or made light of after the
prize was gained. Her mind had not lingered on her personal indebtedness
to him, for it was not in the nature of her mind to linger; but at
present she was glad to spring quickly, at the first word, into the
attitude of acknowledgement. It had the effect of simplification after
too multiplied an appeal--it brought up her spirits.

"Of course I must be quite square with you," the young man said in a
tone that struck her as "higher," somehow, than any she had ever heard
him use. "If I want to see the picture it's because I want to write
about it. The whole thing will go bang into the Reverberator. You must
understand that in advance. I wouldn't write about it without seeing it.
We don't DO that"--and Mr. Flack appeared to speak proudly again for his

"J'espere bien!" said Francie, who was getting on famously with her
French. "Of course if you praise him Mr. Waterlow will like it."

"I don't know that he cares for my praise and I don't care much whether
HE likes it or not. For you to like it's the principal thing--we must do
with that."

"Oh I shall be awfully proud."

"I shall speak of you personally--I shall say you're the prettiest girl
that has ever come over."

"You may say what you like," Francie returned. "It will be immense fun
to be in the newspapers. Come for me at this hour day after to-morrow."

"You're too kind," said George Flack, taking up his hat. He smoothed it
down a moment with his glove; then he said: "I wonder if you'll mind our
going alone?"


"I mean just you and me."

"Oh don't you be afraid! Father and Delia have seen it about thirty

"That'll be first-rate. And it will help me to feel, more than anything
else could make me do, that we're still old friends. I couldn't bear the
end of THAT. I'll come at 3.15," Mr. Flack went on, but without even yet
taking his departure. He asked two or three questions about the hotel,
whether it were as good as last year and there were many people in it
and they could keep their rooms warm; then pursued suddenly, on a
different plane and scarcely waiting for the girl's answer: "And now for
instance are they very bigoted? That's one of the things I should like
to know."

"Very bigoted?"

"Ain't they tremendous Catholics--always talking about the Holy Father;
what they call here the throne and the altar? And don't they want the
throne too? I mean Mr. Probert, the old gentleman," Mr. Flack added.
"And those grand ladies and all the rest of them."

"They're very religious," said Francie. "They're the most religious
people I ever saw. They just adore the Holy Father. They know him
personally quite well. They're always going down to Rome."

^And do they mean to introduce you to him?"

"How do you mean, to introduce me?"

"Why to make you a Catholic, to take you also down to Rome."

"Oh we're going to Rome for our voyage de noces!" said Francie gaily.
"Just for a peep."

"And won't you have to have a Catholic marriage if They won't consent to
a Protestant one."

"We're going to have a lovely one, just like one that Mme. de Brecourt
took me to see at the Madeleine."

"And will it be at the Madeleine, too?"

"Yes, unless we have it at Notre Dame."

"And how will your father and sister like that?"

"Our having it at Notre Dame?"

"Yes, or at the Madeleine. Your not having it at the American church."

"Oh Delia wants it at the best place," said Francie simply. Then she
added: "And you know poppa ain't much on religion."

"Well now that's what I call a genuine fact, the sort I was talking
about," Mr. Flack replied. Whereupon he at last took himself off,
repeating that he would come in two days later, at 3.15 sharp.

Francie gave an account of his visit to her sister, on the return of the
latter young lady, and mentioned the agreement they had come to in
relation to the drive. Delia brooded on it a while like a sitting hen,
so little did she know that it was right ("as" it was right Delia
usually said) that Francie should be so intimate with other gentlemen
after she was engaged.

"Intimate? You wouldn't think it's very intimate if you were to see me!"
Francie cried with amusement.

"I'm sure I don't want to see you," Delia declared--the sharpness of
which made her sister suddenly strenuous.

"Delia Dosson, do you realise that if it hadn't been for Mr. Flack we
would never have had that picture, and that if it hadn't been for that
picture I should never have got engaged?"

"It would have been better if you hadn't, if that's the way you're going
to behave. Nothing would induce me to go with you."

This was what suited Francie, but she was nevertheless struck by Delia's
rigour. "I'm only going to take him to see Mr. Waterlow."

"Has he become all of a sudden too shy to go alone?"

"Well, you know Mr. Waterlow has a prejudice against him and has made
him feel it. You know Gaston told us so."

"He told us HE couldn't bear him; that's what he told us," said Delia.

"All the more reason I should be kind to him. Why Delia, do realise,"
Francie went on.

"That's just what I do," returned the elder girl; "but things that are
very different from those you want me to. You have queer reasons."

"I've others too that you may like better. He wants to put a piece in
the paper about it."

"About your picture?"

"Yes, and about me. All about the whole thing."

Delia stared a moment. "Well, I hope it will be a good one!" she said
with a groan of oppression as from the crushing majesty of their fate.

Henry James

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