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Chapter 19


When he got into the street he looked about him for a cab, but was
obliged to walk some distance before encountering one. In this little
interval he saw no reason to modify the determination he had formed in
descending the steep staircase of the Hôtel de la Garonne; indeed the
desire prompting it only quickened his pace. He had an hour to spare and
would also go to see Madame Carré. If Miriam and her companion had
proceeded to the Rue de Constantinople on foot he would probably reach
the house as soon as they. It was all quite logical: he was eager to see
Miriam--that was natural enough; and he had admitted to Mrs. Rooth that
he was keen on the subject of Mrs. Lovick's theatrical brother, in whom
such effective aid might perhaps reside. To catch Miriam really
revealing herself to the old actress after the jump she believed herself
to have taken--since that was her errand--would be a very happy stroke,
the thought of which made her benefactor impatient. He presently found
his cab and, as he bounded in, bade the coachman drive fast. He learned
from Madame Carré's portress that her illustrious _locataire_ was at
home and that a lady and a gentleman had gone up some time before.

In the little antechamber, after his admission, he heard a high voice
come from the salon and, stopping a moment to listen, noted that Miriam
was already launched in a recitation. He was able to make out the
words, all the more that before he could prevent the movement the
maid-servant who had led him in had already opened the door of the
room--one of the leaves of it, there being, as in most French doors, two
of these--before which, within, a heavy curtain was suspended. Miriam
was in the act of rolling out some speech from the English poetic
drama--

"For I am sick and capable of fears,
Oppressed with wrongs and therefore full of fears."

He recognised one of the great tirades of Shakespeare's Constance and
saw she had just begun the magnificent scene at the beginning of the
third act of _King John_, in which the passionate, injured mother and
widow sweeps in wild organ-tones the entire scale of her irony and
wrath. The curtain concealed him and he lurked three minutes after he
had motioned to the _femme de chambre_ to retire on tiptoe. The trio in
the salon, absorbed in the performance, had apparently not heard his
entrance or the opening of the door, which was covered by the girl's
splendid declamation. Peter listened intently, arrested by the spirit
with which she attacked her formidable verses. He had needed to hear her
set afloat but a dozen of them to measure the long stride she had taken
in his absence; they assured him she had leaped into possession of her
means. He remained where he was till she arrived at

"Then speak again; not all thy former tale,
But this one word, whether thy tale be true."

This apostrophe, briefly responded to in another voice, gave him time
quickly to raise the curtain and show himself, passing into the room
with a "Go on, go on!" and a gesture earnestly deprecating a stop.

Miriam, in the full swing of her part, paused but for an instant and let
herself ring out again, while Peter sank into the nearest chair and she
fixed him with her illumined eyes, that is, with those of the raving
Constance. Madame Carré, buried in a chair, kissed her hand to him, and
a young man who, near the girl, stood giving the cue, stared at him over
the top of a little book. "Admirable, magnificent, go on," Sherringham
repeated--"go on to the end of the scene, do it all!" Miriam's colour
rose, yet he as quickly felt that she had no personal emotion in seeing
him again; the cold passion of art had perched on her banner and she
listened to herself with an ear as vigilant as if she had been a
Paganini drawing a fiddle-bow. This effect deepened as she went on,
rising and rising to the great occasion, moving with extraordinary ease
and in the largest, clearest style at the dizzy height of her idea. That
she had an idea was visible enough, and that the whole thing was very
different from all Sherringham had hitherto heard her attempt. It
belonged quite to another class of effort; she was now the finished
statue lifted from the ground to its pedestal. It was as if the sun of
her talent had risen above the hills and she knew she was moving and
would always move in its guiding light. This conviction was the one
artless thing that glimmered like a young joy through the tragic mask of
Constance, and Sherringham's heart beat faster as he caught it in her
face. It only showed her as more intelligent, and yet there had been a
time when he thought her stupid! Masterful the whole spirit in which she
carried the scene, making him cry to himself from point to point, "How
she feels it, sees it and really 'renders' it!"

He looked now and again at Madame Carré and saw she had in her lap an
open book, apparently a French prose version, brought by her visitors,
of the play; but she never either glanced at him or at the volume: she
only sat screwing into the girl her hard, bright eyes, polished by
experience like fine old brasses. The young man uttering the lines of
the other speakers was attentive in another degree; he followed Miriam,
in his own copy, to keep sure of the cue; but he was elated and
expressive, was evidently even surprised; he coloured and smiled, and
when he extended his hand to assist Constance to rise, after the
performer, acting out her text, had seated herself grandly on "the huge
firm earth," he bowed over her as obsequiously as if she had been his
veritable sovereign. He was a good-looking young man, tall,
well-proportioned, straight-featured and fair, of whom manifestly the
first thing to be said on any occasion was that he had remarkably the
stamp of a gentleman. He earned this appearance, which proved inveterate
and importunate, to a point that was almost a denial of its spirit: so
prompt the question of whether it could be in good taste to wear any
character, even that particular one, so much on one's sleeve. It was
literally on his sleeve that this young man partly wore his own; for it
resided considerably in his garments, and in especial in a certain
close-fitting dark blue frock-coat, a miracle of a fit, which moulded
his juvenility just enough and not too much, and constituted, as
Sherringham was destined to perceive later, his perpetual uniform or
badge. It was not till afterwards that Peter began to feel exasperated
by Basil Dashwood's "type"--the young stranger was of course Basil
Dashwood--and even by his blue frock-coat, the recurrent, unvarying,
imperturbable good form of his aspect. This unprofessional air ended by
striking the observer as the very profession he had adopted, and was
indeed, so far as had as yet been indicated, his mimetic capital, his
main qualification for the stage.

The ample and powerful manner in which Miriam handled her scene produced
its full impression, the art with which she surmounted its difficulties,
the liberality with which she met its great demand upon the voice, and
the variety of expression that she threw into a torrent of objurgation.
It was a real composition, studded with passages that called a
suppressed tribute to the lips and seeming to show that a talent capable
of such an exhibition was capable of anything.


"But thou art fair, and at thy birth, dear boy,
Nature and Fortune join'd to make thee great:
Of Nature's gifts thou mayst with lilies boast,
And with the half-blown rose."

As the girl turned to her imagined child with this exquisite
apostrophe--she addressed Mr. Dashwood as if he were playing Arthur, and
he lowered his book, dropped his head and his eyes and looked handsome
and ingenuous--she opened at a stroke to Sherringham's vision a prospect
that they would yet see her express tenderness better even than anything
else. Her voice was enchanting in these lines, and the beauty of her
performance was that though she uttered the full fury of the part she
missed none of its poetry.

"Where did she get hold of that--where did she get hold of that?" Peter
wondered while his whole sense vibrated. "She hadn't got hold of it when
I went away." And the assurance flowed over him again that she had found
the key to her box of treasures. In the summer, during their weeks of
frequent meeting, she had only fumbled with the lock. One October day,
while he was away, the key had slipped in, had fitted, or her finger at
last had touched the right spring and the capricious casket had flown
open.

It was during the present solemnity that, excited by the way she came
out and with a hundred stirred ideas about her wheeling through his
mind, he was for the first time and most vividly visited by a perception
that ended by becoming frequent with him--that of the perfect presence
of mind, unconfused, unhurried by emotion, that any artistic performance
requires and that all, whatever the instrument, require in exactly the
same degree: the application, in other words, clear and calculated,
crystal-firm as it were, of the idea conceived in the glow of
experience, of suffering, of joy. He was afterwards often to talk of
this with Miriam, who, however, was never to be able to present him with
a neat theory of the subject. She had no knowledge that it was publicly
discussed; she only ranged herself in practice on the side of those who
hold that at the moment of production the artist can't too much have his
wits about him. When Peter named to her the opinion of those maintaining
that at such a crisis the office of attention ceases to be filled she
stared with surprise and then broke out: "Ah the poor idiots!" She
eventually became, in her judgements, in impatience and the expression
of contempt, very free and absolutely irreverent.

"What a splendid scolding!" the new visitor exclaimed when, on the
entrance of the Pope's legate, her companion closed the book on the
scene. Peter pressed his lips to Madame Carré's finger-tips; the old
actress got up and held out her arms to Miriam. The girl never took her
eyes off Sherringham while she passed into that lady's embrace and
remained there. They were full of their usual sombre fire, and it was
always the case that they expressed too much anything they could express
at all; but they were not defiant nor even triumphant now--they were
only deeply explicative. They seemed to say, "That's the sort of thing
I meant; that's what I had in mind when I asked you to try to do
something for me." Madame Carré folded her pupil to her bosom, holding
her there as the old marquise in a _comédie de moeurs_ might in the last
scene have held her god-daughter the _ingénue_.

"Have you got me an engagement?"--the young woman then appealed eagerly
to her friend. "Yes, he has done something splendid for me," she went on
to Madame Carré, resting her hand caressingly on one of the actress's
while the old woman discoursed with Mr. Dashwood, who was telling her in
very pretty French that he was tremendously excited about Miss Rooth.
Madame Carré looked at him as if she wondered how he appeared when he
was calm and how, as a dramatic artist, he expressed that condition.

"Yes, yes, something splendid, for a beginning," Peter answered
radiantly, recklessly; feeling now only that he would say anything and
do anything to please her. He spent on the spot, in imagination, his
last penny.

"It's such a pity you couldn't follow it; you'd have liked it so much
better," Mr. Dashwood observed to their hostess.

"Couldn't follow it? Do you take me for _une sotte_?" the celebrated
artist cried. "I suspect I followed it _de plus près que vous,
monsieur_!"

"Ah you see the language is so awfully fine," Basil Dashwood replied,
looking at his shoes.

"The language? Why she rails like a fish-wife. Is that what you call
language? Ours is another business."

"If you understood, if you understood, you'd see all the greatness of
it," Miriam declared. And then in another tone: "Such delicious
expressions!"

"_On dit que c'est très-fort_. But who can tell if you really say it?"
Madame Carré demanded.

"Ah, _par exemple_, I can!" Sherringham answered.

"Oh you--you're a Frenchman."

"Couldn't he make it out if he weren't?" asked Basil Dashwood.

The old woman shrugged her shoulders. "He wouldn't know."

"That's flattering to me."

"Oh you--don't you pretend to complain," Madame Carré said. "I prefer
_our_ imprecations--those of Camille," she went on. "They have the
beauty _des plus belles choses_."

"I can say them too," Miriam broke in.

"_Insolente_!" smiled Madame Carré. "Camille doesn't squat down on the
floor in the middle of them.


"For grief is proud and makes his owner stoop.
To me and to the state of my great grief
Let kings assemble,"

Miriam quickly declaimed. "Ah if you don't feel the way she makes a
throne of it!"

"It's really tremendously fine, _chère madame_," Sherringham said.
"There's nothing like it."

"_Vous êtes insupportables_," the old woman answered. "Stay with us.
I'll teach you Phèdre."

"Ah Phædra, Phædra!" Basil Dashwood vaguely ejaculated, looking more
gentlemanly than ever.

"You've learned all I've taught you, but where the devil have you
learned what I haven't?" Madame Carré went on.

"I've worked--I have; you'd call it work--all through the bright, late
summer, all through the hot, dull, empty days. I've battered down the
door--I did hear it crash one day. But I'm not so very good yet. I'm
only in the right direction."

"_Malicieuse_!" growled Madame Carré.

"Oh I can beat that," the girl went on.

"Did you wake up one morning and find you had grown a pair of wings?"
Peter asked. "Because that's what the difference amounts to--you really
soar. Moreover, you're an angel," he added, charmed with her
unexpectedness, the good nature of her forbearance to reproach him for
not having written to her. And it seemed to him privately that she _was_
angelic when in answer to this she said ever so blandly:

"You know you read _King John_ with me before you went away. I thought
over immensely what you said. I didn't understand it much at the time--I
was so stupid. But it all came to me later."

"I wish you could see yourself," Peter returned.

"My dear fellow, I do. What sort of a dunce do you take me for? I didn't
miss a vibration of my voice, a fold of my robe."

"Well, I didn't see you troubling about it," Peter handsomely insisted.

"No one ever will. Do you think I'd ever show it?"

"_Ars celare artem_," Basil Dashwood jocosely dropped.

"You must first have the art to hide," said Sherringham, wondering a
little why Miriam didn't introduce her young friend to him. She was,
however, both then and later perfectly neglectful of such cares, never
thinking, never minding how other people got on together. When she found
they didn't get on she jeered at them: that was the nearest she came to
arranging for them. Our young man noted in her from the moment she felt
her strength an immense increase of this good-humoured inattention to
detail--all detail save that of her work, to which she was ready to
sacrifice holocausts of feelings when the feelings were other people's.
This conferred on her a large profanity, an absence of ceremony as to
her social relations, which was both amusing because it suggested that
she would take what she gave, and formidable because it was inconvenient
and you mightn't care to give what she would take.

"If you haven't any art it's not quite the same as if you didn't hide
it, is it?" Basil Dashwood ingeniously threw out.

"That's right--say one of your clever things!" Miriam sweetly responded.

"You're always acting," he declared in English and with a simple-minded
laugh, while Sherringham remained struck with his expressing just what
he himself had felt weeks before.

"And when you've shown them your fish-wife, to your public _de là-bas_,
what will you do next?" asked Madame Carré.

"I'll do Juliet--I'll do Cleopatra."

"Rather a big bill, isn't it?" Mr. Dashwood volunteered to Sherringham
in a friendly but discriminating manner.

"Constance and Juliet--take care you don't mix them," said Sherringham.

"I want to be various. You once told me I had a hundred characters,"
Miriam returned.

"Ah, _vous en êtes là_?" cried the old actress. "You may have a hundred
characters, but you've only three plays. I'm told that's all there are
in English."

Miriam, admirably indifferent to this charge, appealed to Peter. "What
arrangements have you made? What do the people want?"

"The people at the theatre?"

"I'm afraid they don't want _King John_, and I don't believe they hunger
for _Antony and Cleopatra_," Basil Dashwood suggested. "Ships and sieges
and armies and pyramids, you know: we mustn't be too heavy."

"Oh I hate scenery!" the girl sighed.

"_Elle est superbe_," said Madame Carré. "You must put those pieces on
the stage: how will you do it?"

"Oh we know how to get up a play in London, Madame Carré"--Mr. Dashwood
was all geniality. "They put money on it, you know."

"On it? But what do they put _in_ it? Who'll interpret them? Who'll
manage a style like that--the style of which the rhapsodies she has just
repeated are a specimen? Whom have you got that one has ever heard of?"

"Oh you'll hear of a good deal when once she gets started," Dashwood
cheerfully contended.

Madame Carré looked at him a moment; then, "I feel that you'll become
very bad," she said to Miriam. "I'm glad I shan't see it."

"People will do things for me--I'll make them," the girl declared. "I'll
stir them up so that they'll have ideas."

"What people, pray?"

"Ah terrible woman!" Peter theatrically groaned.

"We translate your pieces--there will be plenty of parts," Basil
Dashwood said.

"Why then go out of the door to come in at the window?--especially if
you smash it! An English arrangement of a French piece is a pretty woman
with her back turned."

"Do you really want to keep her?" Sherringham asked of Madame
Carré--quite as if thinking for a moment that this after all might be
possible.

She bent her strange eyes on him. "No, you're all too queer together. We
couldn't be bothered with you and you're not worth it."

"I'm glad it's 'together' that we're queer then--we can console each
other."

"If you only would; but you don't seem to! In short I don't understand
you--I give you up. But it doesn't matter," said the old woman wearily,
"for the theatre's dead and even you, _ma toute-belle_, won't bring it
to life. Everything's going from bad to worse, and I don't care what
becomes of you. You wouldn't understand us here and they won't
understand you there, and everything's impossible, and no one's a whit
the wiser, and it's not of the least consequence. Only when you raise
your arms lift them just a little higher," Madame Carré added.

"My mother will be happier _chez nous_" said Miriam, throwing her arms
straight up and giving them a noble tragic movement.

"You won't be in the least in the right path till your mother's in
despair."

"Well, perhaps we can bring that about even in London," Sherringham
patiently laughed.

"Dear Mrs. Rooth--she's great fun," Mr. Dashwood as imperturbably
dropped.

Miriam transferred the dark weight of her gaze to him as if she were
practising. "_You_ won't upset her, at any rate." Then she stood with
her beautiful and fatal mask before her hostess. "I want to do the
modern too. I want to do _le drame_, with intense realistic effects."

"And do you want to look like the portico of the Madeleine when it's
draped for a funeral?" her instructress mocked. "Never, never. I don't
believe you're various: that's not the way I see you. You're pure
tragedy, with _de grands éclats de voix_ in the great style, or you're
nothing."

"Be beautiful--be only that," Peter urged with high interest. "Be only
what you can be so well--something that one may turn to for a glimpse of
perfection, to lift one out of all the vulgarities of the day."

Thus apostrophised the girl broke out with one of the speeches of
Racine's Phædra, hushing her companions on the instant. "You'll be the
English Rachel," said Basil Dashwood when she stopped.

"Acting in French!" Madame Carré amended. "I don't believe in an English
Rachel."

"I shall have to work it out, what I shall be," Miriam concluded with a
rich pensive effect.

"You're in wonderfully good form to-day," Sherringham said to her; his
appreciation revealing a personal subjection he was unable to conceal
from his companions, much as he wished it.

"I really mean to do everything."

"Very well; after all Garrick did."

"Then I shall be the Garrick of my sex."

"There's a very clever author doing something for me; I should like you
to see it," said Basil Dashwood, addressing himself equally to Miriam
and to her diplomatic friend.

"Ah if you've very clever authors----!" And Madame Carré spun the sound
to the finest satiric thread.

"I shall be very happy to see it," Peter returned.

This response was so benevolent that Basil Dashwood presently began:
"May I ask you at what theatre you've made arrangements?"

Sherringham looked at him a moment. "Come and see me at the embassy and
I'll tell you." Then he added: "I know your sister, Mrs. Lovick."

"So I supposed: that's why I took the liberty of asking such a
question."

"It's no liberty, but Mr. Sherringham doesn't appear to be able to tell
you," said Miriam.

"Well, you know, it's a very curious world, all those theatrical people
over there," Peter conceded.

"Ah don't say anything against them when I'm one of them," Basil
Dashwood laughed.

"I might plead the absence of information," Peter returned, "as Miss
Rooth has neglected to make us acquainted."

Miriam vaguely smiled. "I know you both so little." But she presented
them with a great stately air to each other, and the two men shook hands
while Madame Carré observed them.

"_Tiens_! you gentlemen meet here for the first time? You do right to
become friends--that's the best thing. Live together in peace and mutual
confidence. _C'est de beaucoup le plus sage_."

"Certainly, for yoke-fellows," said Sherringham.

He began the next moment to repeat to his new acquaintance some of the
things he had been told in London; but their hostess stopped him off,
waving the talk away with charming overdone stage horror and the young
hands of the heroines of Marivaux. "Ah wait till you go--for that! Do
you suppose I care for news of your mountebanks' booths?"


Henry James