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Chapter 24


His counsellor had plenty of further opportunity to develop this and
other figurative remarks, for he not only spent several of the middle
hours of the day at the studio, but came back in the evening--the pair
had dined together at a little foreign pothouse in Soho, revealed to
Nick on this occasion--and discussed the great question far into the
night. The great question was whether, on the showing of those examples
of his ability with which the scene of their discourse was now densely
bestrewn, Nick Dormer would be justified in "really going in" for the
practice of pictorial art. This may strike many readers of his history
as a limited and even trivial inquiry, with little of the heroic or the
romantic in it; but it was none the less carried to the finest point by
our impassioned young men. Nick suspected Nash of exaggerating his
encouragement in order to play a malign trick on the political world at
whose expense it was his fond fancy to divert himself--without indeed
making that organisation perceptibly totter--and reminded him that his
present accusation of immorality was strangely inconsistent with the
wanton hope expressed by him in Paris, the hope that the Liberal
candidate at Harsh would be returned. Nash replied, first, "Oh I hadn't
been in this place then!" but he defended himself later and more
effectually by saying that it was not of Nick's having got elected he
complained: it was of his visible hesitancy to throw up his seat. Nick
begged that he wouldn't mention this, and his gallantry failed to render
him incapable of saying: "The fact is I haven't the nerve for it." They
talked then for a while of what he _could_ do, not of what he couldn't;
of the mysteries and miracles of reproduction and representation; of the
strong, sane joys of the artistic life. Nick made afresh, with more
fulness, his great confession, that his private ideal of happiness was
the life of a great painter of portraits. He uttered his thought on that
head so copiously and lucidly that Nash's own abundance was stilled and
he listened almost as if he had been listening to something
new--difficult as it was to conceive a point of view for such a matter
with which he was unacquainted.

"There it is," said Nick at last--"there's the naked, preposterous
truth: that if I were to do exactly as I liked I should spend my years
reproducing the more or less vacuous countenances of my fellow-mortals.
I should find peace and pleasure and wisdom and worth, I should find
fascination and a measure of success in it--out of the din and the dust
and the scramble, the world of party labels, party cries, party bargains
and party treacheries: of humbuggery, hypocrisy and cant. The cleanness
and quietness of it, the independent effort to do something, to leave
something which shall give joy to man long after the howling has died
away to the last ghost of an echo--such a vision solicits me in the
watches of night with an almost irresistible force."

As he dropped these remarks he lolled on a big divan with one of his
long legs folded up, while his visitor stopped in front of him after
moving about the room vaguely and softly, almost on tiptoe, so as not to
interrupt him. "You speak," Nash said, "with the special and dreadful
eloquence that rises to a man's lips when he has practically, whatever
his theory may be, renounced the right and dropped hideously into the
wrong. Then his regret for the right, a certain exquisite appreciation
of it, puts on an accent I know well how to recognise."

Nick looked up at him a moment. "You've hit it if you mean by that that
I haven't resigned my seat and that I don't intend to."

"I thought you took it only to give it up. Don't you remember our talk
in Paris?"

"I like to be a part of the spectacle that amuses you," Nick returned,
"but I could scarcely have taken so much trouble as that for it."

"Isn't it then an absurd comedy, the life you lead?"

"Comedy or tragedy--I don't know which; whatever it is I appear to be
capable of it to please two or three people."

"Then you _can_ take trouble?" said Nash.

"Yes, for the woman I'm to marry."

"Oh you're to marry?"

"That's what has come on since we met in Paris," Nick explained, "and it
makes just the difference."

"Ah my poor friend," smiled Gabriel, much arrested, "no wonder you've an
eloquence, an accent!"

"It's a pity I have them in the wrong place. I'm expected to have them
in the House of Commons."

"You will when you make your farewell speech there--to announce that you
chuck it up. And may I venture to ask who's to be your wife?" the
visitor pursued.

"Mrs. Dallow has kindly consented to accept that yoke. I think you saw
her in Paris."

"Ah yes: you spoke of her to me, and I remember asking you even then if
you were in love with her."

"I wasn't then," said Nick.

Nash had a grave pause. "And are you now?"

"Oh dear, yes."

"That would be better--if it wasn't worse."

"Nothing could be better," Nick declared. "It's the best thing that can
happen to me."

"Well," his friend continued, "you must let me very respectfully
approach this lady. You must let me bring her round."

"Bring her round to what?"

"To everything. Talk her over."

"Talk her under!" Nick laughed--but making his joke a little as to gain
time. He remembered the effect this adviser had produced on Julia--an
effect that scantly ministered to the idea of another meeting. Julia had
had no occasion to allude again to Nick's imperturbable friend; he had
passed out of her life at once and for ever; but there flickered up a
quick memory of the contempt he had led her to express, together with a
sense of how odd she would think it her intended should have thrown over
two pleasant visits to cultivate such company.

"Over to a proper pride in what you may do," Nash returned--"what you
may do above all if she'll help you."

"I scarcely see how she can help me," said Nick with an air of thinking.

"She's extremely handsome as I remember her. You could do great things
with _her_."

"Ah, there's the rub," Nick went on. "I wanted her to sit for me this
week, but she wouldn't hear of it."

"_Elle a bien tort_. You should attack some fine strong type. Is Mrs.
Dallow in London?" Nash inquired.

"For what do you take her? She's paying visits."

"Then I've a model for you."

"Then _you_ have--?" Nick stared. "What has that to do with Mrs.
Dallow's being away?"

"Doesn't it give you more time?"

"Oh the time flies!" sighed Nick with a spontaneity that made his
companion again laugh out--a demonstration in which for a moment he
himself rather ruefully joined.

"Does she like you to paint?" that personage asked with one of his
candid intonations.

"So she says."

"Well, do something fine to show her."

"I'd rather show it to you," Nick confessed.

"My dear fellow, I see it from here--if you do your duty. Do you
remember the Tragic Muse?" Nash added for explanation.

"The Tragic Muse?"

"That girl in Paris, whom we heard at the old actress's and afterwards
met at the charming entertainment given by your cousin--isn't he?--the
secretary of embassy."

"Oh Peter's girl! Of course I remember her."

"Don't call her Peter's; call her rather mine," Nash said with easy
rectification. "I invented her. I introduced her. I revealed her."

"I thought you on the contrary ridiculed and repudiated her."

"As a fine, handsome young woman surely not--I seem to myself to have
been all the while rendering her services. I said I disliked tea-party
ranters, and so I do; but if my estimate of her powers was below the
mark she has more than punished me."

"What has she done?" Nick asked.

"She has become interesting, as I suppose you know."

"How should I know?"

"Well, you must see her, you must paint her," Nash returned. "She tells
me something was said about it that day at Madame Carré's."

"Oh I remember--said by Peter."

"Then it will please Mr. Sherringham--you'll be glad to do that. I
suppose you know all he has done for Miriam?" Gabriel pursued.

"Not a bit, I know nothing about Peter's affairs," Nick said, "unless it
be in general that he goes in for mountebanks and mimes and that it
occurs to me I've heard one of my sisters mention--the rumour had come
to her--that he has been backing Miss Rooth."

"Miss Rooth delights to talk of his kindness; she's charming when she
speaks of it. It's to his good offices that she owes her appearance
here."

"Here?" Nick's interest rose. "Is she in London?"

"_D'où tombez-vous_? I thought you people read the papers."

"What should I read, when I sit--sometimes--through the stuff they put
into them?"

"Of course I see that--that your engagement at your own variety-show,
with its interminable 'turns,' keeps you from going to the others. Learn
then," said Gabriel Nash, "that you've a great competitor and that
you're distinctly not, much as you may suppose it, _the_ rising
comedian. The Tragic Muse is the great modern personage. Haven't you
heard people speak of her, haven't you been taken to see her?"

Nick bethought himself. "I daresay I've heard of her, but with a good
many other things on my mind I had forgotten it."

"Certainly I can imagine what has been on your mind. She remembers you
at any rate; she repays neglect with sympathy. She wants," said Nash,
"to come and see you."

"'See' me?" It was all for Nick now a wonder.

"To be seen by you--it comes to the same thing. She's really worth
seeing; you must let me bring her; you'll find her very suggestive. That
idea that you should paint her--she appears to consider it a sort of
bargain."

"A bargain?" Our young man entered, as he believed, into the humour of
the thing. "What will she give me?"

"A splendid model. She _is_ splendid."

"Oh then bring her," said Nick.

Henry James