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 27


Nick went to Great Stanhope Street at five o'clock and learned, rather
to his surprise, that Julia was not at home--to his surprise because he
had told her he would come at that hour, and he attributed to her, with
a certain simplicity, an eager state of mind in regard to his
explanation. Apparently she was not eager; the eagerness was his own--he
was eager to explain. He recognised, not without a certain consciousness
of magnanimity in doing so, that there had been some reason for her
quick withdrawal from his studio or at any rate for her extreme
discomposure there. He had a few days before put in a plea for a snatch
of worship in that sanctuary and she had accepted and approved it; but
the worship, when the curtain happened to blow back, showed for that of
a magnificent young woman, an actress with disordered hair, who wore in
a singular degree the appearance of a person settled for many hours. The
explanation was easy: it dwelt in the simple truth that when one was
painting, even very badly and only for a moment, one had to have models.
Nick was impatient to give it with frank, affectionate lips and a full,
pleasant admission that it was natural Julia should have been startled;
and he was the more impatient that, though he would not in the least
have expected her to like finding a strange woman intimately installed
with him, she had disliked it even more than would have seemed probable
or natural. That was because, not having heard from him about the
matter, the impression was for the moment irresistible with her that a
trick had been played her. But three minutes with him alone would make
the difference.

They would indeed have a considerable difference to make, Nick
reflected, as minutes much more numerous elapsed without bringing Mrs.
Dallow home. For he had said to the butler that he would come in and
wait--though it was odd she should not have left a message for him: she
would doubtless return from one moment to the other. He had of course
full licence to wait anywhere he preferred; and he was ushered into
Julia's particular sitting-room and supplied with tea and the evening
papers. After a quarter of an hour, however, he gave little attention to
these beguilements, thanks to his feeling still more acutely that since
she definitely knew he was coming she might have taken the trouble to be
at home. He walked up and down and looked out of the window, took up her
books and dropped them again, and then, as half an hour had elapsed,
became aware he was really sore. What could she be about when, with
London a thankless void, she was of course not paying visits? A footman
came in to attend to the fire, whereupon Nick questioned him as to the
manner in which she was possibly engaged. The man disclosed the fact
that his mistress had gone out but a quarter of an hour before Nick's
arrival, and, as if appreciating the opportunity for a little decorous
conversation, gave him still more information than he invited. From this
it appeared that, as Nick knew, or could surmise, she had the evening
before, from the country, wired for the victoria to meet her in the
morning at Paddington and then gone straight from the station to the
studio, while her maid, with her luggage, proceeded in a cab to Great
Stanhope Street. On leaving the studio, however, she had not come
directly home; she had chosen this unusual season for an hour's drive in
the Park. She had finally re-entered her house, but had remained
upstairs all day, seeing no one and not coming down to luncheon. At four
o'clock she had ordered the brougham for four forty-five, and had got
into it punctually, saying, "To the Park!" as she did so.

Nick, after the footman had left him, made what he could of Julia's
sudden passion for the banks of the Serpentine, forsaken and foggy now,
inasmuch as the afternoon had come on grey and the light was waning. She
usually hated the Park and hated a closed carriage. He had a gruesome
vision of her, shrunken into a corner of her brougham and veiled as if
in consequence of tears, revolving round the solitude of the Drive. She
had of course been deeply displeased and was not herself; the motion of
the carriage soothed her, had an effect on her nerves. Nick remembered
that in the morning, at his door, she had appeared to be going home; so
she had plunged into the drearier resort on second thoughts and as she
noted herself near it. He lingered another half-hour, walked up and down
the room many times and thought of many things. Had she misunderstood
him when he said he would come at five? Couldn't she be sure, even if
she had, that he would come early rather than late, and mightn't she
have left a message for him on the chance? Going out that way a few
minutes before he was to come had even a little the air of a thing done
on purpose to offend him; as if she had been so displeased that she had
taken the nearest occasion of giving him a sign she meant to break with
him. But were these the things Julia did and was that the way she did
them--his fine, proud, delicate, generous Julia?

When six o'clock came poor Nick felt distinctly resentful; but he stayed
ten minutes longer on the possibility that she would in the morning have
understood him to mention that hour. The April dusk began to gather and
the unsociability of her behaviour, especially if she were still
rumbling round the Park, became absurd. Anecdotes came back to him,
vaguely remembered, heard he couldn't have said when or where, of poor
artists for whom life had been rendered difficult by wives who wouldn't
allow them the use of the living female model and who made scenes if
they encountered on the staircase such sources of inspiration. These
ladies struck him as vulgar and odious persons, with whom it seemed
grotesque that Julia should have anything in common. Of course she was
not his wife yet, and of course if she were he should have washed his
hands of every form of activity requiring the services of the sitter;
but even these qualifications left him with a power to wince at the way
in which the woman he was so sure he loved just escaped ranking herself
with the Philistines.

At a quarter past six he rang a bell and told the servant who answered
it that he was going and that Mrs. Dallow was to be informed as soon as
she came in that he had expected to find her and had waited an hour and
a quarter. But he had just reached the doorstep of departure when her
brougham, emerging from the evening mist, stopped in front of the house.
Nick stood there hanging back till she got out, allowing the servants
only to help her. She saw him--she was less veiled than his mental
vision of her; but this didn't prevent her pausing to give an order to
the coachman, a matter apparently requiring some discussion. When she
came to the door her visitor remarked that he had been waiting an
eternity; to which she replied that he must make no grievance of
that--she was too unwell to do him justice. He immediately professed
regret and sympathy, adding, however, that in that case she had much
better not have gone out. She made no answer to this--there were three
servants in the hall who looked as if they might understand at least
what was not said to them; only when he followed her in she asked if his
idea had been to stay longer.

"Certainly, if you're not too ill to see me."

"Come in then," Julia said, turning back after having gone to the foot
of the stairs.

This struck him immediately as a further restriction of his visit: she
wouldn't readmit him to the drawing-room or to her boudoir; she would
receive him in the impersonal apartment downstairs where she saw people
on business. What did she want to do to him? He was prepared by this
time for a scene of jealousy, since he was sure he had learned to read
her character justly in feeling that if she had the appearance of a cold
woman a forked flame in her was liable on occasion to break out. She was
very still, but from time to time she would fire off a pistol. As soon
as he had closed the door she said without sitting down:

"I daresay you saw I didn't like that at all."

"My having a sitter in that professional way? I was very much annoyed at
it myself," Nick answered.

"Why were _you_ annoyed? She's very handsome," Mrs. Dallow perversely
said.

"I didn't know you had looked at her!" Nick laughed.

Julia had a pause. "Was I very rude?"

"Oh it was all right; it was only awkward for me because you didn't
know," he replied.

"I did know; that's why I came."

"How do you mean? My letter couldn't have reached you."

"I don't know anything about your letter," Julia cast about her for a
chair and then seated herself on the edge of a sofa with her eyes on the
floor.

"She sat to me yesterday; she was there all the morning; but I didn't
write to tell you. I went at her with great energy and, absurd as it may
seem to you, found myself very tired afterwards. Besides, in the evening
I went to see her act."

"Does she act?" asked Mrs. Dallow.

"She's an actress: it's her profession. Don't you remember her that day
at Peter's in Paris? She's already a celebrity; she has great talent;
she's engaged at a theatre here and is making a sensation. As I tell
you, I saw her last night."

"You needn't tell me," Julia returned, looking up at him with a face of
which the intense, the tragic sadness startled him.

He had been standing before her, but at this he instantly sat down
close, taking her passive hand. "I want to, please; otherwise it must
seem so odd to you. I knew she was coming when I wrote to you the day
before yesterday. But I didn't tell you then because I didn't know how
it would turn out, and I didn't want to exult in advance over a poor
little attempt that might come to nothing. Moreover, it was no use
speaking of the matter at all unless I told you exactly how it had come
about," Nick went on, explaining kindly and copiously. "It was the
result of a visit unexpectedly paid me by Gabriel Nash."

"That man--the man who spoke to me?" Her memory of him shuddered into
life.

"He did what he thought would please you, but I daresay it didn't. You
met him in Paris and didn't like him; so I judged best to hold my tongue
about him."

"Do _you_ like him?"

"Very much."

"Great heaven!" Julia ejaculated, almost under her breath.

"The reason I was annoyed was because, somehow, when you came in, I
suddenly had the air of having got out of those visits and shut myself
up in town to do something that I had kept from you. And I have been
very unhappy till I could explain."

"You don't explain--you can't explain," Mrs Dallow declared, turning on
her companion eyes which, in spite of her studied stillness, expressed
deep excitement. "I knew it--I knew everything; that's why I came."

"It was a sort of second-sight--what they call a brainwave," Nick
smiled.

"I felt uneasy, I felt a kind of call; it came suddenly, yesterday. It
was irresistible; nothing could have kept me this morning."

"That's very serious, but it's still more delightful. You mustn't go
away again," said Nick. "We must stick together--forever and ever."

He put his arm round her, but she detached herself as soon as she felt
its pressure. She rose quickly, moving away, while, mystified, he sat
looking up at her as she had looked a few moments before at him. "I've
thought it all over; I've been thinking of it all day," she began.
"That's why I didn't come in."

"Don't think of it too much; it isn't worth it."

"You like it more than anything else. You do--you can't deny it," she
went on.

"My dear child, what are you talking about?" Nick asked, gently...

"That's what you like--doing what you were this morning; with women
lolling, with their things off, to be painted, and people like that
man."

Nick slowly got up, hesitating. "My dear Julia, apart from the surprise
this morning, do you object to the living model?"

"Not a bit, for you."

"What's the inconvenience then, since in my studio they're only for me?"

"You love it, you revel in it; that's what you want--the only thing you
want!" Julia broke out.

"To have models, lolling undressed women, do you mean?"

"That's what I felt, what I knew," she went on--"what came over me and
haunted me yesterday so that I couldn't throw it off. It seemed to me
that if I could see it with my eyes and have the perfect proof I should
feel better, I should be quiet. And now I _am_ quiet--after a struggle
of some hours, I confess. I _have_ seen; the whole thing's before me and
I'm satisfied."

"I'm not--to me neither the whole thing nor half of it is before me.
What exactly are you talking about?" Nick demanded.

"About what you were doing this morning. That's your innermost
preference, that's your secret passion."

"A feeble scratch at something serious? Yes, it was almost serious," he
said. "But it was an accident, this morning and yesterday: I got on less
wretchedly than I intended."

"I'm sure you've immense talent," Julia returned with a dreariness that
was almost droll.

"No, no, I might have had. I've plucked it up: it's too late for it to
flower. My dear Julia, I'm perfectly incompetent and perfectly
resigned."

"Yes, you looked so this morning, when you hung over her. Oh she'll
bring back your talent!"

"She's an obliging and even an intelligent creature, and I've no doubt
she would if she could," Nick conceded. "But I've received from you all
the help any woman's destined to give me. No one can do for me again
what you've done."

"I shouldn't try it again; I acted in ignorance. Oh I've thought it all
out!" Julia declared. And then with a strange face of anguish resting on
his own: "Before it's too late--before it's too late!"

"Too late for what?"

"For you to be free--for you to be free. And for me--for me to be free
too. You hate everything I like!" she flashed out. "Don't pretend, don't
pretend!" she went on as a sound of protest broke from him.

"I thought you so awfully _wanted_ me to paint," he gasped, flushed and
staring.

"I do--I do. That's why you must be free, why we must part?"

"Why we must part--?"

"Oh I've turned it well over. I've faced the hard truth. It wouldn't do
at all!" Julia rang out.

"I like the way you talk of it--as if it were a trimming for your
dress!" Nick retorted with bitterness. "Won't it do for you to be loved
and cherished as well as any woman in England?"

She turned away from him, closing her eyes as not to see something
dangerous. "You mustn't give anything up for me. I should feel it all
the while and I should hate it. I'm not afraid of the truth, but you
are."

"The truth, dear Julia? I only want to know it," Nick insisted. "It
seems to me in fact just what I've got hold of. When two persons are
united by the tenderest affection and are sane and generous and just, no
difficulties that occur in the union their life makes for them are
insurmountable, no problems are insoluble."

She appeared for a moment to reflect upon this: it was spoken in a tone
that might have touched her. Yet at the end of the moment, lifting her
eyes, she brought out: "I hate art, as you call it. I thought I did, I
knew I did; but till this morning I didn't know how much."

"Bless your dear soul, _that_ wasn't art," Nick pleaded. "The real thing
will be a thousand miles away from us; it will never come into the
house, _soyez tranquille_. It knows where to look in and where to flee
shrieking. Why then should you worry?"

"Because I want to understand, I want to know what I'm doing. You're an
artist: you are, you are!" Julia cried, accusing him passionately.

"My poor Julia, it isn't so easy as that, nor a character one can take
on from one day to the other. There are all sorts of things; one must be
caught young and put through the mill--one must see things as they are.
There are very few professions that goes with. There would be sacrifices
I never can make."

"Well then, there are sacrifices for both of us, and I can't make them
either. I daresay it's all right for you, but for me it would be a
terrible mistake. When I think I'm doing a certain thing I mustn't do
just the opposite," she kept on as for true lucidity. "There are things
I've thought of, the things I like best; and they're not what you mean.
It would be a great deception, and it's not the way I see my life, and
it would be misery if we don't understand."

He looked at her with eyes not lighted by her words. "If we don't
understand what?"

"That we're utterly different--that you're doing it all for _me_."

"And is that an objection to me--what I do for you?" he asked.

"You do too much. You're awfully good, you're generous, you're a dear,
oh yes--a dear. But that doesn't make me believe in it. I didn't at
bottom, from the first--that's why I made you wait, why I gave you your
freedom. Oh I've suspected you," Julia continued, "I had my ideas. It's
all right for you, but it won't do for me: I'm different altogether. Why
should it always be put upon me when I hate it? What have I done? I was
drenched with it before." These last words, as they broke forth, were
attended with a quick blush; so that Nick could as quickly discern in
them the uncalculated betrayal of an old irritation, an old shame
almost--her late husband's flat, inglorious taste for pretty things, his
indifference to every chance to play a public part. This had been the
humiliation of her youth, and it was indeed a perversity of fate that a
new alliance should contain for her even an oblique demand for the same
spirit of accommodation, impose on her the secret bitterness of the same
concessions. As Nick stood there before her, struggling sincerely with
the force that he now felt to be strong in her, the intense resolution
to break with him, a force matured in a few hours, he read a riddle that
hitherto had baffled him, saw a great mystery become simple. A personal
passion for him had all but thrown her into his arms (the sort of thing
that even a vain man--and Nick was not especially vain--might hesitate
to recognise the strength of); held in check at moments, with a strain
of the cord that he could still feel vibrate, by her deep, her rare
ambition, and arrested at the last only just in time to save her
calculations. His present glimpse of the immense extent of these
calculations didn't make him think her cold or poor; there was in fact a
positive strange heat in them and they struck him rather as grand and
high. The fact that she could drop him even while she longed for
him--drop him because it was now fixed in her mind that he wouldn't
after all serve her resolve to be associated, so far as a woman could,
with great affairs; that she could postpone, and postpone to an
uncertainty, the satisfaction of an aching tenderness and plan for the
long run--this exhibition of will and courage, of the larger scheme that
possessed her, commanded his admiration on the spot. He paid the heavy
price of the man of imagination; he was capable of far excursions of the
spirit, disloyalties to habit and even to faith, he was open to rare
communications. He ached, on his side, for the moment, to convince her
that he would achieve what he wouldn't, for the vision of his future she
had tried to entertain shone before him as a bribe and a challenge. It
struck him there was nothing he couldn't work for enough with her to be
so worked with by her. Presently he said:

"You want to be sure the man you marry will be prime minister of
England. But how can you be really sure with any one?"

"I can be really sure some men won't!" Julia returned.

"The only safe thing perhaps would be to-marry Mr. Macgeorge," he
suggested.

"Possibly not even him."

"You're a prime minister yourself," Nick made answer. "To hold fast to
you as I hold, to be determined to be of your party--isn't that
political enough, since you're the incarnation of politics?"

"Ah how you hate them!" she wailed again. "I saw that when I saw you
this morning. The whole place reeked of your aversion."

"My dear child, the greatest statesmen have had their distractions. What
do you make of my hereditary talent? That's a tremendous force."

"It wouldn't carry you far." Then she terribly added, "You must be a
great artist." He tossed his head at the involuntary contempt of this,
but she went on: "It's beautiful of you to want to give up anything, and
I like you for it. I shall always like you. We shall be friends, and I
shall always take an interest--!"

But he stopped her there, made a movement which interrupted her phrase,
and she suffered him to hold her hand as if she were not afraid of him
now. "It isn't only for you," he argued gently; "you're a great deal,
but you're not everything. Innumerable vows and pledges repose upon my
head. I'm inextricably committed and dedicated. I was brought up in the
temple like an infant Samuel; my father was a high-priest and I'm a
child of the Lord. And then the life itself--when _you_ speak of it I
feel stirred to my depths; it's like a herald's trumpet. Fight _with_
me, Julia--not against me! Be on my side and we shall do everything. It
is uplifting to be a great man before the people--to be loved by them,
to be followed by them. An artist isn't--never, never. Why _should_ he
be? Don't forget how clever I am."

"Oh if it wasn't for that!" she panted, pale with the effort to resist
his tone. Then she put it to him: "Do you pretend that if I were to die
to-morrow you'd stay in the House?"

"If you were to die? God knows! But you do singularly little justice to
my incentives," he pursued. "My political career's everything to my
mother."

This but made her say after a moment: "Are you afraid of your mother?"

"Yes, immensely; for she represents ever so many possibilities of
disappointment and distress. She represents all my father's as well as
all her own, and in them my father tragically lives again. On the other
hand I see him in bliss, as I see my mother, over our marriage and our
life of common aspirations--though of course that's not a consideration
that I can expect to have power with you."

She shook her head slowly, even smiling with her recovered calmness and
lucidity. "You'll never hold high office."

"But why not take me as I am?"

"Because I'm abominably keen about that sort of thing--I must recognise
my keenness. I must face the ugly truth. I've been through the worst;
it's all settled."

"The worst, I suppose, was when you found me this morning."

"Oh that was all right--for you."

"You're magnanimous, Julia; but evidently what's good enough for me
isn't good enough for you." Nick spoke with bitterness.

"I don't like you enough--that's the obstacle," she held herself in hand
to say.

"You did a year ago; you confessed to it."

"Well, a year ago was a year ago. Things are changed to-day."

"You're very fortunate--to be able to throw away a real devotion," Nick
returned.

She had her pocket-handkerchief in her hand, and at this she quickly
pressed it to her lips as to check an exclamation. Then for an instant
she appeared to be listening to some sound from outside. He interpreted
her movement as an honourable impulse to repress the "Do you mean the
devotion I was witness of this morning?" But immediately afterwards she
said something very different: "I thought I heard a ring. I've
telegraphed for Mrs. Gresham."

He wondered. "Why did you do that?"

"Oh I want her."

He walked to the window, where the curtains had not been drawn, and saw
in the dusk a cab at the door. When he turned back he went on: "Why
won't you trust me to make you like me, as you call it, better? If I
make you like me as well as I like you it will be about enough, I
think."

"Oh I like you enough for _your_ happiness. And I don't throw away a
devotion," Mrs. Dallow continued. "I shall be constantly kind to you. I
shall be beautiful to you."

"You'll make me lose a fortune," Nick after a moment said.

It brought a slight convulsion, instantly repressed, into her face. "Ah
you may have all the money you want!"

"I don't mean yours," he answered with plenty of expression of his own.
He had determined on the instant, since it might serve, to tell her what
he had never breathed to her before. "Mr. Carteret last year promised me
a pot of money on the day we should be man and wife. He has thoroughly
set his heart on it."

"I'm sorry to disappoint Mr. Carteret," said Julia. "I'll go and see
him. I'll make it all right," she went on. "Then your work, you know,
will bring you an income. The great men get a thousand just for a head."

"I'm only joking," Nick returned with sombre eyes that contradicted this
profession. "But what things you deserve I should do!"

"Do you mean striking likenesses?"

He watched her a moment. "You do hate it! Pushed to that point, it's
curious," he audibly mused.

"Do you mean you're joking about Mr. Carteret's promise?"

"No--the promise is real, but I don't seriously offer it as a reason."

"I shall go to Beauclere," Julia said. "You're an hour late," she added
in a different tone; for at that moment the door of the room was thrown
open and Mrs. Gresham, the butler pronouncing her name, ushered in.

"Ah don't impugn my punctuality--it's my character!" the useful lady
protested, putting a sixpence from the cabman into her purse. Nick went
off at this with a simplified farewell--went off foreseeing exactly what
he found the next day, that the useful lady would have received orders
not to budge from her hostess's side. He called on the morrow, late in
the afternoon, and Julia saw him liberally, in the spirit of her
assurance that she would be "beautiful" to him, that she had not thrown
away his devotion; but Mrs. Gresham remained, with whatever delicacies
of deprecation, a spectator of her liberality. Julia looked at him
kindly, but her companion was more benignant still; so that what Nick
did with his own eyes was not to appeal to her to see him a moment
alone, but to solicit, in the name of this luxury, the second occupant
of the drawing-room. Mrs. Gresham seemed to say, while Julia said so
little, "I understand, my poor friend, I know everything--she has told
me only _her_ side, but I'm so competent that I know yours too--and I
enter into the whole thing deeply. But it would be as much as my place
is worth to accommodate you." Still, she didn't go so far as to give him
an inkling of what he learned on the third day and what he had not gone
so far as to suspect--that the two ladies had made rapid arrangements
for a scheme of foreign travel. These arrangements had already been
carried out when, at the door of the house in Great Stanhope Street, the
announcement was made him that the subtle creatures had started that
morning for Paris.

Henry James