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Chapter 42


Nick Dormer had for the hour quite taken up his abode at his studio,
where Biddy usually arrived after breakfast to give him news of the
state of affairs in Calcutta Gardens and where many letters and
telegrams were now addressed him. Among such missives, on the morning of
the Saturday on which Peter Sherringham had promised to dine at the
other house, was a note from Miriam Rooth, informing Nick that if he
shouldn't telegraph to put her off she would turn up about half-past
eleven, probably with her mother, for just one more sitting. She added
that it was a nervous day for her and that she couldn't keep still, so
that it would really be very kind to let her come to him as a refuge.
She wished to stay away from the theatre, where everything was now
settled--or so much the worse for the others if it wasn't--till the
evening; in spite of which she should if left to herself be sure to go
there. It would keep her quiet and soothe her to sit--he could keep her
quiet (he was such a blessing that way!) at any time. Therefore she
would give him two or three hours--or rather she would herself ask for
them--if he didn't positively turn her from the door.

It had not been definite to Nick that he wanted another sitting at all
for the slight work, as he held it to be, that Miriam had already helped
him to achieve. He regarded this work as a mere light wind-fall of the
shaken tree: he had made what he could of it and would have been
embarrassed to make more. If it was not finished this was because it was
not finishable; at any rate he had said all he had to say in that
particular phrase. The young man, in truth, was not just now in the
highest spirits; his imagination had within two or three days become
conscious of a check that he tried to explain by the idea of a natural
reaction. Any decision or violent turn, any need of a new sharp choice
in one's career, was upsetting, and, exaggerate that importance and
one's own as little as one would, a deal of flurry couldn't help
attending, especially in the face of so much scandal, the horrid act,
odious to one's modesty at the best, of changing one's clothes in the
marketplace. That made life not at all positively pleasant, yet
decidedly thrilling, for the hour; and it was well enough till the
thrill abated. When this occurred, as it inevitably would, the romance
and the glow of the adventure were exchanged for the chill and the
prose. It was to these latter elements he had waked up pretty wide on
this particular morning; and the prospect was not appreciably fresher
from the fact that he had warned himself in advance it would be dull. He
had in fact known how dull it would be, but now he would have time to
learn even better. A reaction was a reaction, but it was not after all a
catastrophe. It would be a feature of his very freedom that he should
ask himself if he hadn't made a great mistake; this privilege would
doubtless even remain within the limits of its nature in exposing him to
hours of intimate conviction of his madness. But he would live to
retract his retractations--this was the first thing to bear in mind.

He was absorbed, even while he dressed, in the effort to achieve
intelligibly to himself some such revolution when, by the first post,
Miriam's note arrived. At first it did little to help his agility--it
made him, seeing her esthetic faith as so much stronger and simpler than
his own, wonder how he should keep with her at her high level. Ambition,
in her, was always on the rush, and she was not a person to conceive
that others might in bad moments listen for the trumpet in vain. It
would never have occurred to her that only the day before he had spent a
part of the afternoon quite at the bottom of the hill. He had in fact
turned into the National Gallery and had wandered about there for more
than an hour, and it was just while he did so that the immitigable
recoil had begun perversely to make itself felt. The perversity was all
the greater from the fact that if the experience was depressing this was
not because he had been discouraged beyond measure by the sight of the
grand things that had been done--things so much grander than any that
would ever bear his signature. That variation he was duly acquainted
with and should know in abundance again. What had happened to him, as he
passed on this occasion from Titian to Rubens and from Gainsborough to
Rembrandt, was that he found himself calling the whole exhibited art
into question. What was it after all at the best and why had people
given it so high a place? Its weakness, its limits broke upon him;
tacitly blaspheming he looked with a lustreless eye at the palpable,
polished, "toned" objects designed for suspension on hooks. That is, he
blasphemed if it were blasphemy to feel that as bearing on the energies
of man they were a poor and secondary show. The human force producing
them was so far from one of the greatest; their place was a small place
and their connexion with the heroic life casual and slight. They
represented so little great ideas, and it was great ideas that kept the
world from chaos. He had incontestably been in much closer relation with
them a few months before than he was to-day: it made up a great deal
for what was false and hollow, what was merely personal, in "politics"
that, were the idea greater or smaller, they could at their best so
directly deal with it. The love of it had really been much of the time
at the bottom of his impulse to follow them up; though this was not what
he had most talked of with his political friends or even with Julia. No,
political as Julia was, he had not conferred with her much about the
idea. However, this might have been his own fault quite as much as hers,
and she in fact took such things, such enthusiasms, for granted--there
was an immense deal in every way that she took for granted. On the other
hand, he had often put forward this brighter side of the care for the
public weal in his discussions with Gabriel Nash, to the end, it is
true, of making that worthy scoff aloud at what he was pleased to term
his hypocrisy. Gabriel maintained precisely that there were more ideas,
more of those that man lived by, in a single room of the National
Gallery than in all the statutes of Parliament. Nick had replied to this
more than once that the determination of what man did live by was
required; to which Nash had retorted (and it was very rarely that he
quoted Scripture) that it was at any rate not by bread and beans alone.
The statutes of Parliament gave him bread and beans _tout au plus_.

Nick had at present no pretension of trying this question over again: he
reminded himself that his ambiguity was subjective, as the philosophers
said; the result of a mood which in due course would be at the mercy of
another mood. It made him curse, and cursing, as a finality, lacked
firmness--one had to drive in posts somewhere under. The greatest time
to do one's work was when it didn't seem worth doing, for then one gave
it a brilliant chance, that of resisting the stiffest test of all--the
test of striking one as too bad. To do the most when there would be the
least to be got by it was to be most in the spirit of high production.
One thing at any rate was certain, Nick reflected: nothing on earth
would induce him to change back again--not even if this twilight of the
soul should last for the rest of his days. He hardened himself in his
posture with a good conscience which, had they had a glimpse of it,
would have made him still more diverting to those who already thought
him so; and now, by a happy chance, Miriam suddenly supplied the bridge
correcting the gap in his continuity. If he had made his sketch it was a
proof he had done her, and that he had done her flashed upon him as a
sign that she would be still more feasible. Art was _doing_--it came
back to that--which politics in most cases weren't. He thus, to pursue
our image, planted his supports in the dimness beneath all cursing, and
on the platform so improvised was able, in his relief, to dance. He sent
out a telegram to Balaklava Place requesting his beautiful sitter by no
manner of means to fail him. When his servant came back it was to usher
into the studio Peter Sherringham, whom the man had apparently found at
the door.

The hour was so early for general commerce that Nick immediately guessed
his visitor had come on some rare errand; but this inference yielded to
the reflexion that Peter might after all only wish to make up by present
zeal for not having been near him before. He forgot that, as he had
subsequently learned from Biddy, their foreign, or all but foreign,
cousin had spent an hour in Rosedale Road, missing him there but pulling
out Miriam's portrait, the day of his own last visit to Beauclere. These
young men were not on a ceremonious footing and it was not in Nick's
nature to keep a record of civilities rendered or omitted; nevertheless
he had been vaguely conscious that during a stay in London elastic
enough on Peter's part he and his kinsman had foregathered less than of
yore. It was indeed an absorbing moment in the career of each, but even
while recognising such a truth Nick judged it not impossible that
Julia's brother might have taken upon himself to resent some
suppositions failure of consideration for that lady; though this indeed
would have been stupid and the newly appointed minister (to he had
forgotten where) didn't often make mistakes. Nick held that as he had
treated Julia with studious generosity she had nothing whatever to visit
on him--wherefore Peter had still less. It was at any rate none of that
gentleman's business. There were only two abatements to disposing in a
few frank words of all this: one of them Nick's general hatred of
talking of his private affairs (a reluctance in which he and Peter were
well matched); and the other a truth involving more of a confession--the
subtle truth that the most definite and even most soothing result of the
collapse of his engagement was, as happened, an unprecedented
consciousness of freedom. Nick's observation was of a different sort
from his cousin's; he noted much less the signs of the hour and kept
throughout a looser register of life; nevertheless, just as one of our
young men had during these days in London found the air peopled with
personal influences, the concussion of human atoms, so the other, though
only asking to live without too many questions and work without too many
rubs, to be glad and sorry in short on easy terms, had become aware of a
certain social tightness, of the fact that life is crowded and passion
restless, accident and community inevitable. Everybody with whom one had
relations had other relations too, and even indifference was a mixture
and detachment a compromise. The only wisdom was to consent to the
loss, if necessary, of everything but one's temper and to the ruin, if
necessary, of everything but one's work. It must be added that Peter's
relative took precautions against irritation perhaps in excess of the
danger, as departing travellers about to whiz through foreign countries
mouth in phrase-books combinations of words they will never use. He was
at home in clear air and disliked to struggle either for breath or for
light. He had a dim sense that Peter felt some discomfort from him and
might have come now to tell him so; in which case he should be sorry for
the sufferer in various ways. But as soon as that aspirant began to
speak suspicion reverted to mere ancient kindness, and this in spite
of the fact that his speech had a slightly exaggerated promptitude,
like the promptitude of business, which might have denoted
self-consciousness. To Nick it quickly appeared better to be glad than
to be sorry: this simple argument was more than sufficient to make him
glad Peter was there.

"My dear fellow, it's an unpardonable hour, isn't it? I wasn't even sure
you'd be up, yet had to risk it, because my hours are numbered. I'm
going away to-morrow," Peter went on; "I've a thousand things to do.
I've had no talk with you this time such as we used to have of old (it's
an irreparable loss, but it's your fault, you know), and as I've got to
rush about all day I thought I'd just catch you before any one else
does."

"Some one has already caught me, but there's plenty of time," Nick
returned.

Peter all but asked a question--it fell short. "I see, I see. I'm sorry
to say I've only a few minutes at best."

"Man of crushing responsibilities, you've come to humiliate me!" his
companion cried. "I know all about it."

"It's more than I do then. That's not what I've come for, but I shall be
delighted if I humiliate you a little by the way. I've two things in
mind, and I'll mention the most difficult first. I came here the other
day--the day after my arrival in town."

"Ah yes, so you did; it was very good of you"--Nick remembered. "I ought
to have returned your visit or left a card or written my name--to have
done something in Great Stanhope Street, oughtn't I? You hadn't got this
new thing then, or I'd have 'called.'"

Peter eyed him a moment. "I say, what's the matter with you? Am I really
unforgivable for having taken that liberty?"

"What liberty?" Nick looked now quite innocent of care, and indeed his
visitor's allusion was not promptly clear. He was thinking for the
instant all of Biddy, of whom and whose secret inclinations Grace had
insisted on talking to him. They were none of his business, and if he
wouldn't for the world have let the girl herself suspect he had violent
lights on what was most screened and curtained in her, much less would
he have made Peter a clumsy present of this knowledge. Grace had a queer
theory that Peter treated Biddy badly--treated them all somehow badly;
but Grace's zeal (she had plenty of it, though she affected all sorts of
fine indifference) almost always took the form of her being unusually
wrong. Nick wanted to do only what Biddy would thank him for, and he
knew very well what she wouldn't. She wished him and Peter to be great
friends, and the only obstacle to this was that Peter was too much of a
diplomatist. Peter made him for an instant think of her and of the hour
they had lately spent together in the studio in his absence--an hour of
which Biddy had given him a history full of items and omissions; and
this in turn brought Nick's imagination back to his visitor's own side
of the matter. That general human complexity of which the sense had
lately increased with him, and to which it was owing that any thread one
might take hold of would probably be the extremely wrong end of
something, was illustrated by the fact that while poor Biddy was
thinking of Peter it was ten to one poor Peter was thinking of Miriam
Rooth. All of which danced before Nick's intellectual vision for a space
briefer than my too numerous words.

"I pitched into your treasures--I rummaged among your canvases," Peter
said. "Biddy had nothing whatever to do with it--she maintained an
attitude of irreproachable reserve. It has been on my conscience all
these days and I ought to have done penance before. I've been putting it
off partly because I'm so ashamed of my indiscretion. _Que voulez-vous_,
my dear chap? My provocation was great. I heard you had been painting
Miss Rooth, so that I couldn't restrain my curiosity. I simply went into
that corner and struck out there--a trifle wildly no doubt. I dragged
the young lady to the light--your sister turned pale as she saw me. It
was a good deal like breaking open one of your letters, wasn't it?
However, I assure you it's all right, for I congratulate you both on
your style and on your correspondent."

"You're as clever, as witty, as humorous as ever, old boy," Nick
pronounced, going himself into the corner designated by his companion
and laying his hands on the same canvas. "Your curiosity's the highest
possible tribute to my little attempt and your sympathy sets me right
with myself. There she is again," Nick went on, thrusting the picture
into an empty frame; "you shall see her whether you wish to or not."

"Right with yourself? You don't mean to say you've been wrong!" Peter
returned, standing opposite the portrait.

"Oh I don't know. I've been kicking up such a row. Anything's better
than a row."

"She's awfully good--she's awfully true," said Peter. "You've done more
to her since the other day. You've put in several things."

"Yes, but I've worked distractedly. I've not altogether conformed to the
good rule about being off with the old love."

"With the old love?"--and the visitor looked hard at the picture.

"Before you're on with the new!" Nick had no sooner uttered these words
than he coloured: it occurred to him his friend would probably infer an
allusion to Julia. He therefore added quickly: "It isn't so easy to
cease to represent an affectionate constituency. Really most of my time
for a fortnight has been given to letter-writing. They've all been
unexpectedly charming. I should have thought they'd have loathed and
despised me. But not a bit of it; they cling to me fondly--they struggle
with me tenderly. I've been down to talk with them about it, and we've
passed the most sociable, delightful hours. I've designated my
successor; I've felt a good deal like the Emperor Charles the Fifth when
about to retire to the monastery of Yuste. The more I've seen of them in
this way the more I've liked them, and they declare it has been the same
with themselves about me. We spend our time assuring each other we
hadn't begun to know each other till now. In short it's all wonderfully
jolly, but it isn't business. _C'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas la
guerre_."

"They're not so charming as they might be if they don't offer to keep
you and let you paint."

"They do, almost--it's fantastic," said Nick. "Remember they haven't
yet seen a daub of my brush."

"Well, I'm sorry for you; we live in too enlightened an age," Peter
returned. "You can't suffer for art--that grand romance is over. Your
experience is interesting; it seems to show that at the tremendous pitch
of civilisation we've reached you can't suffer from anything but
hunger."

"I shall doubtless," Nick allowed, "do that enough to make up for the
rest."

"Never, never, when you paint so well as this."

"Oh come, you're too good to be true," Nick said. "But where did you
learn that one's larder's full in proportion as one's work's fine?"

Peter waived this curious point--he only continued to look at the
picture; after which he roundly brought out: "I'll give you your price
for it on the spot."

"Ah you're so magnanimous that you shall have it for nothing!" And Nick,
touched to gratitude, passed his arm into his visitor's.

Peter had a pause. "Why do you call me magnanimous?"

"Oh bless my soul, it's hers--I forgot!" laughed Nick, failing in his
turn to answer the other's inquiry. "But you shall have another."

"Another? Are you going to do another?"

"This very morning. That is, I shall begin it. I've heard from her;
she's coming to sit--a short time hence."

Peter turned away a little at this, releasing himself, and, as if the
movement had been an effect of his host's words, looked at his watch
earnestly to dissipate that appearance. He fell back to consider the
work from further off. "The more you do her the better--she has all the
qualities of a great model. From that point of view it's a pity she has
another trade: she might make so good a thing of this one. But how
shall you do her again?" he asked ingenuously.

"Oh I can scarcely say; we'll arrange something; we'll talk it over.
It's extraordinary how well she enters into what one wants: she knows
more than one does one's self. She isn't, as you Frenchmen say, the
first comer. However, you know all about that, since you invented her,
didn't you? That's what she says; she's awfully sweet on you," Nick
kindly pursued. "What I ought to do is to try something as different as
possible from that thing; not the sibyl, the muse, the tremendous
creature, but the charming woman, the person one knows, differently
arranged as she appears _en ville_, she calls it. I'll do something
really serious and send it to you out there with my respects. It will
remind you of home and perhaps a little even of me. If she knows it's
for you she'll throw herself into it in the right spirit. Leave it to
us, my dear fellow; we'll turn out something splendid."

"It's jolly to hear you, but I shall send you a cheque," said Peter very
stoutly.

"I suppose it's all right in your position, but you're too proud," his
kinsman answered.

"What do you mean by my position?"

"Your exaltation, your high connexion with the country, your treating
with sovereign powers as the representative of a sovereign power. Isn't
that what they call 'em?"

Peter, who had turned round again, listened to this with his eyes fixed
on Nick's face while he once more drew forth his watch. "Brute!" he
exclaimed familiarly, at the same time dropping his eyes on the watch.
"When did you say you expect your sitter?"

"Oh we've plenty of time; don't be afraid of letting me see you agitated
by her presence."

"Brute!" Peter again ejaculated.

This friendly personal note cleared the air, made their communication
closer. "Stay with me and talk to me," said Nick; "I daresay it's good
for me. It may be the last time I shall see you without having before
anything else to koo-too."

"Beast!" his kinsman once more, and a little helplessly, threw off;
though next going on: "Haven't you something more to show me then--some
other fruit of your genius?"

"Must I bribe you by setting my sign-boards in a row? You know what I've
done; by which I mean of course you know what I haven't. My genius, as
you're so good as to call it, has hitherto been dreadfully sterile. I've
had no time, no opportunity, no continuity. I must go and sit down in a
corner and learn my alphabet. That thing isn't good; what I shall do for
you won't be good. Don't protest, my dear fellow; nothing will be fit to
look at for a long time." After which poor Nick wound up: "And think of
my ridiculous age! As the good people say (or don't they say it?), it's
a rum go. It won't be amusing."

"Ah you're so clever you'll get on fast," Peter returned, trying to
think how he could most richly defy the injunction not to protest.

"I mean it won't be amusing for others," said Nick, unperturbed by this
levity. "They want results, and small blame to them."

"Well, whatever you do, don't talk like Mr. Gabriel Nash," Peter went
on. "Sometimes I think you're just going to."

Nick stared a moment. "Ah he never would have said _that_ 'They want
results, the damned asses'--that would have been more in his key."

"It's the difference of a _nuance_! And are you extraordinarily happy?"
Peter added as his host now obliged him by arranging half-a-dozen
canvases so that he could look at them.

"Not so much so, doubtless, as the artistic life ought to make one:
because all one's people are not so infatuated as one's electors. But
little by little I'm learning the charm of pig-headedness."

"Your mother's very bad," Peter allowed--"I lunched with her day before
yesterday."

"Yes, I know, I know"--Nick had such reason to know; "but it's too late,
too late. I must just peg away here and not mind. I've after all a great
advantage in my life."

His companion waited impartially to hear. "And that would be--?"

"Well, knowing what I want to do. That's everything, you know."

"It's an advantage, however, that you've only just come in for, isn't
it?"

"Yes, but the delay and the probation only make me prize it the more.
I've got it now; and it makes up for the absence of some other things."

Again Peter had a pause. "That sounds a little flat," he remarked at
last.

"It depends on what you compare it with. It has more point than I
sometimes found in the House of Commons."

"Oh I never thought I should like that!"

There was another drop during which Nick moved about the room turning up
old sketches to see if he had anything more to show, while his visitor
continued to look at the unfinished and in some cases, as seemed,
unpromising productions already exposed. They were far less interesting
than the portrait of Miriam Rooth and, it would have appeared, less
significant of ability. For that particular effort Nick's talent had
taken an inspired flight. So much Peter thought, as he had thought it
intensely before; but the words he presently uttered had no visible
connexion with it. They only consisted of the abrupt inquiry; "Have you
heard anything from Julia?"

"Not a syllable. Have you?"

"Dear no; she never writes to me."

"But won't she on the occasion of your promotion?"

"I daresay not," said Peter; and this was the only reference to Mrs.
Dallow that passed between her brother and her late intended. It left a
slight stir of the air which Peter proceeded to allay by an allusion
comparatively speaking more relevant. He expressed disappointment that
Biddy shouldn't have come in, having had an idea she was always in
Rosedale Road of a morning. That was the other branch of his present
errand--the wish to see her and give her a message for Lady Agnes, upon
whom, at so early an hour, he had not presumed to intrude in Calcutta
Gardens. Nick replied that Biddy did in point of fact almost always turn
up, and for the most part early: she came to wish him good-morning and
start him for the day. She was a devoted Electra, laying a cool, healing
hand on a distracted, perspiring Orestes. He reminded Peter, however,
that he would have a chance of seeing her that evening, and of seeing
Lady Agnes; for wasn't he to do them the honour of dining in Calcutta
Gardens? Biddy, the day before, had arrived full of that excitement.
Peter explained that this was exactly the sad subject of his actual
_démarche_: the project of the dinner in Calcutta Gardens had, to his
exceeding regret, fallen to pieces. The fact was (didn't Nick know it?)
the night had been suddenly and perversely fixed for Miriam's première,
and he was under a definite engagement with her not to stay away from
it. To add to the bore of the thing he was obliged to return to Paris
the very next morning. He was quite awfully sorry, for he had promised
Lady Agnes: he didn't understand then about Miriam's affair, in regard
to which he had given a previous pledge. He was more grieved than he
could say, but he could never fail Miss Rooth: he had professed from the
first an interest in her which he must live up to a little more. This
was his last chance--he hadn't been near her at the trying time of her
first braving of the public. And the second night of the play wouldn't
do--it must be the first or nothing. Besides, he couldn't wait over till
Monday.

While Peter recited all his hindrance Nick was occupied in rubbing with
a cloth a palette he had just scraped. "I see what you mean--I'm very
sorry too. I'm sorry you can't give my mother this joy--I give her so
little."

"My dear fellow, you might give her a little more!" it came to Peter to
say. "It's rather too much to expect _me_ to make up for your
omissions!"

Nick looked at him with a moment's fixedness while he polished the
palette; and for that moment he felt the temptation to reply: "There's a
way you could do that, to a considerable extent--I think you guess
it--which wouldn't be intrinsically disagreeable." But the impulse
passed without expressing itself in speech, and he simply brought out;
"You can make this all clear to Biddy when she comes, and she'll make it
clear to my mother."

"Poor little Biddy!" Peter mentally sighed, thinking of the girl with
that job before her; but what he articulated was that this was exactly
why he had come to the studio. He had inflicted his company on Lady
Agnes the previous Thursday and had partaken of a meal with her, but had
not seen Biddy though he had waited for her, had hoped immensely she'd
come in. Now he'd wait again--dear Bid was thoroughly worth it.

"Patience, patience then--you've always me!" said Nick; to which he
subjoined: "If it's a question of going to the play I scarcely see why
you shouldn't dine at my mother's all the same. People go to the play
after dinner."

"Yes, but it wouldn't be fair, it wouldn't be decent: it's a case when I
must be in my seat from the rise of the curtain." Peter, about this, was
thoroughly lucid. "I should force your mother to dine an hour earlier
than usual and then in return for her courtesy should go off to my
entertainment at eight o'clock, leaving her and Grace and Biddy
languishing there. I wish I had proposed in time that they should go
with me," he continued not very ingenuously.

"You might do that still," Nick suggested.

"Oh at this time of day it would be impossible to get a box."

"I'll speak to Miss Rooth about it if you like when she comes," smiled
Nick.

"No, it wouldn't do," said Peter, turning away and looking once more at
his watch. He made tacitly the addition that still less than asking Lady
Agnes for his convenience to dine early would _this_ be decent, would it
be thinkable. His taking Biddy the night he dined with her and with Miss
Tressilian had been something very like a violation of those
proprieties. He couldn't say that, however, to the girl's brother, who
remarked in a moment that it was all right, since Peter's action left
him his own freedom.

"Your own freedom?"--and Peter's question made him turn.

"Why you see now I can go to the theatre myself."

"Certainly; I hadn't thought of that. You'd naturally have been going."

"I gave it up for the prospect of your company at home."

"Upon my word you're too good--I don't deserve such sacrifices," said
Peter, who read in his kinsman's face that this was not a figure of
speech but the absolute truth. "Didn't it, however, occur to you that,
as it would turn out, I might--I even naturally _would_--myself be
going?" he put forth.

Nick broke into a laugh. "It would have occurred to me if I understood a
little better--!" But he paused, as still too amused.

"If you understood a little better what?"

"Your situation, simply."

Peter looked at him a moment. "Dine with me to-night by ourselves and at
a club. We'll go to the theatre together and then you'll understand it."

"With pleasure, with pleasure: we'll have a jolly evening," said Nick.

"Call it jolly if you like. When did you say she was coming?" Peter
asked.

"Biddy? Oh probably, as I tell you, at any moment."

"I mean the great Miriam," Peter amended.

"The great Miriam, if she's punctual, will be here in about forty
minutes."

"And will she be likely to find your sister?"

"That will depend, my dear fellow, on whether my sister remains to see
her."

"Exactly; but the point's whether you'll allow her to remain, isn't it?"

Nick looked slightly mystified. "Why shouldn't she do as she likes?"

"In that case she'll probably go."

"Yes, unless she stays."

"Don't let her," Peter dropped; "send her away." And to explain this he
added: "It doesn't seem exactly the right sort of thing, fresh young
creatures like Bid meeting _des femmes de théâtre_." His explanation, in
turn, struck him as requiring another clause; so he went on: "At least
it isn't thought the right sort of thing abroad, and even in England my
foreign ideas stick to me."

Even with this amplification, however, his plea evidently still had for
his companion a flaw; which, after he had considered it a moment, Nick
exposed in the simple words: "Why, you originally introduced them in
Paris, Biddy and Miss Rooth. Didn't they meet at your rooms and
fraternise, and wasn't that much more 'abroad' than this?"

"So they did, but my hand had been forced and she didn't like it," Peter
answered, suspecting that for a diplomatist he looked foolish.

"Miss Rooth didn't like it?" Nick persisted.

"That I confess I've forgotten. Besides, she wasn't an actress then.
What I mean is that Biddy wasn't particularly pleased with her."

"Why she thought her wonderful--praised her to the sides. I remember
that."

"She didn't like her as a woman; she praised her as an actress."

"I thought you said she wasn't an actress then," Nick returned.

Peter had a pause. "Oh Biddy thought so. She has seen her since,
moreover. I took her the other night, and her curiosity's satisfied."

"It's not of any consequence, and if there's a reason for it I'll bundle
her off directly," Nick made haste to say. "But the great Miriam seems
such a kind, good person."

"So she is, charming, charming,"--and his visitor looked hard at him.

"Here comes Biddy now," Nick went on. "I hear her at the door: you can
warn her yourself."

"It isn't a question of 'warning'--that's not in the least my idea. But
I'll take Biddy away," said Peter.

"That will be still more energetic."

"No, it will be simply more selfish--I like her company." Peter had
turned as if to go to the door and meet the girl; but he quickly checked
himself, lingering in the middle of the room, and the next instant Biddy
had come in. When she saw him there she also stopped.

Henry James