"Come on boldly, my dear," said Nick. "Peter's bored to death waiting
"Ah he's come to say he won't dine with us to-night!" Biddy stood with
her hand on the latch.
"I leave town to-morrow: I've everything to do; I'm broken-hearted; it's
impossible"--Peter made of it again such a case as he could. "Please
make my peace with your mother--I'm ashamed of not having written to her
She closed the door and came in while her brother said to her, "How in
the world did you guess it?"
"I saw it in the _Morning Post_." And she kept her eyes on their
"In the _Morning Post_?" he vaguely echoed.
"I saw there's to be a first night at that theatre, the one you took us
to. So I said, 'Oh he'll go there.'"
"Yes, I've got to do that too," Peter admitted.
"She's going to sit to me again this morning, his wonderful actress--she
has made an appointment: so you see I'm getting on," Nick pursued to his
"Oh I'm so glad--she's so splendid!" The girl looked away from her
cousin now, but not, though it seemed to fill the place, at the
triumphant portrait of Miriam Rooth.
"I'm delighted you've come in. I _have_ waited for you," Peter hastened
to declare to her, though conscious that this was in the conditions
"Aren't you coming to see us again?"
"I'm in despair, but I shall really not have time. Therefore it's a
blessing not to have missed you here."
"I'm very glad," said Biddy. Then she added: "And you're going to
America--to stay a long time?"
"Till I'm sent to some better place."
"And will that better place be as far away?"
"Oh Biddy, it wouldn't be better then," said Peter.
"Do you mean they'll give you something to do at home?"
"Hardly that. But I've a tremendous lot to do at home to-day." For the
twentieth time Peter referred to his watch.
She turned to her brother, who had admonished her that she might bid him
good-morning. She kissed him and he asked what the news would be in
Calcutta Gardens; to which she made answer: "The only news is of course
the great preparations they're making, poor dears, for Peter. Mamma
thinks you must have had such a nasty dinner the other day," the girl
continued to the guest of that romantic occasion.
"Faithless Peter!" said Nick, beginning to whistle and to arrange a
canvas in anticipation of Miriam's arrival.
"Dear Biddy, thank your stars you're not in my horrid profession,"
protested the personage so designated. "One's bowled about like a
cricket-ball, unable to answer for one's freedom or one's comfort from
one moment to another."
"Oh ours is the true profession--Biddy's and mine," Nick broke out,
setting up his canvas; "the career of liberty and peace, of charming
long mornings spent in a still north light and in the contemplation, I
may even say in the company, of the amiable and the beautiful."
"That certainty's the case when Biddy comes to see you," Peter returned.
Biddy smiled at him. "I come every day. Anch'io son pittore! I encourage
"It's a pity I'm not a martyr--she'd bravely perish with me," Nick said.
"You are--you're a martyr--when people say such odious things!" the girl
cried. "They do say them. I've heard many more than I've repeated to
"It's you yourself then, indignant and loyal, who are the martyr,"
observed Peter, who wanted greatly to be kind to her.
"Oh I don't care!"--but she threw herself, flushed and charming, into a
straight appeal to him. "Don't you think one can do as much good by
painting great works of art as by--as by what papa used to do? Don't you
think art's necessary to the happiness, to the greatness of a people?
Don't you think it's manly and honourable? Do you think a passion for
it's a thing to be ashamed of? Don't you think the artist--the
conscientious, the serious one--is as distinguished a member of society
as any one else?"
Peter and Nick looked at each other and laughed at the way she had got
up her subject, and Nick asked their kinsman if she didn't express it
all in perfection. "I delight in general in artists, but I delight still
more in their defenders," Peter made reply, perhaps a little meagrely,
"Ah don't attack me if you're wise!" Nick said.
"One's tempted to when it makes Biddy so fine."
"Well, that's the way she encourages me: it's meat and drink to me,"
Nick went on. "At the same time I'm bound to say there's a little
whistling in the dark in it."
"In the dark?" his sister demanded.
"The obscurity, my dear child, of your own aspirations, your mysterious
ambitions and esthetic views. Aren't there some heavyish shadows there?"
"Why I never cared for politics."
"No, but you cared for life, you cared for society, and you've chosen
the path of solitude and concentration."
"You horrid boy!" said Biddy.
"Give it up, that arduous steep--give it up and come out with me," Peter
"Come out with you?"
"Let us walk a little or even drive a little. Let us at any rate talk a
"I thought you had so much to do," Biddy candidly objected.
"So I have, but why shouldn't you do a part of it with me? Would there
be any harm? I'm going to some tiresome shops--you'll cheer the frugal
The girl hesitated, then turned to Nick. "Would there be any harm?"
"Oh it's none of _his_ business!" Peter protested.
"He had better take you home to your mother."
"I'm going home--I shan't stay here to-day," Biddy went on. Then to
Peter: "I came in a hansom, but I shall walk back. Come that way with
"With pleasure. But I shall not be able to go in," Peter added.
"Oh that's no matter," said the girl. "Good-bye, Nick."
"You understand then that we dine together--at seven sharp. Wouldn't a
club, as I say, be best?" Peter, before going, inquired of Nick. He
suggested further which club it should be; and his words led Biddy, who
had directed her steps toward the door, to turn a moment as with a
reproachful question--whether it was for this Peter had given up
Calcutta Gardens. But her impulse, if impulse it was, had no sequel
save so far as it was a sequel that Peter freely explained to her, after
Nick had assented to his conditions, that her brother too had a desire
to go to Miss Rooth's first night and had already promised to accompany
"Oh that's perfect; it will be so good for him--won't it?--if he's going
to paint her again," Biddy responded.
"I think there's nothing so good for him as that he happens to have such
a sister as you," Peter declared as they went out. He heard at the same
time the sound of a carriage stopping, and before Biddy, who was in
front of him, opened the door of the house had been able to say to
himself, "What a bore--there's Miriam!" The opened door showed him that
truth--this young lady in the act of alighting from the brougham
provided by Basil Dashwood's thrifty zeal. Her mother followed her, and
both the new visitors exclaimed and rejoiced, in their demonstrative
way, as their eyes fell on their valued friend. The door had closed
behind Peter, but he instantly and violently rang, so that they should
be admitted with as little delay as possible, while he stood
disconcerted, and fearing he showed it, by the prompt occurrence of an
encounter he had particularly sought to avert. It ministered, moreover,
a little to this sensibility that Miriam appeared to have come somewhat
before her time. The incident promised, however, to pass off in a fine
florid way. Before he knew it both the ladies had taken possession of
Biddy, who looked at them with comparative coldness, tempered indeed by
a faint glow of apprehension, and Miriam had broken out:
"We know you, we know you; we saw you in Paris, and you came to my
theatre a short time ago with Mr. Sherringham!"
"We know your mother, Lady Agnes Dormer. I hope her ladyship's very
well," said Mrs. Rooth, who had never struck Peter as a more
objectionable old woman.
"You offered to do a head of me or something or other: didn't you tell
me you work in clay? I daresay you've forgotten all about it, but I
should be delighted," Miriam pursued with the richest urbanity. Peter
was not concerned with her mother's pervasiveness, though he didn't like
Biddy to see even that; but he hoped his companion would take the
overcharged benevolence of the young actress in the spirit in which,
rather to his surprise, it evidently was offered. "I've sat to your
clever brother many times," said Miriam; "I'm going to sit again. I
daresay you've seen what we've done--he's too delightful. _Si vous
saviez comme cela me repose_!" she added, turning for a moment to Peter.
Then she continued, smiling at Biddy; "Only he oughtn't to have thrown
up such prospects, you know. I've an idea I wasn't nice to you that day
in Paris--I was nervous and scared and perverse. I remember perfectly; I
_was_ odious. But I'm better now--you'd see if you were to know me. I'm
not a bad sort--really I'm not. But you must have your own friends.
Happy they--you look so charming! Immensely like Mr. Dormer, especially
about the eyes; isn't she, mamma?"
"She comes of a beautiful Norman race--the finest, purest strain," the
old woman simpered. "Mr. Dormer's sometimes so good as to come and see
us--we're always at home on Sunday; and if some day you found courage to
come with him you might perhaps find it pleasant, though very different
of course from the circle in which you habitually move."
Biddy murmured a vague recognition of these wonderful civilities, and
Miriam commented: "Different, yes; but we're all right, you know. Do
come," she added. Then turning to Sherringham: "Remember what I told
you--I don't expect you to-night."
"Oh I understand; I shall come,"--and Peter knew he grew red.
"It will be idiotic. Keep him, keep him away--don't let him," Miriam
insisted to Biddy; with which, as Nick's portals now were gaping, she
drew her mother away.
Peter, at this, walked off briskly with Biddy, dropping as he did so:
"She's too fantastic!"
"Yes, but so tremendously good-looking. I shall ask Nick to take me
there," the girl said after a moment.
"Well, she'll do you no harm. They're all right, as she says. It's the
world of art--you were standing up so for art just now."
"Oh I wasn't thinking so much of that kind," she demurred.
"There's only one kind--it's all the same thing. If one sort's good the
Biddy walked along a moment. "Is she serious? Is she conscientious?"
"She has the makings of a great artist," Peter opined.
"I'm glad to hear you think a woman can be one."
"In that line there has never been any doubt about it."
"And only in that line?"
"I mean on the stage in general, dramatic or lyric. It's as the actress
that the woman produces the most complete and satisfactory artistic
"And only as the actress?"
He weighed it. "Yes, there's another art in which she's not bad."
"Which one do you mean?" asked Biddy.
"That of being charming and good, that of being indispensable to man."
"Oh that isn't an art."
"Then you leave her only the stage. Take it if you like in the widest
Biddy appeared to reflect a moment, as to judge what sense this might
be. But she found none that was wide enough, for she cried the next
minute: "Do you mean to say there's nothing for a woman but to be an
"Never in my life. I only say that that's the best thing for a woman to
be who finds herself irresistibly carried into the practice of the arts;
for there her capacity for them has most application and her incapacity
for them least. But at the same time I strongly recommend her not to be
an artist if she can possibly help it. It's a devil of a life."
"Oh I know; men want women not to be anything."
"It's a poor little refuge they try to take from the overwhelming
consciousness that you're in very fact everything."
"Everything?" And the girl gave a toss. "That's the kind of thing you
say to keep us quiet."
"Dear Biddy, you see how well we succeed!" laughed Peter.
To which she replied by asking irrelevantly: "Why is it so necessary for
you to go to the theatre to-night if Miss Rooth doesn't want you to?"
"My dear child, she does want me to. But that has nothing to do with
"Why then did she say that she doesn't?"
"Oh because she meant just the contrary."
"Is she so false then--is she so vulgar?"
"She speaks a special language; practically it isn't false, because it
renders her thought and those who know her understand it."
"But she doesn't use it only to those who know her," Biddy returned,
"since she asked me, who have so little the honour of her acquaintance,
to keep you away to-night. How am I to know that she meant by that that
I'm to urge you on to go?"
He was on the point of replying, "Because you've my word for it"; but he
shrank in fact from giving his word--he had some fine scruples--and
sought to relieve his embarrassment by a general tribute. "Dear Biddy,
you're delightfully acute: you're quite as clever as Miss Rooth." He
felt, however, that this was scarcely adequate and he continued: "The
truth is that its being important for me to go is a matter quite
independent of that young lady's wishing it or not wishing it. There
happens to be a definite intrinsic propriety in it which determines the
thing and which it would take me long to explain."
"I see. But fancy your 'explaining' to me: you make me feel so
indiscreet!" the girl cried quickly--an exclamation which touched him
because he was not aware that, quick as it had been, she had still had
time to be struck first--though she wouldn't for the world have
expressed it--with the oddity of such a duty at such a season. In fact
that oddity, during a silence of some minutes, came back to Peter
himself: the note had been forced--it sounded almost ignobly frivolous
from a man on the eve of proceeding to a high diplomatic post. The
effect of this, none the less, was not to make him break out with "Hang
it, I _will_ keep my engagement to your mother!" but to fill him with
the wish to shorten his present strain by taking Biddy the rest of the
way in a cab. He was uncomfortable, and there were hansoms about that he
looked at wistfully. While he was so occupied his companion took up the
talk by an abrupt appeal.
"Why did she say that Nick oughtn't to have resigned his seat?"
"Oh I don't know. It struck her so. It doesn't matter much."
But Biddy kept it up. "If she's an artist herself why doesn't she like
people to go in for art, especially when Nick has given his time to
painting her so beautifully? Why does she come there so often if she
disapproves of what he has done?"
"Oh Miriam's disapproval--it doesn't count; it's a manner of speaking."
"Of speaking untruths, do you mean? Does she think just the reverse--is
that the way she talks about everything?"
"We always admire most what we can do least," Peter brought forth; "and
Miriam of course isn't political. She ranks painters more or less with
her own profession, about which already, new as she is to it, she has no
illusions. They're all artists; it's the same general sort of thing. She
prefers men of the world--men of action."
"Is that the reason she likes you?" Biddy mildly mocked.
"Ah she doesn't like me--couldn't you see it?"
The girl at first said nothing; then she asked: "Is that why she lets
you call her 'Miriam'?"
"Oh I don't, to her face."
"Ah only to mine!" laughed Biddy.
"One says that as one says 'Rachel' of her great predecessor."
"Except that she isn't so great, quite yet, is she?"
"Far from it; she's the freshest of novices--she has scarcely been four
months on the stage. But no novice has ever been such an adept. She'll
go very fast," Peter pursued, "and I daresay that before long she'll be
"What a pity you'll not see that!" Biddy sighed after a pause.
"Not see it?"
"If you're thousands of miles away."
"It is a pity," Peter said; "and since you mention it I don't mind
frankly telling you--throwing myself on your mercy, as it were--that
that's why I make such a point of a rare occasion like to-night. I've a
weakness for the drama that, as you perhaps know, I've never concealed,
and this impression will probably have to last me in some barren spot
for many, many years."
"I understand--I understand. I hope therefore it will be charming." And
the girl walked faster.
"Just as some other charming impressions will have to last," Peter
added, conscious of keeping up with her by some effort. She seemed
almost to be running away from him, an impression that led him to
suggest, after they had proceeded a little further without more words,
that if she were in a hurry they had perhaps better take a cab. Her face
was strange and touching to him as she turned it to make answer:
"Oh I'm not in the least in a hurry and I really think I had better
"We'll walk then by all means!" Peter said with slightly exaggerated
gaiety; in pursuance of which they went on a hundred yards. Biddy kept
the same pace; yet it was scarcely a surprise to him that she should
suddenly stop with the exclamation:
"After all, though I'm not in a hurry I'm tired! I had better have a
cab; please call that one," she added, looking about her.
They were in a straight, blank, ugly street, where the small, cheap,
grey-faced houses had no expression save that of a rueful, unconsoled
acknowledgment of the universal want of identity. They would have
constituted a "terrace" if they could, but they had dolefully given it
up. Even a hansom that loitered across the end of the vista turned a
sceptical back upon it, so that Sherringham had to lift his voice in a
loud appeal. He stood with Biddy watching the cab approach them. "This
is one of the charming things you'll remember," she said, turning her
eyes to the general dreariness from the particular figure of the
vehicle, which was antiquated and clumsy. Before he could reply she had
lightly stepped into the cab; but as he answered, "Most assuredly it
is," and prepared to follow her she quickly closed the apron.
"I must go alone; you've lots of things to do--it's all right"; and
through the aperture in the roof she gave the driver her address. She
had spoken with decision, and Peter fully felt now that she wished to
get away from him. Her eyes betrayed it, as well as her voice, in a
look, a strange, wandering ray that as he stood there with his hand on
the cab he had time to take from her. "Good-bye, Peter," she smiled; and
as the thing began to rumble away he uttered the same tepid, ridiculous
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