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 44

At the entrance of Miriam and her mother Nick, in the studio, had
stopped whistling, but he was still gay enough to receive them with
every appearance of warmth. He thought it a poor place, ungarnished,
untapestried, a bare, almost grim workshop, with all its revelations and
honours still to come. But his visitors smiled on it a good deal in the
same way in which they had smiled on Bridget Dormer when they met her at
the door: Mrs. Rooth because vague, prudent approbation was the habit of
her foolish face--it was ever the least danger; and Miriam because, as
seemed, she was genuinely glad to find herself within the walls of which
she spoke now as her asylum. She broke out in this strain to her host
almost as soon as she had crossed the threshold, commending his
circumstances, his conditions of work, as infinitely happier than her
own. He was quiet, independent, absolute, free to do what he liked as he
liked it, shut up in his little temple with his altar and his divinity;
not hustled about in a mob of people, having to posture and grin to pit
and gallery, to square himself at every step with insufferable
conventions and with the ignorance and vanity of others. He was
blissfully alone.

"Mercy, how you do abuse your fine profession! I'm sure I never urged
you to adopt it!" Mrs. Rooth cried, in real bewilderment, to her

"She was abusing mine still more the other day," joked Nick--"telling me
I ought to be ashamed of it and of myself."

"Oh I never know from one moment to the other--I live with my heart in
my mouth," sighed the old woman.

"Aren't you quiet about the great thing--about my personal behaviour?"
Miriam smiled. "My improprieties are all of the mind."

"I don't know what you _call_ your personal behaviour," her mother

"You would very soon if it were not what it is."

"And I don't know why you should wish to have it thought you've a wicked
mind," Mrs. Rooth agreeably grumbled.

"Yes, but I don't see very well how I can make you understand that. At
any rate," Miriam pursued with her grand eyes on Nick, "I retract what I
said the other day about Mr. Dormer. I've no wish to quarrel with him on
the way he has determined to dispose of his life, because after all it
does suit me very well. It rests me, this little devoted corner; oh it
rests me! It's out of the row and the dust, it's deliciously still and
they can't get at me. Ah when art's like this, _à la bonne heure_!" And
she looked round on such a presentment of "art" in a splendid way that
produced amusement on the young man's part at its contrast with the
humble fact. Miriam shone upon him as if she liked to be the cause of
his mirth and went on appealing to him: "You'll always let me come here
for an hour, won't you, to take breath--to let the whirlwind pass? You
needn't trouble yourself about me; I don't mean to impose on you in the
least the necessity of painting me, though if that's a manner of helping
you to get on you may be sure it will always be open to you. Do what you
like with me in that respect; only let me sit here on a high stool,
keeping well out of your way, and see what you happen to be doing. I'll
tell you my own adventures when you want to hear them."

"The fewer adventures you have to tell the better, my dear," said Mrs.
Rooth; "and if Mr. Dormer keeps you quiet he'll add ten years to my

"It all makes an interesting comment on Mr. Dormer's own quietness, on
his independence and sweet solitude," Nick observed. "Miss Rooth has to
work with others, which is after all only what Mr. Dormer has to do when
he works with Miss Rooth. What do you make of the inevitable sitter?"

"Oh," answered Miriam, "you can say to the inevitable sitter, 'Hold your
tongue, you brute!'"

"Isn't it a good deal in that manner that I've heard you address your
comrades at the theatre?" Mrs. Rooth inquired. "That's why my heart's in
my mouth."

"Yes, but they hit me back; they reply to me--_comme de raison_--as I
should never think of replying to Mr. Dormer. It's a great advantage to
him that when he's peremptory with his model it only makes her better,
adds to her expression of gloomy grandeur."

"We did the gloomy grandeur in the other picture: suppose therefore we
try something different in this," Nick threw off.

"It _is_ serious, it _is_ grand," murmured Mrs. Rooth, who had taken up
a rapt attitude before the portrait of her daughter. "It makes one
wonder what she's thinking of. Beautiful, commendable things--that's
what it seems to say."

"What can I be thinking of but the tremendous wisdom of my mother?"
Miriam returned. "I brought her this morning to see that thing--she had
only seen it in its earliest stage--and not to presume to advise you
about anything else you may be so good as to embark on. She wanted, or
professed she wanted, terribly to know what you had finally arrived at.
She was too impatient to wait till you should send it home."

"Ah send it home--send it home; let us have it always with us!" Mrs.
Rooth engagingly said. "It will keep us up, up, and up on the heights,
near the stars--be always for us a symbol and a reminder!"

"You see I was right," Miriam went on; "for she appreciates thoroughly,
in her own way, and almost understands. But if she worries or distracts
you I'll send her directly home--I've kept the carriage there on
purpose. I must add that I don't feel quite safe to-day in letting her
out of my sight. She's liable to make dashes at the theatre and play
unconscionable tricks there. I shall never again accuse mamma of a want
of interest in my profession. Her interest to-day exceeds even my own.
She's all over the place and she has ideas--ah but ideas! She's capable
of turning up at the theatre at five o'clock this afternoon to demand
the repainting of the set in the third act. For myself I've not a word
more to say on the subject--I've accepted every danger, I've swallowed
my fate. Everything's no doubt wrong, but nothing can possibly be right.
Let us eat and drink, for to-night we die. If you say so mamma shall go
and sit in the carriage, and as there's no means of fastening the doors
(is there?) your servant shall keep guard over her."

"Just as you are now--be so good as to remain so; sitting just that
way--leaning back with a smile in your eyes and one hand on the sofa
beside you and supporting you a little. I shall stick a flower into the
other hand--let it lie in your lap just as it is. Keep that thing on
your head--it's admirably uncovered: do you call such an unconsidered
trifle a bonnet?--and let your head fall back a little. There it
is--it's found. This time I shall really do something, and it will be as
different as you like from that other crazy job. Here we go!" It was in
these irrelevant but earnest words that Nick responded to his sitter's
uttered vagaries, of which her charming tone and countenance diminished
the superficial acerbity. He held up his hands a moment, to fix her in
her limits, and in a few minutes had a happy sense of having begun to

"The smile in her eyes--don't forget the smile in her eyes!" Mrs. Rooth
softly chanted, turning away and creeping about the room. "That will
make it so different from the other picture and show the two sides of
her genius, the wonderful range between them. They'll be splendid mates,
and though I daresay I shall strike you as greedy you must let me hope
you'll send this one home too."

She explored the place discreetly and on tiptoe, talking twaddle as she
went and bending her head and her eyeglass over various objects with an
air of imperfect comprehension that didn't prevent Nick's private recall
of the story of her underhand, commercial habits told by Gabriel Nash at
the exhibition in Paris the first time her name had fallen on his ear. A
queer old woman from whom, if you approached her in the right way, you
could buy old pots--it was in this character that she had originally
been introduced to him. He had lost sight of it afterwards, but it
revived again as his observant eyes, at the same time that they followed
his active hand, became aware of her instinctive, appraising gestures.
There was a moment when he frankly laughed out--there was so little in
his poor studio to appraise. Mrs. Rooth's wandering eyeglass and vague,
polite, disappointed, bent back and head made a subject for a sketch on
the instant: they gave such a sudden pictorial glimpse of the element of
race. He found himself seeing the immemorial Jewess in her hold up a
candle in a crammed back shop. There was no candle indeed and his studio
was not crammed, and it had never occurred to him before that she was a
grand-daughter of Israel save on the general theory, so stoutly held by
several clever people, that few of us are not under suspicion. The late
Rudolf Roth had at least been, and his daughter was visibly her father's
child; so that, flanked by such a pair, good Semitic presumptions
sufficiently crowned the mother. Receiving Miriam's sharp, satiric
shower without shaking her shoulders she might at any rate have been the
descendant of a tribe long persecuted. Her blandness was beyond all
baiting; she professed she could be as still as a mouse. Miriam, on the
other side of the room, in the tranquil beauty of her attitude--"found"
indeed, as Nick had said--watched her a little and then declared she had
best have been locked up at home. Putting aside her free account of the
dangers to which her mother exposed her, it wasn't whimsical to imagine
that within the limits of that repose from which the Neville-Nugents
never wholly departed the elder lady might indeed be a trifle fidgety
and have something on her mind. Nick presently mentioned that it
wouldn't be possible for him to "send home" his second performance; and
he added, in the exuberance of having already got a little into relation
with his work, that perhaps this didn't matter, inasmuch as--if Miriam
would give him his time, to say nothing of her own--a third and a fourth
masterpiece might also some day very well struggle into the light. His
model rose to this without conditions, assuring him he might count upon
her till she grew too old and too ugly and that nothing would make her
so happy as that he should paint her as often as Romney had painted the
celebrated Lady Hamilton. "Ah Lady Hamilton!" deprecated Mrs. Rooth;
while Miriam, who had on occasion the candour of a fine acquisitiveness,
wished to know what particular reason there might be for his not letting
them have the picture he was now beginning.

"Why I've promised it to Peter Sherringham--he has offered me money for
it," Nick replied. "However, he's welcome to it for nothing, poor chap,
and I shall be delighted to do the best I can for him."

Mrs. Rooth, still prowling, stopped in the middle of the room at this,
while her daughter echoed: "He offered you money--just as we came in?"

"You met him then at the door with my sister? I supposed you had--he's
taking her home," Nick explained.

"Your sister's a lovely girl--such an aristocratic type!" breathed Mrs.
Rooth. Then she added: "I've a tremendous confession to make to you."

"Mamma's confessions have to be tremendous to correspond with her
crimes," said Miriam. "She asked Miss Dormer to come and see us,
suggested even that you might bring her some Sunday. I don't like the
way mamma does such things--too much humility, too many _simagrées_,
after all; but I also said what I could to be nice to her. Your sister
_is_ charming--awfully pretty and modest. If you were to press me I
should tell you frankly that it seems to me rather a social muddle, this
rubbing shoulders of 'nice girls' and _filles de théâtre_: I shouldn't
think it would do your poor young things much good. However, it's their
own affair, and no doubt there's no more need of their thinking we're
worse than we are than of their thinking we're better. The people they
live with don't seem to know the difference--I sometimes make my
reflexions about the public one works for."

"Ah if you go in for the public's knowing differences you're far too
particular," Nick laughed. "_D'où tombez-vous_? as you affected French
people say. If you've anything at stake on that you had simply better
not play."

"Dear Mr. Dormer, don't encourage her to be so dreadful; for it _is_
dreadful, the way she talks," Mrs. Rooth broke in. "One would think we
weren't respectable--one would think I had never known what I've known
and been what I've been."

"What one would think, beloved mother, is that you're a still greater
humbug than you are. It's you, on the contrary, who go down on your
knees, who pour forth apologies about our being vagabonds."

"Vagabonds--listen to her!--after the education I've given her and our
magnificent prospects!" wailed Mrs. Rooth, sinking with clasped hands
upon the nearest ottoman.

"Not after our prospects, if prospects they be: a good deal before them.
Yes, you've taught me tongues and I'm greatly obliged to you--they no
doubt give variety as well as incoherency to my conversation; and that
of people in our line is for the most part notoriously monotonous and
shoppy. The gift of tongues is in general the sign of your true
adventurer. Dear mamma, I've no low standard--that's the last thing,"
Miriam went on. "My weakness is my exalted conception of respectability.
Ah _parlez-moi de ça_ and of the way I understand it! If I were to go in
for being respectable you'd see something fine. I'm awfully conservative
and I know what respectability is, even when I meet people of society on
the accidental middle ground of either glowering or smirking. I know
also what it isn't--it isn't the sweet union of well-bred little girls
('carefully-nurtured,' don't they call them?) and painted she-mummers. I
should carry it much further than any of these people: I should never
look at the likes of us! Every hour I live I see that the wisdom of the
ages was in the experience of dear old Madame Carré--was in a hundred
things she told me. She's founded on a rock. After that," Miriam went on
to her host, "I can assure you that if you were so good as to bring Miss
Dormer to see us we should be angelically careful of her and surround
her with every attention and precaution."

"The likes of us--the likes of us!" Mrs. Rooth repeated plaintively and
with a resentment as vain as a failure to sneeze. "I don't know what
you're talking about and I decline to be turned upside down, I've my
ideas as well as you, and I repudiate the charge of false humility. I've
been through too many troubles to be proud, and a pleasant, polite
manner was the rule of my life even in the days when, God knows, I had
everything. I've never changed and if with God's help I had a civil
tongue then, I've a civil tongue now. It's more than you always have, my
poor, perverse, passionate child. Once a lady always a lady--all the
footlights in the world, turn them up as high as you will, make no
difference there. And I think people know it, people who know
anything--if I may use such an expression--and it's because they know it
that I'm not afraid to address them in a pleasant way. So I must
say--and I call Mr. Dormer to witness, for if he could reason with you a
bit about it he might render several people a service--your conduct to
Mr. Sherringham simply breaks my heart," Mrs. Rooth concluded, taking a
jump of several steps in the fine modern avenue of her argument.

Nick was appealed to, but he hung back, drawing with a free hand, and
while he forbore Miriam took it up. "Mother's good--mother's very good;
but it's only little by little that you discover how good she is." This
seemed to leave him at ease to ask their companion, with the
preliminary intimation that what she had just said was very striking,
what she meant by her daughter's conduct to old Peter. Before Mrs. Rooth
could answer this question, however, Miriam broke across with one of her
own. "Do you mind telling me if you made your sister go off with Mr.
Sherringham because you knew it was about time for me to turn up? Poor
Mr. Dormer, I get you into trouble, don't I?" she added quite with

"Into trouble?" echoed Nick, looking at her head but not at her eyes.

"Well, we won't talk about that!" she returned with a rich laugh.

He now hastened to say that he had nothing to do with his sister's
leaving the studio--she had only come, as it happened, for a moment. She
had walked away with Peter Sherringham because they were cousins and old
friends: he was to leave England immediately, for a long time, and he
had offered her his company going home. Mrs. Rooth shook her head very
knowingly over the "long time" Mr. Sherringham would be absent--she
plainly had her ideas about that; and she conscientiously related that
in the course of the short conversation they had all had at the door of
the house her daughter had reminded Miss Dormer of something that had
passed between them in Paris on the question of the charming young
lady's modelling her head.

"I did it to make the idea of our meeting less absurd--to put it on the
footing of our both being artists. I don't ask you if she has talent,"
said Miriam.

"Then I needn't tell you," laughed Nick.

"I'm sure she has talent and a very refined inspiration. I see something
in that corner, covered with a mysterious veil," Mrs. Rooth insinuated;
which led Miriam to go on immediately:

"Has she been trying her hand at Mr. Sherringham?"

"When should she try her hand, poor dear young lady? He's always sitting
with us," said Mrs. Rooth.

"Dear mamma, you exaggerate. He has his moments--when he seems to say
his prayers to me; but we've had some success in cutting them down. _Il
s'est bien détaché ces jours-ci_, and I'm very happy for him. Of course
it's an impertinent allusion for me to make; but I should be so
delighted if I could think of him as a little in love with Miss Dormer,"
the girl pursued, addressing Nick.

"He is, I think, just a little--just a tiny bit," her artist allowed,
working away; while Mrs. Rooth ejaculated to her daughter

"How can you ask such fantastic questions when you know he's dying for

"Oh dying!--he's dying very hard!" cried Miriam. "Mr. Sherringham's a
man of whom I can't speak with too much esteem and affection and who may
be destined to perish by some horrid fever (which God forbid!) in the
unpleasant country he's going to. But he won't have caught his fever
from your humble servant."

"You may kill him even while you remain in perfect health yourself,"
said Nick; "and since we're talking of the matter I don't see the harm
of my confessing that he strikes me as far gone--oh as very bad indeed."

"And yet he's in love with your sister?--_je n'y suis plus_."

"He tries to be, for he sees that as regards you there are difficulties.
He'd like to put his hand on some nice girl who'd be an antidote to his

"Difficulties are a mild name for them; poison even is a mild name for
the ill he suffers from. The principal difficulty is that he doesn't
know what the devil he wants. The next is that I don't either--or what
the devil I want myself. I only know what I don't want," Miriam kept on
brightly and as if uttering some happy, beneficent truth. "I don't want
a person who takes things even less simply than I do myself. Mr.
Sherringham, poor man, must be very uncomfortable, for one side of him's
in a perpetual row with the other side. He's trying to serve God and
Mammon, and I don't know how God will come off. What I like in you is
that you've definitely let Mammon go--it's the only decent way. That's
my earnest conviction, and yet they call us people light. Dear Mr.
Sherringham has tremendous ambitions--tremendous _riguardi_, as we used
to say in Italy. He wants to enjoy every comfort and to save every
appearance, and all without making a scrap of a sacrifice. He expects
others--me, for instance--to make all the sacrifices. _Merci_, much as I
esteem him and much as I owe him! I don't know how he ever came to stray
at all into our bold, bad, downright Bohemia: it was a cruel trick for
fortune to play him. He can't keep out of it, he's perpetually making
dashes across the border, and yet as soon as he gets here he's on pins
and needles. There's another in whose position--if I were in it--I
wouldn't look at the likes of us!"

"I don't know much about the matter," Nick brought out after some intent
smudging, "but I've an idea Peter thinks he has made or at least is
making sacrifices."

"So much the better--you must encourage him, you must help him."

"I don't know what my daughter's talking about," Mrs. Rooth
contributed--"she's much too paradoxical for my plain mind. But there's
one way to encourage Mr. Sherringham--there's one way to help him; and
perhaps it won't be a worse way for a gentleman of your good nature that
it will help me at the same time. Can't I look to you, dear Mr. Dormer,
to see that he does come to the theatre to-night--that he doesn't feel
himself obliged to stay away?"

"What danger is there of his staying away?" Nick asked.

"If he's bent on sacrifices that's a very good one to begin with,"
Miriam observed.

"That's the mad, bad way she talks to him--she has forbidden the dear
unhappy gentleman the house!" her mother cried. "She brought it up to
him just now at the door--before Miss Dormer: such very odd form! She
pretends to impose her commands upon him."

"Oh he'll be there--we're going to dine together," said Nick. And when
Miriam asked him what that had to do with it he went on: "Why we've
arranged it; I'm going, and he won't let me go alone."

"You're going? I sent you no places," his sitter objected.

"Yes, but I've got one. Why didn't you, after all I've done for you?"

She beautifully thought of it. "Because I'm so good. No matter," she
added, "if Mr. Sherringham comes I won't act."

"Won't you act for me?"

"She'll act like an angel," Mrs. Rooth protested. "She might do, she
might be, anything in all the world; but she won't take common pains."

"Of one thing there's no doubt," said Miriam: "that compared with the
rest of us--poor passionless creatures--mamma does know what she wants."

"And what's that?" Nick inquired, chalking on.

"She wants everything."

"Never, never--I'm much more humble," retorted the old woman; upon
which her daughter requested her to give then to Mr. Dormer, who was a
reasonable man and an excellent judge, a general idea of the scope of
her desires.

As, however, Mrs. Rooth, sighing and deprecating, was not quick to
acquit herself, the girl tried a short cut to the truth with the abrupt
demand: "Do you believe for a single moment he'd marry me?"

"Why he has proposed to you--you've told me yourself--a dozen times."

"Proposed what to me?" Miriam rang out. "I've told you _that_ neither a
dozen times nor once, because I've never understood. He has made
wonderful speeches, but has never been serious."

"You told me he had been in the seventh heaven of devotion, especially
that night we went to the foyer of the Français," Mrs. Rooth insisted.

"Do you call the seventh heaven of devotion serious? He's in love with
me, _je le veux bien_; he's so poisoned--Mr. Dormer vividly puts it--as
to require a strong antidote; but he has never spoken to me as if he
really expected me to listen to him, and he's the more of a gentleman
from that fact. He knows we haven't a square foot of common ground--that
a grasshopper can't set up a house with a fish. So he has taken care to
say to me only more than he can possibly mean. That makes it stand just
for nothing."

"Did he say more than he can possibly mean when he took formal leave of
you yesterday--for ever and ever?" the old woman cried.

On which Nick re-enforced her. "And don't you call that--his taking
formal leave--a sacrifice?"

"Oh he took it all back, his sacrifice, before he left the house."

"Then has that no meaning?" demanded Mrs. Rooth.

"None that I can make out," said her daughter.

"Ah I've no patience with you: you can be stupid when you will--you can
be even that too!" the poor lady groaned.

"What mamma wishes me to understand and to practise is the particular
way to be artful with Mr. Sherringham," said Miriam. "There are
doubtless depths of wisdom and virtue in it. But I see only one
art--that of being perfectly honest."

"I like to hear you talk--it makes you live, brings you out," Nick
contentedly dropped. "And you sit beautifully still. All I want to say
is please continue to do so: remain exactly as you are--it's rather
important--for the next ten minutes."

"We're washing our dirty linen before you, but it's all right," the girl
returned, "because it shows you what sort of people we are, and that's
what you need to know. Don't make me vague and arranged and fine in this
new view," she continued: "make me characteristic and real; make life,
with all its horrid facts and truths, stick out of me. I wish you could
put mother in too; make us live there side by side and tell our little
story. 'The wonderful actress and her still more wonderful mamma'--don't
you think that's an awfully good subject?"

Mrs. Rooth, at this, cried shame on her daughter's wanton humour,
professing that she herself would never accept so much from Nick's good
nature, and Miriam settled it that at any rate he was some day and in
some way to do her mother, _really_ do her, and so make her, as one of
the funniest persons that ever was, live on through the ages.

"She doesn't believe Mr. Sherringham wants to marry me any more than you
do," the girl, taking up her dispute again after a moment, represented
to Nick; "but she believes--how indeed can I tell you what she
believes?--that I can work it so well, if you understand, that in the
fulness of time I shall hold him in a vice. I'm to keep him along for
the present, but not to listen to him, for if I listen to him I shall
lose him. It's ingenious, it's complicated; but I daresay you follow

"Don't move--don't move," said Nick. "Pardon a poor clumsy beginner."

"No, I shall explain quietly. Somehow--here it's _very_ complicated and
you mustn't lose the thread--I shall be an actress and make a tremendous
lot of money, and somehow too (I suppose a little later) I shall become
an ambassadress and be the favourite of courts. So you see it will all
be delightful. Only I shall have to go very straight. Mamma reminds me
of a story I once heard about the mother of a young lady who was in
receipt of much civility from the pretender to a crown, which indeed he,
and the young lady too, afterwards more or less wore. The old countess
watched the course of events and gave her daughter the cleverest advice:
'_Tiens bon, ma fille_, and you shall sit upon a throne.' Mamma wishes
me to _tenir bon_--she apparently thinks there's a danger I mayn't--so
that if I don't sit upon a throne I shall at least parade at the foot of
one. And if before that, for ten years, I pile up the money, they'll
forgive me the way I've made it. I should hope so, if I've _tenu bon_!
Only ten years is a good while to hold out, isn't it? If it isn't Mr.
Sherringham it will be some one else. Mr. Sherringham has the great
merit of being a bird in the hand. I'm to keep him along, I'm to be
still more diplomatic than even he can be."

Mrs. Rooth listened to her daughter with an air of assumed reprobation
which melted, before the girl had done, into a diverted, complacent
smile--the gratification of finding herself the proprietress of so much
wit and irony and grace. Miriam's account of her mother's views was a
scene of comedy, and there was instinctive art in the way she added
touch to touch and made point upon point. She was so quiet, to oblige
her painter, that only her fine lips moved--all her expression was in
their charming utterance. Mrs. Rooth, after the first flutter of a less
cynical spirit, consented to be sacrificed to an effect of the really
high order she had now been educated to recognise; so that she scarce
hesitated, when Miriam had ceased speaking, before she tittered out with
the fondest indulgence: '_Comédienne_!' And she seemed to appeal to
their companion. "Ain't she fascinating? That's the way she does for

"It's rather cruel, isn't it," said Miriam, "to deprive people of the
luxury of calling one an actress as they'd call one a liar? I represent,
but I represent truly."

"Mr. Sherringham would marry you to-morrow--there's no question of ten
years!" cried Mrs. Rooth with a comicality of plainness.

Miriam smiled at Nick, deprecating his horror of such talk. "Isn't it
droll, the way she can't get it out of her head?" Then turning almost
coaxingly to the old woman: "_Voyons_, look about you: they don't marry
us like that."

"But they do--_cela se voit tous les jours_. Ask Mr. Dormer."

"Oh never! It would be as if I asked him to give us a practical proof."

"I shall never prove anything by marrying any one," Nick said. "For me
that question's over."

Miriam rested kind eyes on him. "Dear me, how you must hate me!" And
before he had time to reply she went on to her mother: "People marry
them to make them leave the stage; which proves exactly what I say."

"Ah they offer them the finest positions," reasoned Mrs. Rooth.

"Do you want me to leave it then?"

"Oh you can manage if you will!"

"The only managing I know anything about is to do my work. If I manage
that decently I shall pull through."

"But, dearest, may our work not be of many sorts?"

"I only know one," said Miriam.

At this her mother got up with a sigh. "I see you do wish to drive me
into the street."

"Mamma's bewildered--there are so many paths she wants to follow, there
are so many bundles of hay. As I told you, she wishes to gobble them
all," the girl pursued. Then she added: "Yes, go and take the carriage;
take a turn round the Park--you always delight in that--and come back
for me in an hour."

"I'm too vexed with you; the air will do me good," said Mrs. Rooth. But
before she went she addressed Nick: "I've your assurance that you'll
bring him then to-night?"

"Bring Peter? I don't think I shall have to drag him," Nick returned.
"But you must do me the justice to remember that if I should resort to
force I should do something that's not particularly in my interest--I
should be magnanimous."

"We must always be that, mustn't we?" moralised Mrs. Rooth.

"How could it affect your interest?" Miriam asked less abstractedly.

"Yes, as you say," her mother mused at their host, "the question of
marriage has ceased to exist for you."

"Mamma goes straight at it!" laughed the girl, getting up while Nick
rubbed his canvas before answering. Miriam went to mamma and settled
her bonnet and mantle in preparation for her drive, then stood a moment
with a filial arm about her and as if waiting for their friend's
explanation. This, however, when it came halted visibly.

"Why you said a while ago that if Peter was there you wouldn't act."

"I'll act for _him_," smiled Miriam, inconsequently caressing her

"It doesn't matter whom it's for!" Mrs. Rooth declared sagaciously.

"Take your drive and relax your mind," said the girl, kissing her. "Come
for me in an hour; not later--but not sooner." She went with her to the
door, bundled her out, closed it behind her and came back to the
position she had quitted. "_This_ is the peace I want!" she gratefully
cried as she settled into it.

Henry James