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Chapter 50


One day toward the end of March of the following year, in other words
more than six months after Mr. Nash's disappearance, Bridget Dormer came
into her brother's studio and greeted him with the effusion that
accompanies a return from an absence. She had been staying at
Broadwood--she had been staying at Harsh. She had various things to tell
him about these episodes, about his mother, about Grace, about her small
subterraneous self, and about Percy's having come, just before, over to
Broadwood for two days; the longest visit with which, almost since they
could remember, the head of the family had honoured their common parent.
Nick noted indeed that this demonstration had apparently been taken as a
great favour, and Biddy loyally testified to the fact that her elder
brother was awfully jolly and that his presence had been a pretext for
tremendous fun. Nick accordingly asked her what had passed about his
marriage--what their mother had said to him.

"Oh nothing," she replied; and Percy had said nothing to Lady Agnes and
not a word to herself. This partly explained, for his junior, the
consequent beatitude--none but cheerful topics had been produced; but he
questioned the girl further--to a point which led her to say: "Oh I
daresay that before long she'll write to her."

"Who'll write to whom?"

"Mamma'll write to Percy's wife. I'm sure he'd like it. Of course we
shall end by going to see her. He was awfully disappointed at what he
found in Spain--he didn't find anything."

Biddy spoke of his disappointment almost with commiseration, for she was
evidently inclined this morning to a fresh and kindly view of things.
Nick could share her feeling but so far as was permitted by a
recognition merely general of what his brother must have looked for. It
might have been snipe and it might have been bristling boars. Biddy was
indeed brief at first about everything, in spite of all the weeks that
had gone since their last meeting; for he quickly enough saw she had
something behind--something that made her gay and that she wanted to
come to quickly. He was vaguely vexed at her being, fresh from
Broadwood, so gay as that; for--it was impossible to shut one's eyes to
the fact--what had practically come to pass in regard to that rural
retreat was exactly what he had desired to avert. All winter, while it
had been taken for granted his mother and sisters were doing what he
wished, they had been doing precisely what he hated. He held Biddy
perhaps least responsible, and there was no one he could exclusively
blame. He washed his hands of the matter and succeeded fairly well, for
the most part, in forgetting he was not pleased. Julia herself in truth
appeared to have been the most active member of the little group united
to make light of his decencies. There had been a formal restitution of
Broadwood, but the three ladies were there more than ever, with the
slight difference that they were mainly there with its mistress. Mahomet
had declined to go any more to the mountain, so the mountain had
virtually come to Mahomet.

After their long visit in the autumn Lady Agnes and her girls had come
back to town; but they had gone down again for Christmas and Julia had
taken this occasion to write to Nick that she hoped very much he
wouldn't refuse them all his own company for just a little scrap of the
supremely sociable time. Nick, after reflexion, judged it best not to
refuse, so that he passed, in the event, four days under his cousin's
roof. The "all" proved a great many people, for she had taken care to
fill the house. She took the largest view of hospitality and Nick had
never seen her so splendid, so free-handed, so gracefully active. She
was a perfect mistress of the revels; she had arranged some ancient
bravery for every day and for every night. The Dormers were so much in
it, as the phrase was, that after all their discomfiture their fortune
seemed in an hour to have come back. There had been a moment when, in
extemporised charades, Lady Agnes, an elderly figure being required,
appeared on the point of undertaking the part of the housekeeper at a
castle, who, dropping her _h_'s, showed sheeplike tourists about; but
she waived the opportunity in favour of her daughter Grace. Even Grace
had a great success; Grace dropped her _h_'s as with the crash of
empires. Nick of course was in the charades and in everything, but Julia
was not; she only invented, directed, led the applause. When nothing
else was forward Nick "sketched" the whole company: they followed him
about, they waylaid him on staircases, clamouring to be allowed to sit.
He obliged them so far as he could, all save Julia, who didn't clamour;
and, growing rather red, he thought of Gabriel Nash while he bent over
the paper. Early in the new year he went abroad for six weeks, but only
as far as Paris. It was a new Paris for him then; a Paris of the Rue
Bonaparte and three or four professional friends--he had more of these
there than in London; a Paris of studios and studies and models, of
researches and revelations, comparisons and contrasts, of strong
impressions and long discussions and rather uncomfortable economies,
small cafés, bad fires and the general sense of being twenty again.

While he was away his mother and sisters--Lady Agnes now sometimes wrote
to him--returned to London for a month, and before he was again
established in Rosedale Road they went back for a third course of
Broadwood. After they had been there five days--and this was the salt of
the whole feast--Julia took herself off to Harsh, leaving them in
undisturbed possession. They had remained so--they wouldn't come up to
town till after Easter. The trick was played, and Biddy, as I have
mentioned, was now very content. Her brother presently learned, however,
that the reason of this was not wholly the success of the trick; unless
indeed her further ground were only a continuation of it. She was not in
London as a forerunner of her mother; she was not even as yet in
Calcutta Gardens. She had come to spend a week with Florry Tressilian,
who had lately taken the dearest little flat in a charming new place,
just put up, on the other side of the Park, with all kinds of lifts and
tubes and electricities. Florry had been awfully nice to her--had been
with them ever so long at Broadwood while the flat was being painted and
prepared--and mamma had then let her, let Biddy, promise to come to her,
when everything was ready, so that they might have a happy old maids'
(for they _were_, old maids now!) house-warming together. If Florry
could by this time do without a chaperon--she had two latchkeys and went
alone on the top of omnibuses, and her name was in the Red Book--she was
enough of a duenna for another girl. Biddy referred with sweet cynical
eyes to the fine happy stride she had thus taken in the direction of
enlightened spinsterhood; and Nick hung his head, immensely abashed and
humiliated, for, modern as he had fatuously supposed himself, there were
evidently currents more modern yet.

It so happened that on this particular morning he had drawn out of a
corner his interrupted study of Gabriel Nash; on no further
curiosity--he had only been looking round the room in a rummaging
spirit--than to see how much or how little of it remained. It had become
to his view so dim an adumbration--he was sure of this, and it pressed
some spring of melancholy mirth--that it didn't seem worth putting away,
and he left it leaning against a table as if it had been a blank canvas
or a "preparation" to be painted over. In this posture it attracted
Biddy's attention, for on a second glance it showed distinguishable
features. She had not seen it before and now asked whom it might
represent, remarking also that she could almost guess, yet not quite:
she had known the original but couldn't name him.

"Six months ago, for a few days, it represented Gabriel Nash," Nick
replied. "But it isn't anybody or anything now."

"Six months ago? What's the matter with it and why don't you go on?"

"What's the matter with it is more than I can tell you. But I can't go
on because I've lost my model."

She had an almost hopeful stare. "Is he beautifully dead?"

Her brother laughed out at the candid cheerfulness, hopefulness almost,
with which this inquiry broke from her. "He's only dead to me. He has
gone away."

"Where has he gone?"

"I haven't the least idea."

"Why, have you quarrelled?"--Biddy shone again.

"Quarrelled? For what do you take us? Docs the nightingale quarrel with
the moon?"

"I needn't ask which of you is the moon," she said.

"Of course I'm the nightingale. But, more literally," Nick continued,
"Nash has melted back into the elements--he's part of the great air of
the world." And then as even with this lucidity he saw the girl still
mystified: "I've a notion he has gone to India and at the present moment
is reclining on a bank of flowers in the vale of Cashmere."

Biddy had a pause, after which she dropped: "Julia will be glad--she
dislikes him so."

"If she dislikes him why should she be glad he's so enviably placed?"

"I mean about his going away. She'll be glad of that."

"My poor incorrigible child," Nick cried, "what has Julia to do with
it?"

"She has more to do with things than you think," Biddy returned with all
her bravery. Yet she had no sooner uttered the words than she
perceptibly blushed. Hereupon, to attenuate the foolishness of her
blush--only it had the opposite effect--she added: "She thinks he has
been a bad element in your life."

Nick emitted a long strange sound. "She thinks perhaps, but she doesn't
think enough; otherwise she'd arrive at this better thought--that she
knows nothing whatever about my life."

"Ah brother," the girl pleaded with solemn eyes, "you don't imagine what
an interest she takes in it. She has told me many times--she has talked
lots to me about it." Biddy paused and then went on, an anxious little
smile shining through her gravity as if from a cautious wonder as to how
much he would take: "She has a conviction it was Mr. Nash who made
trouble between you."

"Best of little sisters," Nick pronounced, "those are thoroughly
second-rate ideas, the result of a perfectly superficial view. Excuse my
possibly priggish tone, but they really attribute to my dear detached
friend a part he's quite incapable of playing. He can neither make
trouble nor take trouble; no trouble could ever either have come out of
him or have got into him. Moreover," our young man continued, "if Julia
has talked to you so much about the matter there's no harm in my talking
to you a little. When she threw me over in an hour it was on a perfectly
definite occasion. That occasion was the presence in my studio of a
dishevelled, an abandoned actress."

"Oh Nick, she has not thrown you over!" Biddy protested. "She has
not--I've proof."

He felt at this direct denial a certain stir of indignation and looked
at the girl with momentary sternness. "Has she sent you here to tell me
this? What do you mean by proof?"

Biddy's eyes, at these questions, met her brother's with a strange
expression, and for a few seconds, while she looked entreatingly into
them, she wavered there with parted lips and vaguely stretched out her
hands. The next minute she had burst into tears--she was sobbing on his
breast. He said "Hallo!" and soothed her; but it was very quickly over.
Then she told him what she meant by her proof and what she had had on
her mind ever since her present arrival. It was a message from Julia,
but not to say--not to say what he had questioned her about just before;
though indeed, more familiar now that he had his arm round her, she
boldly expressed the hope it might in the end come to the same thing.
Julia simply wanted to know--- she had instructed her to sound him
discreetly--if Nick would undertake her portrait; and she wound up this
experiment in "sounding" by the statement that their beautiful kinswoman
was dying to sit.

"Dying to sit?" echoed Nick, whose turn it was this time to feel his
colour rise.

"At any moment you like after Easter, when she comes up. She wants a
full-length and your very best, your most splendid work."

Nick stared, not caring that he had blushed. "Is she serious?"

"Ah Nick--serious!" Biddy reasoned tenderly. She came nearer again and
he thought her again about to weep. He took her by the shoulders,
looking into her eyes.

"It's all right if she knows _I_ am. But why doesn't she come like any
one else? I don't refuse people!"

"Nick, dearest Nick!" she went on, her eyes conscious and pleading. He
looked into them intently--as well as she could he play at sounding--and
for a moment, between these young persons, the air was lighted by the
glimmer of mutual searchings and suppressed confessions. Nick read deep
and then, suddenly releasing his sister, turned away. She didn't see his
face in that movement, but an observer to whom it had been presented
might have fancied it denoted a foreboding that was not exactly a dread,
yet was not exclusively a joy.

The first thing he made out in the room, when he could distinguish, was
Gabriel Nash's portrait, which suddenly filled him with an unreasoning
rancour. He seized it and turned it about, jammed it back into its
corner with its face against the wall. This small diversion might have
served to carry off the embarrassment with which he had finally averted
himself from Biddy. The embarrassment, however, was all his own; none of
it was reflected in the way she resumed, after a silence in which she
had followed his disposal of the picture:

"If she's so eager to come here--for it's here she wants to sit, not in
Great Stanhope Street, never!--how can she prove better that she doesn't
care a bit if she meets Miss Rooth?"

"She won't meet Miss Rooth," Nick replied rather dryly.

"Oh I'm sorry!" said Biddy. She was as frank as if she had achieved a
virtual victory, and seemed to regret the loss of a chance for Julia to
show an equal mildness. Her tone made her brother laugh, but she went on
with confidence: "She thought it was Mr. Nash who made Miss Rooth come."

"So he did, by the way," said Nick.

"Well then, wasn't that making trouble?"

"I thought you admitted there was no harm in her being here."

"Yes, but _he_ hoped there'd be."

"Poor Nash's hopes!" Nick laughed. "My dear child, it would take a
cleverer head than you or me, or even Julia, who must have invented that
wise theory, to say what they were. However, let us agree that even if
they were perfectly fiendish my good sense has been a match for them."

"Oh Nick, that's delightful!" chanted Biddy. Then she added: "Do you
mean she doesn't come any more?"

"The dishevelled actress? She hasn't been near me for months."

"But she's in London--she's always acting? I've been away so much I've
scarcely observed," Biddy explained with a slight change of note.

"The same silly part, poor creature, for nearly a year. It appears that
that's 'success'--in her profession. I saw her in the character several
times last summer, but haven't set foot in her theatre since."

Biddy took this in; then she suggested; "Peter wouldn't have liked
that."

"Oh Peter's likes--!" Nick at his easel, beginning to work, conveniently
sighed.

"I mean her acting the same part for a year."

"I'm sure I don't know; he has never written me a word."

"Nor me either," Biddy returned.

There was another short silence, during which Nick brushed at a panel.
It ended in his presently saying: "There's one thing certainly Peter
_would_ like--that is simply to be here to-night. It's a great
night--another great night--for the abandoned one. She's to act Juliet
for the first time."

"Ah how I should like to see her!" the girl cried.

Nick glanced at her; she sat watching him. "She has sent me a stall; I
wish she had sent me two. I should have been delighted to take you."

"Don't you think you could get another?" Biddy quavered.

"They must be in tremendous demand. But who knows after all?" Nick
added, at the same moment looking round. "Here's a chance--here's quite
an extraordinary chance!"

His servant had opened the door and was ushering in a lady whose
identity was indeed justly reflected in those words. "Miss Rooth!" the
man announced; but he was caught up by a gentleman who came next and who
exclaimed, laughing and with a gesture gracefully corrective: "No,
no--no longer Miss Rooth!"

Miriam entered the place with her charming familiar grandeur--entered
very much as she might have appeared, as she appeared every night, early
in her first act, at the back of the stage, by the immemorial middle
door. She might exactly now have been presenting herself to the house,
taking easy possession, repeating old movements, looking from one to the
other of the actors before the footlights. The rich "Good-morning" she
threw into the air, holding out her right hand to Biddy and then giving
her left to Nick--as she might have given it to her own brother--had
nothing to tell of intervals or alienations. She struck Biddy as still
more terrible in her splendid practice than when she had seen her
before--the practice and the splendour had now something almost royal.
The girl had had occasion to make her curtsey to majesties and
highnesses, but the flutter those effigies produced was nothing to the
way in which at the approach of this young lady the agitated air seemed
to recognise something supreme. So the deep mild eyes she bent on Biddy
were not soothing, though for that matter evidently intended to soothe.
Biddy wondered Nick could have got so used to her--he joked at her as
she loomed--and later in the day, still under the great impression of
this incident, she even wondered that Peter could have full an impunity.
It was true that Peter apparently didn't quite feel one.

"You never came--you never came," Miriam said to her kindly and sadly;
and Biddy, recognising the allusion, the invitation to visit the actress
at home, had to explain how much she had been absent from London and
then even that her brother hadn't proposed to take her.

"Very true--he hasn't come himself. What's he doing now?" asked Miss
Rooth, standing near her young friend but looking at Nick, who had
immediately engaged in conversation with his other visitor, a gentleman
whose face came back to the girl. She had seen this gentleman on the
stage with the great performer--that was it, the night Peter took her to
the theatre with Florry Tressilian. Oh that Nick would only do something
of that sort now! This desire, quickened by the presence of the strange,
expressive woman, by the way she scattered sweet syllables as if she
were touching the piano-keys, combined with other things to make our
young lady's head swim--other things too mingled to name, admiration and
fear and dim divination and purposeless pride and curiosity and
resistance, the impulse to go away and the determination to (as she
would have liked fondly to fancy it) "hold her ground." The actress
courted her with a wondrous voice--what was the matter with the actress
and what did she want?--and Biddy tried in return to give an idea of
what Nick was doing. Not succeeding very well she was about to appeal to
her brother, but Miriam stopped her with the remark that it didn't
signify; besides, Dashwood was telling Nick something--something they
wanted him to know. "We're in a great excitement--he has taken a
theatre," Miriam added.

"Taken a theatre?" Biddy was vague.

"We're going to set up for ourselves. He's going to do for me
altogether. It has all been arranged only within a day or two. It
remains to be seen how it will answer," Miriam smiled. Biddy murmured
some friendly hope, and the shining presence went on: "Do you know why
I've broken in here to-day after a long absence--interrupting your poor
brother so basely, taking up his precious time? It's because I'm so
nervous."

"About your first night?" Biddy risked.

"Do you know about that--are you coming?" Miriam had caught at it.

"No, I'm not coming--I haven't a place."

"Will you come if I send you one?"

"Oh but really it's too beautiful of you!" breathed the girl.

"You shall have a box; your brother shall bring you. They can't squeeze
in a pin, I'm told; but I've kept a box, I'll manage it. Only if I do,
you know, mind you positively come!" She sounded it as the highest of
favours, resting her hand on Biddy's.

"Don't be afraid. And may I bring a friend--the friend with whom I'm
staying?"

Miriam now just gloomed. "Do you mean Mrs. Dallow?"

"No, no--Miss Tressilian. She puts me up, she has got a flat. Did you
ever see a flat?" asked Biddy expansively. "My cousin's not in London."
Miriam replied that she might bring whom she liked and Biddy broke out
to her brother: "Fancy what kindness, Nick: we're to have a box to-night
and you're to take me!"

Nick turned to her a face of levity which struck her even at the time as
too cynically free, but which she understood when the finer sense of it
subsequently recurred to her. Mr. Dashwood interposed with the remark
that it was all very well to talk about boxes, but that he didn't see
how at that time of day the miracle was to be worked.

"You haven't kept one as I told you?" Miriam demanded.

"As you told me, my dear? Tell the lamb to keep its tenderest mutton
from the wolves!"

"You shall have one: we'll arrange it," Miriam went on to Biddy.

"Let me qualify that statement a little, Miss Dormer," said Basil
Dashwood. "We'll arrange it if it's humanly possible."

"We'll arrange it even if it's inhumanly _im_possible--that's just the
point," Miriam declared to the girl. "Don't talk about trouble--what's
he meant for but to take it? _Cela s'annonce bien_, you see," she
continued to Nick: "doesn't it look as if we should pull beautifully
together?" And as he answered that he heartily congratulated her--he was
immensely interested in what he had been told--she exclaimed after
resting her eyes on him a moment: "What will you have? It seemed
simpler! It was clear there had to be some one." She explained further
to Nick what had led her to come in at that moment, while Dashwood
approached Biddy with a civil assurance that they would see, they would
leave no stone unturned, though he would not have taken upon himself to
promise.

Miriam reminded Nick of the blessing he had been to her nearly a year
before, on her other first night, when she was all impatient and on
edge; how he had let her come and sit there for hours--helped her to
possess her soul till the evening and to keep out of harm's way. The
case was the same at present, with the aggravation indeed that he would
understand--Dashwood's nerves as well as her own: Dashwood's were a
great deal worse than hers. Everything was ready for Juliet; they had
been rehearsing for five months--it had kept her from going mad from the
treadmill of the other piece--and he, Nick, had occurred to her again,
in the last intolerable hours, as the friend in need, the salutary
stop-gap, no matter how much she worried him. She shouldn't be turned
out? Biddy broke away from Basil Dashwood: she must go, she must hurry
off to Miss Tressilian with her news. Florry might make some other
stupid engagement for the evening: she must be warned in time. The girl
took a flushed, excited leave after having received a renewal of
Miriam's pledge and even heard her say to Nick that he must now give
back the seat already sent him--they should be sure to have another use
for it.


Henry James