Peter Sherringham reminded Nick the next day that he had promised to be
present at Madame Carré's interview with the ladies introduced to her by
Gabriel Nash; and in the afternoon, conformably to this arrangement, the
two men took their way to the Rue de Constantinople. They found Mr. Nash
and his friends in the small beflounced drawing-room of the old actress,
who, as they learned, had sent in a request for ten minutes' grace,
having been detained at a lesson--a rehearsal of the _comédie de salon_
about to be given for a charity by a fine lady, at which she had
consented to be present as an adviser. Mrs. Rooth sat on a black satin
sofa with her daughter beside her while Gabriel Nash, wandering about
the room, looked at the votive offerings which converted the little
panelled box, decorated in sallow white and gold, into a theatrical
museum: the presents, the portraits, the wreaths, the diadems, the
letters, framed and glazed, the trophies and tributes and relics
collected by Madame Carré during half a century of renown. The profusion
of this testimony was hardly more striking than the confession of
something missed, something hushed, which seemed to rise from it all and
make it melancholy, like a reference to clappings which, in the nature
of things, could now only be present as a silence: so that if the place
was full of history it was the form without the fact, or at the most a
redundancy of the one to a pinch of the other--the history of a mask,
of a squeak, of a series of vain gestures.
Some of the objects exhibited by the distinguished artist, her early
portraits, in lithograph or miniature, represented the costume and
embodied the manner of a period so remote that Nick Dormer, as he
glanced at them, felt a quickened curiosity to look at the woman who
reconciled being alive to-day with having been alive so long ago. Peter
Sherringham already knew how she managed this miracle, but every visit
he paid her added to his amused, charmed sense that it _was_ a miracle
and that his extraordinary old friend had seen things he should never,
never see. Those were just the things he wanted to see most, and her
duration, her survival, cheated him agreeably and helped him a little to
guess them. His appreciation of the actor's art was so systematic that
it had an antiquarian side, and at the risk of representing him as
attached to an absurd futility it must be said that he had as yet hardly
known a keener regret for anything than for the loss of that antecedent
world, and in particular for his having belatedly missed the great
_comédienne_, the light of the French stage in the early years of the
century, of whose example and instruction Madame Carré had had the
inestimable benefit. She had often described to him her rare
predecessor, straight from whose hands she had received her most
celebrated parts and of whom her own manner was often a religious
imitation; but her descriptions troubled him more than they consoled,
only confirming his theory, to which so much of his observation had
already ministered, that the actor's art in general was going down and
down, descending a slope with abysses of vulgarity at its foot, after
having reached its perfection, more than fifty years ago, in the talent
of the lady in question. He would have liked to dwell for an hour
beneath the meridian.
Gabriel Nash introduced the new-comers to his companions; but the
younger of the two ladies gave no sign of lending herself to this
transaction. The girl was very white; she huddled there, silent and
rigid, frightened to death, staring, expressionless. If Bridget Dormer
had seen her at this moment she might have felt avenged for the
discomfiture of her own spirit suffered at the Salon, the day before,
under the challenging eyes of Maud Vavasour. It was plain at the present
hour that Miss Vavasour would have run away had she not regarded the
persons present as so many guards and keepers. Her appearance made Nick
feel as if the little temple of art in which they were collected had
been the waiting-room of a dentist. Sherringham had seen a great many
nervous girls tremble before the same ordeal, and he liked to be kind to
them, to say things that would help them to do themselves justice. The
probability in a given case was almost overwhelmingly in favour of their
having any other talent one could think of in a higher degree than the
dramatic; but he could rarely refrain from some care that the occasion
shouldn't be, even as against his conscience, too cruel. There were
occasions indeed that could scarce be too cruel to punish properly
certain examples of presumptuous ineptitude. He remembered what Mr. Nash
had said about this blighted maiden, and perceived that though she might
be inept she was now anything but presumptuous. Gabriel fell to talking
with Nick Dormer while Peter addressed himself to Mrs. Rooth. There was
no use as yet for any direct word to the girl, who was too scared even
to hear. Mrs. Rooth, with her shawl fluttering about her, nestled
against her daughter, putting out her hand to take one of Miriam's
soothingly. She had pretty, silly, near-sighted eyes, a long thin nose,
and an upper lip which projected over the under as an ornamental cornice
rests on its support. "So much depends--really everything!" she said in
answer to some sociable observation of Sherringham's. "It's either
this," and she rolled her eyes expressively about the room, "or it's--I
don't know what!"
"Perhaps we're too many," Peter hazarded to her daughter. "But really
you'll find, after you fairly begin, that you'll do better with four or
Before she answered she turned her head and lifted her fine eyes. The
next instant he saw they were full of tears. The words she spoke,
however, though uttered as if she had tapped a silver gong, had not the
note of sensibility: "Oh, I don't care for _you_!" He laughed at this,
declared it was very well said and that if she could give Madame Carré
such a specimen as that----! The actress came in before he had finished
his phrase, and he observed the way the girl ruefully rose to the
encounter, hanging her head a little and looking out from under her
brows. There was no sentiment in her face--only a vacancy of awe and
anguish which had not even the merit of being fine of its kind, for it
spoke of no spring of reaction. Yet the head was good, he noted at the
same moment; it was strong and salient and made to tell at a distance.
Madame Carré scarcely heeded her at first, greeting her only in her
order among the others and pointing to seats, composing the circle with
smiles and gestures, as if they were all before the prompter's box. The
old actress presented herself to a casual glance as a red-faced, raddled
woman in a wig, with beady eyes, a hooked nose, and pretty hands; but
Nick Dormer, who had a sense for the over-scored human surface, soon
observed that these comparatively gross marks included a great deal of
delicate detail--an eyebrow, a nostril, a flitting of expressions, as if
a multitude of little facial wires were pulled from within. This
accomplished artist had in particular a mouth which was visibly a rare
instrument, a pair of lips whose curves and fine corners spoke of a
lifetime of "points" unerringly made and verses exquisitely spoken,
helping to explain the purity of the sound that issued from them. Her
whole countenance had the look of long service--of a thing infinitely
worn and used, drawn and stretched to excess, with its elasticity
overdone and its springs relaxed, yet religiously preserved and kept in
repair, even as some valuable old timepiece which might have quivered
and rumbled but could be trusted to strike the hour. At the first words
she spoke Gabriel Nash exclaimed endearingly: _"Ah la voix de
Célimène!"_ Célimène, who wore a big red flower on the summit of her
dense wig, had a very grand air, a toss of the head, and sundry little
majesties of manner; in addition to which she was strange, almost
grotesque, and to some people would have been even terrifying, capable
of reappearing, with her hard eyes, as a queer vision of the darkness.
She excused herself for having made the company wait, and mouthed and
mimicked in the drollest way, with intonations as fine as a flute, the
performance and the pretensions of the _belles dames_ to whom she had
just been endeavouring to communicate a few of the rudiments. _"Mais
celles-là, c'est une plaisanterie,"_ she went on to Mrs. Rooth; "whereas
you and your daughter, _chère madame_--I'm sure you are quite another
The girl had got rid of her tears, and was gazing at her, and Mrs. Rooth
leaned forward and said portentously: "She knows four languages."
Madame Carré gave one of her histrionic stares, throwing back her head.
"That's three too many. The thing's to do something proper with one."
"We're very much in earnest," continued Mrs. Rooth, who spoke excellent
"I'm glad to hear it--_il n'y a que ça. La tête est bien_--the head's
very good," she said as she looked at the girl. "But let us see, my dear
child, what you've got in it!" The young lady was still powerless to
speak; she opened her lips, but nothing came. With the failure of this
effort she turned her deep sombre eyes to the three men. "_Un beau
regard_--it carries well." Madame Carré further commented. But even as
she spoke Miss Rooth's fine gaze was suffused again and the next moment
she had definitely begun to weep. Nick Dormer sprung up; he felt
embarrassed and intrusive--there was such an indelicacy in sitting there
to watch a poor working-girl's struggle with timidity. There was a
momentary confusion; Mrs. Rooth's tears were seen also to flow; Mr. Nash
took it gaily, addressing, however, at the same time, the friendliest,
most familiar encouragement to his companions, and Peter Sherringham
offered to retire with Nick on the spot, should their presence incommode
the young lady. But the agitation was over in a minute; Madame Carré
motioned Mrs. Rooth out of her seat and took her place beside the girl,
and Nash explained judiciously to the other men that she'd be worse
should they leave her. Her mother begged them to remain, "so that there
should be at least some English"; she spoke as if the old actress were
an army of Frenchwomen. The young heroine of the occasion quickly came
round, and Madame Carré, on the sofa beside her, held her hand and
emitted a perfect music of reassurance. "The nerves, the nerves--they're
half our affair. Have as many as you like, if you've got something else
too. _Voyons_--do you know anything?"
"I know some pieces."
"Some pieces of the _répertoire_?"
Miriam Rooth stared as if she didn't understand. "I know some poetry."
"English, French, Italian, German," said her mother.
Madame Carré gave Mrs. Rooth a look which expressed irritation at the
recurrence of this announcement. "Does she wish to act in all those
tongues? The phrase-book isn't the comedy!"
"It's only to show you how she has been educated."
"Ah, _chère madame_, there's no education that matters! I mean save the
right one. Your daughter must have a particular form of speech, like me,
like _ces messieurs_."
"You see if I can speak French," said the girl, smiling dimly at her
hostess. She appeared now almost to have collected herself.
"You speak it in perfection."
"And English just as well," said Miss Rooth.
"You oughtn't to be an actress--you ought to be a governess."
"Oh don't tell us that: it's to escape from that!" pleaded Mrs. Rooth.
"I'm very sure your daughter will escape from that," Peter Sherringham
was moved to interpose.
"Oh if _you_ could help her!" said the lady with a world of longing.
"She has certainly all the qualities that strike the eye," Peter
"You're _most_ kind, sir!" Mrs. Rooth declared, elegantly draping
"She knows Célimène; I've heard her do Célimène," Gabriel Nash said to
"And she knows Juliet, she knows Lady Macbeth and Cleopatra," added Mrs.
"_Voyons_, my dear child, do you wish to work for the French stage or
for the English?" the old actress demanded.
"Ours would have sore need of you, Miss Rooth," Sherringham gallantly
"Could you speak to any one in London--could you introduce her?" her
mother eagerly asked.
"Dear madam, I must hear her first, and hear what Madame Carré says."
"She has a voice of rare beauty, and I understand voices," said Mrs.
"Ah then if she has intelligence she has every gift."
"She has a most poetic mind," the old lady went on.
"I should like to paint her portrait; she's made for that," Nick Dormer
ventured to observe to Mrs. Rooth; partly because struck with the girl's
suitability for sitting, partly to mitigate the crudity of inexpressive
"So all the artists say. I've had three or four heads of her, if you
would like to see them: she has been done in several styles. If you were
to do her I'm sure it would make her celebrated."
"And me too," Nick easily laughed.
"It would indeed--a member of Parliament!" Nash declared.
"Ah, I have the honour----?" murmured Mrs. Rooth, looking gratified and
Nick explained that she had no honour at all, and meanwhile Madame Carré
had been questioning the girl "_Chère madame_, I can do nothing with
your daughter: she knows too much!" she broke out. "It's a pity, because
I like to catch them wild."
"Oh she's wild enough, if that's all! And that's the very point, the
question of where to try," Mrs. Rooth went on. "Into what do I launch
her--upon what dangerous stormy sea? I've thought of it so anxiously."
"Try here--try the French public: they're so much the most serious,"
said Gabriel Nash.
"Ah no, try the English: there's such a rare opening!" Sherringham urged
in quick opposition.
"Oh it isn't the public, dear gentlemen. It's the private side, the
other people--it's the life, it's the moral atmosphere."
"_Je ne connais qu'une scène,--la nôtre_," Madame Carré declared. "I'm
assured by every one who knows that there's no other."
"Very correctly assured," said Mr. Nash. "The theatre in our countries
is puerile and barbarous."
"There's something to be done for it, and perhaps mademoiselle's the
person to do it," Sherringham contentiously suggested.
"Ah but, _en attendant_, what can it do for her?" Madame Carré asked.
"Well, anything I can help to bring about," said Peter Sherringham, more
and more struck with the girl's rich type. Miriam Rooth sat in silence
while this discussion went on, looking from one speaker to the other
with a strange dependent candour.
"Ah, if your part's marked out I congratulate you, mademoiselle!"--and
the old actress underlined the words as she had often underlined others
on the stage. She smiled with large permissiveness on the young
aspirant, who appeared not to understand her. Her tone penetrated,
however, to certain depths in the mother's nature, adding another stir
to agitated waters.
"I feel the responsibility of what she shall find in the life, the
standards, of the theatre," Mrs. Rooth explained. "Where is the purest
tone--where are the highest standards? That's what I ask," the good lady
continued with a misguided intensity which elicited a peal of
unceremonious but sociable laughter from Gabriel Nash.
"The purest tone--_qu'est-ce que c'est que ça_?" Madame Carré demanded
in the finest manner of modern comedy.
"We're very, _very_ respectable," Mrs. Rooth went on, but now smiling
and achieving lightness too.
"What I want is to place my daughter where the conduct--and the picture
of conduct in which she should take part--wouldn't be quite absolutely
dreadful. Now, _chère madame_, how about all that; how about _conduct_
in the French theatre--all the things she should see, the things she
should hear, the things she should learn?"
Her hostess took it, as Sherringham felt, _de très-haut_. "I don't think
I know what you're talking about. They're the things she may see and
hear and learn everywhere; only they're better done, they're better
said, above all they're better taught. The only conduct that concerns
an, actress, it seems to me, is her own, and the only way for her to
behave herself is not to be a helpless stick. I know no other conduct."
"But there are characters, there are situations, which I don't think I
should like to see _her_ undertake."
"There are many, no doubt, which she would do well to leave alone!"
laughed the Frenchwoman.
"I shouldn't like to see her represent a very bad woman--a _really_ bad
one," Mrs. Rooth serenely pursued.
"Ah in England then, and in your theatre, every one's immaculately good?
Your plays must be even more ingenious than I supposed!"
"We haven't any plays," said Gabriel Nash.
"People will write them for Miss Rooth--it will be a new era,"
Sherringham threw in with wanton, or at least with combative, optimism.
"Will _you_, sir--will you do something? A sketch of one of our grand
English ideals?" the old lady asked engagingly.
"Oh I know what you do with our pieces--to show your superior virtue!"
Madame Carré cried before he had time to reply that he wrote nothing
but diplomatic memoranda. "Bad women? _Je n'ai joué que ça, madame_.
'Really' bad? I tried to make them real!"
"I can say 'L'Aventurière,'" Miriam interrupted in a cold voice which
seemed to hint at a want of participation in the maternal solicitudes.
"Allow us the pleasure of hearing you then. Madame Carré will give you
the _réplique_," said Peter Sherringham.
"Certainly, my child; I can say it without the book," Madame Carré
responded. "Put yourself there--move that chair a little away." She
patted her young visitor, encouraging her to rise, settling with her the
scene they should take, while the three men sprang up to arrange a place
for the performance. Miriam left her seat and looked vaguely about her;
then having taken off her hat and given it to her mother she stood on
the designated spot with her eyes to the ground. Abruptly, however,
instead of beginning the scene, Madame Carré turned to the elder lady
with an air which showed that a rejoinder to this visitor's remarks of a
moment before had been gathering force in her breast.
"You mix things up, _chère madame_, and I have it on my heart to tell
you so. I believe it's rather the case with you other English, and I've
never been able to learn that either your morality or your talent is the
gainer by it. To be too respectable to go where things are done best is
in my opinion to be very vicious indeed; and to do them badly in order
to preserve your virtue is to fall into a grossness more shocking than
any other. To do them well is virtue enough, and not to make a mess of
it the only respectability. That's hard enough to merit Paradise.
Everything else is base humbug! _Voilà, chère madame_, the answer I have
for your scruples!"
"It's admirable--admirable; and I am glad my friend Dormer here has had
the great advantage of hearing you utter it!" Nash exclaimed with a free
designation of Nick.
That young man thought it in effect a speech denoting an intelligence of
the question, yet he rather resented the idea that Gabriel should assume
it would strike him as a revelation; and to show his familiarity with
the line of thought it indicated, as well as to play his part
appreciatively in the little circle, he observed to Mrs. Rooth, as if
they might take many things for granted: "In other words, your daughter
must find her safeguard in the artistic conscience." But he had no
sooner spoken than he was struck with the oddity of their discussing so
publicly, and under the poor girl's handsome nose, the conditions which
Miss Rooth might find the best for the preservation of her personal
integrity. However, the anomaly was light and unoppressive--the echoes
of a public discussion of delicate questions seemed to linger so
familiarly in the egotistical little room. Moreover, the heroine of the
occasion evidently was losing her embarrassment; she was the priestess
on the tripod, awaiting the afflatus and thinking only of that. Her
bared head, of which she had changed the position, holding it erect,
while her arms hung at her sides, was admirable; her eyes gazed straight
out of the window and at the houses on the opposite side of the Rue de
Mrs. Rooth had listened to Madame Carré with startled, respectful
attention, but Nick, considering her, was very sure she hadn't at all
taken in the great artist's little lesson. Yet this didn't prevent her
from exclaiming in answer to himself: "Oh a fine artistic life--what
indeed is more beautiful?"
Peter Sherringham had said nothing; he was watching Miriam and her
attitude. She wore a black dress which fell in straight folds; her face,
under her level brows, was pale and regular--it had a strange, strong,
tragic beauty. "I don't know what's in her," he said to himself;
"nothing, it would seem, from her persistent vacancy. But such a face as
that, such a head, is a fortune!" Madame Carré brought her to book,
giving her the first line of the speech of Clorinde: "_Vous ne me fuyez
pas, mon enfant, aujourd'hui_." But still the girl hesitated, and for an
instant appeared to make a vain, convulsive effort. In this convulsion
she frowned portentously; her low forehead overhung her eyes; the eyes
themselves, in shadow, stared, splendid and cold, and her hands clinched
themselves at her sides. She looked austere and terrible and was during
this moment an incarnation the vividness of which drew from Sherringham
a stifled cry. "_Elle est bien belle--ah ça_," murmured the old
actress; and in the pause which still preceded the issue of sound from
the girl's lips Peter turned to his kinsman and said in a low tone: "You
must paint her just like that."
"As the Tragic Muse."
She began to speak; a long, strong, colourless voice quavered in her
young throat. She delivered the lines of Clorinde in the admired
interview with Célie, the gem of the third act, with a rude monotony,
and then, gaining confidence, with an effort at modulation which was not
altogether successful and which evidently she felt not to be so. Madame
Carré sent back the ball without raising her hand, repeating the
speeches of Célie, which her memory possessed from their having so often
been addressed to her, and uttering the verses with soft, communicative
art. So they went on through the scene, which, when it was over, had not
precisely been a triumph for Miriam Rooth. Sherringham forbore to look
at Gabriel Nash, and Madame Carré said: "I think you've a voice, _ma
fille_, somewhere or other. We must try and put our hand on it." Then
she asked her what instruction she had had, and the girl, lifting her
eyebrows, looked at her mother while her mother prompted her.
"Mrs. Delamere in London; she was once an ornament of the English stage.
She gives lessons just to a very few; it's a great favour. Such a very
nice person! But above all, Signor Ruggieri--I think he taught us most."
Mrs. Rooth explained that this gentleman was an Italian tragedian, in
Rome, who instructed Miriam in the proper manner of pronouncing his
language and also in the art of declaiming and gesticulating.
"Gesticulating I'll warrant!" declared their hostess. "They mimic as for
the deaf, they emphasise as for the blind. Mrs. Delamere is doubtless an
epitome of all the virtues, but I never heard of her. You travel too
much," Madame Carré went on; "that's very amusing, but the way to study
is to stay at home, to shut yourself up and hammer at your scales." Mrs.
Rooth complained that they had no home to stay at; in reply to which the
old actress exclaimed: "Oh you English, you're _d'une légèreté à faire
frémir._ If you haven't a home you must make, or at least for decency
pretend to, one. In our profession it's the first requisite."
"But where? That's what I ask!" said Mrs. Rooth.
"Why not here?" Sherringham threw out.
"Oh here!" And the good lady shook her head with a world of sad
"Come and live in London and then I shall be able to paint your
daughter," Nick Dormer interposed.
"Is that all it will take, my dear fellow?" asked Gabriel Nash.
"Ah, London's full of memories," Mrs. Rooth went on. "My father had a
great house there--we always came up. But all that's over."
"Study here and then go to London to appear," said Peter, feeling
frivolous even as he spoke.
"To appear in French?"
"No, in the language of Shakespeare."
"But we can't study that here."
"Mr. Sherringham means that he will give you lessons," Madame Carré
explained. "Let me not fail to say it--he's an excellent critic."
"How do you know that--you who're beyond criticism and perfect?" asked
Sherringham: an inquiry to which the answer was forestalled by the
girl's rousing herself to make it public that she could recite the
"Nights" of Alfred de Musset.
"Diable!" said the actress: "that's more than I can! By all means give
us a specimen."
The girl again placed herself in position and rolled out a fragment of
one of the splendid conversations of Musset's poet with his muse--rolled
it loudly and proudly, tossed it and tumbled it about the room. Madame
Carré watched her at first, but after a few moments she shut her eyes,
though the best part of the business was to take in her young
candidate's beauty. Sherringham had supposed Miriam rather abashed by
the flatness of her first performance, but he now saw how little she
could have been aware of this: she was rather uplifted and emboldened.
She made a mush of the divine verses, which in spite of certain
sonorities and cadences, an evident effort to imitate a celebrated
actress, a comrade of Madame Carré, whom she had heard declaim them, she
produced as if she had been dashing blindfold at some playfellow she was
to "catch." When she had finished Madame Carré passed no judgement, only
dropping: "Perhaps you had better say something English." She suggested
some little piece of verse--some fable if there were fables in English.
She appeared but scantily surprised to hear that there were not--it was
a language of which one expected so little. Mrs. Rooth said: "She knows
her Tennyson by heart. I think he's much deeper than La Fontaine"; and
after some deliberation and delay Miriam broke into "The Lotus-Eaters,"
from which she passed directly, almost breathlessly, to "Edward Gray."
Sherringham had by this time heard her make four different attempts, and
the only generalisation very present to him was that she uttered these
dissimilar compositions in exactly the same tone--a solemn, droning,
dragging measure suggestive of an exhortation from the pulpit and
adopted evidently with the "affecting" intention and from a crude idea
of "style." It was all funereal, yet was artlessly rough. Sherringham
thought her English performance less futile than her French, but he
could see that Madame Carré listened to it even with less pleasure. In
the way the girl wailed forth some of her Tennysonian lines he detected
a faint gleam as of something pearly in deep water. But the further she
went the more violently she acted on the nerves of Mr. Gabriel Nash:
that also he could discover from the way this gentleman ended by
slipping discreetly to the window and leaning there with his head out
and his back to the exhibition. He had the art of mute expression; his
attitude said as clearly as possible: "No, no, you can't call me either
ill-mannered or ill-natured. I'm the showman of the occasion, moreover,
and I avert myself, leaving you to judge. If there's a thing in life I
hate it's this idiotic new fashion of the drawing-room recitation and of
the insufferable creatures who practise it, who prevent conversation,
and whom, as they're beneath it, you can't punish by criticism.
Therefore what I'm doing's only too magnanimous--bringing these
benighted women here, paying with my person, stifling my just
While Sherringham judged privately that the manner in which Miss Rooth
had acquitted herself offered no element of interest, he yet remained
aware that something surmounted and survived her failure, something that
would perhaps be worth his curiosity. It was the element of outline and
attitude, the way she stood, the way she turned her eyes, her head, and
moved her limbs. These things held the attention; they had a natural
authority and, in spite of their suggesting too much the school-girl in
the _tableau-vivant_, a "plastic" grandeur. Her face, moreover, grew as
he watched it; something delicate dawned in it, a dim promise of variety
and a touching plea for patience, as if it were conscious of being able
to show in time more shades than the simple and striking gloom which had
as yet mainly graced it. These rather rude physical felicities formed in
short her only mark of a vocation. He almost hated to have to recognise
them; he had seen them so often when they meant nothing at all that he
had come at last to regard them as almost a guarantee of incompetence.
He knew Madame Carré valued them singly so little that she counted them
out in measuring an histrionic nature; when deprived of the escort of
other properties which helped and completed them she almost held them a
positive hindrance to success--success of the only kind she esteemed.
Far oftener than himself she had sat in judgement on young women for
whom hair and eyebrows and a disposition for the statuesque would have
worked the miracle of sanctifying their stupidity if the miracle were
workable. But that particular miracle never was. The qualities she rated
highest were not the gifts but the conquests, the effects the actor had
worked hard for, had dug out of the mine by unwearied study.
Sherringham remembered to have had in the early part of their
acquaintance a friendly dispute with her on this subject, he having been
moved at that time to defend doubtless to excess the cause of the gifts.
She had gone so far as to say that a serious comedian ought to be
ashamed of them--ashamed of resting his case on them; and when
Sherringham had cited the great Rachel as a player whose natural
endowment was rich and who had owed her highest triumphs to it, she had
declared that Rachel was the very instance that proved her point;--a
talent assisted by one or two primary aids, a voice and a portentous
brow, but essentially formed by work, unremitting and ferocious work. "I
don't care a straw for your handsome girls," she said; "but bring me one
who's ready to drudge the tenth part of the way Rachel drudged, and I'll
forgive her her beauty. Of course, _notez bien_, Rachel wasn't a _grosse
bête_: that's a gift if you like!"
Mrs. Rooth, who was evidently very proud of the figure her daughter had
made--her daughter who for all one could tell affected their hostess
precisely as a _grosse bête_--appealed to Madame Carré rashly and
serenely for a verdict; but fortunately this lady's voluble _bonne_ came
rattling in at the same moment with the tea-tray. The old actress busied
herself in dispensing this refreshment, an hospitable attention to her
English visitors, and under cover of the diversion thus obtained, while
the others talked together, Sherringham put her the question: "Well, is
there anything in my young friend?"
"Nothing I can see. She's loud and coarse."
"She's very much afraid. You must allow for that."
"Afraid of me, immensely, but not a bit afraid of her authors--nor of
you!" Madame Carré smiled.
"Aren't you prejudiced by what that fellow Nash has told you?"
"Why prejudiced? He only told me she was very handsome."
"And don't you think her so?"
"Admirable. But I'm not a photographer nor a dressmaker nor a coiffeur.
I can't do anything with 'back hair' nor with a mere big stare."
"The head's very noble," said Peter Sherringham. "And the voice, when
she spoke English, had some sweet tones."
"Ah your English--possibly! All I can say is that I listened to her
conscientiously, and I didn't perceive in what she did a single
_nuance_, a single inflexion or intention. But not one, _mon cher_. I
don't think she's intelligent."
"But don't they often seem stupid at first?"
"Then don't some succeed--even when they're handsome?"
"When they're handsome they always succeed--in one way or another."
"You don't understand us English," said Peter Sherringham.
Madame Carré drank her tea; then she replied: "Marry her, my son, and
give her diamonds. Make her an ambassadress; she'll look very well."
"She interests you so little that you don't care to do anything for
"To do anything?"
"To give her a few lessons."
The old actress looked at him a moment; after which, rising from her
place near the table on which the tea had been served, she said to
Miriam Rooth: "My dear child, I give my voice for the _scène anglaise_.
You did the English things best."
"Did I do them well?" asked the girl.
"You've a great deal to learn; but you've rude force. The main things
_sont encore a dégager_, but they'll come. You must work."
"I think she has ideas," said Mrs. Rooth.
"She gets them from you," Madame Carré replied.
"I must say that if it's to be _our_ theatre I'm relieved. I do think
ours safer," the good lady continued.
"Ours is dangerous, no doubt."
"You mean you're more severe," said the girl.
"Your mother's right," the actress smiled; "you have ideas."
"But what shall we do then--how shall we proceed?" Mrs. Rooth made this
appeal, plaintively and vaguely, to the three gentlemen; but they had
collected a few steps off and were so occupied in talk that it failed to
"Work--work--work!" exclaimed the actress.
"In English I can play Shakespeare. I want to play Shakespeare," Miriam
"That's fortunate, as in English you haven't any one else to play."
"But he's so great--and he's so pure!" said Mrs. Rooth.
"That indeed seems the saving of you," Madame Carré returned.
"You think me actually pretty bad, don't you?" the girl demanded with
her serious face.
"_Mon Dieu, que vous dirai-je?_ Of course you're rough; but so was I at
your age. And if you find your voice it may carry you far. Besides, what
does it matter what I think? How can I judge for your English public?"
"How shall I find my voice?" asked Miriam Rooth.
"By trying. _Il n'y a que ça_. Work like a horse, night and day.
Besides, Mr. Sherringham, as he says, will help you."
That gentleman, hearing his name, turned round and the girl appealed to
him. "Will you help me really?"
"To find her voice," said Madame Carré.
"The voice, when it's worth anything, comes from the heart; so I suppose
that's where to look for it," Gabriel Nash suggested.
"Much you know; you haven't got any!" Miriam retorted with the first
scintillation of gaiety she had shown on this occasion.
"Any voice, my child?" Mr. Nash inquired.
"Any heart--or any manners!"
Peter Sherringham made the secret reflexion that he liked her better
lugubrious, as the note of pertness was not totally absent from her mode
of emitting these few words. He was irritated, moreover, for in the
brief conference he had just had with the young lady's introducer he had
had to meet the rather difficult call of speaking of her hopefully. Mr.
Nash had said with his bland smile, "And what impression does my young
friend make?"--in respect to which Peter's optimism felt engaged by an
awkward logic. He answered that he recognised promise, though he did
nothing of the sort;--at the same time that the poor girl, both with the
exaggerated "points" of her person and the vanity of her attempt at
expression, constituted a kind of challenge, struck him as a subject for
inquiry, a problem, an explorable tract. She was too bad to jump at and
yet too "taking"--perhaps after all only vulgarly--to overlook,
especially when resting her tragic eyes on him with the trust of her
deep "Really?" This note affected him as addressed directly to his
honour, giving him a chance to brave verisimilitude, to brave ridicule
even a little, in order to show in a special case what he had always
maintained in general, that the direction of a young person's studies
for the stage may be an interest of as high an order as any other
"Mr. Nash has rendered us the great service of introducing us to Madame
Carré, and I'm sure we're immensely indebted to him," Mrs. Rooth said to
her daughter with an air affectionately corrective.
"But what good does that do us?" the girl asked, smiling at the actress
and gently laying her finger-tips upon her hand. "Madame Carré listens
to me with adorable patience, and then sends me about my business--ah in
the prettiest way in the world."
"Mademoiselle, you're not so rough; the tone of that's very _juste. A la
bonne heure_; work--work!" the actress cried. "There was an inflexion
there--or very nearly. Practise it till you've got it."
"Come and practise it to _me_, if your mother will be so kind as to
bring you," said Peter Sherringham.
"Do you give lessons--do you understand?" Miriam asked.
"I'm an old play-goer and I've an unbounded belief in my own judgement."
"'Old,' sir, is too much to say," Mrs. Rooth remonstrated. "My daughter
knows your high position, but she's very direct. You'll always find her
so. Perhaps you'll say there are less honourable faults. We'll come to
see you with pleasure. Oh I've been at the embassy when I was her age.
Therefore why shouldn't she go to-day? That was in Lord Davenant's
"A few people are coming to tea with me to-morrow. Perhaps you'll come
then at five o'clock."
"It will remind me of the dear old times," said Mrs. Rooth.
"Thank you; I'll try and do better to-morrow," Miriam professed very
"You do better every minute!" Sherringham returned--and he looked at
their hostess in support of this declaration.
"She's finding her voice," Madame Carré acknowledged.
"She's finding a friend!" Mrs. Rooth threw in.
"And don't forget, when you come to London, my hope that you'll come and
see _me_," Nick Dormer said to the girl. "To try and paint you--that
would do me good!"
"She's finding even two," said Madame Carré.
"It's to make up for one I've lost!" And Miriam looked with very good
stage-scorn at Gabriel Nash. "It's he who thinks I'm bad."
"You say that to make me drive you home; you know it will," Nash
"We'll all take you home; why not?" Sherringham asked.
Madame Carré looked at the handsome girl, handsomer than ever at this
moment, and at the three young men who had taken their hats and stood
ready to accompany her. A deeper expression came for an instant into her
hard, bright eyes. "_Ah la jeunesse_!" she sighed. "You'd always have
that, my child, if you were the greatest goose on earth!"
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