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Chapter 8


At Peter Sherringham's the next day Miriam had so evidently come with
the expectation of "saying" something that it was impossible such a
patron of the drama should forbear to invite her, little as the
exhibition at Madame Carré's could have contributed to render the
invitation prompt. His curiosity had been more appeased than stimulated,
but he felt none the less that he had "taken up" the dark-browed girl
and her reminiscential mother and must face the immediate consequences
of the act. This responsibility weighed upon him during the twenty-four
hours that followed the ultimate dispersal of the little party at the
door of the Hôtel de la Garonne.

On quitting Madame Carré the two ladies had definitely declined Mr.
Nash's offered cab and had taken their way homeward on foot and with the
gentlemen in attendance. The streets of Paris at that hour were bright
and episodical, and Sherringham trod them good-humouredly enough and not
too fast, leaning a little to talk with Miriam as he went. Their pace
was regulated by her mother's, who advanced on the arm of Gabriel Nash
(Nick Dormer was on her other side) in refined deprecation. Her sloping
back was before them, exempt from retentive stillness in spite of her
rigid principles, with the little drama of her lost and recovered shawl
perpetually going on.

Sherringham said nothing to the girl about her performance or her
powers; their talk was only of her manner of life with her mother--their
travels, their _pensions_, their economies, their want of a home, the
many cities she knew well, the foreign tongues and the wide view of the
world she had acquired. He guessed easily enough the dolorous type of
exile of the two ladies, wanderers in search of Continental cheapness,
inured to queer contacts and compromises, "remarkably well connected" in
England, but going out for their meals. The girl was but indirectly
communicative; though seemingly less from any plan of secrecy than from
the habit of associating with people whom she didn't honour with her
confidence. She was fragmentary and abrupt, as well as not in the least
shy, subdued to dread of Madame Carré as she had been for the time. She
gave Sherringham a reason for this fear, and he thought her reason
innocently pretentious. "She admired a great artist more than anything
in the world; and in the presence of art, of _great_ art, her heart beat
so fast." Her manners were not perfect, and the friction of a varied
experience had rather roughened than smoothed her. She said nothing that
proved her intelligent, even though he guessed this to be the design of
two or three of her remarks; but he parted from her with the suspicion
that she was, according to the contemporary French phrase, a "nature."

The Hôtel de la Garonne was in a small unrenovated street in which the
cobble-stones of old Paris still flourished, lying between the Avenue de
l'Opéra and the Place de la Bourse. Sherringham had occasionally
traversed the high dimness, but had never noticed the tall, stale
_maison meublée_, the aspect of which, that of a third-rate provincial
inn, was an illustration of Mrs. Rooth's shrunken standard. "We would
ask you to come up, but it's quite at the top and we haven't a
sitting-room," the poor lady bravely explained. "We had to receive Mr.
Nash at a café."

Nick Dormer declared that he liked cafés, and Miriam, looking at his
cousin, dropped with a flash of passion the demand: "Do you wonder I
should want to do something--so that we can stop living like pigs?"

Peter recognised the next day that though it might be boring to listen
to her it was better to make her recite than to let her do nothing, so
effectually did the presence of his sister and that of Lady Agnes, and
even of Grace and Biddy, appear, by a strange tacit opposition, to
deprive hers, ornamental as it was, of a reason. He had only to see them
all together to perceive that she couldn't pass for having come to
"meet" them--even her mother's insinuating gentility failed to put the
occasion on that footing--and that she must therefore be assumed to have
been brought to show them something. She was not subdued, not colourless
enough to sit there for nothing, or even for conversation--the sort of
conversation that was likely to come off--so that it was inevitable to
treat her position as connected with the principal place on the carpet,
with silence and attention and the pulling together of chairs. Even when
so established it struck him at first as precarious, in the light, or
the darkness, of the inexpressive faces of the other ladies, seated in
couples and rows on sofas--there were several in addition to Julia and
the Dormers; mainly the wives, with their husbands, of Sherringham's
fellow-secretaries--scarcely one of whom he felt he might count upon for
a modicum of gush when the girl should have finished.

Miss Rooth gave a representation of Juliet drinking the potion,
according to the system, as her mother explained, of the famous Signor
Ruggieri--a scene of high fierce sound, of many cries and contortions:
she shook her hair (which proved magnificent) half-down before the
performance was over. Then she declaimed several short poems by Victor
Hugo, selected among many hundred by Mrs. Rooth, as the good lady was
careful to make known. After this she jumped to the American lyre,
regaling the company with specimens, both familiar and fresh, of
Longfellow, Lowell, Whittier, Holmes, and of two or three poetesses now
revealed to Sherringham for the first time. She flowed so copiously,
keeping the floor and rejoicing visibly in her luck, that her host was
mainly occupied with wondering how he could make her leave off. He was
surprised at the extent of her repertory, which, in view of the
circumstance that she could never have received much encouragement--it
must have come mainly from her mother, and he didn't believe in Signor
Ruggieri--denoted a very stiff ambition and a blundering energy. It was
her mother who checked her at last, and he found himself suspecting that
Gabriel Nash had intimated to the old woman that interference was
necessary. For himself he was chiefly glad Madame Carré hadn't come. It
was present to him that she would have judged the exhibition, with its
badness, its impudence, the absence of criticism, wholly indecent.

His only new impression of the heroine of the scene was that of this
same high assurance--her coolness, her complacency, her eagerness to go
on. She had been deadly afraid of the old actress but was not a bit
afraid of a cluster of _femmes du monde_, of Julia, of Lady Agnes, of
the smart women of the embassy. It was positively these personages who
were rather in fear; there was certainly a moment when even Julia was
scared for the first time he had ever remarked it. The space was too
small, the cries, the convulsions and rushes of the dishevelled girl
were too near. Lady Agnes wore much of the time the countenance she
might have shown at the theatre during a play in which pistols were
fired; and indeed the manner of the young reciter had become more
spasmodic and more explosive. It appeared, however, that the company in
general thought her very clever and successful; which showed, to
Sherringham's sense, how little they understood the matter. Poor Biddy
was immensely struck; she grew flushed and absorbed in proportion as
Miriam, at her best moments, became pale and fatal. It was she who spoke
to her first, after it was agreed that they had better not fatigue her
any more; she advanced a few steps, happening to be nearest--she
murmured: "Oh thank you so much. I never saw anything so beautiful, so
grand."

She looked very red and very pretty as she said this, and Peter
Sherringham liked her enough to notice her more and like her better when
she looked prettier than usual. As he turned away he heard Miriam make
answer with no great air of appreciation of her tribute: "I've seen you
before--two days ago at the Salon with Mr. Dormer. Yes, I know he's your
brother. I've made his acquaintance since. He wants to paint my
portrait. Do you think he'll do it well?" He was afraid the girl was
something of a brute--also somewhat grossly vain. This impression would
perhaps have been confirmed if a part of the rest of the short
conversation of the two young women had reached his ear. Biddy ventured
to observe that she herself had studied modelling a little and that she
could understand how any artist would think Miss Rooth a splendid
subject. If indeed _she_ could attempt her head, that would be a chance
indeed.

"Thank you," said Miriam with a laugh as of high comedy. "I think I had
rather not _passer par toute la famille_!" Then she added: "If your
brother's an artist I don't understand how he's in Parliament."

"Oh he isn't in Parliament now--we only hope he will be."

"Ah I see."

"And he isn't an artist either," Biddy felt herself conscientiously
bound to state.

"Then he isn't anything," said Miss Rooth.

"Well--he's immensely clever."

"Ah I see," Miss Rooth again replied. "Mr. Nash has puffed him up so."

"I don't know Mr. Nash," said Biddy, guilty of a little dryness as well
as of a little misrepresentation, and feeling rather snubbed.

"Well, you needn't wish to."

Biddy stood with her a moment longer, still looking at her and not
knowing what to say next, but not finding her any less handsome because
she had such odd manners. Biddy had an ingenious little mind, which
always tried as much as possible to keep different things separate. It
was pervaded now by the reflexion, attended with some relief, that if
the girl spoke to her with such unexpected familiarity of Nick she said
nothing at all about Peter. Two gentlemen came up, two of Peter's
friends, and made speeches to Miss Rooth of the kind Biddy supposed
people learned to make in Paris. It was also doubtless in Paris, the
girl privately reasoned, that they learned to listen to them as this
striking performer listened. She received their advances very
differently from the way she had received Biddy's. Sherringham noticed
his young kinswoman turn away, still very red, to go and sit near her
mother again, leaving Miriam engaged with the two men. It appeared to
have come over her that for a moment she had been strangely spontaneous
and bold, and that she had paid a little of the penalty. The seat next
her mother was occupied by Mrs. Rooth, toward whom Lady Agnes's head had
inclined itself with a preoccupied tolerance. He had the conviction
Mrs. Rooth was telling her about the Neville-Nugents of Castle Nugent
and that Lady Agnes was thinking it odd she never had heard of them. He
said to himself that Biddy was generous. She had urged Julia to come in
order that they might see how bad the strange young woman would be, but
now that the event had proved dazzling she forgot this calculation and
rejoiced in what she innocently supposed to be the performer's triumph.
She kept away from Julia, however; she didn't even look at her to invite
her also to confess that, in vulgar parlance, they had been sold. He
himself spoke to his sister, who was leaning back with a detached air in
the corner of a sofa, saying something which led her to remark in reply:
"Ah I daresay it's extremely fine, but I don't care for tragedy when it
treads on one's toes. She's like a cow who has kicked over the
milking-pail. She ought to be tied up."

"My poor Julia, it isn't extremely fine; it isn't fine at all,"
Sherringham returned with some irritation.

"Pardon me then. I thought that was why you invited us."

"I imagined she was different," Peter said a little foolishly.

"Ah if you don't care for her so much the better. It has always seemed
to me you make too awfully much of those people."

"Oh I do care for her too--rather. She's interesting." His sister gave
him a momentary, mystified glance and he added: "And she's dreadful." He
felt stupidly annoyed and was ashamed of his annoyance, as he could have
assigned no reason for it. It didn't grow less for the moment from his
seeing Gabriel Nash approach Julia, introduced by Nick Dormer. He gave
place to the two young men with some alacrity, for he had a sense of
being put in the wrong in respect to their specimen by Nash's very
presence. He remembered how it had been a part of their bargain, as it
were, that he should present that gentleman to his sister. He was not
sorry to be relieved of the office by Nick, and he even tacitly and
ironically wished his kinsman's friend joy of a colloquy with Mrs.
Dallow. Sherringham's life was spent with people, he was used to people,
and both as host and as guest he carried the social burden in general
lightly. He could observe, especially in the former capacity, without
uneasiness and take the temperature without anxiety. But at present his
company oppressed him; he felt worried and that he showed it--which was
the thing in the world he had ever held least an honour to a gentleman
dedicated to diplomacy. He was vexed with the levity that had made him
call his roomful together on so poor a pretext, and yet was vexed with
the stupidity that made the witnesses so evidently find the pretext
sufficient. He inwardly groaned at the delusion under which he had
saddled himself with the Tragic Muse--a tragic muse who was strident and
pert--and yet wished his visitors would go away and leave him alone with
her.

Nick Dormer said to Mrs. Dallow that he wanted her to know an old friend
of his, one of the cleverest men he knew; and he added the hope that she
would be gentle and encouraging with him; he was so timid and so easily
disconcerted. Mr. Nash hereupon dropped into a chair by the arm of her
sofa, their companion went away, and Mrs. Dallow turned her glance upon
her new acquaintance without a perceptible change of position. Then she
emitted with rapidity the remark: "It's very awkward when people are
told one's clever."

"It's only awkward if one isn't," Gabriel smiled.

"Yes, but so few people are--enough to be talked about."

"Isn't that just the reason why such a matter, such an exception, ought
to be mentioned to them?" he asked. "They mightn't find it out for
themselves. Of course, however, as you say, there ought to be a
certainty; then they're surer to know it. Dormer's a dear fellow, but
he's rash and superficial."

Mrs. Dallow, at this incitement, turned her glance a second time on her
visitor; but during the rest of the conversation she rarely repeated the
movement. If she liked Nick Dormer extremely--and it may without more
delay be communicated to the reader that she did--her liking was of a
kind that opposed no difficulty whatever to her not liking, in case of
such a complication, a person attached or otherwise belonging to him. It
was not in her nature to "put up" with others for the sake of an
individual she loved: the putting up was usually consumed in the loving,
and with nothing left over. If the affection that isolates and
simplifies its object may be distinguished from the affection that seeks
communications and contracts for it, Julia Dallow's was quite of the
encircling, not to say the narrowing sort. She was not so much jealous
as essentially exclusive. She desired no experience for the familiar and
yet partly unsounded kinsman in whom she took an interest that she
wouldn't have desired for herself; and indeed the cause of her interest
in him was partly the vision of his helping her to the particular
extensions she did desire--the taste and thrill of great affairs and of
public action. To have such ambitions for him appeared to her the
highest honour she could do him; her conscience was in it as well as her
inclination, and her scheme, to her sense, was noble enough to varnish
over any disdain she might feel for forces drawing him another way. She
had a prejudice, in general, against his existing connexions, a
suspicion of them, and a supply of off-hand contempt in waiting. It was
a singular circumstance that she was sceptical even when, knowing her as
well as he did, he thought them worth recommending to her: the
recommendation indeed mostly confirmed the suspicion.

This was a law from which Gabriel Nash was condemned to suffer, if
suffering could on any occasion be predicated of Gabriel Nash. His
pretension was in truth that he had purged his life of such
possibilities of waste, though probably he would have admitted that if
that fair vessel should spring a leak the wound in its side would have
been dealt by a woman's hand. In dining two evenings before with her
brother and with the Dormers Mrs. Dallow had been moved to exclaim that
Peter and Nick knew the most extraordinary people. As regards Peter the
attitudinising girl and her mother now pointed that moral with
sufficient vividness; so that there was little arrogance in taking a
similar quality for granted of the conceited man at her elbow, who sat
there as if he might be capable from one moment to another of leaning
over the arm of her sofa. She had not the slightest wish to talk with
him about himself, and was afraid for an instant that he was on the
point of passing from the chapter of his cleverness to that of his
timidity. It was a false alarm, however, for he only animadverted on the
pleasures of the elegant extract hurled--literally _hurlé_ in
general--from the centre of the room at one's defenceless head. He
intimated that in his opinion these pleasures were all for the
performers. The auditors had at any rate given Miss Rooth a charming
afternoon; that of course was what Mrs. Dallow's kind brother had mainly
intended in arranging the little party. (Julia hated to hear him call
her brother "kind": the term seemed offensively patronising.) But he
himself, he related, was now constantly employed in the same
beneficence, listening two-thirds of his time to "intonations" and
shrieks. She had doubtless observed it herself, how the great current of
the age, the adoration of the mime, was almost too strong for any
individual; how it swept one along and dashed one against the rocks. As
she made no response to this proposition Gabriel Nash asked her if she
hadn't been struck with the main sign of the time, the preponderance of
the mountebank, the glory and renown, the personal favour, he enjoyed.
Hadn't she noticed what an immense part of the public attention he held
in London at least? For in Paris society was not so pervaded with him,
and the women of the profession, in particular, were not in every
drawing-room.

"I don't know what you mean," Mrs. Dallow said. "I know nothing of any
such people."

"Aren't they under your feet wherever you turn--their performances,
their portraits, their speeches, their autobiographies, their names,
their manners, their ugly mugs, as the people say, and their idiotic
pretensions?"

"I daresay it depends on the places one goes to. If they're
everywhere"--and she paused a moment--"I don't go everywhere."

"I don't go anywhere, but they mount on my back at home like the Old Man
of the Sea. Just observe a little when you return to London," Mr. Nash
went on with friendly instructiveness. Julia got up at this--she didn't
like receiving directions; but no other corner of the room appeared to
offer her any particular reason for crossing to it: she never did such a
thing without a great inducement. So she remained standing there as if
she were quitting the place in a moment, which indeed she now
determined to do; and her interlocutor, rising also, lingered beside
her unencouraged but unperturbed. He proceeded to remark that Mr.
Sherringham was quite right to offer Miss Rooth an afternoon's sport;
she deserved it as a fine, brave, amiable girl. She was highly educated,
knew a dozen languages, was of illustrious lineage, and was immensely
particular.

"Immensely particular?" Mrs. Dallow repeated.

"Perhaps I should say rather that her mother's so on her behalf.
Particular about the sort of people they meet--the tone, the standard.
I'm bound to say they're like _you_: they don't go everywhere. That
spirit's not so common in the mob calling itself good society as not to
deserve mention."

She said nothing for a moment; she looked vaguely round the room, but
not at Miriam Rooth. Nevertheless she presently dropped as in forced
reference to her an impatient shake. "She's dreadfully vulgar."

"Ah don't say that to my friend Dormer!" Mr. Nash laughed.

"Are you and he such great friends?" Mrs. Dallow asked, meeting his
eyes.

"Great enough to make me hope we shall be greater."

Again for a little she said nothing, but then went on: "Why shouldn't I
say to him that she's vulgar?"

"Because he admires her so much. He wants to paint her."

"To paint her?"

"To paint her portrait."

"Oh I see. I daresay she'd do for that."

Mr. Nash showed further amusement. "If that's your opinion of her you're
not very complimentary to the art he aspires to practise."

"He aspires to practise?" she echoed afresh.

"Haven't you talked with him about it? Ah you must keep him up to it!"

Julia Dallow was conscious for a moment of looking uncomfortable; but it
relieved her to be able to demand of her neighbour with a certain
manner: "Are you an artist?"

"I try to be," Nash smiled, "but I work in such difficult material."

He spoke this with such a clever suggestion of mysterious things that
she was to hear herself once more pay him the attention of taking him
up. "Difficult material?"

"I work in life!"

At this she turned away, leaving him the impression that she probably
misunderstood his speech, thinking he meant that he drew from the living
model or some such platitude: as if there could have been any likelihood
he would have dealings with the dead. This indeed would not fully have
explained the abruptness with which she dropped their conversation.
Gabriel, however, was used to sudden collapses and even to sudden
ruptures on the part of those addressed by him, and no man had more the
secret of remaining gracefully with his conversational wares on his
hands. He saw Mrs. Dallow approach Nick Dormer, who was talking with one
of the ladies of the embassy, and apparently signify that she wished to
speak to him. He got up and they had a minute's talk, after which he
turned and took leave of his fellow-visitors. She said a word to her
brother, Nick joined her, and they then came together to the door. In
this movement they had to pass near Nash, and it gave her an opportunity
to nod good-bye to him, which he was by no means sure she would have
done if Nick hadn't been with her. The young man just stopped; he said
to Nash: "I should like to see you this evening late. You must meet me
somewhere."

"Well take a walk--I should like that," Nash replied. "I shall smoke a
cigar at the café on the corner of the Place de l'Opéra--you'll find me
there." He prepared to compass his own departure, but before doing so he
addressed himself to the duty of a few civil words to Lady Agnes. This
effort proved vain, for on one side she was defended by the wall of the
room and on the other rendered inaccessible by Miriam's mother, who
clung to her with a quickly-rooted fidelity, showing no symptom of
desistance. Nash declined perforce upon her daughter Grace, who said to
him: "You were talking with my cousin Mrs. Dallow."

"To her rather than with her," he smiled.

"Ah she's very charming," Grace said.

"She's very beautiful."

"And very clever," the girl continued.

"Very, very intelligent." His conversation with Miss Dormer went little
beyond this, and he presently took leave of Peter Sherringham, remarking
to him as they shook hands that he was very sorry for him. But he had
courted his fate.

"What do you mean by my fate?" Sherringham asked.

"You've got them for life."

"Why for life, when I now clearly and courageously recognise that she
isn't good?"

"Ah but she'll become so," said Gabriel Nash.

"Do you think that?" Sherringham brought out with a candour that made
his visitor laugh.

"_You_ will--that's more to the purpose!" the latter declared as he went
away.

Ten minutes later Lady Agnes substituted a general, vague assent for all
further particular ones, drawing off from Mrs. Rooth and from the rest
of the company with her daughters. Peter had had very little talk with
Biddy, but the girl kept her disappointment out of her pretty eyes and
said to him: "You told us she didn't know how--but she does!" There was
no suggestion of disappointment in this.

Sherringham held her hand a moment. "Ah it's you who know how, dear
Biddy!" he answered; and he was conscious that if the occasion had been
more private he would have all lawfully kissed her.

Presently three more of his guests took leave, and Mr. Nash's assurance
that he had them for life recurred to him as he observed that Mrs. Rooth
and her damsel quite failed to profit by so many examples. The Lovicks
remained--a colleague and his sociable wife--and Peter gave them a hint
that they were not to plant him there only with the two ladies. Miriam
quitted Mrs. Lovick, who had attempted, with no great subtlety, to
engage her, and came up to her host as if she suspected him of a design
of stealing from the room and had the idea of preventing it.

"I want some more tea: will you give me some more? I feel quite faint.
You don't seem to suspect how this sort of thing takes it out of one."

Peter apologised extravagantly for not having seen to it that she had
proper refreshment, and took her to the round table, in a corner, on
which the little collation had been served. He poured out tea for her
and pressed bread and butter on her and _petits fours_, of all which she
profusely and methodically partook. It was late; the afternoon had faded
and a lamp been brought in, the wide shade of which shed a fair glow on
the tea-service and the plates of pretty food. The Lovicks sat with Mrs.
Rooth at the other end of the room, and the girl stood at the table,
drinking her tea and eating her bread and butter. She consumed these
articles so freely that he wondered if she had been truly in want of a
meal--if they were so poor as to have to count with that sort of
privation. This supposition was softening, but still not so much so as
to make him ask her to sit down. She appeared indeed to prefer to stand:
she looked better so, as if the freedom, the conspicuity of being on her
feet and treading a stage were agreeable to her. While Sherringham
lingered near her all vaguely, his hands in his pockets and his mind now
void of everything but a planned evasion of the theatrical
question--there were moments when he was so plentifully tired of it--she
broke out abruptly: "Confess you think me intolerably bad!"

"Intolerably--no."

"Only tolerably! I find that worse."

"Every now and then you do something very right," Sherringham said.

"How many such things did I do to-day?"

"Oh three or four. I don't know that I counted very carefully."

She raised her cup to her lips, looking at him over the rim of it--a
proceeding that gave her eyes a strange expression. "It bores you and
you think it disagreeable," she then said--"I mean a girl always talking
about herself." He protested she could never bore him and she added: "Oh
I don't want compliments--I want the hard, the precious truth. An
actress has to talk about herself. What else can she talk about, poor
vain thing?"

"She can talk sometimes about other actresses."

"That comes to the same thing. You won't be serious. I'm awfully
serious." There was something that caught his attention in the note of
this--a longing half hopeless, half argumentative to be believed in. "If
one really wants to do anything one must worry it out; of course
everything doesn't come the first day," she kept on. "I can't see
everything at once; but I can see a little more--step by step--as I go;
can't I?"

"That's the way--that's the way," he gently enough returned. "When you
see the things to do the art of doing them will come--if you hammer
away. The great point's to see them."

"Yes; and you don't think me clever enough for that."

"Why do you say so when I've asked you to come here on purpose?"

"You've asked me to come, but I've had no success."

"On the contrary; every one thought you wonderful."

"Oh but they don't know!" said Miriam Rooth. "You've not said a word to
me. I don't mind your not having praised me; that would be too banal.
But if I'm bad--and I know I'm dreadful--I wish you'd talk to me about
it."

"It's delightful to talk to you," Peter found himself saying.

"No, it isn't, but it's kind"; and she looked away from him.

Her voice had with this a quality which made him exclaim: "Every now and
then you 'say' something--!"

She turned her eyes back to him and her face had a light. "I don't want
it to come by accident." Then she added: "If there's any good to be got
from trying, from showing one's self, how can it come unless one hears
the simple truth, the truth that turns one inside out? It's all for
that--to know what one is, if one's a stick!"

"You've great courage, you've rare qualities," Sherringham risked. She
had begun to touch him, to seem different: he was glad she had not gone.

But for a little she made no answer, putting down her empty cup and
yearning over the table as for something more to eat. Suddenly she
raised her head and broke out with vehemence: "I will, I will, I will!"

"You'll do what you want, evidently."

"I _will_ succeed--I _will_ be great. Of course I know too little, I've
seen too little. But I've always liked it; I've never liked anything
else. I used to learn things and do scenes and rant about the room when
I was but five years old." She went on, communicative, persuasive,
familiar, egotistical (as was necessary), and slightly common, or
perhaps only natural; with reminiscences, reasons, and anecdotes, an
unexpected profusion, and with an air of comradeship, of freedom in any
relation, which seemed to plead that she was capable at least of
embracing that side of the profession she desired to adopt. He noted
that if she had seen very little, as she said, she had also seen a great
deal; but both her experience and her innocence had been accidental and
irregular. She had seen very little acting--the theatre was always too
expensive. If she could only go often--in Paris for instance every night
for six months--to see the best, the worst, everything, she would make
things out, would observe and learn what to do, what not to do: it would
be a school of schools. But she couldn't without selling the clothes off
her back. It was vile and disgusting to be poor, and if ever she were to
know the bliss of having a few francs in her pocket she would make up
for it--that she could promise! She had never been acquainted with any
one who could tell her anything--if it was good or bad or right or
wrong--except Mrs. Delamere and poor Ruggieri. She supposed they had
told her a great deal, but perhaps they hadn't, and she was perfectly
willing to give it up if it was bad. Evidently Madame Carré thought so;
she thought it was horrid. Wasn't it perfectly divine, the way the old
woman had said those verses, those speeches of Célie? If she would only
let her come and listen to her once in a while like that it was all she
would ask. She had got lots of ideas just from that half-hour; she had
practised them over, over, and over again, the moment she got home. He
might ask her mother--he might ask the people next door. If Madame Carré
didn't think she could work, she might have heard, could she have
listened at the door, something that would show her. But she didn't
think her even good enough to criticise--since that wasn't criticism,
telling her her head was good. Of course her head was good--she needn't
travel up to the _quartiers excentriques_ to find that out. It was her
mother, the way she talked, who gave the idea that she wanted to be
elegant and moral and a _femme du monde_ and all that sort of trash. Of
course that put people off, when they were only thinking of the real
right way. Didn't she know, Miriam herself, that this was the one thing
to think of? But any one would be kind to her mother who knew what a
dear she was. "She doesn't know when any thing's right or wrong, but
she's a perfect saint," said the girl, obscuring considerably her
vindication. "She doesn't mind when I say things over by the hour,
dinning them into her ears while she sits there and reads. She's a
tremendous reader; she's awfully up in literature. She taught me
everything herself. I mean all that sort of thing. Of course I'm not so
fond of reading; I go in for the book of life." Sherringham wondered if
her mother had not at any rate taught her that phrase--he thought it
highly probable. "It would give on _my_ nerves, the life I lead her,"
Miriam continued; "but she's really a delicious woman."

The oddity of this epithet made Peter laugh, and altogether, in a few
minutes, which is perhaps a sign that he abused his right to be a man of
moods, the young lady had produced in him a revolution of curiosity, set
his sympathy in motion. Her mixture, as it spread itself before him, was
an appeal and a challenge: she was sensitive and dense, she was
underbred and fine. Certainly she was very various, and that was rare;
quite not at this moment the heavy-eyed, frightened creature who had
pulled herself together with such an effort at Madame Carré's, nor the
elated "phenomenon" who had just been declaiming, nor the rather
affected and contradictious young person with whom he had walked home
from the Rue de Constantinople. Was this succession of phases a sign she
was really a case of the celebrated artistic temperament, the nature
that made people provoking and interesting? That Sherringham himself was
of this shifting complexion is perhaps proved by his odd capacity for
being of two different minds very nearly at the same time. Miriam was
pretty now, with felicities and graces, with charming, unusual eyes.
Yes, there were things he could do for her; he had already forgotten the
chill of Mr. Nash's irony, of his prophecy. He was even scarce conscious
how little in general he liked hints, insinuations, favours asked
obliquely and plaintively: that was doubtless also because the girl was
suddenly so taking and so fraternising. Perhaps indeed it was unjust to
qualify as roundabout the manner in which Miss Rooth conveyed that it
was open to him not only to pay for her lessons, but to meet the expense
of her nightly attendance with her mother at instructive exhibitions of
theatrical art. It was a large order, sending the pair to all the plays;
but what Peter now found himself thinking of was not so much its
largeness as the possible interest of going with them sometimes and
pointing the moral--the technical one--of showing her the things he
liked, the things he disapproved. She repeated her declaration that she
recognised the fallacy of her mother's view of heroines impossibly
virtuous and of the importance of her looking out for such tremendously
proper people. "One must let her talk, but of course it creates a
prejudice," she said with her eyes on Mr. and Mrs. Lovick, who had got
up, terminating their communion with Mrs. Rooth. "It's a great muddle, I
know, but she can't bear anything coarse or nasty--and quite right too.
I shouldn't either if I didn't have to. But I don't care a sou where I
go if I can get to act, or who they are if they'll help me. I want to
act--that's what I want to do; I don't want to meddle in people's
affairs. I can look out for myself--I'm all right!" the girl exclaimed
roundly, frankly, with a ring of honesty which made her crude and pure.
"As for doing the bad ones I'm not afraid of that."

"The bad ones?"

"The bad women in the plays--like Madame Carré. I'll do any vile
creature."

"I think you'll do best what you are"--and Sherringham laughed for the
interest of it. "You're a strange girl."

"_Je crois bien_! Doesn't one have to be, to want to go and exhibit
one's self to a loathsome crowd, on a platform, with trumpets and a big
drum, for money--to parade one's body and one's soul?"

He looked at her a moment: her face changed constantly; now it had a
fine flush and a noble delicacy. "Give it up. You're too good for it,"
he found himself pleading. "I doubt if you've an idea of what girls have
to go through."

"Never, never--never till I'm pelted!" she cried.

"Then stay on here a bit. I'll take you to the theatres."

"Oh you dear!" Miriam delightedly exclaimed. Mr. and Mrs. Lovick,
accompanied by Mrs. Rooth, now crossed the room to them, and the girl
went on in the same tone: "Mamma dear, he's the best friend we've ever
had--he's a great deal nicer than I thought."

"So are you, mademoiselle," said Peter Sherringham.

"Oh, I trust Mr. Sherringham--I trust him infinitely," Mrs. Rooth
returned, covering him with her mild, respectable, wheedling eyes. "The
kindness of every one has been beyond everything. Mr. and Mrs. Lovick
can't say enough. They make the most obliging offers. They want you to
know their brother."

"Oh I say, he's no brother of mine," Mr. Lovick protested
good-naturedly.

"They think he'll be so suggestive, he'll put us up to the right
things," Mrs. Rooth went on.

"It's just a little brother of mine--such a dear, amusing, clever boy,"
Mrs. Lovick explained.

"Do you know she has got nine? Upon my honour she has!" said her
husband. "This one is the sixth. Fancy if I had to take them all over!"

"Yes, it makes it rather awkward," Mrs. Lovick amiably conceded. "He has
gone on the stage, poor darling--but he acts rather well."

"He tried for the diplomatic service, but he didn't precisely dazzle his
examiners," Mr. Lovick further mentioned.

"Edmund's very nasty about him. There are lots of gentlemen on the
stage--he's not the first."

"It's such a comfort to hear that," said Mrs. Rooth.

"I'm much obliged to you. Has he got a theatre?" Miriam asked.

"My dear young lady, he hasn't even got an engagement," replied the
young man's terrible brother-in-law.

"He hasn't been at it very long, but I'm sure he'll get on. He's
immensely in earnest and very good-looking. I just said that if he
should come over to see us you might rather like to meet him. He might
give you some tips, as my husband says."

"I don't care for his looks, but I should like his tips," Miriam
liberally smiled.

"And is he coming over to see you?" asked Sherringham, to whom, while
this exchange of remarks, which he had not lost, was going on, Mrs.
Rooth had in lowered accents addressed herself.

"Not if I can help it I think!" But Mr. Lovick was so gaily rude that it
wasn't embarrassing.

"Oh sir, I'm sure you're fond of him," Mrs. Rooth remonstrated as the
party passed together into the antechamber.

"No, really, I like some of the others--four or five of them; but I
don't like Arty."

"We'll make it up to him, then; _we_'ll like him," Miriam answered with
spirit; and her voice rang in the staircase--Sherringham attended them a
little way--with a charm which her host had rather missed in her
loudness of the day before.


Henry James