The Tragic Muse, by Henry James

XXIX

When that young woman saw him her cheek exhibited the prettiest, pleased, surprised red he had ever observed there, though far from unacquainted with its living tides, and she stood smiling at him with the outer dazzle in her eyes, still making him no motion to enter. She only said, “Oh Peter!” and then, “I’m all alone.”

“So much the better, dear Biddy. Is that any reason I shouldn’t come in?”

“Dear no — do come in. You’ve just missed Nick; he has gone to the country — half an hour ago.” She had on a large apron and in her hand carried a small stick, besmeared, as his quick eye saw, with modelling-clay. She dropped the door and fled back before him into the studio, where, when he followed her, she was in the act of flinging a damp cloth over a rough head, in clay, which, in the middle of the room, was supported on a high wooden stand. The effort to hide what she had been doing before he caught a glimpse of it made her redder still and led to her smiling more, to her laughing with a confusion of shyness and gladness that charmed him. She rubbed her hands on her apron, she pulled it off, she looked delightfully awkward, not meeting Peter’s eye, and she said: “I’m just scraping here a little — you mustn’t mind me. What I do is awful, you know. Please, Peter, don’t look, I’ve been coming here lately to make my little mess, because mamma doesn’t particularly like it at home. I’ve had a lesson or two from a lady who exhibits, but you wouldn’t suppose it to see what I do. Nick’s so kind; he lets me come here; he uses the studio so little; I do what I want, or rather what I can. What a pity he’s gone — he’d have been so glad. I’m really alone — I hope you don’t mind. Peter, please don’t look.”

Peter was not bent on looking; his eyes had occupation enough in Biddy’s own agreeable aspect, which was full of a rare element of domestication and responsibility. Though she had, stretching her bravery, taken possession of her brother’s quarters, she struck her visitor as more at home and more herself than he had ever seen her. It was the first time she had been, to his notice, so separate from her mother and sister. She seemed to know this herself and to be a little frightened by it — just enough to make him wish to be reassuring. At the same time Peter also, on this occasion, found himself touched with diffidence, especially after he had gone back and closed the door and settled down to a regular call; for he became acutely conscious of what Julia had said to him in Paris and was unable to rid himself of the suspicion that it had been said with Biddy’s knowledge. It wasn’t that he supposed his sister had told the girl she meant to do what she could to make him propose to her: that would have been cruel to her — if she liked him enough to consent — in Julia’s perfect uncertainty. But Biddy participated by imagination, by divination, by a clever girl’s secret, tremulous instincts, in her good friend’s views about her, and this probability constituted for Sherringham a sort of embarrassing publicity. He had impressions, possibly gross and unjust, in regard to the way women move constantly together amid such considerations and subtly intercommunicate, when they don’t still more subtly dissemble, the hopes or fears of which persons of the opposite sex form the subject. Therefore poor Biddy would know that if she failed to strike him in the right light it wouldn’t be for want of an attention definitely called to her claims. She would have been tacitly rejected, virtually condemned. He couldn’t without an impulse of fatuity endeavour to make up for this to her by consoling kindness; he was aware that if any one knew it a man would be ridiculous who should take so much as that for granted. But no one would know it: he oddly enough in this calculation of security left Biddy herself out. It didn’t occur to him that she might have a secret, small irony to spare for his ingenious and magnanimous effort to show her how much he liked her in reparation to her for not liking her more. This high charity coloured at any rate the whole of his visit to Rosedale Road, the whole of the pleasant, prolonged chat that kept him there more than an hour. He begged the girl to go on with her work, not to let him interrupt it; and she obliged him at last, taking the cloth off the lump of clay and giving him a chance to be delightful by guessing that the shapeless mass was intended, or would be intended after a while, for Nick. He saw she was more comfortable when she began again to smooth it and scrape it with her little stick, to manipulate it with an ineffectual air of knowing how; for this gave her something to do, relieved her nervousness and permitted her to turn away from him when she talked.

He walked about the room and sat down; got up and looked at Nick’s things; watched her at moments in silence — which made her always say in a minute that he was not to pass judgement or she could do nothing; observed how her position before her high stand, her lifted arms, her turns of the head, considering her work this way and that, all helped her to be pretty. She repeated again and again that it was an immense pity about Nick, till he was obliged to say he didn’t care a straw for Nick and was perfectly content with the company he found. This was not the sort of tone he thought it right, given the conditions, to take; but then even the circumstances didn’t require him to pretend he liked her less than he did. After all she was his cousin; she would cease to be so if she should become his wife; but one advantage of her not entering into that relation was precisely that she would remain his cousin. It was very pleasant to find a young, bright, slim, rose-coloured kinswoman all ready to recognise consanguinity when one came back from cousinless foreign lands. Peter talked about family matters; he didn’t know, in his exile, where no one took an interest in them, what a fund of latent curiosity about them he treasured. It drew him on to gossip accordingly and to feel how he had with Biddy indefeasible properties in common — ever so many things as to which they’d always understand each other à demi-mot. He smoked a cigarette because she begged him — people always smoked in studios and it made her feel so much more an artist. She apologised for the badness of her work on the ground that Nick was so busy he could scarcely ever give her a sitting; so that she had to do the head from photographs and occasional glimpses. They had hoped to be able to put in an hour that morning, but news had suddenly come that Mr. Carteret was worse, and Nick had hurried down to Beauclere. Mr. Carteret was very ill, poor old dear, and Nick and he were immense friends. Nick had always been charming to him. Peter and Biddy took the concerns of the houses of Dormer and Sherringham in order, and the young man felt after a little as if they were as wise as a French conseil de famille and settling what was best for every one. He heard all about Lady Agnes; he showed an interest in the detail of her existence that he had not supposed himself to possess, though indeed Biddy threw out intimations which excited his curiosity, presenting her mother in a light that might call on his sympathy.

“I don’t think she has been very happy or very pleased of late,” the girl said. “I think she has had some disappointments, poor dear mamma; and Grace has made her go out of town for three or four days in the hope of a little change. They’ve gone down to see an old lady, Lady St. Dunstans, who never comes to London now and who, you know — she’s tremendously old — was papa’s godmother. It’s not very lively for Grace, but Grace is such a dear she’ll do anything for mamma. Mamma will go anywhere, no matter at what risk of discomfort, to see people she can talk with about papa.”

Biddy added in reply to a further question that what her mother was disappointed about was — well, themselves, her children and all their affairs; and she explained that Lady Agnes wanted all kinds of things for them that didn’t come, that they didn’t get or seem likely to get, so that their life appeared altogether a failure. She wanted a great deal, Biddy admitted; she really wanted everything, for she had thought in her happier days that everything was to be hers. She loved them all so much and was so proud too: she couldn’t get over the thought of their not being successful. Peter was unwilling to press at this point, for he suspected one of the things Lady Agnes wanted; but Biddy relieved him a little by describing her as eager above all that Grace should get married.

“That’s too unselfish of her,” he pronounced, not caring at all for Grace. “Cousin Agnes ought to keep her near her always, if Grace is so obliging and devoted.”

“Oh mamma would give up anything of that sort for our good; she wouldn’t sacrifice us that way!” Biddy protested. “Besides, I’m the one to stay with mamma; not that I can manage and look after her and do everything so well as Grace. But, you know, I want to,” said Biddy with a liquid note in her voice — and giving her lump of clay a little stab for mendacious emphasis.

“But doesn’t your mother want the rest of you to get married — Percival and Nick and you?” Peter asked.

“Oh she has given up Percy. I don’t suppose she thinks it would do. Dear Nick of course — that’s just what she does want.”

He had a pause. “And you, Biddy?”

“Oh I daresay. But that doesn’t signify — I never shall.”

Peter got up at this; the tone of it set him in motion and he took a turn round the room. He threw off something cheap about her being too proud; to which she replied that that was the only thing for a girl to be to get on.

“What do you mean by getting on?”— and he stopped with his hands in his pockets on the other side of the studio.

“I mean crying one’s eyes out!” Biddy unexpectedly exclaimed; but she drowned the effect of this pathetic paradox in a laugh of clear irrelevance and in the quick declaration: “Of course it’s about Nick that she’s really broken-hearted.”

“What’s the matter with Nick?” he went on with all his diplomacy.

“Oh Peter, what’s the matter with Julia?” Biddy quavered softly back to him, her eyes suddenly frank and mournful. “I daresay you know what we all hoped, what we all supposed from what they told us. And now they won’t!” said the girl.

“Yes, Biddy, I know. I had the brightest prospect of becoming your brother-inlaw: wouldn’t that have been it — or something like that? But it’s indeed visibly clouded. What’s the matter with them? May I have another cigarette?” Peter came back to the wide, cushioned bench where he had previously lounged: this was the way they took up the subject he wanted most to look into. “Don’t they know how to love?” he speculated as he seated himself again.

“It seems a kind of fatality!” Biddy sighed.

He said nothing for some moments, at the end of which he asked if his companion were to be quite alone during her mother’s absence. She replied that this parent was very droll about that: would never leave her alone and always thought something dreadful would happen to her. She had therefore arranged that Florence Tressilian should come and stay in Calcutta Gardens for the next few days — to look after her and see she did no wrong. Peter inquired with fulness into Florence Tressilian’s identity: he greatly hoped that for the success of Lady Agnes’s precautions she wasn’t a flighty young genius like Biddy. She was described to him as tremendously nice and tremendously clever, but also tremendously old and tremendously safe; with the addition that Biddy was tremendously fond of her and that while she remained in Calcutta Gardens they expected to enjoy themselves tremendously. She was to come that afternoon before dinner.

“And are you to dine at home?” said Peter.

“Certainly; where else?”

“And just you two alone? Do you call that enjoying yourselves tremendously?”

“It will do for me. No doubt I oughtn’t in modesty to speak for poor Florence.”

“It isn’t fair to her; you ought to invite some one to meet her.”

“Do you mean you, Peter?” the girl asked, turning to him quickly and with a look that vanished the instant he caught it.

“Try me. I’ll come like a shot.”

“That’s kind,” said Biddy, dropping her hands and now resting her eyes on him gratefully. She remained in this position as if under a charm; then she jerked herself back to her work with the remark: “Florence will like that immensely.”

“I’m delighted to please Florence — your description of her’s so attractive!” Sherringham laughed. And when his companion asked him if he minded there not being a great feast, because when her mother went away she allowed her a fixed amount for that sort of thing and, as he might imagine, it wasn’t millions — when Biddy, with the frankness of their pleasant kinship, touched anxiously on this economic point (illustrating, as Peter saw, the lucidity with which Lady Agnes had had in her old age to learn to recognise the occasions when she could be conveniently frugal) he answered that the shortest dinners were the best, especially when one was going to the theatre. That was his case to-night, and did Biddy think he might look to Miss Tressilian to go with them? They’d have to dine early — he wanted not to miss a moment.

“The theatre — Miss Tressilian?” she stared, interrupted and in suspense again.

“Would it incommode you very much to dine say at 7.15 and accept a place in my box? The finger of Providence was in it when I took a box an hour ago. I particularly like your being free to go — if you are free.”

She began almost to rave with pleasure. “Dear Peter, how good you are! They’ll have it at any hour. Florence will be so glad.”

“And has Florence seen Miss Rooth?”

“Miss Rooth?” the girl repeated, redder than before. He felt on the spot that she had heard of the expenditure of his time and attention on that young lady. It was as if she were conscious of how conscious he would himself be in speaking of her, and there was a sweetness in her allowance for him on that score. But Biddy was more confused for him than he was for himself. He guessed in a moment how much she had thought over what she had heard; this was indicated by her saying vaguely, “No, no, I’ve not seen her.” Then she knew she was answering a question he hadn’t asked her, and she went on: “We shall be too delighted. I saw her — perhaps you remember — in your rooms in Paris. I thought her so wonderful then! Every one’s talking of her here. But we don’t go to the theatre much, you know: we don’t have boxes offered us except when you come. Poor Nick’s too much taken up in the evening. I’ve wanted awfully to see her. They say she’s magnificent.”

“I don’t know,” Peter was glad to be able honestly to answer. “I haven’t seen her.”

“You haven’t seen her?”

“Never, Biddy. I mean on the stage. In private often — yes,” he conscientiously added.

“Oh!” Biddy exclaimed, bending her face on Nick’s bust again. She asked him no question about the new star, and he offered her no further information. There were things in his mind pulling him different ways, so that for some minutes silence was the result of the conflict. At last he said, after an hesitation caused by the possibility that she was ignorant of the fact he had lately elicited from Julia, though it was more probable she might have learned it from the same source:

“Am I perhaps indiscreet in alluding to the circumstance that Nick has been painting Miss Rooth’s portrait?”

“You’re not indiscreet in alluding to it to me, because I know it.”

“Then there’s no secret nor mystery about it?”

Biddy just considered. “I don’t think mamma knows it.”

“You mean you’ve been keeping it from her because she wouldn’t like it?”

“We’re afraid she may think papa wouldn’t have liked it.”

This was said with an absence of humour at which Peter could but show amusement, though he quickly recovered himself, repenting of any apparent failure of respect to the high memory of his late celebrated relative. He threw off rather vaguely: “Ah yes, I remember that great man’s ideas,” and then went on: “May I ask if you know it, the fact we’re talking of, through Julia or through Nick?”

“I know it from both of them.”

“Then if you’re in their confidence may I further ask if this undertaking of Nick’s is the reason why things seem to be at an end between them?”

“Oh I don’t think she likes it,” Biddy had to say.

“Isn’t it good?”

“Oh I don’t mean the picture — she hasn’t seen it. But his having done it.”

“Does she dislike it so much that that’s why she won’t marry him?”

Biddy gave up her work, moving away from it to look at it. She came and sat down on the long bench on which Sherringham had placed himself. Then she broke out: “Oh Peter, it’s a great trouble — it’s a very great trouble; and I can’t tell you, for I don’t understand it.”

“If I ask you,” he said, “it’s not to pry into what doesn’t concern me; but Julia’s my sister, and I can’t after all help taking some interest in her life. She tells me herself so little. She doesn’t think me worthy.”

“Ah poor Julia!” Biddy wailed defensively. Her tone recalled to him that Julia had at least thought him worthy to unite himself to Bridget Dormer, and inevitably betrayed that the girl was thinking of that also. While they both thought of it they sat looking into each other’s eyes.

“Nick, I’m sure, doesn’t treat you that way; I’m sure he confides in you; he talks to you about his occupations, his ambitions,” Peter continued. “And you understand him, you enter into them, you’re nice to him, you help him.”

“Oh Nick’s life — it’s very dear to me,” Biddy granted.

“That must be jolly for him.”

“It makes me very happy.”

Peter uttered a low, ambiguous groan; then he cried with irritation; “What the deuce is the matter with them then? Why can’t they hit it off together and be quiet and rational and do what every one wants them to?”

“Oh Peter, it’s awfully complicated!” the girl sighed with sagacity.

“Do you mean that Nick’s in love with her?”

“In love with Julia?”

“No, no, with Miriam Rooth.”

She shook her head slowly, then with a smile which struck him as one of the sweetest things he had ever seen — it conveyed, at the expense of her own prospects, such a shy, generous little mercy of reassurance —“He isn’t, Peter,” she brought out. “Julia thinks it trifling — all that sort of thing,” she added “She wants him to go in for different honours.”

“Julia’s the oddest woman. I mean I thought she loved him,” Peter explained. “And when you love a person —!” He continued to make it out, leaving his sentence impatiently unfinished, while Biddy, with lowered eyes, sat waiting — it so interested her — to learn what you did when you loved a person. “I can’t conceive her giving him up. He has great ability, besides being such a good fellow.”

“It’s for his happiness, Peter — that’s the way she reasons,” Biddy set forth. “She does it for an idea; she has told me a great deal about it, and I see the way she feels.”

“You try to, Biddy, because you’re such a dear good-natured girl, but I don’t believe you do in the least,” he took the liberty of replying. “It’s too little the way you yourself would feel. Julia’s idea, as you call it, must be curious.”

“Well, it is, Peter,” Biddy mournfully admitted. “She won’t risk not coming out at the top.”

“At the top of what?”

“Oh of everything.” Her tone showed a trace of awe of such high views.

“Surely one’s at the top of everything when one’s in love.”

“I don’t know,” said the girl.

“Do you doubt it?” Peter asked.

“I’ve never been in love and I never shall be.”

“You’re as perverse, in your way, as Julia,” he returned to this. “But I confess I don’t understand Nick’s attitude any better. He seems to me, if I may say so, neither fish nor flesh.”

“Oh his attitude’s very noble, Peter; his state of mind’s wonderfully interesting,” Biddy pleaded. “Surely you must be in favour of art,” she beautifully said.

It made him look at her a moment. “Dear Biddy, your little digs are as soft as zephyrs.”

She coloured, but she protested. “My little digs? What do you mean? Aren’t you in favour of art?”

“The question’s delightfully simple. I don’t know what you’re talking about. Everything has its place. A parliamentary life,” he opined, “scarce seems to me the situation for portrait-painting.”

“That’s just what Nick says.”

“You talk of it together a great deal?”

“Yes, Nick’s very good to me.”

“Clever Nick! And what do you advise him?”

“Oh to do something.”

“That’s valuable,” Peter laughed. “Not to give up his sweetheart for the sake of a paint-pot, I hope?”

“Never, never, Peter! It’s not a question of his giving up,” Biddy pursued, “for Julia has herself shaken free. I think she never really felt safe — she loved him, but was afraid of him. Now she’s only afraid — she has lost the confidence she tried to have. Nick has tried to hold her, but she has wrested herself away. Do you know what she said to me? She said, ‘My confidence has gone for ever.’”

“I didn’t know she was such a prig!” Julia’s brother commented. “They’re queer people, verily, with water in their veins instead of blood. You and I wouldn’t be like that, should we? — though you have taken up such a discouraging position about caring for a fellow.”

“I care for art,” poor Biddy returned.

“You do, to some purpose”— and Peter glanced at the bust.

“To that of making you laugh at me.”

But this he didn’t heed. “Would you give a good man up for ‘art’?”

“A good man? What man?”

“Well, say me — if I wanted to marry you.”

She had the briefest of pauses. “Of course I would — in a moment. At any rate I’d give up the House of Commons,” she amended. “That’s what Nick’s going to do now — only you mustn’t tell any one.”

Peter wondered. “He’s going to chuck up his seat?”

“I think his mind is made up to it. He has talked me over — we’ve had some deep discussions. Yes, I’m on the side of art!” she ardently said.

“Do you mean in order to paint — to paint that girl?” Peter went on.

“To paint every one — that’s what he wants. By keeping his seat he hasn’t kept Julia, and she was the thing he cared for most in public life. When he has got out of the whole thing his attitude, as he says, will be at least clear. He’s tremendously interesting about it, Peter,” Biddy declared; “has talked to me wonderfully — has won me over. Mamma’s heart-broken; telling her will be the hardest part.”

“If she doesn’t know,” he asked, “why then is she heart-broken?”

“Oh at the hitch about their marriage — she knows that. Their marriage has been so what she wanted. She thought it perfection. She blames Nick fearfully. She thinks he held the whole thing in his hand and that he has thrown away a magnificent opportunity.”

“And what does Nick say to her?”

“He says, ‘Dear old mummy!’”

“That’s good,” Peter pronounced.

“I don’t know what will become of her when this other blow arrives,” Biddy went on. “Poor Nick wants to please her — he does, he does. But, as he says, you can’t please every one and you must before you die please yourself a little.”

Nick’s kinsman, whose brother-inlaw he was to have been, sat looking at the floor; the colour had risen to his face while he listened. Then he sprang up and took another turn about the room. His companion’s artless but vivid recital had set his blood in motion. He had taken Nick’s political prospects very much for granted, thought of them as definite and almost dazzling. To learn there was something for which he was ready to renounce such honours, and to recognise the nature of that bribe, affected our young man powerfully and strangely. He felt as if he had heard the sudden blare of a trumpet, yet felt at the same time as if he had received a sudden slap in the face. Nick’s bribe was “art”— the strange temptress with whom he himself had been wrestling and over whom he had finally ventured to believe that wisdom and training had won a victory. There was something in the conduct of his old friend and playfellow that made all his reasonings small. So unexpected, so courageous a choice moved him as a reproach and a challenge. He felt ashamed of having placed himself so unromantically on his guard, and rapidly said to himself that if Nick could afford to allow so much for “art” he might surely exhibit some of the same confidence. There had never been the least avowed competition between the cousins — their lines lay too far apart for that; but they nevertheless rode their course in sight of each other, and Peter had now the impression of suddenly seeing Nick Dormer give his horse the spur, bound forward and fly over a wall. He was put on his mettle and hadn’t to look long to spy an obstacle he too might ride at. High rose his curiosity to see what warrant his kinsman might have for such risks — how he was mounted for such exploits. He really knew little about Nick’s talent — so little as to feel no right to exclaim “What an ass!” when Biddy mentioned the fact which the existence of real talent alone could redeem from absurdity. All his eagerness to see what Nick had been able to make of such a subject as Miriam Rooth came back to him: though it was what mainly had brought him to Rosedale Road he had forgotten it in the happy accident of his encounter with the girl. He was conscious that if the surprise of a revelation of power were in store for him Nick would be justified more than he himself would feel reinstated in self-respect; since the courage of renouncing the forum for the studio hovered before him as greater than the courage of marrying an actress whom one was in love with: the reward was in the latter case so much more immediate. Peter at any rate asked Biddy what Nick had done with his portrait of Miriam. He hadn’t seen it anywhere in rummaging about the room.

“I think it’s here somewhere, but I don’t know,” she replied, getting up to look vaguely round her.

“Haven’t you seen it? Hasn’t he shown it to you?”

She rested her eyes on him strangely a moment, then turned them away with a mechanical air of still searching. “I think it’s in the room, put away with its face to the wall.”

“One of those dozen canvases with their backs to us?”

“One of those perhaps.”

“Haven’t you tried to see?”

“I haven’t touched them”— and Biddy had a colour.

“Hasn’t Nick had it out to show you?”

“He says it’s in too bad a state — it isn’t finished — it won’t do.”

“And haven’t you had the curiosity to turn it round for yourself?”

The embarrassed look in her face deepened under his insistence and it seemed to him that her eyes pleaded with him a moment almost to tears. “I’ve had an idea he wouldn’t like it.”

Her visitor’s own desire, however, had become too sharp for easy forbearance. He laid his hand on two or three canvases which proved, as he extricated them, to be either blank or covered with rudimentary forms. “Dear Biddy, have you such intense delicacy?” he asked, pulling out something else.

The inquiry was meant in familiar kindness, for Peter was struck even to admiration with her having a sense of honour that all girls haven’t. She must in this particular case have longed for a sight of Nick’s work — the work that had brought about such a crisis in his life. But she had passed hours in his studio alone without permitting herself a stolen peep; she was capable of that if she believed it would please him. Peter liked a charming girl’s being capable of that — he had known charming girls who wouldn’t in the least have been — and his question was really a form of homage. Biddy, however, apparently discovered some light mockery in it, and she broke out incongruously:

“I haven’t wanted so much to see it! I don’t care for her so much as that!”

“So much as what?” He couldn’t but wonder.

“I don’t care for his actress — for that vulgar creature. I don’t like her!” said Biddy almost startlingly.

Peter stared. “I thought you hadn’t seen her.”

“I saw her in Paris — twice. She was wonderfully clever, but she didn’t charm me.”

He quickly considered, saying then all kindly: “I won’t inflict the thing on you in that case — we’ll leave it alone for the present.” Biddy made no reply to this at first, but after a moment went straight over to the row of stacked canvases and exposed several of them to the light. “Why did you say you wished to go to the theatre to-night?” her companion continued.

Still she was silent; after which, with her back turned to him and a little tremor in her voice while she drew forth successively her brother’s studies, she made answer: “For the sake of your company, Peter! Here it is, I think,” she added, moving a large canvas with some effort. “No, no, I’ll hold it for you. Is that the light?”

She wouldn’t let him take it; she bade him stand off and allow her to place it in the right position. In this position she carefully presented it, supporting it at the proper angle from behind and showing her head and shoulders above it. From the moment his eyes rested on the picture Peter accepted this service without protest. Unfinished, simplified and in some portions merely suggested, it was strong, vivid and assured, it had already the look of life and the promise of power. Peter felt all this and was startled, was strangely affected — he had no idea Nick moved with that stride. Miriam, seated, was represented in three-quarters, almost to her feet. She leaned forward with one of her legs crossed over the other, her arms extended and foreshortened, her hands locked together round her knee. Her beautiful head was bent a little, broodingly, and her splendid face seemed to look down at life. She had a grand appearance of being raised aloft, with a wide regard, a survey from a height of intelligence, for the great field of the artist, all the figures and passions he may represent. Peter asked himself where his kinsman had learned to paint like that. He almost gasped at the composition of the thing and at the drawing of the difficult arms. Biddy abstained from looking round the corner of the canvas as she held it; she only watched, in Peter’s eyes, for this gentleman’s impression of it. That she easily caught, and he measured her impression — her impression of his impression — when he went after a few minutes to relieve her. She let him lift the thing out of her grasp; he moved it and rested it, so that they could still see it, against the high back of a chair. “It’s tremendously good,” he then handsomely pronounced.

“Dear, dear Nick,” Biddy murmured, looking at it now.

“Poor, poor Julia!” Peter was prompted to exclaim in a different tone. His companion made no rejoinder to this, and they stood another minute or two side by side and in silence, gazing at the portrait. At last he took up his hat — he had no more time, he must go. “Will you come to-night all the same?” he asked with a laugh that was somewhat awkward and an offer of a hand-shake.

“All the same?” Biddy seemed to wonder.

“Why you say she’s a terrible creature,” Peter completed with his eyes on the painted face.

“Oh anything for art!” Biddy smiled.

“Well, at seven o’clock then.” And Sherringham departed, leaving the girl alone with the Tragic Muse and feeling with a quickened rush the beauty of that young woman as well as, all freshly, the peculiar possibilities of Nick.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38