The Siege of London, by Henry James

The Siege of London

1

That solemn piece of upholstery the curtain of the Comédie Française had fallen upon the first act of the piece, and our two Americans had taken advantage of the interval to pass out of the huge hot theatre in company with the other occupants of the stalls. But they were among the first to return, and they beguiled the rest of the intermission with looking at the house, which had lately been cleansed of its historic cobwebs and ornamented with frescoes illustrative of the classic drama. In the month of September the audience at the Théâtre Français is comparatively thin, and on this occasion the drama —L’Aventurière of Emile Augier — had no pretensions to novelty. Many of the boxes were empty, others were occupied by persons of provincial or nomadic appearance. The boxes are far from the stage, near which our spectators were placed; but even at a distance Rupert Waterville was able to appreciate details. He was fond of appreciating details, and when he went to the theatre he looked about him a good deal, making use of a dainty but remarkably powerful glass. He knew that such a course was wanting in true distinction and that it was indelicate to level at a lady an instrument often only less injurious in effect than a double-barrelled pistol; but he was always very curious, and was sure, in any case, that at that moment, at that antiquated play — so he was pleased to qualify the masterpiece of a contemporary — he shouldn’t be observed by any one he knew. Standing up therefore with his back to the stage he made the circuit of the boxes while several other persons near him performed the operation with even greater coolness.

“Not a single pretty woman,” he remarked at last to his friend; an observation which Littlemore, sitting in his place and staring with a bored expression at the new-looking curtain, received in perfect silence. He rarely indulged in these optical excursions; he had been a great deal in Paris and had ceased to vibrate more than a few times a day; he believed the French capital could have no more surprises for him, though it had had a good many in former days. Waterville was still in the stage of surprise; he suddenly expressed this emotion. “By Jove, I beg your pardon, I beg her pardon! There is after all a woman who may be called”— he paused a little, inspecting her —“an approach to a beauty!”

“How near an approach?” Littlemore responded.

“An unusual kind — an indescribable kind.” Littlemore was not heeding his answer, but presently heard himself appealed to. “I say, I wish very much you’d do me a favour.”

“I did you a favour in coming here,” said Littlemore. “It’s insufferably hot, and the play’s like a dinner that has been dressed by the kitchen-maid. The actors are all doublures.”

“It’s simply to answer me this: is she respectable now?” Waterville demanded, inattentive to his friend’s epigram.

Littlemore gave a groan, without turning his head. “You’re always wanting to know if they’re respectable. What on earth can it matter?”

“I’ve made such mistakes — I’ve lost all confidence,” said poor Waterville, to whom European civilisation had not ceased to be a novelty and who during the last six months had found himself confronted with problems for which his training had little prepared him. Whenever he encountered a very nice-looking woman he was sure to discover that she belonged to the class represented by the heroine of M. Augier’s drama; and whenever his attention rested upon a person of a florid style of attraction there was the strongest probability that she would turn out a countess. The countesses often looked so unnaturally cheap and the others unnaturally expensive. Littlemore distinguished at a glance; he never made mistakes.

“Simply for looking at them it doesn’t matter, I suppose,” Waterville ingenuously sighed.

“You stare at them all alike,” Littlemore went on, still without moving; “except indeed when I tell you they aren’t decent — then your eyes, my dear man, grow as large as saucers.”

“If your judgement’s against this lady I promise never to look at her again. I mean the one in the third box from the passage, in white, with the red flowers,” the younger man said as Littlemore slowly rose and stood beside him. “The fellow with her is leaning forward. It’s he who makes me doubt. Will you have the glass?”

Littlemore looked about him without concentration. “No, thank you, I can see without staring. The young man’s a very good young man,” he presently reported.

“Very indeed, but he’s several years younger than she. Wait till she turns her head.”

She turned it very soon — she apparently had been speaking to the ouvreuse, at the door of the box — and presented her face to the public; a fair harmonious face, with smiling eyes, smiling lips, a low brow ornamented with delicate rings of black hair and ears marked by the sparkle of diamonds sufficiently large to be seen across the Théâtre Français. Littlemore looked at her, then started and held out his hand. “The glass, please!”

“Do you know her?” his friend asked as he directed the little instrument.

He made no answer; he only looked in silence; then he gave the glass back. “No, she’s not respectable.” And he dropped again into his seat. As Waterville remained standing he added: “Please sit down; I think she saw me.”

“Don’t you want her to see you?” pursued the interrogator, promptly complying.

Littlemore hesitated. “I don’t want to spoil her game.” By this time the entr’acte was at an end and the curtain going up.

It had been Waterville’s idea that they should go to the theatre. Littlemore, who was always for not going anywhere, had recommended that, the evening being lovely, they should simply sit and smoke at the door of the Grand Café in comparatively pensive isolation. Nevertheless Waterville enjoyed the second act even less than he had done the first, which he thought heavy. He began to wonder whether his companion would wish to stay to the end; a useless line of speculation, for now that he had got to the theatre Littlemore’s aversion to change would certainly keep him from moving. Waterville also wondered what he knew about the lady in the box. Once or twice he glanced at his friend, and then was sure the latter wasn’t following the play. He was thinking of something else; he was thinking of that woman. When the curtain fell again he sat in his place, making way for his neighbours, as usual, to edge past him, grinding his knees — his legs were long — with their own protuberances. When the two men were alone in the stalls he spoke. “I think I should like to see her again, after all.” He spoke in fact as if Waterville might have known all about her. Waterville was conscious of not doing so, but as there was evidently a good deal to know he recognised he should lose nothing by exerting some art. So for the moment he asked no question; he only said: “Well, here’s the glass.”

Littlemore gave him a glance of good-natured compassion. “I don’t mean I want to keep letting that off at her. I mean I should rather like to see her as I used to.”

“And how did you use to?” asked Waterville with no art now.

“On the back piazza at San Pablo.” And as his comrade, in receipt of this information, only stared he went on: “Come out where we can breathe and I’ll tell you more.”

They made their way to the low and narrow door, more worthy of a rabbit-hutch than of a great theatre, by which you pass from the stalls of the Comédie to the lobby, and as Littlemore went by first his ingenuous friend behind him could see that he glanced up at the box in the occupants of which they were interested. The more interesting of these had her back to the house; she was apparently just leaving the box, after her companion; but as she hadn’t put on her mantle it was evident they weren’t quitting the theatre. Littlemore’s pursuit of fresh air didn’t lead him to the street; he had passed his arm into Waterville’s and when they reached the fine frigid staircase that ascends to the public foyer he began silently to mount it. Littlemore was averse to active pleasures, but his friend reflected that now at least he had launched himself — he was going to look for the lady whom, with a monosyllable, he appeared to have classified. The young man resigned himself for the moment to asking no questions, and the two strolled together into the shining saloon where Houdon’s admirable statue of Voltaire, reflected in a dozen mirrors, is gaped at by visitors too obviously less acute than the genius expressed in those living features. Waterville knew that Voltaire was witty; he had read Candide and had already had several opportunities of appreciating the statue. The foyer was not crowded; only a dozen groups were scattered over the polished floor, several others having passed out to the balcony which overhangs the square of the Palais Royal. The windows were open, the myriad lights of Paris made the dull summer evening look like an anniversary or a revolution; a murmur of voices seemed to come up, and even in the foyer one heard the slow click of the horses and the rumble of the crookedly-driven fiacres on the hard smooth street-surface. A lady and a gentleman, their backs to our friends, stood before the image of the genius loci; the lady was dressed in white, including a white bonnet. Littlemore felt in the scene, as so many persons feel it just there, something of the finest essence of France, and he gave a significant laugh.

“It seems comical to see her here! The last time was in New Mexico.”

“In New Mexico?”

“At San Pablo.”

“Oh on the back piazza,” said Waterville, putting things together. He had not been aware of the position of San Pablo, for if on the occasion of his lately being appointed to a subordinate diplomatic post in London he had been paying a good deal of attention to European geography he had rather neglected that of his own country.

They hadn’t spoken loud and weren’t standing near her, but suddenly, as if she had heard them, the lady in white turned round. Her eye caught Waterville’s first, and in that glance he saw that if she was aware of something it wasn’t because they had exceeded but because she had extraordinary quickness of ear. There was no prompt recognition in it — none even when it rested lightly on George Littlemore. But recognition flashed out a moment later, accompanied with a delicate increase of colour and a quick extension of her settled smile. She had turned completely round; she stood there in sudden friendliness, with parted lips; with a hand, gloved to the elbow, almost imperiously offered. She was even prettier than at a distance. “Well, I declare!” she cried; so loud that every one in the room appeared to feel personally addressed. Waterville was surprised; he hadn’t been prepared, even after the mention of the back piazza, to find her of so unmistakable race. Her companion turned round as she spoke; he was a fresh lean young man in evening dress; he kept his hands in his pockets; Waterville was sure he was of race quite other. He looked very grave — for such a fair festive young man — and gave our two friends, though his height was not superior to theirs, a narrow vertical glance. Then he turned back to the statue of Voltaire as if it had been among his premonitions, after all, that the lady he was attending would recognise people he didn’t know and didn’t even perhaps care to know. This possibly confirmed slightly Littlemore’s assertion that she wasn’t respectable. The young man was that at least; consummately so. “Where in the world did you drop from?” the lady inquired.

“I’ve been here for some time,” Littlemore said, going forward rather deliberately to shake hands with her. He took it alertly, yet was more serious than she, keeping his eye on her own as if she had been just a trifle dangerous. Such was the manner in which a duly discreet person would have approached some glossy graceful animal which had an occasional trick of biting.

“Here in Paris, do you mean?”

“No; here and there — in Europe generally.”

“Well, it’s queer I haven’t met you.”

“Better late than never!” said Littlemore. His smile was a little fixed.

“Well, you look very natural,” the lady went on.

“So do you — or very charming — it’s the same thing,” he answered, laughing and evidently wishing to be easy. It was as if, face to face and after a considerable lapse of time, he had found her more imposing than he expected when, in the stalls below, he determined to come and meet her. As he spoke the young man who was with her gave up his inspection of Voltaire and faced about listlessly, without looking at his companion’s acquaintances.

“I want to introduce you to my friend,” she went on. “Sir Arthur Demesne — Mr. Littlemore. Mr. Littlemore — Sir Arthur Demesne. Sir Arthur Demesne’s an Englishman — Mr. Littlemore’s a countryman of mine, an old friend. I haven’t seen him for years. For how long? Don’t let’s count — I wonder you knew me,” she continued, addressing this recovered property. “I’m fearfully changed.” All this was said in a clear gay tone which was the more audible as she spoke with an odd sociable slowness. The two men, to do honour to her introduction, silently exchanged a glance; the Englishman perhaps coloured a little. He was very conscious of his companion. “I haven’t introduced you to many people yet,” she dropped.

“Oh I don’t mind,” said Sir Arthur Demesne.

“Well, it’s queer to see you!” she pursued, with her charming eyes still on Littlemore. “You’ve changed, too — I can see that.”

“Not where you’re concerned.”

“That’s what I want to find out. Why don’t you introduce your friend? I see he’s dying to know me!” And then when he had proceeded with this ceremony, which he reduced to its simplest elements, merely glancing at Rupert Waterville and murmuring his name, “Ah, you don’t tell him who I am!” the lady cried while the young secretary made her a formal salutation. “I hope you haven’t forgotten!”

Littlemore showed her a face intended to express more than what he had hitherto permitted himself; if its meaning had been put into words these would have been: “Ah, but by which name?”

She answered the unspoken question, putting out her hand as she had done to Littlemore. “Happy to make your acquaintance, Mr. Waterville. I’m Mrs. Headway — perhaps you’ve heard of me. If you’ve ever been in America you must have heard of me. Not so much in New York, but in the Western cities. You are an American? Well then we’re all compatriots — except Sir Arthur Demesne. Let me introduce you to Sir Arthur. Sir Arthur Demesne, Mr. Waterville — Mr. Waterville, Sir Arthur Demesne. Sir Arthur Demesne’s a member of Parliament: don’t he look young?” She waited for no judgement on this appeal, but suddenly made another as she moved her bracelets back over long loose gloves. “Well, Mr. Littlemore, what are you thinking of?”

He was thinking that he must indeed have forgotten her name, for the one she had pronounced awakened no association. But he could hardly tell her that. “I’m thinking of San Pablo.”

“The back piazza at my sister’s? Oh don’t; it was too horrid. She has left now. I believe every one has left.” The member of Parliament drew out his watch with the air of a man who could take no part in these domestic reminiscences; he appeared to combine a generic self-possession with a degree of individual shyness. He said something about its being time they should go back to their seats, but Mrs. Headway paid no attention to the remark. Waterville wished her to linger and indeed felt almost as free to examine her as he had to walk, in a different spirit, round the statue of the author of Candide. Her low-growing hair, with its fine dense undulations, was of a shade of blackness that has now become rare; her complexion had the bloom of a white flower; her profile, when she turned her head, was as pure and fine as the outline of a cameo. “You know this is their first theatre,” she continued, as if to rise to the occasion. “And this is Voltaire, the celebrated writer.”

“I’m devoted to the Comédie Française”— Waterville rose as well.

“Dreadfully bad house; we didn’t hear a word,” said Sir Arthur Demesne.

“Ah, yes, the sad far boxes!” murmured Waterville.

“I’m rather disappointed,” Mrs. Headway went on. “But I want to see what becomes of that woman.”

“Doña Clorinde? Oh I suppose they’ll shoot her. They generally shoot the women in French plays,” Littlemore said.

“It will remind me of San Pablo!” cried Mrs. Headway.

“Ah, at San Pablo the women did the shooting.”

“They don’t seem to have killed you!” she returned archly.

“No, but I’m riddled with wounds.”

“Well, this is very remarkable”— the lady reverted to Houdon’s statue. “It’s beautifully modelled.”

“You’re perhaps reading M. de Voltaire,” Littlemore suggested.

“No; but I’ve purchased his works.”

“They’re not proper reading for ladies,” said the young Englishman severely, offering his arm to his charge.

“Ah, you might have told me before I had bought them!” she exclaimed in exaggerated dismay.

“I couldn’t imagine you’d buy a hundred and fifty volumes.”

“A hundred and fifty? I’ve only bought two.”

“Perhaps two won’t hurt you!” Littlemore hopefully contributed.

She darted him a reproachful ray. “I know what you mean — that I’m too bad already! Well, bad as I am you must come and see me.” And she threw him the name of her hotel as she walked away with her Englishman. Waterville looked after the latter with a certain interest; he had heard of him in London and had seen his portrait in Vanity Fair.

It was not yet time to go down, in spite of this gentleman’s saying so, and Littlemore and his friend passed out to the balcony of the foyer. “Headway — Headway? Where the deuce did she get that name?” Littlemore asked as they looked down into the flaring dusk.

“From her husband I suppose,” his friend suggested.

“From her husband? From which? The last was named Beck.”

“How many has she had?” the younger man inquired, anxious to hear how it was Mrs. Headway wasn’t respectable.

“I haven’t the least idea. But it wouldn’t be difficult to find out, as I believe they’re all living. She was Mrs. Beck — Nancy Beck — when I knew her.”

“Nancy Beck!” cried Waterville, aghast. He was thinking of her delicate profile, like that of a pretty Roman empress. There was a great deal to be explained.

Littlemore explained it in a few words before they returned to their places, admitting indeed that he wasn’t yet able to clear up her present appearance. She was a memory of his Western days; he had seen her last some six years before. He had known her very well and in several places; the circle of her activity was chiefly the South-west. This activity had been during that time of a vague character, except in the sense that it was exclusively social. She was supposed to have a husband, one Philadelphia Beck, the editor of a Democratic newspaper, the Dakota Sentinel; but Littlemore had never seen him — the pair were living apart — and it had been the impression at San Pablo that matrimony, for Mr. and Mrs. Beck, was about played out. He remembered now to have heard afterwards that she was getting a divorce. She got divorces very easily, she was so taking in court. She had got one or two before from a man whose name he couldn’t remember, and there was a legend that even these were not the first. She had been enormously divorced! When he first met her in California she called herself Mrs. Grenville, which he had been given to understand was not an appellation acquired by matrimony, but her parental name, resumed after the dissolution of an unfortunate union. She had had these episodes — her unions were all unfortunate — and had borne half-a-dozen names. She was a charming woman, especially for New Mexico; but she had been divorced too often — it was a tax on one’s credulity: she must have repudiated more husbands than she had married.

At San Pablo she was staying with her sister, whose actual spouse — she too had been divorced — the principal man of the place, kept a bank (with the aid of a six-shooter), and who had never suffered Nancy to want for a home during her unattached periods. Nancy had begun very young; she must be about thirty-seven today. That was all he meant by her not being respectable. Her chronology was rather mixed; her sister at least had once told him that there was one winter when she didn’t know herself who was Nancy’s husband. She had gone in mainly for editors — she esteemed the journalistic profession. They must all have been dreadful ruffians, for her own amiability was manifest. It was well known that whatever she had done she had done in self-defence. In fine she had done things — that was the main point now. She had been as pretty as could still be seen, and as good-natured and as clever as could likewise be yet measured; she had been quite the best company in those parts. She was a genuine product of the wild West — a flower of the Pacific slope; ignorant, absurd, crude, but full of pluck and spirit, of natural intelligence and of a certain intermittent haphazard felicity of impulse. She used to sigh that she only wanted a chance — apparently she had found that now. At one time, without her, he didn’t see how he could have put up with the life. He had started a cattle-ranch, to which San Pablo was the nearest town, and he used to ride over to see her. Sometimes he stayed there a week; then he went to see her every evening. It was infernally hot; they used to sit on the back piazza. She was always as attractive and very nearly as well-dressed as they had just beheld her. As far as appearance went she might have been transplanted at an hour’s notice from that dusty old settlement to the city by the Seine.

“Some of those barbaric women are wonderful,” Littlemore said. “Like her, they only want a chance.”

He hadn’t been in love with her — there never was anything of that sort between them. There might have been of course, but as happened there wasn’t. Headway would have been then the successor of Beck; perhaps there had been others between. She was in no sort of “society”; she only had a local reputation (“the well-known Texan belle,” the newspapers called her — the other editors, to whom she wasn’t married), though indeed in that spacious civilisation the locality was large. She knew nothing of the East and to the best of his belief at that period had never seen New York. Various things might have happened in those six years, however; no doubt she had “come up.” The West was sending us everything (Littlemore spoke as a New Yorker); no doubt it would send us at last our brilliant women. The well-known Texan belle used to look quite over the head of New York; even in those days she thought and talked of Paris, which there was no prospect of her knowing: that was the way she had got on in New Mexico. She had had her ambition, her presentiments; she had known she was meant for better things. Even at San Pablo she had prefigured her member of Parliament; every now and then a wandering Englishman came within her range. They weren’t all Sir Arthurs, like her present acquisition, but they were usually a change from the editors. What she was doing with her present acquisition Littlemore was curious to see. She was certainly — if he had any capacity for that state of mind, which was not too apparent — making the gentleman happy. She looked very splendid; Headway had probably made a “pile,” an achievement not to be imputed to any of the others. She didn’t accept money — he was sure she didn’t accept money. With all of which, on their way back to their seats, Littlemore, whose tone had been humorous, but with that strain of the pensive which is inseparable from retrospect, suddenly burst into audible laughter. “The modelling of statues and the works of Voltaire!” he broke out, recurring to two or three things she had said. “It’s touching to hear her attempt those flights, for in New Mexico she knew nothing about modelling.”

“She didn’t strike me as affected,” Waterville demurred, feeling a vague impulse to view her in becoming lights.

“Oh no; she’s only — as she says — fearfully changed.”

They were in their places before the play went on again, and they both gave another glance at Mrs. Headway’s box. She now was leaning back behind the slow movements of her fan and evidently watching Littlemore as if she had waited to see him come in. Sir Arthur Demesne sat beside her, rather gloomily resting a round pink chin upon a high stiff collar; neither of them seemed to speak.

“Are you sure she makes him happy?” Waterville asked.

“Yes — that’s the way those people show it.”

“But does she go about alone with him at that rate? Where’s her husband?”

“I suppose she has divorced him.”

“And does she want to marry the Baronet?” Waterville went on as if his companion was omniscient.

It amused Littlemore for the moment to appear so. “He wants to marry her, I guess.”

“And be divorced like the others?”

“Oh no; this time she has got what she wants,” said Littlemore as the curtain rose.

He suffered three days to elapse before he called at the Hôtel Meurice, which she had designated, and we may occupy this interval in adding a few words to the story we have taken from his lips. George Littlemore’s residence in the Far West had been of the usual tentative sort — he had gone there to replenish a pocket depleted by youthful extravagance. His first attempts had failed; the days had pretty well passed when a fortune was to be picked up even by a young man who might be supposed to have inherited from an honourable father, lately removed, some of those fine abilities, mainly dedicated to the importation of tea, to which the elder Mr. Littlemore was indebted for the power of leaving his son markedly at ease. Littlemore had dissipated his patrimony and was not quick to discover his talents, which, restricted chiefly to an unlimited faculty for smoking and horse-breaking, appeared to lie in the direction of none of the professions called liberal. He had been sent to Harvard to have them cultivated, but here they had taken such a form that repression had been found more necessary than stimulus — repression embodied in an occasional sojourn in one of the lovely villages of the Connecticut Valley. Rustication saved him perhaps in the sense that it detached him; it undermined his ambitions, which had been foolish. At the age of thirty he had mastered none of the useful arts, unless we include in the number the great art of indifference. But he was roused from too consistent an application of it by a stroke of good luck. To oblige a luckless friend, even in more pressing need of cash than himself, he had purchased for a moderate sum — the proceeds of a successful game of poker — a share in a silver-mine which the disposer of it, with unusual candour, admitted to be destitute of metal. Littlemore looked into his mine and recognised the truth of the contention, which, however, was demolished some two years later by a sudden revival of curiosity on the part of one of the other shareholders. This gentleman, convinced that a silver-mine without silver is as rare as an effect without a cause, discovered the sparkle of the precious element deep down in the reasons of things. The discovery was agreeable to Littlemore, and was the beginning of a fortune which, through several dull years and in many rough places, he had repeatedly despaired of, and which a man whose purpose had never been very keen, nor his aim very high, didn’t perhaps altogether deserve.

It was before he saw himself successful that he had made the acquaintance of the lady now established at the Hôtel Meurice. To-day he owned the largest share in his mine, which had remained perversely productive and enabled him to buy, among other things, in Montana, a cattle-ranch of higher type than the dry acres near San Pablo. Ranches and mines encourage security, and the consciousness of not having to watch the sources of his income too anxiously — a tax on ideal detachment which spoils the idea — now added itself to his usual coolness. It was not that this same coolness hadn’t been considerably tried. To take only one — the principal — instance: he had lost his wife after only a twelvemonth of marriage, some three years before the date at which we meet him. He had been turned thirty-eight when he distinguished and wooed and won an ardent girl of twenty-three, who, like himself, had consulted all the probabilities in expecting a succession of happy years. She had left him a small daughter, now entrusted to the care of his only sister, the wife of an English squire and mistress of a dull park in Hampshire. This lady, Mrs. Dolphin by name, had captivated her landowner during a journey in which Mr. Dolphin had promised himself to examine the institutions of the United States. The institution on which he had reported most favourably was the pretty girls of the larger towns, and he had returned to New York a year or two later to marry Miss Littlemore, who, unlike her brother, had not wasted her patrimony. Her sister-inlaw, married several years later and coming to Europe on this occasion, had died in London — where she had flattered herself the doctors were infallible — a week after the birth of her little girl; and poor Littlemore, though relinquishing his child for the moment, had lingered on the scene of his deep disconcertment to be within call of the Hampshire nursery. He was a presence to attract admiring attention, especially since his hair and moustache had turned to so fine a silver. Tall and clean-limbed, with a good figure and a bad carriage, he looked capable but indolent, and was exposed to imputations of credit and renown, those attaching to John Gilpin, of which he was far from being either conscious or desirous. His eye was at once keen and quiet, his smile dim and dilatory, but perfectly sincere. His principal occupation today was doing nothing, and he did it with a beautiful consistency. This exercise excited real envy on the part of Rupert Waterville, who was ten years younger and who had too many ambitions and anxieties — none of them very important, but making collectively a considerable incubus — to be able to wait for inspiration. He thought of it as the last social grace, he hoped some day to arrive at it; it made a man so independent — he had his resources within his own breast. Littlemore could sit for a whole evening without utterance or movement, smoking cigars and looking absently at his finger-nails. As every one knew him for a good fellow who had made his fortune this free and even surface offered by him to contact couldn’t be attributed to stupidity or moroseness. It seemed to imply a fund of reminiscence, an experience of life that had left him hundreds of things to think about. Waterville felt that if he himself could make a good use of these present years and keep a sharp lookout for experience he too at forty-four might have time to look at his finger-nails. He cultivated the conceit that such contemplations — not of course in their literal but in their symbolic intensity — were a sign of a man of the world. Waterville, reckoning possibly without an ungrateful Department of State, also nursed the fond fancy that he had embraced the diplomatic career. He was the junior of the two secretaries who render the personnel of the United States Legation in London exceptionally numerous, and was at present enjoying his annual leave of absence. It became a diplomatist to be inscrutable, and though he had by no means, as a whole, taken Littlemore for his model — there were much better ones in the diplomatic body accredited to the Court of Saint James’s — he thought the right effect of fine ease suggested when of an evening, in Paris, after one had been asked what one would like to do, one replied that one would like to do nothing, and simply sat for an interminable time in front of the Grand Café on the Boulevard de la Madeleine (one was very fond of cafés) ordering a succession of demi-tasses. It was seldom Littlemore cared even to go to the theatre, and the visit to the Comédie Française, which we have described, had been undertaken at Waterville’s instance. He had seen Le Demi–Monde a few nights before and had been told that L’Aventurière would show him a particular treatment of the same subject — the justice to be meted out to compromised women who attempt to thrust themselves into honourable families. It seemed to him that in both of these cases the ladies had deserved their fate, but he wished it might have been brought about by a little less lying on the part of the representatives of honour. Littlemore and he, without being intimate, were very good friends and spent much of their time together. As it turned out Littlemore was grateful for the chance that had led him to a view of this new incarnation of Nancy Beck.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/j/james/henry/siege-of-london/chapter1.html

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