Mr. Flack’s relations with his old friends didn’t indeed, after his return, take on the familiarity and frequency of their intercourse a year before: he was the first to refer to the marked change in the situation. They had got into the high set and they didn’t care about the past: he alluded to the past as if it had been rich in mutual vows, in pledges now repudiated.
“What’s the matter all the same? Won’t you come round there with us some day?” Mr. Dosson asked; not having perceived for himself any reason why the young journalist shouldn’t be a welcome and easy presence in the Cours la Reine.
Delia wanted to know what Mr. Flack was talking about: didn’t he know a lot of people that they didn’t know and wasn’t it natural they should have their own society? The young man’s treatment of the question was humorous, and it was with Delia that the discussion mainly went forward. When he maintained that the Dossons had shamelessly “shed” him Mr. Dosson returned “Well, I guess you’ll grow again!” And Francie made the point that it was no use for him to pose as a martyr, since he knew perfectly well that with all the celebrated people he saw and the way he flew round he had the most enchanting time. She was aware of being a good deal less accessible than the previous spring, for Mesdames de Brecourt and de Cliche — the former indeed more than the latter — occupied many of her hours. In spite of her having held off, to Gaston, from a premature intimacy with his sisters, she spent whole days in their company — they had so much to tell her of how her new life would shape, and it seemed mostly very pleasant — and she thought nothing could be nicer than that in these intervals he should give himself to her father, and even to Delia, as had been his wont.
But the flaw of a certain insincerity in Mr. Flack’s nature was suggested by his present tendency to rare visits. He evidently didn’t care for her father in himself, and though this mild parent always took what was set before him and never made fusses she is sure he felt their old companion to have fallen away. There were no more wanderings in public places, no more tryings of new cafes. Mr. Dosson used to look sometimes as he had looked of old when George Flack “located” them somewhere — as if he expected to see their heated benefactor rush back to them with his drab overcoat flying in the wind; but this appearance usually and rather touchingly subsided. He at any rate missed Gaston because Gaston had this winter so often ordered his dinner for him; and his society was not, to make it up, sought by the count and the marquis, whose mastery of English was small and their other distractions great. Mr. Probert, it was true, had shown something of a conversible spirit; he had come twice to the hotel since his son’s departure and had said, smiling and reproachful, “You neglect us, you neglect us, my dear sir!” The good man had not understood what was meant by this till Delia explained after the visitor had withdrawn, and even then the remedy for the neglect, administered two or three days later, had not borne any copious fruit. Mr. Dosson called alone, instructed by his daughter, in the Cours la Reine, but Mr. Probert was not at home. He only left a card on which Delia had superscribed in advance, almost with the legibility of print, the words “So sorry!” Her father had told her he would give in the card if she wanted, but would have nothing to do with the writing. There was a discussion as to whether Mr. Probert’s remark was an allusion to a deficiency of politeness on the article of his sons-inlaw. Oughtn’t Mr. Dosson perhaps to call personally, and not simply through the medium of the visits paid by his daughters to their wives, on Messieurs de Brecourt and de Cliche? Once when this subject came up in George Flack’s presence the old man said he would go round if Mr. Flack would accompany him. “All right, we’ll go right along!” Mr. Flack had responded, and this inspiration had become a living fact qualified only by the “mercy,” to Delia Dosson, that the other two gentlemen were not at home. “Suppose they SHOULD get in?” she had said lugubriously to her sister.
“Well, what if they do?” Francie had asked.
“Why the count and the marquis won’t be interested in Mr. Flack.”
“Well then perhaps he’ll be interested in them. He can write something about them. They’ll like that.”
“Do you think they would?” Delia had solemnly weighed it.
“Why, yes, if he should say fine things.”
“They do like fine things,” Delia had conceded. “They get off so many themselves. Only the way Mr. Flack does it’s a different style.”
“Well, people like to be praised in any style.”
“That’s so,” Delia had continued to brood.
One afternoon, coming in about three o’clock, Mr. Flack found Francie alone. She had expressed a wish after luncheon for a couple of hours of independence: intending to write to Gaston, and having accidentally missed a post, she had determined her letter should be of double its usual length. Her companions had respected her claim for solitude, Mr. Dosson taking himself off to his daily session in the reading-room of the American bank and Delia — the girls had now at their command a landau as massive as the coach of an ambassador — driving away to the dressmaker’s, a frequent errand, to superintend and urge forward the progress of her sister’s wedding-clothes. Francie was not skilled in composition; she wrote slowly and had in thus addressing her lover much the same sense of sore tension she supposed she should have in standing at the altar with him. Her father and Delia had a theory that when she shut herself up that way she poured forth pages that would testify to her costly culture. When George Flack was ushered in at all events she was still bent over her blotting-book at one of the gilded tables, and there was an inkstain on her pointed forefinger. It was no disloyalty to Gaston, but only at the most an echo as of the sweetness of “recess time” in old school mornings that made her glad to see her visitor.
She hadn’t quite known how to finish her letter, in the infinite of the bright propriety of her having written it, but Mr. Flack seemed to set a practical human limit.
“I wouldn’t have ventured,” he observed on entering, “to propose this, but I guess I can do with it now it’s come.”
“What can you do with?” she asked, wiping her pen.
“Well this happy chance. Just you and me together.”
“I don’t know what it’s a chance for.”
“Well, for me to be a little less miserable for a quarter of an hour. It makes me so to see you look so happy.”
“It makes you miserable?”— Francie took it gaily but guardedly.
“You ought to understand — when I say something so noble.” And settling himself on the sofa Mr. Flack continued: “Well, how do you get on without Mr. Probert?”
“Very well indeed, thank you.” The tone in which the girl spoke was not an encouragement to free pleasantry, so that if he continued his enquiries it was with as much circumspection as he had perhaps ever in his life recognised himself as having to apply to a given occasion. He was eminently capable of the sense that it wasn’t in his interest to strike her as indiscreet and profane; he only wanted still to appear a real reliable “gentleman friend.” At the same time he was not indifferent to the profit for him of her noticing in him a sense as of a good fellow once badly “sold,” which would always give him a certain pull on what he called to himself her lovely character. “Well, you’re in the real ‘grand’ old monde now, I suppose,” he resumed at last, not with an air of undue derision — rather with a kind of contemporary but detached wistfulness.
“Oh I’m not in anything; I’m just where I’ve always been.”
“I’m sorry; I hoped you’d tell me a good lot about it,” said Mr. Flack, not with levity.
“You think too much of that. What do you want to know so much about it for?”
Well, he took some trouble for his reason. “Dear Miss Francie, a poor devil of a journalist who has to get his living by studying-up things has to think TOO much, sometimes, in order to think, or at any rate to do, enough. We find out what we can — AS we can, you see.”
She did seem to catch in it the note of pathos. “What do you want to study-up?”
“Everything! I take in everything. It all depends on my opportunity. I try and learn — I try and improve. Every one has something to tell — or to sell; and I listen and watch — well, for what I can drink in or can buy. I hoped YOU’D have something to tell — for I’m not talking now of anything but THAT. I don’t believe but what you’ve seen a good deal of new life. You won’t pretend they ain’t working you right in, charming as you are.”
“Do you mean if they’ve been kind and sweet to me? They’ve been very kind and sweet,” Francie mid. “They want to do even more than I’ll let them.”
“Ah why won’t you let them?” George Flack asked almost coaxingly.
“Well, I do, when it comes to anything,” the girl went on. “You can’t resist them really; they’ve got such lovely ways.”
“I should like to hear you talk right out about their ways,” her companion observed after a silence.
“Oh I could talk out right enough if once I were to begin. But I don’t see why it should interest you.”
“Don’t I care immensely for everything that concerns you? Didn’t I tell you that once?”— he put it very straight.
“Well, you were foolish ever, and you’d be foolish to say it again,” Francie replied.
“Oh I don’t want to say anything, I’ve had my lesson. But I could listen to you all day.” Francie gave an exclamation of impatience and incredulity, and Mr. Flack pursued: “Don’t you remember what you told me that time we had that talk at Saint–Germain, on the terrace? You said I might remain your friend.”
“Well, that’s all right,” said the girl.
“Then ain’t we interested in the development of our friends — in their impressions, their situations and adventures? Especially a person like me, who has got to know life whether he wants to or no — who has got to know the world.”
“Do you mean to say I could teach you about life?” Francie beautifully gaped.
“About some kinds certainly. You know a lot of people it’s difficult to get at unless one takes some extraordinary measures, as you’ve done.”
“What do you mean? What measures have I done?”
“Well, THEY have — to get right hold of you — and its the same thing. Pouncing on you, to secure you first — I call that energetic, and don’t you think I ought to know?” smiled Mr. Flack with much meaning. “I thought I was energetic, but they got in ahead of me. They’re a society apart, and they must be very curious.”
“Yes, they’re very curious,” Francie admitted with a resigned sigh. Then she said: “Do you want to put them in the paper?”
George Flack cast about — the air of the question was so candid, suggested so complete an exemption From prejudice. “Oh I’m very careful about what I put in the paper. I want everything, as I told you; Don’t you remember the sketch I gave you of my ideals? But I want it in the right way and of the right brand. If I can’t get it in the shape I like it I don’t want it at all; first-rate first-hand information, straight from the tap, is what I’m after. I don’t want to hear what some one or other thinks that some one or other was told that some one or other believed or said; and above all I don’t want to print it. There’s plenty of that flowing in, and the best part of the job’s to keep it out. People just yearn to come in; they make love to me for it all over the place; there’s the biggest crowd at the door. But I say to them: ‘You’ve got to do something first, then I’ll see; or at any rate you’ve got to BE something!’”
“We sometimes see the Reverberator. You’ve some fine pieces,” Francie humanely replied.
“Sometimes only? Don’t they send it to the old gentleman — the weekly edition? I thought I had fixed that,” said George Flack.
“I don’t know; it’s usually lying round. But Delia reads it more than I; she reads pieces aloud. I like to read books; I read as many as I can.”
“Well, it’s all literature,” said Mr. Flack; “it’s all the press, the great institution of our time. Some of the finest books have come out first in the papers. It’s the history of the age.”
“I see you’ve got the same aspirations,” Francie remarked kindly.
“The same aspirations?”
“Those you told me about that day at Saint–Germain.”
“Oh I keep forgetting that I ever broke out to you that way. Everything’s so changed.”
“Are you the proprietor of the paper now?” the girl went on, determined not to catch this sentimental echo.
“What do you care? It wouldn’t even be delicate in me to tell you; for I DO remember the way you said you’d try and get your father to help me. Don’t say you’ve forgotten it, because you almost made me cry. Anyway, that isn’t the sort of help I want now and it wasn’t the sort of help I meant to ask you for then. I want sympathy and interest; I want some one to say to me once in a while ‘Keep up your old heart, Mr. Flack; you’ll come out all right.’ You see I’m a working-man and I don’t pretend to be anything else,” Francie’s companion went on. “I don’t live on the accumulations of my ancestors. What I have I earn — what I am I’ve fought for: I’m a real old travailleur, as they say here. I rejoice in it, but there’s one dark spot in it all the same.”
“And what’s that?” Francie decided not quite at once to ask.
“That it makes you ashamed of me.”
“Oh how can you say?” And she got up as if a sense of oppression, of vague discomfort, had come over her. Her visitor troubled such peace as she had lately arrived at.
“You wouldn’t be ashamed to go round with me?”
“Well, anywhere: just to have one more walk. The very last.” George Flack had got up too and stood there looking at her with his bright eyes, his hands in the pockets of his overcoat. As she hesitated he continued: “Then I’m not such a friend after all.”
She rested her eyes a moment on the carpet; then raising them: “Where would you like to go?”
“You could render me a service — a real service — without any inconvenience probably to yourself. Isn’t your portrait finished?”
“Yes, but he won’t give it up.”
“Who won’t give it up?”
“Why Mr. Waterlow. He wants to keep it near him to look at it in case he should take a fancy to change it. But I hope he won’t change it — it’s so lovely as it is!” Francie made a mild joke of saying.
“I hear it’s magnificent and I want to see it,” said George Flack.
“Then why don’t you go?”
“I’ll go if you’ll take me; that’s the service you can render me.”
“Why I thought you went everywhere — into the palaces of kings!” Francie cried.
“I go where I’m welcome, not where I ain’t. I don’t want to push into that studio alone; he doesn’t want me round. Oh you needn’t protest,” the young man went on; “if a fellow’s made sensitive he has got to stay so. I feel those things in the shade of a tone of voice. He doesn’t like newspaper-men. Some people don’t, you know. I ought to tell you that frankly.”
Francie considered again, but looking this time at her visitor. “Why if it hadn’t been for you “— I’m afraid she said “hadn’t have been”—“I’d never have sat to him.”
Mr. Flack smiled at her in silence for a little. “If it hadn’t been for me I think you’d never have met your future husband.”
“Perhaps not,” said Francie; and suddenly she blushed red, rather to her companion’s surprise.
“I only say that to remind you that after all I’ve a right to ask you to show me this one little favour. Let me drive with you tomorrow, or next day or any day, to the Avenue de Villiers, and I shall regard myself as amply repaid. With you I shan’t be afraid to go in, for you’ve a right to take any one you like to see your picture. That’s the rule here.”
“Oh the day you’re afraid, Mr. Flack —!” Francie laughed without fear. She had been much struck by his reminder of what they all owed him; for he truly had been their initiator, the instrument, under providence, that had opened a great new interest to them, and as she was more listless about almost anything than at the sight of a person wronged she winced at his describing himself as disavowed or made light of after the prize was gained. Her mind had not lingered on her personal indebtedness to him, for it was not in the nature of her mind to linger; but at present she was glad to spring quickly, at the first word, into the attitude of acknowledgement. It had the effect of simplification after too multiplied an appeal — it brought up her spirits.
“Of course I must be quite square with you,” the young man said in a tone that struck her as “higher,” somehow, than any she had ever heard him use. “If I want to see the picture it’s because I want to write about it. The whole thing will go bang into the Reverberator. You must understand that in advance. I wouldn’t write about it without seeing it. We don’t DO that”— and Mr. Flack appeared to speak proudly again for his organ.
“J’espere bien!” said Francie, who was getting on famously with her French. “Of course if you praise him Mr. Waterlow will like it.”
“I don’t know that he cares for my praise and I don’t care much whether HE likes it or not. For you to like it’s the principal thing — we must do with that.”
“Oh I shall be awfully proud.”
“I shall speak of you personally — I shall say you’re the prettiest girl that has ever come over.”
“You may say what you like,” Francie returned. “It will be immense fun to be in the newspapers. Come for me at this hour day after tomorrow.”
“You’re too kind,” said George Flack, taking up his hat. He smoothed it down a moment with his glove; then he said: “I wonder if you’ll mind our going alone?”
“I mean just you and me.”
“Oh don’t you be afraid! Father and Delia have seen it about thirty times.”
“That’ll be first-rate. And it will help me to feel, more than anything else could make me do, that we’re still old friends. I couldn’t bear the end of THAT. I’ll come at 3.15,” Mr. Flack went on, but without even yet taking his departure. He asked two or three questions about the hotel, whether it were as good as last year and there were many people in it and they could keep their rooms warm; then pursued suddenly, on a different plane and scarcely waiting for the girl’s answer: “And now for instance are they very bigoted? That’s one of the things I should like to know.”
“Ain’t they tremendous Catholics — always talking about the Holy Father; what they call here the throne and the altar? And don’t they want the throne too? I mean Mr. Probert, the old gentleman,” Mr. Flack added. “And those grand ladies and all the rest of them.”
“They’re very religious,” said Francie. “They’re the most religious people I ever saw. They just adore the Holy Father. They know him personally quite well. They’re always going down to Rome.”
“And do they mean to introduce you to him?”
“How do you mean, to introduce me?”
“Why to make you a Catholic, to take you also down to Rome.”
“Oh we’re going to Rome for our voyage de noces!” said Francie gaily. “Just for a peep.”
“And won’t you have to have a Catholic marriage if They won’t consent to a Protestant one.”
“We’re going to have a lovely one, just like one that Mme. de Brecourt took me to see at the Madeleine.”
“And will it be at the Madeleine, too?”
“Yes, unless we have it at Notre Dame.”
“And how will your father and sister like that?”
“Our having it at Notre Dame?”
“Yes, or at the Madeleine. Your not having it at the American church.”
“Oh Delia wants it at the best place,” said Francie simply. Then she added: “And you know poppa ain’t much on religion.”
“Well now that’s what I call a genuine fact, the sort I was talking about,” Mr. Flack replied. Whereupon he at last took himself off, repeating that he would come in two days later, at 3.15 sharp.
Francie gave an account of his visit to her sister, on the return of the latter young lady, and mentioned the agreement they had come to in relation to the drive. Delia brooded on it a while like a sitting hen, so little did she know that it was right (“as” it was right Delia usually said) that Francie should be so intimate with other gentlemen after she was engaged.
“Intimate? You wouldn’t think it’s very intimate if you were to see me!” Francie cried with amusement.
“I’m sure I don’t want to see you,” Delia declared — the sharpness of which made her sister suddenly strenuous.
“Delia Dosson, do you realise that if it hadn’t been for Mr. Flack we would never have had that picture, and that if it hadn’t been for that picture I should never have got engaged?”
“It would have been better if you hadn’t, if that’s the way you’re going to behave. Nothing would induce me to go with you.”
This was what suited Francie, but she was nevertheless struck by Delia’s rigour. “I’m only going to take him to see Mr. Waterlow.”
“Has he become all of a sudden too shy to go alone?”
“Well, you know Mr. Waterlow has a prejudice against him and has made him feel it. You know Gaston told us so.”
“He told us HE couldn’t bear him; that’s what he told us,” said Delia.
“All the more reason I should be kind to him. Why Delia, do realise,” Francie went on.
“That’s just what I do,” returned the elder girl; “but things that are very different from those you want me to. You have queer reasons.”
“I’ve others too that you may like better. He wants to put a piece in the paper about it.”
“About your picture?”
“Yes, and about me. All about the whole thing.”
Delia stared a moment. “Well, I hope it will be a good one!” she said with a groan of oppression as from the crushing majesty of their fate.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:10