The Tragic Muse, by Henry James


Peter’s meeting with Nick was of the friendliest on both sides, involving a great many “dear fellows” and “old boys,” and his salutation to the younger of the Miss Dormers consisted of the frankest “Delighted to see you, my dear Bid!” There was no kissing, but there was cousinship in the air, of a conscious, living kind, as Gabriel Nash doubtless quickly noted, hovering for a moment outside the group. Biddy said nothing to Peter Sherringham, but there was no flatness in a silence which heaved, as it were, with the fairest physiognomic portents. Nick introduced Gabriel Nash to his mother and to the other two as “a delightful old friend” whom he had just come across, and Sherringham acknowledged the act by saying to Mr. Nash, but as if rather less for his sake than for that of the presenter: “I’ve seen you very often before.”

“Ah repetition — recurrence: we haven’t yet, in the study of how to live, abolished that clumsiness, have we?” Mr. Nash genially inquired. “It’s a poverty in the supernumeraries of our stage that we don’t pass once for all, but come round and cross again like a procession or an army at the theatre. It’s a sordid economy that ought to have been managed better. The right thing would be just one appearance, and the procession, regardless of expense, for ever and for ever different.” The company was occupied in placing itself at table, so that the only disengaged attention for the moment was Grace’s, to whom, as her eyes rested on him, the young man addressed these last words with a smile. “Alas, it’s a very shabby idea, isn’t it? The world isn’t got up regardless of expense!”

Grace looked quickly away from him and said to her brother: “Nick, Mr. Pinks is dead.”

“Mr. Pinks?” asked Gabriel Nash, appearing to wonder where he should sit.

“The member for Harsh; and Julia wants you to stand,” the girl went on.

“Mr. Pinks, the member for Harsh? What names to be sure!” Gabriel mused cheerfully, still unseated.

“Julia wants me? I’m much obliged to her!” Nick absently said. “Nash, please sit by my mother, with Peter on her other side.”

“My dear, it isn’t Julia”— Lady Agnes spoke earnestly. “Every one wants you. Haven’t you heard from your people? Didn’t you know the seat was vacant?”

Nick was looking round the table to see what was on it. “Upon my word I don’t remember. What else have you ordered, mother?”

“There’s some boeuf braisé, my dear, and afterwards some galantine. Here’s a dish of eggs with asparagus-tips.”

“I advise you to go in for it, Nick,” said Peter Sherringham, to whom the preparation in question was presented.

“Into the eggs with asparagus-tips? Donnez m’en s’il vous plaît. My dear fellow, how can I stand? how can I sit? Where’s the money to come from?”

“The money? Why from Jul ——!” Grace began, but immediately caught her mother’s eye.

“Poor Julia, how you do work her!” Nick exclaimed. “Nash, I recommend you the asparagus-tips. Mother, he’s my best friend — do look after him.”

“I’ve an impression I’ve breakfasted — I’m not sure,” Nash smiled.

“With those beautiful ladies? Try again — you’ll find out.”

“The money can be managed; the expenses are very small and the seat’s certain,” Lady Agnes pursued, not apparently heeding her son’s injunction in respect to Nash.

“Rather — if Julia goes down!” her elder daughter exclaimed.

“Perhaps Julia won’t go down!” Nick answered humorously.

Biddy was seated next to Mr. Nash, so that she could take occasion to ask, “Who are the beautiful ladies?” as if she failed to recognise her brother’s allusion. In reality this was an innocent trick: she was more curious than she could have given a suitable reason for about the odd women from whom her neighbour had lately separated.

“Deluded, misguided, infatuated persons!” Mr. Nash replied, understanding that she had asked for a description. “Strange eccentric, almost romantic, types. Predestined victims, simple-minded sacrificial lambs!”

This was copious, yet it was vague, so that Biddy could only respond: “Oh all that?” But meanwhile Peter Sherringham said to Nick: “Julia’s here, you know. You must go and see her.”

Nick looked at him an instant rather hard, as if to say: “You too?” But Peter’s eyes appeared to answer, “No, no, not I”; upon which his cousin rejoined: “Of course I’ll go and see her. I’ll go immediately. Please to thank her for thinking of me.”

“Thinking of you? There are plenty to think of you!” Lady Agnes said. “There are sure to be telegrams at home. We must go back — we must go back!”

“We must go back to England?” Nick Dormer asked; and as his mother made no answer he continued: “Do you mean I must go to Harsh?”

Her ladyship evaded this question, inquiring of Mr. Nash if he would have a morsel of fish; but her gain was small, for this gentleman, struck again by the unhappy name of the bereaved constituency, only broke out: “Ah what a place to represent! How can you — how can you?”

“It’s an excellent place,” said Lady Agnes coldly. “I imagine you’ve never been there. It’s a very good place indeed. It belongs very largely to my cousin, Mrs. Dallow.”

Gabriel partook of the fish, listening with interest. “But I thought we had no more pocket-boroughs.”

“It’s pockets we rather lack, so many of us. There are plenty of Harshes,” Nick Dormer observed.

“I don’t know what you mean,” Lady Agnes said to Nash with considerable majesty.

Peter Sherringham also addressed him with an “Oh it’s all right; they come down on you like a shot!” and the young man continued ingenuously:

“Do you mean to say you’ve to pay money to get into that awful place — that it’s not you who are paid?”

“Into that awful place?” Lady Agnes repeated blankly.

“Into the House of Commons. That you don’t get a high salary?”

“My dear Nash, you’re delightful: don’t leave me — don’t leave me!” Nick cried; while his mother looked at him with an eye that demanded: “Who in the world’s this extraordinary person?”

“What then did you think pocket-boroughs were?” Peter Sherringham asked.

Mr. Nash’s facial radiance rested on him. “Why, boroughs that filled your pocket. To do that sort of thing without a bribe — c’est trop fort!

“He lives at Samarcand,” Nick Dormer explained to his mother, who flushed perceptibly. “What do you advise me? I’ll do whatever you say,” he went on to his old acquaintance.

“My dear, my dear ——!” Lady Agnes pleaded.

“See Julia first, with all respect to Mr. Nash. She’s of excellent counsel,” said Peter Sherringham.

Mr. Nash smiled across the table at his host. “The lady first — the lady first! I’ve not a word to suggest as against any idea of hers.”

“We mustn’t sit here too long, there’ll be so much to do,” said Lady Agnes anxiously, perceiving a certain slowness in the service of the boeuf braisé.

Biddy had been up to this moment mainly occupied in looking, covertly and in snatches, at Peter Sherringham; as was perfectly lawful in a young lady with a handsome cousin whom she had not seen for more than a year. But her sweet voice now took license to throw in the words: “We know what Mr. Nash thinks of politics: he told us just now he thinks them dreadful.”

“No, not dreadful — only inferior,” the personage impugned protested. “Everything’s relative.”

“Inferior to what?” Lady Agnes demanded.

Mr. Nash appeared to consider a moment. “To anything else that may be in question.”

“Nothing else is in question!” said her ladyship in a tone that would have been triumphant if it had not been so dry.

“Ah then!” And her neighbour shook his head sadly. He turned after this to Biddy. “The ladies whom I was with just now and in whom you were so good as to express an interest?” Biddy gave a sign of assent and he went on: “They’re persons theatrical. The younger one’s trying to go upon the stage.”

“And are you assisting her?” Biddy inquired, pleased she had guessed so nearly right.

“Not in the least — I’m rather choking her off. I consider it the lowest of the arts.”

“Lower than politics?” asked Peter Sherringham, who was listening to this.

“Dear no, I won’t say that. I think the Théâtre Français a greater institution than the House of Commons.”

“I agree with you there!” laughed Sherringham; “all the more that I don’t consider the dramatic art a low one. It seems to me on the contrary to include all the others.”

“Yes — that’s a view. I think it’s the view of my friends.”

“Of your friends?”

“Two ladies — old acquaintances — whom I met in Paris a week ago and whom I’ve just been spending an hour with in this place.”

“You should have seen them; they struck me very much,” Biddy said to her cousin.

“I should like to see them if they really have anything to say to the theatre.”

“It can easily be managed. Do you believe in the theatre?” asked Gabriel Nash.

“Passionately,” Sherringham confessed. “Don’t you?”

Before Nash had had time to answer Biddy had interposed with a sigh. “How I wish I could go — but in Paris I can’t!”

“I’ll take you, Biddy — I vow I’ll take you.”

“But the plays, Peter,” the girl objected. “Mamma says they’re worse than the pictures.”

“Oh, we’ll arrange that: they shall do one at the Français on purpose for a delightful little yearning English girl.”

“Can you make them?”

“I can make them do anything I choose.”

“Ah then it’s the theatre that believes in you,” said Mr. Nash.

“It would be ungrateful if it didn’t after all I’ve done for it!” Sherringham gaily opined.

Lady Agnes had withdrawn herself from between him and her other guest and, to signify that she at least had finished eating, had gone to sit by her son, whom she held, with some importunity, in conversation. But hearing the theatre talked of she threw across an impersonal challenge to the paradoxical young man. “Pray should you think it better for a gentleman to be an actor?”

“Better than being a politician? Ah, comedian for comedian, isn’t the actor more honest?”

Lady Agnes turned to her son and brought forth with spirit: “Think of your great father, Nicholas!”

“He was an honest man,” said Nicholas. “That’s perhaps why he couldn’t stand it.”

Peter Sherringham judged the colloquy to have taken an uncomfortable twist, though not wholly, as it seemed to him, by the act of Nick’s queer comrade. To draw it back to safer ground he said to this personage: “May I ask if the ladies you just spoke of are English — Mrs. and Miss Rooth: isn’t that the rather odd name?”

“The very same. Only the daughter, according to her kind, desires to be known by some nom de guerre before she has even been able to enlist.”

“And what does she call herself?” Bridget Dormer asked.

“Maud Vavasour, or Edith Temple, or Gladys Vane — some rubbish of that sort.”

“What then is her own name?”

“Miriam — Miriam Rooth. It would do very well and would give her the benefit of the prepossessing fact that — to the best of my belief at least — she’s more than half a Jewess.”

“It is as good as Rachel Felix,” Sherringham said.

“The name’s as good, but not the talent. The girl’s splendidly stupid.”

“And more than half a Jewess? Don’t you believe it!” Sherringham laughed.

“Don’t believe she’s a Jewess?” Biddy asked, still more interested in Miriam Rooth.

“No, no — that she’s stupid, really. If she is she’ll be the first.”

“Ah you may judge for yourself,” Nash rejoined, “if you’ll come tomorrow afternoon to Madame Carré, Rue de Constantinople, à l’entresol.”

“Madame Carré? Why, I’ve already a note from her — I found it this morning on my return to Paris — asking me to look in at five o’clock and listen to a jeune Anglaise.”

“That’s my arrangement — I obtained the favour. The ladies want an opinion, and dear old Carré has consented to see them and to give one. Maud Vavasour will recite, and the venerable artist will pass judgement.”

Sherringham remembered he had his note in his pocket and took it out to look it over. “She wishes to make her a little audience — she says she’ll do better with that — and she asks me because I’m English. I shall make a point of going.”

“And bring Dormer if you can: the audience will be better. Will you come, Dormer?” Mr. Nash continued, appealing to his friend —“will you come with me to hear an English amateur recite and an old French actress pitch into her?”

Nick looked round from his talk with his mother and Grace. “I’ll go anywhere with you so that, as I’ve told you, I mayn’t lose sight of you — may keep hold of you.”

“Poor Mr. Nash, why is he so useful?” Lady Agnes took a cold freedom to inquire.

“He steadies me, mother.”

“Oh I wish you’d take me, Peter,” Biddy broke out wistfully to her cousin.

“To spend an hour with an old French actress? Do you want to go upon the stage?” the young man asked.

“No, but I want to see something — to know something.”

“Madame Carré‘s wonderful in her way, but she’s hardly company for a little English girl.”

“I’m not little, I’m only too big; and she goes, the person you speak of.”

“For a professional purpose and with her good mother,” smiled Mr. Nash. “I think Lady Agnes would hardly venture ——!”

“Oh I’ve seen her good mother!” said Biddy as if she had her impression of what the worth of that protection might be.

“Yes, but you haven’t heard her. It’s then that you measure her.”

Biddy was wistful still. “Is it the famous Honorine Carré, the great celebrity?”

“Honorine in person: the incomparable, the perfect!” said Peter Sherringham. “The first artist of our time, taking her altogether. She and I are old pals; she has been so good as to come and ‘say’ things — which she does sometimes still dans le monde as no one else can —— in my rooms.”

“Make her come then. We can go there!”

“One of these days!”

“And the young lady — Miriam, Maud, Gladys — make her come too.”

Sherringham looked at Nash and the latter was bland. “Oh you’ll have no difficulty. She’ll jump at it!”

“Very good. I’ll give a little artistic tea — with Julia too of course. And you must come, Mr. Nash.” This gentleman promised with an inclination, and Peter continued: “But if, as you say, you’re not for helping the young lady, how came you to arrange this interview with the great model?”

“Precisely to stop her short. The great model will find her very bad. Her judgements, as you probably know, are Rhadamanthine.”

“Unfortunate creature!” said Biddy. “I think you’re cruel.”

“Never mind — I’ll look after them,” Sherringham laughed.

“And how can Madame Carré judge if the girl recites English?”

“She’s so intelligent that she could judge if she recited Chinese,” Peter declared.

“That’s true, but the jeune Anglaise recites also in French,” said Gabriel Nash.

“Then she isn’t stupid.”

“And in Italian, and in several more tongues, for aught I know.”

Sherringham was visibly interested. “Very good — we’ll put her through them all.”

“She must be most clever,” Biddy went on yearningly.

“She has spent her life on the Continent; she has wandered about with her mother; she has picked up things.”

“And is she a lady?” Biddy asked.

“Oh tremendous! The great ones of the earth on the mother’s side. On the father’s, on the other hand, I imagine, only a Jew stockbroker in the City.”

“Then they’re rich — or ought to be,” Sherringham suggested.

“Ought to be-ah there’s the bitterness! The stockbroker had too short a go — he was carried off in his flower. However, he left his wife a certain property, which she appears to have muddled away, not having the safeguard of being herself a Hebrew. This is what she has lived on till today — this and another resource. Her husband, as she has often told me, had the artistic temperament: that’s common, as you know, among ces messieurs. He made the most of his little opportunities and collected various pictures, tapestries, enamels, porcelains, and similar gewgaws. He parted with them also, I gather, at a profit; in short he carried on a neat little business as a brocanteur. It was nipped in the bud, but Mrs. Rooth was left with a certain number of these articles in her hands; indeed they must have formed her only capital. She was not a woman of business; she turned them, no doubt, to indifferent account; but she sold them piece by piece, and they kept her going while her daughter grew up. It was to this precarious traffic, conducted with extraordinary mystery and delicacy, that, five years ago, in Florence, I was indebted for my acquaintance with her. In those days I used to collect — heaven help me! — I used to pick up rubbish which I could ill afford. It was a little phase — we have our little phases, haven’t we?” Mr. Nash asked with childlike trust —“and I’ve come out on the other side. Mrs. Rooth had an old green pot and I heard of her old green pot. To hear of it was to long for it, so that I went to see it under cover of night. I bought it and a couple of years ago I overturned and smashed it. It was the last of the little phase. It was not, however, as you’ve seen, the last of Mrs. Rooth. I met her afterwards in London, and I found her a year or two ago in Venice. She appears to be a great wanderer. She had other old pots, of other colours, red, yellow, black, or blue — she could produce them of any complexion you liked. I don’t know whether she carried them about with her or whether she had little secret stores in the principal cities of Europe. To-day at any rate they seem all gone. On the other hand she has her daughter, who has grown up and who’s a precious vase of another kind — less fragile I hope than the rest. May she not be overturned and smashed!”

Peter Sherringham and Biddy Dormer listened with attention to this history, and the girl testified to the interest with which she had followed it by saying when Mr. Nash had ceased speaking: “A Jewish stockbroker, a dealer in curiosities: what an odd person to marry — for a person who was well born! I daresay he was a German.”

“His name must have been simply Roth, and the poor lady, to smarten it up, has put in another o,” Sherringham ingeniously suggested.

“You’re both very clever,” said Gabriel, “and Rudolf Roth, as I happen to know, was indeed the designation of Maud Vavasour’s papa. But so far as the question of derogation goes one might as well drown as starve — for what connexion is not a misalliance when one happens to have the unaccommodating, the crushing honour of being a Neville–Nugent of Castle Nugent? That’s the high lineage of Maud’s mamma. I seem to have heard it mentioned that Rudolf Roth was very versatile and, like most of his species, not unacquainted with the practice of music. He had been employed to teach the harmonium to Miss Neville–Nugent and she had profited by his lessons. If his daughter’s like him — and she’s not like her mother — he was darkly and dangerously handsome. So I venture rapidly to reconstruct the situation.”

A silence, for the moment, had fallen on Lady Agnes and her other two children, so that Mr. Nash, with his universal urbanity, practically addressed these last remarks to them as well as to his other auditors. Lady Agnes looked as if she wondered whom he was talking about, and having caught the name of a noble residence she inquired: “Castle Nugent — where in the world’s that?”

“It’s a domain of immeasurable extent and almost inconceivable splendour, but I fear not to be found in any prosaic earthly geography!” Lady Agnes rested her eyes on the tablecloth as if she weren’t sure a liberty had not been taken with her, or at least with her “order,” and while Mr. Nash continued to abound in descriptive suppositions —“It must be on the banks of the Manzanares or the Guadalquivir”— Peter Sherringham, whose imagination had seemingly been kindled by the sketch of Miriam Rooth, took up the argument and reminded him that he had a short time before assigned a low place to the dramatic art and had not yet answered the question as to whether he believed in the theatre. Which gave the speaker a further chance. “I don’t know that I understand your question; there are different ways of taking it. Do I think it’s important? Is that what you mean? Important certainly to managers and stage-carpenters who want to make money, to ladies and gentlemen who want to produce themselves in public by limelight, and to other ladies and gentlemen who are bored and stupid and don’t know what to do with their evening. It’s a commercial and social convenience which may be infinitely worked. But important artistically, intellectually? How can it be-so poor, so limited a form?”

“Upon my honour it strikes me as rich and various! Do you think it’s a poor and limited form, Nick?” Sherringham added, appealing to his kinsman.

“I think whatever Nash thinks. I’ve no opinion today but his.”

This answer of the hope of the Dormers drew the eyes of his mother and sisters to him and caused his friend to exclaim that he wasn’t used to such responsibilities — so few people had ever tested his presence of mind by agreeing with him. “Oh I used to be of your way of feeling,” Nash went on to Sherringham. “I understand you perfectly. It’s a phase like another. I’ve been through it — j’ai été comme ça.

“And you went then very often to the Théâtre Français, and it was there I saw you. I place you now.”

“I’m afraid I noticed none of the other spectators,” Nash explained. “I had no attention but for the great Carré— she was still on the stage. Judge of my infatuation, and how I can allow for yours, when I tell you that I sought her acquaintance, that I couldn’t rest till I had told her how I hung upon her lips.”

“That’s just what I told her,” Sherringham returned.

“She was very kind to me. She said: ‘Vous me rendez des forces.’”

“That’s just what she said to me!”

“And we’ve remained very good friends.”

“So have we!” laughed Sherringham. “And such perfect art as hers — do you mean to say you don’t consider that important, such a rare dramatic intelligence?”

“I’m afraid you read the feuilletons. You catch their phrases”— Nash spoke with pity. “Dramatic intelligence is never rare; nothing’s more common.”

“Then why have we so many shocking actors?”

“Have we? I thought they were mostly good; succeeding more easily and more completely in that business than in anything else. What could they do — those people generally — if they didn’t do that poor thing? And reflect that the poor thing enables them to succeed! Of course, always, there are numbers of people on the stage who are no actors at all, for it’s even easier to our poor humanity to be ineffectively stupid and vulgar than to bring down the house.”

“It’s not easy, by what I can see, to produce, completely, any artistic effect,” Sherringham declared; “and those the actor produces are among the most momentous we know. You’ll not persuade me that to watch such an actress as Madame Carré wasn’t an education of the taste, an enlargement of one’s knowledge.”

“She did what she could, poor woman, but in what belittling, coarsening conditions! She had to interpret a character in a play, and a character in a play — not to say the whole piece: I speak more particularly of modern pieces — is such a wretchedly small peg to hang anything on! The dramatist shows us so little, is so hampered by his audience, is restricted to so poor an analysis.”

“I know the complaint. It’s all the fashion now. The raffinés despise the theatre,” said Peter Sherringham in the manner of a man abreast with the culture of his age and not to be captured by a surprise. “Connu, connu!”

“It will be known better yet, won’t it? when the essentially brutal nature of the modern audience is still more perceived, when it has been properly analysed: the omnium gatherum of the population of a big commercial city at the hour of the day when their taste is at its lowest, flocking out of hideous hotels and restaurants, gorged with food, stultified with buying and selling and with all the other sordid preoccupations of the age, squeezed together in a sweltering mass, disappointed in their seats, timing the author, timing the actor, wishing to get their money back on the spot — all before eleven o’clock. Fancy putting the exquisite before such a tribunal as that! There’s not even a question of it. The dramatist wouldn’t if he could, and in nine cases out of ten he couldn’t if he would. He has to make the basest concessions. One of his principal canons is that he must enable his spectators to catch the suburban trains, which stop at 11.30. What would you think of any other artist — the painter or the novelist — whose governing forces should be the dinner and the suburban trains? The old dramatists didn’t defer to them — not so much at least — and that’s why they’re less and less actable. If they’re touched — the large loose men — it’s only to be mutilated and trivialised. Besides, they had a simpler civilisation to represent — societies in which the life of man was in action, in passion, in immediate and violent expression. Those things could be put upon the playhouse boards with comparatively little sacrifice of their completeness and their truth. To-day we’re so infinitely more reflective and complicated and diffuse that it makes all the difference. What can you do with a character, with an idea, with a feeling, between dinner and the suburban trains? You can give a gross, rough sketch of them, but how little you touch them, how bald you leave them! What crudity compared with what the novelist does!”

“Do you write novels, Mr. Nash?” Peter candidly asked.

“No, but I read them when they’re extraordinarily good, and I don’t go to plays. I read Balzac for instance — I encounter the admirable portrait of Valérie Marneffe in La Cousine Bette.”

“And you contrast it with the poverty of Emile Augier’s Séraphine in Les Lionnes Pauvres? I was awaiting you there. That’s the cheval de bataille of you fellows.”

“What an extraordinary discussion! What dreadful authors!” Lady Agnes murmured to her son. But he was listening so attentively to the other young men that he made no response, and Peter Sherringham went on:

“I’ve seen Madame Carré in things of the modern repertory, which she has made as vivid to me, caused to abide as ineffaceably in my memory, as Valérie Marneffe. She’s the Balzac, as one may say, of actresses.”

“The miniaturist, as it were, of whitewashers!” Nash offered as a substitute.

It might have been guessed that Sherringham resented his damned freedom, yet could but emulate his easy form. “You’d be magnanimous if you thought the young lady you’ve introduced to our old friend would be important.”

Mr. Nash lightly weighed it. “She might be much more so than she ever will be.”

Lady Agnes, however, got up to terminate the scene and even to signify that enough had been said about people and questions she had never so much as heard of. Every one else rose, the waiter brought Nicholas the receipt of the bill, and Sherringham went on, to his interlocutor: “Perhaps she’ll be more so than you think.”

“Perhaps — if you take an interest in her!”

“A mystic voice seems to exhort me to do so, to whisper that though I’ve never seen her I shall find something in her.” On which Peter appealed. “What do you say, Biddy — shall I take an interest in her?”

The girl faltered, coloured a little, felt a certain embarrassment in being publicly treated as an oracle. “If she’s not nice I don’t advise it.”

“And if she is nice?”

“You advise it still less!” her brother exclaimed, laughing and putting his arm round her.

Lady Agnes looked sombre — she might have been saying to herself: “Heaven help us, what chance has a girl of mine with a man who’s so agog about actresses?” She was disconcerted and distressed; a multitude of incongruous things, all the morning, had been forced upon her attention — displeasing pictures and still more displeasing theories about them, vague portents of perversity on Nick’s part and a strange eagerness on Peter’s, learned apparently in Paris, to discuss, with a person who had a tone she never had been exposed to, topics irrelevant and uninteresting, almost disgusting, the practical effect of which was to make light of her presence. “Let us leave this — let us leave this!” she grimly said. The party moved together toward the door of departure, and her ruffled spirit was not soothed by hearing her son remark to his terrible friend: “You know you don’t escape me; I stick to you!”

At this Lady Agnes broke out and interposed. “Pardon my reminding you that you’re going to call on Julia.”

“Well, can’t Nash also come to call on Julia? That’s just what I want — that she should see him.”

Peter Sherringham came humanely to his kinswoman’s assistance. “A better way perhaps will be for them to meet under my auspices at my ‘dramatic tea.’ This will enable me to return one favour for another. If Mr. Nash is so good as to introduce me to this aspirant for honours we estimate so differently, I’ll introduce him to my sister, a much more positive quantity.”

“It’s easy to see who’ll have the best of it!” Grace Dormer declared; while Nash stood there serenely, impartially, in a graceful detached way which seemed characteristic of him, assenting to any decision that relieved him of the grossness of choice and generally confident that things would turn out well for him. He was cheerfully helpless and sociably indifferent; ready to preside with a smile even at a discussion of his own admissibility.

“Nick will bring you. I’ve a little corner at the embassy,” Sherringham continued.

“You’re very kind. You must bring him then tomorrow — Rue de Constantinople.”

“At five o’clock — don’t be afraid.”

“Oh dear!” Biddy wailed as they went on again and Lady Agnes, seizing his arm, marched off more quickly with her son. When they came out into the Champs Elysées Nick Dormer, looking round, saw his friend had disappeared. Biddy had attached herself to Peter, and Grace couldn’t have encouraged Mr. Nash.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:56