Mr John Eames of the Income-Tax Office, had in three days risen so high in that world that people in the west-end of town, and very respectable people too — people living in South Kensington, in neighbourhoods not far from Belgravia, and in very handsome houses round Bayswater — were glad to ask him out to dinner. Money had been left to him by an earl, and rumour had of course magnified that money. He was a private secretary, which is in itself a great advance on being a mere clerk. And he had become the particular intimate friend of an artist who had pushed himself into high fashion during the last year or two — one Conway Dalrymple, whom the rich English world was beginning to pet and pelt with gilt sugar-plums, and who seemed to take very kindly to petting and gilt sugar-plums. I don’t know whether the friendship of Conway Dalrymple had not done as much to secure John Eames his position at the Bayswater dinner-tables, as had either the private secretaryship, or the earl’s money; and yet, when they had first known each other, now only two or three years ago, Conway Dalrymple had been the poorer man of the two. Some chance had brought them together, and they had lived in the same room for nearly two years. This arrangement had been broken up, and the Conway Dalrymple of these days had a studio of his own, somewhere near Kensington Palace, where he painted portraits of young countesses, and in which he had even painted a young duchess. It was the peculiar merit of his pictures — so at least said the art-loving world — that though the likeness was always good, the stiffness of the modern portrait was never there. There was also ever some story told in Dalrymple’s pictures over and above the story of the portraiture. This countess was drawn as a fairy with wings, that countess as a goddess with a helmet. The thing took for a time, and Conway Dalrymple was picking up his gilt sugar-plums with considerable rapidity.
On a certain day he and John Eames were to dine out together at a certain house in that Bayswater district. It was a large mansion, if not made of stone yet looking very stony, with thirty windows at least, all of them with cut-stone frames, requiring, let me say, at least four thousand a year for its maintenance. And its owner, Dobbs Broughton, a man very well known both in the City and over the grass in Northamptonshire, was supposed to have a good deal more than four thousand a year. Mrs Dobbs Broughton, a very beautiful woman, who certainly was not yet thirty-five, let her worst enemies say what they might, had been painted by Conway Dalrymple as a Grace. There were, of course, three Graces in the picture, but each Grace was Mrs Dobbs Broughton repeated. We all know how Graces stand sometimes; two Graces looking one way, and one the other. In this picture, Mrs Dobbs Broughton as centre Grace looked you full in the face. For this pretty toy Mr Conway Dalrymple had picked up a gilt sugar-plum to the tune of six hundred pounds, and had, moreover, won the heart of both Mr and Mrs Dobbs Broughton. ‘Upon my word, Johnny,’ Dalrymple had said to his friend, ‘he’s a deuced good fellow, has really a good glass of claret — which is getting rarer and rarer every day — and will mount you for a day, whenever you please, down Market Harboro’. Come and dine with them.’ Johnny Eames condescended, and did go and dine with Mr Dobbs Broughton. I wonder whether he remembered, when Conway Dalrymple was talking of the rarity of good claret, how much beer the young painter used to drink when they were out together in the country, as they used to do occasionally, three years ago; and how the painter had then been used to complain that bitter cost threepence a glass, instead of twopence, which had hitherto been the recognised price of the article. In those days the sugar-plums had not been gilt, and had been much rarer.
Johnny Eames and his friend went together to the house of Mr Dobbs Broughton. As Dalrymple lived close to the Broughtons, Eames picked him up in a cab. ‘Filthy things, these cabs are,’ said Dalrymple, as he got into the hansom.
‘I don’t know about that,’ said Johnny. ‘They’re pretty good, I think.’
‘Foul things,’ said Conway. ‘Don’t you feel what a draught comes in here because the glass is cracked. I’d have one of my own, only I should never know what to do with it.’
‘The greatest nuisance on earth, I should think,’ said Johnny.
‘If you could always have it standing ready round the corner,’ said the artist, ‘it would be delightful. But one would want half-a-dozen horses, and two or three men for that.’
‘I think the stands are the best,’ said Johnny.
They were a little late — a little later than they should have been had they considered that Eames was to be introduced to his new acquaintances. But he had already lived long enough before the world to be quite at his ease in such circumstances, and he entered Mrs Broughton’s drawing-room with his pleasantest smile upon his face. But as he entered he saw a sight which made him look serious in spite of his efforts to the contrary. Mr Adolphus Crosbie, secretary to the Board at the General Committee Office, was standing on the rug before the fire.
‘Who will be there?’ Eames had asked of his friend, when the suggestion to go and dine with Dobbs Broughton had been made to him.
‘Impossible to say,’ Conway had replied. ‘A certain horrible fellow by the name of Musselbro, will almost certainly be there. He always is when they have anything of a swell dinner-party. He is a sort of partner of Broughton’s in the City. He wears a lot of chains, and has elaborate whiskers, and an elaborate waistcoat, which is worse; and he doesn’t wash his hands as often as he ought to do.’
‘An objectionable party, rather, I should say,’ said Eames.
‘Well, yes; Musselbro is objectionable. He’s very good-humoured you know, and good-looking in a sort of way, and goes everywhere; that is among people of this sort. Of course he’s not hand-and-glove with Lord Derby; and I wish he could be made to wash his hands. They haven’t any other standing dish, and you may meet anybody. They always have a Member of Parliament; they generally manage to catch a Baronet; and I have met a Peer there. On that august occasion Musselbro was absent.’
So instructed, Eames, on entering that room, looked round at once for Mr Musselbro. ‘If I don’t see the whiskers and chain,’ he had said, I shall know there’s a Peer.’ Mr Musselbro was in the room, but Eames had descried Mr Crosbie long before he had seen Mr Musselbro.
There was no reason for confusion on his part in meeting Crosbie. They had both loved Lily Dale. Crosbie might have been successful, but for his own fault. Eames had on one occasion been thrown into contact with him, and on that occasion had quarrelled with him and had beaten him, giving him a black eye, and in this way obtained some mastery over him. There was no reason why he should be ashamed of meeting Crosbie; and yet, when he saw him, the blood mounted all over his face, and he forgot to make any further search for Mr Musselbro.
‘I am so much obliged to Mr Dalrymple for bringing you,’ said Mrs Dobbs Broughton very sweetly, ‘only he ought to have come sooner. Naughty man! I know it was his fault. Will you take Miss Demolines down? Miss Demolines — Mr Eames.’
Mr Dobbs Broughton was somewhat sulky and had not welcomed our hero very cordially. He was beginning to think that Conway gave himself airs and did not sufficiently understand that a man who had horses at Market Harboro’ and ‘41 Lafitte was at any rate as good as a painter who was pelted with gilt sugar-plums for painting countesses. But he was a man whose ill-humour never lasted long, and he was soon pressing his wine on Johnny Eames as though he loved him dearly.
But there was a few minutes before they went down to dinner, and Johnny Eames, as he endeavoured to find something to say to Miss Demolines — which was difficult, as he did not in the least know Miss Demolines’ line of conversation — was aware that his efforts were impeded by thoughts of Mr Crosbie. The man looked older than when he had last seen him — so much older that Eames was astonished. He was bald, or becoming bald; and his whiskers were grey, or were becoming grey, and he was much fatter. Johnny Eames, who was always thinking of Lily Dale, could not now keep himself from thinking of Adolphus Crosbie. He saw at a glance that the man was in mourning, though there was nothing but his shirt-studs by which to tell it; and he knew that he was in mourning for his wife. ‘I wish she might have lived for ever,’ Johnny said to himself.
He had not yet been definitely called upon by the entrance of the servant to offer his arm to Miss Demolines, when Crosbie walked across to him from the rug and addressed him.
‘Mr Eames,’ said he, ‘it is some time since we met.’ And he offered his hand to Johnny.
‘Yes, it is’ said Johnny, accepting the proffered salutation. ‘I don’t know exactly how long, but ever so long.’
‘I am very glad to have the opportunity of shaking hands with you,’ said Crosbie; and then he retired, as it had become his duty to wait with his arm ready for Mrs Dobbs Broughton. Having married an earl’s daughter he was selected for that honour. There was a barrister in the room, and Mrs Dobbs Broughton ought to have known better. As she professed to be guided in such matters by the rules laid down by the recognised authorities, she ought to have been aware that a man takes no rank from his wife. But she was entitled I think to merciful consideration for her error. A woman situated as was Mrs Dobbs Broughton cannot altogether ignore these terrible rules. She cannot let her guests draw lots for precedence. She must select someone for the honour of her arm. And amidst the intricacies of rank how is it possible for woman to learn and to remember everything? If Providence would only send Mrs Dobbs Broughton a Peer for every dinner-party, the thing would go more easily; but what woman will tell me, off-hand, which should go out of a room first; a C.B., and Admiral of the Blue, the Dean of Barchester, or the Dean of Arches? Who is to know who was everybody’s father? How am I to remember that young Thompson’s progenitor was made a baronet and not a knight when he was Lord Mayor? Perhaps Mrs Dobbs Broughton ought to have known that Mr Crosbie could have gained nothing by his wife’s rank, and the barrister may be considered to have been not immoderately severe when he simply spoke of her afterwards as the silliest and most ignorant old woman he had ever met in his life. Eames with the lovely Miss Demolines on his arm was the last to move before the hostess. Mr Dobbs Broughton had led the way energetically with old Lady Demolines. There was no doubt about Lady Demolines — as his wife had told him, because her title marked her. Her husband had been a physician in Paris, and had been knighted in consequence of some benefit supposed to have been done to some French scion of royalty — when such scions in France were royal and not imperial. Lady Demolines’ rank was not much certainly; but it served to mark her, and was beneficial.
As he went downstairs Eames was still thinking of his meeting with Crosbie, and had as yet hardly said a word to his neighbour, and his neighbour had not said a word to him. Now Johnny understood dinners quite well enough to know that in a party of twelve, among whom six are ladies, everything depends of your next neighbour, and generally on the next neighbour who specially belongs to you; and as he took his seat he was a little alarmed as to his prospect for the next two hours. On his other hand sat Mrs Ponsonby, the barrister’s wife, and he did not much like the look of Mrs Ponsonby. She was fat, heavy, and good-looking; with a broad space between her eyes, and light smooth hair; — a youthful British matron every inch of her, of whom any barrister with a young family of children might be proud. Now Miss Demolines, though she was hardly to be called beautiful, was at any rate remarkable. She had large, dark, well-shaped eyes, and very dark hair, which she wore tangled about in an extraordinary manner, and she had an expressive face — a face made expressive by the owner’s will. Such power of expression is often attained by dint of labour — though it never reaches to the expression of anything in particular. She was almost sufficiently good-looking to be justified in considering herself a beauty.
But Miss Demolines, though she had said nothing as yet, knew her game very well. A lady cannot begin conversation to any good purpose in the drawing-room, when she is seated and the man is standing; — nor can she know then how the table may subsequently arrange itself. Powder may be wasted, and often is wasted, and the spirit rebels against the necessity of commencing a second enterprise. But Miss Demolines, when she found herself seated, and perceived that on the other side of her was Mr Ponsonby, a married man, commenced her enterprise at once, and our friend John Eames was immediately aware that he would have no difficulty as to conversation.
‘Don’t you like winter dinner-parties?’ began Miss Demolines. This was said just as Johnny was taking his seat, and he had time to declare that he liked dinner-parties at all periods of the year if the dinner was good and the people pleasant before the host had muttered something which was intended to be understood to be a grace. ‘But I mean specially the winter,’ continued Miss Demolines. ‘I don’t think daylight should ever be admitted at a dinner-table; and though you may shut out the daylight, you can’t shut out the heat. And then there are always so many other things to go to in May and June and July. Dinners should be stopped by Act of Parliament for those three months. I don’t care what people do afterwards, because we always fly away on the first of August.’
‘That is good-natured on your part.’
‘I’m sure what I say would be for the good of society; — but at this time of the year a dinner is warm and comfortable.’
‘Very comfortable, I think.’
‘And people get to know each other’; — in saying which Miss Demolines looked very pleasantly into Johnny’s face.
‘There is a great deal in that,’ said he. ‘I wonder whether you and I will get to know each other.’
‘Of course we shall; — that is, if I’m worth knowing.’
‘There can be no doubt about that, I should say.’
‘Time alone can tell. But, Mr Eames, I see that Mr Crosbie is a friend of yours.’
‘Hardly a friend.’
‘I know very well that men are friends when they step up and shake hands with each other. It is the same when women kiss.’
‘When I see women kiss, I always think there is deep hatred at the bottom of it.’
‘And there may be deep hatred between you and Mr Crosbie for anything I know to the contrary,’ said Miss Demolines.
‘The very deepest,’ said Johnny, pretending to look grave.
‘Ah; then I know he is your bosom friend, and that you will tell him anything I say. What a strange history that was of his marriage.’
‘So I have heard; — but he is not quite bosom friend enough with me to have told me all the particulars. I know that his wife is dead.’
‘Dead; oh, yes; she has been dead these two years I should say.’
‘Not so long as that, I should think.’
‘Well — perhaps not. But it’s ever so long ago; — quite long enough for him to be married again. Did you know her?’
‘I never saw her in my life.’
‘I knew her — not well indeed; but I am intimate with her sister, Lady Amelia Gazebee, and I have met her there. None of that family have married what you may call well. And now, Mr Eames, pray look at the menu and tell me what I am to eat. Arrange for me a little dinner of my own, out of the great bill of fare provided. I always expect some gentleman to do that for me. Mr Crosbie, you know, only lived with his wife for one month.’
‘So I’ve been told.’
‘And a terrible month they had of it. I used to hear of it. He doesn’t look that sort of man, does he?’
‘Well; — no. I don’t think he does. But what sort of man do you mean?’
‘Why, such a regular Bluebeard! Of course you know how he treated another girl before he married Lady Alexandrina. She died of it — with a broken heart; absolutely died; and there he is, indifferent as possible; — and would treat me in the same way tomorrow if I would let him.’
Johnny Eames, finding it impossible to talk to Miss Demolines about Lily Dale, took up the card of the dinner and went to work in earnest, recommending his neighbour what to eat and what to pass by. ‘But you have skipped the pate?’ said she, with energy.
‘Allow me to ask you to choose mine for me instead. You are much more fit to do it.’ And she did choose his dinner for him.
They were sitting at a round table, and in order that the ladies and gentlemen should alternate themselves properly, Mr Musselboro was opposite to the host. Next to him on his right was old Mrs Van Siever, the widow of a Dutch merchant, who was very rich. She was a ghastly thing to look at, as well from the quantity as from the nature of the wiggeries she wore. She had not only a false front, but long false curls, as to which it cannot be conceived that she would suppose that anyone would be ignorant as to their falseness. She was very thin, too, and very small, and putting aside her wiggeries, you would think her to be all eyes. She was a ghastly old woman to the sight, and not altogether pleasant in her mode of talking. She seemed to know Mr Musselboro very well, for she called him by his name without any prefix. He had, indeed, begun life as a clerk in her husband’s office.
‘Why doesn’t What’s-his-name have real silver forks?’ she said to him. Now Mrs What’s-his-name — Mrs Dobbs Broughton we will call her — was sitting on the other side of Mr Musselboro, between him and Mr Crosbie; and, so placed, Mr Musselboro found it rather hard to answer the question, more especially as he was probably aware that other questions would follow.
‘What’s the use?’ said Mr Musselboro. ‘Everybody has these plated things now. What’s the use of a lot of capital lying dead?’
‘Everybody doesn’t. I don’t. You know as well as I do, Musselboro, that the appearance of the thing goes for a great deal. Capital isn’t lying dead as long as people know that you’ve got it.’
Before answering this Mr Musselboro was driven to reflect that Mrs Dobbs Broughton would probably hear his reply. ‘You won’t find that there is any doubt on that head in the City as to Broughton,’ he said.
‘I shan’t ask in the City, and if I did, I should not believe what people told me. I think there are sillier folks in the City than anywhere else. What did he give for that picture upstairs which the young man painted?’
‘What, Mrs Dobbs Broughton’s portrait?’
‘You don’t call that a portrait, do you? I mean the one with the three naked women?’ Mr Musselboro glanced around with one eye, and felt sure that Mrs Dobbs Broughton had heard the question. But the old woman was determined to have an answer. ‘How much did he give for it, Musselboro?’
‘Six hundred pounds, I believe,’ said Mr Musselboro, looking straight before him as he answered, and pretending to treat the subject with perfect indifference.
‘Did he indeed, now? Six hundred pounds! And yet he hasn’t got silver spoons. How things are changed! Tell me, Musselboro, who was that young man who came in with the painter?’
Mr Musselboro turned round and asked Mrs Dobbs Broughton. ‘A Mr John Eames, Mrs Van Siever,’ said Mrs Dobbs Broughton, whispering across the front of Mr Musselboro. ‘He is private secretary to Lord — Lord — Lord I forget who. Some one of the Ministers, I know. And he had a great fortune left him the other day by Lord — Lord — Lord somebody else.’
‘All among the lords, I see,’ said Mrs Van Siever. Then Mrs Dobbs Broughton drew herself back, remembering some little attack which had been made on her by Mrs Van Siever when she herself had had the real lord to dine with her.
There was a Miss Van Siever there also, sitting between Crosbie and Conway Dalrymple. Conway Dalrymple had been specially brought there to sit next to Miss Van Siever. ‘There’s no knowing how much she’ll have,’ said Mrs Dobbs Broughton, in the warmth of their friendship. ‘But it’s all real. It is, indeed. The mother is awfully rich.’
‘But she’s awful in another way, too,’ said Dalrymple.
‘Indeed she is, Conway.’ Mrs Dobbs Broughton had got into a way of calling her young friend by his Christian name. ‘All the world calls him Conway,’ she had said to her husband once when her husband had caught her doing so. ‘She is awful. Her husband made the business in the City, when things were very different from what they are now, and I can’t help having her. She has transactions of business with Dobbs. But there’s no mistake about the money.’
‘She needn’t leave it to her daughter, I suppose?’
‘But why shouldn’t she? She has nobody else. You might offer to paint her, you know. She’d make an excellent picture. So much character. You come and see her.’
Conway Dalrymple had expressed his willingness to meet Miss Van Siever, saying something, however, as to his present position being one which did not admit of any matrimonial speculation. Then Mrs Dobbs Broughton had told him, with much seriousness, that he was altogether wrong, and that were he to forget himself, or commit himself, or misbehave himself, there must be an end to their pleasant intimacy. In answer to which, Mr Dalrymple had said that his Grace was surely of all Graces the least gracious. And now he had come to meet Miss Van Siever, and was now seated next to her at table.
Miss Van Siever, who at this time had perhaps reached her twenty-fifth year, was certainly a handsome young woman. She was fair and large, bearing no likeness whatever to her mother. Her features were regular, and her full, clear eyes had a brilliance of their own, looking at you always steadfastly and boldly, though very seldom pleasantly. Her mouth would have been beautiful had it not been too strong for feminine beauty. Her teeth were perfect — too perfect — looking like miniature walls of carved ivory. She knew the fault of this perfection, and showed her teeth as little as she could. Her nose and chin were finely chiselled, and her head stood well upon her shoulders. But there was something hard about it all which repelled you. Dalrymple, when he saw her, recoiled from her, not outwardly, but inwardly. Yes, she was handsome, as may be horse or a tiger; but there was about her nothing of feminine softness. He could not bring himself to think of taking Clara Van Siever as the model that was to sit before him for the rest of his life. He certainly could make a picture of her, as had been suggested by his friend, Mrs Broughton, but it must be as Judith with the dissevered head, or as Jael using her hammer over the temple of Sisera. Yes — he thought she would do as Jael; and if Mrs Van Siever would throw him a sugar-plum — for he would want the sugar-plum, seeing that any other result was out of the question — the thing might be done. Such was the idea of Mr Conway Dalrymple respecting Miss Van Siever — before he led her down to dinner.
At first he found it hard to talk to her. She answered him, and not with monosyllables. But she answered him without sympathy, or apparent pleasure in talking. Now the young artist was in the habit of being flattered by ladies, and expected to have his small talk made very easy for him. He liked to give himself little airs, and was not generally disposed to labour very hard at the task of making himself agreeable.
‘Were you ever painted yet?’ he asked after they had both been sitting silent for two or three minutes.
‘Was I ever — painted? In what way?’
‘I don’t mean rouged, or enamelled, or got up by Madame Rachel; but have you ever had your portrait taken?’
‘I have been photographed of course.’
‘That’s why I asked you if you had been painted — so as to make some little distinction between the two. I am a painter by profession, and do portraits.’
‘So Mrs Broughton told me.’
‘I am not asking for a job, you know.’
‘I am quite sure of that.’
‘But I should have thought you would have been sure to have sat to somebody.’
‘I never did. I never thought of doing so. One does those things at the instigation of one’s intimate friends — fathers, mothers, uncles, and aunts and the like.’
‘Or husbands, perhaps — or lovers?’
‘Well, yes; my intimate friend is my mother, and she would never dream of such a thing. She hates pictures.’
‘And especially portraits. And I’m afraid, Mr Dalrymple, she hates artists.’
‘Good heavens; how cruel! I suppose there is some story attached to it. There has been some fatal likeness — some terrible picture — something in her early days.’
‘Nothing of the kind, Mr Dalrymple. It is merely the fact that her sympathies are with ugly things, rather than with pretty things. I think she loves the mahogany dinner-table better than anything else in the house; and she likes to have everything dark, and plain, and solid.’
‘Good of its kind, certainly.’
‘If everyone was like your mother, how would the artist live?’
‘There would be none.’
‘And the world, you think, would be none the poorer?’
‘I did not speak for myself. I think the world would be very much the poorer. I am very fond of ancient masters, though I do not suppose that I understand them.’
‘They are easier understood than the modern, I can tell you. Perhaps you don’t care for modern pictures?’
‘Not in comparison, certainly. If that is uncivil, you have brought it on yourself. But I do not in truth mean anything derogatory to the painters of the day. When their pictures are old, they — that is the good ones among them — will be nice also.’
‘Pictures are like wine, and want age, you think?’
‘Yes, and statues too, and buildings above all things. The colours of new paintings are so glaring, and the faces are so bright and self-conscious, that they look to me when I go to the exhibition like coloured prints in a child’s new picture-book. It is the same thing with buildings. One sees all the points, and nothing is left to the imagination.’
‘I find I have come across a real critic.’
‘I hope so, at any rate, I am not a sham one’ and Miss Van Siever as she said this looked very savage.
‘I shouldn’t take you to be sham in anything.’
‘Ah, that would be saying a great deal for myself. Who can undertake to say that he is not a sham in anything?’
As she said this the ladies were getting up. So Miss Van Siever also got up, and left Mr Conway Dalrymple to consider whether he could say or could think of himself that he was not a sham in anything. As regarded Miss Clara Van Siever, he began to think that he could not object to paint her portrait, even though there might be no sugar-plum. He would certainly do it as Jael; and he would, if he dared, insert dimly in the background some idea of the face of the mother, half-appearing, half-vanishing, as the spirit of the sacrifice. He was composing the picture, while Mr Dobbs Broughton was arranging himself and his bottles.
‘Musselboro,’ he said, ‘I’ll come up between you and Crosbie. Mr Eames, though I run away from you, the claret shall remain; or, rather, it shall flow backwards and forwards as rapidly as you will.’
‘I’ll keep it moving,’ said Johnny.
‘Do; there’s a good fellow. It’s a nice glass of wine isn’t it? Old Ramsby, who keeps as good a stock of stuff as any wine-merchant in London, gave me a hint, three or four years ago, that he’d a lot of tidy Bordeaux. It’s ‘41, you know. He had ninety dozen, and I took it all.’
‘What was the figure, Broughton?’ said Crosbie, asking the question which he knew was expected.
‘Well, I only gave one hundred and four for it then; it’s worth a hundred and twenty now. I wouldn’t sell a bottle of it for any money. Come, Dalrymple, pass it round; but fill your glass first.’
‘Thank you, no; I don’t like it. I’ll drink sherry.’
‘Don’t like it!’ said Dobbs Broughton.
‘It’s strange, isn’t it? But I don’t.’
‘I thought you particularly told me to drink his claret?’ said Johnny to his friend afterwards.
‘So I did,’ said Conway; ‘and wonderfully good wine it is. But I make it a rule never to eat or drink anything in a man’s house when he praises himself and tells me the price of it.’
‘And I make it a rule never to cut the nose off my own face,’ said Johnny.
Before he went, Johnny Eames had been specially invited to call on Lady Demolines, and had said that he would do so. ‘We live in Porchester Gardens,’ said Miss Demolines. ‘Upon my word, I believe that the farther London stretches in that direction, the farther mamma will go. She thinks the air so much better. I know it’s a long way.’
‘Distance is nothing to me,’ said Johnny; ‘I can always set off over night.
Conway Dalrymple did not get invited to call on Mrs Van Siever, but before he left the house he did say a word or two more to his friend Mrs Broughton as to Clara Van Siever. ‘She is a fine young woman,’ he said; ‘she is indeed.’
‘You have found it out, have you?’
‘Yes; I have found it out. I do not doubt that some day she’ll murder her husband or her mother, or startle the world by some newly-invented crime; but that only makes her the more interesting.’
‘And when you add to that all the old woman’s money,’ said Mrs Dobbs Broughton, ‘you think that she might do?’
‘For a picture, certainly. I’m speaking of her simply as a model. Could we not manage it? Get her once here, without her mother knowing it, or Broughton, or anyone. I’ve got the subject — Jael and Sisera, you know. I should like to put Musselboro in as Sisera, with the nail half driven in.’ Mrs Dobbs Broughton declared that the scheme was a great deal too wicked for her participation, but at last she promised to think of it.
‘You might as well come up and have a cigar,’ Dalrymple said, as he and his friend left Mrs Broughton’s house. Johnny said that he would go up and have a cigar or two. ‘And now tell me what you think of Mrs Dobbs Broughton and her set,’ said Conway.
‘Well; I’ll tell you what I think of them. I think they stink of money, as people say; but I’m not sure that they’ve got any all the same.’
‘I should suppose he makes a large income.’
‘Very likely, and perhaps spends more than he makes. A good deal of it looked to me like make-believe. There’s no doubt about the claret, but the champagne was execrable. A man is a criminal to have such stuff handed round to his guests. And there isn’t the ring of real gold about the house.’
‘I hate the ring of gold, as you call it,’ said the artist.
‘So do I— I hate it like poison; but if it is there, I like it to be true. There is a sort of persons going now — and one meets them out here and there every day in one’s life — who are downright Brummagem as such at the very first moment. My honoured lord and master, Sir Raffle, is one such. There is no mistaking him. Clap him down upon the counter, and he rings dull and untrue at once. Pardon me, my dear Conway, if I say the same of your excellent friend Mr Dobbs Broughton.’
‘I think you go a little too far, but I don’t deny it. What you mean is, that he’s not a gentleman.’
‘I mean a great deal more than that. Bless you, when you come to talk of a gentleman, who is to define the word? How do I know whether or no I’m a gentleman myself? When I used to be in Burton Crescent, I was hardly a gentlemen then — sitting at the same table with Mrs Roper and the Lupexes; — do you remember them, and the lovely Amelia?’
‘I suppose you were a gentleman, then, as well as now?’
‘You, if you had been painting duchesses then, with a studio in Kensington Gardens, would have said so, if you had happened to come across me. I can’t define a gentleman, even in my own mind; — but I can define a man with whom I think I can live pleasantly.’
‘And poor Dobbs doesn’t come within the line?’
‘N-o, not quite; a very nice fellow, I’m quite sure, and I’m very much obliged to you for taking me there.’
‘I never will take you to any house again. And what did you think of the wife?’
‘That’s a horse of another colour altogether. A pretty woman with such a fine figure as hers has got a right to be anything she pleases. I see you are a great favourite.’
‘No, I’m not; — not especially. I do like her. She wants to make up a match between me and that Miss Van Siever. Miss Van is to have gold by the ingot, and jewels by the bushel, and a hatful of back shares, and a whole mine in Cornwall, for her fortune.’
‘And is very handsome into the bargain.’
‘Yes; she’s handsome.’
‘So is her mother,’ said Johnny. ‘If you take the daughter, I’ll take the mother, and see if I can’t do you out of a mine or two. Good-night, old fellow. I’m only joking about old Dobbs. I’ll go and dine there again tomorrow, if you like it.’
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55