The picture still progressed up in Mrs Dobbs Broughton’s room, and the secret was still kept, or supposed to be kept. Miss Van Siever was, at any rate, certain that her mother had heard nothing of it, and Mrs Broughton reported from day to day that her husband had not as yet interfered. Nevertheless there was in these days a great gloom upon the Dobbs Broughton household, so much so that Conway Dalrymple had more than once suggested to Mrs Broughton that the work should be discontinued. But the mistress of the house would not consent to this. In answer to these offers, she was wont to declare in somewhat mysterious language, that any misery coming upon herself was a matter of moment to nobody — hardly even to herself, as she was quite prepared to encounter moral and social death without delay, if not an absolute physical demise; as to which latter alternative, she seemed to think that even that might not be so far distant as some people chose to believe. What was the cause of the gloom over the house neither Conway Dalrymple nor Miss Van Siever understood, and to speak the truth Mrs Broughton did not quite understand the cause herself. She knew well enough, no doubt, that her husband came home always sullen, and sometimes tipsy, and that things were not going well in the City. She had never understood much about the City, being satisfied with an assurance that had come to her in the early days from her friends, that there was a mine of wealth in Hook Court, from whence would always come for her use, house and furniture, a carriage and some horses, dresses and jewels, which latter, if not quite real, should be manufactured with the best sham substitute known. Soon after her brilliant marriage with Mr Dobbs Broughton, she had discovered that the carriage and horses, and the sham jewels, did not lift her so completely into a terrestrial paradise as she had taught herself to expect that they would do. Her brilliant drawing-room, with Dobbs Broughton for a companion, was not an elysium. But though she had found out early in her married life that something was still wanting to her, she had by no means confessed to herself that the carriage and horses and sham jewels were bad, and it can hardly be said that she had repented. She had endeavoured to patch up matters with a little romance, and then had fallen upon Conway Dalrymple — meaning no harm. Indeed, love with her, as it never could have meant much good, was not likely to mean much harm. That somebody should pretend to love her, to which pretence she might reply by a pretence of friendship — this was the little excitement which she craved, and by which she had once flattered herself that something of an elysium might yet be created for her. Mr Dobbs Broughton had unreasonably expressed a dislike to this innocent amusement — very unreasonably, knowing, as he ought to have known, that he himself did so very little towards providing the necessary elysium by any qualities of his own. For a few weeks this interference from her husband had enhanced the amusement, giving an additional excitement to the game. She felt herself to be woman misunderstood and ill-used; and to some women there is nothing so charming as a little mild ill-usage, which does not interfere with their creature comforts, with their clothes, or their carriage, or their sham jewels; but suffices to afford them the indulgence of a grievance. Of late, however, Mr Dobbs Broughton had become a little too rough in his language, and things had gone uncomfortably. She suspected that Conway Dalrymple was not the only cause of all this. She had an idea that Mr Musselboro and Mrs Van Siever had it in their power to make themselves unpleasant, and that they were exercising this power. Of his business in the City her husband never spoke to her, nor she to him. Her own fortune had been very small, some couple of thousand pounds or so, and she conceived that she had no pretext on which she could, unasked, interrogate him about his money. She had no knowledge that marriage of itself had given her the right to such interference; and had such knowledge been hers she would have had no desire to interfere. She hoped that the carriage and sham jewels would be continued to her; but she did not know how to frame any question on the subject. Touching the other difficulty — the Conway Dalrymple difficulty — she had her ideas. The tenderness of her friendship had been trodden upon by and outraged by the rough foot of an overbearing husband, and she was ill-used. She would obey. It was becoming to her as a wife that she should submit. She would give up Conway Dalrymple, and would induce him — in spite of his violent attachment to herself — to take a wife. She herself would choose a wife for him. She herself would, with suicidal hands, destroy the love of her own life, since an overbearing, brutal husband demanded that it should be destroyed. She would sacrifice her own feelings, and do all in her power to bring Conway Dalrymple and Clara Van Siever together. If, after that, some poet did not immortalise her friendship in Byronic verse, she certainly would not get her due. Perhaps Conway Dalrymple would himself become a poet in order that this might be done properly. For it must be understood that, though she expected Conway Dalrymple to marry, she expected also that he should be Byronically wretched after his marriage on account of his love for herself.
But there was certainly something wrong over and beyond the Dalrymple difficulty. The servants were not as civil as they used to be, and her husband, when she suggested to him a little dinner-party, snubbed her most unmercifully. The giving of dinner-parties had been his glory, and she had made the suggestion simply with the view of pleasing him. ‘If the world were going round, the wrong way, a woman would still want a party,’ he had said, sneering at her. ‘It was of you I was thinking, Dobbs,’ she replied; ‘not of myself. I care little for such gatherings.’ After that she retired to her own room with a romantic tear in each eye, and told herself that, had chance thrown Conway Dalrymple into her way before she had seen Dobbs Broughton, she would have been the happiest woman in the world. She sat for a while looking into vacancy, and thinking that it would be very nice to break her heart. How should she set about it? Should she take to her bed and grow thin? She would begin by eating no dinner for ever so may days altogether. At lunch her husband was never present, and therefore the broken heart could be displayed at dinner without much positive suffering. In the meantime she would implore Conway Dalrymple to get himself married with as little delay as possible, and she would lay upon him her positive order to restrain himself from any word of affection addressed to herself. She, at any rate, would be pure, high-minded, and self-sacrificing — although romantic and poetic also, as was her nature.
The picture was progressing, and so also, as it had come about, was the love-affair between the artist and his model. Conway Dalrymple had begun to think that he might, after all, do worse than make Clara Van Siever his wife. Clara Van Siever was handsome, and undoubtedly clever, and Clara Van Siever’s mother was certainly rich. And, in addition to this, the young lady herself began to like the man into whose society she was thrown. The affair seemed to flourish, and Mrs Dobbs Broughton should have been delighted. She told Clara, with a very serious air, that she was delighted, bidding Clara, at the same time, to be very cautious, as men were so fickle, and as Conway Dalrymple, though the best fellow in the world, was not, perhaps, altogether free from that common vice of men. Indeed, it might have been surmised, from a word or two which Mrs Broughton allowed to escape, that she considered poor Conway to be more than ordinarily afflicted in that way. Miss Van Siever at first only pouted, and said that there was nothing in it. ‘There is something in it, my dear, certainly,’ said Mrs Dobbs Broughton; ‘and there can be no earthly reason why there should not be a great deal in it.’ ‘There is nothing in it,’ said Miss Van Siever, impetuously; ‘and if you will continue to speak of Mr Dalrymple in that way, I must give up the picture.’ ‘As for that,’ said Mrs Broughton, ‘I conceive that we are both of us bound to the young man now, seeing that he has given so much time to the work.’ ‘I am not bound to him at all,’ said Miss Van Siever.
Mrs Broughton also told Conway Dalrymple that she was delighted — oh, so much delighted! He had obtained permission to come in one morning before the time of sitting, so that he might work at his canvas independently of his model. As was his custom, he made his own way upstairs and commenced his work alone — having been expressly told by Mrs Broughton that she would not come to him till she brought Clara with her. But she did go up to the room in which the artist was painting, without waiting for Miss Van Siever. Indeed, she was at this time so anxious as the future welfare of her two young friends that she could not restrain herself from speaking either to the one of to the other, whenever any opportunity for such speech came round. To have left Conway Dalrymple at work upstairs without going to him was impossible to her. So she went, and then took the opportunity of expressing to her friend her ideas as to his past and future conduct.
‘Yes, it is very good; very good, indeed,’ she said, standing before the easel, and looking at the half-completed work. ‘I do not know that you ever did anything better.’
‘I never can tell myself till a picture is finished whether it is going to be good or not,’ said Dalrymple, thinking really of his picture and of nothing else.
‘I am sure this will be good,’ she said, ‘and I suppose it is because you have thrown so much heart into it. It is not mere industry that will produce good work, nor yet skill, nor even genius; more than this is required. The heart of the artist must be thrust with all its gushing tides into the performance.’ By this time he knew all the tones of her voice and their various meanings, and immediately became aware that at the present moment she was intent upon something beyond the picture. She was preparing for a little scene, and was going to give him some advice. He understood it all, but as he was really desirous of working at his canvas, and was rather averse to having a scene at the moment, he made a little attempt to disconcert her. ‘It is the heart that gives success,’ she said, he was considering how he might best put an extinguisher upon her romance for the occasion.
‘Not at all, Mrs Broughton; success depends on elbow-grease.’
‘On what, Conway?’
‘On elbow-grease — hard work, that is — and I must work hard now if I mean to take advantage of today’s sitting. The truth is, I don’t give enough hours work to it.’ And he leaned upon his stick, and daubed away briskly at the background, and then stood for a moment looking at his canvas with his head a little on one side, as though he could not withdraw his attention for a moment from the thing he was doing.
‘You mean to say, Conway, that you would rather that I should not speak to you.’
‘Oh, no, Mrs Broughton, I did not mean that at all.’
‘I won’t interrupt you at your work. What I have to say is perhaps of no great moment. Indeed, words between you and me never can have much importance now. Can they, Conway?’
‘I don’t see that at all,’ said he, working away at his brush.
‘Do you not? I do. They should never amount to more — they can never amount to more than the common ordinary courtesies of life; what I call the greetings and good-byeings of conversation.’ She said this in a low, melancholy tone of voice, not intending to be in any degree jocose. ‘How seldom is it that conversation between ordinary friends goes beyond that.’
‘Don’t you think it does?’ said Conway, stepping back and taking another look at the picture. ‘I find myself talking to all manner of people about all manner of things.’
‘You are different from me. I cannot talk to all manner of people.’
‘Politics, you know, and art, and a little scandal, and the wars, with a dozen other things, make talking easy enough, I think. I grant you this, that it is very often a great bore. Hardly a day passes that I don’t wish to cut out somebody’s tongue.’
‘Do you wish to cut out my tongue, Conway?’
He began to perceive that she was determined to talk about herself, and that there was no remedy. He dreaded it, not because he did not like the woman, but from a conviction that she was going to make some comparison between her and Clara Van Siever. In his ordinary humour he liked a little pretence at romance, and was rather good at that sort of love-making which in truth means anything but love. But just now he was really thinking of matrimony, and had on this very morning acknowledged to himself that he had become sufficiently attached to Clara Van Siever to justify him in asking her to be his wife. In his present mood he was not anxious for one of those tilts with blunted swords and half-severed lances in the list of Cupid of which Mrs Dobbs Broughton was so fond. Nevertheless, if she insisted that he should now descend into the arena and go through the paraphernalia of a mock tournament, he must obey her. It is the hardship of men that when called upon by women for romance, they are bound to be romantic, whether the opportunity serves them or not. A man must produce romance, or at least submit to it, when duly summoned, even though he should have a sore throat or a headache. He is a brute if he decline such an encounter — and feels that, should he so decline persistently, he will ever after be treated as a brute. There are many Potiphar’s wives who never dream of any mischief, and Josephs who are very anxious to escape, though they are asked to return only whisper for whisper. Mrs Dobbs Broughton had asked him whether he wished that her tongue should be cut out, and he had of course replied that her words had always been a joy to him — never a trouble. It occurred to him as he made his little speech that it would only have served her right if he had answered her in quite another strain; but she was a woman, and was young and pretty, and was entitled to flattery. ‘They have always been a joy to me,’ he said, repeating his last words as he strove to continue his work.
‘A deadly joy,’ she replied, not quite knowing what she herself meant. ‘A deadly joy, Conway. I wish with all my heart that we had never known each other.’
‘I do not. I will never wish away the happiness of my life, even should it be followed by misery.’
‘You are a man, and if trouble comes upon you, you can bear it on your shoulders. A woman suffers more, just because another’s shoulders may have to bear the burden.’
‘When she has got a husband, you mean.’
‘Yes — when she has a husband.’
‘It’s the same with a man when he has a wife.’ Hitherto the conversation had had so much of milk-and-water in its composition that Dalrymple found himself able to keep it up and go on with his background at the same time. If she could only be kept in the same dim cloud of sentiment, if the hot rays of the sun of romance could be kept from breaking through the mist till Miss Van Siever should come, it might still be well. He had known her to wander about within the clouds for an hour together, without being able to find her way into the light. ‘It’s all the same with a man when he has got a wife,’ he said. ‘Of course one has to suffer for two, when one, so to say, is two.’
‘And what happens when one has to suffer for three?’ she asked.
‘You mean when a woman has children?’
‘I mean nothing of the kind, Conway; and you must know that I do not, unless your feelings are indeed blunted. But worldly success has, I suppose, blunted them.’
‘I rather fancy not,’ he said. ‘I think they are pretty nearly as sharp as ever.’
‘I know mine are. Oh, how I wish I could rid myself of them! But it cannot be done. Age will not blunt them — I am sure of that,’ said Mrs Broughton. ‘I wish it could.’
He had determined not to talk about herself if the subject could be in any way avoided; but now he felt that he was driven up into a corner; — now he was forced to speak to her of her own personality. ‘You have no experience yet as to that. How can you say what age will do?’
‘Age does not go by years,’ said Mrs Dobbs Broughton. ‘We all know that. “His hair was grey, but not with years.” Look here, Conway,’ and she moved back her tresses from off her temples to show him that there were grey hairs behind. He did not see them; and had they been very visible she might not perhaps have been so ready to exhibit them. ‘No one can say that length of years has blanched them. I have no secrets from you about my age. One should not be grey before one has reached thirty.’
‘I did not see a changed hair.’
‘’Twas the fault of your eyes, then, for there are plenty of them. And what is it that has made them grey?’
‘They say hot rooms will do it.’
‘Hot rooms! No, Conway, it does not come from heated atmosphere. It comes from a cold heart, a chilled heart, a frozen heart, a heart that is all ice.’ She was getting out of the cloud into the heat now, and he could only hope that Miss Van Siever would come soon. ‘The world is beginning with you, Conway, and you are as old as I am. It is ending with me, and yet I am as young as you are. But I do not know why I talk of this. It is simply folly — utter folly. I had not meant to speak of myself; but I did wish to say a few words to you of your own future. I suppose I may still speak to you as a friend?’
‘I hope you will always do that.’
‘Nay — I will make no such promise. That I will always have a friend’s feeling for you, a friend’s interest in your welfare, a friend’s triumph in your success — that I will promise. But friendly words, Conway, are sometimes misunderstood.’
‘Never by me,’ said he.
‘No, not by you — certainly not by you. I did not mean that. I did not expect that you should misinterpret them.’ Then she laughed hysterically — a little low, gurgling, hysterical laugh; and after that she wiped her eyes, and then she smiled, and then she put her hand very gently upon his shoulder. ‘Thank God, Conway, we are quite safe there — are we not?’
He had made a blunder, and it was necessary that he should correct it. His watch was lying in the trough of his easel, and he looked at it and wondered why Miss Van Siever was not there. He had tripped, and he must make a little struggle and recover his step. ‘As I said before, it shall never be misunderstood by me. I have never been vain enough to suppose for a moment that there was any other feeling — not for a moment. You women can be so careful, while we men are always off our guard! A man loves because he cannot help it; but a woman has been careful, and answers him — with friendship. Perhaps I am wrong to say that I never thought of winning anything more; but I never think of winning more now.’ Why the mischief didn’t Miss Van Siever come! In another five minutes, despite himself, he would be on his knees, making a mock declaration, and she would be pouring forth the vial of her mock wrath, or giving him mock counsel as to the restraint of his passion. He had gone through it all before, and was tired of it; but for his life he did not know how to help himself.
‘Conway,’ said she, gravely, ‘how dare you address me in such language.’
‘Of course it is very wrong, I know that.’
‘I’m not speaking of myself now. I have learned to think so little of myself, as even to be indifferent to the feeling of injury you are doing me. My life is a blank, and I almost think that nothing can hurt me further. I have not heart left enough to break; no, not enough to be broken. It is not of myself that I am thinking, when I ask you how do you dare to address my in such language. Do you not know that it is an injury to another?’
‘To what other?’ asked Conway Dalrymple, whose mind was becoming rather confused, and who was not quite sure whether the other one was Mr Dobbs Broughton, or somebody else.
‘To that poor girl who is coming here now, who is devoted to you, and to whom, I do not doubt, you have uttered words which ought to have made it impossible to speak to me as you spoke not a moment since.’
Things were becoming very grave and difficult. They would have been very grave, indeed, had not some god saved him by sending Miss Van Siever to his rescue at this moment. He was beginning to think what he would say in answer to the accusation now made, when his eager ear caught the sound of her step upon the stairs; and before the pause in conversation which the circumstances admitted had given place to the necessity for further speech, Miss Van Siever had knocked at the door and had entered the room. He was rejoiced, and I think that Mrs Broughton did not regret the interference. It is always well that these little dangerous scenes should be brought to sudden ends. The last details of such romances, if drawn out to their natural conclusions, are apt to be uncomfortable, if not dull. She did not want him to go down on his knees, knowing that the getting up again is always awkward.
‘Clara, I began to think you were never coming,’ said Mrs Broughton, with her sweetest smile.
‘I began to think so myself also,’ said Clara. ‘And I believe this must be the last sitting, or, at any rate, the last but one.’
‘Is anything the matter at home?’ said Mrs Broughton, clasping her hands together.
‘Nothing very much; mamma asked me a question or two this morning, and I said I was coming here. Had she asked me why, I should have told her.’
‘But what did she ask? What did she say?’
‘She does not always make herself very intelligible. She complains without telling you what she complains of. But she muttered something about artists which was not complimentary, and I suppose therefore she has a suspicion. She stayed ever so late this morning, and we left the house together. She will ask some direct question tonight, or before long, and then there will be an end of it.’
‘Let us make the best of our time, then,’ said Dalrymple; and the sitting was arranged; Miss Van Siever went down on her knees with her hammer in her hand, and the work began. Mrs Broughton had twisted a turban round Clara’s head, as she always did on these occasions, and assisted to arrange the drapery. She used to tell herself as she did so, that she was like Isaac, piling the fagots for her own sacrifice. Only Isaac had piled them in ignorance, and she piled them conscious of the sacrificial flames. And Isaac had been saved; whereas it was impossible that the catching of any ram in any thicket would save her. But, nevertheless, she arranged the drapery with all her skill, piling the fagots ever so high for her own pyre. In the meantime Conway Dalrymple painted away, thinking more of his picture than he did of one woman or of the other.
After a while when Mrs Broughton had piled the fagots as high as she could pile them, she got up from her seat and prepared to leave the room. Much of the piling consisted, of course, in her own absence during a portion of these sittings. ‘Conway,’ she said, as she went, ‘if this is to be the last sitting, or the last but one, you should make the most of it.’ Then she threw upon him a very peculiar glance over the head of the kneeling Jael, and withdrew. Jael, who in those moments would be thinking more of the fatigue of her position than anything else, did not at all take home to herself the peculiar meaning of her friend’s words. Conway Dalrymple understood them thoroughly, and thought that he might as well take the advice given to him. He had made up his mind to propose to Miss Van Siever, and why should he not do so now? He went on with his brush for a couple of minutes without saying a word, working as well as he could work, and then resolved that he would at once begin the other task. ‘Miss Van Siever,’ he said, ‘I am afraid you are tired?’
‘Not more than usually tired. It is fatiguing to be slaying Sisera by the hour together. I do get to hate this block.’ The block was the dummy by which the form of Sisera was supposed to be typified.
‘Another sitting will about finish it,’ said he, ‘so that you need not positively distress yourself now. Will you rest yourself for a minute or two?’ He had already perceived that the attitude in which Clara was posed before him was not one in which an offer of marriage could be received and replied to with advantage.
‘Thank you, I am not tired yet,’ said Clara, not changing the fixed glance of national wrath with which she regarded her wooden Sisera as she held her hammer on high.
‘But I am. There; we will rest for a moment.’ Dalrymple was aware that Mrs Dobbs Broughton, though she was very assiduous in piling her fagots, never piled them for long together. If he did not make haste she would be back upon them before he could get his word spoken. When he put down his brush, and got up from his chair, and stretched out his arm as a man does when he ceases for a moment from his work, Clara of course got up also, and seated herself. She was used to her turban and her drapery, and therefore thought of it not at all; and he also was used to it, seeing her in it two or three times a week; but now that he intended to accomplish a special purpose, the turban and drapery seemed to be in the way. ‘I do so hope you will like the picture,’ he said, as he was thinking of this.
‘I don’t think I shall. But you will understand that it is natural that a girl should not like herself in such a portraiture as that.’
‘I don’t know why. I can understand that you specially should not like the picture; but I think that most women in London in your place would at any rate say that they did.’
‘Are you angry with me?’
‘What; for telling the truth? No, indeed.’ He was standing opposite to his easel, looking at the canvas, shifting his head about so as to change the lights, and observing critically this blemish and that; and yet he was all the while thinking how he had best carry out his purpose. ‘It will have been a prosperous picture to me,’ he said at last, ‘if it leads to the success of which I am ambitious.’
‘I am told that all you do is successful now — merely because you do it. That is the worst of success.’
‘What is the worst of success?’
‘That when won by merit it leads to further success, for the gaining of which no merit is necessary.’
‘It may be so in my case. If it is not, I shall have a very poor chance. Clara, I think you must know that I am not talking about my pictures.’
‘I thought you were.’
‘Indeed I am not. As for success in my profession, far as I am from thinking I merit it, I feel tolerably certain that I shall obtain it.’
‘You have obtained it.’
‘I am in the way of doing so. Perhaps one out of ten struggling artists is successful, and for him the profession is very charming. It is certainly a sad feeling that there is so much of chance in the distribution of the prizes. It is a lottery. But one cannot complain of that when one has drawn the prize.’ Dalrymple was not a man without self-possession, nor was he readily abashed, but he found it easier to talk of his possession than to make his offer. The turban was his difficulty. He had told himself over and over again within the last five minutes, that he would have long since said what he had to say had it not been for that turban. He had been painting all his life from living models — from women dressed up in this or that costume, to suit the necessities of his picture — but he had never made love to any of them. They had been simply models to him, and now he found that there was a difficulty. ‘Of that prize,’ he said, ‘I have made myself tolerably sure; but as to the other prize, I do not know. I wonder whether I am to have that.’ Of course Miss Van Siever understood well what was the prize of which he was speaking; and as she was a young woman with a will and purpose of her own, no doubt she was ready prepared with an answer. But it was necessary that the question should be put to her in properly distinct terms. Conway Dalrymple certainly had not put his question in properly distinct terms at present. She did not choose to make any answer to his last words; and therefore simply suggested that as time was pressing he had better get on with his work. ‘I am quite ready now,’ said she.
‘Stop half a moment. How much more you are thinking of the picture than I am! I do not care twopence for the picture. I will slit the canvas from top to bottom without a groan — without a single inner groan — if you will let me.’
‘For heaven’s sake, do nothing of the kind! Why should you?’
‘Just to show you that it is not for the sake of the picture that I come here. Clara —’ Then the door was opened, and Isaac appeared, nature could pile no more. Conway Dalrymple, who had made his way almost up to Clara’s seat, turned round sharply towards his easel, in anger, at having been disturbed. He should have been more grateful for all that his Isaac had done for him, and have recognised the fact that the fault had been with himself. Mrs Broughton had been twelve minutes out of the room. She had counted them to be fifteen — having no doubt made a mistake as to three — and had told herself that with such a one as Conway Dalrymple, with so much of the work ready done to his hand for him, fifteen minutes should have been amply sufficient. When we reflect what her own thoughts must have been during the interval — what it is to have to pile up such fagots as those, how she was, as it were, giving away a fresh morsel of her own heart during each minute that she allowed Clara and Conway Dalrymple to remain together, it cannot surprise us that her eyes should have become dizzy, and that she should not have counted the minutes with accurate correctness. Dalrymple turned to his picture angrily, but Miss Van Siever kept her seat and did not show the slightest emotion.
‘My friends,’ said Mrs Broughton, ‘this will not do. This is not working; this is not sitting.’
‘Mr Dalrymple had been explaining to me the precarious nature of an artist’s profession,’ said Clara.
‘It is not precarious with him,’ said Mrs Dobbs Broughton, sententiously.
‘Not in a general way, perhaps; but to prove the truth of his words he was going to treat Jael worse than Jael treats Sisera.’
‘I was going to slit the picture from the top to the bottom.’
‘And why?’ said Mrs Broughton, putting her hands to heaven in tragic horror.
‘Just to show Miss Van Siever how little I care about it.’
‘And how little you care about her, too,’ said Mrs Broughton.
‘She might take that as she like.’ After this there was another genuine sitting, and the real work went on as though there had been no episode. Jael fixed her face, and held her hammer as though her mind and heart were solely bent on seeming to be slaying Sisera. Dalrymple turned his eyes from the canvas to the model, and from the model to the canvas, working with his hand all the while, as though that last pathetic ‘Clara’ had never been uttered; and Mrs Dobbs Broughton reclined on a sofa, looking at them and thinking of her own singularly romantic position, till her mind was filled with a poetic frenzy. In one moment she resolved that she would hate Clara as a woman was never hated by woman; and then there were daggers, and poison-cups, and strangling cords in her eye. In the next she was as firmly determined that she would love Mrs Conway Dalrymple as woman was never loved by woman; and then she saw herself kneeling by a cradle, and tenderly nursing a baby, of which Conway was to be the father and Clara the mother. And so she went to sleep.
For some time Dalrymple did not observe this; but at last there was a little sound — even the ill-nature of Miss Demolines could hardly have called it a snore — and he became aware that for practical purposes he and Miss Van Siever were again alone together. ‘Clara,’ he said in a whisper. Mrs Broughton instantly aroused herself from her slumbers, and rubbed her eyes. ‘Dear, dear, dear,’ she said, ‘I declare it’s past one. I’m afraid I must turn you both out. One more sitting, I suppose, will finish it, Conway?’
‘Yes, one more,’ said he. It was always understood that he and Clara should not leave the house together, and therefore he remained painting when she left the room. ‘And now, Conway,’ said Mrs Broughton, ‘I suppose that all is over?’
‘I don’t know what you mean by being all over.’
‘No — of course not. You look at it in another light, no doubt. Everything is beginning for you. But you must pardon me, for my heart is distracted — distracted — distracted!’ Then she sat down upon the floor, and burst into tears. What was he to do? He thought that the woman should either give him up altogether, or not give him up. All this fuss about it was irrational! He would not have made love to Clara Van Siever in her room if she had not told him to do so!
‘Maria,’ he said, in a very grave voice, ‘any sacrifice that is required on my part on your behalf I am ready to make.’
‘No sir; the sacrifices shall all be made by me. It is the part of a woman to be ever sacrificial!’ Poor Mrs Dobbs Broughton! ‘You shall give up nothing. The world is at your feet, and you shall have everything — youth, beauty, wealth, station, love — love; friendship also, if you will accept it from one so poor, so broken, so secluded as I shall be.’ At each of the last words there had been a desperate sob; and as she was still crouching in the middle of the room, looking up into Dalrymple’s face while he stood over her, the scene was one which had much in it that transcended the doings of everyday life, much that would be ever memorable, and much, I have no doubt, that was thoroughly enjoyed by the principal actor. As for Conway Dalrymple, he was so second-rate a personage in the whole thing, that it mattered little whether he enjoyed it or not. I don’t think he did enjoy it. ‘And now, Conway,’ she said, ‘I will give you some advice. And when in after-days you shall remember this interview, and reflect how that advice was given you — with what solemnity.’— here she clasped both her hands together —‘I think that you will follow it. Clara Van Siever will now become your wife.’
‘I do not know that at all,’ said Dalrymple.
‘Clara Van Siever will now become your wife,’ repeated Mrs Broughton in a louder voice, impatient of opposition. ‘Love her. Cleave to her. Make her flesh of your flesh and bone of your bone. But rule her! Yes, rule her! Let her be your second self, but not your first self. Rule her! Love her. Cleave to her. Do not leave her alone, to feed on her own thoughts as I have done — as I have been forced to do. Now go. No, Conway, not a word; I will not hear a word. You must go, or I must.’ Then she rose quickly from her lowly attitude, and prepared herself for a dart to the door. It was better by far that he should go, and so he went.
An American when he has spent a pleasant day will tell you that he has had a ‘good time’. I think that Mrs Dobbs Broughton, if she had ever spoken the truth of that day’s employment would have acknowledged that she had had a ‘good time’. I think that she enjoyed her morning’s work. But as for Conway Dalrymple, I doubt whether he did enjoy his morning’s work. ‘A man may have too much of this sort of thing, and then he becomes very sick of his cake.’ Such was the nature of his thoughts as he returned to his own abode.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01