"There are three great things in life," Grace Cobham said to her one day, "art and love and religion. They really are all part of the same thing, and none of them is perfected without the others. You have got two, Elisabeth; but you have somehow missed the third, and without it you will never attain to your highest possibilities. You are a good woman, and you are a true artist; but, until you fall in love, your religion and your art will both lack something, and will fall short of perfection."
"I'm afraid I'm not a falling-in-love sort of person," replied Elisabeth meekly; "I'm extremely sorry, but such is the case."
"It is a pity! But you may fall in love yet."
"It's too late, I fear. You see I am over thirty; and if I haven't done it by now, I expect I never shall do it. It is tiresome to have missed it, I admit; and especially as you think it would make me paint better pictures."
"Well, I do. You paint so well now that it is a pity you don't paint still better. I do not believe that any artist does his or her best work until his or her nature is fully developed; and no woman's nature is fully developed until she has been in love."
"I have never been in love; I don't even know what it is like inside," said Elisabeth sadly; "and I dreadfully want to know, because—looked at from the outside—it seems interesting."
Grace gazed at her thoughtfully. "I wonder if it is that you are too cold to fall in love, or whether it only is that the right person hasn't appeared."
"I don't know. I wish I did. What do you think it feels like?"
"I know what it feels like—and that is like nothing else this side heaven."
"It seems funny to get worked up in that sort of way over an ordinary man—turning him into a revival-service or a national anthem, or something equally thrilling and inspiring! Still, I'd do it if I could, just from pure curiosity. I should really enjoy it. I've seen stupid girls light up like a turnip with a candle inside, simply because some plain young man did the inevitable, and came up into the drawing-room after dinner; and I've seen clever women go to pieces like a linen button at the wash, simply because some ignorant man did the inevitable, and preferred a more foolish and better-looking woman to themselves."
"Have you really never been in love, Elisabeth?"
Elisabeth pondered for a moment. "No; I've sometimes thought I was, but I've always known I wasn't."
"I wonder at that; because you really are affectionate."
"That is quite true; but no one has ever seemed to want as much as I had to give," said Elisabeth, the smile dying out of her eyes; "I do so long to be necessary to somebody—to feel that it is in my power to make somebody perfectly happy; but nobody has ever asked enough of me."
"You could have made the men happy who wanted to marry you," suggested Grace.
"No; I could have made them comfortable, and that's not the same thing."
As Elisabeth sat alone in her own room that night, she thought about what Grace had said, and wondered if she were really too cold ever to experience that common yet wonderful miracle which turns earth into heaven for most people once in their lives. She had received much love and still more admiration in her time; but she had never been allowed to give what she had to give, and she was essentially of the type of woman to whom it is more blessed to give than to receive. She had never craved to be loved, as some women crave; she had only asked to be allowed to love as much as she was capable of loving, and the permission had been denied her. As she looked back over her past life, she saw that it had always been the same. She had given the adoration of her childhood to Anne Farringdon, and Anne had not wanted it; she had given the devotion of her girlhood to Felicia, and Felicia had not wanted it; she had given the truest friendship of her womanhood to Christopher, and Christopher had not wanted it. As for the men who had loved her, she had known perfectly well that she was not essential to them; had she been, she would have married them; but they could be happy without her—and they were. For Grace she had the warmest sense of comradeship; but Grace's life was so full on its own account, that Elisabeth could only be one of many interests to her. Elisabeth was so strong and so tender, that she could have given much to any one to whom she was absolutely necessary; but she felt she could give of her best to no man who desired it only as a luxury—it was too good for that.
"It seems rather a waste of force," she said to herself, with a whimsical smile. "I feel like Niagara, spending its strength on empty splashings, when it might be turning thousands of electric engines and lighting millions of electric lights, if only its power were turned in the right direction and properly stored. I could be so much to anybody who really needed me—I feel I could; but nobody seems to need me, so it's no use bothering. Anyway, I have my art, and that more than satisfies me; and I will spend my life in giving forth my strength to the world at large, in the shape of pictures which shall help the world to be better and happier. At least I hope so."
And with this reflection Elisabeth endeavoured to console herself for the non-appearance of that fairy prince, who, in her childish dreams, had always been wounded in the tournament of life, and had turned to her for comfort.
The years which had passed so drearily for Christopher, had cast their shadows also over the lives of Alan and Felicia Tremaine. When Willie was a baby, his nurse accidentally let him fall; and the injury he then received was so great that, as he grew older, he was never able to walk properly, but had to punt himself about with a little crutch. This was a terrible blow to Alan; and became all the greater as time went on, and Felicia had no other children to share his devotion. Felicia, too, felt it sorely; but she fretted more over the sorrow it was to her husband than on her own account.
There was a great friendship between Willie and Elisabeth. Weakness of any kind always appealed to her, and he, poor child! was weak indeed. So when Elisabeth was at the Willows and Willie at the Moat House, the two spent much time together. He never wearied of hearing about the things that she had pretended when she was a little girl; and she never wearied of telling him about them.
"And so the people, who lived among the smoke and the furnaces, followed the pillar of cloud till it led them to the country on the other side of the hills," said Willie one day, as he and Elisabeth were sitting on the old rustic seat in the Willows' garden. "I remember; but tell me, what did they find in the country over there?" And he pointed with his thin little finger to the blue hills beyond the green valley.
"They found everything that they wanted," replied Elisabeth. "Not the things that other people thought would be good for them, you know; but just the dear, foolish, impossible things that they had wanted for themselves."
"And did the things make them happy?"
"Perfectly happy—much happier than the wise, desirable, sensible things could have made them."
"I suppose they could all walk without crutches," suggested Willie.
"Of course they could; and they could understand everything without being told."
"And the other people loved them very much, and were very kind to them, weren't they?"
"Perhaps; but what made them so happy was that they loved the other people and were kind to them. As long as they lived here in the smoke and din and bustle, everybody was so busy looking after his own concerns that nobody could be bothered with their love. There wasn't room for it, or time for it. But in the country over the hills there was plenty of room and plenty of time; in fact, there wasn't any room or any time for anything else."
"What did they have to eat?" Willie asked.
"Everything that had been too rich for them when they were here."
Willie sighed. "It must have been a nice country," he said.
"It was, dear; the nicest country in the world. It was always summer there, too, and holiday time."
"Didn't they have any lessons to learn?"
"No; because they'd learned them all."
"Did they have roads and railways?" Willie made further inquiry.
"No; only narrow green lanes, which led straight into fairyland. And the longer you walked in them the less tired you were."
"Tell me a story about the country over there," said Willie, nestling up to Elisabeth; "and let there be a princess in it."
She put her strong arm round him and held him close. "Once upon a time," she began, "there was a princess, who lived among the smoke and the furnaces."
"Was she very beautiful?"
"No; but she happened to have a heart made of real gold. That was the only rare thing about her; otherwise she was quite a common princess."
"What did she do with the heart?" asked Willie.
"She wanted to give it to somebody; but the strange thing was that nobody would have it. Several people asked her for it before they knew it was made of real gold; but when they found that out, they began to make excuses. One said that he'd no place in his house for such a first-class article; it would merely make the rest of the furniture look shabby, and he shouldn't refurnish in order to please anybody. Another said that he wasn't going to bother himself with looking after a real gold heart, when a silver-gilt one would serve his purpose just as well. And a third said that solid gold plate wasn't worth the trouble of cleaning and keeping in order, as it was sure to get scratched or bent in the process, the precious metals being too soft for everyday use."
"It is difficult not to scratch when you're cleaning plate," Willie observed. "I sometimes help Simpkins, and there's only one spoon that he'll let me clean, for fear I should scratch; and that's quite an old one that doesn't matter. So I have to clean it over and over again. But go on about the princess."
"Well, then she offered her gold heart to a woman who seemed lonely and desolate; but the woman only cared for the hearts of men, and threw back the princess's in her face. And then somebody advised her to set it up for auction, to go to the highest bidder, as that was generally considered the correct thing to do with regard to well-regulated women's hearts; but she didn't like that suggestion at all. At last the poor princess grew tired of offering her treasure to people who didn't want it, and so she locked it up out of sight; and then everybody said that she hadn't a heart at all, and what a disgrace it was for a young woman to be without one."
"That wasn't fair!"
"Not at all fair; but people aren't always fair on this side of the hills, darling."
"But they are on the other?"
"Always; and they are never hard or cold or unsympathetic. So the princess decided to leave the smoke and the furnaces, and to go to the country on the other side of the hills. She travelled down into the valley and right through it, and then across the hills beyond, and never rested till she reached the country on the other side."
"And what did she find when she got there?"
Elisabeth's eyes grew dreamy. "She found a fairy prince standing on the very borders of that country, and he said to her, 'You've come at last; I've been such a long time waiting for you.' And the princess asked him, 'Do you happen to want such a thing as a heart of real gold?' 'I should just think I do,' said the prince; 'I've wanted it always, and I've never wanted anything else; but I was beginning to be afraid I was never going to get it.' 'And I was beginning to be afraid that I was never going to find anybody to give it to,' replied the princess. So she gave him her heart, and he took it; and then they looked into each other's eyes and smiled."
"Is that the end of the story?"
"No, dear; only the beginning."
"Then what happened in the end?"
But Willie's youthful curiosity was far from being satisfied. "What was the fairy prince like to look at?" he inquired.
"I don't know, darling; I've often wondered."
And Willie had to be content with this uncertain state of affairs. So had Elisabeth.
For some time now she had been making small bonfires of the Thames; but the following spring Elisabeth set the river on fire in good earnest by her great Academy picture, The Pillar of Cloud. It was the picture of the year; and it supplied its creator with a copious draught of that nectar of the gods which men call fame.
It was a fine picture, strongly painted, and was a representation of the Black Country, with its mingled gloom and glare, and its pillar of smoke always hanging over it. In the foreground were figures of men and women and children, looking upward to the pillar of cloud; and, by the magic spell of the artist, Elisabeth had succeeded in depicting on their faces, for such who had eyes to see it, the peace of those who knew that God was with them in their journey through the wilderness. They were worn and weary and toil-worn, as they dwelt in the midst of the furnaces; but, through it all, they looked up to the overshadowing cloud and were lightened, and their faces were not ashamed. In the far distance there was a glimpse of the sun setting behind a range of hills; and one felt, as one gazed at the picture and strove to understand its meaning, that the pillar of cloud was gradually leading the people nearer and nearer to the far-off hills and the land beyond the sunset; and that there they would find an abundant compensation for the suffering and poverty that had blighted their lives as they toiled here for their daily bread.
Even those who could not understand the underlying meaning of Elisabeth's picture, marvelled at the power and technical skill whereby she had brought the weird mystery of the Black Country into the heart of London, until one almost felt the breath of the furnaces as one gazed entranced at her canvas; and those who did understand the underlying meaning, marvelled still more that so young a woman should have learned so much of life's hidden mysteries—forgetting that art is no intellectual endowment, but a revelation from God Himself, and that the true artist does not learn but knows, because God has whispered to him.
There was another picture that made a sensation in that year's Academy; it was the work of an unknown artist, Cecil Farquhar by name, and was noted in the catalogue as The Daughters of Philip. It represented the "four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy" of Philip of Caesarea; but it did not set them forth in the dress and attitude of inspired sibyls. Instead of this it showed them as they were in their own home, when the Spirit of the Lord was not upon them, but when they were ordinary girls, with ordinary girls' interests and joys and sorrows. One of them was braiding her magnificent black hair in front of a mirror; and another was eagerly perusing a letter with the love-light in her eyes; a third was weeping bitterly over a dead dove; and a fourth—the youngest—was playing merrily with a monkey. It was a dazzling picture, brilliant with rich Eastern draperies and warm lights; and shallow spectators wondered what the artist meant by painting the prophetesses in such frivolous and worldly guise; but the initiated understood how he had fathomed the tragedy underlying the lives of most women who are set apart from their fellows by the gift of genius. When the Spirit is upon them they prophesy, by means of pictures or poems or stories or songs; and the world says, "These are not as other women; they command our admiration, but they do not crave our love: let us put them on the top of pinnacles for high days and holidays, and not trouble them with the petty details of everyday life."
The world forgets that the gift of genius is a thing apart from the woman herself, and that these women at heart are very women, as entirely as their less gifted sisters are, and have the ordinary woman's longing for love and laughter, and for all the little things that make life happy. A pinnacle is a poor substitute for a hearthstone, from the feminine point of view; and laurel wreaths do not make half so satisfactory a journey's end as lovers' meetings. All of which it is difficult for a man to understand, since fame is more to him than it is to a woman, and love less; therefore the knowledge of this truth proved Cecil Farquhar to be a true artist; while the able manner in which he had set it forth showed him to be also a highly gifted one. And the world is always ready to acknowledge real merit when it sees it, and to do homage to the same.
The Daughters of Philip carried a special message to the heart of Elisabeth Farringdon. She had been placed on her pinnacle, and had already begun to find how cold was the atmosphere up there, and how much more human she was than people expected and allowed for her to be. She felt like a statue set up in the market-place, that hears the children piping and mourning, and longs to dance and weep with them; but they did not ask her to do either—did not want her to do either—and if she had come down from her pedestal and begged to be allowed to play with them or comfort them, they would only have been frightened and run away.
But here at last was a man who understood what she was feeling; to whom she could tell her troubles, and who would know what she meant; and she made up her mind that before that season was over, she and the unknown artist, who had painted The Daughters of Philip, should be friends.
And my people ask politely How a friend I know so slightly Can be more to me than others I have liked a year or so; But they've never heard the history Of our transmigration's mystery, And they've no idea I loved you those millenniums ago.
It was the night of the Academy soiree in the year of Elisabeth's triumph; she was being petted and feted on all sides, and passed through the crowded rooms in a sort of royal progress, surrounded by an atmosphere of praise and adulation. Of course she liked it—what woman would not?—but she was conscious of a dull ache of sadness, at the back of all her joy, that there was no one to share her triumph with her; no one to whom she could say, "I care for all this, chiefly because it makes me stronger to help you and worthier to be loved by you;" no one who would be made happy by her whisper, "I have set the Thames ablaze in order to make warm your fireside."
It was as yet early in the evening when the President turned for a moment from his duties as "official receiver" to say to her, "Miss Farringdon, I want to present Farquhar to you. He is a rising man, and a very good fellow into the bargain, and I know he is most anxious to be introduced to you."
And then the usual incantation was gone through, which constitutes an introduction in England—namely, the repetition of two names, whereof each person hears only his or her own (an item of information by no means new or in any way to be desired), while the name of the other contracting party remains shrouded in impenetrable mystery; and Elisabeth found herself face to face with the man whom she specially desired to meet.
Cecil Farquhar was a remarkably handsome man, nearer forty than thirty years of age. He was tall and graceful, with golden hair and the profile of a Greek statue; and, in addition to these palpable charms, he possessed the more subtle ones of a musical voice and a fascinating manner. He treated every woman, with whom he was brought into contact, as if she were a compound of a child and a queen; and he had a way of looking at her and speaking to her as if she were the one woman in the world for whom he had been waiting all his life. That women were taken in by this half-caressing, half-worshipping manner was not altogether their fault; perhaps it was not altogether his. Very attractive people fall into the habit of attracting, and are frequently unconscious of, and therefore irresponsible for, their success.
"It is so good of you to let me be presented to you," he said to Elisabeth, as they walked through the crowded rooms in search of a seat; "you don't know how I have longed for it ever since I first saw pictures of yours on these walls. And my longing was trebled when I saw your glorious Pillar of Cloud, and read all that it was meant to teach."
Elisabeth looked at him slyly through her long eyelashes. "How do you know what I meant to teach? Perhaps you read your own meanings into it, and not mine."
Farquhar laughed, and Elisabeth thought he had the most beautiful teeth she had ever seen. "Perhaps so; but, do you know, Miss Farringdon, I have a shrewd suspicion that my meanings and yours are the same."
"What meaning did you read into my picture?" asked Elisabeth, with the dictatorial air of a woman who is accustomed to be made much of and deferred to, as he found a seat for her in the vestibule, under a palm-tree.
"I read that there was only one answer to the weary problems of labour and capital, and masses and classes, and employers and employed, and all the other difficulties that beset and threaten any great manufacturing community; and that this answer is to be found to-day—as it was found by the Israelites of old—in the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night, and all of which that pillar is a sign and a sacrament."
"Yes," replied Elisabeth, and her eyes shone like stars; "I meant all that. But how clever of you to have read it so correctly!"
"I do not ask if you understood what my picture meant. I know you did; for it was to you, and women such as you, that I was speaking."
"Yes; I understood it well enough," replied Elisabeth sadly.
"I knew you would."
"Poor little daughters of Philip! How much happier they would have felt if they had been just the same as all the other commonplace Jewish maidens, and had lived ordinary women's lives!"
"But how much happier they made other people by their great gift of interpreting to a tired world the hidden things of God!" replied Cecil, his face aglow with emotion. "You must never forget that, you women of genius, with your power of making men better and women brighter by the messages you bring to them! And isn't it a grander thing to help and comfort the whole world, than to love, honour, and obey one particular man?"
"I am not sure. I used to think so, but I'm beginning to have my doubts about it. One comforts the whole world in a slipshod, sketchy kind of way; but one could do the particular man thoroughly!"
"And then find he wasn't worth the doing, in all probability," added Cecil.
"Perhaps." And Elisabeth smiled.
"It is delightful to be really talking to you," exclaimed Cecil; "so delightful that I can hardly believe it is true! I have so longed to meet you, because—ever since I first saw your pictures—I always knew you would understand."
"And I knew you would understand, too, as soon as I saw The Daughters of Philip," replied Elisabeth; and her voice was very soft.
"I think we must have known each other in a former existence," Cecil continued; "because I do not feel a bit as if I were being introduced to a stranger, but as if I were meeting an old friend. I have so much to tell you about all that has happened to me since you and I played together in the shadow of the Sphinx, or worshipped together in the temple at Philae; and you will be interested in it all, won't you?"
"Of course I shall. I shall want to know how many centuries ago you first learned what women's hearts and minds were made of, and who taught you."
"You taught me, dear lady, one day when we were plucking flowers together at the foot of Olympus. Don't you remember it? You ought, as it can't be more than two or three thousand years ago."
"And you've never forgotten it?"
"Never; and never shall. If I had, I shouldn't have been an artist. It is the men who remember how they lived and loved and suffered during their former incarnations, that paint pictures and carve statues and sing songs; and the men who forget everything but this present world, that make fortunes and eat dinners and govern states."
"And what about the women?"
"Ah! the women who forget, set their hearts upon the attainment of a fine house and large establishment, with a husband thrown in as a makeweight; if they succeed, the world calls them happy. While the women who remember, wait patiently for the man who was one with them at the beginning of the centuries, and never take any other man in his place; if they find him, they are so happy that the world is incapable of understanding how happy they are; and if they don't find him in this life, they know they will in another, and they are quite content."
"You really are very interesting," remarked Elisabeth graciously.
"Only because you understand me; most women would think me stupid to a degree if I talked to them in this way. But you are interesting to everybody, even to the stupid people. Tell me about yourself. Are you really as strong-willed and regal as the world says you are?"
"I don't know," replied Elisabeth; "I fancy it depends a good deal upon whom I am talking to. I find as a rule it is a good plan to let a weak man think you are obedient, and a strong man think you are wilful, if you want men to find you interesting."
"And aren't you strong-minded enough to be indifferent to the fact as to whether men find you interesting or the reverse?"
"Oh, dear, no! I am a very old-fashioned person, and I am proud of it. I'd even rather be an old woman than a New Woman, if I were driven to be one or the other. I'm not a bit modern, or fin-de-siecle; I still believe in God and Man, and all the other comfortable and antiquated beliefs."
"How nice of you! But I knew you would, though the world in general does not give you credit for anything in the shape of warmth or tenderness; it adores you, you know, but as a sort of glorious Snow-Queen, such as Kay and Gerda ran after in dear Hans Andersen."
"I am quite aware of that, and I am afraid I don't much care; though it seems a pity to have a thing and not to get the credit for it. I sympathize with those women who have such lovely hair that nobody believes that it was grown on the premises; my heart is similarly misjudged."
"Lord Stonebridge was talking to me about you and your pictures the other day, and he said you would be an ideal woman if only you had a heart."
Elisabeth shrugged her shapely shoulders. "Then you can tell him that I think he would be an ideal man if only he had a head; but you can't expect one person to possess all the virtues or all the organs; now can you?"
"I suppose not."
"Oh! do look at that woman in white muslin and forget-me-nots, with the kittenish manner," exclaimed Elisabeth; "I can't stand kittens of over fifty, can you? I have made all my friends promise that if ever they see the faintest signs of approaching kittenness in me, as I advance in years, they will have recourse without delay to the stable-bucket, which is the natural end of kittens."
"Still, women should make the world think them young as long as possible."
"But when we are kittenish we don't make the world think we are young; we only make it think that we think we are young, which is quite a different thing."
"I see," said Cecil, possessing himself of Elisabeth's fan. "Let me fan you. I am afraid you find it rather hot here, but I doubt if we could get a seat anywhere else if once we resigned this one."
"We should have to be contented with the Chiltern Hundreds, I'm afraid. Besides, I am not a bit hot; it is never too warm for me. The thing I hate most in the world is cold; it is the one thing that makes it impossible for me to talk, and I'm miserable when I'm not talking. I mean to read a paper before the Royal Society some day, to prove that the bacillus of conversation can not germinate in a temperature of less than sixty degrees."
"I hate being cold, too. How much alike we are!"
"I loathe going to gorgeous parties in cold houses," continued Elisabeth, "and having priceless dinners in fireless rooms. On such occasions I always feel inclined to say to my hostess, as the poor do, 'Please, ma'am, may I have a coal-ticket instead of a soup-ticket, if I mayn't have both?'"
"You are a fine lady and I am a struggling artist, so I want you to tell me who some of these people are," Cecil begged; "I hardly know anybody, and I expect there is nobody here that you don't know; so please point out to me some of the great of the earth. First, can you tell me who that man is over there, talking to the lady in blue? He has such a sad, kind face."
"Oh! that is Lord Wrexham—a charming man and a bachelor. He was jilted a long time ago by Mrs. Paul Seaton—Miss Carnaby she was then—and people say he has never got over it. It is she that he is talking to now."
"How very interesting! Yes; I like his face, and I am sure he has suffered. It is strange how women invariably behave worst to the best men! I'm not sure that I admire her. She is very stylish and perfectly dressed, but I don't think I should have broken my heart over her if I had been my Lord Wrexham."
"He was perfectly devoted to her, I believe; and she really is attractive when you talk to her, she is so very brilliant and amusing."
"She looks brilliant, and a little hard," was Cecil Farquhar's comment.
"I don't think she is really hard, for she adores her husband, and devotes all her time and all her talents to helping him politically. He is Postmaster-General, you know; and is bound to get still higher office some day."
"Have they any children?"
"No; only politics."
"What is he like? I have never seen him."
"He is an interesting man, and an extremely able one. I should think that as a husband he would be too self-opinionated for my taste; but he and his wife seem to suit each other down to the ground. Some women like self-opinionated men."
"I suppose they do."
"And after all," Elisabeth went on, "if one goes in for a distinguished husband, one must pay the price for the article. It is absurd to shoot big game, and then expect to carry it home in a market-basket."
"Still it annoys you when men say the same of you, and suggest that an ordinary lump of sugar would have sweetened Antony's vinegar more successfully than did Cleopatra's pearl. Your conversation and my art have exhausted themselves to prove that this masculine imagination is a delusion and a snare; yet the principle must be the same in both cases."
"Not at all; woman's greatness is of her life a thing apart: 'tis man's whole existence."
"Do you think so?" asked Cecil, with that tender look of his which expressed so much and meant so little. "You don't know how cold a man feels when his heart is empty."
"Paul Seaton nearly wrecked his career at the outset by writing a very foolish and indiscreet book called Shams and Shadows; it was just a toss-up whether he would ever get over it; but he did, and now people have pretty nearly forgotten it," continued Elisabeth, who had never heard the truth concerning Isabel Carnaby.
"Who is that fat, merry woman coming in now?"
"That is Lady Silverhampton; and the man she is laughing with is Lord Robert Thistletown. That lovely girl on the other side of him is his wife. Isn't she exquisite?"
"She is indeed—a most beautiful creature. Now if Lord Wrexham had broken his heart over her, I could have understood and almost commended him."
"Well, but he didn't, you see. There is nothing more remarkable than the sort of woman that breaks men's hearts—except the sort of men that break women's."
"I fancy that the breakableness is in the nature of the heart itself, and not of the iconoclast," said Cecil.
Elisabeth looked up quickly. "Oh! I don't. I think that the person who breaks the heart of another person must have an immense capacity for commanding love."
"Not at all; the person whose heart is broken has an immense capacity for feeling love. Take your Lord Wrexham, for instance: it was not because Miss Carnaby was strong, but because he was strong, that his heart was broken in the encounter between them. You can see that in their faces."
"I don't agree with you. It was because she was more lovable than loving—at least, as far as he was concerned—that the catastrophe happened. A less vivid personality would have been more easily forgotten; but if once you begin to care badly for any one with a strong personality you're done for."
"You are very modern, in spite of your assertion to the contrary, and therefore very subjective. It would never occur to you to look at anything from the objective point of view; yet at least five times out of ten it is the correct one."
"You mean that I am too self-willed and domineering?" laughed Elisabeth.
"I mean that it is beside the mark to expect a reigning queen to understand how to canvass for votes at a general election."
"But you do think me too autocratic, don't you? You must, because everybody does," Elisabeth persisted, with engaging candour.
"I think you are the most charming woman I ever met in my life," replied Cecil; and at the moment, and for at least five minutes afterward, he really believed what he said.
"Thank you; but you think me too fond of dominating other people, all the same."
"Don't say that; I could not think any evil of you, and it hurts me to hear you even suggest that I could. But perhaps it surprises me that so large-hearted a woman as yourself should invariably look at things from the subjective point of view, as I am sure you do."
"Right again, Mr. Farquhar; you really are very clever at reading people."
Cecil corrected her. "At reading you, you mean; you are not 'people,' if you please. But tell me the truth: when you look at yourself from the outside (which I know you are fond of doing, as I am fond of doing), doesn't it surprise you to see as gifted a woman as you must know you are, so much more prone to measure your influence upon your surroundings than their influence upon you; and, measuring, to allow for it?"
"Nothing that a woman does ever surprises me; and that the woman happens to be one's self is a mere matter of detail."
"That is a quibble, dear lady. Please answer my question."
Elisabeth drew her eyebrows together with a puzzled expression. "I don't think it does surprise me, because my influence on my surroundings is greater than their influence on me. You, too, are a creator; and you must know the almost god-like joy of making something out of nothing, and seeing that it is good. It seems to me that when once you have tasted that joy, you can never again doubt that you yourself are stronger than anything outside you; and that, as the Apostle said, 'all things are yours.'"
"Yes; I understand that. But there is still a step further—namely, when you become conscious that, strong as you are, there is something stronger than yourself; and that is another person's influence upon you."
"I have never felt that," said Elisabeth simply.
"Have you never known what it is to find your own individuality swallowed up in other persons' individuality, and your own personality merged in theirs, until—without the slightest conscious unselfishness on your part—you cease to have a will of your own?"
"No; and I don't want to know it. I can understand wishing to share one's own principalities and powers with another person; but I can't understand being willing to share another person's principalities and powers."
"In short," said Cecil, "you feel that you could love sufficiently to give, but not sufficiently to receive; you would stamp your image and superscription with pleasure upon another person's heart; but you would allow no man to stamp his image and superscription upon yours."
"I suppose that is so," replied Elisabeth gravely; "but I never put it as clearly to myself as that before. Yes," she went on after a moment's pause; "I could never care enough for any man to give up my own will to his; I should always want to bend his to mine, and the more I liked him the more I should want it. He could have all my powers and possessions, and be welcome to them; but my will must always be my own; that is a kingdom I would share with no one."
"Ah! you are treating the question subjectively, as usual. Did it never occur to you that you might have no say in the matter; that a man might compel you, by force of his own charm or power or love for you, to give up your will to his, whether you would or no?"
Elisabeth looked him full in the face with clear, grave eyes. "No; and I hope I may never meet such a man as long as I live. I have always been so strong, and so proud of my strength, and so sure of myself, that I could never forgive any one for being stronger than I, and wresting my dominion from me."
"Dear lady, you are a genius, and you have climbed to the summit of the giddy pinnacle which men call success; but for all that, you are still 'an unlesson'd girl.' Believe me, the strong man armed will come some day, and you will lower your flag and rejoice in the lowering."
"You don't understand me, after all," said Elisabeth reproachfully.
Cecil's smile was very pleasant. "Don't I? Yet it was I who painted The Daughters of Philip."
There was a moment's constrained silence; and then Elisabeth broke the tension by saying lightly—
"Look! there's Lady Silverhampton coming back again. Isn't it a pity she is so stout? I do hope I shall never be stout, for flesh is a most difficult thing to live down."
"You are right; there are few things in the world worse than stoutness."
"I only know two: sin and boiled cabbage."
"And crochet-antimacassars," added Cecil; "you're forgetting crochet-antimacassars. I speak feelingly, because my present lodgings are white with them; and they stick to my coat like leeches, and follow me whithersoever I go. I am never alone from them."
"If I were as stout as Lady Silverhampton," said Elisabeth thoughtfully, "I should either cut myself up into building lots, or else let myself out into market gardens: I should never go about whole; should you?"
"Certainly not; I would rather publish myself in sections, as dictionaries and encyclopaedias do!"
"Lady Silverhampton presented me," remarked Elisabeth, "so I always feel a sort of god-daughterly respect for her, which enhances the pleasure of abusing her."
"What does it feel like to go to Court? Does it frighten you?"
"Oh, dear! no. It would do, I daresay, if you were in plain clothes; but trains and feathers make fine birds—with all the manners and habits of fine birds. Peacocks couldn't hop about in gutters, and London sparrows couldn't strut across Kensington Gardens, however much they both desired it. So when a woman, in addition to her ordinary best clothes, is attended by twenty-four yards of good satin which ought to be feeding the poor, nothing really abashes her."
"I suppose she feels like a queen."
"Well, to tell the truth, with her train over her arm and her tulle lappets hanging down her back, she feels like a widow carrying a waterproof; but she thinks she looks like a duchess, and that is a very supporting thought."
"Tell me, who is that beautiful woman with the tall soldierly man, coming in now?" said Farquhar.
"Oh! those are the Le Mesuriers of Greystone; isn't she divine? And she has the two loveliest little boys you ever saw or imagined. I'm longing to paint them."
"She is strikingly handsome."
"There is a very strange story about her and her twin sister, which I'll tell you some day."
"You shall; but you must tell me all about yourself first, and how you have come to know so much and learn so little."
Elisabeth looked round at him quickly. "What do you mean?"
"I mean that the depth of your intuition is only surpassed by the shallowness of your experience."
"You are very rude!" And Elisabeth drew up her head rather haughtily.
"Forgive me; I didn't mean to be; but I was overcome by the wonder of how complex you are—how wise on the one side, and how foolish upon the other; but experience is merely human and very attainable, while intuition is divine and given to few. And I was overcome by another thought; may I tell you what that was?"
"Yes; of course you may."
"You won't be angry?"
"You will remember how we played together as children round the temple of Philae, and let my prehistoric memories of you be my excuse?"
"I was overcome by the thought of how glorious it would be to teach you all the things you don't know, and how delightful it would be to see you learn them."
"Let us go into the next room," said Elisabeth, rising from her seat; "I see Lady Silverhampton nodding to me, and I must go and speak to her."
Cecil Farquhar bent his six-foot-one down to her five-foot-five. "Are you angry with me?" he whispered.
"I don't know; I think I am."
"But you will let me come and see you, so that you may forgive me, won't you?"
"You don't deserve it."
"Of course I don't; I shouldn't want it if I did. The things we deserve are as unpleasant as our doctor's prescriptions. Please let me come—because we knew each other all those centuries ago, and I haven't forgotten you."
"Very well, then. You'll find my address in the Red Book, and I'm always at home on Sunday afternoons."
As Elisabeth was whirled away into a vortex of gay and well-dressed people, Farquhar watched her for a moment. "She is an attractive woman," he said to himself, "though she is not as good-looking as I expected. But there's charm about her, and breeding; and they say she has an enormous fortune. She is certainly worth cultivating."
Farquhar cultivated the distinguished Miss Farringdon assiduously, and the friendship between them grew apace. Each had a certain attraction for the other; and, in addition, they enjoyed that wonderful freemasonry which exists among all followers of the same craft, and welds these together in a bond almost as strong as the bond of relationship. The artist in Farquhar was of far finer fibre than the man, as is sometimes the case with complex natures; so that one side of him gave expression to thoughts which the other side of him was incapable of comprehending. He did not consciously pretend that he was better than he was, and he really believed the truths which he preached; but when the gods serve their nectar in earthen vessels, the vessels are apt to get more credit than they deserve, and the gods less.
To Elisabeth, Cecil was extremely interesting; and she understood—better than most women would have done—the difference between himself and his art, and how the one must not be measured by the other. The artist attracted her greatly; she had so much sympathy with his ways of looking at life and of interpreting truth; as for the man, she had as yet come to no definite conclusion in her mind concerning him; it was not easy for mankind to fascinate Elisabeth Farringdon.
"I have come to see my mother-confessor," he said to her one Sunday afternoon, when he dropped in to find her alone, Grace Cobham having gone out to tea. "I have been behaving horribly all the week, and I want you to absolve me and help me to be better and nicer."
Elisabeth was the last woman to despise flattery of this sort; an appeal for help of any kind never found her indifferent.
"What have you been doing?" she asked gently.
"It isn't so much what I have been doing as what I have been feeling. I found myself actually liking Lady Silverhampton, simply because she is a countess; and I was positively rude to a man I know, called Edgar Ford, because he lives at the East End and dresses badly. What a falling-off since the days when you and I worshipped the gods together at Philae, and before money and rank and railways and bicycles came into fashion! Help me to be as I was then, dear friend."
"How can I?"
"By simply being yourself and letting me watch you. I always feel good and ideal and unworldly when I am near you. Don't you know how dreadful it is to wish to do one thing and to want to do another, and to be torn asunder between the two?"
Elisabeth shook her head. "No; I have never felt like that. I can understand wanting to do different things at different times of one's life, but I can not comprehend how one person can want to do two opposing things at the same time."
"Oh! I can. I can imagine doing a thing, and despising one's self at the time for doing it, and yet not being able to help doing it."
"I have heard other people say that, and I can't understand it."
"Yet you are so complex; I should have thought you would," said Farquhar.
"Yes, I am complex; but not at the same moment. I have two distinct natures, but the two are never on the stage at once. I don't in the least know what St. Paul meant when he said that the evil he would not that he did. I can quite understand doing the evil on Tuesday morning that I would not on Monday afternoon; but I could never do anything and disapprove of it at the same minute."
"That is because you are so good—and so cold."
"Yes, dear Miss Farringdon; and so amiable. You never do things in a temper."
"But I do; I really have got a temper of my own, though nowadays people seem to find difficulty in believing it. I have frequently done things in a temper before now; but as long as the temper lasts I am pleased that I have done them, and feel that I do well to be angry. When the temper is over, I sometimes think differently; but not till then. As I have told you before, my will is so strong that it and I are never at loggerheads with each other; it always rules me completely."
Farquhar sighed. "I wish I were as strong as you are; but I am not. And do you mean to tell me that there is no worldly side to you, either; no side that hankers after fleshpots, even while the artist within you is being fed with manna from heaven?"
"No; I don't think there is," Elisabeth replied slowly. "I really do not like people any the better for having money and titles and things like that, and it is no use pretending that I do."
"I do. I wish I didn't, but I can't help it. It is only you who can help me to look at life from the ideal point of view—you whose feet are still wet with the dew of Olympus, and in whom the Greek spirit is as fresh as it was three thousand years ago."
"Oh! I'm not as perfect as all that; far from it! I don't despise people for not having rank or wealth, since rank and wealth don't happen to be the things that interest me. But there are things that do interest me—genius and wit and culture and charm, for instance—and I am quite as hard on the people who lack these gifts, as ever you are on the impecunious nobodies. I confess I am often ashamed of myself when I realize how frightfully I look down upon stupid men and dull women, and how utterly indifferent I am as to what becomes of them. So I really am as great a snob as you are, though I wear my snobbery—like my rue—with a difference."
"Not a snob, dear lady—never a snob! There never existed a woman with less snobbery in her composition than you have. That you are impatient of the dull and unattractive, I admit; but so you ought to be—your own wit and charm give you the right to despise them."
"But they don't; that's where you make a mistake. It is as unjust to look down on a man for not making a joke as for not making a fortune. Though it isn't so much the people who don't make jokes that irritate me, as the people who make poor ones. Don't you know the sort?—would-be wits who quote a remark out of a bound Punch, and think they have been brilliant; and who tell an anecdote crusted with antiquity, which men learned at their mother's knees, and say that it actually happened to a friend of theirs the week before last."
"Oh! they are indeed terrible," agreed Cecil; "they dabble in inverted commas as Italians dabble in garlic."
"I never know whether to laugh at their laboured jokes or not. Of course, it is pretty manners to do so, be the wit never so stale; but on the other hand it encourages them in their evil habits, and seems to me as doubtful a form of hospitality as offering a brandy-and-soda to a confirmed drunkard."
"Dear friend, let us never try to be funny!"
"Amen! And, above all things, let us flee from humorous recitations," added Elisabeth. "There are few things in the world more heart-rending than a humorous recitation—with action. As for me, it unmans me completely, and I quietly weep in a remote corner of the room until the carriage comes to take me home. Therefore, I avoid such; as no woman's eyelashes will stand a long course of humorous recitation without being the worse for wear."
"It seems to me after all," Cecil remarked, "that the evil that you would not, that you do, like St. Paul and myself and sundry others, if you despise stupid people, and know that you oughtn't to despise them, at the same time."
"I know I oughtn't to despise them, but I never said I didn't want to despise them—that's just the difference. As a matter of fact, I enjoy despising them; that is where I am really so horrid. I hide it from them, because I hate hurting people's feelings; and I say 'How very interesting!' out of sheer good manners when they talk to me respectively about their cooks if they are women, and their digestions if they are men; but all the time I am inwardly lifting up my eyes, and patting myself on the back, and thanking heaven that I am not as they are, and generally out-Phariseeing the veriest Pharisee that ever breathed."
"It is wonderful how the word 'cook' will wake into animation the most phlegmatic of women!"
"If they are married," added Elisabeth; "not unless. I often think when I go up into the drawing-room at a dinner-party, I will just say the word 'cook' to find out which of the women are married and which single. I'm certain I should know at once, from the expression the magic word brought to their respective faces. It is only when you have a husband that you regard the cook as the ruling power in life for good or evil."
There was a pause while the footman brought in tea and Elisabeth poured it out; then Farquhar said suddenly—
"I feel a different man from the one that rang at your door-bell some twenty minutes ago. The worldliness has slipped from me like a cast-off shell; now I experience a democratic indifference to my Lady Silverhampton, and a brotherly affection for Mr. Edgar Ford. And this is all your doing!"
"I don't see how that can be," laughed Elisabeth; "seeing that Lady Silverhampton is a friend of mine, and I have never heard of Mr. Edgar Ford."
"But it is; it is your own unconscious influence upon me. Miss Farringdon, you don't know what you have been and what you are to me! It is only since I knew you that I have realized how little all outer things really matter, and how much inner ones do; and how it is a question of no moment who a man is, compared with what a man is. And you will go on teaching me, won't you, and letting me sit at your feet, until the man in me is always what now the artist in me is sometimes?"
"I shall like to help you if I can; I am always longing to help people, and yet so few people ever seem to want my help." And Elisabeth's eyes grew sad.
"I want it—more than I want anything in the world," replied Cecil; and he really meant it, for the artist in him was uppermost just then.
"Then you shall have it."
"Thank you—thank you more than I can ever say."
After a moment's silence Elisabeth asked—
"Are you going to Lady Silverhampton's picnic on the river to-morrow?"
"Yes; I accepted because I thought I should be sure to meet you," replied Cecil, who would have accepted the invitation of a countess if it had been to meet his bitterest foe.
"Then your forethought will be rewarded, for I am going, too," Elisabeth said.
And then other callers were shown in, and the conversation was brought to an abrupt conclusion; but it left behind it a pleasant taste in the minds of both the principals.
ON THE RIVER
For many a frivolous, festive year I followed the path that I felt I must; I failed to discover the road was drear, And rather than otherwise liked the dust. It led through a land that I knew of old, Frequented by friendly, familiar folk, Who bowed before Mammon, and heaped up gold, And lived like their neighbours, and loved their joke.
It was a lovely summer's day when Lady Silverhampton collected her forces at Paddingdon, conveyed them by rail as far as Reading, and then transported them from the train to her steam-launch on the river. The party consisted of Lady Silverhampton herself, Lord and Lady Robert Thistletown, Lord Stonebridge, Sir Wilfred Madderley (President of the Royal Academy), Cecil Farquhar, and Elisabeth.
"I'm afraid you'll be frightfully crowded," said the hostess, as they packed themselves into the dainty little launch; "but it can't be helped. I tried to charter a P. and O. steamer for the day; but they were all engaged, like cabs on the night of a county ball, don't you know? And then I tried to leave somebody out so as to make the party smaller, but there wasn't one of you that could have been spared, except Silverhampton; so I left him at home, and decided to let the rest of you be squeezed yet happy."
"How dear of you!" exclaimed Lord Robert; "and I'll repay your kindness by writing a book called How to be Happy though Squeezed."
"The word though appears redundant in that connection," Sir Wilfred Madderley remarked.
"Ah! that's because you aren't what is called 'a lady's man,'" Lord Robert sighed. "I always was, especially before my unfortunate—oh! I beg your pardon, Violet, I forgot you were here; I mean, of course, my fortunate—marriage. I was always the sort of man that makes girls timidly clinging when they are sitting on a sofa beside you, and short-sighted when you are playing their accompaniments for them. I remember once a girl sat so awfully close to me on a sofa in mid-drawing-room, that I felt there wasn't really room for both of us; so—like the true hero that I am—I shouted 'Save the women and children,' and flung myself upon the tender mercies of the carpet, till I finally struggled to the fireplace."
"How silly you are, Bobby!" exclaimed his wife.
"Yes, darling; I know. I've always known it; but the world didn't find it out till I married you. Till then I was in hopes that the secret would die with me; but after that it was fruitless to attempt to conceal the fact any longer."
"We're all going to be silly to-day," said the hostess; "that's part of the treat."
"It won't be much of a treat to some of us," Lord Robert retorted. "I remember when I was a little chap going to have tea at the Mershire's; and when I wanted to gather some of their most ripping orchids, Lady M. said I might go into the garden and pick mignonette instead. 'Thank you,' I replied in my most dignified manner, 'I can pick mignonette at home; that's no change to me!' Now, that's the way with everything; it's no change to some people to pick mignonette."
"Or to some to pick orchids," added Lord Stonebridge.
"Or to some to pick oakum." And Lord Bobby sighed again.
"Even Elisabeth isn't going to be clever to-day," continued Lady Silverhampton. "She promised me she wouldn't; didn't you, Elisabeth?"
Every one looked admiringly at the subject of this remark. Elisabeth Farringdon was the fashion just then.
"She couldn't help being clever, however hard she tried," said the President.
"Couldn't I, though? Just you wait and see."
"If you succeed in not saying one clever thing during the whole of this picnic affair," Lord Bobby exclaimed, "I'll give you my photograph as a reward. I've got a new one, taken sideways, which is perfectly sweet. It has a profile like a Greek god—those really fine and antique statues, don't you know? whose noses have been wiped out by the ages. The British Museum teems with them, poor devils!"
"Thank you," said Elisabeth. "I shall prize it as an incontrovertible testimony to the fact that neither my tongue nor your nose are as sharp as tradition reports them to be."
Lord Bobby shook his finger warningly. "Be careful, be careful, or you'll never get that photograph. Remember that every word you say will be used against you, as the police are always warning me."
"I'm a little tired to-day," Lady Silverhampton said. "I was taken in to dinner by an intelligent man last night."
"Then how came he to do it?" Lord Robert wondered.
"Don't be rude, Bobby: it doesn't suit your style; and, besides, how could he help it?"
"Well enough. Whenever I go out to dinner I always say in an aside to my host, 'Not Lady Silverhampton; anything but that.' And the consequence is I never do go in to dinner with you. It isn't disagreeableness on my part; if I could I'd do it for your sake, and put my own inclination on one side; but I simply can't bear the intellectual strain. It's a marvel to me how poor Silverhampton stands it as well as he does."
"He is never exposed to it. You don't suppose I waste my own jokes on my own husband, do you? They are far too good for home consumption, like fish at the seaside. When fish has been up to London and returned, it is then sold at the place where it was caught. And that's the way with my jokes; when they have been all round London and come home to roost, I serve them up to Silverhampton as quite fresh."
"And he believes in their freshness? How sweet and confiding of him!"
"He never listens to them, so it is all the same to him whether they're fresh or not. That is why I confide so absolutely in Silverhampton; he never listens to a word I say, and never has done."
Lord Stonebridge amended this remark. "Except when you accepted him."
"Certainly not; because, as a matter of fact, I refused him; but he never listened, and so he married me. It is so restful to have a husband who never attends to what you say! It must be dreadfully wearing to have one who does, because then you'd never be able to tell him the truth. And the great charm of your having a home of your own appears to be that it is the one place where you can speak the truth."
Lord Bobby clapped his hands. "Whatever lies disturb the street, there must be truth at home," he ejaculated.
"Wiser not, even there," murmured Sir Wilfred Madderley, under his breath.
"But you have all interrupted me, and haven't listened to what I was telling you about my intelligent man; and if you eat my food you must listen to my stones—it's only fair."
"But if even your own husband doesn't think it necessary to listen to them," Lord Bobby objected, "why should we, who have never desired to be anything more than sisters to you?"
"Because he doesn't eat my food—I eat his; that makes all the difference, don't you see?"
"Then do you listen to his stories?"
"To every one of them every time they are told; and I know to an inch the exact place where to laugh. But I'm going on about my man. He was one of those instructive boring people, who will tell you the reason of things; and he explained to me that soldiers wear khaki and polar bears white, because if you are dressed in the same colour as the place where you are, it looks as if you weren't there. And it has since occurred to me that I should be a much wiser and happier woman if I always dressed myself in the same colour as my drawing-room furniture. Then nobody would be able to find me even in my own house. Don't you think it is rather a neat idea?" And her ladyship looked round for the applause which she had learned to expect as her right.
"You are a marvellous woman!" cried Lord Stonebridge, while the others murmured their approval.
"I need never say 'Not at home'; callers would just come in and look round the drawing-room and go out again, without ever seeing that I was there at all. It really would be sweet!"
"It seems to me to be a theory which might be adapted with benefit to all sorts and conditions of men," said Elisabeth; "I think I shall take out a patent for designing invisible costumes for every possible occasion. I feel I could do it, and do it well."
"It is adopted to a great extent even now," Sir Wilfred remarked; "I believe that our generals wear scarlet so that they may not always be distinguishable from the red-tape of the War Office."
"And one must not forget," added Lord Bobby thoughtfully, "that the benches of the House of Commons are green."
"Now in church, of course, it would be just the other way," said Lady Silverhampton; "I should line my pew with the same stuff as my Sunday gown, so as to look as if I was there when I wasn't."
Lord Stonebridge began to argue. "But that wouldn't be the other way; it would be the same thing."
"How stupid and accurate you are, Stonebridge! If our pew were lined with gray chiffon like my Sunday frock, it couldn't be the same as if my Sunday frock was made of crimson carpet like our pew. How can things that are exactly opposite be the same? You can't prove that they are, except by algebra; and as nobody here knows any algebra, you can't prove it at all."
"Yes; I can. If I say you are like a person, it is the same thing as saying that that person is like you."
"Not at all. If you said that I was like Connie Esdaile, I should embrace you before the assembled company; and if you said she was like me, she'd never forgive you as long as she lived. It is through reasoning out things in this way that men make such idiotic mistakes."
"Isn't it funny," Elisabeth remarked, "that if you reason a thing out you're always wrong, and if you never reason about it at all you're always right?"
"Ah! but that is because you are a genius," murmured Cecil Farquhar.
Lady Silverhampton contradicted him. "Not at all; it's because she is a woman."
"Well, I'd rather be a woman than a genius any day," said Elisabeth; "it takes less keeping up."
"You are both," said Cecil.
"And I'm neither," added Lord Bobby; "so what's the state of the odds?"
"Let's invent more invisible costumes," cried Lady Silverhampton; "they interest me. Suggest another one, Elisabeth."
"I should design a special one for lovers in the country. Don't you know how you are always coming upon lovers in country lanes, and how hard they try to look as if they weren't there, and how badly they succeed? I should dress them entirely in green, faintly relieved by brown; and then they'd look as if they were only part of the hedges and stiles."
"How the lovers of the future will bless you!" exclaimed Lord Bobby. "I only regret that my love-making days are over before your patent costumes come out. I remember Sir Richard Esdaile once coming upon Violet and me when we were spooning in the shrubbery at Esdaile Court, and we tried in vain to efface ourselves and become as part of the scenery. You see, it is so difficult to look exactly like two laurel bushes, when one of you is dressed in pink muslin and the other in white flannel."
Lady Robert blushed becomingly. "Oh, Bobby, it wasn't pink muslin that day; it was blue cambric."
"That doesn't matter. There are as many laurel bushes made out of pink muslin as out of blue cambric, when you come to that. The difficulty of identifying one's self with one's environment (that's the correct expression, my dear) would be the same in either costume; but Miss Farringdon is now going, once for all, to remove that difficulty."
"I came upon two young people in a lane not long ago," said Elisabeth, "and the minute they saw me they began to walk in the ditches, one on one side of the road and one on the other. Now if only they had worn my costumes, such a damp and uncomfortable mode of going about the country would have been unnecessary; besides, it was absurd in any case. If you were walking with your mother-in-law you wouldn't walk as far apart as that; you wouldn't be able to hear a word she said."
"Ah! my dear young friend, that wouldn't matter," Lord Bobby interposed, "nor in any way interfere with the pleasure of the walk. Really nice men never make a fuss about little things like that. If only their mothers-in-law are kind enough to go out walking with them, they don't a bit mind how far off they walk. It is in questions such as this that men are really so much more unselfish than women; because the mothers-in-law do mind—they like us to be near enough to hear what they say."
"Green frocks would be very nice for the girls, especially if they were fair," said Lady Robert thoughtfully; "but I think the men would look rather queer in green, don't you? As if they were actors."
"I'm afraid they would look a bit dissipated," Elisabeth assented; "like almonds-and-raisins by daylight. By the way, I know nothing that looks more dissipated than almonds-and-raisins by daylight."
"Except, perhaps, one coffee-cup in the drawing-room the morning after a dinner party," suggested Farquhar.
Elisabeth demurred. "No; the coffee-cup is sad rather than sinful. It is as much part and parcel of a bygone time, as the Coliseum or the ruins of Pompeii; and the respectability of the survival of the fittest is its own. But almonds-and-raisins are different; to a certain class of society they represent the embodiment of refinement and luxury and self-indulgence."
Sir Wilfred Madderley laughed softly to himself. "I know exactly what you mean."
"Well, I don't agree with Miss Farringdon," Lord Bobby argued; "to my mind almonds-and-raisins are an emblem of respectability and moral worth, like chiffonniers and family albums and British matrons. No really bad man would feel at home with almonds-and-raisins, I'm certain; but I'd appoint as my trustee any man who could really enjoy them on a Sunday afternoon. Now take Kesterton, for instance; he's the type of man who would really appreciate them. My impression is that when his life comes to be written, it will be found that he took almonds-and-raisins in secret, as some men take absinthe and others opium."
"It is scandalous to reveal the secrets of the great in this manner," said Elisabeth, "and to lower our ideals of them!"
"Forgive me; but still you must always have faintly suspected Kesterton of respectability, even when you admired him most. All great men have their weaknesses; mine is melancholy and Lord K.'s respectability, and Shakespeare's was something quite as bad, but I can't recall just now what it was."
"And what is Lady K.'s?" asked the hostess.
"Belief in Kesterton, of course, which she carries to the verge of credulity, not to say superstition. Would you credit it? When he was at the Exchequer she believed in his Budgets; and when he was at the War Office she believed in his Intelligence Department; and now he is in the Lords she believes in his pedigree, culled fresh from the Herald's Office. Can faith go further?"
"'A perfect woman nobly planned,'" murmured Elisabeth.
"Precisely," continued Bobby,
"To rule the man who rules the land, But yet a spirit still, and damp With something from a spirit-lamp—
or however the thing goes. I don't always quote quite accurately, you will perceive! I generally improve."
"I'm not sure that Lady Kesterton does believe in the pedigree," and Elisabeth looked wise; "because she once went out of her way to assure me that she did."
Lord Bobby groaned. "I beseech you to be careful, Miss Farringdon; you'll never get that photograph if you keep forgetting yourself like this!"
"If I were a man I should belong to the Herald's Office. It would be such fun to be called a 'Red Bonnet' or a 'Green Griffin,' or some other nice fairy-tale-ish name; and to make it one's business to unite divided families, and to restore to deserving persons their long-lost great-great-grandparents. Think of the unselfish joy one would feel in saying to a worthy grocer, 'Here is your great-great-grandmother; take her and be happy!' Or to a successful milliner, 'I have found your mislaid grandfather; be a mother to him for the rest of your life!' It would give one the most delicious, fairy-godmotherly sort of satisfaction!"
"It would," Sir Wilfred agreed. "One would feel one's self a philanthropist of the finest water."
"Thinking about almonds-and-raisins has made me feel hungry," exclaimed Lady Silverhampton. "Let us have lunch! And while the servants are laying the table, we had better get out of the boat and have a stroll. It would be more amusing."
So the party wandered about for a while in couples through fields bespangled with buttercups; and it happened—not unnaturally—that Cecil and Elisabeth found themselves together.
"You are very quiet to-day," she said; "how is that? You are generally such a chatty person, but to-day you out-silence the Sphinx."
"You know the reason."
"No; I don't. To my mind there is no reason on earth strong enough to account for voluntary silence. So tell me."
"I am silent because I want to talk to you; and if I can't do that, I don't want to talk at all. But among all these grand people you seem so far away from me. Yesterday we were such close friends; but to-day I stretch out groping hands, and try in vain to touch you. Do you never dream that you seek for people for a long time and find them at last; and then, when you find them, you can not get near to them? Well, I feel just like that to-day with you."
Elisabeth was silent for a moment; her thoughts were far away from Cecil. "Yes, I know that dream well," she said slowly, "I have often had it; but I never knew that anybody had ever had it except me." And suddenly there came over her the memory of how, long years ago, she used to dream that dream nearly every night. It was at the time when she was first estranged from Christopher, and when the wound of his apparent indifference to her was still fresh. Over and over again she used to dream that she and Christopher were once more the friends that they had been, but with an added tenderness that their actual intercourse had never known. Which of us has not experienced that strange dream-tenderness—often for the most unlikely people—which hangs about us for days after the dream has vanished, and invests the objects of it with an interest which their living presence never aroused? In that old dream of Elisabeth's her affection for Christopher was so great that when he went away she followed after him, and sought him for a long time in vain; and when at last she found him he was no longer the same Christopher that he used to be, but there was an impassable barrier between them which she fruitlessly struggled to break through. The agony of the fruitless struggle always awakened her, so that she never knew what the end of the dream was going to be.
It was years since Elisabeth had dreamed this dream—years since she had even remembered it—but Cecil's remark brought it all back to her, as the scent of certain flowers brings back the memory of half-forgotten summer days; and once again she felt herself drawn to him by that bond of similarity which was so strong between them, and which is the most powerfully attractive force in the world—except, perhaps, the attractive force of contrast. It is the people who are the most like, and the most unlike, ourselves, that we love the best; to the others we are more or less indifferent.
"I think you are the most sympathetic person I ever met," she added. "You have what the Psalmist would call 'an understanding heart.'"
"I think it is only you whom I understand, Miss Farringdon; and that only because you and I are so much alike."
"I should have thought you would have understood everybody, you have such quick perceptions and such keen sympathies." Elisabeth, for all her cleverness, had yet to learn to differentiate between the understanding heart and the understanding head. There is but little real similarity between the physician who makes an accurate diagnosis of one's condition, and the friend who suffers from the identical disease.
"No; I don't understand everybody. I don't understand all these fine people whom we are with to-day, for instance. They seem to me so utterly worldly and frivolous and irresponsible, that I haven't patience with them. I daresay they look down upon me for not having blood, and I know I look down upon them for not having brains."
Elisabeth's eyes twinkled in spite of herself. She remembered how completely Cecil had been out of it in the conversation on the launch; and she wondered whether the King of Nineveh had ever invited Jonah to the state banquets. She inclined to the belief that he had not.
"But they have brains," was all she said.
Cecil was undeniably cross. "They talk a lot of nonsense," he retorted pettishly.
"Exactly. People without brains never talk nonsense; that is just where the difference comes in. If a man talks clever nonsense to me, I know that man isn't a fool; it is a sure test."
"There is nonsense and nonsense."
"And there are fools and fools." Elisabeth spoke severely; she was always merciless upon anything in the shape of humbug or snobbery. Maria Farringdon's training had not been thrown away.
"I despise mere frivolity," said Cecil loftily.
"My dear Mr. Farquhar, there is a time for everything; and if you think that a lunch-party on the river in the middle of the season is a suitable occasion for discussing Lord Stonebridge's pecuniary difficulties, or solving Lady Silverhampton's religious doubts, I can only say that I don't." Elisabeth was irritated; she knew that Cecil was annoyed with her friends not because they could talk smart nonsense, but because he could not.
"Still, you can not deny that the upper classes are frivolous," Cecil persisted.
"But I do deny it. I don't think that they are a bit more frivolous than any other class, but I think they are a good deal more plucky. Each class has its own particular virtue, and the distinguishing one of the aristocracy seems to me to be pluck; therefore they make light of things which other classes of society would take seriously. It isn't that they don't feel their own sorrows and sicknesses, but they won't allow other people to feel them; which is, after all, only a form of good manners."
But Cecil was still rather sulky. "I belong to the middle class and I am proud of it."
"So do I; but identifying one's self with one class doesn't consist in abusing all the others, any more than identifying one's self with one church consists in abusing all the others—though some people seem to think it does."
"These grand people may entertain you and be pleasant to you in their way, I don't deny; but they don't regard you as one of themselves unless you are one," persisted Cecil, with all the bitterness of a small nature.
Elisabeth smiled with all the sweetness of a large one. "And why should they? Sir Wilfred and you and I are pleasant enough to them in our own way, but we don't regard any of them as one of ourselves unless he is one. They don't show it, and we don't show it: we are all too well-mannered; but we can not help knowing that they are not artists any more than they can help knowing that we are not aristocrats. Being conscious that certain people lack certain qualities which one happens to possess, is not the same thing as despising those people; and I always think it as absurd as it is customary to describe one's consciousness of one's own qualifications as self-respect, and other people's consciousness of theirs as pride and vanity."
"Then aren't you ever afraid of being looked down upon?" asked Cecil, to whom any sense of social inferiority was as gall and wormwood.
Elisabeth gazed at him in amazement. "Good gracious, no! Such an idea never entered into my head. I don't look down upon other people for lacking my special gifts, so why should they look down upon me for lacking theirs? Of course they would look down upon me and make fun of me if I pretended to be one of them, and I should richly deserve it; just as we look down upon and make fun of Philistines who cover their walls with paper fans and then pretend that they are artists. Pretence is always vulgar and always ridiculous; but I know of nothing else that is either."
"How splendid you are!" exclaimed Cecil, to whose artistic sense fineness of any kind always appealed, even if it was too high for him to attain to it. "Therefore you will not despise me for being so inferior to you—you will only help me to grow more like you, won't you?"
And because Cecil possessed the indefinable gift which the world calls charm, Elisabeth straightway overlooked his shortcomings, and set herself to assist him in correcting them. Perhaps there are few things in life more unfair than the certain triumph of these individuals who have the knack of gaining the affection of their fellows; or more pathetic than the ultimate failure of those who lack this special attribute. The race may not be to the swift, nor the battle to the strong; but both race and battle are, nine times out of ten, to the man or the woman who has mastered the art of first compelling devotion and then retaining it. It was the possession of this gift on the part of King David, that made men go in jeopardy of their lives in order to satisfy his slightest whim; and it was because the prophet Elijah was a solitary soul, commanding the fear rather than the love of men, that after his great triumph he fled into the wilderness and requested for himself that he might die. Nevertheless, it must not be forgotten that to this lonely prophet it was granted to see visions of angels and to hear the still small Voice; and that, therefore, there are abundant compensations for those men and women who have not the knack of hearing and speaking the glib interchanges of affection, current among their more attractive fellows. There is infinite pathos in the thought of these solitary souls, yearning to hear and to speak words of loving greeting, and yet shut out—by some accident of mind or manner—from doing either the one or the other; but when their turn comes to see visions of angels and to hear the still small Voice, men need not pity them overmuch. When once we have seen Him as He is, it will matter but little to us whether we stood alone upon the mountain in the wind and the earthquake and the fire, while the Lord passed by; or whether He drew near and walked with us as we trod the busy ways of life, and was known of us, as we sat at meat, in breaking of bread.
As Elisabeth looked at him with eyes full of sympathy, Cecil continued—
"I have had such a hard life, with no one to care for me; and the hardness of my lot has marred my character, and—through that—my art."
"Tell me about your life," Elisabeth said softly. "I seem to know so little of you and yet to know you so well."
"You shall read what back-numbers I have, but most of them have been lost, so that I have not read them myself. I really don't know who I am, as my father died when I was a baby, and my poor mother followed him in a few months, never having recovered from the shock of his death. I was born in Australia, at Broken Hill, and was an only child. As far as I can make out, my parents had no relations; or, if they had, they had quarrelled with them all. They were very poor; and when they died, leaving one wretched little brat behind them, some kind friends adopted the poor beggar and carried him off to a sheep-farm, where they brought him up among their own children."
"Poor little lonely boy!"
"I was lonely—more lonely than you can imagine; for, kind as they were to me, I was naturally not as dear to them as their own children. I was an outsider; I have always been an outsider; so, perhaps, there is some excuse for that intense soreness on my part which you so much deprecate whenever this fact is once more brought home to me."
"I am sorry that I was so hard on you," said Elisabeth, in a very penitent voice; "but it is one of my worst faults that I am always being too hard on people. Will you forgive me?"
"Of course I will." And Elisabeth—also possessing charm—earned forgiveness as quickly as she had accorded it.
"Please tell me more," she pleaded.
"The other children were such a loud, noisy, happy-go-lucky pack, that they completely overpowered a delicate, sensitive boy. Moreover, I detested the life there—the roughness and unrefinement of it all." And Cecil's eyes filled with tears at the mere remembrance of his childish miseries.
"Did you stay with them till you grew up?"
"Yes; I was educated—after a fashion—with their own sons. But at last a red-letter day dawned for me. An English artist came to stay at the sheep-farm, and discovered that I also was among the prophets. He was a bachelor, and he took an uncommon fancy to me; it ended in his adopting me and bringing me to England, and making of me an artist like himself."
"Another point of similarity between us!" Elisabeth cried; "my parents died when I was a baby, and I also was adopted."
"I am so glad; all the sting seems to be taken out of things if I feel I share them with you."
"Then where is your adopted father now?"
"He died when I was five-and-twenty, Miss Farringdon; and left me barely enough to keep me from abject poverty, should I not be able to make a living by my brush."
"And you have never learned anything more about your parents?"
"Never; and now I expect I never shall. The friends who brought me up told me that they believed my father came from England, and had been connected with some business over here; but what the business was they did not know, nor why he left it. It is almost impossible to find out anything more, after this long lapse of time; it is over thirty years now since my parents died. And, besides, I very much doubt whether Farquhar was their real name at all."
"What makes you think that?"
"Because the name was carefully erased from the few possessions my poor father left behind him. So now I have let the matter drop," added Cecil, with a bitter laugh, "as it is sometimes a mistake to look up back-numbers in the colonies; they are not invariably pleasant reading."
Here conversation was interrupted by Lady Silverhampton's voice calling her friends to lunch; and Cecil and Elisabeth had to join the others.
"If any of you are tired of life," said her ladyship, as they sat down, "I wish you'd try some of this lobster mayonnaise that my new cook has made, and report on it. To me it looks the most promising prescription for death by torture."
"O bid me die, and I will dare E'en mayonnaise for thee,"
exclaimed Lord Bobby, manfully helping himself.
And then the talk flowed on as pleasantly and easily as the river, until it was time to land again and return to town. But for the rest of the day, and for many a day afterward, a certain uncomfortable suspicion haunted Elisabeth, which she could not put away from her, try as she would; a suspicion that, after all, her throne was not as firmly fixed as she had hoped and had learned to believe.
He that beginneth may not end, And he that breaketh can not mend.
The summer which brought fame to Elisabeth, brought something better than fame to Willie Tremaine. All through the winter the child had grown visibly feebler and frailer, and the warmer weather seemed to bring additional weakness rather than strength. In vain did Alan try to persuade himself that Willie was no worse this year than he had been other years, and that he soon would be all right again. As a matter of fact, he soon was all right again; but not in the way which his father meant.
Caleb Bateson's wisdom had been justified. Through his passionate love for little Willie, Alan had drawn near to the kingdom of God; not as yet to the extent of formulating any specific creed or attaching himself to any special church—that was to come later; but he had learned, by the mystery of his own fatherhood, to stretch out groping hands toward the great Fatherhood that had called him into being; and by his own love for his suffering child to know something of the Love that passeth knowledge. Therefore Alan Tremaine was a better and wiser man than he had been in times past. A strong friendship had gradually grown up between himself and Christopher Thornley; and it was a friendship which was good for both of them. Though Christopher never talked about his religious beliefs, he lived them; and it is living epistles such as this which are best known and read of all thoughtful men, and which—far more than all the books and sermons ever written—are gradually converting the kingdoms of this world into the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ. Alan would have refuted—to his own satisfaction, if not to Christopher's—any arguments which the latter might have brought forward in favour of Christianity; but he could not refute the evidence of a life which could never have been lived but for that Other Life lived in Judaea nineteen centuries ago. Perhaps his friendship with Christopher did as much for Alan as his love for Willie in opening his eyes to the hidden things of God.
The intercourse with the Tremaines was, on the other hand, of great advantage to Christopher, as it afforded him the opportunity of meeting and mixing with men as clever and as cultivated as himself, which is not always easy for a lonely man in a provincial town who devotes his loneliness to intellectual pursuits. Christopher was fast becoming one of the most influential men in Mershire; and his able management of the Osierfield had raised those works to a greater height of prosperity than they had ever attained before, even in the days of William and John Farringdon.
But now the shadows were darkening around Alan Tremaine, as day by day Willie gradually faded away. Felicia, too, at last awoke to the real state of the case, and, in her way, was almost as anxious as her husband.
During the spring-time, as Willie's life grew shorter with the lengthening days, the child's chiefest delight lay in visits from Christopher. For Elisabeth's sake Christopher had always felt an interest in little Willie. Had not her dear hands fondled the child, before they were too busy to do anything but weave spells to charm the whole world? And had not her warm heart enfolded him, before her success and her fame had chilled its fires? For the sake of the Elisabeth that used to be, Christopher would always be a friend to Willie; and he did not find it hard to love the child for his own sake, since Christopher had great powers of loving, and but little to expend them upon.
As Willie continually asked for Elisabeth, Felicia wrote and told her so; and the moment she found she was wanted, Elisabeth came down to the Willows for a week—though her fame and the London season were alike at their height—and went every day to see Willie at the Moat House. He loved to have her with him, because she talked to him about things that his parents never mentioned to him; and as these things were drawing nearer to Willie day by day, his interest in them unconsciously increased. He and she had long talks together about the country on the other side of the hills, and what delightful times they would have when they reached it: how Willie would be able to walk as much as he liked, and Elisabeth would be able to love as much as she wanted, and life generally would turn out to be a success—a thing which it so rarely does on this side of the hills.
Christopher, as a rule, kept away from the Moat House when Elisabeth was there; he thought she did not wish to see him, and he was not the type of man to go where he imagined he was not wanted; but one afternoon they met there by accident, and Christopher inwardly blessed the Fate which made him do the very thing he had so studiously refrained from doing. He had been sitting with Tremaine, and she with Felicia and Willie; and they met in the hall on their way out.
"Are you going my way?" asked Elisabeth graciously, when they had shaken hands. It was dull at Sedgehill after London, and the old flirting spirit woke up in her and made her want to flirt with Christopher again, in spite of all that had happened. With the born flirt—as with all born players of games—the game itself is of more importance than the personality of the other players; which sometimes leads to unfortunate mistakes on the part of those players who do not rightly understand the rules of the game.
"Yes, Miss Farringdon, I am," said Christopher, who would have been going Elisabeth's way had that way led him straight to ruin. With him the personality of the player—in this case, at least—mattered infinitely more than any game she might choose to play. As long as he was talking to Elisabeth, he did not care a straw what they were talking about; which showed that he really was culpably indifferent to—if not absolutely ignorant of—the rules of the game.
"Then we might as well walk together." And Elisabeth drew on her long Suede gloves and leisurely opened her parasol, as they strolled down the drive after bidding farewell to the Tremaines.
Christopher was silent from excess of happiness. It was so wonderful to be walking by Elisabeth's side again, and listening to her voice, and watching the lights and shadows in those gray eyes of hers which sometimes were so nearly blue. But Elisabeth did not understand his silence; she translated it, as she would have translated silence on her own part, into either boredom or ill-temper, and she resented it accordingly.
"You are very quiet this afternoon. Aren't you going to talk to me?" she said; and Christopher's quick ear caught the sound of the irritation in her voice, though he could not for the life of him imagine what he had done to bring it there; but it served to silence him still further.
"Yes—yes, of course I am," he said lamely; "what shall we talk about? I am afraid there is nothing interesting to tell you about the Osierfield, things are going on so regularly there, and so well."
How exactly like Christopher to begin to talk about business when she had given him the chance to talk about more interesting subjects—herself, for instance, Elisabeth thought; but he never had a mind above sordid details! She did not, of course, know that at that identical moment he was wondering whether her eyes were darker than they used to be, or whether he had forgotten their exact shade; he could hardly have forgotten their colour, he decided, as there had never been a day when he had not remembered them since he saw them last; so they must actually be growing darker.
"I'm glad of that," said Elisabeth coldly, in her most fine-ladylike manner.
"It was distinctly kind of you to find time to run down here, in the midst of your London life, to see Willie! He fretted after you sadly, and I am afraid the poor little fellow is not long for this world." And Christopher sighed.
Elisabeth noted the sigh and approved of it. It was a comfort to find that the man had feelings of any sort, she said to herself, even though only for a child; that was better than being entirely immersed in self-interest and business affairs.
So they talked about Willie for a time, and the conversation ran more smoothly—almost pleasantly.
Then they talked about books; and Elisabeth—who had grown into the habit of thinking that nobody outside London knew anything—was surprised to find that Christopher had read considerably more books than she had read, and had understood them far more thoroughly. But this part of the conversation was inclined to be stormy; since Christopher as a rule disliked the books that Elisabeth liked, and this she persisted in regarding as tantamount to disliking herself.
Whereupon she became defiant, and told stories of her life in London of which she knew Christopher would disapprove. There was nothing in the facts that he could possibly disapprove of, so she coloured them up until there was; and then, when she had succeeded in securing his disapproval, she was furious with him on account of it. Which was manifestly unfair, as Christopher in no way showed the regret which he could not refrain from experiencing, as he listened to Elisabeth making herself out so much more frivolous and heartless than she really was.
"This is the first time I have had an opportunity of congratulating you on your success," he said to her at last; "we are all very proud of it at Sedgehill; but, believe me, there is no one who rejoices in it a tithe as much as I do, if you will allow me to say so."
Elisabeth was slightly mollified. She had been trying all the time, as she was so fond of trying years ago, to divert the conversation into more personal channels; and Christopher had been equally desirous of keeping it out of the same. But this sounded encouraging.
"Thank you so much," she answered; "it is very nice of you all to be pleased with me! I always adored being admired and praised, if you remember."
Christopher remembered well enough; but he was not going to tell this crushing fine lady how well he remembered. If he had not exposed his heart for Elisabeth to peck at in the old days, he certainly was not going to expose it now; then she would only have been scientifically interested—now she would probably be disdainfully amused.
"I suppose you saw my picture in this year's Academy," Elisabeth added.
"Saw it? I should think I did. I went up to town on purpose to see it, as I always do when you have pictures on view at any of the shows."
"And what did you think of it?"
Christopher was silent for a moment; then he said—
"Do you want me to say pretty things to you or to tell you the truth?"
"Why, the truth, of course," replied Elisabeth, who considered that the two things were synonymous—or at any rate ought to be.
"And you won't be angry with me, or think me impertinent?"
"Of course not," answered Elisabeth, who most certainly would; and Christopher—not having yet learned wisdom—believed her.
"I thought it was a distinctly powerful picture—a distinctly remarkable picture—and if any one but you had painted it, I should have been delighted with it; but somehow I felt that it was not quite up to your mark—that you could do, and will do, better work."
For a second Elisabeth was dumbfounded with amazement and indignation. How dare this one man dispute the verdict of London? Then she said—
"In what way do you think the work could have been done better?"
"That is just what I can't tell you; I wish I could; but I'm not an artist, unfortunately. It seems to me that there are other people (not many, I admit, but still some) who could have painted that picture; while you are capable of doing work which no one else in the world could possibly do. Naturally I want to see you do your best, and am not satisfied when you do anything less."
Elisabeth tossed her head. "You are very hard to please, Mr. Thornley."
"I know I am, where your work is concerned; but that is because I have formed such a high ideal of your powers. If I admired you less, I should admire your work more, don't you see?"
But Elisabeth did not see. She possessed the true artist-spirit which craves for appreciation of its offspring more than for appreciation of itself—a feeling which perhaps no one but an artist or a mother really understands. Christopher, being neither, did not understand it in the least, and erroneously concluded that adoration of the creator absolves one from the necessity of admiration of the thing created.
"I shall never do a better piece of work than that," Elisabeth retorted, being imbued with the creative delusion that the latest creation is of necessity the finest creation. No artist could work at all if he did not believe that the work he was doing—or had just done—was the best piece of work he had ever done or ever should do. This is because his work, however good, always falls short of the ideal which inspired it; and, while he is yet working, he can not disentangle the ideal from the reality. He must be at a little distance from his work until he can do this properly; and Elisabeth was as yet under the influence of that creative glamour which made her see her latest picture as it should be rather than as it was.
"Oh, yes, you will; you will fulfil my ideal of you yet. I cherish no doubts on that score."
"I can't think what you see wrong in my picture," said Elisabeth somewhat pettishly.
"I don't see anything wrong in it. Good gracious! I must have expressed myself badly if I conveyed such an impression to you as that, and you would indeed be justified in writing me down an ass. I think it is a wonderfully clever picture—so clever that nobody but you could ever paint a cleverer one."