'Well, good luck to you!' said the minister, altering his position so as to look at his visitor full, and doing it with a slowness which showed that all movement was an effort.' Look after your sister, Davy.'
David had sat down at Ancrum's invitation. He said nothing in answer to this last remark, and Ancrum could not decipher him in the darkness visible of the ill-trimmed lamp.
'She's been on your mind, Davy, hasn't she?' he said, gently, laying his blanched hand on the young man's knee.
'Well, perhaps she has,' David admitted, with an odd note in his voice. 'She's not an easy one to manage.'
'No. But you've got to manage her, Davy. There's only you and she together. It's your task. It's set you. And you're young, indeed, and raw, to have that beautiful self-willed creature on your hands.'
'Beautiful? Do you think she's that?' David tried to laugh it off.
The minister nodded.
'You'll find it out in Paris even more than you have here. Paris is a bad place, they say. So's London, for the matter of that. Davy, before you go, I've got one thing to say to you.'
'Say away, sir.'
'You know a great deal, Davy. My wits are nothing to yours. You'll shoot ahead of all your old friends, my boy, some day. But there's one thing you know nothing about—absolutely nothing—and you prate as if you did. Perhaps you must turn Christian before you do. I don't know. At least, so long as you're not a Christian you won't know what we mean by it—what the Bible means by it. It's one little word, Davy—sin.'
The minister spoke with a deep intensity, as though his whole being were breathed into what he said. David sat silent and embarrassed, opposition rising in him to what he thought ministerial assumption.
'Well, I don't know what you mean,' he said, after a pause. 'One needn't be very old to find out that a good many people and things in the world are pretty bad. Only we Secularists explain it differently from you. We put a good deal of it down to education, or health, or heredity.'
'Oh, I know—I know!' said the minister hastily, as though shrinking from the conversation he had himself evoked. 'I'm not fit to talk about it, Davy. I'm ill, I think! But there were those two things I wanted to say to you—your sister—and—'
His voice dropped. He shaded his eyes and looked away from David into the smouldering coals.
'No—no,' he resumed almost in a whisper; 'it's the will—it's the will. It's not anything he says, and Christ—Christ's the only help.'
Again there was a silence. David studied his old teacher attentively, as far as the half-light availed him. The young man was simply angry with a religion which could torment a soul and body like this. Ancrum had been 'down' in this way for a long time now. Was another of his black fits approaching? If so, religion was largely responsible for them!
When at last David sighted his own door, he perceived a figure lounging on the steps.
'I say,' he said to himself with a groan, 'it's John!'
'What on earth do you want, John, at this time of night?' he demanded. But he knew perfectly.
'Look here!' said the other thickly, 'it's all straight. You're coming back in a fortnight, and you'll bring her back too!'
David laughed impatiently.
'Do you think I shall lose her in Paris or drop her in the Channel?'
'I don't know,' said Dalby, with a curiously heavy and indistinct utterance. 'She's very bad to me. She won't ever marry me; I know that. But when I think I might never see her again I'm fit to go and hang myself.'
David began to kick the pebbles in the road.
'You know what I think about it all,' he said at last, gloomily. 'I've told you before now. She couldn't care for you if she tried. It isn't a ha'p'orth of good. I don't believe she'll ever care for anybody. Anyway, she'll marry nobody who can't give her money and fine clothes. There! You may put that in your pipe and smoke it, for it's as true as you stand there.'
John turned round restlessly, laid his hands against the wall, and his head upon them.
'Well, it don't matter,' he said slowly, after a pause. 'I'll be here early. Good night!'
David stood and looked after him in mingled disgust and pity.
'I must pack him off,' he said, 'I must.'
Then he threw back his young shoulders and drew in the warm spring air with a long breath. Away with care and trouble! Things would come right—must come right. This weather was summer, and in forty-eight hours they would be in Paris!
BOOK III STORM AND STRESS
The brother and sister left Manchester about midday, and spent the night in London at a little City hotel much frequented by Nonconformist ministers, which Ancrum had recommended.
Then next day! How little those to whom all the widest opportunities of life come for the asking, can imagine such a zest, such a freshness of pleasure! David had hesitated long before the expense of the day service via Calais; they could have gone by night third class for half the money; or they could have taken returns by one of the cheaper and longer routes. But the eagerness to make the most of every hour of time and daylight prevailed; they were to go by Calais and come back by Dieppe, seeing thereby as much as possible on the two journeys in addition to the fortnight in Paris. The mere novelty of going anything but third class was full of savour; Louie's self-conscious dignity as she settled herself into her corner on leaving Charing Cross caught David's eye; he saw himself reflected and laughed.
It was a glorious day, the firstling of the summer. In the blue overhead the great clouds rose intensely thunderously white, and journeyed seaward under a light westerly wind. The railway banks, the copses were all primroses; every patch of water had in it the white and azure of the sky; the lambs were lying in the still scanty shadow of the elms; every garden showed its tulips and wallflowers, and the air, the sunlight, the vividness of each hue and line bore with them an intoxicating joy, especially for eyes still adjusted to the tones and lights of Manchester in winter.
The breeze carried them merrily over a dancing sea. And once on the French side they spent their first hour in crossing from one side of their carriage to the other, pointing and calling incessantly. For the first time since certain rare moments in their childhood they were happy together and at one. Mother Earth unrolled for them a corner of her magic show, and they took it like children at the play, now shouting, now spell-bound.
David had George Sand's 'Mauprat' on his knee, but he read nothing the whole day. Never had he used his eyes so intently, so passionately. Nothing escaped them, neither the detail of that strange and beautiful fen from which Amiens rises—a country of peat and peat-cutters where the green plain is diapered with innumerable tiny lakes edged with black heaps of turf and daintily set with scattered trees—nor the delicate charm of the forest lands about Chautilly. So much thinner and gracefuller these woods were than English woods! French art and skill were here already in the wild country. Each tree stood out as though it had been personally thought for; every plantation was in regular lines; each woody walk drove straight from point to point, following out a plan orderly and intricate as a spider's web.
By this time Louie's fervour of curiosity and attention had very much abated; she grew tired and cross, and presently fell asleep. But, with every mile less between them and Paris, David's pulse beat faster, and his mind became more absorbed in the flying scene. He hung beside the window, thrilling with enchantment and delight, drinking in the soft air, the beauty of the evening clouds, the wonderful greens and silvers and fiery browns of the poplars. His mind was full of images—the deep lily-sprinkled lake wherein Stenio, Lelia's poet lover, plunged and died; the grandiose landscape of Victor Hugo; Rene sitting on the cliff-side, and looking farewell to the white home of his childhood;—of lines from 'Childe Harold' and from Shelley. His mind was in a ferment of youth and poetry, and the France he saw was not the workaday France of peasant and high road and factory, but the creation of poetic intelligence, of ignorance and fancy.
Paris came in a flash. He had realised to the full the squalid and ever-widening zone of London, had frittered away his expectations almost, in the passing it; but here the great city had hardly announced itself before they were in the midst of it, shot out into the noise, and glare, and crowd of the Nord station.
They had no luggage to wait for, and David, trembling with excitement so that he could hardly give the necessary orders, shouldered the bags, got a cab and gave the address. Outside it was still twilight, but the lamps were lit and the Boulevard into which they presently turned seemed to brother and sister a blaze of light. The young green of the trees glittered under the gas like the trees of a pantomime; the kiosks threw their lights out upon the moving crowd; shops and cafes were all shining and alive; and on either hand rose the long line of stately houses, unbroken by any London or Manchester squalors and inequalities, towering as it seemed into the skies, and making for the great spectacle of life beneath them a setting more gay, splendid, and complete than any Englishman in his own borders can ever see.
Louie had turned white with pleasure and excitement. All her dreams of gaiety and magnificence, of which the elements had been gathered from the illustrated papers and the Manchester theatres, were more than realised by these Paris gas-lights, these vast houses, these laughing and strolling crowds.
'Look at those people having their coffee out of doors,' she cried to David, 'and that white and gold place behind. Goodness! what they must spend in gas! And just look at those two girls—look, quick—there, with the young man in the black moustache—they are loud, but aren't their dresses just sweet?'
She craned her neck out of window, exclaiming—now at this, now at that—till suddenly they passed out of the Boulevard into the comparative darkness of side ways. Here the height of the houses produced a somewhat different impression; Louie looked out none the less keenly, but her chatter ceased.
At last the cab drew up with a clatter at the side of a particularly dark and narrow street, ascending somewhat sharply to the north-west from the point where they stopped.
'Now for the concierge,' said David, looking round him, after he had paid the man.
And conning Barbier's directions in his mind, he turned into the gateway, and made boldly for a curtained door behind which shone a light.
The woman, who came out in answer to his knock, looked him all over from head to foot, while he explained himself in his best French.
'Tiens,' she said, indifferently, to a man behind her, 'it's the people for No. 26—des Anglais—M. Paul te l'a dit. Hand me the key.'
The bonhomme addressed—a little, stooping, wizened creature, with china-blue eyes, showing widely in his withered face under the light of the paraffin-lamp his wife was holding—reached a key from a board on the wall and gave it to her.
The woman again surveyed them both, the young man and the girl, and seemed to debate with herself whether she should take the trouble to be civil. Finally she said in an ungracious voice—
'It's the fourth floor to the right. I must take you up, I suppose.'
David thanked her, and she preceded them with the light through a door opposite and up some stone stairs.
When they had mounted two flights, she turned abruptly on the landing—
'You take the appartement from M. Dubois?'
'Yes,' said David, enchanted to find that, thanks to old Barbier's constant lessons, he could both understand and reply with tolerable ease; 'for a fortnight.'
'Take care; the landlord will be descending on you; M. Dubois never pays; he may be turned out any day, and his things sold. Where is Mademoiselle going to sleep?'
'But in M. Dubois' appartement,' said David, hoping this time, in his dismay, that he did not understand; 'he promised to arrange everything.'
'He has arranged nothing. Do you wish that I should provide some things? You can hire some furniture from me. And do you want service?'
The woman had a grasping eye. David's frugal instincts took alarm.
'Merci, Madame! My sister and I do not require much. We shall wait upon ourselves. If Madame will tell us the name of some restaurant near—'
Instead, Madame made an angry sound and thrust the key abruptly into Louie's hand, David being laden with the bags.
'There are two more flights,' she said roughly; 'then turn to the left, and go up the staircase straight in front of you—first door to the right. You've got eyes; you'll find the way.'
'Mais, Madame—' cried David, bewildered by these directions, and trying to detain her.
But she was already half-way down the flight below them, throwing back remarks which, to judge from their tone, were not complimentary.
There was no help for it. Louie was dropping with fatigue, and beginning to be much out of temper. David with difficulty assumed a hopeful air, and up they went again. Leading off the next landing but one they found a narrow passage, and at the end of it a ladder-like staircase. At the top of this they came upon a corridor at right angles, in which the first door bore the welcome figures '26.'
'All right,' said David; 'here we are. Now we'll just go in, and look about us. Then if you'll sit and rest a bit, I'll run down and see where we can get something to eat.'
'Be quick, then—do,' said Louie. 'I'm just fit to drop.'
With a beating heart he put the key into the lock of the door. It fitted, but he could not turn it. Both he and Louie tried in vain.
'What a nuisance!' said he at last. 'I must go and fetch up that woman again. You sit down and wait.'
As he spoke there was a sound below of quick steps, and of a voice, a woman's voice, humming a song.
'Some one coming,' he said to Louie; 'perhaps they understand the lock.'
They ran down to the landing below to reconnoitre. There was, of course, gas on the staircase, and as they hung over the iron railing they saw mounting towards them a young girl. She wore a light fawn-coloured dress and a hat covered with Parma violets. Hearing voices above her, she threw her head back, and stopped a moment. Louie's eye was caught by her hand and its tiny wrist as it lay on the balustrade, and by the coils and twists of her fair hair. David saw no details, only what seemed to him a miracle of grace and colour, born in an instant, out of the dark—or out of his own excited fancy?
She came slowly up the steps, looking at them, at the tall dark youth and the girl beside him. Then on the top step she paused, instead of going past them. David took off his hat, but all the practical questions he had meant to ask deserted him. His French seemed to have flown.
'You are strangers, aren't you?' she said, in a clear, high, somewhat imperious voice. 'What number do you want?'
Her expression had a certain hauteur, as of one defending her native ground against intruders. Under the stimulus of it David found his tongue.
'We have taken M. Paul Dubois' rooms,' he said. 'We have found his door, but the key the concierge gave us does not fit it.'
She laughed, a free, frank laugh, which had a certain wild note in it.
'These doors have to be coaxed,' she said; 'they don't like foreigners. Give it me. This is my way, too.'
Stepping past them, she preceded them up the narrow stairs, and was just about to try the key in the lock, when a sudden recollection seemed to flash upon her.
'I know!' she said, turning upon them. 'Tenez—que je suis bete! You are Dubois' English friends. He told me something, and I had forgotten all about it. You are going to take his rooms?'
'For a week or two,' said David, irritated a little by the laughing malice, the sarcastic wonder of her eyes, 'while he is doing some work in Brussels. It seemed a convenient arrangement, but if we are not comfortable we shall go elsewhere. If you can open the door for us we shall be greatly obliged to you, Mademoiselle. But if not I must go down for the concierge. We have been travelling all day, and my sister is tired.'
'Where did you learn such good French?' she said carelessly, at the same time leaning her weight against the door, and manipulating the key in such a way that the lock turned, and the door flew open.
Behind it appeared a large dark space. The light from the gas-jet in the passage struck into it, but beyond a chair and a tall screen-like object in the middle of the floor, it seemed to David to be empty.
'That's his atelier, of course,' said the unknown; 'and mine is next to it, at the other end. I suppose he has a cupboard to sleep in somewhere. Most of us have. But I don't know anything about Dubois. I don't like him. He is not one of my friends.'
She spoke in a dry, masculine voice, which contrasted in the sharpest way with her youth, her dress, her dainty smallness. Then, all of a sudden, as her eyes travelled over the English pair standing bewildered on the threshold of Dubois' most uninviting apartment, she began to laugh again. Evidently the situation seemed to her extremely odd.
'Did you ask the people downstairs to get anything ready for you?' she inquired.
'No,' said David, hesitating; 'we thought we could manage for ourselves.'
'Well—perhaps—after the first,' she said, still laughing. 'But—I may as well warn you—the Merichat will be very uncivil to you if you don't manage to pay her for something. Hadn't you better explore? That thing in the middle is Dubois' easel, of course.'
David groped his way in, took some matches from his pocket, found a gas-bracket with some difficulty, and lit up. Then he and Louie looked round them. They saw a gaunt high room, lit on one side by a huge studio-window, over which various tattered blinds were drawn; a floor of bare boards, with a few rags of carpet here and there; in the middle, a table covered with painter's apparatus of different kinds; palettes, paints, rags, tin-pots, and, thrown down amongst them, some stale crusts of bread; a large easel, with a number of old and dirty canvases piled upon it; two chairs, one of them without the usual complement of legs; a few etchings and oil-sketches and fragments of coloured stuffs pinned against the wall in wild confusion; and, spread out casually behind the easel, an iron folding-bedstead, without either mattress or bed-clothes. In the middle of the floor stood a smeared kettle on a spirit-stove, and a few odds and ends of glass and china were on the mantelpiece, together with a paraffin-lamp. Every article in the room was thick in dust.
When she had, more or less, ascertained these attractive details, Louie stood still in the middle of M. Dubois' apartment.
'What did he tell all those lies for?' she said to David fiercely. For in the very last communication received from him, Dubois had described himself as having made all necessary preparations 'et pour la toilette et pour le manger.' He had also asked for the rent in advance, which David with some demur had paid.
'Here's something,' cried David; and, turning a handle in the wall, he pulled a flimsy door open and disclosed what seemed a cupboard. The cupboard, however, contained a bed, some bedding, blankets, and washing arrangements; and David joyously announced his discoveries. Louie took no notice of him. She was tired, angry, disgusted. The illusion of Paris was, for the moment, all gone. She sat herself down on one of the two chairs, and, taking off her hat, she threw it from her on to the belittered table with a passionate gesture.
The French girl had so far stood just outside, leaning against the doorway, and looking on with unabashed amusement while they made their inspection. Now, however, as Louie uncovered, the spectator at the door made a little, quick sound, and then ran forward.
'Mais, mon Dieu! how handsome you are!' she said with a whimsical eagerness, stopping short in front of Louie, and driving her little hands deep into the pockets of her jacket. 'What a head! —what eyes! Why didn't I see before? You must sit to me—you must! You will, won't you? I will pay you anything you like! You sha'n't be dull—somebody shall come and amuse you. Voyons—monsieur!' she called imperiously.
David came up. She stood with one hand on the table leaning her light weight backward, looking at them with all her eyes—the very embodiment of masterful caprice.
'Both of them!' she said under her breath, 'superbe!' Monsieur, look here. You and mademoiselle are tired. There is nothing in these rooms. Dubois is a scamp without a sou. He does no work, and he gambles on the Bourse. Everything he had he has sold by degrees. If he has gone to Brussels now to work honestly, it is for the first time in his life. He lives on the hope of getting money out of an uncle in England—that I know, for he boasts of it to everybody. It is just like him to play a practical joke on strangers. No doubt you have paid him already—n'est-ce pas? I thought as much. Well, never mind! My rooms are next door. I am Elise Delaunay. I work in Taranne's atelier. I am an artist, pure and simple, and I live to please myself and nobody else. But I have a chair or two, and the woman downstairs looks after me because I make it worth her while. Come with me. I will give you some supper, and I will lend you a rug and a pillow for that bed. Then to-morrow you can decide what to do.'
David protested, stammering and smiling. But he had flushed a rosy red, and there was no real resistance in him. He explained the invitation to Louie, who had been looking helplessly from one to the other, and she at once accepted it. She understood perfectly that the French girl admired her; her face relaxed its frown; she nodded to the stranger with a sort of proud yielding, and then let herself be taken by the arm and led once more along the corridor.
Elise Delaunay unlocked her own door.
'Bien!' she said, putting her head in first, 'Merichat has earned her money. Now go in—go in!—and see if I don't give you some supper.'
She pushed them in, and shut the door behind them. They looked round them in amazement. Here was an atelier precisely corresponding in size and outlook to Dubois'. But to their tired eyes the change was one from squalor to fairyland. The room was not in fact luxurious at all. But there was a Persian rug or two on the polished floor; there was a wood fire burning on the hearth, and close to it there was a low sofa or divan covered with pieces of old stuffs, and flanked by a table whereon stood a little meal, a roll, some cut ham, part of a flat fruit tart from the patissier next door, a coffee pot, and a spirit kettle ready for lighting. There were two easels in the room; one was laden with sketches and photographs; the other carried a half-finished picture of a mosque interior in Oran—a rich splash of colour, making a centre for all the rest. Everywhere indeed, on the walls, on the floor, or standing on the chairs, were studies of Algeria, done with an ostentatiously bold and rapid hand. On the mantelpiece was a small reproduction in terra cotta of one of Dalou's early statues, a peasant woman in a long cloak straining her homely baby to her breast—true and passionate. Books lay about, and in a corner was a piano, open, with a confusion of tattered music upon it. And everywhere, as it seemed to Louie, were shoes!—the daintiest and most fantastic shoes imaginable—Turkish shoes, Pompadour shoes, old shoes and new shoes, shoes with heels and shoes without, shoes lined with fur, and shoes blown together, as one might think, out of cardboard and ribbons. The English girl's eyes fastened upon them at once.
'Ah, you tink my shoes pretty,' said the hostess, speaking a few words of English, 'c'est mon dada, voyez-vous—ma collection! —Tenez—I cannot say dat in English, Monsieur; explain to your sister. My shoes are my passion, next to my foot. I am not pretty, but my foot is ravishing. Dalou modelled it for his Siren. That turned my head. Sit down, Mademoiselle—we will find some plates.'
She pushed Louie into a corner of the divan, and then she went over to a cupboard standing against the wall, and beckoned to David.
'Take the plates—and this potted meat. Now for the petit vin my doctor cousin brought me last week from the family estate. I have stowed it away somewhere. Ah! here it is. We are from the Gironde—at least my mother was. My father was nobody—bourgeois from tip to toe, though he called himself an artist. It was a mesalliance for her when she married him. Oh, he led her a life!—she died when I was small, and last year he died, eleven months ago. I did my best to cry. Impossible! He had made Maman and me cry too much. And now I am perfectly alone in the world, and perfectly well-behaved. Monsieur Prudhomme may talk—I snap my finger at him. You will have your ideas, of course. No matter! If you eat my salt, you will hardly be able to speak ill of me.'
'Mademoiselle!' cried David, inwardly cursing his shyness—a shyness new to him—and his complete apparent lack of anything to say, or the means of saying it.
'Oh, don't protest!—after that journey you can't afford to waste your breath. Move a little, Monsieur—let me open the other door of the cupboard—there are some chocolates worth eating on that back shelf. Do you admire my armoire? It is old Breton—it belonged to my grandmother, who was from Morbihan. She brought her linen in it. It is cherry wood, you see, mounted in silver. You may search Paris for another like it. Look at that flower work on the panels. It is not banal at all—it has character—there is real design in it. Now take the chocolates, and these sardine—put them down over there. As for me, I make the coffee.'
She ran over to the spirit lamp, and set it going; she measured out the coffee; then sitting down on the floor, she took the bellows and blew up the logs.
'Tell me your name, Monsieur?' she said suddenly, looking round.
David gave it in full, his own name and Louie's. Then he walked up to her, making an effort to be at his ease, and said something about their French descent. His mode of speaking was slow and bookish—correct, but wanting in life. After this year's devotion to French books, after all his compositions with Barbier, he had supposed himself so familiar with French! With the woman from the loge, indeed, he could have talked at large, had she been conversational instead of rude. But here, with this little glancing creature, he felt himself plunged in a perfect quagmire of ignorance and stupidity. When he spoke of being half French, she became suddenly grave, and studied him with an intent piercing look. 'No,' she said slowly, 'no, at bottom you are not French a bit, you are all English, I feel it. I should fight you—a outrance! Grive—what a strange name! It's a bird's name. You are not like it—you do not belong to it. But David!—ah, that is better. Voyons!'
She sprang up, ran over to the furthest easel, and, routing about amongst its disorder of prints and photographs, she hit upon one, which she held up triumphantly.
'There, Monsieur!—there is your prototype. That is David—the young David—scourge of the Philistine. You are bigger and broader. I would rather fight him than you—but it is like you, all the same. Take it.'
And she held out to him a photograph of the Donatello David at Florence—the divine young hero in his shepherd's hat, fresh from the slaying of the oppressor.
He looked at it, red and wondering, then shook his head.
'What is it? Who made it, Mademoiselle?'
'Donatello—oh, I never saw it. I was never in Italy, but a friend gave it me. It is like you, I tell you. But, what use is that? You are English—yes, you are, in spite of your mother. It is very well to be called David—you may be Goliath all the time!'
Her tone had grown hard and dry—insulting almost. Her look sent him a challenge.
He stared at her dumbfounded. All the self-confidence with which he had hitherto governed his own world had deserted him. He was like a tongue-tied child in her hands.
She enjoyed her mastery, and his discomfiture. Her look changed and melted in an instant.
'I am rude,' she said, 'and you can't answer me back—not yet—for a day or two. Pardon! Monsieur David—Mademoiselle—will you come to supper?'
She put chairs and waved them to their places with the joyous animation of a child, waiting on them, fetching this and that, with the quickest, most graceful motions. She had brought from the armoire some fine white napkins, and now she produced a glass or two and made her guests provide themselves with the red wine which neither had ever tasted before, and over which Louie made an involuntary face. Then she began to chatter and to eat—both as fast as possible—now laughing at her own English or at David's French, and now laying down her knife and fork that she might look at Louie with an intent professional look which contrasted oddly with the wild freedom of her talk and movements.
Suddenly she took up a wineglass and held it out to David with a piteous childish gesture.
'Fill it, Monsieur, and then drink—drink to my good luck. I wish for something—with my life—my soul; but there are people who hate me, who would delight to see me crushed. And it will be three weeks—three long long weeks, almost—before I know.'
She was very pale, the tears had sprung to her eyes, and the hand holding the glass trembled. David flushed and frowned in the vain desire to understand her.
'What am I to do?' he said, taking the glass mechanically, but making no use of it.
'Drink!—drink to my success. I have two pictures, Monsieur, in the Salon; you know what that means? the same as your Academie? Parfaitement! ah! you understand. One is well hung, on the line; the other has been shamefully treated—but shamefully! And all the world knows why. I have some enemies on the jury, and they delight in a mean triumph over me—a triumph which is a scandal. But I have friends, too—good friends—and in three weeks the rewards will be voted. You understand? the medals, and the mentions honorables. As for a medal—no! I am only two years in the atelier; I am not unreasonable. But a mention! —ah! Monsieur David, if they don't give it me I shall be very miserable.'
Her voice had gone through a whole gamut of emotion in this speech—pride, elation, hope, anger, offended dignity—sinking finally to the plaintive note of a child asking for consolation.
And luckily David had followed her. His French novels had brought him across the Salon and the jury system; and Barbier had told him tales. His courage rose. He poured the wine into the glass with a quick, uncertain hand, and raised it to his lips.
'A la gloire de Mademoiselle!' he cried, tossing it down with a gesture almost as free and vivid as her own.
Her eye followed him with excitement, taking in every detail of the action—the masculine breadth of chest, the beauty of the dark head and short upper lip.
'Very good—very good!' she said, clapping her small hands. 'You did that admirably—you improve—n'est-ce pas, Mademoiselle?'
But Louie only stared blankly and somewhat haughtily in return. She was beginning to be tired of her silent role, and of the sort of subordination it implied. The French girl seemed to divine it, and her.
'She does not like me,' she said, with a kind of wonder under her breath, so that David did not catch the words. 'The other is quite different.'
Then, springing up, she searched in the pockets of her jacket for something—lips pursed, brows knitted, as though the quest were important.
'Where are my cigarettes?' she demanded sharply. 'Ah! here they are. Mademoiselle—Monsieur.'
Louie laughed rudely, pushing them back without a word. Then she got up, and began boldly to look about her. The shoes attracted her, and some Algerian scarves and burnouses that were lying on a distant chair. She went to turn them over.
Mademoiselle Delaunay looked after her for a moment—with the same critical attention as before—then with a shrug she threw herself into a corner of the divan, drawing about her a bit of old embroidered stuff which lay there. It was so flung, however, as to leave one dainty foot in an embroidered silk stocking visible beyond it. The tone of the stocking was repeated in the bunch of violets at her neck, and the purples of the flowers told with charming effect against her white skin and the pale fawn colour of her dress and hair. David watched her with intoxication. She could hardly be taller than most children of fourteen, but her proportions were so small and delicate that her height, whatever it was, seemed to him the perfect height for a woman. She handled her cigarette with mannish airs; unless it were some old harridan in a collier's cottage, he had never seen a woman smoke before, and certainly he had never guessed it could become her so well. Not pretty! He was in no mood to dissect the pale irregular face with its subtleties of line and expression; but, as she sat there smoking and chatting, she was to him the realisation—the climax of his dream of Paris. All the lightness and grace of that dream, the strangeness, the thrill of it seemed to have passed into her.
'Will you stay in those rooms?' she inquired, slowly blowing away the curls of smoke in front of her.
David replied that he could not yet decide. He looked as he felt—in a difficulty.
'Oh! you will do well enough there. But your sister—Tenez! There is a family on the floor below—an artist and his wife. I have known them take pensionnaires. They are not the most distinguished persons in the world—mais enfin!—it is not for long. Your sister might do worse than board with them.'
David thanked her eagerly. He would make all inquiries. He had in his pocket a note of introduction from Dubois to Madame Cervin, and another, he believed, to the gentleman on the ground floor—to M. Montjoie, the sculptor.
'Ah! M. Montjoie!'
Her brows went up, her grey eyes flashed. As for her tone it was half amused, half contemptuous. She began to speak, moved restlessly, then apparently thought better of it.
'After all,' she said, in a rapid undertone, 'qu'est-ce que cela me fait? Allons. Why did you come here at all, instead of to an hotel, for so short a time?'
He explained as well as he was able.
'You wanted to see something of French life, and French artists or writers?' she repeated slowly, 'and you come with introductions from Xavier Dubois! C'est drole, ca. Have you studied art?'
'No—except in books.'
It was her turn to laugh now.
'You are really too amusing! No, Monsieur, no; you interest me. I have the best will in the world towards you; but I cannot ask Consuelos and Teverinos to meet you. Pas possible. I regret—'
She fell into silence a moment, studying him with a merry look. Then she broke out again.
'Are you a connoisseur in pictures, Monsieur?'
He had reddened already under her persiflage. At this he grew redder still.
'I have never seen any, Mademoiselle,' he said, almost piteously; 'except once a little exhibition in Manchester.'
'No,' he said honestly; 'nor sculpture.'
It seemed to him he was being held under a microscope, so keen and pitiless were her laughing eyes. But she left him no time to resent it.
'So you are a blank page, Monsieur—virgin soil—and you confess it. You interest me extremely. I should even like to teach you a little. I am the most ignorant person in the world. I know nothing about artists in books. Mais je suis artiste, moi! fille d'artiste. I could tell you tales—'
She threw her graceful head back against the cushion behind her, and smiled again broadly, as though her sense of humour were irresistibly tickled by the situation.
Then a whim seized her, and she sat up, grave and eager.
'I have drawn since I was eight years old,' she said; 'would you like to hear about it? It is not romantic—not the least in the world—but it is true.'
And with what seemed to his foreign ear a marvellous swiftness and fertility of phrase, she poured out her story. After her mother died she had been sent at eight years old to board at a farm near Rouen by her father, who seemed to have regarded his daughter now as plaything and model, now as an intolerable drag on the freedom of a vicious career. And at the farm the child's gift declared itself. She began with copying the illustrations, the saints and holy families in a breviary belonging to one of the farm servants; she went on to draw the lambs, the carts, the horses, the farm buildings, on any piece of white wood she could find littered about the yard, or any bit of paper saved from a parcel, till at last the old cure took pity upon her and gave her some chalks and a drawing-book. At fourteen her father, for a caprice, reclaimed her, and she found herself alone with him in Paris. To judge from the hints she threw out, her life during thee next few years had been of the roughest and wildest, protected only by her indomitable resolve to learn, to make herself an artist, come what would. 'I meant to be famous, and I mean it still!' she said, with a passionate emphasis which made David open his eyes. Her father refused to believe in her gift, and was far too self-indulgent and brutal to teach her. But some of his artist friends were kind to her, and taught her intermittently; by the help of some of them she got permission, although under age, to copy in the Louvre, and with hardly any technical knowledge worked there feverishly from morning to night; and at last Taranne—the great Taranne, from whose atelier so many considerable artists had gone out to the conquest of the public—Taranne had seen some of her drawings, heard her story, and generously taken her as a pupil.
Then emulation took hold of her—the fierce desire to be first in all the competitions of the atelier. David had the greatest difficulty in following her rapid speech, with its slang, its technical idioms, its extravagance and variety; but he made out that she had been for a long time deficient in sound training, and that her rivals at the atelier had again and again beaten her easily in spite of her gift, because of her weakness in the grammar of her art.
'And whenever they beat me I could have killed my conquerors; and whenever I beat them, I despised my judges and wanted to give the prize away. It is not my fault. Je suis faite comme ca—voila! I am as vain as a peacock; yet when people admire anything I do, I think them fools—fools! I am jealous and proud and absurd—so they all say; yet a word, a look from a real artist—from one of the great men who know—can break me, make me cry. Demelez ca, Monsieur, si vous pouvez!'
She stopped, out of breath. Their eyes were on each other. The fascination, the absorption expressed in the Englishman's look startled her. She hurriedly turned away, took up her cigarette again, and nestled into the cushion. He vainly tried to clothe some of the quick comments running through his mind in adequate French, could find nothing but the most commonplace phrases, stammered out a few, and then blushed afresh. In her pity for him she took up her story again.
After her father's sudden death, the shelter, such as it was, of his name and companionship was withdrawn. What was she to do? It turned out that she possessed a small rente which had belonged to her mother, and which her father had never been able to squander. Two relations from her mother's country near Bordeaux turned up to claim her, a country doctor and his sister—middle-aged, devout—to her wild eyes at least, altogether forbidding.
'They made too much of their self-sacrifice in taking me to live with them,' she said with her little ringing laugh. 'I said to them—"My good uncle and aunt, it is too much—no one could have the right to lay such a burden upon you. Go home and forget me. I am incorrigible. I am an artist. I mean to live by myself, and work for myself. I am sure to go to the bad—good morning." They went home and told the rest of my mother's people that I was insane. But they could not keep my money from me. It is just enough for me. Besides, I shall be selling soon,—certainly I shall be selling! I have had two or three inquiries already about one of the exhibits in the Salon. Now then—talk, Monsieur David!' and she emphasised the words by a little frown; 'it is your turn.'
And gradually by skill and patience she made him talk, made him give her back some of her confidences. It seemed to amuse her greatly that he should be a bookseller. She knew no booksellers in Paris; she could assure him they were all pure bourgeois, and there was not one of them that could be likened to Donatello's David. Manchester she had scarcely heard of; she shook her fair head over it. But when he told her of his French reading, when he waxed eloquent about Rousseau and George Sand, then her mirth became uncontrollable.
'You came to France to talk of Rousseau and George Sand?' she asked him with dancing eyes—'Mon Dieu! mon Dieu! what do you take us for?'
This time his vanity was hurt. He asked her to tell him what she meant—why she laughed at him.
'I will do better than that,' she said; 'I will get some friend of mine to take you to-morrow to "Les Trois Rats."'
'What is "Les Trois Rats"?' he asked, half wounded and half mystified.
'"Les Trois Rats," Monsieur, is an artist's cafe. It is famous, it is characteristic; if you are in search of local colour you must certainly go there. When you come back you will have some fresh ideas, I promise you.'
He asked if ladies also went there.
'Some do; I don't. Conventions mean nothing to me, as you perceive, or I should have a companion here to play propriety. But like you, perhaps, I am Romantic. I believe in the grand style. I have ideas as to how men should treat me. I can read Octave Feuillet. I have a terrible weakness for those cavaliers of his. And garbage makes me ill. So I avoid the "Trois Rats."'
She fell silent, resting her little chin on her hand. Then with a sudden sly smile she bent forward and looked him in the eyes.
'Are you pious, Monsieur, like all the English? There is some religion left in your country, isn't there?'
'Yes, certainly,' he admitted, 'there was a good deal.'
Then, hesitating, he described his own early reading of Voltaire, watching its effect upon her, afraid lest here too he should say something fatuous, behind the time, as he seemed to have been doing all through.
'Voltaire!'—she shrugged her little shoulders—'Voltaire to me is just an old perruque—a prating philanthropical person who talked about le bon Dieu, and wrote just what every bourgeois can understand. If he had had his will and swept away the clergy and the Church, how many fine subjects we artists should have lost!'
He sat helplessly staring at her. She enjoyed his perplexity a minute; then she returned to the charge.
'Well, my credo is very short. Its first article is art—and its second is art—and its third is art!'
Her words excited her. The delicate colour flushed into her cheek. She flung her head back and looked straight before her with half-shut eyes.
'Yes—I believe in art—and expression—and colour—and le vrai. Velazquez is my God, and—and he has too many prophets to mention! I was devout once for three months—since then I have never had as much faith of the Church sort as would lie on a ten-sous piece. But'—with a sudden whimsical change of voice—'I am as credulous as a Breton fisherman, and as superstitious as a gipsy! Wait and see. Will you look at my pictures?'
She sprang up and showed her sketches. She had been a winter in Algiers, and had there and in Spain taken a passion for the East, for its colour, its mystery, its suggestions of cruelty and passion. She chattered away, explaining, laughing, haranguing, and David followed her submissively from thing to thing, dumb with the interest and curiosity of this new world and language of the artist.
Louie meanwhile, who, after the refreshment of supper, had been forgetting both her fatigue and the other two in the entertainment provided her by the shoes and the Oriental dresses, had now found a little inlaid coffer on a distant table, full of Algerian trinkets, and was examining them. Suddenly a loud crash was heard from her neighbourhood.
Elise Delaunay stood still. Her quick speech, died on her lips. She made one bound forward to Louie; then, with a cry, she turned deathly pale, tottered, and would have fallen, but that David ran to her.
'The glass is broken,' she said, or rather gasped; 'she has broken it—that old Venetian glass of Maman's. Oh! my pictures!—my pictures! How can I undo it? Je suis perdue! Oh go!—go! —go—both of you! Leave me alone! Why did I ever see you?'
She was beside herself with rage and terror. She laid hold of Louie, who stood in sullen awkwardness and dismay, and pushed her to the door so suddenly and so violently that the stronger, taller girl yielded without an attempt at resistance. Then holding the door open, she beckoned imperiously to David, while the tears streamed down her cheeks.
'Adieu, Monsieur—say nothing—there is nothing to be said—go!'
He went out bewildered, and the two in their amazement walked mechanically to their own door.
'She is mad!' said Louie, her eyes blazing, when they paused and looked at each other. 'She must be mad. What did she say?'
'What happened?' was all he could reply.
'I threw down that old glass—it wasn't my fault—I didn't see it. It was standing on the floor against a chair. I moved the chair back just a trifle, and it fell. A shabby old thing—I could have paid for another easily. Well, I'm not going there again to be treated like that.'
The girl was furious. All that chafed sense of exclusion and slighted importance which had grown upon her during David's tete-a-tete with their strange hostess came to violent expression in her resentment. She opened the door of their room, saying that whatever he might do she was going to bed and to sleep somewhere, if it was on the floor.
David made a melancholy light in the squalid room, and Louie went about her preparations in angry silence. When she had withdrawn into the little cupboard-room, saying carelessly that she supposed he could manage with one of the bags and his great coat, he sat down on the edge of the bare iron bedstead, and recognised with a start that he was quivering all over—with fatigue, or excitement? His chief feeling perhaps was one of utter discomfiture, flatness, and humiliation.
He had sat there in the dark without moving for some minutes, when his ear caught a low uncertain tapping at the door. His heart leapt. He sprang up and turned the key in an instant.
There on the landing stood Elise Delaunay, her arms filled with what looked like a black bearskin rug, her small tremulous face and tear-wet eyes raised to his.
'Pardon, Monsieur,' she said hurriedly. 'I told you I was superstitious—well, now you see. Will you take this rug?—one can sleep anywhere with it though it is so old. And has your sister what she wants? Can I do anything for her? No! Alors—I must talk to you about her in the morning. I have some more things in my head to say. Pardon!—et bonsoir. '
She pushed the rug into his hands. He was so moved that he let it drop on the floor unheeding, and as she looked at him, half audacious, half afraid, she saw a painful struggle, as of some strange new birth, pass across his dark young face. They stood so a moment, looking at each other. Then he made a quick step forward with some inarticulate words. In an instant she was halfway along the corridor, and, turning back so that her fair hair and smiling eyes caught the light she held, she said to him with the queenliest gesture of dismissal:
'Au revoir, Monsieur David, sleep well.'
David woke early from a restless sleep. He sprang up and dressed. Never had the May sun shone so brightly; never had life looked more alluring.
In the first place he took care to profit by the hints of the night before. He ran down to make friends with Madame Merichat—a process which was accomplished without much difficulty, as soon as a franc or two had passed, and arrangements had been made for the passing of a few more. She was to take charge of the appartement, and provide them with their morning coffee and bread. And upon this her grim countenance cleared. She condescended to spend a quarter of an hour gossiping with the Englishman, and she promised to stand as a buffer between him and Dubois' irate landlord.
'A job of work at Brussels, you say, Monsieur? Bien; I will tell the proprietaire. He won't believe it—Monsieur Dubois tells too many lies; but perhaps it will keep him quiet. He will think of the return—of the money in the pocket. He will bid me inform him the very moment Monsieur Dubois shows his nose, that he may descend upon him, and so you will be let alone.'
He mounted the stairs again, and stood a moment looking along the passage with a quickening pulse. There was a sound of low singing, as of one crooning over some occupation. It must be she! Then she had recovered her trouble of the night before—her strange trouble. Yet he dimly remembered that in the farm-houses of the Peak also the breaking of a looking-glass had been held to be unlucky. And, of course, in interpreting the omen she had thought of her pictures and the jury.
How could he see her again? Suddenly it occurred to him that she had spoken of taking a holiday since the Salon opened. A holiday which for her meant 'copying in the Louvre.' And where else, pray, does the tourist naturally go on the first morning of a visit to Paris?
The young fellow went back into his room with a radiant face, and spent some minutes, as Louie had not yet appeared, in elaborating his toilette. The small cracked glass above the mantelpiece was not flattering, and David was almost for the first time anxious about and attentive to what he saw there. Yet, on the whole, he was pleased with his short serge coat and his new tie. He thought they gave him something of a student air, and would not disgrace even her should she deign to be seen in his company. As he laid his brush down he looked at his own brown hand, and remembered hers with a kind of wonder—so small and white, the wrist so delicately rounded.
When Louie emerged she was not in a good temper. She declared that she had hardly slept a wink; that the bed was not fit to sleep on; that the cupboard was alive with mice, and smelt intolerably. David first endeavoured to appease her with the coffee and rolls which had just arrived, and then he broached the plan of sending her to board with the Cervins, which Mademoiselle Delaunay had suggested. What did she think? It would cost more, perhaps, but he could afford it. On their way out he would deliver the two notes of introduction, and no doubt they could settle it directly if she liked.
Louie yawned, put up objections, and refused to see anything in a promising light. Paris was horrid, and the man who had let them the rooms ought to be 'had up.' As for people who couldn't talk any English she hated the sight of them.
The remark from an Englishwoman in France had its humour. But David did not see that point of it. He flushed hotly, and with difficulty held an angry tongue. However, he was possessed with an inward dread—the dread of the idealist who sees his pleasure as a beautiful whole—lest they should so quarrel as to spoil the visit and the new experience. Under this curb he controlled himself, and presently, with more savoir vivre than he was conscious of, proposed that they should go out and see the shops.
Louie, at the mere mention of shops, passed into another mood. After she had spent some time on dressing they sallied forth, David delivering his notes on the way down. Both noticed that the house was squalid and ill-kept, but apparently full of inhabitants. David surmised that they were for the most part struggling persons of small means and extremely various occupations. There were three ateliers in the building, the two on their own top floor, and M. Montjoie's, which was apparently built out at the back on the ground floor. The first floor was occupied by a dressmaker, the proprietaires best tenant, according to Madame Merichat. Above her was a clerk in the Ministry of the Interior, with his wife and two or three children; above them again the Cervins, and a couple of commercial travellers, and so on.
The street outside, in its general aspect, suggested the same small, hard-pressed professional life. It was narrow and dull; it mounted abruptly towards the hill of Montmartre, with its fort and cemetery, and, but for the height of the houses, which is in itself a dignified architectural feature, would have been no more inspiriting than a street in London.
A few steps, however, brought them on to the Boulevard Montmartre, and then, taking the Rue Lafitte, they emerged upon the Boulevard des Italiens.
Louie looked round her, to this side and that, paused for a moment, bewildered as it were by the general movement and gaiety of the scene. Then a lingerie shop caught her eye, and she made for it. Soon the last cloud had cleared from the girl's brow. She gave herself with ecstasy to the shops, to the people. What jewellery, what dresses, what delicate cobwebs of lace and ribbon, what miracles of colour in the florists' windows, what suggestions of wealth and lavishness everywhere! Here in this world of costly contrivance, of an eager and inventive luxury, Louise Suveret's daughter felt herself at last at home. She had never set foot in it before; yet already it was familiar, and she was part of it.
Yes, she was as well dressed as anybody, she concluded, except perhaps the ladies in the closed carriages whose dress could only be guessed at. As for good looks, there did not seem to be much of them in Paris. She called the Frenchwomen downright plain. They knew how to put on their clothes; there was style about them, she did not deny that; but she was prepared to maintain that there was hardly a decent face among them.
Such air, and such a sky! The trees were rushing into leaf; summer dresses were to be seen everywhere; the shops had swung out their awnings, and the day promised a summer heat still tempered by a fresh spring breeze. For a time David was content to lounge along, stopping when his companion did, lost as she was in the enchantment and novelty of the scene, drinking in Paris as it were at great gulps, saying to himself they would be at the Opera directly, then the Theatre-Francais, the Louvre, the Tuileries, the Place de la Concorde! Every book that had ever passed through his hands containing illustrations and descriptions of Paris he had read with avidity. He, too, like Louie, though in a different way, was at home in these streets, and hardly needed a look at the map he carried to find his way. Presently, when he could escape from Louie, he would go and explore to his heart's content, see all that the tourist sees, and then penetrate further, and judge for himself as to those sweeping and iconoclastic changes which, for its own tyrant's purposes, the Empire had been making in the older city. As he thought of the Emperor and the government his gorge rose within him. Barbier's talk had insensibly determined all his ideas of the imperial regime. How much longer would France suffer the villainous gang who ruled her? He began an inward declamation in the manner of Hugo, exciting himself as he walked—while all the time it was the spring of 1870 which was swelling and expanding in the veins and branches of the plane trees above him—May was hurrying on, and Worth lay three short months ahead!
Then suddenly into the midst of his political musings and his traveller's ardour the mind thrust forward a disturbing image—the figure of a little fair-haired artist. He looked round impatiently. Louie's loiterings began to chafe him.
'Come along, do,' he called to her, waking up to the time; 'we shall never get there.'
'Where?' she demanded.
'Why, to the Louvre.'
'What's there to see there?'
'It's a great palace. The Kings of France used to live there once. Now they've put pictures and statues into it. You must see it, Louie—everybody does. Come along.'
'I'll not hurry,' she said perversely.' I don't care that about silly old pictures.'
And she went back to her shop-gazing. David felt for a moment precisely as he had been used to feel in the old days on the Scout, when he had tried to civilise her on the question of books. And now as then he had to wrestle with her, using the kind of arguments he felt might have a chance with her. At last she sulkily gave way, and let him lead on at a quick pace. In the Rue Saint-Honore, indeed, she was once more almost unmanageable; but at last they were safely on the stairs of the Louvre, and David's brow smoothed, his eye shone again. He mounted the interminable steps with such gaiety and eagerness that Louie's attention was drawn to him.
'Whatever do you go that pace for?' she said crossly. 'It's enough to kill anybody going up this kind of thing!'
'It isn't as bad as the Downfall,' said David, laughing, 'and I've seen you get up that fast enough. Come, catch hold of my umbrella and I'll drag you up.'
Louie reached the top, out of breath, turned into the first room to the right, and looked scornfully round her.
'Well I never!' she ejaculated. 'What's the good of this?'
Meanwhile David shot on ahead, beckoning to her to follow. She, however, would take her own pace, and walked sulkily along, looking at the people who were not numerous enough to please her, and only regaining a certain degree of serenity when she perceived that here as elsewhere people turned to stare after her.
David meanwhile threw wondering glances at the great Veronese, at Raphael's archangel, at the towering Vandyke, at the 'Virgin of the Rocks.' But he passed them by quickly. Was she here? Could he find her in this wilderness of rooms? His spirits wavered between delicious expectancy and the fear of disappointment. The gallery seemed to him full of copyists young and old: beardless rapins laughing and chatting with fresh maidens; old men sitting crouched on high seats with vast canvases before them; or women, middle-aged and plain, with knitted shawls round their shoulders, at work upon the radiant Greuzes and Lancrets; but that pale golden head—nowhere!
He hurried forward, and there, in front of a Velazquez, he found her, in the company of two young men, who were leaning over the back of her chair criticising the picture on her easel.
'Ah, Monsieur David!'
She took up the brush she held with her teeth for a moment, and carelessly held him out two fingers of her right hand.
'Monsieur—make a diversion—tell the truth—these gentlemen here have been making a fool of me.'
And throwing herself back with a little laughing, coquettish gesture, she made room for him to look.
'Ah, but I forgot; let me present you. M. Alphonse, this is an Englishman; he is new to Paris, and he is an acquaintance of mine. You are not to play any joke upon him. M. Lenain, this gentleman wishes to be made acquainted with art; you will undertake his education—you will take him to-night to "Les Trois Rats." I promised for you.'
She threw a merry look at the elder of her two attendants, who ceremoniously took off his hat to David and made a polite speech, in which the word enchante recurred. He was a dark man, with a short black beard, and full restless eye; some ten years older apparently than the other, who was a dare-devil boy of twenty.
'Allons! tell me what you think of my picture, M. David.'
The three waited for the answer, not without malice. David looked at it perplexed. It was a copy of the black and white Infanta, with the pink rosettes, which, like everything else that France possesses from the hand of Velazquez, is to the French artist of to-day among the sacred things, the flags and battle-cries of his art. Its strangeness, its unlikeness to anything of the picture kind that his untrained provincial eyes had ever lit upon, tied his tongue. Yet he struggled with himself.
'Mademoiselle, I cannot explain—I cannot find the words. It seems to me ugly. The child is not pretty nor the dress. But—'
He stared at the picture, fascinated—unable to express himself, and blushing under the shame of his incapacity.
The other three watched him curiously.
'Taranne should get hold of him,' the elder artist murmured to his companion, with an imperceptible nod towards the Englishman. 'The models lately have been too common. There was a rebellion yesterday in the atelier de femmes; one and all declared the model was not worth drawing, and one and all left.'
'Minxes!' said the other coolly, a twinkle in his wild eye. 'Taranne will have to put his foot down. There are one or two demons among them; one should make them know their place.'
Lenain threw back his head and laughed—a great, frank laugh, which broke up the ordinary discontent of the face agreeably. The speaker, M. Alphonse Duchatel, had been already turned out of two ateliers for a series of the most atrocious charges on record. He was now with Taranne, on trial, the authorities keeping a vigilant eye on him.
Meanwhile Elise, still leaning back with her eyes on her picture, was talking fast to David, who hung over her, absorbed. She was explaining to him some of the Infanta's qualities, pointing to this and that with her brush, talking a bright, untranslatable artist's language which dazzled him, filled him with an exciting medley of new impressions and ideas, while all the time his quick sense responded with a delightful warmth and eagerness to the personality beside him—child, prophetess, egotist, all in one—noticing each characteristic detail, the drooping, melancholy trick of the eyes, the nervous delicacy of the small hand holding the brush.
'David—David! I'm tired of this, I tell you! I'm not going to stay, so I thought I'd come and tell you. Good-bye!'
He turned abruptly, and saw Louie standing defiantly a few paces behind him.
'What do you want, Louie?' he said impatiently, going up to her. It was no longer the same man, the same voice.
'I want to go. I hate this!'
'I'm not ready, and you can't go by yourself. Do you see'—(in an undertone)—'this is Mademoiselle Delaunay?'
'That don't matter,' she said sulkily, making no movement. 'If you ain't going, I am.'
By this time, however, Elise, as well as the two artists, had perceived Louie's advent. She got up from her seat with a slight sarcastic smile, and held out her hand.
'Bonjour, Mademoiselle! You forgave me for dat I did last night? I ask your pardon—oh, de tout mon coeur!'
Even Louie perceived that the tone was enigmatical. She gave an inward gulp of envy, however, excited by the cut of the French girl's black and white cotton. Then she dropped Elise's hand, and moved away.
'Louie!' cried David, pursuing her in despair; 'now just wait half an hour, there's a good girl, while I look at a few things, and then afterwards I'll take you to the street where all the best shops are, and you can look at them as much as you like.'
Louie stood irresolute.
'What is it?' said Elise to him in French. 'Your sister wants to go? Why, you have only just come!'
'She finds it dull looking at pictures,' said David, with an angry brow, controlling himself with difficulty. 'She must have the shops.'
Elise shrugged her shoulders and, turning her head, said a few quick words that David did not follow to the two men behind her. They all laughed. The artists, however, were both much absorbed in Louie's appearance, and could not apparently take their eyes off her.
'Ah!' said Elise, suddenly.
She had recognised some one at a distance, to whom she nodded. Then she turned and looked at the English girl, laughed, and caught her by the wrist.
'Monsieur David, here are Monsieur and Madame Oervin. Have you thought of sending your sister to them? If so, I will present you. Why not? They would amuse her. Madame Cervin would take her to all the shops, to the races, to the Bois. Que sais-je?
All the while she was looking from one to the other. David's face cleared. He thought he saw a way out of this impasse.
'Louie, come here a moment. I want to speak to you.'
And he carried her off a few yards, while the Cervins came up and greeted the group round the Infanta. A powerfully built, thickset man, in a grey suit, who had been walking with them, fell back as they joined Elise Delaunay, and began to examine a Pieter de Hooghe with minuteness.
Meanwhile David wrestled with his sister. She had much better let Mademoiselle Delaunay arrange with these people Then Madame Cervin could take her about wherever she wanted to go. He would make a bargain to that effect. As for him, he must and would see Paris—pictures, churches, public buildings. If the Louvre bored her, everything would bore her, and it was impossible either that he should spend his time at her apron-string, flattening his nose against the shop-windows, or that she should go about alone. He was not going to have her taken for 'a bad lot,' and treated accordingly, he told her frankly, with an imperious tightening of all his young frame. He had discovered some time since that it was necessary to be plain with Louie.
She hated to be disposed of on any occasion, except by her own will and initiative, and she still made difficulties for the sake of making them, till he grew desperate. Then, when she had pushed his patience to the very last point, she gave way.
'You tell her she's to do as I want her,' she said, threateningly. 'I won't stay if she doesn't. And I'll not have her paid too much.'
David led her back to the rest.
'My sister consents. Arrange it if you can, Mademoiselle,' he said imploringly to Elise.
A series of quick and somewhat noisy colloquies followed, watched with disapproval by the gardien near, who seemed to be once or twice on the point of interfering.
Mademoiselle Delaunay opened the matter to Madame Cervin, a short, stout woman, with no neck, and a keen, small eye. Money was her daily and hourly preoccupation, and she could have kissed the hem of Elise Delaunay's dress in gratitude for these few francs thus placed in her way. It was some time now since she had lost her last boarder, and had not been able to obtain another. She took David aside, and, while her look sparkled with covetousness, explained to him volubly all that she would do for Louie, and for how much. And she could talk some English too—certainly she could. Her education had been excellent, she was thankful to say.
'Mon Dieu, qu'elle est belle!' she wound up. 'Ah, Monsieur, you do very right to entrust your sister to me. A young fellow like you—no!—that is not convenable. But I—I will be a dragon. Make your mind quite easy. With me all will go well.'
Louie stood in an impatient silence while she was being thus talked over, exchanging looks from time to time with the two artists, who had retired a little behind Mademoiselle Delaunay's easel, and from that distance were perfectly competent to let the bold-eyed English girl know what they thought of her charms.
At last the bargain was concluded, and the Cervins walked away with Louie in charge. They were to take her to a restaurant, then show her the Rue Royale and the Rue de la Paix, and, finally—David making no demur whatever about the expense—there was to be an afternoon excursion through the Bois to Longchamps, where some of the May races were being run.
As they receded, the man in grey, before the Pieter de Hooghe, looked up, smiled, dropped his eyeglass, and resumed his place beside Madame Cervin. She made a gesture of introduction, and he bowed across her to the young stranger.
For the first time Elise perceived him. A look of annoyance and disgust crossed her face.
'Do you see,' she said, turning to Lenain; 'there is that animal, Montjoie? He did well to keep his distance. What do the Cervins want with him?'
The others shrugged their shoulders.
'They say his Maenad would be magnificent if he could keep sober enough to finish her,' said Lenain; 'it is his last chance; he will go under altogether if he fails; he is almost done for already.'
'And what a gift!' said Alphonse, in a lofty tone of critical regret. 'He should have been a second Barye. Ah, la vie Parisienne—la maudite vie Parisienne!'
Again Lenain exploded.
'Come and lunch, you idiot,' he said, taking the lad's arm; 'for whom are you posing?'
But before they departed, they inquired of David in the politest way what they could do for him. He was a stranger to Mollie. Delaunay's acquaintance; they were at his service. Should they take him somewhere at night? David, in an effusion of gratitude, suggested 'Les Trois Rats.' He desired greatly to see the artist world, he said. Alphonse grinned. An appointment was made for eight o'clock, and the two friends walked off.
David and Elise Delaunay thus found themselves left alone. She stood a moment irresolutely before her canvas, then sat down again, and took up her brushes.
'I cannot thank you enough, Mademoiselle,' the young fellow began shyly, while the hand which held his stick trembled a little. 'We could never have arranged that affair for ourselves.'
She coloured and bent over her canvas.
'I don't know why I troubled myself,' she said, in a curious irritable way.' Because you are kind!' he cried, his charming smile breaking. 'Because you took pity on a pair of strangers, like the guardian angel that you are!'
The effect of the foreign language on him leading him to a more set and literary form of expression than he would have naturally used, was clearly marked in the little outburst.
Elise bit her lip, frowned and fidgeted, and presently looked him straight in the face.
'Monsieur David, warn your sister that that man with the Cervins this morning—the man in grey, the sculptor, M. Montjoie—is a disreputable scoundrel that no decent woman should know.'
David was taken aback.
'And Madame Cervin—'
Elise raised her shoulders.
'I don't offer a solution,' she said; 'but I have warned you.'
'Monsieur Cervin has a somewhat strange appearance,' said David, hesitating.
And, in fact, while the negotiations had been going on there had stood beside the talkers a shabby, slouching figure of a man, with longish grizzled hair and a sleepy eye—a strange, remote creature, who seemed to take very little notice of what was passing before him. From various indications, however, in the conversation, David had gathered that this looker-on must be the former prix de Rome.
Elise explained that Monsieur Carvin was the wreck of a genius. In his youth he had been the chosen pupil of Ingres and Hippolyte Flandrin, had won the prix de Rome, and after his three years in the Villa Medicis had come home to take up what was expected to be a brilliant career. Then for some mysterious reason he had suddenly gone under, disappeared from sight, and the waves of Paris had closed over him. When he reappeared he was broken in health, and married to a retired modiste, upon whose money he was living. He painted bad pictures intermittently, but spent most of his time in hanging about his old haunts—the Louvre, the Salon, the various exhibitions, and the dealers, where he was commonly regarded by the younger artists who were on speaking terms with him as a tragic old bore, with a head of his own worth painting, however if he could be got to sit—for an augur or a chief priest.
'It was absinthe that did it,' said Elise calmly, taking a fresh charge into her brush, and working away at the black trimmings of the Infanta's dress. 'Every day, about four, he disappears into the Boulevard. Generally, Madame Cervin drives him like a sheep; but when four o'clock comes she daren't interfere with him. If she did, he would be unmanageable altogether. So he takes his two hours or so, and when he comes back there is not much amiss with him. Sometimes he is excited, and talks quite brilliantly about the past—sometimes he is nervous and depressed, starts at a sound, and storms about the noises in the street. Then she hurries him off to bed, and the next morning he is quite meek again, and tries to paint. But his hand shakes, and he can't see. So he gives it up, and calls to her to put on her things. Then they wander about Paris, till four o'clock comes round again, and he gives her the slip—always with some elaborate pretence of other. Oh! she takes it quietly. Other vices might give her more trouble.'
The tone conveyed the affectation of a complete knowledge of the world, which saw no reason whatever to be ashamed of itself. The girl was just twenty, but she had lived for years, first with a disreputable father, and then in a perpetual camaraderie, within the field of art, with men of all sorts and kinds. There are certain feminine blooms which a milieu like this effaces with deadly rapidity.
For the first time David was jarred. The idealist in him recoiled. His conscience, too, was roused about Louie. He had handed her over, it seemed, to the custody of a drunkard and his wife, who had immediately thrown her into the company of a man no decent woman ought to know. And Mademoiselle Delaunay had led him into it. The guardian angel speech of a few moments before rang in his ears uncomfortably.
Moreover, whatever rebellions his young imagination might harbour, whatever license in his eyes the great passions might claim, he had maintained for months and years past a practical asceticism, which had left its mark. The young man who had starved so gaily on sixpence a day that he might read and learn, had nothing but impatience and disgust for the glutton and the drunkard. It was a kind of physical repulsion. And the woman's light indulgent tone seemed for a moment to divide them.
Elise looked round. Why this silence in her companion?
In an instant she divined him. Perhaps her own conscience was not easy. Why had she meddled in the young Englishman's affairs at all? For a whim? Out of a mere good-natured wish to rid him of his troublesome sister; or because his handsome looks, his naivete, and his eager admiration of herself amused and excited her, and she did not care to be baulked of them so soon? At any rate, she found refuge in an outburst of temper.
'Ah!' she said, after a moment's pause and scrutiny. 'I see! You think I might have done better for your sister than send her to lodge with a drunkard—that I need not have taken so much trouble to give you good advice for that! You repent your little remarks about guardian angels! You are disappointed in me!—you distrust me!'
She turned back to her easel and began to paint with headlong speed, the small hand flashing to and fro, the quick breath rising and falling tempestuously.
He was dismayed—afraid, and he began to make excuses both for himself and her. It would be all right; he should be close by, and if there were trouble he could take his sister away.
She let her brushes fall into her lap with an exclamation.
'Listen!' she said to him, her eyes blazing_—why, he could not for the life of him understand. 'There will be no trouble. What I told you means nothing open—or disgusting. Your sister will notice nothing unless you tell her. But I was candid with you—I always am. I told you last night that I had no scruples. You thought it was a woman's exaggeration; it was the literal truth! If a man drinks, or is vicious, so long as he doesn't hurl the furniture at my head, or behave himself offensively to me, what does it matter to me! If he drinks so that he can't paint, and he wants to paint, well!—then he seems to me another instance of the charming way in which a kind Providence has arranged this world. I am sorry for him, _tout bonnement_! If I could give the poor devil a hand out of the mud, I would; if not, well, then, no sermons! I take him as I find him; if he annoys me, I call in the police. But as to hiding my face and canting, not at all! That is your English way—it is the way of our _bourgeoisie._ It is not mine. I don't belong to the respectables—I would sooner kill myself a dozen times over. I can't breathe in their company. I know how to protect myself; none of the men I meet dare to insult me; that is my idiosyncrasy—everyone has his own. But I have my ideas, and nobody else matters a fig to me.—So now, Monsieur, if you regret our forced introduction of last night, let me wish you a good morning. It will be perfectly easy for your sister to find some excuse to leave the Cervins. I can give you the addresses of several cheap hotels where you and she will be extremely comfortable, and where neither I nor Monsieur Cervin will annoy you!'
David stared at her. He had grown very pale. She, too, was white to the lips. The violence and passion of her speech had exhausted her; her hands trembled in her lap. A wave of emotion swept through him. Her words were insolently bitter. Why, then, this impression of something wounded and young and struggling—at war with itself and the world, proclaiming loneliness and Sehnsucht, while it flung anger and reproach?
He dropped on one knee, hardly knowing what he did. Most of the students about had left their work for a while; no one was in sight but a gardien, whose back was turned to them, and a young man in the remote distance. He picked up a brush she had let fall, pressed it into her reluctant hand, and laid his forehead against the hand for an instant.
'You misunderstand me,' he said, with a broken, breathless utterance. 'You are quite wrong—quite mistaken. There are not such thoughts in me as you think. The world matters nothing to me, either. I am alone, too; I have always been alone. You meant everything that was heavenly and kind—you must have meant it. I am a stupid idiot! But I could be your friend—if you would permit it.'
He spoke with an extraordinary timidity and slowness. He forgot all his scruples, all pride—everything. As he knelt there, so close to her delicate slimness, to the curls on her white neck, to the quivering lips and great, defiant eyes, she seemed to him once more a being of another clay from himself—beyond any criticism his audacity could form. He dared hardly touch her, and in his heart there swelled the first irrevocable wave of young passion. She raised her hand impetuously and began to paint again. But suddenly a tear dropped on to her knee. She brushed it away, and her wild smile broke.
'Bah!' she said, 'what a scene, what a pair of children! What was it all about? I vow I haven't an idea. You are an excellent farceur. Monsieur David! One can see well that you have read George Sand.'
He sat down on a little three-legged stool she had brought with her, and held her box open on his knee. In a minute or two they were talking as though nothing had happened. She was giving him a fresh lecture on Velazquez, and he had resumed his role of pupil and listener. But their eyes avoided each other, and once when, in taking a tube from the box he held, her fingers brushed against his hand, she flushed involuntarily and moved her chair a foot further away.
'Who is that?' she asked, suddenly looking round the corner of her canvas. 'Mon Dieu! M. Regnault! How does he come here? They told me he was at Granada.'
She sat transfixed, a joyous excitement illuminating every feature. And there, a few yards from them, examining the Rembrandt 'Supper at Emmaus' with a minute and absorbed attention, was the young man he had noticed in the distance a few minutes before. As Elise spoke, the new-comer apparently heard his name, and turned. He put up his eyeglass, smiled, and took off his hat.
'Mademoiselle Delaunay! I find you where I left you, at the feet of the master! Always at work! You are indefatigable. Taranne tells me great things of you. "Ah," he says, "if the men would work like the women!" I assure you, he makes us smart for it. May I look? Good—very good! a great improvement on last year—stronger, more knowledge in it. That hand wants study—but you will soon put it right. Ah, Velazquez! That a man should be great, one can bear that, but so great! It is an offence to the rest of us mortals. But one cannot realise him out of Madrid. I often sigh for the months I spent copying in the Museo. There is a repose of soul in copying a great master—don't you find it? One rests from one's own efforts awhile—the spirit of the master descends into yours, gently, profoundly.'
He stood beside her, smiling kindly, his hat and gloves in his hands, perfectly dressed, an air of the great world about his look and bearing which differentiated him wholly from all other persons whom David had yet seen in Paris. In physique, too, he was totally unlike the ordinary Parisian type. He was a young athlete, vigorous, robust, broad-shouldered, tanned by sun and wind. Only his blue eye—so subtle, melancholy, passionate—revealed the artist and the thinker.
Elise was evidently transported by his notice of her. She talked to him eagerly of his pictures in the Salon, especially of a certain 'Salome,' which, as David presently gathered, was the sensation of the year. She raved about the qualities of it—the words colour, poignancy, force recurring in the quick phrases.
'No one talks of your success now, Monsieur. It is another word. C'est la gloire elle-meme qui vous parle a l'oreille!'
As she let fall the most characteristic of all French nouns, a slight tremor passed across the young man's face. But the look which succeeded it was one of melancholy; the blue eyes took a steely hardness.
'Perhaps a lying spirit, Mademoiselle. And what matter, so long as everything one does disappoints oneself? What a tyrant is art! —insatiable, adorable! You know it. We serve our king on our knees, and he deals us the most miserly gifts.'
'It is the service itself repays,' she said, eagerly, her chest heaving.
'True!—most true! But what a struggle always!—no rest—no content. And there is no other way. One must seek, grope, toil—then produce rapidly—in a flash—throw what you have done behind you—and so on to the next problem, and the next. There is no end to it—there never can be. But you hardly came here this morning, I imagine, Mademoiselle, to hear me prate! I wish you good day and good-bye. I came over for a look at the Salon, but to-morrow I go back to Spain. I can't breathe now for long away from my sun and my South! Adieu, Mademoiselle. I am told your prospects, when the voting comes on, are excellent. May the gods inspire the jury!'
He bowed, smiled, and passed on, carrying his lion-head and kingly presence down the gallery, which had now filled up again, and where, so David noticed, person after person turned as he came near with the same flash of recognition and pleasure he had seen upon Elise's face. A wild jealousy of the young conqueror invaded the English lad.
'Who is he?' he asked.
Elise, womanlike, divined him in a moment. She gave him a sidelong glance and went back to her painting.
'That,' she said quietly, 'is Henri Regnault. Ah, you know nothing of our painters. I can't make you understand. For me he is a young god—there is a halo round his head. He has grasped his fame—the fame we poor creatures are all thirsting for. It began last year with the Prim—General Prim on horseback—oh, magnificent!—a passion!—an energy! This year it is the "Salome." About— Gautier—all the world—have lost their heads over it. If you go to see it at the Salon, you will have to wait your turn. Crowds go every day for nothing else. Of course there are murmurs. They say the study of Fortuny has done him harm. Nonsense! People discuss him because he is becoming a master—no one discusses the nonentities. They have no enemies. Then he is sculptor, musician, athlete—well-born besides—all the world is his friend. But with it all so simple—bon camarade even for poor scrawlers like me. Je l'adore!'
'So it seems,' said David.
The girl smiled over her painting. But after a bit she looked up with a seriousness, nay, a bitterness, in her siren's face, which astonished him.
'It is not amusing to take you in—you are too ignorant. What do you suppose Henri Regnault matters to me? His world is as far above mine as Velazquez' art is above my art. But how can a foreigner understand our shades and grades? Nothing but success, but la gloire, could ever lift me into his world. Then indeed I should be everybody's equal, and it would matter to nobody that I had been a Bohemian and a declassee.
She gave a little sigh of excitement, and threw her head back to look at her picture, David watched her.
'I thought,' he said ironically, 'that a few minutes ago you were all for Bohemia. I did not suspect these social ambitions.'
'All women have them—all artists deny them,' she said, recklessly. 'There, explain me as you like, Monsieur David. But don't read my riddle too soon, or I shall bore you. Allow me to ask you a question.'
She laid down her brushes and looked at him with the utmost gravity. His heart beat—he bent forward.
'Are you ever hungry, Monsieur David?'
He sprang up, half enraged, half ashamed.
'Where can we get some food?'
'That is my affair,' she said, putting up her brushes. 'Be humble, Monsieur, and take a lesson in Paris.'
And out they went together, he beside himself with the delight of accompanying her, and proudly carrying her box and satchel. How her little feet slipped in and out of her pretty dress—how, as they stood on the top of the great flight of stairs leading down into the court of the Louvre, the wind from outside blew back the curls from her brow, and ruffled the violets in her hat, the black lace about her tiny throat. It was an enchantment to follow and to serve her. She led him through the Tuileries Gardens and the Place de la Concorde to the Champs-Elysees. The fountains leapt in the sun; the river blazed between the great white buildings of its banks; to the left was the gilded dome of the Invalides, and the mass of the Corps Legislatif, while in front of them rose the long ascent to the Arc de l'Etoile set in vivid green on either hand. Everywhere was space, glitter, magnificence. The gaiety of Paris entered into the Englishman, and took possession.
Presently, as they wandered up the Champs-Elysees, they passed a great building to the left. Elise stopped and clasped her hands in front of her with a little nervous, spasmodic gesture.
'That,' she said, 'is the Salon. My fate lies there. When we have had some food, I will take you in to see.'
She led him a little further up the Avenue, then took him aside through cunningly devised labyrinths of green till they came upon a little cafe restaurant among the trees, where people sat under an awning, and the wind drove the spray of a little fountain hither and thither among the bushes. It was gay, foreign, romantic, unlike anything David had ever seen in his northern world. He sat down, with Barbier's stories running in his head. Mademoiselle Delaunay was George Sand—independent, gifted, on the road to fame like that great declassee of old; and he was her friend and comrade, a humble soldier, a camp follower, in the great army of letters.
Their meal was of the lightest. This descent on the Champs—Elysees had been a freak on Elise's part, who wished to do nothing so banal as take her companion to the Palais Royal. But the restaurant she had chosen, though of a much humbler kind than those which the rich tourist commonly associates with this part of Paris, was still a good deal more expensive than she had rashly supposed. She opened her eyes gravely at the charges; abused herself extravagantly for a lack of savoir vivre; and both with one accord declared it was too hot to eat. But upon such eggs and such green peas as they did allow themselves—a portion of each, scrupulously shared—David at any rate, in his traveller's ardour, was prepared to live to the end of the chapter.
Afterwards, over the coffee and the cigarettes, Elise taking her part in both, they lingered for one of those hours which make the glamour of youth. Confidences flowed fast between them. His French grew suppler and more docile, answered more truly to the individuality behind it. He told her of his bringing up, of his wandering with the sheep on the mountains, of his reading among the heather, of 'Lias and his visions, of Hannah's cruelties and Louie's tempers—that same idyll of peasant life to which Dora had listened months before. But how differently told! Each different listener changes the tale, readjusts the tone. But here also the tale pleased. Elise, for all her leanings towards new schools in art, had the Romantic's imagination and the Romantic's relish for things foreign and unaccustomed. The English boy and his story seemed to her both charming and original. Her artist's eye followed the lines of the ruffled black head and noted the red-brown of the skin. She felt a wish to draw him—a wish which had entirely vanished in the case of Louie.
'Your sister has taken a dislike to me,' she said to him once, coolly. 'And as for me, I am afraid of her. Ah! and she broke my glass!'
She shivered, and a look of anxiety and depression invaded her small face. He guessed that she was thinking of her pictures, and began timidly to speak to her about them. When they returned to the world of art, his fluency left him; he felt crushed beneath the weight of his own ignorance and her accomplishment.
'Come and see them!' she said, springing up. 'I am tired of my Infanta. Let her be awhile. Come to the Salon, and I will show you "Salome." Or are you sick of pictures? What do you want to see? Ca m'est egal. I can always go back to my work.'
She spoke with a cavalier lightness which teased and piqued him.
'I wish to go where you go,' he said flushing, 'to see what you see.'
She shook her little head.
'No compliments, Monsieur David. We are serious persons, you and I. Well, then, for a couple of hours, soyons camarades!'
Of those hours, which prolonged themselves indefinitely, David's after remembrance was somewhat crowded and indistinct. He could never indeed think of Regnault's picture without a shudder, so poignant was the impression it made upon him under the stimulus of Elise's nervous and passionate comments. It represented the daughter of Herodias resting after the dance, with the dish upon her knee which was to receive the head of the saint. Her mass of black hair—the first strong impression of the picture—stood out against the pale background, and framed the smiling sensual face, broadly and powerfully made, like the rest of the body, and knowing neither thought nor qualm. The colour was a bewilderment of scarlets and purples, of yellow and rose-colour, of turtle-greys and dazzling flesh-tints—bathed the whole of it in the searching light of the East. The strangeness, the science of it, its extraordinary brilliance and energy, combined with its total lack of all emotion, all pity, took indelible hold of the English lad's untrained provincial sense. He dreamt of it for nights afterwards.
For the rest—what whirl and confusion! He followed Elise through suffocating rooms, filled with the liveliest crowd he had ever seen. She was constantly greeted, surrounded, carried off to look at this and that. Her friends and acquaintances, indeed, whether men or women, seemed all to treat her in much the same way. There was complete, and often noisy, freedom of address and discussion between them. She called all the men by their surnames, and she was on half mocking, half caressing terms with the women, who seemed to David to be generally art students, of all ages and aspects. But nobody took any liberties with her. She had her place, and that one of some predominance. Clearly she had already the privileges of an eccentric, and a certain cool ascendency of temperament. Her little figure fluttered hither and thither, gathering a train, then shaking it off again. Sometimes and her friends, finding the heat intolerable, and wanting space for talk, would overflow into the great central hall, with its cool palms and statues; and there David would listen to torrents of French artistic theory, anecdote, and blague, till his head whirled, and French cleverness—conveyed to him in what, to the foreigner, is the most exquisite and the most tantalising of all tongues—seemed to him superhuman.
As to what he saw, after 'Salome,' he remembered vividly only three pictures—Elise Delaunay's two—a portrait and a workshop interior—before which he stood, lost in naive wonder at her talent; and the head of a woman, with a thin pale face, reddish-brown hair, and a look of pantherish grace and force, which he was told was the portrait of an actress at the Odeon who was making the world stare—Mademoiselle Bernhardt. For the rest he had the vague, distracting impression of a new world—of nude horrors and barbarities of all sorts—of things licentious or cruel, which yet, apparently, were all of as much value in the artist's eye, and to be discussed with as much calm or eagerness, as their neighbours. One moment he loathed what he saw, and threw himself upon his companion, with the half-coherent protests of an English idealism, of which she scarcely understood a word; the next he lost himself in some landscape which had torn the very heart out of an exquisite mood of nature, or in some scene of peasant life—so true and living that the scents of the fields and the cries of the animals were once more about him, and he lived his childhood over again.
Perhaps the main idea which the experience left with him was one of a goading and intoxicating freedom. His country lay in the background of his mind as the symbol of all dull convention and respectability. He was in the land of intelligence, where nothing is prejudged, and all experiments are open.
When they came out, it was to get an ice in the shade, and then to wander to and fro, watching the passers-by—the young men playing a strange game with disks under the trees—the nurses and children—the ladies in the carriages—and talking, with a quick, perpetual advance towards intimacy, towards emotion. More and more there grew upon her the charm of a certain rich poetic intelligence there was in him, stirring beneath his rawness and ignorance, struggling through the fetters of language; and in response, as the evening wore on, she threw off her professional airs, and sank the egotist out of sight. She became simpler, more childish; her variable, fanciful youth answered to the magnetism of his.
At last he said to her, as they stood by the Arc de l'Etoile, looking down towards Paris:
'The sun is just going down—this day has been the happiest of my life!'
The low intensity of the tone startled her. Then she had a movement of caprice, of superstition.
'Alors—assez! Monsieur David, stay where you are. Not another step!—Adieu!'
Astonished and dismayed, he turned involuntarily. But, in the crowd of people passing through the Arch, she had slipped from him, and he had lost her beyond recovery. Moreover, her tone was peremptory—he dared not pursue and anger her.
Minutes passed while he stood, spell—and trance-bound, in the shadow of the Arch. Then, with the long and labouring breath, the sudden fatigue of one who has leapt in a day from one plane of life to another—in whom a passionate and continuous heat of feeling has for the time burnt up the nervous power—he moved on eastwards, down the Champs-Elysees. The sunset was behind him, and the trees threw long shadows across his path. Shade and sun spaces alike seemed to him full of happy crowds. The beautiful city laughed and murmured round him. Nature and man alike bore witness with his own rash heart that all is divinely well with the world—let the cynics and the mourners say what they will. His hour had come, and without a hesitation or a dread he rushed upon it. Passion and youth—ignorance and desire—have never met in madder or more reckless dreams than those which filled the mind of David Grieve as he wandered blindly home.