As they all came out from luncheon General Fancourt took hold of him with an
"I say, I want you to know my girl!" as if the idea had just occurred to hi_nd he hadn't spoken of it before. With the other hand he possessed himsel_ll paternally of the young lady. "You know all about him. I've seen you wit_is books. She reads everything - everything!" he went on to Paul. The gir_miled at him and then laughed at her father. The General turned away and hi_aughter spoke - "Isn't papa delightful?"
"He is indeed, Miss Fancourt."
"As if I read you because I read 'everything'!"
"Oh I don't mean for saying that," said Paul Overt. "I liked him from th_oment he began to be kind to me. Then he promised me this privilege."
"It isn't for you he means it - it's for me. If you flatter yourself that h_hinks of anything in life but me you'll find you're mistaken. He introduce_very one. He thinks me insatiable."
"You speak just like him," laughed our youth.
"Ah but sometimes I want to" - and the girl coloured. "I don't read everything - I read very little. But I HAVE read you."
"Suppose we go into the gallery," said Paul Overt. She pleased him greatly, not so much because of this last remark - though that of course was not to_isconcerting - as because, seated opposite to him at luncheon, she had give_im for half an hour the impression of her beautiful face. Something else ha_ome with it - a sense of generosity, of an enthusiasm which, unlike man_nthusiasms, was not all manner. That was not spoiled for him by his seein_hat the repast had placed her again in familiar contact with Henry St.
George. Sitting next her this celebrity was also opposite our young man, wh_ad been able to note that he multiplied the attentions lately brought by hi_ife to the General's notice. Paul Overt had gathered as well that this lad_as not in the least discomposed by these fond excesses and that she gav_very sign of an unclouded spirit. She had Lord Masham on one side of her an_n the other the accomplished Mr. Mulliner, editor of the new high- clas_ively evening paper which was expected to meet a want felt in circle_ncreasingly conscious that Conservatism must be made amusing, and unconvince_hen assured by those of another political colour that it was already amusin_nough. At the end of an hour spent in her company Paul Overt thought he_till prettier than at the first radiation, and if her profane allusions t_er husband's work had not still rung in his ears he should have liked her - so far as it could be a question of that in connexion with a woman to whom h_ad not yet spoken and to whom probably he should never speak if it were lef_o her. Pretty women were a clear need to this genius, and for the hour it wa_iss Fancourt who supplied the want. If Overt had promised himself a close_iew the occasion was now of the best, and it brought consequences felt by th_oung man as important. He saw more in St. George's face, which he liked th_etter for its not having told its whole story in the first three minutes.
That story came out as one read, in short instalments - it was excusable tha_ne's analogies should be somewhat professional - and the text was a styl_onsiderably involved, a language not easy to translate at sight. There wer_hades of meaning in it and a vague perspective of history which receded a_ou advanced. Two facts Paul had particularly heeded. The first of these wa_hat he liked the measured mask much better at inscrutable rest than in socia_gitation; its almost convulsive smile above all displeased him (as much a_ny impression from that source could), whereas the quiet face had a char_hat grew in proportion as stillness settled again. The change to th_xpression of gaiety excited, he made out, very much the private protest of _erson sitting gratefully in the twilight when the lamp is brought in to_oon. His second reflexion was that, though generally averse to the flagran_se of ingratiating arts by a man of age "making up" to a pretty girl, he wa_ot in this case too painfully affected: which seemed to prove either that St.
George had a light hand or the air of being younger than he was, or else tha_iss Fancourt's own manner somehow made everything right.
Overt walked with her into the gallery, and they strolled to the end of it, looking at the pictures, the cabinets, the charming vista, which harmonise_ith the prospect of the summer afternoon, resembling it by a long brightness, with great divans and old chairs that figured hours of rest. Such a place a_hat had the added merit of giving those who came into it plenty to tal_bout. Miss Fancourt sat down with her new acquaintance on a flowered sofa, the cushions of which, very numerous, were tight ancient cubes of many sizes, and presently said: "I'm so glad to have a chance to thank you."
"To thank me - ?" He had to wonder.
"I liked your book so much. I think it splendid."
She sat there smiling at him, and he never asked himself which book she meant; for after all he had written three or four. That seemed a vulgar detail, an_e wasn't even gratified by the idea of the pleasure she told him - he_andsome bright face told him - he had given her. The feeling she appealed to, or at any rate the feeling she excited, was something larger, something tha_ad little to do with any quickened pulsation of his own vanity. It wa_esponsive admiration of the life she embodied, the young purity and richnes_f which appeared to imply that real success was to resemble THAT, to live, t_loom, to present the perfection of a fine type, not to have hammered ou_eadachy fancies with a bent back at an ink- stained table. While her gre_yes rested on him - there was a wideish space between these, and the divisio_f her rich-coloured hair, so thick that it ventured to be smooth, made a fre_rch above them - he was almost ashamed of that exercise of the pen which i_as her present inclination to commend. He was conscious he should have like_etter to please her in some other way. The lines of her face were those of _oman grown, but the child lingered on in her complexion and in the sweetnes_f her mouth. Above all she was natural - that was indubitable now; mor_atural than he had supposed at first, perhaps on account of her aestheti_oggery, which was conventionally unconventional, suggesting what he migh_ave called a tortuous spontaneity. He had feared that sort of thing in othe_ases, and his fears had been justified; for, though he was an artist to th_ssence, the modern reactionary nymph, with the brambles of the woodlan_aught in her folds and a look as if the satyrs had toyed with her hair, mad_im shrink not as a man of starch and patent leather, but as a man potentiall_imself a poet or even a faun. The girl was really more candid than he_ostume, and the best proof of it was her supposing her liberal characte_uited by any uniform. This was a fallacy, since if she was draped as _essimist he was sure she liked the taste of life. He thanked her for he_ppreciation - aware at the same time that he didn't appear to thank he_nough and that she might think him ungracious. He was afraid she would as_im to explain something he had written, and he always winced at that - perhaps too timidly - for to his own ear the explanation of a work of ar_ounded fatuous. But he liked her so much as to feel a confidence that in th_ong run he should be able to show her he wasn't rudely evasive. Moreover sh_urely wasn't quick to take offence, wasn't irritable; she could be trusted t_ait. So when he said to her, "Ah don't talk of anything I've done, don't tal_f it HERE; there's another man in the house who's the actuality!" - when h_ttered this short sincere protest it was with the sense that she would see i_he words neither mock humility nor the impatience of a successful man bore_ith praise.
"You mean Mr. St. George - isn't he delightful?"
Paul Overt met her eyes, which had a cool morning-light that would have half- broken his heart if he hadn't been so young. "Alas I don't know him. I onl_dmire him at a distance."
"Oh you must know him - he wants so to talk to you," returned Miss Fancourt, who evidently had the habit of saying the things that, by her quic_alculation, would give people pleasure. Paul saw how she would alway_alculate on everything's being simple between others.
"I shouldn't have supposed he knew anything about me," he professed.
"He does then - everything. And if he didn't I should be able to tell him."
"To tell him everything?" our friend smiled.
"You talk just like the people in your book!" she answered.
"Then they must all talk alike."
She thought a moment, not a bit disconcerted. "Well, it must be so difficult.
Mr. St. George tells me it IS - terribly. I've tried too - and I find it so.
I've tried to write a novel."
"Mr. St. George oughtn't to discourage you," Paul went so far as to say.
"You do much more - when you wear that expression."
"Well, after all, why try to be an artist?" the young man pursued. "It's s_oor - so poor!"
"I don't know what you mean," said Miss Fancourt, who looked grave.
"I mean as compared with being a person of action - as living your works."
"But what's art but an intense life - if it be real?" she asked. "I think it'_he only one - everything else is so clumsy!" Her companion laughed, and sh_rought out with her charming serenity what next struck her. "It's s_nteresting to meet so many celebrated people."
"So I should think - but surely it isn't new to you."
"Why I've never seen any one - any one: living always in Asia."
The way she talked of Asia somehow enchanted him. "But doesn't that continen_warm with great figures? Haven't you administered provinces in India and ha_aptive rajahs and tributary princes chained to your car?"
It was as if she didn't care even SHOULD he amuse himself at her cost. "I wa_ith my father, after I left school to go out there. It was delightful bein_ith him - we're alone together in the world, he and I - but there was none o_he society I like best. One never heard of a picture - never of a book, except bad ones."
"Never of a picture? Why, wasn't all life a picture?"
She looked over the delightful place where they sat. "Nothing to compare t_his. I adore England!" she cried.
It fairly stirred in him the sacred chord. "Ah of course I don't deny that w_ust do something with her, poor old dear, yet."
"She hasn't been touched, really," said the girl.
"Did Mr. St. George say that?"
There was a small and, as he felt, harmless spark of irony in his question; which, however, she answered very simply, not noticing the insinuation. "Yes, he says England hasn't been touched \- not considering all there is," she wen_n eagerly. "He's so interesting about our country. To listen to him makes on_ant so to do something."
"It would make ME want to," said Paul Overt, feeling strongly, on the instant, the suggestion of what she said and that of the emotion with which she sai_t, and well aware of what an incentive, on St. George's lips, such a speec_ight be.
"Oh you - as if you hadn't! I should like so to hear you talk together," sh_dded ardently.
"That's very genial of you; but he'd have it all his own way. I'm prostrat_efore him."
She had an air of earnestness. "Do you think then he's so perfect?"
"Far from it. Some of his later books seem to me of a queerness - !"
"Yes, yes - he knows that."
Paul Overt stared. "That they seem to me of a queerness - !"
"Well yes, or at any rate that they're not what they should be. He told me h_idn't esteem them. He has told me such wonderful things - he's s_nteresting."
There was a certain shock for Paul Overt in the knowledge that the fine geniu_hey were talking of had been reduced to so explicit a confession and had mad_t, in his misery, to the first comer; for though Miss Fancourt was charmin_hat was she after all but an immature girl encountered at a country-house?
Yet precisely this was part of the sentiment he himself had just expressed: h_ould make way completely for the poor peccable great man not because h_idn't read him clear, but altogether because he did. His consideration wa_alf composed of tenderness for superficialities which he was sure thei_erpetrator judged privately, judged more ferociously than any one, and whic_epresented some tragic intellectual secret. He would have his reasons for hi_sychology e fleur de peau, and these reasons could only be cruel ones, suc_s would make him dearer to those who already were fond of him. "You excite m_nvy. I have my reserves, I discriminate - but I love him," Paul said in _oment. "And seeing him for the first time this way is a great event for me."
"How momentous - how magnificent!" cried the girl. "How delicious to bring yo_ogether!"
"Your doing it - that makes it perfect," our friend returned.
"He's as eager as you," she went on. "But it's so odd you shouldn't have met."
"It's not really so odd as it strikes you. I've been out of England so much - made repeated absences all these last years."
She took this in with interest. "And yet you write of it as well as if yo_ere always here."
"It's just the being away perhaps. At any rate the best bits, I suspect, ar_hose that were done in dreary places abroad."
"And why were they dreary?"
"Because they were health-resorts - where my poor mother was dying."
"Your poor mother?" - she was all sweet wonder.
"We went from place to place to help her to get better. But she never did. T_he deadly Riviera (I hate it!) to the high Alps, to Algiers, and far away - _ideous journey - to Colorado."
"And she isn't better?" Miss Fancourt went on.
"She died a year ago."
"Really? - like mine! Only that's years since. Some day you must tell me abou_our mother," she added.
He could at first, on this, only gaze at her. "What right things you say! I_ou say them to St. George I don't wonder he's in bondage."
It pulled her up for a moment. "I don't know what you mean. He doesn't mak_peeches and professions at all - he isn't ridiculous."
"I'm afraid you consider then that I am."
"No, I don't" - she spoke it rather shortly. And then she added: "H_nderstands - understands everything."
The young man was on the point of saying jocosely: "And I don't \- is tha_t?" But these words, in time, changed themselves to others slightly les_rivial: "Do you suppose he understands his wife?"
Miss Fancourt made no direct answer, but after a moment's hesitation put it:
"Isn't she charming?"
"Not in the least!"
"Here he comes. Now you must know him," she went on. A small group of visitor_ad gathered at the other end of the gallery and had been there overtaken b_enry St. George, who strolled in from a neighbouring room. He stood near the_ moment, not falling into the talk but taking up an old miniature from _able and vaguely regarding it. At the end of a minute he became aware of Mis_ancourt and her companion in the distance; whereupon, laying down hi_iniature, he approached them with the same procrastinating air, his hands i_is pockets and his eyes turned, right and left, to the pictures. The galler_as so long that this transit took some little time, especially as there was _oment when he stopped to admire the fine Gainsborough. "He says Mrs. St.
George has been the making of him," the girl continued in a voice slightl_owered.
"Ah he's often obscure!" Paul laughed.
"Obscure?" she repeated as if she heard it for the first time. Her eyes reste_n her other friend, and it wasn't lost upon Paul that they appeared to sen_ut great shafts of softness. "He's going to speak to us!" she fondl_reathed. There was a sort of rapture in her voice, and our friend wa_tartled. "Bless my soul, does she care for him like THAT? - is she in lov_ith him?" he mentally enquired. "Didn't I tell you he was eager?" she ha_eanwhile asked of him.
"It's eagerness dissimulated," the young man returned as the subject of thei_bservation lingered before his Gainsborough. "He edges toward us shyly. Doe_e mean that she saved him by burning that book?"
"That book? what book did she burn?" The girl quickly turned her face to him.
"Hasn't he told you then?"
"Not a word."
"Then he doesn't tell you everything!" Paul had guessed that she pretty muc_upposed he did. The great man had now resumed his course and come nearer; i_pite of which his more qualified admirer risked a profane observation: "St.
George and the Dragon is what the anecdote suggests!"
His companion, however, didn't hear it; she smiled at the dragon's adversary.
"He IS eager - he is!" she insisted.
"Eager for you - yes."
But meanwhile she had called out: "I'm sure you want to know Mr. Overt. You'l_e great friends, and it will always be delightful to me to remember I wa_ere when you first met and that I had something to do with it."
There was a freshness of intention in the words that carried them off; nevertheless our young man was sorry for Henry St. George, as he was sorry a_ny time for any person publicly invited to be responsive and delightful. H_ould have been so touched to believe that a man he deeply admired should car_ straw for him that he wouldn't play with such a presumption if it wer_ossibly vain. In a single glance of the eye of the pardonable Master he read - having the sort of divination that belonged to his talent - that thi_ersonage had ever a store of friendly patience, which was part of his ric_utfit, but was versed in no printed page of a rising scribbler. There wa_ven a relief, a simplification, in that: liking him so much already for wha_e had done, how could one have liked him any more for a perception which mus_t the best have been vague? Paul Overt got up, trying to show his compassion, but at the same instant he found himself encompassed by St. George's happ_ersonal art - a manner of which it was the essence to conjure away fals_ositions. It all took place in a moment. Paul was conscious that he knew hi_ow, conscious of his handshake and of the very quality of his hand; of hi_ace, seen nearer and consequently seen better, of a general fraternisin_ssurance, and in particular of the circumstance that St. George didn'_islike him (as yet at least) for being imposed by a charming but too gushin_irl, attractive enough without such danglers. No irritation at any rate wa_eflected in the voice with which he questioned Miss Fancourt as to som_roject of a walk - a general walk of the company round the park. He had soo_aid something to Paul about a talk - "We must have a tremendous lot of talk; there are so many things, aren't there?" - but our friend could see this ide_ouldn't in the present case take very immediate effect. All the same he wa_xtremely happy, even after the matter of the walk had been settled - th_hree presently passed back to the other part of the gallery, where it wa_iscussed with several members of the party; even when, after they had al_one out together, he found himself for half an hour conjoined with Mrs. St.
George. Her husband had taken the advance with Miss Fancourt, and this pai_ere quite out of sight. It was the prettiest of rambles for a summe_fternoon - a grassy circuit, of immense extent, skirting the limit of th_ark within. The park was completely surrounded by its old mottled but perfec_ed wall, which, all the way on their left, constituted in itself an object o_nterest. Mrs. St. George mentioned to him the surprising number of acres thu_nclosed, together with numerous other facts relating to the property and th_amily, and the family's other properties: she couldn't too strongly urge o_im the importance of seeing their other houses. She ran over the names o_hese and rang the changes on them with the facility of practice, making the_ppear an almost endless list. She had received Paul Overt very amiably on hi_reaking ground with her by the mention of his joy in having just made he_usband's acquaintance, and struck him as so alert and so accommodating _ittle woman that he was rather ashamed of his MOT about her to Miss Fancourt; though he reflected that a hundred other people, on a hundred occasions, woul_ave been sure to make it. He got on with Ms. St. George, in short, bette_han he expected; but this didn't prevent her suddenly becoming aware that sh_as faint with fatigue and must take her way back to the house by the shortes_ut. She professed that she hadn't the strength of a kitten and was _iserable wreck; a character he had been too preoccupied to discern in he_hile he wondered in what sense she could be held to have been the making o_er husband. He had arrived at a glimmering of the answer when she announce_hat she must leave him, though this perception was of course provisional.
While he was in the very act of placing himself at her disposal for the retur_he situation underwent a change; Lord Masham had suddenly turned up, comin_ack to them, overtaking them, emerging from the shrubbery - Overt coul_carcely have said how he appeared \- and Mrs. St. George had protested tha_he wanted to be left alone and not to break up the party. A moment later sh_as walking off with Lord Masham. Our friend fell back and joined Lad_atermouth, to whom he presently mentioned that Mrs. St. George had bee_bliged to renounce the attempt to go further.
"She oughtn't to have come out at all," her ladyship rather grumpily remarked.
"Is she so very much of an invalid?"
"Very bad indeed." And his hostess added with still greater austerity: "Sh_ughtn't really to come to one!" He wondered what was implied by this, an_resently gathered that it was not a reflexion on the lady's conduct or he_oral nature: it only represented that her strength was not equal to he_spirations.