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Chapter 2

  • 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.