Scarcely had we stepped out on the lawn before an unpleasant incident occurre_hich might have ended dangerously. At his mistress's approach the big S_ernard dog rose from the sunny corner where he had been peacefully dozing, and prepared to greet her,—but as soon as he perceived us _P_
he stopped short with an ominous growl. Before Miss Clare could utter _arning word, he made a couple of huge bounds and sprang savagely at Lucio a_hough to tear him in pieces. Lucio with admirable presence of mind caught hi_irmly by the throat and forced him backwards. Mavis turned deathly pale.
"Let me hold him! He will obey me!" she cried, placing her little hand on th_reat dog's neck. "Down, Emperor! Down! How dare you! Down sir!"
In a moment 'Emperor' dropped to the ground, and crouched abjectly at he_eet, breathing heavily and trembling in every limb. She held him by th_ollar, and looked up at Lucio who was perfectly composed, though his eye_lashed dangerously.
"I am so very sorry!" she murmured. "I forgot,—you told me dogs do not lik_ou. But what a singularly marked antipathy, is it not? I cannot understan_t. Emperor is generally so good-natured,—I must apologize for his ba_onduct—it is quite unusual. I hope he has not hurt you ?''
"Not at all!" returned Lucio affably and with a cold smile. "I hope I have no_urt _him,_ —or distressed _you!"_
She made no reply, but led the St Bernard away and was absent for a fe_inutes. While she was gone, Lucio's brow clouded, and his face grew ver_tern.
"What do you think of her?" he asked me abruptly.
"I hardly know what to think," I answered abstractedly. "She is very differen_o what I imagined. Her dogs are rather unpleasant company !''
"They are honest animals!" he said morosely. "They are no doubt accustomed t_andour in their mistress, and therefore object to personified lies.''
"Speak for yourself!" I said irritably. "They object to you, chiefly."
"Am I not fully aware of that?" he retorted—"and do I not speak for myself?
You do not suppose I would call you a personified lie, do you,—even if it wer_rue! I would not be so uncivil. But I am a living lie, and knowing it I admi_t, which gives me a certain claim to honesty above the ordinary run of men.
This woman-wearer of laurels is a personified truth!—imagine it!—she has n_ccasion to pretend to be anything else than she is! No wonder she is famous!"
I said nothing, as just then the subject of our conversation returned, tranquil and smiling, and did her best, with the tact and grace of a perfec_ostess, to make us forget her dog's ferocious conduct, by escorting u_hrough a 1 the prettiest turns and twisting paths of her garden, which wa_uite a bower of spring beauty. She talked to us both with equal ease, brightness and cleverness, though I observed that she studied Lucio with clos_nterest, and watched his looks and movements with more curiosity than liking.
Passing under an arching grove of budding syringas we presently came to a_pen court-yard paved with blue and white tiles, having in its centre _icturesque dove-cote built in the form of a Chinese pagoda. Here pausing, Mavis clapped her hands. A cloud of doves, white, grey, brown, and opalescent, answered the summons, circling round and round her head, and flying down i_xcited groups at her feet.
"Here are my reviewers!" she said laughing. "Are they not pretty creatures?
The ones I know best are named after their respective journals,—there ar_lenty of anonymous ones of course, who flock in with the rest. Here, fo_nstance, is the 'Saturday Review,' " and she picked up a strutting bird wit_oral-tinted feet, who seemed to rather like the attention shown to him. "H_ights with all his companions and drives them away from the food whenever h_an. He is such a quarrelsome creature !"—here she stroked the bird's head.
"You never know how to please him,—he takes offence at the corn sometimes, an_ill only eat peas, or _vice versa._ He quite deserves his name.—Go away, old boy!" and she flung the pigeon in the air and watched it soaring up an_own. "He _is_ such a comical old grumbler! There is the ' Speaker,' " an_he pointed to a fat fussy fantail. "H? struts very well, and fancies he'_mportant, you know, but he isn't. Over there is 'Public Opinion,'—that on_alf-asleep on the wall; next to him is the 'Spectator,'—you see he has tw_ings round his eyes like spectacles. That brown creature with the fluff_ings all by himself on that flower-pot is the 'Nineteenth Century,' th_ittle bird with the green neck is the 'Westminster Gazette,' and the fat on_itting on the platform of the cote is the 'Pall-Mall.' He knows his name ver_ell—see!" and she called merrily—" Pall-Mall! Come boy!—come here!'' The bir_beyed at once, and flying down from the cote, settled on her shoulder. "Ther_re so many others,—it is difficult to distinguish them sometimes," sh_ontinued. "Whenever I get a bad review I name a pigeon,—it amuses me. Tha_raggle-tailed one with the muddy feet is the 'Sketch,'—he is not at all _ell-bred bird I must tell you!—that smart-looking dove with the purple breas_s the ' Graphic,' and that bland old grey thing is the 'I. L. N.' short for
'Illustrated London News.' Those three white ones are respectively 'Dail_elegraph,' 'Morning Post,' and 'Standard.' Now see them all!" and taking _overed basket from a corner she began to scatter corn and peas and variou_rains in lavish quantities all over the court. For a moment we could scarcel_ee the sky, so thickly the birds flocked together, struggling, fighting, swooping downwards, and soaring upwards,—but the winged confusion soon gav_lace to something like order when they were all on the ground, and bus_electing their respective favourite foods from the different sorts provide_or their choice.
"You are indeed a sweet-natured philosopher," said Lucio smiling, "if you ca_ymbolize your adverse reviewers by a flock of doves!"
She laughed merrily.
"Well, it is a remedy against all irritation," she returned. "I used to worr_ good deal over my work, and wonder why it was that the press people were s_nnecessarily hard upon me, when they showed so much leniency an_ncouragement to far worse writers,—but after a little serious consideration, finding that critical opinion carried no sort of conviction whatever to th_ublic, I determined to trouble no more about it,—except in the way of doves!"
"In the way of doves, you feed your reviewers," I observed.
"Exactly! And I suppose I help to feed them even as women and men!" she said.
"They get something from their editors for 'slashing' my work,—and the_robably make a little more out of selling their 'review copies.' So you se_he dove-emblem holds good throughout. But you have not seen the 'Athenaeum,'
oh, you _must_ see him!"
With laughter still lurking in her blue eyes, she took us out of the pigeon- court, and led the way round to a sequestered and shady corner of the garden, where, in a large aviary-cage fitted up for its special convenience, sat _olemn white owl. The instant it perceived us, it became angry, and rufflin_p its downy feathers, rolled its glistening yellow eyes vindictively an_pened its beak. Two smaller owls sat in the background, pressed clos_ogether,—one grey, the other brown.
"Cross old boy!" said Mavis, addressing the spiteful-looking creature in th_weetest of accents. "Haven't you found any mice to kill to-day? Oh, wha_icked eyes!—what a snappy mouth!" Then turning to us, she went on—"Isn't he _ovely owl? Doesn't he look wise?—but as a matter of fact he's just as stupi_s ever he can be. That is why I call him the 'Athenaeum'! He looks s_rofound, you'd fancy he knows everything,—but he really thinks of nothing bu_illing mice all the time,—which limits his intelligence considerably!"
Lucio laughed heartily, and so did I,—she looked so mischievous and merry.
"But there are two other owls in the cage," I said. "What are their names?''
She held up a little finger in playful warning.
"Ah, that would be telling secrets!" she said. "They're all the
'Athenaeum'—the holy Three—a sort of literary Trinity. But why a Trinity I d_ot venture to explain!— it is a riddle I must leave you to guess!"
She moved on, and we followed across a velvety grass-plot bordered with brigh_pring-flowers, such as crocuses, tulips, anemones, and hyacinths, an_resently pausing she asked, "Would you care to see my work-room?"
I found myself agreeing to this proposition with an almost boyish enthusiasm.
Lucio glanced at me with a slight halfcynical smile.
"Miss Clare, are you going to name a pigeon after Mr Tempest?" he inquired.
"He played the part of an adverse critic, you know—but I doubt whether he wil_ver do so again!"
She looked round at me and smiled.
"Oh, I have been merciful to Mr Tempest," she replied. "He is among th_nonymous birds whom I do not specially recognise!"
She stepped into the arched embrasure of an open window which fronted the vie_f the grass and flowers, and entering with her, we found ourselves in a larg_oom, octagonal in shape, where the first object that attracted and rivete_he attention was a marble bust of the Pallas Athene, whose grave impassiv_ountenance and tranquil brows directly faced the sun. A desk strewn wit_apers occupied the left-hand side of the window-nook,—in a corner draped wit_live-green velvet, the white presence of the Apollo Belvedere taught in hi_nscrutable yet radiant smile, the lesson of love and the triumphs of fame—an_umbers of books were about, not ranged in formal rows on shelves as if the_ere never read, but placed on low tables and wheeled stands, that they migh_e easily taken up and glanced at. The arrangement of the walls chiefl_xcited my interest and admiration, for these were divided into panels, an_very panel had, inscribed upon it in letters of gold, some phrase from th_hilosophers, or some verse from the poets. The passage from Shelley whic_avis had recently quoted to us, occupied, as she had said, one panel, an_bove it hung a beautiful bas-relief of the drowned poet, copied from th_onument at Via Reggio. Another and broader panel held a fine engrave_ortrait of Shakespeare, and under the picture appeared the lines—
"To thine own self be true, And it must follow as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man."
Byron was represented,—also Keats; but it would have taken more than a day t_xamine the various suggestive quaintnesses and individual charms of this
'workshop,' as its owner called it, though the hour was to come when I shoul_now every corner of it by heart, and look upon it as a haunted outlaw o_ygone ages looked upon 'sanctuary.' But now time gave us little pause,—an_hen we had sufficiently expressed our pleasure and gratitude for the kindnes_ith which we had been received, Lucio, glancing at his watch, suggeste_eparture.
"We could stay on here for an indefinite period, Miss Clare," he said with a_nwonted softness in his dark eyes. "It is a place for peace and happ_editation,—a restful corner for a tired soul." He checked a slight sigh,—the_ent on—" But trains wait for no man, and we are returning to town to-night."
"Then I will not detain you any longer," said our young hostess, leading th_ay at once by a side-door, through a passage filled with flowering plants, into the drawing-room where she had first entertained us. "I hope, M_empest," she added, smiling at me, "that now we have met, you will no longe_esire to qualify as one of my pigeons! It is scarcely worth while!"
"Miss Clare," I said, now speaking with unaffected sincerity, "I assure you, on my honour, I am very sorry I wrote that article against you. If I had onl_nown you as you are—''
"Oh, that should make no difference to a critic!" she answered merrily.
"It would have made a great difference to me," I declared. "You are so unlik_he objectionable ' literary woman'—" I paused, and she regarded me smilingl_ith her bright clear candid eyes,—then I added—"I must tell you that Sibyl,— Lady Sibyl Elton,—is one of your most ardent admirers."
"I am very pleased to hear that," she said simply. "lam always glad when _ucceed in winning somebody's approval and liking."
"Does not everyone approve and admire you?" asked Lucio.
"Oh, no! By no means! The 'Saturday' says I only win the applause of shop- girls!" and she laughed. "Poor old 'Saturday' !—the writers on its staff ar_o jealous of any successful author. I told the Prince of Wales what it sai_he other day, and he was very much amused."
"You know the Prince?" I asked, in a little surprise.
"Well, it would be more correct to say that he knows me,'' she replied. "H_as been very good in taking some little interest in my books. He knows a goo_eal about literature too,—much more than people give him credit for. He ha_een here more than once,—and has seen me feed my reviewers—the pigeons, yo_now! He rather enjoyed the fun, I think!"
And this was all the result of the 'slating' the press gave to Mavis Clare!
Simply that she named her doves after her critics, and fed them in th_resence of whatever royal or distinguished visitors she might have (and _fterwards learned she had many), amid, no doubt, much laughter from those wh_aw the 'Spectator' pigeon fighting for grains of corn, or the 'Saturda_eview' pigeon quarrelling over peas! Evidently no reviewer, spiteful o_therwise, could affect the vivacious nature of such a mischievous elf as sh_as.
"How different you are—how widely different—to the ordinary run of literar_eople!" I said involuntarily.
"I am glad you find me so," she answered. "I hope I _am_ different. As _ule, literary people take themselves far too seriously and attach too muc_mportance to what they do. That is why they become such bores. I don'_elieve anyone ever did thoroughly good work who was not perfectly happy ove_t and totally indifferent to opinion. I should be quite content to write on, if I only had a garret to live in. I was once very poor,—shockingly poor; an_ven now I am not rich, but I've got just enough to keep me working steadily, which is as it should be. If I had more, I might get lazy and neglect m_ork,—then you know Satan might step into my life, and it would be a questio_f idle hands and mischief to follow, according to the adage."
"I think you would have strength enough to resist Satan," said Lucio, lookin_t her stedfastly, with sombre scrutiny in his expressive eyes.
"Oh, I don't know about that,—I could not be sure of myself!" and she smiled.
"I should imagine he must be a dangerously fascinating personage. I neve_icture him as the possessor of hoofs and a tail,—common-sense assures me tha_o creature presenting himself under such an aspect would have the slightes_ower to attract. Milton's conception of Satan is the finest,''—and her eye_arkened swiftly with the intensity of her thoughts—" A mighty Angel fallen !—one cannot but be sorry for such a fall, if the legend were true!"
There was a sudden silence. A bird sang outside, and a little breeze swaye_he lilies in the window to and fro.
"Good-bye, Mavis Clare !" said Lucio very softly, almost tenderly. His voic_as low and tremulous—his face grave and pale. She looked up at him in _ittle surprise.
"Good-bye!" she rejoined, extending her small hand. He held it a moment,—then, to my secret astonishment, knowing his aversion to women, stooped and kisse_t. She flushed rosily as she withdrew it from his clasp.
"Be always as you are, Mavis Clare," he said gently. "Let nothing change you!
Keep that bright nature of yours, —that unruffled spirit of quiet contentment, and you may wear the bitter laurel of fame as sweetly as a rose. I have see_he world; I have travelled far, and have met many famous men and women,—king_nd queens, senators, poets and philosophers,—my experience has been wide an_aried, so that I am not altogether without authority for what I say,—and _ssure you that the Satan of whom you are able to speak with compassion, ca_ever trouble the peace of a pure and contented soul. Like consorts wit_ike,—a fallen angel seeks the equally fallen,—and the devil,—if there b_ne,—becomes the companion of those only who take pleasure in his teaching an_ociety. Legends say he is afraid of a crucifix, —but if he is afraid o_nything I should say it must be of that 'sweet content' concerning which you_ountry's Shakespeare sings, and which is a better defence against evil tha_he church or the prayers of the clergy! I speak as one having the right o_ge to speak,—I am so many many years older than you!—you must forgive me if _ave said too much!"
She was quite silent; evidently moved and surprised at his words; and sh_azed at him with a vaguely wondering, halfawed expression,—an expressio_hich changed directly I myself advanced to make my adieu.
"I am very glad to have met you, Miss Clare," I said. "I hope we shall b_riends!"
"There is no reason why we should be enemies I think," she responded frankly.
"I am very pleased you came to-day. If ever you want to 'slate' me again, yo_now your fate !— you become a dove,—nothing more! Good-bye!"
She saluted us prettily as we passed out, and when the gate had closed behin_s we heard the deep and joyous baying of the great dog 'Emperor,'evidentl_eleased from 'durance vile' immediately on our departure. We walked on fo_ome time in silence, and it was not till we had re-entered the grounds o_illowsmere, and were making our way to the drive, where the carriage whic_as to take us to the station already awaited us, that Lucio said—
"Well _; now,_ what do you think of her?"
"She is as unlike the accepted ideal of the female novelist as she can wel_e," I answered, with a laugh.
''Accepted ideals are generally mistaken ones,'' he observed, watching m_arrowly. "An accepted ideal of Divinity in some church pictures, is an ol_an's face set in a triangle. The accepted ideal of the devil is a nondescrip_reature, with horns, hoofs (one of them cloven) and a tail, as Miss Clar_ust now remarked. The accepted ideal of beauty is the Venus d_edicis,—whereas your Lady Sibyl entirely transcends that much over-rate_tatue. The accepted ideal of a poet is Apollo,—he was a god,—and no poet i_he flesh ever approaches the god-like. And the accepted ideal of the femal_ovelist, is an elderly, dowdy, spectacled, frowsy fright,—Mavis Clare doe_ot fulfil this description, yet she is the author of 'Differences.' No_cWhing, who thrashes her continually in all the papers he can command, _is_lderly, ugly, spectacled and frowsy, and he is the author of—nothing! Women- authors are invariably supposed to be hideous,—men authors for the most par_are_ hideous. But their hideousness is not noted or insisted upon,—whereas, no matter how goodlooking women writers may be, they still pass unde_resscomment as frights, because the fiat of press-opinion considers the_ught to be frights, even if they are not. A pretty authoress is a_ffence,—an incongruity,—a something that neither men nor women care about.
Men don't care about her, because being clever and independent, she does no_ften care about them,—women don't care about her, because she has th_ffrontery to combine attractive looks with intelligence, and she makes a_wkward rival to those who have only attractive looks without intelligence. S_ags the world !—
O wild world 1—circling through aeons untold,—
'Mid fires of sunrise and sunset,—through flashes of silver and gold,— Grai_f dust in a storm,—atom of sand by the sea,— What is your worth, O world, t_he Angels of God and me I
He sang this quite suddenly, his rich baritone pealing out musically on th_arm silent air. I listened entranced.
"What a voice you have!" I exclaimed. "What a glorious gift!"
He smiled, and sang on, his dark eyes flashing—
O wild world! mote in a burning ray
Flung from the spherical Heavens millions of spaces away—
Sink in the ether or soar! Live with the planets or die !—
What should I care for your fate, who am one with the Infinite Sky!
"What strange song is that?" I asked, startled and thrilled by the passion o_is voice. "It seems to mean nothing!"
He laughed, and took my arm.
"It does mean nothing!" he said. "All drawing-room songs mean nothing. Mine i_ drawing-room song—calculated to waken emotional impulses in the unlove_pinster, religiously inclined!"
"Nonsense!" I said, smiling.
"Exactly. That is what I say. It _is_ nonsense." Here we came up to th_arriage which waited for us. "Just twenty minutes to catch the train, Geoffrey! Off we go!"
And off we did go,—I watching the red gabled roofs of Willowsmere Cour_hining in the late sunshine, till a turn in the road hid them from view.
"You like your purchase?" queried Lucio presently.
"I do. Immensely!"
"And your rival, Mavis Clare? Do you like her?"
I paused a moment, then answered frankly—
"Yes. I like her. And I will admit something more than that to you now. I lik_er book. It is a noble work,— worthy of the most highly-gifted man. I alway_iked it— and because I liked it, I slated it."
"Rather a mysterious course of procedure !" and he smiled. "Can you no_xplain?" <
"Of course I can explain," I said. "Explanation is easy. I envied her power—_nvy it still. Her popularity caused me a smarting sense of injury, and t_elieve it I wrote that article against her. But I shall never do anything o_he kind again. I shall let her grow her laurels in peace.''
laurels have a habit of growing without any permission," observed Luci_ignificantly. "In all sorts of unexpected places too. And they can never b_roperly cultivated in frh? J forcing-house of criticism." „,
"I know that!" I said quickly, my thoughts revertingto my own book, and al_he favourable criticisms that had been heaped upon it. "I have learned tha_esson thoroughly, by heart!"
He looked at me fixedly.
"It is only one of many you may have yet to learn," he said. "It is a lesso_n fame. Your next course of instruction will be in love."
He smiled,—but I was conscious of a certain dread and discomfort as he spoke.
I thought of Sibyl and her incomparable beauty—Sibyl, who had told me sh_ould not love, —had we both to learn a lesson? And should we master it? —o_ould it master us?