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Chapter 20

  • 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?