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   Chapter 5 THE ARTIST ASTRAY

The Emancipated By George Gissing Characters: 44641

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


From the Strada di Chiaia, the narrow street winding between immense houses, all day long congested with the merry tumult of Neapolitan traffic, where herds of goats and milch cows placidly make their way among vehicles of every possible and impossible description; where cocchieri crack their whips and belabour their hapless cattle, and yell their "Ah-h-h! Ah-h-h!"-where teams of horse, ox, and ass, the three abreast, drag piles of country produce, jingling their fantastic harness, and primitive carts laden with red-soaked wine-casks rattle recklessly along; where bare-footed, girdled, and tonsured monks plod on their no-business, and every third man one passes is a rotund ecclesiastic, who never in his life walked at more than a mile an hour; where, at evening, carriages returning from the Villa Nazionale cram the thoroughfare from side to side, and make one aware, if one did not previously know it, that parts of the street have no pedestrians' pavement;-from the Strada di Chiaia (now doomed, alas! by the exigencies of lo sventramento and il risanamento) turn into the public staircase and climb through the dusk, with all possible attention to where you set your foot, past the unmelodious beggars, to the Ponte di Chiaia, bridge which spans the roadway and looks down upon its crowd and clamour as into a profound valley; thence proceed uphill on the lava paving, between fruit-shops and sausage-shops and wine-shops, always in an atmosphere of fried oil and roasted chestnuts and baked pine-cones; and presently turn left into a still narrower street, with tailors and boot-makers and smiths all at work in the open air; and pass through the Piazzetta Mondragone, and turn again to the left, but this time downhill; then lose yourself amid filthy little alleys, where the scent of oil and chestnuts and pine-cones is stronger than ever; then emerge on a little terrace where there is a noble view of the bay and of Capri; then turn abruptly between walls overhung with fig-trees and orange-trees and lemon-trees,-and you will reach Casa Rolandi.

It is an enormous house, with a great arched entrance admitting to the inner court, where on the wall is a Madonna's shrine, lamp-illumined of evenings. A great staircase leads up from floor to floor. On each story are two tenements, the doors facing each other. In 1878, one of the apartments at the very top-an ascent equal to that of a moderate mountain-was in the possession of a certain Signora Bassano, whose name might be read on a brass plate. This lady had furnished rooms to let, and here it was that Ross Mallard established himself for the few days that he proposed to spend at Naples.

Already he had lingered till the few days were become more than a fortnight, and still the day of his departure was undetermined. This was most unwonted waste of time, not easily accounted for by Mallard himself. A morning of sunny splendour, coming after much cloudiness and a good deal of rain, plucked him early out of bed, strong in the resolve that to-morrow should see him on the road to Amalfi. He had slept well-an exception in the past week-and his mind was open to the influences of sunlight and reason. Before going forth for breakfast he had a letter to write, a brief account of himself addressed to the murky little town of Sowerby Bridge, in Yorkshire. This finished, he threw open the big windows, stepped out on to the balcony, and drank deep draughts of air from the sea. In the street below was passing a flock of she-goats, all ready to be milked, each with a bell tinkling about her neck. The goat-herd kept summoning his customers with a long musical whistle. Mallard leaned over and watched the clean-fleeced, slender, graceful animals with a smile of pleasure. Then he amused himself with something that was going on in the house opposite. A woman came out on to a balcony high up, bent over it, and called, "Annina! Annina!" until the call brought another woman on to the balcony immediately below; whereupon the former let down a cord, and her friend, catching the end of it, made it fast to a basket which contained food covered with a cloth. The basket was drawn up, the women gossiped and laughed for a while in pleasant voices, then they disappeared. All around, the familiar Neapolitan clamour was beginning. Church bells were ringing as they ring at Naples-a great crash, followed by a rapid succession of quivering little shakes, then the crash again. Hawkers were crying fruit and vegetables and fish in rhythmic cadence; a donkey was braying obstreperously.

Mallard had just taken a light overcoat on his arm, and was ready to set out, when some one knocked. He turned the key in the door, and admitted Reuben Elgar.

"I'm off to Pompeii," said Elgar, vivaciously.

"All right. You'll go to the 'Sole'? I shall be there myself to-morrow evening."

"I'm right to stay several days, so we shall have more talk."

They left the house together, and presently parted with renewed assurance of meeting again on the morrow.

Mallard went his way thoughtfully, the smile quickly passing from his face. At a little caffe, known to him of old, he made a simple breakfast, glancing the while over a morning newspaper, and watching the children who came to fetch their due soldi of coffee in tiny tins. Then he strolled away and supplemented his meal with a fine bunch of grapes, bought for a penny at a stall that glowed and was fragrant with piles of fruit. Heedless of the carriage-drivers who shouted at him and even dogged him along street after street, he sauntered in the broad sunshine, plucking his grapes and relishing them. Coming out by the sea-shore, he stood for a while to watch the fishermen dragging in their nets-picturesque fellows with swarthy faces and suntanned legs of admirable outline, hauling slowly in files at interminable rope, which boys coiled lazily as it came in; or the oyster-dredgers, poised on the side of their boats over the blue water. At the foot of the sea-wall tumbled the tideless breakers; their drowsy music counselled enjoyment of the hour and carelessness of what might come hereafter.

With no definite purpose, he walked on and on, for the most part absorbed in thought. He passed through the long grotta of Posillipo, gloomy, chilly, and dank; then out again into the sunshine, and along the road to Bagnoli. On walls and stone-heaps the little lizards darted about, innumerable; in vineyards men were at work dismantling the vine-props, often singing at their task. From Bagnoli, still walking merely that a movement of his limbs might accompany his busy thoughts, he went along by the seashore, and so at length, still long before midday, had come to Pozzuoli. A sharp conflict with the swarm of guides who beset the entrance to the town, and again he escaped into quietness, wandered among narrow streets, between blue, red, and yellow houses, stopping at times to look at some sunny upper window hung about with clusters of sorbe and pomidori. By this time he had won appetite for a more substantial meal. In the kind of eating-house that suited his mood, an obscure bettola probably never yet patronized by Englishman, he sat down to a dish of maccheroni and a bottle of red wine. At another table were some boatmen, who, after greeting him, went on with their lively talk in a dialect of which he could understand but few words.

Having eaten well and drunk still better, he lit a cigar and sauntered forth to find a place for dreaming. Chance led him to the patch of public garden, with its shrubs and young palm-trees, which looks over the little port. Here, when once he had made it clear to a succession of rhetorical boatmen that he was not to be tempted on to the sea, he could sit as idly and as long as he liked, looking across the sapphire bay and watching the bright sails glide hither and thither With the help of sunlight and red wine, he could imagine that time had gone back twenty centuries-that this was not Pozzuoli, but Puteoli; that over yonder was not Baia, but Baiae; that the men among the shipping talked to each other in Latin, and perchance of the perishing Republic.

But Mallard's fancy would not dwell long in remote ages As he watched the smoke curling up from his cigar, he slipped back into the world of his active being, and made no effort to obscure the faces that looked upon him. They were those of his mother and sisters, thought of whom carried him to the northern island, now grim, cold, and sunless beneath its lowering sky. These relatives still lived where his boyhood had been passed, a life strangely unlike his own, and even alien to his sympathies, but their house was still all that he could call home. Was it to be always the same?

Fifteen years now, since, at the age of twenty, he painted his first considerable landscape, a tract of moorland on the borders of Lancashire and Yorkshire. This was his native ground. At Sowerby Bridge, a manufacturing town, which, like many others in the same part of England, makes a blot of ugliness on country in itself sternly beautiful, his father had settled as the manager of certain rope-works. Mr. Mallard's state was not unprosperous, for he had invented a process put in use by his employers, and derived benefit from it. He was a man of habitual gravity, occasionally severe in the rule of his household, very seldom unbending to mirth. Though not particularly robust, he employed his leisure in long walks about the moors, walks sometimes prolonged till after midnight, sometimes begun long before dawn. His acquaintances called him unsociable, and doubt less he was so in the sense that he could not find at Sowerby Bridge any one for whose society be greatly cared. It was even a rare thing for him to sit down with his wife and children for more than a few minutes; if he remained in the house, he kept apart in a room of his own, musing over, rather than reading, a little collection of books-one of his favourites being Defoe's "History of the Devil." He often made ironical remarks, and seemed to have a grim satisfaction when his hearers missed the point. Then he would chuckle, and shake his head, and go away muttering.

Young Ross, who made no brilliant figure at school, and showed a turn for drawing, was sent at seventeen to the factory of Messrs. Gilstead, Miles and Doran, to become a designer of patterns. The result was something more than his father had expected, for Mr. Doran, who had his abode at Sowerby Bridge, quickly discovered that the lad was meant for far other things, and, by dint of personal intervention, caused Mr. Mallard to give his son a chance of becoming an artist.

A remarkable man, this Mr. Doran. By nature a Bohemian, somehow made into a Yorkshire mill-owner; a strong, active, nobly featured man, who dressed as no one in the factory regions ever did before or probably ever will again-his usual appearance suggesting the common notion of a bushranger; an artist to the core; a purchaser of pictures by unknown men who had a future-at the sale of his collection three Robert Cheeles got into the hands of dealers, all of them now the boasted possessions of great galleries; a passionate lover of music-he had been known to make the journey to Paris merely to hear Diodati sing; finally, in common rumour a profligate whom no prudent householder would admit to the society of his wife and daughters. However, at the time of young Mallard's coming under his notice he had been married about a year. Mrs. Doran came from Manchester; she was very beautiful, but had slight education, and before long Sowerby Bridge remarked that the husband was too often away from home.

Doran and the elder Mallard, having once met, were disposed to see more of each other; in spite of the difference of social standing, they became intimates, and Mr. Mallard had at length some one with whom he found pleasure in conversing. He did not long enjoy the new experience. In the winter that followed, he died of a cold contracted on one of his walks when the hills were deep in snow.

Doran remained the firm friend of the family. Local talk had inspired Mrs. Mallard with a prejudice against him, but substantial services mitigated this, and the widow was in course of time less uneasy at her son's being practically under the guardianship of this singular man of business. Mallard, after preliminary training, was sent to the studio of a young artist whom Doran greatly admired, Cullen Banks, then struggling for the recognition he was never to enjoy, death being beforehand with him. Mrs. Mallard was given to understand that no expenses were involved save those of the lad's support in Manchester, where Banks lived, and Mallard himself did not till long after know that his friend had paid the artist a fee out of his own pocket. Two things did Mallard learn from Doran himself which were to have a marked influence on his life-a belief that only in landscape can a painter of our time hope to do really great work, and a limitless contempt of the Royal Academy. In Manchester he made the acquaintance of several people with whom Doran was familiar, among them Edward Spence, then in the shipping-office, and Jacob Bush Bradshaw, well on his way to making a fortune out of silk. On Banks's death, Mallard, now nearly twenty-one, went to London for a time. His patrimony was modest, but happily, if the capital remained intact, sufficient to save him from the cares that degrade and waste a life. His mother and sisters had also an income adequate to their simple habits.

In the meantime, Mrs. Doran was dead. After giving birth to a daughter, she fell into miserable health; her husband took her abroad, and she died in Germany. Thereafter Sowerby Bridge saw no more of its bugbear; Doran abandoned commerce and became a Bohemian in earnest-save that his dinner was always assured. He wandered over Europe; he lived with Bohemian society in every capital; he kept adding to his collection of pictures (stored in a house at Woolwich, which he freely lent as an abode to a succession of ill-to-do artists); and finally he was struck with paralysis whilst conducting to their home the widow and child of a young painter who had suddenly died in the Ardennes. The poor woman under his protection had to become his guardian. He was brought to the house at Woolwich, and there for several months lay between life and death. A partial recovery followed, and he was taken to the Isle of Wight, where, in a short time, a second attack killed him.

His child, Cecily, was twelve years old. For the last five years she had been living in the care of Mrs. Elgar at Manchester. This lady was an intimate friend of Mrs. Doran's family, and in entrusting his child to her, Doran had given a strong illustration of one of the singularities of his character. Though by no means the debauchee that Sowerby Bridge declared him, he was not a man of conventional morality; yet, in the case of people who were in any way entrusted to his care, he showed a curious severity of practice. Ross Mallard, for instance; no provincial Puritan could have instructed the lad more strenuously in the accepted moral code than did Mr. Doran on taking him from home to live in Manchester. In choosing a wife, he went to a family of conventional Dissenters; and he desired his daughter to pass the years of her childhood with people who he knew would guide her in the very straitest way of Puritan doctrine. What his theory was in this matter (if he had one) he told nobody. Dying, he left it to the discretion of the two trustees to appoint a residence for Cecily, if for any reason she could not remain with Mrs. Elgar. This occasion soon presented itself, and Cecily passed into the care of Doran's sister, Mrs. Lessingham, who was just entered upon a happy widowhood. Mallard, most unexpectedly left sole trustee, had no choice but to assent to this arrangement; the only other home possible for the girl was with Miriam at Redbeck House, but Mr. Baske did not look with favour on that proposal. Hitherto, Mr. Trench, the elder trustee, who lived in Manchester, had alone been in personal relations with Mrs. Elgar and little Cecily; even now Mallard did not make the personal acquaintance of Mrs. Elgar (otherwise he would doubtless have met Miriam), but saw Mrs. Lessingham in London, and for the first time met Cecily when she came to the south in her aunt's care. He knew what an extreme change would be made in the manner of the girl's education, and it caused him some mental trouble; but it was clear that Cecily might benefit greatly in health by travel, and, as for the moral question, Mrs. Lessingham strongly stirred his sympathies by the dolorous account she gave of the child's surroundings in the north. Cecily was being intellectually starved; that seemed clear to Mallard himself after a little conversation with her. It was wonderful how much she had already learnt, impelled by sheer inner necessity, of things which in general she was discouraged from studying. So Cecily left England, to return only for short intervals, spent in London. Between that departure and this present meeting, Mallard saw her only twice; but the girl wrote to him with some regularity. These letters grew more and more delightful. Cecily addressed herself with exquisite frankness as to an old friend, old in both senses of the word; collected, they made a history of her rapidly growing mind such as the shy artist might have glorified in possessing. In reality, he did nothing of the kind; he wished the letters would not come and disturb him in his work. He sent gruff little answers, over which Cecily laughed, as so characteristic.

Yes, there was a distinct connection between those homely memories and picturings which took him in thought to Sowerby Bridge, and the image of Cecily Doran which had caused him to waste all this time in Naples. They represented two worlds, in both of which he had some part; but it was only too certain with which of them he was the more closely linked. What but mere accident put him in contact with the world which was Cecily's? Through her aunt she had aristocratic relatives; her wealth made her a natural member of what is called society; her beauty and her brilliancy marked her to be one of society's ornaments. What could she possibly be to him, Ross Mallard, landscape-painter of small if any note, as unaristocratic in mind and person as any one that breathed? To put the point with uncompromising plainness, and therefore in all its absurdity, how could he possibly imagine Cecily Doran called Mrs. Mallard?

The thing was flagrantly, grossly, palpably absurd. He tingled in the ears in trying to represent to himself how Cecily would think of it, if by any misfortune it were ever suggested to her.

Then why not, in the name of common sense, cease to ponder such follies, and get on with the work which waited for him? Why this fluttering about a flame which scorched him more and more dangerously? It was not the first time that he had experienced temptations of this kind; a story of five years ago, its scene in London, should have reminded him that he could stand a desperate wrench when convinced that his life's purpose depended upon it. Here were three years of trusteeship before him-he could not, or would not, count on her marrying before she came of age. Her letters would still come; from time to time doubtless he must meet her. It had all resulted from this confounded journey taken together! Why, knowing himself sufficiently, did he consent to meet the people at Genoa, loitering there for a couple of days in expectancy? Why had he come to Italy at all just now?

The answers to all such angry queries were plain enough, however he had hitherto tried to avoid them. He was a lonely man like his father, but not content with loneliness; friendship was always strong to tempt him, and when the thought of something more than friendship had been suffered to take hold upon his imagination, it held with terrible grip, burning, torturing. He had come simply to meet Cecily; there was the long and short of it. It was a weakness, such as any man may be guilty of, particularly any artist who groans in lifelong solitude. Let it he recognized; let it be flung savagely into the past, like so many others encountered and overcome on his course.

The other day, when it was rainy and sunless, he had seemed all at once to find his freedom. In a moment of mental languor, he was able to view his position clearly, as though some other man were concerned, and to cry out that he had triumphed; but within the same hour an event befell which revived all the old trouble and added new. Reuben Elgar entered his room, coming directly from Villa Sannazaro, in a state of excitement, talking at once of Cecily Doran as though his acquaintance with her had been unbroken from the time when she was in his mother's care to now. Irritation immediately scattered the thoughts Mallard had been ranging; he could barely make a show of amicable behaviour; a cold fear began to creep about his heart. The next morning he woke to a new phase of his conflict, the end further off than ever. Unable to command thought and feeling, he preserved at least the control of his action, and could persevere in the resolve not to see Cecily; to avoid casual meetings he kept away even from the Spences. He shunned all places likely to be visited by Cecily, and either sat at home in dull idleness or strayed about the swarming quarters of the town, trying to entertain himself with the spectacle of Neapolitan life. To-day the delicious weather had drawn him forth in a heedless mood. And, indeed, it did not much matter now whether he met his friends or not; he had spoken the word-to-morrow he would go his way.

At the very moment of thinking this thought, when his cigar was nearly finished and he had begun to stretch his limbs, wearied by remaining in one position, shadows and footsteps approached him. He looked up, and-

"Mr. Mallard! So we have caught you at last! It only needed this to complete our enjoyment. Now you will go across to Raise with us."

Cecily, with Mrs. Baske and Spence. She had run eagerly forward, and her companions were advancing at a more sober pace. Mallard rose

with his grim smile, and of course forgot that it is customary to doff one's beaver when ladies approach; he took the offered hand, said "How do you do?" and turned to the others.

"A fair capture!" exclaimed Spence. "Just now, at lunch, we were speculating on such a chance. The cigar argues a broken fast, I take it."

"Yes, I have had my maccheroni."

"We are going to take a boat over to Bale. Suppose you come with us."

"Of course Mr. Mallard will come," said Cecily, her face radiant. "He can make no pretence of work interrupted."

Already the group was surrounded by boatmen offering their services. Spence led the way down to the quay, and after much tumult a boat was selected and a bargain struck, the original demand made by the artless sailors being of course five times as much as was ever paid for the transit. They rowed out through the cluster of little craft, then hoisted a sail, and glided smoothly over the blue water.

"Where is Mrs. Lessingham?" Mallard inquired of Cecily.

"At the Hotel Bristol, with some very disagreeable people who have just landed on their way from India-a military gentleman, and a more military lady, and a most military son, relatives of ours. We spent last evening with them, and I implored to be let off to-day."

Mallard propped himself idly, and from under the shadow of his hat often looked at her. He had begun to wonder at the unreserved joy with which she greeted his joining the party. Of course she could have no slightest suspicion of what was in his mind; one moment's thought of him in such a light must have altered her behaviour immediately. Altered in what way? That he in vain tried to imagine; his knowledge of her did not go far enough. But he could not be wrong in attributing unconsciousness to her. Moreover, with the inconsistency of a man in his plight, he resented it. To sit thus, almost touching him, gazing freely into his face, and yet to be in complete ignorance of suffering which racked him, seemed incompatible with fine qualities either of heart or mind. What rubbish was talked about woman's insight, about her delicate sympathies!

"Mrs. Spence is very sorry not to see you occasionally, Mr. Mallard."

It was Miriam who spoke. Mallard was watching Cecily, and now, on turning his head, he felt sure that Mrs. Baske had been observant of his countenance. Her eyes fell whilst he was seeking words for a reply.

"I shall call to see her to-morrow morning," he said, "just to say good-bye for a time."

"You really go to-morrow?" asked Cecily, with interest, but nothing more.

"Yes. I hope to see Mrs. Lessingham for a moment also. Can you tell me when she is likely to be at home?"

"Certainly between two and three, if you could come then."

He waited a little, then looked unexpectedly at Miriam. Again her eyes were fixed on him, and again they fell with something of consciousness. Did she, perchance, understand him?

His speculations concerning Cecily became comparative. In point of age, the distance between Cecily and Miriam was of some importance; the fact that the elder had been a married woman was of still more account. On the first day of his meeting with Mrs. Baske, he had thought a good deal about her; since then she had slipped from his mind, but now he felt his interest reviving. Surely she was as remote from him as a woman well could be, yet his attitude towards her had no character of intolerance; he half wished that he could form a closer acquaintance with her. At present, the thought of calm conversation with such a woman made a soothing contrast to the riot excited in him by Cecily. Did she read his mind? For one thing, it was not impossible that the Spences had spoken freely in her presence of himself and his odd relations to the girl; there was no doubting how they regarded him. Possibly he was a frequent subject of discussion between Eleanor and her cousin. Mature women could talk with each other freely of these things.

On the other hand, whatever Mrs. Lessingham might have in her mind, she certainly would not expose it in dialogue with her niece. Cecily was in an unusual position for a girl of her age; she had, he believed, no intimate friend; at all events, she had none who also knew him. Girls, to be sure, had their own way of talking over delicate points, just as married women had theirs, and with intimates of the ordinary kind Cecily must have come by now to consider her guardian as a male creature of flesh and blood. What did it mean, that she did not?

A question difficult of debate, involving much that the mind is wont to slur over in natural scruple. Mallard was no slave to the imbecile convention which supposes a young girl sexless in her understanding; he could not, in conformity with the school of hypocritic idealism, regard Cecily as a child of woman's growth. No. She had the fruits of a modern education; she had a lucid brain; of late she had mingled and conversed with a variety of men and women, most of them anything but crassly conventional. It was this very aspect of her training that had caused him so much doubt. And he knew by this time what his doubt principally meant; in a measure, it came of native conscientiousness, of prejudice which testified to his origin; but, more than that, it signified simple jealousy. Secretly, he did not like her outlook upon the world to be so unrestrained; he would have preferred her to view life as a simpler matter. Partly for this reason did her letters so disturb him. No; it would have been an insult to imagine her with the moral sensibilities of a child of twelve.

Was she intellectual at the expense of her emotional being? Was she guarded by nature against these disturbances? Somewhat ridiculous to ask that, and then look up at her face effulgent with the joy of life. She who could not speak without the note of emotion, who so often gave way to lyrical outbursts of delight, who was so warm-hearted in her friendship, whose every movement was in glad harmony with the loveliness of her form,-must surely have the corresponding capabilities of passion.

After all-and it was fetching a great compass to reach a point so near at hand-might she not take him at his own profession? Might she not view him as a man indeed, and one not yet past his youth, but still as a man who suffered no trivialities to interfere with the grave objects of his genius? She had so long had him represented to her in that way-from the very first of their meetings, indeed. Grant her mature sense and a reflective mind, was that any reason why she should probe subtly the natural appearance of her friend, and attribute to him that which he gave no sign of harbouring? Why must she be mysteriously conscious of his inner being, rather than take him ingenuously for what he seemed? She had instruction and wit, but she was only a girl; her experience was as good as nil. Mallard repeated that to himself as he looked at Mrs. Baske. To a great extent Cecily did, in fact, inhabit an ideal world. She was ready to accept the noble as the natural. Untroubled herself, she could contemplate without scepticism the image of an artist finding his bliss in solitary toil. This was the ground of the respect she had for him; disturb this idea, and he became to her quite another man-one less interesting, and, it might be, less lovable in either sense of the word.

Spence maintained a conversation with Miriam, chiefly referring to the characteristics of the scene about them; he ignored her peculiarities, and talked as though everything must necessarily give her pleasure. Her face proved that at all events the physical influences of this day in the open air were beneficial. The soft breeze had brought a touch of health to her cheek, and languid inattention no longer marked her gaze at sea and shore; she was often absent, but never listless. When she spoke, her voice was subdued and grave; it always caused Mallard to glance in her direction.

At Baiae they dismissed the boat, purposing to drive back to Naples. In their ramble among the ruins, Mallard did his best to be at ease and seem to share Cecily's happiness; in any case, it was better to talk of the Romans than of personal concerns. When in after-time he recalled this day, it seemed to him that he had himself been well contented; it dwelt in his memory with a sunny glow. He saw Cecily's unsurpassable grace as she walked beside him, and her look of winning candour turned to him so often, and he fancied that it had given him pleasure to be with her. And pleasure there was, no doubt, but inextricably blended with complex miseries. To Cecily his mood appeared more gracious than she had ever known it; he did not disdain to converse on topics which presupposed some knowledge on her part, and there was something of unusual gentleness in his tone which she liked.

"Some day," she said, "we shall talk of Baiae in London, in a November fog."

"I hope not."

"But such contrasts help one to get the most out of life," she rejoined, laughing; "At all events, when some one happens to speak to me of Mr. Mallard's pictures, I shall win credit by casually mentioning that I was at Baiae in his company in such-and-such a year."

"You mean, when I have painted my last!"

"No, no! It would be no pleasure to me to anticipate that time."

"But natural, in talking with a veteran."

It was against his better purpose that he let fall these words; they contained almost a hint of his hidden self, and he had not yet allowed anything of the kind to escape him. But the moment proved too strong.

"A veteran who fortunately gives no sign of turning grey," replied Cecily, glancing at his hair.

An interruption from Spence put an end to this dangerous dialogue. Mallard, inwardly growling at himself, resisted the temptation to further tete-a-tete, and in a short time the party went in search of a conveyance for their return. None offered that would hold four persons; the ordinary public carriages have convenient room for two only, and a separation was necessary. Mallard succeeded in catching Spence's eye, and made him understand with a savage look that he was to take Cecily with him. This arrangement was effected, and the first carriage drove off with those two, Cecily exchanging merry words with an old Italian who had rendered no kind of service, but came to beg his mancia on the strength of being able to utter a few sentences in English.

For the first time, Mallard was alone with Mrs. Baske. Miriam had not concealed surprise at the new adjustment of companionship; she looked curiously both at Cecily and at Mallard whilst it was going on. The first remark which the artist addressed to her, when they had been driving for a few minutes, was perhaps, she thought, an explanation of the proceeding.

"I shall meet your brother again at Pompeii to-morrow, Mrs. Baske."

"Have you seen much of him since he came!" Miriam asked constrainedly. She had not met Mallard since Reuben's arrival.

"Oh yes. We have dined together each evening."

Between two such unloquacious persons, dialogue was naturally slow at first, but they had a long drive before them. Miriam presently trusted herself to ask,-

"Has he spoken to you at all of his plans-of what he is going to do when he returns to England?"

"In general terms only. He has literary projects."

"Do you put any faith in them, Mr. Mallard?"

This was a sudden step towards intimacy. As she spoke, Miriam looked at him in a way that he felt to be appealing. He answered the look frankly.

"I think he has the power to do something worth doing. Whether his perseverance will carry him through it, is another question."

"He speaks to me of you in a way that-He seems, I mean, to put a value on your friendship, and I think you may still influence him. I am very glad he has met you here."

"I have very little faith in the influence of one person on another, Mrs. Baske. For ill-yes, that is often seen; but influence of the kind you suggest is the rarest of things."

"I'm afraid you are right."

She retreated into herself, and, when he looked at her, he saw cold reserve once more on her countenance. Doubtless she did not choose to let him know how deeply this question of his power concerned her. Mallard felt something like compassion; yet not ordinary compassion either, for at the same time he had a desire to break down this reserve, and see still more of what she felt. Curious; that evening when he dined at the villa, he had already become aware of this sort of attraction in her, an appeal to his sympathies together with the excitement of his combative spirit-if that expressed it.

"No man," he remarked, "ever did solid work except in his own strength. One can be encouraged in effort, but the effort must originate in one's self."

Miriam kept silence. He put a direct question.

"Have you yourself encouraged him to pursue this idea?"

"I have not discouraged him."

"In your brother's case, discouragement would probably be the result if direct encouragement were withheld."

Again she said nothing, and again Mallard felt a desire to subdue the pride, or whatever it might be, that had checked the growth of friendliness between them in its very beginning. He remained mute for a long time, until they were nearing Pozzuoli, but Miriam showed no disposition to be the first to speak. At length he said abruptly:

"Shall you go to the San Carlo during the winter?"

"The San Carlo?" she asked inquiringly.

"The opera."

Mallard was in a strange mood. Whenever he looked ahead at Cecily, he had a miserable longing which crushed his heart down, down; in struggling against this, he felt that Mrs. Baske's proximity was an aid, but that it would be still more so if he could move her to any unusual self-revelation. He had impulses to offend her, to irritate her prejudices-anything, so she should but be moved. This question that fell from him was mild in comparison with some of the subjects that pressed on his harassed brain.

"I don't go to theatres," Miriam replied distantly.

"That is losing much pleasure."

"The word has very different meanings."

She was roused. Mallard observed with a perverse satisfaction the scorn implied in this rejoinder. He noted that her features had more decided beauty than when placid.

"I imagine," he resumed, smiling at her, "that the life of an artist must seem to you frivolous, if not something worse. I mean an artist in the sense of a painter."

"I cannot think it the highest kind of life," Miriam replied, also smiling, but ominously.

"As Miss Doran does," added Mallard, his eyes happening to catch Cecily's face as it looked backwards, and his tongue speaking recklessly.

"There are very few subjects on which Miss Doran and I think alike."

He durst not pursue this; in his state of mind, the danger of committing some flagrant absurdity was too great. The subject attracted him like an evil temptation, for he desired to have Miriam speak of Cecily. But he mastered himself.

"The artist's life may be the highest of which a particular man is capable. For instance, I think it is so in my own case."

Miriam seemed about to keep silence again, but ultimately she spoke. The voice suggested that upon her too there was a constraint of some kind.

"On what grounds do you believe that?"

His eyes sought her face rapidly. Was she ironical at his expense? That would be new light upon her mind, for hitherto she had seemed to him painfully literal. Irony meant intellect; mere scorn or pride might signify anything but that. And he was hoping to find reserves of power in her, such as would rescue her from the imputation of commonplaceness in her beliefs. Testing her with his eye, he answered meaningly:

"Not, I admit, on the ground of recognized success."

Miriam made a nervous movement, and her brows contracted. Without looking at him, she said, in a voice which seemed rather to resent his interpretation than to be earnest in deprecating it:

"You know, Mr. Mallard, that I meant nothing of the kind."

"Yet I could have understood you, if you had. Naturally you must wonder a little at a man's passing his life as I do. You interpret life absolutely; it is your belief that it can have only one meaning, the same for all, involving certain duties of which there can be no question, and admitting certain relaxations which have endured the moral test. A man may not fritter away the years that are granted him; and that is what I seem to you to be doing, at best."

"Why should you suppose that I take upon myself to judge you?"

"Forgive me; I think it is one result of your mental habits that you judge all who differ from you."

This time she clearly was resolved to make no reply. They were passing through Pozzuoli, and she appeared to forget the discussion in looking about her. Mallard watched her, but she showed no consciousness of his gaze.

"Even if the world recognized me as an artist of distinction," he resumed, "you would still regard me as doubtfully employed. Art does not seem to you an end of sufficient gravity. Probably you had rather there were no such thing, if it were practicable."

"There is surely a great responsibility on any one who makes it the end of life."

This was milder again, and just when he had anticipated the opposite.

"A responsibility to himself, yes. Well, when I say that I believe this course is the highest I can follow, I mean that I believe it employs all my best natural powers as no other would. As for highest in the absolute sense, that is a different matter. Possibly the life of a hospital nurse, of a sister of mercy-something of that kind-comes nearest to the ideal."

She glanced at him, evidently in the same kind of doubt about his meaning as he had recently felt about hers.

"Why should you speak contemptuously of such people?"

"Contemptuously? I speak sincerely. In a world where pain is the most obvious fact, the task of mercy must surely take precedence of most others."

"I am surprised to hear you say this."

It was spoken in the tone most characteristic of her, that of a proud condescension.

"Why, Mrs. Baske?"

She hesitated a little, but made answer:

"I don't mean that I think you unfeeling, but your interests seem to be so far from such simple things."

"True."

Again a long silence. The carriage was descending the road from Pozzuoli; it approached the sea-shore, where the gentle breakers were beginning to be tinged with evening light. Cecily looked back and waved her hand.

"When You say that art is an end in itself," Miriam resumed abruptly, "you claim, I suppose, that it is a way of serving mankind?"

Mallard was learning the significance of her tones. In this instance, he knew that the words "serving mankind" were a contemptuous use of a phrase she had heard, a phrase which represented the philosophy alien to her own.

"Indeed, I claim nothing of the kind," he replied, laughing. "Art may, or may not, serve such a purpose; but be assured that the artist never thinks of his work in that way."

"You make no claim, then, even of usefulness?"

"Most decidedly, none. You little imagine how distasteful the word is to me in such connection."

"Then how can you say you are employing your best natural powers?"

She had fallen to ingenuous surprise, and Mallard again laughed, partly at the simplicity of the question, partly because it pleased him to have brought her to such directness.

"Because," he answered, "this work gives me keener and more lasting pleasure than any other would. And I am not a man easily pleased with my own endeavours, Mrs. Baske. I work with little or no hope of ever satisfying myself-that is another thing. I have heard men speak of my kind of art as 'the noble pursuit of Truth,' and so on. I don't care for such phrases; they may mean something, but as a rule come of the very spirit so opposed to my own-that which feels it necessary to justify art by bombast. The one object I have in life is to paint a bit of the world just as I see it. I exhaust myself in vain toil; I shall never succeed; but I am right to persevere, I am right to go on pleasing myself."

Miriam listened in astonishment.

"With such views, Mr. Mallard, it is fortunate that you happen to find pleasure in painting pictures."

"Which, at all events, do people no harm."

She turned upon him suddenly.

"Do you encourage my brother in believing that his duty in life is to please himself?"

"It has been my effort," he replied gravely.

"I don't understand you," Miriam said, in indignation.

"No, you do not. I mean to say that I believe your brother is not really pleased with the kind of life he has too long been leading; that to please himself he must begin serious work of some kind."

"That is playing with words, and on a subject ill-chosen for it."

"Mrs. Baske, do you seriously believe that Reuben Elgar can be made a man of steady purpose by considerations that have primary reference to any one or anything but himself?"

She made no answer.

"I am not depreciating him. The same will apply (if you are content to face the truth) to many a man whom you would esteem. I am sorry that I have lost your confidence, but that is better than to keep it by repeating idle formulas that the world's experience has outgrown."

Miriam pondered, then said quietly:

"We have different thoughts, Mr. Mallard, and speak different languages."

"But we know a little more of each other than we did. For my part, I feel it a gain."

During the rest of the drive they scarcely spoke at all; the few sentences exchanged were mere remarks upon the scenery. Both carriages drew up at the gate of the villa, where Miriam and Mallard alighted. Spence, rising, called to the latter.

"Will you accompany Miss Doran the rest of the way?"

"Certainly."

Mallard took his seat in the other carriage; and, as it drove off, he looked back. Miriam was gazing after them.

Cecily was a little tired, and not much disposed to converse. Her companion being still less so, they reached the Mergellina without having broached any subject.

"It has been an unforgettable day," Cecily said, as they parted.

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