Trilby by George du Maurier
'Mimi Pinson est une blonde,' Une blonde que l'on connait; Elle n'a qu'une robe au monde. Launderirette! et qu'un bonnet!'
It was a fine, sunny, showery day in April.
The big studio window was open at the top, and let in a pleasant breeze from the north-west. Things were beginning to look shipshape at last. The big piano, a semi-grand by Broadwood, had arrived from England by 'the Little Quickness' (la Petite Vitesse, as the goods trains are called in France), and lay, freshly tuned, alongside the eastern wall; on the wall opposite was a panoply of foils, masks, and boxing-gloves.
A trapeze, a knotted rope, and two parallel cords, supporting each a ring, depended from a huge beam in the ceiling. The walls were of the usual dull red, relieved by plaster casts of arms and legs and hands and feet; and Dante's mask, and Michael Angelo's alto-rilievo of Leda and the swan, and a centaur and Lapith from the Elgin Marbles--on none of these had the dust as yet had time to settle.
There were also studies in oil from the nude; copies of Titian, Rembrandt, Velasquez, Rubens, Tintoret, Leonardo da Vinci--none of the school of Botticelli, Mantegna, and Co.--a firm whose merits had not as yet been revealed to the many.
Along the walls, at a great height, ran a broad shelf, on which were other casts in plaster, terra-cotta, imitation bronze: a little Theseus, a little Venus of Milo, a little discobolus; a little flayed man threatening high heaven (an act that seemed almost pardonable under the circumstances!); a lion and a boar by Barye; an anatomical figure of a horse, with only one leg left and no ears; a horse's head from the pediment of the Parthenon, earless also; and the bust of Clytie, with her beautiful low brow, her sweet wan gaze, and the ineffable forward shrug of her dear shoulders that makes her bosom as a nest, a rest, a pillow, a refuge--the likeness of a thing to be loved and desired for ever, and sought for and wrought for and fought for by generation after generation of the sons of men.
Near the stove hung a gridiron, a frying-pan, a toasting-fork, and a pair of bellows. In an adjoining--glazed corner cupboard were plates and glasses, black-handled knives, pewter spoons, and three-pronged steel forks; a salad-bowl, vinegar cruets, an oil-flask, two mustard- pots (English and French), and such like things--all scrupulously clean. On the floor, which had been stained and waxed at considerable cost, lay two cheetah-skins and a large Persian praying-rug. One half of it, however (under the trapeze and at the end farthest from the window, beyond the model-throne), was covered with coarse matting, that one might fence or box without slipping down and splitting one's self in two, or fall without breaking any bones.
Two other windows of the usual French size and pattern, with shutters to them and heavy curtains of baize, opened east and west, to let in dawn or sunset, as the case might be, or haply keep them out. And there were alcoves, recesses, irregularities, odd little nooks and corners, to be filled up as time wore on with endless personal nick- nacks, bibelots, private properties and acquisitions--things that make a place genial, homelike, and good to remember, and sweet to muse upon (with fond regret) in after years.
And an immense divan spread itself in width and length and delightful thickness just beneath the big north window, the business window--a divan so immense that three well-fed, well-contented Englishmen could all lie lazily smoking their pipes on it at once without being in each other's way, and very often did!
At present one of these Englishmen--a Yorkshireman, by the way, called Taffy (and also the Man of Blood, because he was supposed to be distantly related to a baronet)--was more energetically engaged. Bare- armed, and in his shirt and trousers, he was twirling a pair of Indian clubs round his head. His face was flushed, and he was perspiring freely and looked fierce. He was a very big young man, fair, with kind but choleric blue eyes, and the muscles of his brawny arm were strong as iron bands.
For three years he had borne Her Majesty's commission, and had been through the Crimean campaign without a scratch. He would have been one of the famous six hundred in the famous charge at Balaklava but for a sprained ankle (caught playing leapfrog in the trenches), which kept him in hospital on that momentous day. So that he lost his chance of glory or the grave, and this humiliating misadventure had sickened him of soldiering for life, and he never quite got over it. Then, feeling within himself an irresistible vocation for art, he had sold out; and here he was in Paris, hard at work, as we see.
He was good-looking, with straight features; but I regret to say that, besides his heavy plunger's moustache, he wore an immense pair of drooping auburn whiskers, of the kind that used to be called Piccadilly weepers,--and were afterwards affected by Mr. Sothern in Lord Dundreary. It was a fashion to do so then for such of our gilded youth as could afford the time (and the hair); the bigger and fairer the whiskers, the more beautiful was thought the youth! It seems incredible in these days, when even Her Majesty's Household Brigade go about with smooth cheeks and lips, like priests or play-actors.
'What's become of all the gold used to hang and brush their bosoms...?'
Another inmate of this blissful abode--Sandy, the Laird of Cockpen, as he was called--sat in similarly simple attire at his easel, painting at a lifelike little picture of a Spanish toreador serenading a lady of high degree (in broad daylight). He had never been to Spain, but he had a complete toreador's kit--a bargain which he had picked up for a mere song in the Boulevard du Temple--and he had hired the guitar. His pipe was in his mouth--reversed; for it had gone out, and the ashes were spilled all over his trousers where holes were often burned In this way.
Quite gratuitously, and with a pleasing Scotch accent, he began to declaim:
"A street there is in Paris famous
For which no rhyme our language yields;
Roo Nerve day Petty Shong its name is--
The New Street of the Little Fields..."
And then, in his keen appreciation of the immortal stanza, he chuckled audibly, with a face so blithe and merry and well pleased that it did one good to look at him.
He also had entered life by another door. His parents (good, pious people in Dundee) had intended that he should be a solicitor, as his father and grandfather had been before him. And here he was in Paris famous, painting toreadors, and spouting the 'Ballad of the Bouillabaisse,' as he would often do out of sheer lightness of heart-- much oftener, indeed, than he would say his prayers.
Kneeling on the divan, with his elbow on the window-sill, was a third and much younger youth. The third he was 'Little Billee.' He had pulled down the green baize blind, and was looking over the roofs and chimney-pots of Paris and all about with all his eyes, munching the while a roll and a savoury saveloy, in which there was evidence of much garlic. He ate with great relish, for he was very hungry; he had been all the morning at Carrel's studio, drawing from the life.
Little Billee was small and slender, about twenty or twenty-one, and had a straight white forehead veined with blue, large dark blue eyes, delicate, regular features, and coal-black hair. He was also very graceful and well built, with very small hands and feet, and much better dressed than his friends, who went out of their way to outdo the denizens of the Quartier Latin in careless eccentricity of garb, and succeeded. And in his winning and handsome face there was just a faint suggestion of some possible very remote Jewish ancestor--just a tinge of that strong, sturdy, irrepressible, indomitable, indelible blood which is of such priceless value in diluted homeopathic doses, like the dry white Spanish wine called montijo, which is not meant to be taken pure; but without a judicious admixture of which no sherry can go round the world and keep its flavour intact; or like the famous bulldog strain, which is not beautiful in itself, and yet just for lacking a little of the same no greyhound can ever hope to be a champion. So, at least, I have been told by wine-merchants and dog- fanciers--the most veracious persons that' can be. Fortunately for the world, and especially for ourselves, most of us have in our veins at least a minim of that precious fluid, whether we know it or show it or not. Tant pis pour les autres!
As Little Billee munched he also gazed at the busy place below--the Place St. Anatole des Arts--at the old houses opposite, some of which were being pulled down, no doubt lest they should fall of their own sweet will. In the gaps between he would see discoloured, old, cracked, dingy walls, with mysterious windows and rusty iron balconies of great antiquity--sights that set him dreaming dreams of mediaeval French love and wickedness and crime, bygone mysteries of Paris!
One gap went right through the block, and gave him a glimpse of the river, the 'Cite,' and the ominous old Morgue; a little to the right rose the gray towers of Notre Dame de Paris into the checkered April sky. Indeed, the top of nearly all Paris lay before him, with a little stretch of the imagination on his part; and he gazed with a sense of novelty, an interest and a pleasure for which he could not have found any expression in mere language.
Paris! Paris!! Paris!!!
The very name had always been one to conjure with, whether he thought of it as a mere sound on the lips and in the ear, or as a magical written or printed word for the eye. And here was the thing itself at last, and he, he himself ipsissimus, in the very heart of it, to live there and learn there as long as he liked, and make himself the great artist he longed to be.
Then, his meal finished, he lit a pipe, and flung himself on the divan and sighed deeply, out of the over-full contentment of his heart.
He felt he had never known happiness like this, never even dreamed its possibility. And yet his life had been a happy one. He was young and tender, was Little Billee; he had never been to any school, and was innocent of the world and its wicked ways; innocent of French especially, and the ways of Paris and its Latin Quarter. He had been brought up and educated at home, had spent his boyhood in London with his mother and sister, who now lived in Devonshire on somewhat straitened means. His father, who was dead, had been a clerk in the Treasury.
He and his two friends, Taffy and the Laird, had taken this studio together. The Laird slept there, in a small bedroom off the studio. Taffy had a bedroom at the Hotel de Seme, in the street of that name. Little Billee lodged at the Hotel Corneille, in the Place de l'Odeon.
He looked at his two friends, and wondered if any one, living or dead, had ever had such a glorious pair of chums as these.
Whatever they did, whatever they said, was simply perfect in his eyes; they were his guides and philosophers as well as his chums. On the other hand, Taffy and the Laird were as fond of the boy as they could be.
His absolute belief in all they said and did touched them none the less that they were conscious of its being somewhat in excess of their deserts. His almost girlish purity of mind amused and charmed them, and they did all they could to preserve it, even in the Quartier Latin, where purity is apt to go bad if it be kept too long.
They loved him for his affectionate disposition, his lively and caressing ways; and they admired him far more than he ever knew, for they recognised in him a quickness, a keenness, a delicacy of perception, in matters of form and colour, a mysterious facility and felicity of execution, a sense of all that was sweet and beautiful in nature, and a ready power of expressing it, that had not been vouchsafed to them in any such generous profusion, and which, as they ungrudgingly admitted to themselves and each other, amounted to true genius.
And when one within the immediate circle of our intimates is gifted in this abnormal fashion, we either hate or love him for it, in proportion to the greatness of his gift; according to the way we are built.
So Taffy and the Laird loved Little Billee--loved him very much indeed. Not but what Little Billee had his faults. For instance, he didn't interest himself very warmly in other people's pictures. He didn't seem to care for the Laird's guitar-playing toreador, nor for his serenaded lady--at all events, he never said anything about them, either in praise or blame. He looked at Taffy's realisms (for Taffy was a realist) in silence, and nothing tries true friendship so much as silence of this kind.
But, then, to make up for it, when they all three went to the Louvre, he didn't seem to trouble much about Titian either, or Rembrandt, or Velasquez, Rubens, Veronese, or Leonardo. He looked at the people who looked at the pictures, instead of at the pictures themselves; especially at the people who copied them, the sometimes charming young lady painters--and these seemed to him even more charming than they really were--and he looked a great deal out of the Louvre windows, where there was much to be seen: more Paris, for instance--Paris, of which he could never have enough.
But when, surfeited with classical beauty, they all three went and dined together, and Taffy and the Laird said beautiful things about the old masters, and quarrelled about them, he listened with deference and rapt attention and reverentially agreed with all they said; and afterwards made the most delightfully funny little pen-and-ink sketches of them, saying all these beautiful things (which he sent to his mother and sister at home); so lifelike, so real, that you could almost hear the beautiful things they said; so beautifully drawn that you felt the old masters couldn't have drawn them better themselves; and so irresistibly droll that you felt that the old masters could not have drawn them at all--any more than Milton could have described the quarrel between Sairey Gamp and Betsy Prig; no one, in short, but Little Billee.
Little Billee took up the 'Ballad of the Bouillabaisse' where the Laird had left it off, and speculated on the future of himself and his friends, when he should have got to forty years--an almost impossibly remote future.
These speculations were interrupted by a loud knock at the door, and two men came in.
First, a tall bony individual of any age between thirty and forty- five, of Jewish aspect, well-featured but sinister. He was very shabby and dirty, and wore a red beret and a large velveteen cloak, with a big metal clasp at the collar. His thick, heavy, languid, lustreless black hair fell down behind his ears on to his shoulders, in that musician-like way that is so offensive to the normal Englishman. He had bold, brilliant black eyes, with long heavy lids, a thin, sallow face, and a beard of burnt-up black, which grew almost from his under eyelids; and over it his moustache, a shade lighter, fell in two long spiral twists. He went by the name of Svengali, and spoke fluent French with a German accent and humorous German twists and idioms, and his voice was very thin and mean and harsh, and often broke into a disagreeable falsetto.
His companion was a little swarthy young man--a gypsy, possibly---much pitted with the smallpox, and also very shabby. He had large, soft, affectionate brown eyes, like a King Charles spaniel. He had small, nervous, veiny hands, with nails bitten down to the quick, and carried a fiddle and a fiddlestick under his arm, without a case, as though he had been playing in the street.
'Ponchour, mes enfants,' said Svengali. 'Che vous amene mon ami Checko, qui choue du fiolon comme un anche!'
Little Billee, who adored all 'sweet musicianers,' jumped up and made Gecko as warmly welcome as he could in his early French.
'Ha! le biano!' exclaimed Svengali, flinging his red beret on it, and his cloak on the ground. 'Ch'espere qu'il est pon, et bien t'accord!'
And sitting down on the music-stool, he ran up and down the scales with that easy power, that smooth even crispness of touch, which reveal the master.
Then he fell to playing Chopin's impromptu in A flat, so beautifully that Little Billee's heart went nigh to bursting with suppressed emotion and delight. He had never heard any music of Chopin's before, nothing but British provincial home-made music--melodies with variations, 'Annie Laurie,' 'The Last Rose of Summer,' 'The Blue Bells of Scotland'; innocent little motherly and sisterly tinklings, invented to set the company at their ease on festive evenings, and make all-round conversation possible for shy people, who fear the unaccompanied sound of their own voices, and whose genial chatter always leaves off directly the music ceases.
He never forgot that impromptu, which he was destined to hear again one day in strange circumstances.
Then Svengali and Gecko made music together, divinely. Little fragmentary things, sometimes consisting of but a few bars, but these bars of such beauty and meaning! Scraps, snatches, short melodies, meant to fetch, to charm immediately, or to melt or sadden or madden just for a moment, and that knew just when to leave off---czardas, gypsy dances, Hungarian love-plaints, things little known out of eastern Europe in the fifties of this century, till the Laird and Taffy were almost as wild in their enthusiasm as Little Billee--a silent enthusiasm too deep for speech. And when these two great artists left off to smoke, the three Britishers were too much moved even for that, and there was a stillness....
Suddenly there came a loud knuckle-rapping at the outer door, and a portentous voice of great volume, and that might almost have belonged to any sex (even an angel's), uttered the British milkman's yodel, 'Milk below!' and before any one could say 'Entrez,' a strange figure appeared, framed by the gloom of the little antechamber.
It was the figure of a very tall and fully-developed young female, clad in the gray overcoat of a French infantry soldier, continued netherwards by a short striped petticoat, beneath which were visible her bare white ankles and insteps, and slim, straight, rosy heels, clean cut and smooth as the back of a razor; her toes lost themselves in a huge pair of male slippers, which made her drag her feet as she walked.
She bore herself with easy, unembarrassed grace, like a person whose nerves and muscles are well in tune, whose spirits are high, who has lived much in the atmosphere of French studios, and feels at home in it.
This strange medley of garments was surmounted by a small bare head with short, thick, wavy brown hair, and a very healthy young face, which could scarcely be called quite beautiful at first sight, since the eyes were too wide apart, the mouth too large, the chin too massive, the complexion a mass of freckles. Besides, you can never tell how beautiful (or how ugly) a face may be till you have tried to draw it.
But a small portion of her neck, down by the collarbone, which just showed itself between the unbuttoned lapels of her military coat collar, was of a delicate privet-like whiteness that is never to be found on any French neck, and very few English ones. Also, she had a very fine brow, broad and low, with thick level eyebrows much darker than her hair, a broad, bony, high bridge to her short nose, and her full, broad cheeks were beautifully modelled. She would have made a singularly handsome boy.
As the creature looked round at the assembled company and flashed her big white teeth at them in an all-embracing smile of uncommon width and quite irresistible sweetness, simplicity, and friendly trust, one saw at a glance that she was out of the common clever, simple, humorous, honest, brave, and kind, and accustomed to be genially welcomed wherever she went. Then suddenly closing the door behind her, dropping her smile, and looking wistful and sweet, with her head on one side and her arms akimbo, 'Ye're all English, now, aren't ye?' she exclaimed. 'I heard the music, and thought I'd just come in for a bit, and pass the time of day: you don't mind? Trilby, that's my name--- Trilby O'Ferrall.'
She said this in English, with an accent half Scotch and certain French intonations, and, in a voice so rich and deep and full as almost to suggest an incipient tenore robusto; and one felt instinctively that it was a real pity she wasn't a boy, she would have made such a jolly one.
'We're delighted, on the contrary,' said Little Billee, and advanced a chair for her.
But she said, 'Oh, don't mind me; go on with the music,' and sat herself down cross-legged on the model-throne near the piano.
As they still looked at her, curious and half embarrassed, she pulled a paper parcel containing food out of one of the coat-pockets, and exclaimed:
'I'll just take a bite, if you don't object; I'm a model, you know, and it's just rung twelve--"the rest." I'm posing for Durien the sculptor, on the next floor. I pose to him for the altogether.'
'The altogether?' asked Little Billee.
'Yes--l'ensemble, you know--head, hands, and feet---everything-- especially feet. That's my foot,' she said, kicking off her big slipper and stretching out the limb. 'It's the handsomest foot in all Paris. There's only one in all Paris to match it, and here it is,' and she laughed heartily (like a merry peal of bells), and stuck out the other.
And in truth they were astonishingly beautiful feet, such as one only sees in pictures and statues--a true inspiration of shape and colour, all made up of delicate lengths and subtly-modulated curves and noble straightnesses and happy little dimpled arrangements in innocent young pink and white.
So that Little Billee, who had the quick, prehensile, aesthetic eye, and knew by the grace of Heaven what the shapes and sizes and colours of almost every bit of man, woman, or child should be (and so seldom are), was quite bewildered to find that a real, bare, live human foot could be such a charming object to look at, and felt that such a base or pedestal lent quite an antique and Olympian dignity to a figure that seemed just then rather grotesque in its mixed attire of military overcoat and female petticoat, and nothing else!
The shape of those lovely slender feet (that were neither large nor small), facsimiled in dusty pale plaster of Paris, survives on the shelves and walls of many a studio throughout the world, and many a sculptor yet unborn has yet to marvel at their strange perfection, in studious despair.
For when Dame Nature takes it into her head to do her very best, and bestow her minutest attention on a mere detail, as happens now and then--once in a blue moon, perhaps--she makes it uphill work for poor human art to keep pace with her.
It is a wondrous thing, the human foot--like the human hand; even more so, perhaps; but, unlike the hand, with which we are so familiar, it is seldom a thing of beauty in civilised adults who go about in leather boots or shoes.
So that it is hidden away in disgrace, a thing to be thrust out of sight and forgotten. It can sometimes be very ugly indeed--the ugliest thing there is, even in the fairest and highest and most gifted of her sex; and then it is of an ugliness to chill and kill romance, and scatter love's young dream, and almost break the heart.
And all for the sake of a high heel and a ridiculously-pointed toe--- mean things, at the best!
Conversely, when Mother Nature has taken extra pains in the building of it, and proper care or happy chance has kept it free of lamentable deformations, indurations, and discolorations--all those grewsome boot-begotten abominations which have made it so generally unpopular---the sudden sight of it, uncovered, conies as a very rare and singularly pleasing surprise to the eye that has learned how to see!
Nothing else that Mother Nature has to show, not even the human face divine, has more subtle power to suggest high physical distinction, happy evolution, and supreme development; the lordship of man over beast, the lordship of man over man, the lordship of woman over all!
En voila de l'eloquence--a propos de bottes!
Trilby had respected Mother Nature's special gift to herself--had never worn a leather boot or shoe, had always taken as much care of her feet as many a fine lady takes of her hands. It was her one coquetry, the only real vanity she had.
Gecko, his fiddle in one hand and his bow in the other, stared at her in open-mouthed admiration and delight, as she ate her sandwich of soldier's bread and fromage a la creme quite unconcerned.
When she had finished she licked the tips of her fingers clean of cheese, and produced a small tobacco-pouch from another military pocket, made herself a cigarette, and lit it and smoked it, inhaling the smoke in large whiffs, filling her lungs with it, and sending it back through her nostrils, with a look of great beatitude.
Svengali played 'Schubert's 'Rosemonde,' and flashed a pair of languishing black eyes at her with intent to kill.
But she didn't even look his way. She looked at Little Billee, at big Taffy, at the Laird, at the casts and studies, at the sky, the chimney-pots over the way, the towers of Notre Dame, just visible from where she sat.
Only when he finished she exclaimed: 'Mai'e, a'ie! c'est rudement bien tape, c'te musique-la! Seulement, c'est pas gai, vous savez! Comment q'ca s'appelle?'
'It is called the "Rosemonde" of Schubert, matemoiselle,' replied Svengali. (I will translate).'
'And what's that--Rosemonde?' said she.
'Rosemonde was a princess of Cyprus, matemoiselle, and Cyprus is an island.'
'Ah, and Schubert, then--where's that?'
'Schubert is not an island, matemoiselle. Schubert was a compatriot of mine, and made music, and played the piano, just like me.'
'Ah, Schubert was a monsieur, then. Don't know him; never heard his name.'
'That is a pity, matemoiselle. He had some talent. You like this better, perhaps,' and he strummed.
'Messieurs les etudiants.
S'en vont a la chaumiere
Pour y danser le cancan,"
striking wrong notes, and banging out a key--a hideously grotesque performance.
'Yes, I like that better. It's gayer, you know. Is that also composed by a compatriot of yours?' asked the lady.
'Heaven forbid, matemoiselle.'
And the laugh was against Svengali.
But the real fun of it all (if there was any) lay in the fact that she was perfectly sincere.
'Are you fond of music?' asked Little Billee.
'Oh, ain't I just!' she replied. 'My father sang like a bird. He was a gentleman and a scholar, my father was. His name was Patrick Michael O'Ferrall, Fellow of Trinity, Cambridge. He used to sing "Ben Bolt." Do you know "Ben Bolt"?'
'Oh yes, I know it well,' said Little Billee. 'It's a very pretty song.'
'I can sing it,' said Miss O'Ferrall. 'Shall I?'
'Oh, certainly, if you will be so kind.'
Miss O'Ferrall threw away the end of her cigarette, put her hands on her knees as she sat cross-legged on the model-throne, and sticking her elbows well out, she looked up to the ceiling with a tender, sentimental smile, and sang the touching song.
'Oh, don't you remember sweet Alice, Ben Bolt?
Sweet Alice, with hair so brown?' etc., etc.
As some things are too sad and too deep for tears, so some things are too grotesque and too funny for laughter. Of such a kind was Miss O'Ferrall's performance of 'Ben Bolt.'
From that capacious mouth and through that high-bridged bony nose there rolled a volume of breathy sound, not loud, but so immense that it seemed to come from all round, to be reverberated from every surface in the studio. She followed more or less the shape of the tune, going up when it rose and down when it fell, but with such immense intervals between the notes as were never dreamed of in any. mortal melody. It was as though she could never once have deviated Into tune, never once have hit upon a true note, even by a fluke--in fact, as though she were absolutely tone-deaf, and without ear, although she stuck to the time correctly enough.
She finished her song amid an embarrassing silence. The audience didn't quite know whether it were meant for fun or seriously. One wondered if she were not paying out Svengali for his impertinent performance of 'Messieurs les etudiants.' If so, it was a capital piece of impromptu tit-for-tat admirably acted, and a very ugly gleam yellowed the tawny black of Svengali's big eyes. He was so fond of making fun of others that he particularly resented being made fun of himself--couldn't endure that any one should ever have the laugh of him..
At length Little Billee said: 'Thank you so much. It's a capital song.'
'Yes,' said Miss O'Ferrall. 'It's the only song I know, unfortunately. My father used to sing it, just like that, when he felt jolly after hot rum-and-water. It used to make people cry; he used to cry over it himself. I never do. Some people think I can't sing a bit. All I can say is that I've often had to sing it six or seven times running in lots of studios. I vary it, you know--not the words, but the tune. You must remember that I've only taken to it lately. Do you know Litolff? Well, he's a great composer, and he came to Durien's the other day, and I sang "Ben Bolt," and what do you think he said? Why, he said Madame Alboni couldn't go nearly so high or so low as I did, and that her voice wasn't half so big. He gave me his word of honour. He said I breathed as natural and straight as a baby, and all I want is to get my voice a little more under control. That's what he said.'
'Qu'est-ce qu'elle dit?' asked Svengali. And she said it all over again to him in French--quite French French--of the most colloquial kind. Her accent was not that of the Comedie Francaise, nor yet that of the Faubourg St. Germain, nor yet that of the shop, or the pavement. It was quaint and expressive--'funny without being vulgar.'
'Barpleu! he was right, Litolff,' said Svengali. 'I assure you, matemoiselle, that I have never heard a voice that can equal yours; you have a talent quite exceptional.'
She blushed with pleasure, and the others thought him a 'beastly cad' for poking fun at the poor girl in such a way. And they thought Monsieur Litolff another.
She then got up and shook the crumbs off her coat, and slipped her feet into Durien's slippers, saying, in English: 'Well, I've got to go back. Life ain't all beer and skittles, and more's the pity; but what's the odds, so long as you're happy?'
On her way out she stopped before Taffy's picture--a chiffonnier with his lantern, bending over a dust-heap. For Taffy was, or thought himself, a passionate realist in those days. He has changed, and now paints nothing but King Arthurs and Guineveres and Lancelots and Elaines, and floating Ladies of Shalott.
'That chiffonnier's basket isn't hitched high enough,' she remarked. 'How could he tap his pick against the rim and make the rag fall into it if it's hitched only halfway up his back? And he's got the wrong sabots, and the wrong lantern; it's all wrong.'
'Dear me!' said Taffy, turning very red; 'you seem to know a lot about it. It's a pity you don't paint, yourself.'
'Ah! now you're cross!' said Miss O'Ferrall. 'Oh, mai'e ai'e!'
She went to the door and paused, looking round benignly. 'What nice teeth you've all three got! That's because your Englishmen, I suppose, and clean them twice a day. I do too. Trilby O'Ferrall, that's my name, 48 Rue des Pousse-Cailloux!--pose pour l'ensemble, quand ce l'amuse! va-t-en ville, et fait tout ce qui concerne son etat! Don't forget. Thanks all, and good-bye.'
'En v'la une orichinale,' said Svengali.
'I think she's lovely,' said Little Billee, the young and tender. 'Oh heavens, what angel's feet! It makes me sick to think she sits for the figure. I'm sure she's quite a lady.'
And in five minutes or so, with the point of an old compass, he scratched in white on the dark red wall a three-quarter profile outline of Trilby's left foot, which was perhaps the more perfect poem of the two.
Slight as it was, this little piece of impromptu etching, in its sense of beauty, in its quick seizing of a peculiar individuality, its subtle rendering of a strongly-received impression, was already v the work of a master. It was Trilby's foot and nobody else's, nor could have been, and nobody else but Little Billee could have drawn it in just that inspired way.
'Qu'est-ce que c'est, "Ben Bolt"?' inquired Gecko.
Upon which Little Billee was made by Taffy to sit down to the piano and sing it. He sang it very nicely with his pleasant little throaty English baritone.
It was solely in order that Little Billee should have opportunities of practising this graceful accomplishment of his, for his own and his friends' delectation, that the piano had been sent over from London, at great cost to Taffy and the Laird. It had belonged to Taffy's mother, who was dead.
Before he had finished the second verse, Svengali exclaimed: 'Mais c'est tout-a-fait chentil! Allons, Gecko, chouez-nous ca!' And he put his big hands on the piano, over Little Billee's, pushed him off the music-stool with his great gaunt body, and, sitting on it himself, he played a masterly prelude. It was impressive to hear the complicated richness and volume of the sounds he evoked after Little Billee's gentle 'tink-a-tink.'
And Gecko, cuddling lovingly his violin and closing his upturned eyes played that simple melody as it had probably never been played before--such passion, such pathos, such a tone!--and they turned it and twisted it, and went from one key to another, playing into each other's hands, Svengali taking the lead; and fugued and canoned and counterpointed and battledored and shuttlecocked it, high and low, soft and loud, in minor, in pizzicato, and in sordino--adagio, andante, allegretto, scherzo--and exhausted all its possibilities of beauty; till their susceptible audience of three was all but crazed with delight and wonder; and the masterful Ben Bolt, and his over- tender Alice, and his too submissive friend, and his old schoolmaster so kind and so true, and his long-dead schoolmates, and the rustic porch and the mill, and the slab of granite so gray.
'And the dear little nook
By the clear running brook,'
were all magnified into a strange, almost holy poetic dignity and splendour quite undreamed of by whoever wrote the words and music of that unsophisticated little song, which has touched so many simple British hearts that don't know any better--and among them, once, that of the present scribe--long, long ago!
'Sacrepleu! il choue pien, le Checko, hein?' said Svengali, when they had brought this wonderful double improvisation to a climax and a close. 'C'est mon elefe! che le fais chanter sur son fiolon, c'est comme si c'etait moi qui chantais! ach! si ch'afais pour teux sous de voix, che serais le bremier chanteur du monte! I cannot sing!' he continued. (I will translate him into English, without attempting to translate his accent, which is a mere matter of judiciously transposing p's and b's, and t's and d's, and f's and v's, and g's and k's, and turning the soft French j into sch, and a pretty language into an ugly one.)
'I cannot sing myself, I cannot play the violin, but I can teach-- hein, Gecko? And I have a pupil--hein, Gecko?--la betite Hon-onne;' and here he leered all round with a leer that was not engaging. 'The world shall hear of la betite Honorine some day--hein, Gecko? Listen all--this is how I teach la betite Honorine! Gecko, play me a little accompaniment in pizzicato.'
And he pulled out of his pocket a kind of little flexible flageolet (of his own invention, it seems), which he screwed together and put to his lips, and on this humble instrument he played 'Ben Bolt,' while Gecko accompanied him, using his fiddle as a guitar, his adoring eyes fixed in reverence on his master.
And it would be impossible to render in any words the deftness, the distinction, the grace, power, pathos, and passion with which this truly phenomenal artist executed the poor old twopenny rone on his elastic penny whistle--for it was little more--such thrilling, vibrating, piercing tenderness, now loud and full, a shrill scream of anguish, now soft as a whisper, a mere melodic breath, more human almost than the human voice itself, a perfection unattainable even by Gecko, a master, on an instrument which is the acknowledged king of all!
So that the tear, which had been so close to the brink of Little Billee's eye while Gecko was playing, now rose and trembled under his eyelid and spilled itself down his nose; and he had to dissemble and surreptitiously mop it up with his little finger as he leaned his chin on his hand, and cough a little husky, unnatural cough--pour se donner une contenance!
He had never heard such music as this, never dreamed such music was possible. He was conscious, while it lasted, that he saw deeper into the beauty, the sadness of things, the very heart of them, and their pathetic evanescence, as with a new, inner eye--even into eternity itself, beyond the veil--a vague cosmic vision that faded when the music was over, but left an unfading reminiscence of its having been, and a passionate desire to express the like some day through the plastic medium of his own beautiful art.
When Svengali ended, he leered again on his dumbstruck audience, and said: 'That is how I teach la betite Honorine to sing; that is how I teach Gecko to play; that is how I teach "il bel canto"! It was lost, the bel canto--but I found it, in a dream--I, and nobody else--I-- Svengali--I--I--I! But that is enough of music; let us play at something else--let us play at this!' he cried, jumping up and seizing a foil and bending it against the wall... 'Come along, Little Billee, and I will show you something more you don't know....'
So Little Billee took off coat and waistcoat, donned mask and glove and fencing-shoes, and they had an 'assault of arms,' as it is nobly called in French, and in which poor Little Billee came off very badly. The German Pole fenced wildly, but well.
Then it was the Laird's turn, and he came off badly too; so then Taffy took up the foil, and redeemed the honour of Great Britain, as became a British hussar and a Man of Blood. For Taffy, by long and assiduous practice in the best school in Paris (and also by virtue of his native aptitudes), was a match for any maitre d'armes in the whole French army, and Svengali got 'what for.'
And when it was time to give up play and settle down to work, others dropped in--French, English, Swiss, German, American, Greek; curtains were drawn and shutters opened; the studio was flooded with light--and the afternoon was healthily spent in athletic and gymnastic exercises till dinner-time.
But Little Billee, who had had enough of fencing and gymnastics for the day, amused himself by filling up with black and white and red- chalk strokes the outline of Trilby's foot on the wall, lest he should forget his fresh vision of it, which was still to him as the thing itself--an absolute reality, born of a mere glance, a mere chance--a happy caprice!
Durien came in and looked over his shoulder, and exclaimed: 'Tiens! le pied de Trilby! vous avez fait ca d'apres nature?'
'De memoire, alors?'
'Je vous en fais mon compliment! Vous avez eu la main heureuse. Je voudrais bien avoir fait ca, moi! C'est un petit chef-d'oeuvre que vous avez fait la--tout bonnement, mon cher! Mais vous elaborez trop. De grace, n'y touchez plus!'
And Little Billee was pleased, and touched it no more; for Durien was a great sculptor and sincerity itself.
And then--well, I happen to forget what sort of day this particular day turned into at about six of the clock.
If it was decently fine, the most of them went off to dine at the Restaurant de la Couronne, kept by the Pere Trin (in the Rue de Monsieur), who gave you of his best to eat and drink for twenty sols Parisis, or one franc in the com of the empire. Good distending soups, omelets that were only too savoury, lentils, red and white beans, meat so dressed and sauced and seasoned that you didn't know whether it was beef or mutton--flesh, fowl, or good red herring or even bad, for that matter--nor very greatly cared. And just the same lettuce, radishes, and cheese, of Gruyere or Brie as you got at the Trois Freres Provenceaux (but not the same butter!). And to wash it all down, generous wine in wooden brocs--that stained a lovely aesthetic blue everything it was spilled over.
And you hobnobbed with models, male and female, students of law and medicine, painters and sculptors, workmen and l'anchisseuses and grisettes, and found them very good company, and most improving to your French, if your French was of the usual British kind, and even to some of your manners, if these were very British indeed. And the evening was innocently wound up with billiards, cards, or dominoes at the Cafe du Luxembourg opposite; or at the Theatre du Luxembourg, in the Rue de Madame, to see funny farces with screamingly droll Englishmen in them; or, still better, at the Jardin Bullier (la Closerie des Lilas), to see the students dance the cancan, or try and dance it yourself, which is not so easy at it seems; or, best of all, at the Theatre de l'Odeon, to see some piece of the classical repertoire.
Or, if it were not only fine, but a Saturday afternoon into the bargain, the Laird would put on a necktie and a few other necessary things, and the three friends would walk arm-in-arm to Taffy's hotel in the Rue de Seine, and wait outside till he had made himself as presentable as the Laird, which did not take very long. And then (Little Billee was always presentable) they would, arm-in-arm, the huge Taffy in the middle, descend the Rue de Seine and cross a bridge to the Cite, and have a look in at the Morgue. Then back again to the quays on the rive gauche by the Pont Neuf, to wend their way westward; now on one side to look at the print and picture shops and the magasins of bric-a-brac, and haply sometimes buy thereof, now on the other to finger and cheapen the second-hand books for sale on the parapet, and even pick up one or two utterly unwanted bargains, never to be read or opened again.
When they reached the Pont des Arts they would cross it, stopping in the middle to look up the river towards the old Cite and Notre Dame, eastward, and dream unutterable things, and try to utter them. Then, turning westward, they would gaze at the glowing sky and all it glowed upon--the corner of the Tuileries and the Louvre, the many bridges, the Chamber of Deputies, the golden river narrowing its perspective and broadening its bed as it went flowing and winding on its way between Passy and Crenelle to St. Cloud, to Rouen, to the Havre, to England perhaps--where they didn't want to be just then; and they would try and express themselves to the effect that life was uncommonly well worth living in that particular city at that particular time of the day and ear and century, at that particular epoch of their own mortal and uncertain lives.
Then, still arm-in-arm, and chatting gaily across the courtyard of the Louvre, through gilded gates well guarded by reckless imperial Zouaves, up the arcaded Rue de Rivoli as far as the Rue Castiglione, where they would stare with greedy eyes at the window of the great corner pastry-cook, and marvel at the beautiful assortment of bonbons, pralines, dragees, marrons glaces--saccharine, crystalline substances of all kinds and colours, as charming to look at as an illumination; precious stones, delicately frosted sweets, pearls and diamonds so arranged as to melt in the mouth; especially, at this particular time of the year, the monstrous Easter-egg, of enchanting hue, enshrined like costly jewels in caskets of satin and gold; and the Laird, who was well read in his English classics and liked to show it, would opine that 'they managed these things better in France.'
Then across the street by a great gate into the Alice des Feuillants, and up to the Place de la Concorde--to gaze, but quite without base envy, at the smart people coming back from the Bois de Boulogne. For even in Paris 'carriage people' have a way of looking bored, of taking their pleasure sadly, of having nothing to say to each other, as though the vibration of so many wheels all rolling home the same way every afternoon had hypnotised them into silence, idiocy, and melancholia.
Arid our three musketeers of the brush would speculate on the vanity of wealth and rank and fashion; on the satiety that follows in the wake of self-indulgence and overtakes it; on the weariness of the pleasures that become a toil--as if they knew all about it, had found it all out for themselves, and nobody else had ever found it out before!
Then they found out something else--namely, that the sting of healthy appetite was becoming intolerable; so they would betake themselves to an English eating-house in the Rue de la Madeleine (on the left-hand side near the top), where they would renovate their strength and their patriotism on British beef and beer, and household bread, and bracing, biting, stinging yellow mustard, and heroic horseradish, and noble apple-pie, and Cheshire cheese; and get through as much of these in an hour or so as they could for talking, talking, talking; such happy talk! as full of sanguine hope and enthusiasm, of cocksure commendation or condemnation of all painters, dead or alive, of modest but firm belief in themselves and each other, as a Paris Easter-egg is full of sweets and pleasantness (for the young).
And then a stroll on the crowded, well-lighted boulevards, and a bock at the cafe there, at a little three-legged marble table right out on the genial asphalt side pavement, still talking nineteen to the dozen.
Then home by dark, old, silent streets and some deserted bridge to their beloved Latin Quarter, the Morgue gleaming cold and still and fatal in the pale lamplight, and Notre Dame pricking up its watchful twin towers, which have looked down for so many centuries on so many happy, sanguine, expansive youths walking arm-in-arm by twos and threes, and for ever talking, talking, talking.
The Laird and Little Billee would see Taffy safe to the door of his hotel garni in the Rue de Seine, where they would find much to say to each other before they said good-night--so much that Taffy and Little Billee would see the Laird safe to his door, in the Place St. Anatole des Arts. And then a discussion would arise between Taffy and the Laird on the immortality of the soul, let us say, or the exact meaning of the word 'gentleman,' or the relative merits of Dickens and Thackeray, or some such recondite and quite unhackneyed theme, and Taffy and the Laird would escort Little Billee to his door, in the Place de l'Odeon, and he would re-escort them both back again, and so on till any hour you please.
Or again, if it rained, and Paris through the studio window loomed lead-coloured, with its shiny slate roofs under skies that were ashen and sober, and the wild west wind made woeful music among the chimney- pots, and little gray waves ran up the river the wrong way, and the Morgue looked chill and dark and wet, and almost uninviting (even to three healthy-minded young Britons), they would resolve to dine and spend a happy evening at home.
Little Billee, taking with him three francs (or even four), would dive into back streets and buy a yard or so of crusty new bread, well burned on the flat side, a fillet of beef, a litre of wine, potatoes and onions, butter, a little cylindrical cheese called 'bondon de Neufchatel,' tender curly lettuce, with chervil, parsley, spring onions, and other fine herbs, and a pod of garlic, which would be rubbed on a crust of bread to flavour things with.
Taffy would lay the cloth English-wise, and also make the salad, for which, like everybody else I ever met, he had a special receipe of his own (putting in the oil first and the vinegar after); and indeed his salads were quite as good as everybody else's.
The Laird, bending over the stove, would cook the onions and beef into a savoury Scotch mess so cunningly that you could not taste the beef for the onions--nor always the onions for the garlic.
And they would dine far better than at le Pere Trin's, far better than at the English Restaurant in the Rue de la Madeleine--better than anywhere else on earth!
And after dinner, what coffee, roasted and ground on the spot, what pipes and cigarettes of caporal, by the light of the three shaded lamps, while the rain beat against the big north window, and the wind went howling round the quaint old mediaeval tower at the corner of the Rue Vieille des Trois Mauvais Ladres (the old street of the three bad lepers), and the damp logs hissed and crackled in the stove!
What jolly talk into the small hours! Thackeray and Dickens again, and Tennyson and Byron (who was 'not deed yet' in those days); and Titian and Velasquez, and young Millais and Holman Hunt (just out); and Monsieur Ingres and Monsieur Delacroix, and Balzac and Stendhal and George Sand; and the good Dumas! and Edgar Allan Poe's, and the glory that was Greece and the grandeur that was Rome...
Good, honest, innocent, artless prattle--not of the wisest, perhaps, nor redolent of the very highest culture (which, by the way, can mar as well as make), nor leading to any very practical result; but quite pathetically sweet from the sincerity and fervour of its convictions, a profound belief in their importance, and a proud trust in their life-long immutability.
Oh, happy days and happy nights, sacred to art and friendship! oh, happy times of careless impecuniosity, and youth and hope and health and strength and freedom--with all Paris for a playground, and its dear old unregenerate Latin Quarter for a workshop, and a home!
And, up to then, no kill-joy complications of love!
No, decidedly no! Little Billee had never known such happiness as this--never even dreamed of its possibility.
A day or two after this, our opening day, but in the afternoon, when the fencing and boxing had begun and the trapeze was in full swing, Trilby's 'Milk below!' was sounded at the door, and she appeared--- clothed this time and in her right mind, as it seemed: a tall, straight, flat-backed, square-shouldered, deep-chested, full-bosomed young grisette, in a snowy frilled cap, a neat black gown and white apron, pretty faded, well-darned brown stockings, and well-worn, soft, gray, square-toed slippers of list, without heels and originally shapeless; but which her feet, uncompromising and inexorable as boot- trees, had ennobled into everlasting classic shapeliness, and stamped with an unforgettable individuality, as does a beautiful hand its well-worn glove--a fact Little Billee was not slow to perceive, with a curious conscious thrill that was only half aesthetic.
Then he looked into her freckled face, and met the kind and tender mirthfulness of her gaze and the plucky frankness of her fine wide smile with a thrill that was not aesthetic at all (nor the reverse), but all of the heart. And in one of his quick flashes of intuitive insight he divined far down beneath the shining surface of those eyes (which seemed for a moment to reflect only a little image of himself against the sky beyond the big north window) a well of sweetness; and floating somewhere in the midst of it the very heart of compassion, generosity, and warm sisterly love; and under that--alas! at the bottom of all--a thin slimy layer of sorrow and shame. And just as long as it takes for a tear to rise and gather and choke itself back again, this sudden revelation shook his nervous little frame with a pang of pity and the knightly wish to help. But he had no time to indulge in such soft emotions. Trilby was met on her entrance by friendly greetings on all sides.
'Tiens! c'est la grande Trilby!' exclaimed Jules Guinot through his fencing-mask. 'Comment! t'es deja debout apres hier soir? Avons-nous assez rigole chez Mathieu, hein? Crenom d'un nom, quelle noce! Via une cremaillere qui peut se vanter d'etre diantrement bien pendue, j'espere! Et la petite sante, c'matin?'
'He, he! mon vieux,' answered Trilby. 'Ca boulotte, apparemment! Et toi? et Victorine? Comment qu'a s'porte a c't'heure? Elle avait un fier coup d'chasselas! c'est-y jobard, hein? de s'fich 'paf comme ca d'vant l'monde! Tiens, v'la, Gontran!? a marche-t-y, Gontran, Zouzou d'mon coeur?'
'Comme sur des roulettes, ma biche!' said Gontran, alias l'Zouzou--a corporal in the Zouaves. 'Mais tu t'es done mise chiffonniere, a present? T'as fait banque-route?'
(For Trilby had a chiffonnier's basket strapped on her back, and carried a pick and lantern.)
'Mais-z-oui, mon bon!' she said. 'Dame! pas d'veine hier soir! t'as bien vu! Dans la deche jusqu'aux omoplates, mon pauvre caporal-sous- off! nom d'un canon--faut bien vivre, s' pas?'
Little Billee's heart-sluices had closed during this interchange of courtesies. He felt it to be of a very slangy kind, because he couldn't understand a word of it, and he hated slang. All he could make out was the free use of the tu and the toi, and he knew enough French to know that this implied a great familiarity, which he misunderstood.
So that Jules Guinot's polite inquiries whether Trilby were none the worse after Mathieu's house-warming (which was so jolly), Trilby's kind solicitude about the health of Victorine, who had very foolishly taken a drop too much on that occasion, Trilby's mock regrets that her own bad luck at cards had made it necessary that she should retrieve her fallen fortunes by rag-picking--all these innocent, playful little amenities (which I have tried to write down just as they were spoken) were couched in a language that was as Greek to him--and he felt out of it, jealous and indignant.
'Good-afternoon to you, Mr. Taffy,' said Trilby, in English. 'I've brought you these objects of art and virtu to make the peace with you. They're the real thing, you know. I borrowed 'em from le pere Martin, chiffonnier en gros et en detail, grand officier de la Legion d'Honneur, membre de l'Institut et cetera, treize his Rue du Puits d'Amour, rez-de-chaussee au fond de la cour a gauche, vis-a vis le mont-de-piete! He's one of my intimate friends, and--'
'You don't mean to say you're the intimate friend of a ragpicker?' exclaimed the good Taffy.
'Oh yes! Pourquoi pas? I never brag; besides, there ain't any beastly pride about le pere Martin,' said Trilby, with a wink. 'You'd soon find that out if you were an intimate friend of his. This is how it's put on. Do you see? If you'll put it on I'll fasten it for you, and show you how to hold the lantern and handle the pick. You may come to it yourself some day, you know. Il ne faut jurer de rien! Pere Martin will pose for you in person, if you like. He's generally disengaged in the afternoon. He's poor but honest, you know, and very nice and clean; quite the gentleman. He likes artists, especially English--they pay. His wife sells bric-a-brac and old masters: Rembrandts from two francs fifty upwards. They've got a little grandson--a love of a child. I'm his godmother. You know French, I suppose?'
'Oh yes,' said Taffy, much abashed. I'm very much obliged to you--- very much indeed--a--I--a--'
Y a pas d' quoi!' said Trilby, divesting herself of her basket and putting it, with the pick and lantern, in a corner. 'Et maintenant le temps d'absorber une fine de fin sec et je m'la brise. On m'attend a l'Ambassade d'Autriche. Et pui, zut! Allez toujours, mes enfants. En avant la boxe!'
She sat herself down cross-legged on the model-throne, and made herself a cigarette, and watched the fencing and boxing Little Billee brought her a chair, which she refused; so he sat down on it himself by her side, and talked to her, just as he would have talked to any young lady at home--about the weather, about Verdi's new opera (which she had never heard), the impressive-ness of Notre Dame, and Victor Hugo's beautiful romance (which she had never read), the mysterious charm of Leonardo da Vinci's Lisa Gioconda's smile (which she had never seen)---by all of which she was no doubt rather tickled and a little embarrassed, perhaps also a little touched.
Taffy brought her a cup of coffee, and conversed with her in polite formal French very well and carefully pronounced; and the Laird tried to do likewise. His French was of that honest English kind that breaks up the stiffness of even an English party; and his jolly manners were such as to put an end to all shyness and constraint, and make self- consciousness impossible.
Others dropped in from neighbouring studios--the usual cosmopolite crew. It was a perpetual come-and-go in this particular studio between four and six in the afternoon.
There were ladies too, en cheveux, in caps and bonnets, some of whom knew Trilby, and thee'd and thou'd with familiar and friendly affection, while others mademoiselle'd her with distant politeness, and were mademoiselle'd and madame'd back again. 'Absolument comme a l'Ambassade d'Autriche,' as Trilby observed to the Laird, with a British wink that was by no means ambassadorial.
Then Svengali came and made some of his grandest music, which was as completely thrown away on Trilby as fireworks on a blind beggar, for all she held her tongue so piously.
Fencing and boxing and trapezing seemed to be more in her line; and indeed, to a tone-deaf person, Taffy lunging his full spread with a foil, in all the splendour of his long, lithe, youthful strength, was a far gainlier sight than Svengali at the keyboard flashing his languid bold eyes with a sickly smile, from one listener to another, as if to say: 'N'est-ce pas que che suis peau? N'est-ce pas que ch'ai tu chenie? N'est-ce pas que che suis suplime, enfin?'
Then enter Durien the sculptor, who had been presented with a baignoire at the Porte St. Martin to see La Dame aux Camelias, and he invited Trilby and another lady to dine with him au cabaret and share his box.
So Trilby didn't go to the Austrian embassy after all, as the Laird observed to Little Billee, with such a good imitation of her wink that Little Billee was bound to laugh. But Little Billee was not inclined for fun; a dulness, a sense of disenchantment, had come over him; as he expressed it to himself, with pathetic self-pity:
'A feeling of sadness and longing
That is not akin to pain, And resembles sorrow only
As the mist resembles the rain.'
And the sadness, if he had known, was that all beautiful young women with kind sweet faces and noble figures and goddess-like extremities should not be good and pure as they were beautiful; and the longing was a longing that Trilby could be turned into a young lady--say the vicar's daughter in a little Devonshire village--his sister's friend and co-teacher at the Sunday school, a simple, pure, and pious maiden of gentle birth.
For he adored piety in women, although he was not pious by any means. His inarticulate intuitive perceptions were not of form and colour secrets only, but strove to pierce the veil of deeper mysteries in impetuous and dogmatic boyish scorn of all received interpretations. For he flattered himself that he possessed the philosophical and scientific mind, and piqued himself on thinking clearly, and was intolerant of human inconsistency.
That small reserve portion of his ever-active brain which should have lain fallow while the rest of it was at work or play, perpetually plagued itself about the mysteries of life and death, and was for ever propounding unanswerable arguments against the Christian belief, through a kind of inverted sympathy with the believer. Fortunately for his friends, Little Billee was both shy and discreet, and very tender of other people's feelings; so he kept all his immature juvenile agnosticism to himself.
To atone for such ungainly strong-mindedness in one so young and tender, he was the slave of many little traditional observances which have no very solid foundation in either science or philosophy. For instance, he wouldn't walk under a ladder for worlds, nor sit down thirteen to dinner, nor have his hair cut on a Friday, and was quite upset if he happened to see the new moon through glass. And he believed in lucky and unlucky numbers, and dearly loved the sights and scents and sounds of high mass in some dim old French cathedral, and found them secretly comforting.
Let us hope that he sometimes laughed at himself, if only in his sleeve!
And with all his keenness of insight into life he had a well-brought- up, middle-class young Englishman's belief in the infallible efficacy of gentle birth--for gentle he considered his own and Taffy's and the Laird's, and that of most of the good people he had lived among in England--all people, in short, whose two parents and four grandparents had received a liberal education and belonged to the professional class. And with this belief he combined (or thought he did) a proper democratic scorn for bloated dukes and lords, and even poor inoffensive baronets, and all the landed gentry--everybody who was born an inch higher up than himself.
It is a fairly good middle-class social creed, if you can only stick to it through life in despite of life's experience. It fosters independence and self-respect, and not a few stodgy practical virtues as well. At all events, it keeps you out of bad company, which is to be found both above and below. In media tutissimus ibis!
And all this melancholy preoccupation, on Little Billee's part, from the momentary gleam and dazzle of a pair of over-perfect feet in an over-aesthetic eye, too much enamoured of mere form!
Reversing the usual process, he had idealised from the base upward!
Many of us, older and wiser than Little Billee, have seen in lovely female shapes the outer garment of a lovely female soul. The instinct which guides us to do this is, perhaps, a right one, more often than not. But more often than not, also, lovely female shapes are terrible complicators of the difficulties and dangers of this earthly life, especially for their owner, and more especially if she be a humble daughter of the people, poor and ignorant, of a yielding, nature, too quick to love and trust. This is all so true as to be trite--so trite as to be a common platitude!
A modern teller of tales, most widely (and most justly) popular, tells, us of Californian heroes and heroines who, like Lord Byron's Corsair, were linked with one virtue and a thousand crimes. And so dexterously does he weave his story that the Young Person may read it and learn nothing but good.
My poor heroine was the converse of these engaging criminals; she had all the virtues but one; but the virtue she lacked (the very one of all that plays the title-role, and gives its generic name to all the rest of that goodly company) was of such a kind that I have found it impossible so to tell her history as to make it quite fit and proper reading for the ubiquitous young person so dear to us all.
Most deeply to my regret. For I had fondly hoped it might one day be said of me that whatever my other literary shortcomings might be, I at least had never penned a line which a pure-minded young British mother might not read aloud to her little blue-eyed babe as it lies sucking its little bottle in its little bassinette.
Fate has willed it otherwise.
Would indeed that I could duly express poor Trilby's one shortcoming in some not too familiar medium--in Latin or Greek, let us say--lest the Young Person (In this ubiquitousness of hers, for which Heaven be praised) should happen to pry into these pages when her mother is looking another way.
Latin and Greek are languages the Young Person should not be taught to understand--seeing that they are highly improper languages, deservedly dead--in which pagan bards who should have known better have sung the filthy loves of their gods and goddesses.
But at least I am scholar enough to enter one little Latin plea on Trilby's behalf--the shortest, best, and most beautiful plea I can think of. It was once used in extenuation and condonation of the frailties of another poor weak woman, presumably beautiful, and a far worse offender than Trilby, but who, like Trilby, repented of her ways, and was most justly forgiven--
'Quia multum amavit!'
Whether it be an aggravation of her misdeeds or an extenuating circumstance, no pressure of want, no temptations of greed or vanity, had ever been factors in urging Trilby on her downward career after her first false step in that direction--the result of ignorance, bad advice (from her mother, of all people in the world), and base betrayal. She might have lived in guilty splendour had she chosen, but her wants were few. She had no vanity, and her tastes were of the simplest, and she earned enough to gratify them all, and to spare.
So she followed love for love's sake only, now and then, as she would have followed art if she had been a man--capriciously, desultorily, more in a frolicsome spirit of camaraderie than anything else. Like an amateur, in short--a distinguished amateur who is too proud to sell his pictures, but willingly gives one away now and then to some highly-valued and much-admiring friend.
Sheer gaiety of heart and genial good-fellowship, the difficulty of saying nay to earnest pleading. She was bonne camarade et bonne fille before everything. Though her heart was not large enough to harbour more than one light love at a time (even in that Latin Quarter of genially capacious hearts), it had room for many warm friendships; and she was the warmest, most helpful, and most compassionate of friends, far more serious and faithful in friendship than in love.
Indeed, she might almost be said to possess a virginal heart, so little did she know of love's heartaches and raptures and torments and clingings and jealousies.
With her it was lightly come and lightly go, and never come back again; as one or two, or perhaps three, picturesque Bohemians of the brush or chisel had found, at some cost to their vanity and self- esteem; perhaps even to a deeper feeling--who knows?
Trilby's father, as she had said, had been a gentleman, the son of a famous Dublin physician and friend of George the Fourth's. He had been a Fellow of his college, and had entered holy orders. He also had all the virtues but one; he was a drunkard, and began to drink quite early in life. He soon left the Church and became a classical tutor, and failed through this besetting sin of his, and fell into disgrace.
Then he went to Paris, and picked up a few English pupils there, and lost them, and earned a precarious livelihood from hand to mouth, anyhow, and sank from bad to worse.
And when his worst was about reached, he married the famous tartaned and tam-o'-shantered barmaid at the Montagnards Ecossais, in the Rue du Paradis Poissonniere (a very fishy paradise indeed); she was a most beautiful Highland lassie of low degree, and she managed to support him, or helped him to support himself, for ten or fifteen years. Trilby was born to them, and was dragged up in some way--a la grace de Dieu!
Patrick O'Ferrall soon taught his wife to drown all care and responsibility in his own simple way, and opportunities for doing so were never lacking to her.
Then he died, and left a posthumous child--born ten months after his death, alas! and whose birth cost its mother her life.
Then Trilby became a blanchisseuse de fin, and in two or three years came to grief through her trust in a friend of her mother's. Then she became a model besides, and was able to support her little brother, whom she dearly loved.
At the time this story begins, this small waif and stray was en pension with le pere Martin, the rag-picker, and his wife, the dealer in bric-a-brac and inexpensive old masters. They were very good people, and had grown fond of the child, who was beautiful to look at, and full of pretty tricks and pluck and cleverness--a popular favourite in the Rue du Puits d'Amour and its humble neighbourhood.
Trilby, for some freak, always chose to speak of him as her godson, and as the grandchild of le pere et la mere Martin, so that these good people had almost grown to believe he really belonged to them.
And almost every one else believed that he was the child of Trilby (in spite of her youth), and she was so fond of him that she didn't mind in the least.
He might have had a worse home.
La mere Martin was pious, or pretended to be; le pere Martin was the reverse. But they were equally good for their kind, and though coarse and ignorant and unscrupulous in many ways (as was natural enough), they were gifted in a very full measure with the saving graces of love and charity, especially he. And if people are to be judged by their works, this worthy pair are no doubt both equally well compensated by now for the trials and struggles of their sordid earthly life.
So much for Trilby's parentage.
And as she sat and wept at Madame Doche's impersonation of La Dame aux Camillas (with her hand in Durien's) she vaguely remembered, as in a waking dream, now the noble presence of Taffy as he towered cool and erect, foil in hand, gallantly waiting for his adversary to breathe, now the beautiful sensitive face of Little Billee and his deferential courtesy.
And during the entr'actes her heart went out in friendship to the jolly Scotch Laird of Cockpen, who came out now and then with such terrible French oaths and abominable expletives (and in the presence of ladies, too!), without the slightest notion of what they meant.
For the Laird had a quick ear, and a craving to be colloquial and idiomatic before everything else, and made many awkward and embarrassing mistakes.
It would be with him as though a polite Frenchman should say to a fair daughter of Albion, 'D--my eyes, mees, your tea is getting---cold; let me tell that good old--of a Jules to bring you another cup.'
And so forth, till time and experience taught him better. It is perhaps well for him that his first experiments in conversational French were made in the unconventional circle of the Place St. Anatole des Arts.