Trilby by George du Maurier
'Felicite passee Qui ne peux revenir. Tourment de ma pensee. Que n'ay-je, en te perdant, perdu le souvenir!'
Mid-day had struck. The expected hamper had not turned up in the Place St. Anatole des Arts.
All Madame Vinard's kitchen battery was in readiness; Trilby and Madame Angele Boisse were in the studio, their sleeves turned up, and ready to begin.
At twelve the trois Angliches and the two fair blanchisseuses sat down to lunch in a very anxious frame of mind, and finished a pate de foie gras and two bottles of Burgundy between them, such was their disquietude.
The guests had been invited for six o'clock.
Most elaborately they laid the cloth on the table they had borrowed from the Hotel de Seine, and settled who was to sit next to whom, and then unsettled it, and quarrelled over it--Trilby, as was her wont in such matters, assuming an authority that did not rightly belong to her, and of course getting her own way in the end.
And that, as the Laird remarked, was her confounded Trilby-ness.
Two o'clock--three--four--but no hamper! Darkness had almost set in. It was simply maddening. They knelt on the divan, with their elbows on the windowsill, and watched the street-lamps popping into life along the quays--and looked out through the gathering dusk for the van from the Chemin de Fer du Nord--and gloomily thought of the Morgue, which they could still make out across the river.
At length the Laird and Trilby went off in a cab to the station--a long drive--and, lo! before they came back the long-expected hamper arrived, at six o'clock.
And with it Durien, Vincent, Antony, Lorrimer, Carnegie, Petrolicoconose, Dodor, and l'Zouzou--the last two in uniform, as usual.
And suddenly the studio, which had been so silent, dark, and dull, with Taffy and Little Billee sitting hopeless and despondent round the stove, became a scene of the noisiest, busiest, and cheerfullest animation. The three big lamps were lit, and all the Chinese lanterns. The pieces of resistance and the pudding were whisked off by Trilby, Angele, and Madame Vinard to other regions--the porter's lodge and Durien's studio (which had been lent for the purpose); and every one was pressed into the preparations for the banquet. There was plenty for idle hands to do. Sausages to be fried for the turkey, stuffing made, and sauces, salads mixed, and punch--holly hung in festoons all round and about--a thousand things. Everybody was so clever and good- humoured that nobody got in anybody's way--not even Carnegie, who was in evening dress (to the Laird's delight). So they made him do the scullion's work--cleaning, rinsing, peeling, etc.
The cooking of the dinner was almost better fun than the eating of it. And though there were so many cooks, not even the broth was spoiled (cockaleekie, from a receipt of the Laird's).
It was ten o'clock before they sat down to that most memorable repast.
Zouzou and Dodor, who had been the most useful and energetic of all its cooks, apparently quite forgot they were due at their respective barracks at that very moment; they had only been able to obtain la permission de dix heures. If they remembered it, the certainty that next day Zouzou would be reduced to the ranks for the fifth time, and Dodor confined to his barracks for a month, did not trouble them in the least.
The waiting was as good as the cooking. The handsome, quick, authoritative Madame Vinard was in a dozen places at once, and openly prompted, rebuked, and bully-ragged her husband into a proper smartness. The pretty little Madame Angele moved about as deftly and as quietly as a mouse; which of course did not prevent them both from genially joining in the general conversation whenever it wandered into French.
Trilby, tall, graceful, and stately, and also swift of action though more like Juno or Diana than Hebe, devoted herself more especially to her own particular favourites--Durien, Taffy, the Laird, Little Billee--and Dodor and Zouzou, whom she loved, and tutoye'd en bonne canwrade as she served them with all there was of the choicest.
The two little Vinards did their little best--they scrupulously respected the mince-pies, and only broke two bottles of oil and one of Harvey sauce, which made their mother furious. To console them, the Laird took one of them on each knee and gave them of his share of plum-pudding and many other unaccustomed good things, so bad for their little French turn turns.
The genteel Carnegie had never been at such a queer scene in his life. It opened his mind--and Dodor and Zouzou, between whom he sat (the Laird thought it would do him good to sit between a private soldier and a humble corporal), taught him more French than he had learned during the three months he had spent in Paris. It was a specialty of theirs. It was more colloquial than what is generally used in diplomatic circles, and stuck longer in the memory; but it hasn't interfered with his preferment in the Church.
He quite unbent. He was the first to volunteer a song (without being asked) when the pipes and cigars were lit, and after the usual toasts had been drunk--Her Majesty's health, Tennyson, Thackeray, and Dickens; and John Leech.
He sang, with a very cracked and rather hiccupy voice, his only song (it seems)--an English one, of which the burden, he explained, was French:
'Veeverler veeverler veeverler vec
And Zouzou and Dodor complimented him so profusely on his French accent that he was with difficulty prevented from singing it all over again.
Then everybody sang in rotation.
The Laird, with a capital baritone, sang
'Hie diddle dee for the Lowlands low,'
which was encored.
Little Billee sang 'Little Billee.' Vincent sang.
'Old Joe kicking up behind and afore.
And the yaller gal a-kicking up behind old Joe.'
A. capital song, with words of quite a masterly scansion.
Antony sang 'Le Sire de Framboisy.' Enthusiastic encore.
Lorrimer inspired no doubt by the occasion, sang the 'Hallelujah Chorus,' and accompanied himself on the piano, but failed to obtain an encore.
'Plaisir d'amour ne dure qu'un moment Chagrin d'amour dure toute la vie.. .'
It was his favourite song, and is one of the beautiful songs of the world, and he sang it very well--and it became popular in the Quartier Latin ever after.
The Greek couldn't sing, and very wisely didn't.
Zouzou sang capitally a capital song in praise of le vin a quat' sous!
Taffy, in a voice like a high wind (and with a very good imitation of the Yorkshire brogue), sang a Somersetshire hunting ditty, ending:
'Of this 'ere song should I be axed the reason for to show.
I don't exactly know, I don't exactly know!
But all my fancy dwells upon Nancy.
And I sing Tally-ho!'
It is a quite super-excellent ditty, and haunts my memory to this day; and one felt sure that Nancy was a dear and a sweet, wherever she lived, and when. So Taffy was encored twice--once for her sake, once for his own.
And finally, to the surprise of all, the bold dragoon sang (in English) 'My Sister Dear,' out of Masaniello, with such pathos, and in a voice so sweet and high and well in tune, that his audience felt almost weepy in the midst of their jollification; and grew quite sentimental, as Englishmen abroad are apt to do when they are rather tipsy and hear pretty music, and think of their dear sisters across the sea, or their friends' dear sisters.
Madame Vinard interrupted her Christmas dinner on the model-throne to listen, and wept and wiped her eyes quite openly, and remarked to Madame Boisse, who stood modestly close by: 'Il est gentil tout plein, ce dragon! Mon Dieu! comme il chante bien! Il est Angliche aussi, il parait. Us sont joliment bien eleves, tous ces Angliches--tous plus gentils les uns que les autres! et quant a Monsieur Litrebili, on lui donnerait le bon Dieu sans confession!' And Madame Boisse agreed.
Then Svengali and Gecko came, and the table had to be laid and decorated anew, for it was supper-time.
Supper was even jollier than dinner, which had taken off the keen edge of the appetites, so that every one talked at once--the true test of a successful supper--except when Antony told some of his experiences of Bohemia; for instance, how, after staying at home all day for a month to avoid his creditors, he became reckless one Sunday morning, and went to the Bains Deligny, and jumped into a deep part by mistake, and was saved from a watery grave by a bold swimmer, who turned out to be his bootmaker, Satory, to whom he owed sixty francs---of all his duns the one he dreaded the most, and who didn't let him go in a hurry.
Whereupon Svengali remarked that he also owed sixty francs to Satory-- 'Mais comme che ne me baigne chamais, che n'ai rien a craindre!'
Whereupon there was such a laugh that Svengali felt he had scored off Antony at last, and had a prettier wit. He flattered himself that he'd got the laugh of Antony this time.
And after supper Svengali and Gecko made such lovely music that everybody was sobered and athirst again, and the punchbowl, wreathed with holly and mistletoe, was placed in the middle of the table, and clean glasses set all round it.
Then Dodor and l'Zouzou stood up to dance with Trilby and Madame Angele, and executed a series of cancan steps, which, though they were so inimitably droll that they had each and all to be encored, were such that not one of them need have brought the blush of shame to the cheek of modesty.
Then the Laird danced a sword-dance over two T-squares and broke them both. And Taffy, baring his mighty arms to the admiring gaze of all, did dumb-bell exercises, with Little Billee for a dumb-bell, and all but dropped him into the punch-bowl; and tried to cut a pewter ladle in two with Dodor's sabre, and sent it through the window; and this made him cross, so that he abused French sabres, and said they were made of worse pewter than even French ladles; and the Laird sententiously opined that they managed these things better in England, and winked at Little Billee.
Then they played at 'cock-fighting,' with their wrists tied across their shins, and a broomstick thrust in between; thus manacled, you are placed opposite your antagonist, and try to upset him with your feet, and he you. It is a very good game. The cuirassier and the Zouave playing at this got so angry, and were so irresistibly funny a sight, that the shouts of laughter could be heard on the other side of the river, so that a sergent-de-ville came in and civilly requested them not to make so much noise. They were disturbing the whole Quartier, he said, and there was quite a rassem blement outside. So they made him tipsy, and also another policeman, who came to look after his comrade, and yet another; and these guardians of the peace of Paris were trussed and made to play at cock-fighting, and were still funnier than the two soldiers, and laughed louder and made more noise than any one else, so that Madame Vinard had to remonstrate with them, till they got too tipsy to speak, and fell fast asleep, and were laid next to each other behind the stove.
The fin-de-siecle reader, disgusted at the thought of such an orgy as I have been trying to describe, must remember that it happened in the fifties, when men calling themselves gentlemen, and being called so, still wrenched off door-knockers and came back drunk from the Derby, and even drank too much after dinner before joining the ladies, as is all duly chronicled and set down in John Leech's immortal pictures of life and character out of Punch.
Then M. and Mme. Vinard and Trilby and Angele Boisse bade the company good-night, Trilby being the last of them to leave. Little Billee took her to the top of the staircase, and there he said to her:
'Trilby, I have asked you nineteen times, and you have refused. Trilby, once more, on Christmas night, for the twentieth time--will you marry me? If not, I leave Paris to-morrow morning, and never come back. I swear it on my word of honour!'
Trilby turned very pale, and leaned her back against the wall, and covered her face with her hands.
Little Billee pulled them away.
'Answer me, Trilby!'
'God forgive me, yes!' said Trilby, and she ran downstairs, weeping.
It was now very late.
It soon became evident that Little Billee was in extraordinarily high spirits--in an abnormal state of excitement.
He challenged Svengali to spar, and made his nose bleed, and frightened him out of his sardonic wits. He performed wonderful and quite unsuspected feats of strength. He swore eternal friendship to Dodor and Zouzou, and filled their glasses again and again, and also (in his innocence) his own, and trinqued with them many times running. They were the last to leave (except the three helpless policemen); and at about five or six in the morning, to his surprise, he found himself walking between Dodor and Zouzou by a late windy moonlight in the Rue Vieille des Trois Mauvais Ladres, now on one side of the frozen gutter, now on the other, now in the middle of it, stopping them now and then to tell them how jolly they were and how dearly he loved them.
Presently his hat flew away, and went rolling and skipping and bounding up the narrow street, and they discovered that as soon as they let each other go to run after it, they all three sat down.
So Dodor and Little Billee remained sitting, with their arms round each other's necks and their feet in the gutter while Zouzou went after the hat on all fours, and caught it, and brought it back in his mouth like a tipsy retriever. Little Billee wept for sheer love and gratitude, and called him a carytoide (in English), and laughed loudly at his own wit, which was quite thrown away on Zouzou! 'No man ever had such dear, dear frenge! no man ever was so happy!'
After sitting for a while in love and amity, they managed to get up on their feet again, each helping the other; and in some never-to-be- remembered way they reached the Hotel Corneille.
There they sat Little Billee on the door-step and rang the bell, and seeing some one coming up the Place de l'Odeon, and fearing he might be a sergent-de-ville, they bid Little Billee a most affectionate but hasty farewell, kissing him on both cheeks in French fashion, and contrived to get themselves round the corner and out of sight.
Little Billee tried to sing Zouzou's drinking-song:
'Quoi de plus doux
Que les glougloux--
Les glougloux du vin a quat' sous. ..."
The stranger came up. Fortunately, it was no sergent-de-ville, but Ribot, just back from a Christmas-tree and a little family dance at his aunt's, Madame Kolb (the Alsatian banker's wife, in the Rue de la Chaussee d'Antin).
Next morning poor Little Billee was dreadfully ill.
He had passed a terrible night. His bed had heaved like the ocean, with oceanic results. He had forgotten to put out his candle, but fortunately Ribot had blown it out for him, after Putting him to bed and tucking him up like a real good Samaritan.
And next morning, when Madame Paul brought him a cup of tisane de chiendent (which does not happen to mean a hair of the dog that bit him), she was kind, but very severe on the dangers and disgrace of intoxication, and talked to him like a mother.
'If it had not been for kind Monsieur Ribot' (she told him), 'the doorstep would have been his portion; and who could say he didn't deserve it? And then think of the danger of fire from a tipsy man all alone in a small bedroom with chintz curtains and a lighted candle!'
'Ribot was kind enough to blow out my candle,' said Little Billee, humbly.
'Ah, Dame!' said Madame Paul, with much meaning--'au moins il a bon coeur, Monsieur Ribot!'
And the cruellest sung of all was when the good-natured and incorrigibly festive Ribot came and sat by his bedside, and was kind and tenderly sympathetic, and got him a pick-me-up from the chemist's (unbeknown to Madame Paul).
'Credieu! vous vous etes cranement bien amuse, hier soir! quelle bosse, hein! je pane que c'etait plus drole que chez ma tante Kolb!'
All of which, of course, it is unnecessary to translate; except, perhaps, the word bosse, which stands for noce, which stands for a 'jolly good spree.'
In all his innocent little life Little Billee had never dreamed of such humiliation as this--such ignominious depths of shame and misery and remorse! He did not care to live. He had but one longing: that Trilby, dear Trilby, kind Trilby, would come and pillow his head on her beautiful white English bosom, and lay her soft, cool, tender hand on his aching brow, and there let him go to sleep, and sleeping, die!
He slept and slept, with no better rest for his aching brow than the pillow of his bed in the Hotel Corneille, and failed to the this time. And when, after some forty-eight hours or so, he had quite slept off the fumes of that memorable Christmas debauch, he found that a sad thing had happened to him, and a strange!
It was as though a tarnishing breath had swept over the reminiscent mirror of his mind and left a little film behind it, so that no past thing he wished to see therein was reflected with quite the old pristine clearness. As though the keen, quick, razor-like edge of his power to reach and re-evoke the bygone charm and glamour and essence of things had been blunted and coarsened. As though the bloom of that special joy, the gift he unconsciously had of recalling past emotions and sensations and situations, and making them actual once more by a mere effort of the will, had been brushed away.
And he never recovered the full use of that most precious faculty, the boon of youth and happy childhood, and which he had once possessed, without knowing it, in such singular and exceptional completeness. He was to lose other precious faculties of his over-rich and complex nature--to be pruned and clipped and thinned--that his one supreme faculty of painting might have elbow-room to reach its fullest, or else you could never have seen the wood for the trees (or vice versa---which is it?).
On New Year's Day Taffy and the Laird were at their work in the studio, when there was a knock at the door, and Monsieur Vinard, cap in hand, respectfully introduced a pair of visitors, an English lady and gentleman.
The gentleman was a clergyman, small, thin, round-shouldered, with a long neck; weak-eyed and dryly polite. The lady was middle-aged, though still young-looking; very pretty, with gray hair; very well dressed; very small, full of nervous energy, with tiny hands and feet. It was Little Billee's mother; and the clergyman, the Rev. Thomas Bagot, was her brother-in-law.
Their faces were full of trouble--so much so that the two painters did not even apologise for the carelessness of their attire, or for the odour of tobacco that filled the room. Little Billee's mother recognised the two painters at a glance, from the sketches and descriptions of which her son's letters were always full.
They all sat down.
After a moment's embarrassed silence, Mrs. Bagot exclaimed, addressing Taffy: 'Mr. Wynne, we are in terrible distress of mind. I don't know if my son has told you, but on Christmas day he engaged himself to be married!'
'To--be--married!' exclaimed Taffy and the Laird, for whom this was news indeed.
'Yes--to be married to a Miss Trilby O'Ferrall, who, from what he implies, is in quite a different position in life from himself. Do you know the lady, Mr. Wynne?'
'Oh yes! I know her very well indeed; we all know her.'
'Is she English?'
'She's an English subject, I believe.'
'Is she a Protestant or a Roman Catholic?' Inquired the clergyman.
'A--a--upon my word, I really don't know!'
'You know her very well indeed, and you don't--know--that, Mr. Wynne!' exclaimed Mr. Bagot.
'Is she a lady, Mr. Wynne?' asked Mrs. Bagot, somewhat impatiently, as if that were a much more important matter.
By this time the Laird had managed to basely desert his friend; had got himself into his bedroom, and from thence, by another door, into the street and away.
'A lady?' said Taffy; 'a--it so much depends upon what that word exactly means, you know; things are so--a--so different here. Her father was a gentleman, I believe--a Fellow of Trinity, Cambridge--- and a clergyman, if that means anything! ... he was unfortunate and all that--a--intemperate, I fear, and not successful in life. He has been dead six or seven years.' 'And her mother?'
I really know very little about her mother, except that she was very handsome, I believe, and of inferior social rank to her husband. She's also dead; she died soon after him.'
'What is the young lady, then? An English governess, or something of that sort?'
'Oh no, no--a--nothing of that sort,' said Taffy (and inwardly, 'You coward--you cad of a Scotch thief of a sneak of a Laird--to leave all this to me!').
'What? Has she independent means of her own, then?'
'A--not that I know of; I should even say, decidedly not!'
'What is she, then? She's at least respectable, I hope?'
'At present she's a--a blancbisseuse de fin--that is considered respectable here.'
'Why, that's a washerwoman, isn't it?'
'Well--rather better than that, perhaps--de fin, you know!--things are so different in Paris! I don't think you'd say she was very much like a washerwoman--to look at!'
'Is she so good-looking, then?'
'Oh yes; extremely so. You may well say that--very beautiful, indeed-- about that, at least, there is no doubt whatever!'
'And of unblemished character?'
Taffy, red and perspiring as if he were going through his Indian-club exercise, was silent--and his face expressed a miserable perplexity. But nothing could equal the anxious misery of those two maternal eyes, so wistfully fixed on his.
After some seconds of a most painful stillness, the lady said, 'Can't you--oh, can't you give me an answer, Mr. Wynne?'
'Oh, Mrs. Bagot, you have placed me in a terrible position! I--I love your son just as if he were my own brother! This engagement is a complete surprise to me--a most painful surprise! I'd thought of many possible things, but never of that! I cannot--I really must not conceal from you that it would be an unfortunate marriage for your son--from a--a worldly point of view, you know--although both I and M'Allister have a very deep and warm regard for poor Trilby O'Ferrall---indeed, a great admiration and affection and respect. She was once a model.'
'A model, Mr. Wynne? What sort of a model--there are models and models, of course.'
'Well, a model of every sort, in every possible sense of the word-- head, hands, feet, everything!'
'A model for the figure?'
'Oh, my God! my God! my God!' cried Mrs. Bagot--and she got up and walked up and down the studio in a most terrible state of agitation, her brother-in-law following her and begging her to control herself. Her exclamations seemed to shock him, and she didn't seem to care.
'Oh! Mr. Wynne! Mr. Wynne! If you only knew what my son is to me--to all of us--always has been! He has been with us all his life, till he came to this wicked, accursed city! My poor husband would never hear of his going to any school, for fear of all the harm he might learn there. My son was as innocent and pure-minded as any girl, Mr. Wynne-- I could have trusted him anywhere--and that's why I gave way and allowed him to come here, of all places in the world--all alone. Oh! I should have come with him! Fool--fool--fool that I was! ...
'Oh, Mr. Wynne, he won't see either his mother or his uncle! I found a letter from him at the hotel, saying he'd left Paris--and I don't even know where he's gone!...Can't you, can't Mr. M'Allister do anything to avert this miserable disaster? You don't know how he loves you both-- you should see his letters to me and to his sister! they are always full of you!'
'Indeed, Mrs. Bagot--you can count on M'Allister and me for doing everything in our power! But it is of no use our trying to influence your son--I feel quite sure of that! It is to her we must make our appeal.'
'Oh, Mr. Wynne! to a washerwoman--a figure model--and Heaven knows what besides! and with such a chance as this!'
'Mrs. Bagot, you don't know her! She may have been all that. But strange as it may seem to you--and seems to me, for that matter--she's a--she's--upon my word of honour, I really think she's about the best woman I ever met--the most unselfish--the most--'
'Ah! She's a beautiful woman--I can well see that!'
'She has a beautiful nature, Mrs. Bagot--you may believe me or not as you like--and it is to that I shall make my appeal, as your son's friend, who has his interests at heart. And let me tell you that deeply as I grieve for you in your present distress, my grief and concern for her are far greater!'
'What! grief for her if she marries my son!'
'No, indeed--but if she refuses to marry him. She may not do so, of course--but my instinct tells me she will!'
'Oh! Mr. Wynne, is that likely?'
'I will do my best to make it so--with such an utter trust in her unselfish goodness of heart and her passionate affection for your son as---'
'How do you know she has all this passionate affection for him?'
'Oh, M'Allister and I have long guessed it--though we never thought this particular thing would come of it. I think, perhaps, that first of all you ought to see her yourself--you would get quite a new idea of what she really is--you would be surprised, I assure you.'
Mrs. Bagot shrugged her shoulders impatiently, and there was silence for a minute or two.
And then, just as in a play, Trilby's 'Milk below!' was sounded at the door, and Trilby came into the little antechamber, and seeing strangers, was about to turn back. She was dressed as a grisette, in her Sunday gown and pretty white cap (for it was New Year's Day), and looking her very best.
Taffy called out, 'Come in, Trilby!'
And Trilby came into the studio.
As soon as she saw Mrs. Bagot's face she stopped short--erect, her shoulders a little high, her mouth a little open, her eyes wide with fright--and pale to the lips--a pathetic, yet commanding, magnificent, and most distinguished apparition, in spite of her humble attire.
The little lady got up and walked straight to her, and looked up into her face, that seemed to tower so. Trilby breathed hard.
At length Mrs. Bagot said, in her high accents, 'You are Miss Trilby O'Ferrall?'
'Oh yes--yes--I am Trilby O'Ferrall, and you are Mrs. Bagot; I can see that!'
A new tone had come into her large, deep, soft voice, so tragic, so touching, so strangely in accord with her whole aspect just then--so strangely in accord with the whole situation--that Taffy felt his cheeks and lips turn cold, and his big spine thrill and tickle all down his back.
'Oh yes; you are very, very beautiful--there's no doubt about that! You wish to marry my son?'
'I've refused to marry him nineteen times--for his own sake; he will tell you so himself. I am not the right person for him to marry. I know that. On Christmas night he asked me for the twentieth time; he swore he would leave Paris next day for ever if I refused him. I hadn't the courage. I was weak, you see! It was a dreadful mistake.'
'Are you so fond of him?'
'Fond of him? Aren't you?'
'I'm his mother, my good girl!'
To this Trilby seemed to have nothing to say.
'You have just said yourself you are not a fit wife for him. If you are so fond of him, will you ruin him by marrying him; drag him down; prevent him from getting on in life; separate him from his sister, his family, his friends?'
Trilby turned her miserable eyes to Taffy's miserable face, and said, 'Will it really be all that, Taffy?'.
'Oh, Trilby, things have got all wrong, and can't be righted! I'm afraid it might be so. Dear Trilby--I can't tell you what I feel--but I can't tell you lies, you know!'
'Oh no--Taffy--you don't tell lies!'
Then Trilby began to tremble very much, and Taffy tried to make her sit down, but she wouldn't. Mrs. Bagot looked up into her face, herself breathless with keen suspense and cruel anxiety--almost imploring.
Trilby looked down at Mrs. Bagot very kindly, put out her shaking hand, and said: 'Good-bye, Mrs. Bagot. I will not marry your son. I promise you. I will never see him again.'
Mrs. Bagot caught and clasped her hand and tried to kiss it, and said: 'Don't go yet, my dear good girl. I want to talk to you. I want to tell you how deeply I--'
'Good-bye, Mrs. Bagot,' said Trilby, once more; and disengaging her hand, she walked swiftly out of the room.
Mrs. Bagot seemed stupefied, and only half content with her quick triumph.
'She will not marry your son, Mrs. Bagot. I only wish to God she'd marry me!
'Oh, Mr. Wynne!' said Mrs. Bagot, and burst into tears.
'Ah!' exclaimed the clergyman, with a feebly satirical smile and a little cough and sniff that were not sympathetic, 'now if that could be arranged--and I've no doubt there wouldn't be much opposition on the part of the lady' (here he made a little complimentary bow), 'it would be a very desirable thing all round!'
'It's tremendously good of you, I'm sure--to interest yourself in my humble affairs,' said Taffy. 'Look here, sir--I'm not a great genius like your nephew--and it doesn't much matter to any one but myself what I make of my life--but I can assure you that if Trilby's heart were set on me as it is on him, I would gladly cast in my lot with hers for life. She's one in a thousand. She's the one sinner that repenteth, you know?'
'Ah, yes--to be sure!--to be sure! I know all about that; still, facts are facts, and the world 'is the world, and we've got to live in it,' said Mr. Bagot, whose satirical smile had died away under the gleam of Taffy's choleric blue eye.
Then said the good Taffy, frowning down on the parson (who looked mean and foolish, as people can sometimes do even with right on their side): 'And now, Mr. Bagot--I can't tell you how very keenly I have suffered during this--a--this most painful interview--on account of my very deep regard for Trilby O'Ferrall. I congratulate you and your sister-in-law on its complete success. I also feel very deeply for your nephew. I'm not sure that he has not lost more than he will gain by--a--by the--a--the success of this--a--this interview, in short!'
Taffy's eloquence was exhausted, and his quick temper was getting the better of him.
Then Mrs. Bagot, drying her eyes, came and took his hand in a very charming and simple manner, and said: 'Mr. Wynne, I think I know what you are feeling just now. You must try and make some allowance for us. You will, I am sure, when we are gone, and you have had time to think a little. As for that noble and beautiful girl, I only wish that she were such that my son could marry her--in her past life, I mean. It is not her humble rank that would frighten me; pray believe that I am quite sincere in this--and don't think too hardly of your friend's mother. Think of all I shall have to go through with my poor son--who is deeply in love--and no wonder! and who has won the love of such a woman as that! and who cannot see at present how fatal to him such a marriage would be. I can see all the charm and believe in all the goodness, in spite of all. And, oh, how beautiful she is, and what a voice! All that counts for so much, doesn't it? I cannot tell you how I grieve for her. I can make no amends--who could, for such a thing? There are no amends, and I shall not even try. I will only write and tell her all I think and feel. You will forgive us, won't you?'
And in the quick, impulsive warmth and grace and sincerity of her manner as she said all this, Mrs. Bagot was so absurdly like Little Billee that it touched big Taffy's heart, and he would have forgiven anything, and there was nothing to forgive.
'Oh, Mrs. Bagot, there's no question of forgiveness. Good heavens! it is all so unfortunate, you know! Nobody's to blame, that I can see. Good-bye, Mrs. Bagot; good-bye, sir,' and so saying, he saw them down to their remise, in which sat a singularly pretty young lady of seventeen or so, pale and anxious, and so like Little Billee that it was quite funny, and touched big Taffy's heart again.
When Trilby went out into the courtyard in the Place St. Anatole des Arts, she saw Miss Bagot looking out of the carriage window, and in the young lady's face, as she caught her eye, an expression of sweet surprise and sympathetic admiration, with lifted eyebrows and parted lips--just such a look as she had often got from Little Billee! She knew her for his sister at once. It was a sharp pang.
She turned away, saying to herself: 'Oh no; I will not separate him from his sister, his family, his friends! That would never do! That's settled, anyhow!'
Feeling a little dazed, and wishing to think, she turned up the Rue Vieille des Mauvais Ladres, which was always deserted at this hour. It was empty, but for a solitary figure sitting on a post, with its legs dangling, its hands in its trousers-pockets, an inverted pipe in its mouth, a tattered straw hat on the back of its head, and a long gray coat down to its heels. It was the Laird.
As soon as he saw her he jumped off his post and came to her, saying: 'Oh, Trilby--what's it all about? I couldn't stand it! I ran away! Little Billee's mother's there!'
'Yes, Sandy dear, I've just seen her.'
'Well, what's up?'
'I've promised her never to see Little Billee any more. I was foolish enough to promise to marry him. I refused many times these last three months, and then he said he'd leave Paris and never come back, and so, like a fool, I gave way. I've offered to live with him and take care of him and be his servant--to be everything he wished but his wife! But he wouldn't hear of it. Dear, dear Little Billee! he's an angel-- and I'll take precious good care no harm shall ever come to him through me! I shall leave this hateful place and go and live in the country: I suppose I must manage to get through life somehow.... Days are so long--aren't they! and there's such a lot of 'em! I know of some poor people who were once very fond of me, and I could live with them and help them and keep myself. The difficulty is about Jeannot. I thought it all out before it came to this. I was well prepared, you see.
She smiled in a forlorn sort of way, with her upper lip drawn tight against her teeth, as if some one were pulling her back by the lobes of her ears.
'Oh! but, Trilby--what shall we do without you? Taffy and I, you know! You've become one of us!'
'Now, how good and kind of you to say that!' exclaimed poor Trilby, her eyes filling. 'Why, that's just all I lived for, till all this happened. But it can't be any more now, can it? Everything is changed for me--the very sky seems different. Ah! Durien's little song--- "Plaisir d'amour--chagrin d'amour!" it's all quite true, isn't it? I shall start immediately, and take Jeannot with me, I think.'
'But where do you think of going?'
'Ah! I mayn't tell you that, Sandy dear--not for a long time! Think of all the trouble there'd be. Well, there's no time to be lost. I must take the bull by the horns.'
She tried to laugh, and took him by his big side whiskers and kissed him on the eyes and mouth, and her tears fell on his face.
Then, feeling unable to speak, she nodded farewell, and walked quickly up the narrow winding street. When she came to the first bend she turned round and waved her hand, and kissed it two or three times, and then disappeared.
The Laird stared for several minutes up the empty thoroughfare--- wretched, full of sorrow and compassion. Then he filled himself another pipe and lit it, and hitched himself on to another post, and sat there dangling his legs and kicking his heels, and waited for the Bagots' cab to depart, that he might go up and face the righteous wrath of Taffy like a man, and bear up against his bitter reproaches for cowardice and desertion before the foe.
Next morning Taffy received two letters: one, a very long one, was from Mrs. Bagot. He read it twice over, and was forced to acknowledge that it was a very good letter--the letter of a clever, warm-hearted woman, but a woman also whose son was to her as the very apple of her eye. One felt she was ready to flay her dearest friend alive in order to make Little Billee a pair of gloves out of the skin, if he wanted a pair; but one also felt she would be genuinely sorry for the friend. Taffy's own mother had been a little like that, and he missed her every day of his life.
Full justice was done by Mrs. Bagot to all Trilby's qualities of head and heart and person; but at the same time she pointed out, with all the cunning and ingeniously casuistic logic of her sex, when it takes to special pleading (even when it has right on its side), what the consequences of such a marriage must inevitably be in a few years--- even sooner! The quick disenchantment, the lifelong regret, on both sides!
He could not have found a word to controvert her arguments, save perhaps in his own private belief that Trilby and Little Billee were both exceptional people; and how could he hope to know Little Billee's nature better than the boy's own mother!
And if he had been the boy's elder brother in blood, as he already was in heart and affection, would he, should he, could he have given his fraternal sanction to such a match?
Both as his friend and his brother he felt it was out of the question.
The other letter was from Trilby, in her bold, careless handwriting, that sprawled all over the page, and her occasionally imperfect spelling. It ran thus:--
MY DEAR, DEAR TAFFY--
This is to say good-bye. I'm going away, to put an end to all this misery, for which nobody's to blame but myself.
'The very moment after I'd said yes to Little Billee I knew perfectly well what a stupid fool I was, and I've been ashamed of myself ever since. I had a miserable week, I can tell you. I knew how it would all turn out.
'I am dreadfully unhappy, but not half so unhappy as if I married him and he were ever to regret it and be ashamed of me; and of course he would, really, even if he didn't show it--good and kind as he is---an angel!
'Besides of course I could never be a lady--how could I?--though I ought to have been one, I suppose. But everything seems to have gone wrong with me, though I never found it out before--and it can't be righted!
'I am going away with Jeannot. I've been neglecting him shamefully. I mean to make up for it all now.
'You mustn't try and find out where I am going; I know you won't if I beg you, nor any one else. It would make everything so much harder for me.
'Angele knows; she has promised me not to tell. I should like to have a line from you very much. If you send it to her she will send it on to me.
'Dear Taffy, next to Little Billee, I love you and the Laird better than any one else in the whole world. I've never known real happiness till I met you. You have changed me into another person--you and Sandy and Little Billee.
'Oh, it has been a jolly time, though it didn't last long. It will have to do for me for life. So good-bye. I shall never, never forget; and remain, with dearest love, your ever faithful and most affectionate friend.
'P.S.--When it has all blown over and settled again, if it ever does, I shall come back to Paris, perhaps, and see you again some day.'
The good Taffy pondered deeply over this letter--read it half a dozen times at least; and then he kissed it, and put it back into its envelope and locked it up.
He knew what very deep anguish underlay this somewhat trivial expression of her sorrow.
He guessed how Trilby, so childishly impulsive and demonstrative in the ordinary intercourse of friendship, would be more reticent than most women in such a case as this.
He wrote to her warmly, affectionately, at great length, and sent the letter as she had told him.
The Laird also wrote a long letter full of tenderly-worded friendship and sincere regard. Both expressed their hope and belief that they would soon see her again, when the first bitterness of her grief would be over, and that the old pleasant relations would be renewed.
And then, feeling wretched, they went and silently lunched together at the Cafe de l'Odeon, where the omelets were good and the wine wasn't blue.
Late that evening they sat together in the studio, reading. They found they could not talk to each other very readily without Little Billee to listen--three's company sometimes and two's none!
Suddenly there was a tremendous getting up the dark stairs outside in a violent hurry, and Little Billee burst into the room like a small whirlwind--haggard, out of breath, almost speechless at first with excitement.
'Trilby! where is she?...what's become of her?...She's run away...oh! She's written me such a letter!...We were to have been married ... at the Embassy...my mother...she's been meddling; and that cursed old ass ... that beast...my uncle!...They've been here! I know all about it. ... Why didn't you stick up for her? ...'
'I did ... as well as I could. Sandy couldn't stand it, and cut.'
'You stuck up for her...you--why, you agreed with my mother that she oughtn't to marry me--you--you false friend--you!...Why, she's an angel--far too good for the likes of me...you know she is. As ... as for her social position and all that, what degrading rot! Her father was as much a gentleman as mine...besides...what the devil do I care for her father?...it's her I want---her--her--her, I tell you ... I can't live without her ... I must have her back--I must have her back ... do you hear? We were to have lived together at Barbizon ... all our lives--and I was to have painted stunning pictures...like those other fellows there. Who cares for their social position, I should like to know .. . or that of their wives? Damn social position!...we've often said so--over and over again. An artist's life should be away from the world above all that meanness and paltriness ... all in his work. Social position, indeed! Over and over again we've said what fetid, bestial rot it all was--a thing to make one sick and shut one's self away from the world... Why say one thing and act another?...Love comes before all--love levels all---love and art ... and beauty--before such beauty as Trilby's rank doesn't exist. Such rank as mine, too! Good God! I'll never paint another stroke till I've got her back...never, never, never, I tell you--I can't--I won't!...'
And so the poor boy went on, tearing and raving about in his rampage, knocking over chairs and easels, stammering and shrieking, mad with excitement.
They tried to reason with him, to make him listen, to point out that it was not her social position alone that unfitted her to be his wife and the mother of his children, etc.
It was no good. He grew more and more uncontrollable, became almost unintelligible, he stammered so--a pitiable sight and pitiable to hear.
'Oh! oh! good heavens! are you so precious immaculate, you two, that you should throw stones at poor Trilby! What a shame, what a hideous shame it is that there should be one law for the woman and another for the man!...poor weak women--poor, soft, affectionate things that beasts of men are always running after, and pestering, and ruining, and trampling under foot... Oh! oh! it makes me sick--it makes me sick!' And finally he gasped and screamed and fell down in a fit on the floor.
The doctor was sent for; Taffy went in a cab to the Hotel de Lille et d'Albion to fetch his mother; and poor Little Billee, quite unconscious, was undressed by Sandy and Madame Vinard and put into the Laird's bed.
The doctor came, and not long after Mrs. Bagot and her daughter. It was a serious case. Another doctor was called in. Beds were got and made up in the studio for the two grief-stricken ladies, and thus closed the eve of what was to have been poor Little Billee's wedding- day, it seems.
Little Billee's attack appears to have been a kind of epileptic seizure. It ended in brain fever and other complications--a long and tedious illness. It was many weeks before he was out of danger, and his convalescence was long and tedious too.
His nature seemed changed. He lay languid and listless--never even mentioned Trilby, except once to ask if she had come back, and if any one knew where she was, and if she had been written to.
She had not, it appears. Mrs. Bagot had thought it was better not, and Taffy and the Laird agreed with her that no good could come of writing.
Mrs. Bagot felt bitterly against the woman who had been the cause of all this trouble, and bitterly against herself for her injustice. It was an unhappy time for everybody.
There was more unhappiness still to come.
One day in February Madame Angele Boisse called on Taffy and the Laird in the temporary studio where they worked. She was in terrible tribulation.
Trilby's little brother had died of scarlet fever and was buried, and Trilby had left her hiding-place the day after the funeral and had never come back, and this was a week ago. She and Jeannot had been living at a village called Vibraye, in La Sarthe, lodging with some poor people she knew--she washing and working with her needle till her brother fell ill.
She had never left his bedside for a moment, night or day, and when he died her grief was so terrible that people thought she would go out of her mind; and the day after he was buried she was not to be found anywhere--she had disappeared, taking nothing with her, not even her clothes--simply vanished and left no sign, no message of any kind.
All the ponds had been searched--all the wells, and the small stream that flows through Vibraye--and the old forest.
Taffy went to Vibraye, cross-examined everybody he could, communicated with the Paris police, but with no result; and every afternoon, with a beating heart, he went to the Morgue. .. .
The news was of course kept from Little Billee. There was no difficulty about this. He never asked a question, hardly ever spoke.
When he first got up and was carried into the studio he asked for his picture 'The Pitcher Goes to the Well,' and looked at it for a while, and then shrugged his shoulders and laughed--a miserable sort of laugh, painful to hear and see--the laugh of a cold old man, who laughs so as not to cry! Then he looked at his mother and sister and saw the sad havoc that grief and anxiety had wrought in them.
It seemed to him, as in a bad dream, that he had been mad for many years--a cause of endless sickening terror and distress; and that his poor weak wandering wits had come back at last, bringing in their train cruel remorse, and the remembrance of all the patient love and kindness that had been lavished on him; for many, many years! His sweet sister---his dear, long-suffering mother! what had really happened to make them look like this?
And taking them both in his feeble arms, he fell aweeping, quite desperately and for a long time.
And when his weeping-fit was over, when he had quite wept himself out, he fell asleep.
And when he awoke he was conscious that another sad thing had happened to him, and that for some mysterious cause his power of loving had not come back with his wandering wits--had been left behind--and it seemed to him that it was gone for ever and ever--would never come back again--not even his love for his mother and sister, not even his love for Trilby--where all that had once been was a void, a gap, a blankness. . ..
Truly, if Trilby had suffered much, she had also been the innocent cause of terrible suffering. Poor Mrs. Bagot, in her heart, could not forgive her.
I feel this is getting to be quite a sad story, and that it is high time to cut this part of it short.
As the warmer weather came, and Little Billee got stronger, the studio became more lively. The ladies' beds were removed to another studio on the next landing, which was vacant, and the friends came to see Little Billee, and make life more easy for him and his mother and sister.
As for Taffy and the Laird, they had already long been to Mrs. Bagot as a pair of crutches, without whose invaluable help she could never have held herself upright to pick her way in all this maze of trouble.
Then M. Carrel came every day to chat with his favourite pupil and gladden Mrs. Bagot's heart. And also Durien, Carnegie, Petrolicoconose, Vincent, Antony, Lorrimer, Dodor, and l'Zouzou; Mrs. Bagot thought the last two irresistible, when she had once been satisfied that they were 'gentlemen,' in spite of appearances. And, indeed, they showed themselves to great advantage; and though they were so much the opposite to Little Billee in everything, she felt almost maternal towards them, and gave them innocent, good, motherly advice, which they swallowed avec attendrissement, not even stealing a look at each other. And they held Mrs. Bagot's wool, and listened to Miss Bagot's sacred music with upturned pious eyes, and mealy mouths that butter wouldn't melt in!
It is good to be a soldier and a detrimental; you touch the hearts of women and charm them old and young, high or low (excepting, perhaps, a few worldly mothers of marriageable daughters). They take the sticking of your tongue in the cheek for the wearing of your heart on the sleeve.
Indeed, good women all over the world and ever since it began, have loved to be bamboozled by these genial, roistering daredevils, who haven't got a penny to bless themselves with (which is so touching), and are supposed to carry their lives in their hands, even in piping times of peace. Nay, even a few rare bad women sometimes; such women as the best and wisest of us are often ready to sell our souls for!
'A lightsome eye,--a soldier's mien.
A feather of the blue.
A doublet of the Lincoln green---
No more of me you knew.
No more of me you knew...'
As if that wasn't enough, and to spare!
Little Billee could hardly realise that these two polite and gentle and sympathetic sons of Mars were the lively grigs who had made themselves so pleasant all round, and in such a singular manner, on the top of that St. Cloud omnibus; and he admired how they added hypocrisy to their other crimes!
Svengali had gone back to Germany, it seemed with his pockets full of napoleons and big Havana cigars, and wrapped in an immense fur-lined coat, which he meant to wear all through the summer. But little Gecko often came with his violin and made lovely music, and that seemed to do Little Billee more good than anything else.
It made him realise in his brain all the love he could no longer feel in his heart. The sweet melodic phrase, rendered by a master, was as wholesome, refreshing balm to him while it lasted--as manna in the wilderness. It was the one good thing within his reach, never to be taken from him as long as his ear-drums remained and he could hear a master play.
Poor Gecko treated the two English ladies de bos en haut as if they had been goddesses, even when they accompanied him on the piano! He begged their pardon for every wrong note they struck, and adopted their 'tempi'--that is the proper technical term, I believe---and turned scherzos and allegrettos into funeral dirges to please them; and agreed with them, poor little traitor, that it all sounded much better like that!
O Beethoven! O Mozart! did you turn in your graves?
Then, on fine afternoons, Little Billee was taken for drives to the Bois de Boulogne with his mother and sister in an open fly, and generally Taffy as a fourth; to Passy, Auteuil, Boulogne, St. Cloud, Meudon--there are many charming places within an easy drive of Paris.
And sometimes Taffy or the Laird would escort Mrs. and Miss Bagot to the Luxembourg Gallery, the Louvre, the Palais Royal; to the Comedie Francaise once or twice; and on Sundays, now and then, to the English chapel in the Rue Marboeuf. It was all very pleasant; and Miss Bagot looks back on the days of her brother's convalescence as among the happiest in her life.
And they would all five dine together in the studio, with Madame Vinard to wait, and her mother (a cordon bleu) for cook; and the whole aspect of the place was changed and made fragrant, sweet, and charming by all this new feminine invasion and occupation.
And what is sweeter to watch than the dawn and growth of love's young dream, when strength and beauty meet together by the couch of a beloved invalid?
Of course the sympathetic reader will foresee how readily the stalwart Taffy fell a victim to the charms of his friend's sweet sister, and how she grew to return his more than brotherly regard! and how, one lovely evening, just as March was going out like a lamb (to make room for the first of April), Little Billee joined their hands together, and gave them his brotherly blessing!
As a matter of fact, however, nothing of this kind happened. Nothing ever happens but the unforeseen. Pazienza!
Then at length one day--it was a fine, sunny, showery day in April, by the bye, and the big studio window was open at the top and let in a pleasant breeze from the north-west, just as when our little story began--a railway omnibus drew up at the porte cochere in the Place St. Anatole des Arts, and carried away to the station of the Chemin de Per du Nord Little Billee and his mother and sister, and all their belongings (the famous picture had gone before); and Taffy and the Laird rode with them, their faces very long, to see the last of the dear people, and of the train that was to bear them away from Paris; and Little Billee, with his quick, prehensile, aesthetic eye, took many a long and wistful parting gaze at many a French thing he loved, from the gray towers of Notre Dame downward--Heaven only knew when he might see them again!--so he tried to get their aspect well by heart, that he might have the better store of beloved shape and colour memories to chew the cud of when his lost powers of loving and remembering clearly should come back, and he lay awake at night and listened to the wash of the Atlantic along the beautiful red sandstone coast at home.
He had a faint hope that he should feel sorry at parting with Taffy and the Laird.
But when the time came for saying good-bye he couldn't feel sorry in the least, for all he tried and strained so hard!
So he thanked them so earnestly and profusely for all their kindness and patience and sympathy (as did also his mother and sister) that their hearts were too full to speak, and their manner was quite gruff---it was a way they had when they were deeply moved and didn't want to show it.
And as he gazed out of the carriage window at their two forlorn figures looking after him when the train steamed out of the station, his sorrow at not feeling sorry made him look so haggard and so woebegone that they could scarcely bear the sight of him departing without them, and almost felt as if they must follow by the next train, and go and cheer him up in Devonshire, and themselves too.
They did not yield to this amiable weakness. Sorrowfully, arm-in-arm, with trailing umbrellas, they recrossed the river, and found their way to the Cafe de l'Odeon, where they ate many omelets in silence, and dejectedly drank of the best they could get, and were very sad indeed.
Nearly five years have elapsed since we bade farewell and au revoir to Taffy and the Laird at the Paris station of the Chemin de per du Nord, and wished Little Billee and his mother and sister Godspeed on their way to Devonshire, where the poor sufferer was to rest and lie fallow for a few months, and recruit his lost strength and energy, that he might follow up his first and well-deserved success, which perhaps contributed just a little to his recovery.
Many of my readers will remember his splendid debut at the Royal Academy in Trafalgar Square with that now so famous canvas 'The Pitcher Goes to the Well,' and how it was sold three times over on the morning of the private view, the third time for a thousand pounds--- just five times what he got for it himself. And that was thought a large sum in those days for a beginner's picture two feet by four.
I am well aware that such a vulgar test is no criterion whatever of a picture's real merit. But this picture is well known to all the world by this time, and sold only last year at Christie's (more than thirty- six years after it was painted) for three thousand pounds.
Thirty-six years! That goes a long way to redeem even three thousand pounds of all their cumulative vulgarity.
'The Pitcher' is now in the National Gallery, with that other canvas by the same hand, 'The Moon-Dial.' There they hang together for all who care to see them, his first and his last--the blossom and the fruit.
He had not long to live himself, and it was his good fortune, so rare among those whose work is probably destined to live for ever, that he succeeded at his first go off.
And his success was of the best and most flattering kind. It began high up, where it should, among the masters of his own craft. But his fame filtered quickly down to those immediately beneath, and through these to wider circles. And there was quite enough of opposition and vilification and coarse abuse of him to clear it of any suspicion of cheapness or evanescence. What better antiseptic can there be than the philistine's deep hate? what sweeter, fresher, wholesomer music than the sound of his voice when he doth so furiously rage?
Yes! That is 'good production'--as Svengali would have said--'C'est un cri du coeur.'
And then, when popular acclaim brings the great dealers and the big cheques, up rises the printed howl of the duffer, the disappointed one, the 'wounded thing with an angry cry'--the prosperous and happy bagman that should have been, who has given up all for art, and finds he can't paint and make himself a name, after all, and never will, so falls to writing about those who can--and what writing!
To write in hissing dispraise of our more successful fellow-craftsman, and of those who admire him--that is not a clean or pretty trade. It seems, alas! an easy one, and it gives pleasure to so many. It does not even want good grammar. But it pays--well enough even to start and run a magazine with, instead of scholarship, and taste, and talent! humour, sense, wit, and wisdom! It is something like the purveying of pornographic pictures: some of us look at them and laugh, and even buy. To be a purchaser is bad enough; but to be the purveyor thereof-- ugh!
A poor devil of a cracked soprano (are there such people still?) who has been turned out of the Pope's choir because he can't sing in tune, after all!--think of him yelling and squeaking his treble rage at Santley--Sims Reeves--Lablache!
Poor, lost, beardless nondescript! why not fly to other climes, where at least thou might'st hide from us thy woeful crack, and keep thy miserable secret to thyself. Are there no harems still left in Stamboul for the likes of thee to sweep and clean, no women's beds to make and slops to empty, and doors and windows to bar--and tales to carry, and the pasha's confidence and favour and protection to win? Even that is a better trade than pandering for hire to the basest instinct of all--the dirty pleasure we feel (some of us) in seeing mud and dead cats and rotten eggs flung at those we cannot but admire--and secretly envy!
All of which eloquence means that Little Billee was pitched into right and left, as well as overpraised. And it all rolled off him like water off a duck's back, both praise and blame.
It was a happy summer for Mrs. Bagot, a sweet compensation for all the anguish of the winter that had gone before, with her two beloved children together under her wing, and all the world (for her) ringing with the praise of her boy, the apple of her eye, so providentially rescued from the very jaws of death, and from other dangers almost as terrible to her fiercely jealous maternal heart.
And his affection for her seemed to grow with his returning health; but, alas! he was never again to be quite the same light-hearted, innocent, expansive lad he had been before that fatal year spent in Paris.
One chapter of his life was closed, never to be reopened, never to be spoken of again by him to her, by her to him. She could neither forgive nor forget. She could but be silent.
Otherwise he was pleasant and sweet to live with, and everything was done to make his life at home as sweet and pleasant as a loving mother could--as could a most charming sister--and others' sisters who were charming too, and much disposed to worship at the shrine of this young celebrity, who woke up one morning in their little village to find himself famous, and bore his blushing honours so meekly. And among them the vicar's daughter, his sister's friend and co-teacher at the Sunday-school, 'a simple, pure, and pious maiden of gentle birth,' everything he once thought a young lady should be; and her name it was Alice, and she was sweet, and her hair was brown--as brown! . ..
And if he no longer found the simple country pleasures, the junketings and pic-nics, the garden-parties and innocent little musical evenings, quite so exciting as of old, he never showed it.
Indeed, there was much that he did not show, and that his mother and sister tried in vain to guess--many things.
And among them one thing that constantly preoccupied and distressed him--the numbness of his affections. He could be as easily demonstrative to his mother and sister as though nothing had ever happened to him--from the mere force of a sweet old habit--even more so, out of sheer gratitude and compunction.
But alas! he felt that in his heart he could no longer care for them in the least!--nor for Taffy, nor the Laird, nor for himself; not even for Trilby, of whom he constantly thought, but without emotion; and of whose strange disappearance he had been told, and the story had been confirmed in all its details by Angele Boisse, to whom he had written.
It was as though some part of his brain where his affections were seated had been paralysed, while all the rest of it was as keen and as active as ever. He felt like some poor live bird or beast or reptile, a part of whose cerebrum (or cerebellum, or whatever it is) had been dug out by the vivisector for experimental purposes; and the strongest emotional feeling he seemed capable of was his anxiety and alarm about this curious symptom, and his concern as to whether he ought to mention it or not.
He did not do so, for fear of causing distress, hoping that it would pass away in time, and redoubled his caresses to his mother and sister, and clung to them more than ever; and became more considerate of others in thought and manner, word, and deed than he had ever been before, as though by constantly assuming the virtue he had no longer he would gradually coax it back again. There was no trouble he would not take to give pleasure to the humblest.
Also, his vanity about himself had become as nothing, and he missed it almost as much as his affection.
Yet he told himself over and over again that he was a great artist, and that he would spare no pains to make himself a greater, But that was no merit of his own.
2+2 =4, also 2x2 = 4, that peculiarity was no reason why 4 should be conceited; for what was 4 but a result, either way?
Well, he was like 4--just an inevitable result of circumstances over which he had no control--a mere product or sum; and though he meant to make himself as big a 4 as he could (to cultivate his peculiar fourness), he could no longer feel the old conceit and self- complacency; and they had been a joy, and it was hard to do without them.
At the bottom of it all was a vague, disquieting unhappiness, a constant fidget.
And it seemed to him, and much to his distress, that such mild unhappiness would be the greatest he could ever feel henceforward--but that, such as it was, it would never leave him, and that his moral existence would be for evermore one long gray gloomy blank--the glimmer of twilight--never glad, confident morning again!
So much for Little Billee's convalescence.
Then one day in the late autumn he spread his wings and flew away to London, which was very ready with open arms to welcome William Bagot, the already famous painter, alias Little Billee!