Trilby by George du Maurier
Little Billee An Interlude 'Then the mortal coldness of the soul like death itself comes down; It cannot feel for others' woes, it dare not dream its own; That heavy chill has frozen o'er the fountain of our tears. And, though the eye may sparkle yet, 'tis where the ice appears. 'Though wit may flash from fluent lips, and mirth distract the breast. Through midnight hours that yield no more their former hope of rest: Tis but as ivy leaves around a ruined turret wreathe. All green and wildly fresh without, but worn and gray beneath.'
When Taffy and the Laird went back to the studio in the Place St. Anatole des Arts, and resumed their ordinary life there, it was with a sense of desolation and dull bereavement beyond anything they could have imagined; and this did not seem to lessen as the time wore on.
They realised for the first time how keen and penetrating and unintermittent had been the charm of those two central figures--Trilby and Little Billee--and how hard it was to live without them, after such intimacy as had been theirs.
'Oh, it has been a jolly time, though it didn't last long!' So Trilby had written in her farewell letter to Taffy; and these words were true for Taffy and the Laird as well as for her.
And that is the worst of those dear people who have charm: they are so terrible to do without, when once you have got accustomed to them and all their ways.
And when, besides being charming, they are simple, clever, affectionate, constant, and sincere, like Trilby and Little Billee!' Then the lamentable hole their disappearance makes is not to be filled up! And when they are full of genius, like Little Billee--and like Trilby, funny without being vulgar! For so she always seemed to the Laird and Taffy, even in French (in spite of her Gallic audacities of thought, speech, and gesture).
All seemed to have suffered change. The very boxing and fencing were gone through perfunctorily, for mere health's sake; and a thin layer of adipose deposit began to soften the outlines of the hills and dales on Taffy's mighty forearm.
Dodor and l'Zouzou no longer came so often, now that the charming Little Billee and his charming mother and still more charming sister had gone away--nor Carnegie, nor Antony, nor Lorrimer, nor Vincent, nor the Greek. Gecko never came at all. Even Svengali was missed, little as he had been liked. It is a dismal and sulky-looking piece of furniture, a grand piano that nobody ever plays--with all its sound and its souvenirs locked up inside--a kind of mausoleum! a lop-sided coffin, trestles and all! So it went back to London by the 'little quickness,' just as it had come!
Thus Taffy and the Laird grew quite sad and mopy, and lunched at the Cafe de l'Odeon every day--till the goodness of the omelets palled, and the redness of the wine there got on their nerves and into their heads and faces, and made them sleepy till dinner-time. And then, waking up, they dressed respectably, and dined expensively, 'like gentlemen,' in the Palais Royal, or the Passage Choiseul, or the Passage des Panoramas--for three francs, three francs fifty, even five francs a head, and half a franc to the waiter!--and went to the theatre almost every night, on that side of the water--and more often than not they took a cab home, each smoking a Panatellas, which costs twenty-five centimes--five sous--2 '/2d.!
Then they feebly drifted into quite decent society--like Lorrimer and Carnegie--with dress-coats and white ties on, and their hair parted in the middle and down the back of the head, and brought over the ears in a bunch at each side, as was the English fashion in those days; and subscribed to Galignani's Messenger; and had themselves proposed and seconded for the Cercle Anglais in the Rue Sainte-n'y Touche, a circle of British philistines of the very deepest dye; and went to hear divine service on Sunday mornings in Rue Marboeuf!
Indeed, by the end of the summer they had sunk into such depths of demoralisation that they felt they must really have a change; and decided on giving up the studio in the Place St. Anatole des Arts, and leaving Paris for good; and going to settle for the winter in Dusseldorf, which is a very pleasant place for English painters who do not wish to overwork themselves--as the Laird well knew, having spent a year there.
It ended in Taffy's going to Antwerp for the Kermesse, to paint the Flemish drunkard of our time just as he really is; and the Laird s going to Spain, so that he might study toreadors from the life.
I may as well state here that the Laird's toreador pictures, which had had quite a vogue in Scotland as long as he had been content to paint diem in the Place St. Anatole des Arts, quite ceased to please (or sell) after he had been to Seville and Madrid; so he took to painting Roman cardinals and Neapolitan pifferari from the depths of his consciousness--and was so successful that he made up his mind he would never spoil his market by going to Italy!
So he went and painted his cardinals and his pifferari in Algiers, and Taffy joined him there, and painted Algerian Jews--just as they really are (and didn't sell them); and then they spent a year in Munich, and then a year in Dusseldorf, and a winter in Cairo, and so on.
And all this time, Taffy, who took everything au grand serieux--- especially the claims and obligations of friendship--corresponded regularly with Little Billee, who wrote him long and amusing letters back again, and had plenty to say about his life in London--which was a series of triumphs, artistic and social--and you would have thought from his letters, modest though they were, that no happier young man, or more elate, was to be found anywhere in the world.
It was a good time in England, just then, for young artists of promise; a time of evolution, revolution, change, and development--of the founding of new schools and the crumbling away of old ones--a keen struggle for existence--a surviving of the fit--a preparation, let us hope, for the ultimate survival of the fittest.
And among the many glories of this particular period two names stand out very conspicuously--for the immediate and (so far) lasting fame their bearers achieved, and the wide influence they exerted, and continue to exert still.
The world will not easily forget Frederic Walker and William Bagot, those two singularly gifted boys, whom it soon became the fashion to bracket together, to compare and to contrast, as one compares and contrasts Thackeray and Dickens, Carlyle and Macaulay, Tennyson and Browning--a futile though pleasant practice, of which the temptations seem irresistible!
Yet why compare the lily and the rose?
These two young masters had the genius and the luck to be the progenitors of much of the best art work that has been done in England during the last thirty years, in oils, in water colour, in black and white.
They were both essentially English and of their own time; both absolutely original, receiving their impressions straight from nature itself; uninfluenced by any school, ancient or modern, they founded schools instead of following any, and each was a law unto himself, and a law-giver unto many others. Both were equally great in whatever they attempted--landscape, figures, birds, beasts, or fishes. Who does not remember the fishmonger's shop, by F. Walker, or W. Bagot's little piebald piglings, and their venerable black mother, and their immense fat wallowing pink papa? An ineffable charm of poetry and refinement, of pathos and sympathy and delicate humour combined, an incomparable ease and grace and felicity of workmanship belong to each; and yet in their work are they not as wide apart as the poles; each complete in himself and yet a complement to the other?
And, oddly enough, they were both singularly alike in aspect--both small and slight, though beautifully made, with tiny hands and feet; always arrayed as the lilies of the field, for all they toiled and spun so arduously; both had regularly-featured faces of a noble cast and most winning character; both had the best and simplest manners in the world, and a way of getting themselves much and quickly and permanently liked....
Que la terre leur soit legere!
And who can say that the fame of one is greater than the other's!
Their pinnacles are twin, I venture to believe--of just an equal height and width and thickness, like their bodies in this life; but unlike their frail bodies in one respect: no taller pinnacles are to be seen, methinks, in all the garden of the deathless dead painters of our time, and none more built to last!
But it is not with the art of Little Billee, nor with his fame as a painter, that we are chiefly concerned in this unpretending little tale, except in so far as they have some bearing on his character and his fate.
I should like to know the detailed history of the Englishman's first love, and how he lost his innocence!'
'Ask him yourself!'
Thus Papelard and Bouchardy, on the morning of Little Billee's first appearance at Carrel's studio, in the Rue des Potirons St. Michel.
And that is the question the present scribe is doing his little best to answer.
A good-looking, famous, well-bred, and well-dressed youth finds that London society opens its doors very readily; he hasn't long to knock; and it would be difficult to find a youth more fortunately situated, handsomer, more famous, better dressed or better bred, more seemingly happy and successful, with more attractive qualities and more condonable faults, than Little Billee, as Taffy and the Laird found him when they came to London after their four or five years in foreign parts--their Wanderjahr.
He had a fine studio and a handsome suite of rooms in Fitzroy Square. Beautiful specimens of his unfinished work, endless studies, hung on his studio walls. Everything else was as nice as it could be---the furniture, the bibelots, and bric-a-brac, the artistic foreign and Eastern knick-knacks and draperies and hangings and curtains and rugs---the semi-grand piano by Collard and Collard.
That immortal canvas, the 'Moon-Dial' (just begun, and already commissioned by Moses Lyon, the famous picture-dealer), lay on his easel.
No man worked harder and with teeth more clinched than Little Billee when he was at work--none rested or played more discreetly when it was time to rest or play.
The glass on his mantelpiece was full of cards of invitation, reminders, pretty mauve and pink and lilac scented notes; nor were coronets wanting on many of these hospitable little missives. He had quite overcome his fancied aversion for bloated dukes and lords and the rest (we all do sooner or later, if things go well with us); especially for their wives and sisters and daughters and female cousins; even their mothers and aunts. In point of fact, and in spite of his tender years, he was in some danger (for his art) of developing into that type so adored by sympathetic women who haven't got much to do: the friend, the tame cat, the platonic lover (with many loves)-- the squire of dames, the trusty one, of whom husbands and brothers have no fear!---the delicate, harmless dilettante of Eros--the dainty shepherd who dwells 'dans le pays du tendre!'--and stops there!
The woman flatters and the man confides--and there is no danger whatever, I'm told--and I'm glad!
One man loves his fiddle (or, alas! his neighbour's sometimes) for all the melodies he can wake from it--it is but a selfish love!
Another, who is no fiddler, may love a fiddle too; for its symmetry, its neatness, its colour--its delicate grainings, the lovely lines and curves of its back and front--for its own sake, so to speak. He may have a whole galleryful of fiddles to love in this innocent way--a harem!--and yet not know a single note of music, or even care to hear one. He will dust them and stroke them, and take them down and try to put them in tune--pizzicato!--and put them back again, and call them ever such sweet little pet exotic names: viol, viola, viola d'amore, viol di gamba, violino mio! and breathe his little troubles into them, and they will give back inaudible little murmurs in sympathetic response, like a damp AEolian harp; but he will never draw a bow across the strings, nor wake a single chord--or discord!
And who shall say he is not wise in his generation? It is but an old- fashioned philistine notion that fiddles were only made to be played on--the fiddles themselves are beginning to resent it; and rightly, I wot!
In this harmless fashion Little Billee was friends with more than one fine lady de par le monde.
Indeed, he had been reproached by his more bohemian brothers of the brush for being something of a tuft-hunter--most unjustly. But nothing gives such keen offence to our unsuccessful brother, bohemian or bourgeois, as our sudden intimacy with the so-called great, the little lords and ladies of this little world! Not even our fame and success, and all the joy and pride they bring us, are so hard to condone--so embittering, so humiliating, to the jealous fraternal heart.
Alas! poor humanity--that the mere countenance of our betters (if they are our betters!) should be thought so priceless a boon, so consummate an achievement, so crowning a glory, as all that!
'A dirty bit of orange-peel.
The stump of a cigar--
Once trod on by a princely heel.
How beautiful they are!'
Little Billee was no tuft-hunter--he was the tuft-hunted, or had been. No one of his kind was ever more persistently, resolutely, hospitably harried than this young 'hare with many friends' by people of rank and fashion.
And at first he thought them most charming; as they so often are, these graceful, gracious, gay, good-natured stoics and barbarians, whose manners are as easy and simple as their morals--but how much better!--and who, at least, have this charm, that they can wallow in untold gold (when they happen to possess it) without ever seeming to stink of the same: yes, they bear wealth gracefully--and the want of it more gracefully still! and these are pretty accomplishments that have yet to be learned by our new aristocracy of the shop and counting-house, Jew or Gentile, which is everywhere elbowing its irresistible way to the top and front of everything, both here and abroad.
Then he discovered that, much as you might be with them, you could never be of them, unless perchance you managed to hook on by marrying one of their ugly ducklings--their failures--their remnants! and even then life isn't all beer and skittles for a rank outsider, I'm told! Then he discovered that he didn't want to be of them in the least; especially at such a cost as that! and that to be very much with them was apt to pall, like everything else!
Also, he found that they were very mixed--good, bad, and indifferent; and not always very dainty or select in their predilections, since they took unto their bosoms such queer outsiders (just for the sake of being amused a little while) that their capricious favour ceased to be an honour and a glory--if it ever was! And then, their fickleness!
Indeed, he found, or thought he found, that they could be just as clever, as liberal, as polite or refined--as narrow, insolent, swaggering, coarse, and vulgar--as handsome, as ugly--as graceful, as ungainly--as modest or conceited, as any other upper class of the community--and indeed some lower ones!
Beautiful young women, who had been taught how to paint pretty little landscapes (with an ivy-mantled ruin in the middle distance), talked technically of painting to him, de pair a pair, as though they were quite on the same artistic level, and didn't mind admitting it in spite of the social gulf between.
Hideous old frumps (osseous or obese, yet with unduly bared necks and shoulders that made him sick) patronised him and gave him good advice, and told him to emulate Mr. Buckner both in his genius and his manners--since Mr. Buckner was the only 'gentleman' who ever painted for hire; and they promised him, in time, an equal success!
Here and there some sweet old darling specially enslaved him by her kindness, grace, knowledge of life, and tender womanly sympathy, like the dowager Lady Chiselhurst--or some sweet young one, like the lovely Duchess of Towers, by her beauty, wit, good-humour, and sisterly interest in all he did, and who in some vague, distant manner constantly reminded him of Trilby, although she was such a great and fashionable lady!
But just such darlings, old or young, were to be found, with still higher ideals, in less exalted spheres; and were easier of access with no impassable gulf between--spheres where there was no patronising, nothing but deference and warm appreciation and delicate flattery, from men and women alike--and where the aged Venuses, whose prime was of the days of Waterloo, went with their historical remains duly shrouded, like ivy-mantled ruins (and in the middle distance!).
So he actually grew tired of the great before they had time to tire of him--incredible as it may seem, and against nature; and this saved him many a heart-burning; and he ceased to be seen at fashionable drums or gatherings of any kind, except in one or two houses where he was especially liked and made welcome for his own sake; such as Lord Chiselhurst's in Piccadilly, where the 'Moon-Dial' found a home for a few years before going to its last home and final resting-place in the National Gallery (R.I.P.); or Baron Stoppenheim's in Cavendish Square, where many lovely little water-colours signed W. B. occupied places of honour on gorgeously-gilded walls; or the gorgeously-gilded bachelor rooms of Mr. Moses Lyon, the picture-dealer in Upper Conduit Street-- for Little Billee (I much grieve to say it of a hero of romance) was an excellent man of business. That infinitesimal dose of the good old Oriental blood kept him straight, and not only made him stick to his last through thick and thin but also to those whose foot his last was found to match (for he couldn't or wouldn't alter his last). He loved to make as much money as he could, that he might spend it royally in pretty gifts to his mother and sister, whom it was his pleasure to load in this way, and whose circumstances had been very much altered by his quick success. There was never a more generous son or brother than Little Billee of the clouded heart, that couldn't love any longer!
As a set-off to all these splendours, it was also his pleasure now and again to study London life at its lower den--the easiest end of all. Whitechapel, the Minories, the Docks, Ratcliffe Highway, Rotherhithe, soon got to know him well, and he found much to interest him and much to like among their denizens, and made as many friends there among ship-carpenters, excisemen, longshoremen, jack-tars, and what not, as in Bayswater and Belgravia (or Bloomsbury).
He was especially fond of frequenting sing-songs, or 'free-and- easies,' where good hard-working fellows met of an evening to relax and smoke and drink and sing, round a table well loaded with steaming tumblers and pewter pots, at one end of which sits Mr. Chairman in all his glory, and at the other 'Mr. Vice.' They are open to any one who can afford a pipe, a screw of tobacco, and a pint of beer, and who is willing to do his best and sing a song.
No introduction is needed; as soon as any one has seated himself and made himself comfortable, Mr. Chairman taps the table with his long clay pipe, begs for silence, and says to his vis-a-vis: 'Mr. Vice, it strikes me as the gen'l'man as is just come in 'as got a singing face. Per'aps, Mr. Vice, you'll be so very kind as juster harsk the aforesaid gentl'man to oblige us with a 'armony.'
Mr. Vice then puts it to the new-comer, who, thus appealed to, simulates a modest surprise, and finally professes his willingness, like Mr. Barkis; then, clearing his throat a good many times, looks up to the ceiling, and after one or two unsuccessful starts in different keys, bravely sings 'Kathleen Mavourneen,' let us say--perhaps in a touchingly sweet tenor voice:
'Kathleen Mavourneen, the gry dawn is brykin.
The 'orn of the 'unter is 'card on the 'ill. . .'
And Little Billee didn't mind the dropping of all these aitches if the voice was sympathetic and well in tune, and the sentiment simple, tender, and sincere.
Or else, with a good rolling jingo bass, it was.
"earts o' hoak are our ships; 'earts o' hoak are our men;
And we'll fight and we'll conkwer agen and agen!'
And no imperfection of accent, in Little Billee's estimation, subtracted one jot from the manly British pluck that found expression in these noble sentiments, nor added one tittle to their swaggering, blatant, and idiotically aggressive vulgarity!
Well, the song finishes with general applause all round. Then the chairman says, 'Your 'ealth and song, sir!' And drinks, and all do the same.
Then Mr. Vice asks, 'What shall we 'ave the pleasure of saying, sir, after that very nice 'armony?'
And the blushing vocalist, if he knows the ropes, replies, 'A roast leg o' mutton in Newgate, and nobody to eat it!' Or else, 'May 'im as is going up the 'ill o' prosperity never meet a friend coming down!' Or else, "ere's to 'er as snares our sorrers and doubles our joys!' Or else, "ere's to 'er as shares our joys and doubles our expenses!' and so forth.
More drink, more applause, and many 'ear 'ear's. And Mr. Vice says to the singer: 'You call, sir. Will you be so good as to call on some other gen'l'man for a 'armony?' And so the evening goes on.
And nobody was more quickly popular at such gatherings, or sang better songs, or proposed more touching sentiments, or filled either chair or vice-chair with more grace and dignity than Little Billee. Not even Dodor or l'Zouzou could have beaten him at that.
And he was as happy, as genial, and polite, as much at his ease, in these humble gatherings as in the gilded saloons of the great, where grand-pianos are, and hired accompanists, and highly paid singers, and a good deal of talk while they sing.
So his powers of quick, wide, universal sympathy grew and grew, and made up to him a little for his lost power of being specially fond of special individuals. For he made no close friends among men, and ruthlessly snubbed all attempts at intimacy--all advances towards an affection which he felt he could not return; and more than one enthusiastic admirer of his talent and his charm was forced to acknowledge that, with all his gifts, he seemed heartless and capricious; as ready to drop you as he had been to take you up.
He loved to be wherever he could meet his kind, high or low; and felt as happy on a penny steamer as on the yacht of a millionaire--on the crowded knifeboard of an omnibus as on the box-seat of a nobleman's drag--happier; he liked to feel the warm contact of his fellow-man at either shoulder and at his back, and didn't object to a little honest grime! And I think all this genial caressing love of his kind, this depth and breadth of human sympathy, are patent in all his work.
On the whole, however, he came to prefer for society that of the best and cleverest of his own class--those who live and prevail by the professional exercise of their own specially-trained and highly- educated wits, the skilled workmen of the brain--from the Lord Chief- Justice of England downward--the salt of the earth, in his opinion; and stuck to them.
There is no class so genial and sympathetic as our own, in the long run even if it be but the criminal class! none where the welcome is likely to be so genuine and sincere, so easy to win, so difficult to outstay, if we be but decently pleasant and successful; none where the memory of us will be kept so green (if we leave any memory at all!).
So Little Billee found it expedient, when he wanted rest and play, to seek them at the houses of those whose rest and play were like his own--little halts in a seeming happy life--journey, full of toil and strain and endeavour; oases of sweet water and cooling shade, where the food was good and plentiful, though the tents might not be of cloth of gold; where the talk was of something more to his taste than court or sport or narrow party politics; the new beauty; the coming match of the season; the coming ducal conversion to Rome; the last elopement in high life--the next! and where the music was that of the greatest music-makers that can be, who found rest and play in making better music for love than they ever made for hire--and were listened to as they should be, with understanding and religious silence, and all the fervent gratitude they deserved.
There were several such houses in London then--and are still--thank Heaven! And Little Billee had his little billet there--and there he was wont to drown himself in waves of lovely sound, or streams of clever talk, or rivers of sweet feminine adulation, seas! oceans!--a somewhat relaxing bath!--and forget for a while his everlasting chronic plague of heart-insensibility, which no doctor could explain or cure, and to which he was becoming gradually resigned--as one does to deafness or blindness or locomotor ataxia--for it had lasted nearly five years! But now and again, during sleep, and in a blissful dream, the lost power of loving--of loving mother, sister, friend--would be restored to him, just as with a blind man who sometimes dreams he has recovered his sight; and the joy of it would wake him to the sad reality: till he got to know, even in his dream, that he was only dreaming after all, whenever that priceless boon seemed to be his own once more--and did his utmost not to wake. And these were nights to be marked with a white stone, and remembered!
And nowhere was he happier than at the houses of the great surgeons and physicians who interested themselves in his strange disease. When the Little Billees of this world fall ill, the great surgeons and physicians (like the great singers and musicians) do better for them, out of mere love and kindness, than for the princes of the earth, who pay them thousand-guinea fees and load them with honours.
And of all these notable London houses none was pleasanter than that of Cornelys, the great sculptor, and Little Billee was such a favourite in that house that he was able to take his friends Taffy and the Laird there the very day they came to London.
First of all they dined together at a delightful little Franco-Italian pothouse near Leicester Square, where they had bouillabaisse (imagine the Laird's delight), and spaghetti, and apoulet roti, which is such a different affair from a roast fowl! and salad, which Taffy was allowed to make and mix himself; and they all smoked just where they sat, the moment they had swallowed their food--as had been their way in the good old Paris days.
That dinner was a happy one for Taffy and the Laird, with their Little Billee apparently unchanged--as demonstrative, as genial and caressing as ever, and with no swagger to speak of; and with so many things to talk about that were new to them, and of such delightful interest! They also had much to say--but they didn't say very much about Paris, for fear of waking up Heaven knows what sleeping dogs!
And every now and again, in the midst of all this pleasant forgathering and communion of long-parted friends, the pangs of Little Billee's miserable mind-malady would shoot through him like poisoned arrows.
He would catch himself thinking how fat and fussy and serious about trifles Taffy had become; and what a shiftless, feckless, futile duffer was the Laird; and how greedy they both were, and how red and coarse their ears and gills and cheeks grew as they fed, and how shiny their faces; and how little he would care, try as he might, if they both fell down dead under the table! And this would make him behave more caressingly to them, more genially and demonstratively than ever--for he knew it was all a grewsome physical ailment of his own, which he could no more help than a cataract in his eye!
Then, catching sight of his own face and form in a mirror, he would curse himself for a puny, misbegotten shrimp, an imp--an abortion--- 110 bigger, by the side of the Herculean Taffy or the burly Laird of Cockpen, than sixpennorth o' halfpence: a wretched little overrated follower of a poor trivial craft--a mere light amuser! For what did pictures matter, or whether they were good or bad, except to the triflers who painted them, the dealers who sold them, the idle, uneducated, purse-proud fools who bought them and stuck them up on their walls because they were told!
And he felt that if a dynamite shell were beneath the table where they sat, and its fuse were smoking under their very noses, he would neither wish to warn his friends nor move himself. He didn't care ad-!
And all this made him so lively and brilliant in his talk, so fascinating and droll and witty, that Taffy and the Laird wondered at the improvement success and the experience of life had wrought in him, and marvelled at the happiness of his lot, and almost found it in their warm affectionate hearts to feel a touch of envy!
Oddly enough, in a brief flash of silence, 'entre la poire et le fromage,' they heard a foreigner at an adjoining table (one of a very noisy group) exclaim: 'Mais quand je vous dis que j'l'ai enten-due, moi, La Svengali! et meme qu'elle a chante l'Impromptu de Chopin absolument comme si c'etait un piano qu'on jouait! voyons!...'
'Farceur! la bonne blague!' said another--and then the conversation became so noisily general it was no good listening any more.
'Svengali! how funny that name should turn up! I wonder what's become of our Svengali, by the way?' observed Taffy.
'I remember his playing Chopin's Impromptu,' said Little Billee; 'what a singular coincidence!'
There were to be more coincidences that night; it never rains them but it pours!
So our three friends finished their coffee and liqueured up, and went to Cornelys's three in a hansom--
A-smokin' their poipes and cigyars.'
Sir Louis Cornelys, as everybody knows, lives in a palace on Campden Hill, a house of many windows; and whichever window he looks out of, he sees his own garden and very little else. In spite of his eighty years, he works as hard as ever, and his hand has lost but little of its cunning. But he no longer gives those splendid parties that made him almost as famous a host as he was an artist.
When his beautiful wife died he shut himself up from the world; and now he never stirs out of his house and grounds except to fulfil his duties at the Royal Academy, and dine once a year with the Queen.
It was very different in the early sixties. There was no pleasanter or more festive house than his in London, winter or summer--no lordlier host than he--no more irresistible hostesses than Lady Cornelys and her lovely daughters; and if ever music had a right to call itself divine, it was there you heard it--on late Saturday, nights during the London season--when the foreign birds of song came over to reap their harvest in London Town.
It was on one of the most brilliant of these Saturday nights that Taffy and the Laird, chaperoned by Little Billee, made their debut at Mechelen Lodge, and were received at the door of the immense music- room by a tall, powerful man with splendid eyes and a gray beard, and a small velvet cap on his head--and by a Greek matron so beautiful and stately and magnificently attired that they felt inclined to sink them on their bended knees as in the presence of some overwhelming Eastern royalty--and were only prevented from doing so, perhaps, by the simple, sweet, and cordial graciousness of her welcome.
And whom should they be shaking hands with next but Antony, Lorrimer, and the Greek--each with a beard and moustache of nearly five years' growth!
But they had no time for much exuberant greeting, for there was a sudden piano crash--and then an immediate silence, as though for pins to drop--and Signer Giuglini and the wondrous maiden Adelina Patti sang the 'Miserere' out of Signor Verdi's most famous opera--to the delight of all but a few very superior ones who had just read Mendelssohn's letters (or misread them) and despised Italian music, and thought cheaply of 'mere virtuosity,' either vocal or instrumental.
When this was over, Little Billee pointed out all the lions to his friends--from the Prime Minister down to the present scribe--who was right glad to meet them again and talk of auld lang syne, and present them to the daughters of the house and other charming ladies.
Then Roucouly, the great French baritone, sang Durien's favourite song--
Plaisir d'amour ne dure qu'un moment;
Chagrin d'amour dure toute la vie...'
with quite a little drawing-room voice--but quite as divinely as he had sung 'Noel, noel,' at the Madeleine in full blast one certain Christmas Eve our three friends remembered well.
Then there was a violin solo by young Joachim, then as now the greatest violinist of his time; and a solo on the pianoforte by Madame Schumann, his only peeress! and these came as a wholesome check to the levity of those for whom all music is but an agreeable pastime, a mere emotional delight, in which the intellect has no part; and also as a well-deserved humiliation to all virtuosi who play so charmingly that they make their listeners forget the master who invented the music in the lesser master who interprets it!
For these two--man and woman--the highest of their kind, never let you forget it was Sebastian Bach they were playing--playing in absolute perfection, in absolute forgetfulness of themselves--so that if you weren't up to Bach, you didn't have a very good time!
But if you were (or wished it to be understood or thought you were), you seized your opportunity and you scored; and by the earnestness of your rapt and tranced immobility, and the stony, gorgon-like intensity of your gaze, you rebuked the frivolous--as you had rebuked them before by the listlessness and carelessness of your bored resignation to the Signorina Patti's trills and fiorit-ures, or M. Roucouly's pretty little French mannerisms.
And what added so much to the charm of this delightful concert was that the guests were not packed together sardine-wise, as they are at most concerts; they were comparatively few and well chosen, and could get up and walk about and talk to their friends between the pieces, and wander off into other rooms and look at endless beautiful things, and stroll in the lovely grounds, by moon or star or Chinese-lantern light.
And there the frivolous could sit and chat and laugh and flirt when Bach was being played inside; and the earnest wander up and down together in soul-communion, through darkened walks and groves and alleys where the sound of French or Italian warblings could not reach them, and talk in earnest tones of the great Zola, or Guy de Maupassant and Pierre Loti, and exult in beautiful English over the inferiority of English literature, English art, English music, English everything else.
For these high-minded ones who can only bear the sight of classical pictures and the sound of classical music do not necessarily read classical books in any language--no Shakespeares or Dantes or Molieres or Goethes for them. They know a trick worth two of that!
And the mere fact that these three immortal French writers of light books I have just named had never been heard of at this particular period doesn't very much matter; they had cognate predecessors whose names I happen to forget. Any stick will do to beat a dog with, and history is always repeating itself.
Feydeau, or Flaubert, let us say--or for those who don't know French and cultivate an innocent mind, Miss Austen (for to be dead and buried is almost as good as to be French and immoral!)--and Sebastian Bach, and Sandro Botticelli--that all the arts should be represented. These names are rather discrepant, but they make very good sticks for dog- beating; and with a thorough knowledge and appreciation of these (or the semblance thereof), you were well equipped in those days to hold your own among the elect of intellectual London circles, and snub the philistine to rights.
Then, very late, a tall, good-looking, swarthy foreigner came in, with a roll of music in his hands, and his entrance made quite a stir; you heard all round, 'Here's Glorioli,' or 'Ecco Glorioli,' or 'Voici Glorioli,' till Glorioli got on your nerves. And beautiful ladies, ambassadresses, female celebrities of all kinds, fluttered up to him and cajoled and fawned;--as Svengali would have said, 'Prinzessen, Comtessen, Serene English Altessen!'--and they soon forgot their Highness and their Serenity!
For with very little pressing Glorioli stood up on the platform, with his accompanist by his side at the piano, and in his hands a sheet of music, at which he never looked. He looked at the beautiful ladies, and ogled and smiled; and from his scarcely-parted, moist, thick, bearded lips, which he always licked before singing, there issued the most ravishing sounds that had ever been heard from throat of man or woman or boy! He could sing both high and low and soft and loud, and the frivolous were bewitched, as was only to be expected; but even the earnestest of all, caught, surprised, rapt, astounded, shaken, tickled, teased, harrowed, tortured, tantalised, aggravated, seduced, demoralised, degraded, corrupted into mere naturalness, forgot to dissemble their delight.
And Sebastian Bach (the especially adored of all really great musicians, and also, alas! of many priggish outsiders who don't know a single note and can't remember a single tune) was well forgotten for the night; and who were more enthusiastic than the two great players who had been playing Bach that evening? For these, at all events, were broad and catholic and sincere, and knew what was beautiful, whatever its kind.
It was but a simple little song that Glorioli sang, as light and pretty as it could well be, almost worthy of the words it was written to, and the words are De Musset's; and I love them so much I cannot resist the temptation of setting them down here, for the mere sensuous delight of writing them, as though I had just composed them myself:
'Bonjour Suzon, ma fleur des bois! Es-tu toujours la plus jolie? Je reviens, tel que tu me vois. D'un grand voyage en Italie! Du paradis j'ai fait le tour-- J'ai fait des vers--j'ai fait l'amour... Mais que t'importe! Je passe devant ta maison: Ouvre ta porte! Bonjour, Suzon! 'Je t'ai vue au temps des lilas. Ton coeur joyeux venait d'eclore Et tu disais: "Je ne veux pas. Je ne veux pas qu'on m'aime encore." Qu'as-tu fait depuis mon depart? Qui part trop tot revient trop tard. Mais que m'importe? Je passe devant ta maison: Ouvre ta porte! Bonjour Suzon!'
And when it began, and while it lasted, and after it was over, one felt really sorry for all the other singers. And nobody sang any more that night; for Glorioli was tired, and wouldn't sing again, and none were bold enough or disinterested enough to sing after him.
Some of my readers may remember that meteoric bird of song, who, though a mere amateur, would condescend to sing for a hundred guineas in the saloons of the great (as Monsieur Jourdain sold cloth); who would sing still better for love and glory in the studios of his friends.
For Glorioli--the biggest, handsomest, and most distinguished-looking Jew that ever was one of the Sephardim (one of the Seraphim!)--hailed from Spain, where he was junior partner in the great firm of Morales, Perales, Gonzales, and Glorioli, wine merchants, Malaga. He travelled for his own firm; his wine was good, and he sold much of it in England. But his voice would bring him far more gold in the month he spent here; for his wines have been equalled--if it be not libellous to say so--but there was no voice like his anywhere in the world, and no more finished singer.
Anyhow his voice got into Little Billee's head more than any wine, and the boy could talk of nothing else for days and weeks; and was so exuberant in his expressions of delight and gratitude that the great singer took a real fancy to him (especially when he was told that this fervent boyish admirer was one of the greatest of English painters); and as a mark of his esteem, privately confided to him after supper that every century two human nightingales were born--only two! a male and a female; and that he, Glorioli, was the representative 'male rossignol of this soi-disant dix-neuvieme siecle.'
'I can well believe that! And the female, your mate that should be--- la rossignolle, if there is such a word?' inquired Little Billee.
'Ah! mon ami... it was Alboni, till la petite Adelina Patti came out a year or two ago; and now it is La Svengali.'
'Oui, mon fy! You will hear her some day--et vous m'en direz des nouvelles!'
'Why, you don't mean to say that she's got a better voice than Madame Alboni?'
'Mon ami, an apple is an excellent thing--until you have tried a peach! Her voice to that of Alboni is as a peach to an apple--I give you my word of honour! but bah! the voice is a detail. It's what she does with it--it's incredible! it gives one cold all down the back! it drives you mad! it makes you weep hot tears by the spoonful! Ah! the tear, mon fy! tenez! I can draw everything but that! Ca n'est pas dans mes cordes! I can only madden with love! But La Svengali!...And then, in the middle of it all, prrrout!...she makes you laugh! Ah! le beau rire! faire rire avec des larmes plein les yeux--voila qui me passe! .. . Mon ami, when I heard her it made me swear that even I would never try to sing any more--it seemed too absurd! and I kept my word for a month at least--and you know, je sais ce que je vaux, moi!'
'You are talking of La Svengali, I bet,' said Signer Spartia.
'Oui, parbleu! You have heard her?'
'Yes--at Vienna last winter,' rejoined the greatest singing-master in the world. 'J'en suis fou! helas! I thought I could teach a woman how to sing, till I heard that blackguard Svengali's pupil-He has married her, they say?'
'That blackguard Svengali!' exclaimed Little Billee...'why, that must be a Svengali I knew in Paris--a famous pianist! a friend of mine!'
'That's the man! also une fameuse crapule (sauf vot' respect); his real name is Adler; his mother was a Polish singer; and he was a pupil at the Leipsic Conservatorio. But he's an immense artist, and a great singing-master, to teach a woman like that! and such a woman! belle comme un ange--mais bete comme un pot. I tried to talk to her--all she can say is "ja wohl," or "doch," or "nein," or "soh!" not a word of English or French or Italian, though she sings them, oh! but divinely! It is "il bel canto" come back to the world after a hundred years. . ..'
'But what voice is it?' asked Little Billee.
'Every voice a mortal woman can have--three octaves--four! and of such a quality that people who can't tell one tune from another cry with pleasure at the mere sound of it directly they hear her; just like anybody else. Everything that Paganini could do with his violin, she does with her voice only better--and what a voice! un vrai baume!'
'Now I don't mind petting zat you are schbeaking of La Sfen-cali,' said Herr Kreutzer, the famous composer, joining in. 'Quelle merfeille, hein? I heard her in St. Betersburg, at ze Vinter Balace. Ze vomen all vent mat, and pulled off zeir bearls and tia-monts and kave zem to her--vent town on zeir knees and gried and gissed her hants. She tit not say vun vort! She tit not efen schmile! Ze men schnifelled in ze gorners, and looked at ze bic-tures, and tissempled--efen I, Johann Kreutzer! efen ze Emperor?'
'You're joking,' said Little Billee.
'My vrent, I neffer choke ven I talk apout zinging. You vill hear her zum tay yourzellof, and you vill acree viz me zat zere are two classes of beoble who zing. In ze vun class, La Sfencali; in ze ozzer, all ze ozzer zingers!'
'And does she sing good music?'
'I ton't know. All music is koot ven she zings it. I forket ze zong; I can only sink of ze zinger. Any koot zinger can zing a peautiful zong and kif bleasure, I zubboce! But I voot zooner hear La Sfencali zing a scale zan anypotty else zing ze most peautiful zong in ze vorldt--efen vun of my own! Zat is berhaps how zung ze crate Italian zingers of ze last century. It vas a lost art, and she has found it; and she must haf pecun to zing pefore she pecan to sch-peak---or else she voot not haf hat ze time to learn all zat she knows, for she is not yet zirty! She zings in Paris in Ogdoper, Gott sei dank! and gums here after Christmas to zing at Trury Lane. Chullien kifs her ten sousand bounts!'
'I wonder, now? Why, that must be the woman I heard at Warsaw two years ago--or three,' said young Lord Widow. 'It was at Count Siloszech's. He'd heard her sing in the streets, with a tall black- bearded ruffian, who accompanied her on a guitar, and a little fiddling gypsy fellow. She was a handsome woman, with hair down to her knees, but stupid as an owl. She sang at Siloszech's, and all the fellows went mad and gave her their watches and diamond studs and gold scarf-pins. By gad! I never heard or saw anything like it. I don't know much about music myself couldn't tell "God save the Queen" from "Pop goes the Weasel," if the people didn't get up and stand and take their hats off; but I was as mad as the rest--why, I gave her a little German-silver vinaigrette I'd just bought for my wife; hanged if I didn't--and I was only just married, you know! It's the peculiar twang of her voice, I suppose!'
And hearing all this, Little Billee made up his mind that life had still something in store for him, since he would some day hear La Svengali. Anyhow, he wouldn't shoot himself till then!
Thus the night wore itself away. The Prinzessen, Comtessen, and Serene English Altessen (and other ladies of less exalted rank) departed home in cabs and carriages; and hostess and daughters went to bed. Late sitters of the ruder sex supped again, and smoked and chatted and listened to comic songs and recitations by celebrated actors. Noble dukes hobnobbed with low comedians; world-famous painters and sculptors sat at the feet of Hebrew capitalists and aitchless millionaires. Judges, cabinet ministers, eminent physicians and warriors and philosophers saw Sunday morning steal over Campden Hill and through the many windows of Mechelen Lodge, and listened to the pipe of half-awakened birds, and smelt the freshness of the dark summer dawn. And as Taffy and the Laird walked home to the Old Hummums by daylight, they felt that last night was ages ago, and that since then they had forgathered with 'much there was of the best in London.' And then they reflected that 'much there was of the best in London' were still strangers to them--except by reputation--for there had not been time for many introductions: and this had made them feel a little out of it; and they found they hadn't had such a very good time after all. And there were no cabs. And they were tired, and their boots were tight.
And the last they had seen of Little Billee before leaving was a glimpse of their old friend in a corner of Lady Cornelys's boudoir, gravely playing cup and ball with Fred Walker for sixpences--both so rapt in the game that they were unconscious of anything else, and both playing so well (with either hand) that they might have been professional champions!
And that saturnine young sawbones, Jakes Talboys (now Sir Jakes, and one of the most genial of Her Majesty's physicians), who, sometimes after supper and champagne, was given to thoughtful, sympathetic, and acute observation of his fellow-men, remarked to the Laird in a whisper that was almost convivial:--
'Rather an enviable pair! Their united ages amount to forty-eight or so, their united weights to about fifteen stone, and they couldn't carry you or me between them. But if you were to roll all the other brains that have been under this roof to-night into one, you wouldn't reach the sum of their united genius. ... I wonder which of the two is the most unhappy!'
The season over, the song-birds flown, summer on the wane, his picture, the 'Moon-Dial,' sent to Moses Lyon's (the picture-dealer in Conduit Street), Little Billee felt the time had come to go and see his mother and sister in Devonshire, and make the sun shine twice as brightly for them during a month or so, and the dew fall softer!
So one fine August morning found him at the Great Western Station--- the nicest station in all London, I think--except the stations that book you to France and far away.
It always seems so pleasant to be going west! Little Billee loved that station, and often went there for a mere stroll, to watch the people starting on their westward way, following the sun towards Heaven knows what joys or sorrows, and envy them their sorrows or their joys--any sorrows or joys that were not merely physical, like a chocolate drop or a pretty tune, a bad smell or a toothache.
And as he took a seat in a second-class carriage (it would be third in these democratic days), south corner, back to the engine, with Silas Marner, and Darwin's Origin of Species (which he was reading for the third time), and Punch and other literature of a lighter kind to beguile him on his journey, he felt rather bitterly how happy he could be if the little spot, or knot, or blot, or clot which paralysed that convolution of his brain where he kept his affections could but be conjured away!
The dearest mother, the dearest sister in the world, in the dearest little seaside village (or town) that ever was! and other dear people---especially Alice, sweet Alice with hair so brown, his sister's friend, the simple, pure, and pious maiden of his boyish dreams: and himself, but for that wretched little kill-joy cerebral occlusion, as sound, as healthy, as full of life and energy, as he had ever been!
And when he wasn't reading Silas Marner, or looking out of window at the flying landscape, and watching it revolve round its middle distance (as it always seems to do), he was sympathetically taking stock of his fellow-passengers, and mildly envying them, one after another, indiscriminately!
A fat, old, wheezy philistine, with a bulbous nose and only one eye, who had a plain, sickly daughter, to whom he seemed devoted, body and soul; an old lady, who still wept furtively at recollections of the parting with her grandchildren, which had taken place at the station (they had borne up wonderfully, as grandchildren do); a consumptive curate, on the opposite corner seat by the window, whose tender, anxious wife (sitting by his side) seemed to have no thoughts in the whole world but for him; and her patient eyes were his stars of consolation, since he turned to look into them almost every minute, and always seemed a little the happier for doing so. There is no better star-gazing than that! So Little Billee gave her up his corner seat, that the poor sufferer might have those stars where he could look into them comfortably without turning his head.
Indeed (as was his wont with everybody), Little Billee made himself useful and pleasant to his fellow-travellers in many ways--so many that long before they had reached their respective journeys' ends they had almost grown to love him as an old friend, and longed to know who this singularly attractive and brilliant youth, this genial, dainty, benevolent little princekin could possibly be, who was dressed so fashionably, and yet went second class, and took such kind thought of others; and they wondered at the happiness that must be his at merely being alive, and told him more of their troubles in six hours than they told many an old friend in a year.
But he told them nothing about himself--that self he was so sick of-- and left them to wonder.
And at his own journey's end, the farthest end of all, he found his mother and sister waiting for him, in a beautiful little pony- carriage--his last gift--and with them sweet Alice, and in her eyes, for one brief moment, that unconscious look of love surprised which is not to be forgotten for years and years and years--which can only be seen by the eyes that meet it, and which, for the time it lasts (just a flash), makes all women's eyes look exactly the same (I'm told): and it seemed to Little Billee that, for the twentieth part of a second, Alice had looked at him with Trilby's eyes; or his mother's, when that he was a little tiny boy.
It all but gave him the thrill he thirsted for! Another twentieth part of a second, perhaps, and his brain-trouble would have melted away; and Little Billee would have come into his own again--the kingdom of love!
A beautiful human eye! Any beautiful eye--a dog's, a deer's, a donkey's, an owl's even! To think of all that it can look, and all that it can see! all that it can even seem., sometimes! What a prince among gems! what a star!
But a beautiful eye that lets the broad white light of infinite space (so bewildering and garish and diffused) into one pure virgin heart, to be filtered there! and lets it out again, duly warmed, softened, concentrated, sublimated, focused to a point as in a precious stone, that it may shed itself (a love-laden effulgence) into some stray fellow-heart close by--through pupil and iris, entre quatre-z-yeux-- the very elixir of life!
Alas! that such a crown-jewel should ever lose its lustre and go blind!
Not so blind or dim, however, but it can still see well enough to look before and after, and inward and upward, and drown itself in tears, and yet not die! And that's the dreadful pity of it. And this is a quite uncalled-for digression; and I can't think why I should have gone out of my way (at considerable pains) to invent it! In fact-
'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 family dwells upon Nancy.'
'How pretty Alice has grown, mother! quite lovely, I think! and so nice; but she was always as nice as she could be!'
So observed Little Billee to his mother that evening as they sat in the garden and watched the crescent moon sink to the Atlantic.
'Ah! my darling Willie! If you could only guess how happy you would make your poor old mammy by growing fond of Alice... And Blanche, too! what a joy for her!'
'Good heavens! mother...Alice is not for the like of me! She's for some splendid young Devon squire, six foot high, and acred and whiskered within an inch of his life!...'
'Ah, my darling Willie! you are not of those who ask for love in vain. ... If you only knew how she believes in you! She almost beats your poor old mammy at that!'
And that night he dreamed of Alice--that he loved her as a sweet good woman should be loved; and knew, even in his dream, that it was but a dream; but, oh! it was good! and he managed not to wake; and it was a night to be marked with a white stone! And (still in his dream) she had kissed him, and healed him of his brain-trouble for ever. But when he woke next morning, alas! his brain-trouble was with him still, and he felt that no dream kiss would ever cure it--nothing but a real kiss from Alice's own pure lips!
And he rose thinking of Alice, and dressed and breakfasted thinking of her--and how fair she was, and how innocent, and how well and carefully trained up the way she should go--the beau ideal of a wife... Could she possibly care for a shrimp like himself?
For in his love of outward form he could not understand that any woman who had eyes to see should ever quite condone the signs of physical weakness in man, in favour of any mental gifts or graces whatsoever.
Little Greek that he was, he worshipped the athlete, and opined that all women without exception--all English women especially--must see with the same eyes as himself.
He had once been vain and weak enough to believe in Trilby's love (with a Taffy standing by--a careless, unsusceptible Taffy, who was like unto the gods of Olympus!)--and Trilby had given him up at a word, a hint--for all his frantic clinging.
She would not have given up Taffy pour si pen, had Taffy but lifted a little finger! It is always 'just whistle, and I'll come to you, my lad!' with the likes of Taffy...but Taffy hadn't even whistled! Yet still he kept thinking of Alice--and he felt he couldn't think of her well enough till he went out for a stroll by himself on a sheep- trimmed down. So he took his pipe and his Darwin, and out he strolled into the early sunshine--up the green Red Lane, past the pretty church, Alice's father's church--and there, at the gate, patiently waiting for his mistress, sat Alice's dog--an old friend of his, whose welcome was a very warm one.
Little Billee thought of Thackeray's lovely poem in Pendennis:
'She comes--she's here--she's past!
May heaven go with her! .. .'
Then he and the dog went on together to a little bench on the edge of the cliff--within sight of Alice's bedroom window. It was called 'the Honeymooners' Bench.'
'That look--that look--that look! Ah--but Trilby had looked like that, too! And there are many Taffys in Devon!'
He sat himself down and smoked and gazed at the sea below, which the sun (still in the east) had not yet filled with glare and robbed of the lovely sapphire-blue, shot with purple and dark green, that comes over it now and again of a morning on that most beautiful coast.
There was a fresh breeze from the west, and the long, slow billows broke into creamier foam than ever, which reflected itself as a tender white gleam in the blue concavities of their shining shoreward curves as they came rolling in. The sky was all of turquoise but for the smoke of a distant steamer--a long thin horizontal streak of dun--and there were little brown or white sails here and there, dotting; and the stately ships went on...
Little Billee tried hard to feel all this beauty with his heart as well as his brain--as he had so often done when a boy--and cursed his insensibility out loud for at least the thousand-and-first time.
Why couldn't these waves of air and water be turned into equivalent waves of sound, that he might feel them through the only channel that reached 'his emotions! That one joy was still left to him--but, alas! alas! he was only a painter of pictures--and not a maker of music!
He recited 'Break, break, break,' to Alice's dog, who loved him and looked up into his face with sapient, affectionate eyes--and whose name, like that of so many dogs in fiction and so few in fact, was simply Tray. For Little Billee was much given to monologues out loud, and profuse quotations from his favourite bards.
Everybody quoted that particular poem either mentally or aloud when they sat on that particular bench--except a few old-fashioned people, who still said.
'Roll on, thou deep and dark blue ocean, roll!'
or people of the very highest culture, who only quoted the nascent (and crescent) Robert Browning; or people of no culture at all, who simply held their tongues--and only felt the more!
Tray listened silently.
'Ah Tray, the best thing but one to do with the sea is to paint it. The next best thing to that is to bathe in it. The best of all is to lie asleep at the bottom. How would you like that?
'"And on thy ribs the limpet sticks.
And in thy heart the scrawl shall play..."'
Tray's tail became as a wagging point of interrogation, and he turned his head first on one side and then on the other--his eyes fixed on Little Billee's, his face irresistible in its genial doggy wistfulness.
'Tray, what a singularly good listener you are--and therefore what singularly good manners you've got! I suppose all dogs have!' said Little Billee; and then, in a very tender voice, he exclaimed.
'Alice, Alice, Alice!'
And Tray uttered a soft, cooing, nasal croon in his head register, though he was a baritone dog by nature, with portentous, warlike chest-notes of the jingo order.
'Tray, your mistress is a parson's daughter, and therefore twice as much of a mystery as any other woman in this puzzling world!
'Tray, if my heart weren't stopped with wax, like the ears of the companions of Ulysses when they rowed past the sirens--you've heard of Ulysses, Tray? he loved a dog--if my heart weren't stopped with wax, I should be deeply in love with your mistress; perhaps she would marry me if I asked her--there's no accounting for tastes!--and I know enough of myself to know that I should make her a good husband--that I should make her happy--and I should make two other women happy besides.
'As for myself personally, Tray, it doesn't very much matter. One good woman would do as well as another, if she's equally good-looking. You doubt it? Wait till you get a pimple inside your bump of--your bump of--wherever you keep your fondnesses, Tray.
'For that's what's the matter with me--a pimple--just a little clot of blood at the root of a nerve, and no bigger than a pin's point!
'That's a small thing to cause such a lot of wretchedness, and wreck a fellow's life, isn't it? Oh, curse it, curse it, curse it--every day and all day long.
'And just as small a thing will take it away, I'm told!
'Ah! grains of sand are small things--and so are diamonds! But diamond or grain of sand, only Alice has got that small thing! Alice alone, in all the world, has got the healing touch for me now; the hands, the lips, the eyes! I know it--I feel it! I dreamed it last night! She looked me well in the face, and took my hand--both hands---and kissed me, eyes and mouth, and told me how she loved me. Ah! what a dream it was! And my little clot melted away like a snowflake on the lips, and I was my old self again, after many years--and all through that kiss of a pure woman.
'I've never been kissed by a pure woman in my life--never! except by my dear mother and sister; and mothers and sisters don't count, when it comes to kissing.
'Ah! sweet physician that she is, and better than all! It will all come back again with a rush, just as I dreamed, and we will have a good time together, we three! .. .
'But your mistress is a parson's daughter, and believes everything she's been taught from a child, just as you do--at least, I hope so. And I like her for it--and you too.
'She has believed her father--will she ever believe me, who think so differently? And if she does, will it be good for her?--and then, where will her father come in?
'Oh! it's a bad thing to live and no longer believe and trust in your father, Tray! to doubt either his honesty or his intelligence. For he (with your mother to help) has taught you all the best he knows, if he has been a good father--till some one else comes and teaches you better--or worse!
'And then, what are you to believe of what good still remains of all that early teaching--and how are you to sift the wheat from the chaff?...
'Kneel undisturbed, fair saint! I, for one, will never seek to undermine thy faith in any father, on earth or above it!
'Yes, there she kneels in her father's church, her pretty head bowed over her clasped hands, her cloak and skirts falling in happy folds about her: I see it all!
'And underneath, that poor, sweet, soft, pathetic thing of flesh and blood, the eternal woman--great heart and slender brain--for ever enslaved or enslaving, never self-sufficing, never free...that dear, weak, delicate shape, so cherishable, so perishable, that I've had to paint so often, and know so well by heart! and love...ah, how I love it! Only painter-fellows and sculptor-fellows can ever quite know the fulness of that pure love.
'There she kneels and pours forth her praise or plaint, meekly and duly. Perhaps it's for me she's praying.
'Leave thou thy sister when she prays.'
'She believes her poor little prayer will be heard and answered somewhere up aloft. The impossible will be done. She wants what she wants so badly, and prays for it so hard.
'She believes--she believes--what doesn't she believe, Tray?
'The world was made in six days. It is just six thousand years old. Once it all lay smothered under rain-water for many weeks, miles deep, because there were so many wicked people about somewhere down in Judea, where they didn't know everything! A costly kind of clearance! And then there was Noah, who wasn't wicked, and his most respectable family, and his ark--and Jonah and his whale--and Joshua and the sun, and what not. I remember it all, you see, and, oh! such wonderful things that have happened since! And there's everlasting agony for those who don't believe as she does; and yet she is happy; and good, and very kind; for the mere thought of any live creature in pain makes her wretched!
'After all, if she believes in me, she'll believe in anything; let her!
'Indeed, I'm not sure that it's not rather ungainly for a pretty woman not to believe in all these good old cosmic taradiddles, as it is for a pretty child not to believe in Little Red Riding-hood, and Jack and the Beanstalk, and Morgiana and the Forty Thieves; we learn them at our mother's knee, and how nice they are! Let us go on believing them as long as we can, till the child grows up and the woman dies and it's all found out.
'Yes, Tray, I will be dishonest for her dear sake. I will kneel by her side if ever I have the happy chance, and ever after, night and morning, and all day long on Sundays if she wants me to! What will I not do for that one pretty woman who believes in me? I will respect even that belief, and do my little best to keep it alive for ever. It is much too precious an earthly boon for me to play ducks and drakes with. .. .
'So much for Alice, Tray--your sweet mistress and mine.
'But then, there's Alice's papa--and that's another pair of sleeves, as we say in France.
'Ought one ever to play at make-believe with a full-grown man for any consideration whatever even though he be a parson, and a possible father-in-law? There's a case of conscience for you!
'When I ask him for his daughter, as I must, and he asks me for my profession of faith, as he will, what can I tell him? The truth?
(And now, I regret to say, the reticent Little Billee is going to show his trusty four-footed friend the least attractive side of his many- sided nature, its modernity, its dreary scepticism--his own unhappy portion of la maladie du siecle)...
'But then, what will he say? What allowances will he make for a poor little weak-kneed, well-meaning waif of a painter-fellow like me, whose only choice lay between Mr. Darwin and the Pope of Rome, and who has chosen once and for ever--and that long ago--before he'd ever even heard of Mr. Darwin's name.
'Besides, why should he make allowances for me? I don't for him. I think no more of a parson than he does of a painter-fellow--and that's precious little, I'm afraid.
'What will he think of a man who says:
'"Look here! the God of your belief isn't mine and never will be---but I love your daughter, and she loves me, and I'm the only man to make her happy!"
'He's no Jephthah; he's made of flesh and blood, although he's a parson--and loves his daughter as much as Shylock loved his.
'Tell me, Tray--thou that livest among parsons--what man, not being a parson himself, can guess how a parson would think, an average parson, confronted by such a poser as that?
'Does he, dare he, can he ever think straight or simply on any subject as any other man thinks, hedged in as he is by so many limitations?
'He is as shrewd, vain, worldly, self-seeking, ambitious, jealous, censorious, and all the rest, as you or I, Tray--for all his Christian profession--and just as fond of his kith and kin!
'He is considered a gentleman--which perhaps you and I are not--unless we happen to behave as such; it is a condition of his noble calling. Perhaps it's in order to become a gendeman that he's become a parson! It's about as short a royal road as any to that enviable distinction-- as short almost as Her Majesty's commission, and much safer, and much less expensive--within reach of the sons of most fairly successful butchers and bakers and candlestick-makers.
'While still a boy he has bound himself irrevocably to certain beliefs, which he will be paid to preserve and preach and enforce through life, and act up to through thick and thin--at all events in the eyes of others--even his nearest and dearest--even the wife of his bosom.
'They are his bread and butter, these beliefs--and a man mustn't quarrel with his bread and butter. But a parson must quarrel with those who don't believe as he tells them!
'Yet a few years' thinking and reading and experience of life, one would suppose, might possibly just shake his faith a little (just as though, instead of being parson, he had been tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor, gentleman, apothecary, ploughboy, thief), and teach him that many of these beliefs are simply childish--and some of them very wicked indeed--and most immoral.
'It is very wicked and most immoral to believe, or affect to believe, and tell others to believe, that the unseen, unspeakable, unthinkable Immensity we're all part and parcel of, source of eternal, infinite, indestructible life and light and might, is a kind of wrathful, glorified, and self-glorifying ogre in human shape, with human passions, and most inhuman hates--who suddenly made us out of nothing, one fine day--just for a freak--and made us so badly that we fell the next--and turned us adrift the day after--damned us from the very beginning--ab ovo--ab ovo usque ad malum--ha, ha!--and ever since! never gave us a chance!
'All-merciful Father, indeed! Why, the Prince of Darkness was an angel in comparison (and a gentleman into the bargain).
'Just think of it, Tray--a finger in every little paltry pie--an eye and an ear at every keyhole, even that of the larder, to catch us tripping, and find out if we're praising loud enough, or grovelling low enough, or fasting hard enough--poor God-forsaken worms!
'And if we're naughty and disobedient, everlasting torment for us; torture of so hideous a kind that we wouldn't inflict it on the basest criminal, not for one single moment!
'Or else, if we're good and do as we are bid, an eternity of bliss so futile, so idle, and so tame that we couldn't stand it for a week, but for thinking of its one horrible alternative, and of our poor brother for ever and ever roasting away, and howling for the drop of water he never gets.
'Everlasting flame, or everlasting dishonour--nothing between!
'Isn't it ludicrous as well as pitiful--a thing to make one snigger through one's tears? Isn't it a grievous sin to believe in such things as these, and go about teaching and preaching them, and being paid for it--a sin to be heavily chastised, and a shame? What a legacy!
'They were shocking bad artists, those conceited, narrow-minded Jews, those poor old doting monks and priests and bigots of the grewsome, dark age of faith! They couldn't draw a bit--no perspective, no anatomy, no chiaro-oscuro; and it's a woeful image they managed to evolve for us out of the depths of their fathomless ignorance, in their zeal to keep us off all the forbidden fruit we're all so fond of, because we were built like that! And by whom? By our Maker, I suppose (who also made the forbidden fruit, and made it very nice--and put it so conveniently for you and me to see and smell and reach, Tray--and sometimes even pick, alas!).
'And even at that it's a failure, this precious image! Only the very foolish little birds are frightened into good behaviour. The naughty ones laugh and wink at each other, and pull out its hair and beard when nobody's looking, and build their nests out of the straw it's stuffed with (the naughty little birds in black, especially), and pick up what they want under its very nose, and thrive uncommonly well; and the good ones fly away out of sight; and some day, perhaps, find a home in some happy, useful fatherland far away where the Father isn't a bit like this. Who knows?
'And I'm one of the good little birds, Tray--at least, I hope so. And that unknown Father lives in me whether I will or no, and I love Him whether He be or not, just because I can't help it, and with the best and bravest love that can be--the perfect love that believeth no evil, arid seeketh no reward, and casteth out fear. For I'm His father as much as He's mine, since I've conceived the thought of Him after my own fashion!
'And He lives in you too, Tray--you and all your kind. Yes, good dog, you king of beasts, I see it in your eyes...
'Ah, bon Dieu Pere, le Dieu des bonnes gens! Oh! if we only knew for certain, Tray! what martyrdom would we not endure, you and I, with a happy smile and a grateful heart--for sheer love of such a father! How little should we care for the things of this earth!
'But the poor parson?
'He must willy-nilly go on believing, or affecting to believe, just as he is told, word for word, or else good-bye to his wife and children's bread and butter, his own preferment, perhaps even his very gentility--that gentility of which his Master thought so little, and he and his are apt to think so much--with possibly the Archbishopric of Canterbury at the end of it, the baton de marechal that lies in every clerical knapsack.
'What a temptation! one is but human!
'So how can he be honest without believing certain things, to believe which (without shame) one must be as simple as a little child; as, by the way, he is so cleverly told to be in these matters, and so cleverly tells us--and so seldom is himself on any other matter whatever--his own interests, other people's affairs, the world, the flesh, and the devil! And that's clever of him too...
'And if he chooses to be as simple as a little child, why shouldn't I treat him as a little child, for his own good, and fool him to the top of his little bent for his dear daughter's sake, that I may make her happy, and thereby him too?
'And if he's not quite so simple as all that, and makes artful little compromises with his conscience--for a good purpose, of course--why shouldn't I make artful little compromises with mine, and for a better purpose still, and try to get what I want in the way he does? I want to marry his daughter far worse than he can ever want to live in a palace, and ride in a carriage and pair with a mitre on the panels.
'If he cheats, why shouldn't I cheat too?
'If he cheats, he cheats everybody all round--the wide, wide world, and something wider and higher still that can't be measured, something in himself. I only cheat him!
'If he cheats, he cheats for the sake of very worldly things indeed-- tithes, honours, influence, power, authority, social consideration and respect--not to speak of bread and butter! I only cheat for the love of a lady fair--and cheating for cheating, I like my cheating best.
'So, whether he cheats or not, I'll--
'Confound it! what would old Taffy do in such a case, I wonder? ...
'Oh, bother! it's no good wondering what old Taffy would do. 'Taffy never wants to marry anybody's daughter; he doesn't even want to paint her! He only wants to paint his beastly ragamuffins and thieves and drunkards, and be left alone.
'Besides, Taffy's as simple as a little child himself, and couldn't fool any one, and wouldn't if he could--not even a parson. But if any one tries to fool him, my eyes! don't he cut up rough, and call names, and kick up a shindy, and even knock people down! That's the worst of fellows like Taffy. They're too good for this world and too solemn. They're impossible, and lack all sense of humour. In point of fact Taffy's a gentleman--poor fellow! et puis voila!
'I'm not simple--worse luck; and I can't knock people down--I only wish I could! I can only paint them! and not even that "as they really are!"...Good old Taffy! .. . 'Faint heart never won fair lady! 'Oh, happy, happy thought--I'll be brave and win! 'I can't knock people down, or do doughty deeds, but I'll be brave in my own little way--the only way I can.
'I'll simply lie through thick and thin--I must--I will--nobody need ever be a bit the wiser! I can do more good by lying than by telling the truth, and make more deserving people happy, including myself and the sweetest girl alive--the end shall justify the means: that's my excuse, my only excuse! and this lie of mine is on so stupendous a scale that it will have to last me for life. It's my only one, but its name is Lion! and I'll never tell another as long as I live.
'And now that I know what temptation really is, I'll never think any harm of any parson any more .. . never, never, never!'
So the little man went on, as if he knew all about it, had found it all out for himself, and nobody else had ever found it out before! and I am not responsible for his ways of thinking (which are not necessarily my own).
It must be remembered, in extenuation, that he was very young, and not very wise: no philosopher, no scholar--just a painter of lovely pictures; only that and nothing more. Also, that he was reading Mr. Darwin's immortal book for the third time, and it was a little too strong for him; also, that all this happened in the early sixties, long ere Religion had made up her mind to meet Science half-way, and hobnob and kiss and be friends. Alas! before such a lying down of the lion and the lamb can ever come to pass, Religion will have to perform a larger share of the journey than half, I fear!
Then, still carried away by the flood of his own eloquence (for he had never had such an innings as this, nor such a listener), he again apostrophised the dog Tray, who had been growing somewhat inattentive (like the reader, perhaps), in language more beautiful than ever:
'Oh, to be like you, Tray--and secrete love and goodwill from morn till night, from night till morning--like saliva, without effort! with never a moment's cessation of flow, even in disgrace and humiliation! How much better to love than to be loved--to love as you do, my Tray---so warmly, so easily, so unremittingly--to forgive all wrongs and neglect and injustice so quickly and so well--and forget a kindness never! Lucky dog that you are!
'"Oh! could I feel as I have felt, or be as I have been.
Or weep as I could once have wept, o'er many a vanished scene.
As springs in deserts found seem sweet, all brackish tho' they be.
So 'midst this withered waste of life those tears would flow to me!"
'What do you think of those lines, Tray? I love them, because my mother taught them to me when I was about your age--six years old, or seven! and before the bard who wrote them had fallen; like Lucifer, son of the morning! Have you ever heard of Lord Byron, Tray? He too, like Ulysses, loved a dog, and many people think that's about the best there is to be said of him nowadays! Poor Humpty Dumpty! Such a swell as he once was! Not all the king's horses, nor all the--'
Here Tray jumped up suddenly and bolted--he saw some one else he was fond of, and ran to meet him. It was the vicar, coming out of his vicarage.
A very nice-looking vicar--fresh, clean, alert, well tanned by sun and wind and weather--a youngish vicar still; tall, stout, gentlemanlike, shrewd, kindly, worldly, a trifle pompous, and authoritative more than a trifle; not much given to abstract speculation, and thinking fifty times more of any sporting and orthodox young country squire, well- inched and well-acred (and well-whiskered), than of all the painters in Christendom.
'"When Greeks joined Greeks, then was the tug of war,"' thought Little Billee; and he felt a little uncomfortable. Alice's father had never loomed so big and impressive before, or so distressingly nice to look at.
'Welcome, my Apelles, to your ain countree, which is growing quite proud of you, I declare! Young Lord Archie Waring was saying only last night that he wished he had half your talent! He's crazed about painting, you know, and actually wants to be a painter himself. The poor dear old marquis is quite sore about it!'
With this happy exordium the parson stopped and shook hands; and they both stood for a while, looking seaward. The parson said the usual things about the sea--its blueness, its grayness, its greenness, its beauty, its sadness, its treachery.
'"Who shall put forth on thee.
'Who indeed!' answered Little Billee, quite agreeing. 'I vote we don't, at all events.' So they turned inland.
The parson said the usual things about the land (from the country- gentleman's point of view), and the talk began to flow quite pleasantly, with quoting of the usual poets, and capping of quotations in the usual way--for they had known each other many years, both here and in London. Indeed, the vicar had once been Little Billee's tutor.
And thus, amicably, they entered a small wooded hollow. Then the vicar, turning of a sudden his full blue gaze on the painter, asked, sternly--
'What book's that you've got in your hand, Willie?'
'A--a--it's the Origin of Species, by Charles Darwin. I'm very f-f- fond of it. I'm reading it for the third time... It's very g-g-good. It accounts for things, you know.'
Then, after a pause, and still more sternly---
'What place of worship do you most attend in London--especially of an evening, William?'
Then stammered Little Billee, all self-control forsaking him--
'I d-d-don't attend any place of worship at all--morning, afternoon, or evening. I've long given up going to church altogether. I can only be frank with you; I'll tell you why...'
And as they walked along the talk drifted on to very momentous subjects indeed, and led, unfortunately, to a serious falling out--for which probably both were to blame--and closed in a distressful way at the other end of the little wooded hollow--a way most sudden and unexpected, and quite grievous to relate. When they emerged into the open, the parson was quite white, and the painter crimson.
'Sir,' said the parson, squaring himself up to more than his full height and breadth and dignity, his face big with righteous wrath, his voice full of strong menace--'sir, you're--you're a--you're a thief, sir, a thief! You're trying to rob me of my Saviour! Never you dare to darken my door-step again!'
'Sir,' said Little Billee, with a bow, 'if it comes to calling names, you're--you're a--no; you're Alice's father; and whatever else you are besides, I'm another for trying to be honest with a parson; so good- morning to you.'
And each walked off in an opposite direction, stiff as pokers; and Tray stood between, looking first at one receding figure, then at the other, disconsolate.
And thus Little Billee found out that he could no more lie than he could fly. And so he did not marry sweet Alice after all, and no doubt it was ordered for her good and his. But there was tribulation for many days in the house of Bagot, and for many months in one tender, pure, and pious bosom.
And the best and the worst of it all is that, not very many years after, the good vicar--more fortunate than most clergymen who dabble in stocks and shares--grew suddenly very rich through a lucky speculation in Irish beer, and suddenly, also, took to thinking seriously about things (as a man of business should)--more seriously than he had ever thought before. So at least the story goes in North Devon, and it is not so new as to be incredible. Little doubts grew into big ones--big doubts resolved themselves into downright negations. He quarrelled with his bishop; he quarrelled with his dean; he even quarrelled with his 'poor dear old marquis,' who died before there was time to make it up again. And finally he felt it his duty, in conscience, to secede from a Church which had become too narrow to hold him, and took himself and his belongings to London, where at least he could breathe. But there he fell into a great disquiet, for the long habit of feeling himself always en evidence--of being looked up to and listened to without contradiction; of exercising influence and authority in spiritual matters (and even temporal); of impressing women, especially, with his commanding presence, his fine sonorous voice, his lofty brow, so serious and smooth, his soft, big waving hands, which soon lost their country tan--all this had grown as a second nature to him, the breath of his nostrils, a necessity of his life. So he rose to be the most popular Positivist preacher of his day, and pretty broad at that.
But his dear daughter Alice, she stuck to the old faith, and married a venerable High-Church archdeacon, who very cleverly clutched at and caught her and saved her for himself just as she stood shivering on the very brink of Rome; and they were neither happy nor unhappy together---un menage bourgeois, ni beau ni laid, ni ban ni mauvais. And thus, alas! the bond of religious sympathy, that counts for so much In united families, no longer existed between father and daughter, and the heart's division divided them. Ce que c'est que de nous!...The pity of it!
And so no more of sweet Alice with hair so brown.