These thoughts hovered

“A little military society is so pleasant, is it not?” said Miss
Clifford. “That you will find is one of the great advantages of Wroxton,
Miss Avesham. We have so many factors in our little world. It is quite a
miniature capital. There is the close, there is the town, there is the
garrison, and there is the county.”

Miss Clifford spoke in a very quiet voice, and glowed gently as she
spoke, turning for approval to her sister Clara, who rode the bicycle a
fortnight before up and down Bolton Street.

Clara was forty-two, and her sister a year or two older. They lived in
Montrose Villa and they were calling on Jeannie Avesham.

Jeannie gave a little rippling laugh, and pushed back her hair from her
forehead. She had been out in the garden with Aunt Em when her callers
were announced, and as the drawing-room windows commanded the
mulberry-tree under which they had been sitting, she had not been able
to go upstairs to brush her hair, as she was aware of the four mild eyes
of the two Miss Cliffords raking her from the windows. Aunt Em had
altogether refused to come in, leaving Jeannie to entertain the callers
alone. She had expressed a wish, however, that a cup of tea should be
sent out to her in the garden, which Jeannie had flatly refused to do.
“If you won’t come and help me, you sha’n’t have your tea,” she had

But the Miss Cliffords were so refreshing that she was almost glad Aunt
Em had not come. She thought she could enjoy them more alone.

“It all sounds delightful,” she said. “You know I have never lived in a
country town before; we were either at Morton or in London, and it is
all quite new to me. But I love new things.”

“I think you will find the charm of Wroxton grow,” said Miss Clara.
“Certainly we all find that it grows on us. My sister and I are always
glad to get back after our summer holiday to all our work and
interests. We are very fond of our little centre.”

“I am sure I shall find it charming,” said Jeannie. “Do tell me more.
Tell me about the people here. What do you all do?”

“We have charming neighbours,” said Miss Phœbe. “One of them is a
relation of yours, is he not–Colonel Raymond?”

“Colonel Raymond?” asked Jeannie. “I don’t know him, I think. What
relation is he to us? You see, my mother had so many brothers and
sisters. I am really very ignorant about my cousins.”

“He is related through his wife, I think,” said Miss Phœbe. “His wife’s
sister, I think, married a Mr. Fortescue.”

Jeannie laughed again.

“Well, I’m not so much to blame,” she said, “for the relationship is not
very close. In fact, one is more nearly related to his wife. What is
Mrs. Raymond like?”

“A very quiet, sweet woman,” said Miss Clara, “and very unlike her
husband. He is a very dashing, military sort of man.”

Jeannie pondered a moment.

“Oh, now I remember,” she said. “I’m sure he called here, while we were
settling in. But Arthur and I were undoing the drawing-room carpet, so I
had to say we were out. Do tell me some more. What do you all do?”

Miss Clifford looked puzzled.

“We find our days very full,” she said. “Household duties take up a good
deal of our time, and then we have our relaxations. My sister’s great
hobby is literary work.”

“Oh, Phœbe!” ejaculated Miss Clara, blushing.

“Oh, but how delightful!” put in Jeannie. “Do you write much?”

“Clara has had fourteen poems in the Wroxton Chronicle,” said Miss
Phœbe, with proper pride, “and another appears next week.”

“I must get it,” said Jeannie.

“Perhaps, if you are so kind as to take an interest in what I do,” said
Miss Clara, “you would allow me, Miss Avesham, to send you a copy. It
would be a great pleasure. The editor always sends me half a dozen

“That would be very nice of you,” said Jeannie. “And what is your
hobby, Miss Clifford?”

“My sister plays the mandolin beautifully,” said Miss Clara. “She was a
pupil of Professor Rimanez.”

“Why, how charming!” said Jeannie. “Do bring it round here some day,
Miss Clifford, and we will have duets. I, too, play a little.”

“It would be a great pleasure,” said Miss Clifford, “but I am only a
very poor performer.”

The two Miss Cliffords were thawing like icicles in June. They hardly
remembered that they were having tea alone with the daughter and sister
of a peer.

“Then there is the Ladies’ Literary Union,” said Miss Clara. “We meet
every fortnight, and very improving and sometimes entertaining pieces
are read.”

“All the members read papers in turn, I suppose,” said Jeannie.

“Yes, and then we discuss the paper. Next week we have a great treat.
Mrs. Collingwood is going to read us a paper on The Downward Tendency of
Modern Fiction. I got the notice this morning. Mrs. Collingwood is a
great critic, but rather severe, so my sister and I think.”

“Mrs. Collingwood?” asked Jeannie. “Oh, yes, I remember her; she called
the other day. I thought she was rather severe, too. I am afraid she was
very much shocked at my not knowing what the Girls’ Friendly Society
was. But how should I know? I don’t think there is one in London. Oh,
yes, she must be a teetotaler–so my aunt and I thought. Is that so?”

Miss Clifford looked solemn. It was difficult to conceive of any one not
knowing that Mrs. Collingwood was a teetotaler.

“Indeed, she is,” she replied. “Would it be inquisitive if I asked what

“Not in the least,” said Jeannie. “My aunt only asked me to tell the
cook to see that the mulberries were gathered to make mulberry gin. I
said I would be sure to remember.”

“Yes, Mrs. Collingwood is very strict,” said Clara. “But she is so
practical and so much in earnest. She says that so many books have a
tendency to upset people’s faith, and that is very shocking if she is
right about it. A friend of hers, she told me, the other day had had her
faith very much shaken by reading a free-thinking novel.”

“A free-thinking novel?” said Jeannie. “I don’t think I ever saw one.”

“Well, there is Robert Elsmere,” said Miss Clifford. “I have never read
it, but Mrs. Collingwood says that it is terribly upsetting.”

“Of course there is some discussion about theological questions in those
books,” said Jeannie, “though I never finished Robert Elsmere. But don’t
you think it may have been the fault of Mrs. Collingwood’s friend that
her faith was shaken?”

Miss Clifford looked grave.

“Surely not,” she said. “The responsibility must lie with the author. If
the book had never been written, no one’s faith would ever have been
upset. Don’t you think so?”

“Perhaps you are right,” said Jeannie. “I never really thought about it.
Don’t you think we look wonderfully settled in, considering how short a
time we have been here?”

Miss Clara clasped her hands.

“It is all quite beautiful,” she said. “And what a lovely garden you

“Yes, it is pretty,” said Jeannie. “And there is a fountain with a basin
round it, in which are water-lilies. Arthur says we must give a water
picnic there.”

“I had no idea you had so extensive a piece of water,” said Miss Phœbe,

“Oh, it’s only a joke,” said Jeannie, “and a very small one. Must you be

“We must, indeed,” said Miss Phœbe. “Come, Clara, you would linger here
forever unless I tore you away. We have already far exceeded our time,
and taken up far too much of Miss Avesham’s.”

The Miss Cliffords walked some little way in silence.

“There is quite an air about the house,” said Miss Clara, at length. “It
is quite different from even Colonel Raymond’s, and Mrs. Raymond’s
drawing-room always seemed to us so refined.”

“Yes, it was quite different,” said Phoebe, “and I don’t know how it was
produced. The piano I saw was just at the same angle from the wall as
ours. I am glad we have got that right, Clara.”

“I think we have too many little things about,” said Clara; “there must
be ten vases on our chimneypiece, if there’s one, and I noticed there
was only a clock and two candlesticks on Miss Avesham’s. Yet it looked
ever so much more furnished than ours. Let us aim at a greater
simplicity, Phœbe.”

The two Miss Cliffords lived in what is known as a “highly desirable
detached mansion,” and its desirability was much enhanced by its being
known as Montrose Villa. It is probable that the owner took his hint
from Mrs. Raymond’s happy thought of calling her house “Lammermoor,” but
the Miss Cliffords had gone one better, for the last six months they had
dated all their letters “Villa Montrose,” and were even thinking of
having a die made for their paper and envelopes. “Villa Montrose”
sounded much more delightful, and gave, as Miss Clara said, while
hanging a reproduction of Carlo Dolci in the front hall, “quite an
Italian air to the place.” To the ordinary eye the Villa Montrose was a
plain gray house, covered with stucco, but if (as the Miss Cliffords
did even when alone) you called stucco, stookko, a perfectly different
effect is produced. Similarly, a dwarf fir-tree which stood in the back
garden was, rightly considered, a stone-pine, and visions of Tuscan
valleys (the Miss Cliffords’ father had once been English chaplain at
Florence) rose to the inward eye, with hardly any sense of their being
pumped up from a distance. Miss Clara, in fact, got at the kernel of the
matter when she said that the atmosphere with which the imagination can
invest a place is wholly independent of the materials on which it works.

On the ground floor were four rooms, a drawing-room and dining-room
looking out over the room, and at the back two small apartments, known
as “the libry” and the studio. The walls of the studio were decorated
with quite a quantity of oil pictures by the Miss Cliffords’ father, and
an unfinished sketch of his stood on an easel. There was a tiger’s-skin
rug on the floor, rather moth-eaten, and some low chairs. The only
drawback to the room was that, as there was no fire-place, it was too
cold to sit in in winter, and in summer, as it was exposed to the
southern sun, and had a large sky-light, you might as well, as Miss
Phœbe once remarked with a certain acrimony, make your sitting-room of
an oven. But in the more temperate rays of April and September nothing
could be more delightful than its temperature, and, even when it was
untenantable, there was a pleasure in referring to “the studio.”

The “libry” was simply one mass of books, chiefly consisting of the
theological collection of the Miss Cliffords’ father. Here Miss Clara
worked every morning from nine till one, and it was in itself an
inspiration to be surrounded by books, although she seldom took one from
its shelf. When it is said that thirteen of the fourteen original poems
by her which had appeared in the Wroxton Chronicle were produced in this
room (the fourteenth was produced during an attack of influenza in bed,
and was called Depression) it will be seen at once that the actual area
of the “libry,” which measured eight feet by ten, was no index to its
potentialities, for even Shakespeare’s house at Stratford-on-Avon is no
palace, and Miss Clara, it is hardly necessary to say, was the
president of the Ladies’ Literary Union, and was considered rather

Her elder sister, Miss Phœbe, was, as Clara had told Jeannie, musical.
She had no sitting-room, for, like Martha, she was cumbered with much
serving, and she knew, and was proud to know, that Clara was the genius.
But some half of the drawing-room, which would hold five people easily,
was known as Phœbe’s corner, and in Phœbe’s corner was a cottage piano
and mandolin, and always a vase of flowers. A cabinet photograph of the
mandolin teacher, Professor Rimanez, signed “Rimanez,” no less, in the
Professor’s own hand, hung on the wall. Phœbe’s corner was full.

The two sisters lived a regular and most harmonious life. Since they
never sat idle, they were right in considering that they were busy, and
when Miss Phœbe had spent two or three hours every morning in washing
the china they had used for breakfast, ordering dinner, and marching
through every room in the house, examining towels to see if they
required darning, soap to see if it wanted renewing, and smelling the
water in the bed-room bottles, she was glad to seek refreshment about
half past twelve by throwing herself into a chair in her corner and
playing a Neapolitan air on her mandolin, or, with the soft pedal down
for fear of disturbing Clara, trying over a song by Tosti or Pinsuti
about “Life of my life, and soul of my soul.”

The tragedy of growing old, in fact, consists, if we look at it more
closely, not in growing old, but in remaining young, and their
irredeemable youthfulness was the pathetic fact in the lives of the
Misses Clifford. The banjo-playing and the writing of youthful lyrics
was a true symptom of the age they felt themselves to be, and the
streaks of gray in their hair and the wrinkles in their faces were a
travesty of their spirits. Since childhood they had led a perfectly
serene and untroubled existence, and it was their bodies, the sheaths,
and not the sword, which was rusting. They had floated slowly round and
round in a backwater of life, and the adventure and romance of living
swept by them, making them feel as if they and not the great stream was
moving, and if they had been told that it was the stream that hurried
by them in turmoil and charmed bewilderment, while they were standing
still, they would scarcely have credited it. This is a malady most
incident to country towns.

But it would be giving a totally erroneous picture of them if the
impression was left that they were unhappy or unsatisfied. Herein lay
the tragedy of it to the onlooker, but to them the tragedy would begin
when they became aware of it. They had aged and narrowed without knowing
it. They lived the life they had lived twenty years ago, among those
whose days had been distinguished by a similar uniformity, without
knowing that twenty years had made a difference in them. Clara always
thought that Phœbe was a girl yet, and Phœbe constantly considered that
Clara was still a little flighty. Meantime they scored their little
successes. Clara was congratulated on her last poem in the Wroxton
Chronicle, and Phœbe sang Pinsuti in a quavering voice to the cottage
piano. Then when the afternoon party was over (they gave teas at Villa
Montrose), Clara would start for a reckless ride on her bicycle, and
Phœbe hungered for her return.

Their father had been the rector of a country village near Wroxton, and
their great-uncle–a grocer–the mayor of the town. Thus Villa Montrose
had a double halo round it; the grocery was sunk in the civil dignitary,
and the poverty of the clergyman in the honour of his office. “My
father, the rector,” “My great-uncle, the Mayor,” were notable subjects
of conversation.

But this evening Miss Phœbe felt more disturbed than she had felt for
many years. For many years no fresh friend and no fresh interest had
touched the lives of herself and her sister, and the call they had paid
on Jeannie, though they talked only on trivial subjects, and looked out
on to the familiar spires of the Cathedral, had been strangely
exhilarating. The impression had been conveyed to her in some subtle
manner that Jeannie’s whole attitude toward life was utterly different
to any she had known before. How it had been conveyed to her she could
not have told you, but Jeannie’s every word and gesture she saw to be
the product of a wholly new idea of life. Her hair had been untidy, yet
Miss Clifford knew how different would have been the effect if it had
been her own hair which wanted brushing; she lounged in a chair, with
one leg crossed over the other, an attitude which Miss Clifford knew
from her earliest childhood to be most unladylike, and though her manner
had been utterly unstudied, and she did not, as Miss Clifford always
did, press her guests to stay when they said they must be going, she
gave you the impression that you were welcome.

These thoughts hovered round Miss Clifford’s head as she lay awake that
night. Jeannie was so much fresher and vivacious even than Clara, who
often talked and laughed more than her elder sister quite liked. How was
it that Clara looked rather old and tired beside Jeannie? Could it be
because she was so? And Miss Clifford, for her own peace of mind, fell
asleep without solving the question.

Jack Collingwood came to pay his expected visit to Wroxton early in
September, as soon as his father and mother were back from their annual
trip to the English Lakes. Canon Collingwood had much enjoyed their time
there, and had brought back several tin boxes full of roots of wild
marsh-growing plants which he intended to cultivate on the edge of the
chalk-stream which ran at the bottom of the garden. He did this every
year, and the plants never grew, which did not in the least stand in the
way of his doing it again. He had also, as usual, preached an old sermon
in Grasmere church, and had written three new ones. His life, indeed, at
the Lakes was not less regular than his life at Wroxton; he had been out
of doors more and had spent only two hours a day over the study of
patristic literature, but he had been out at the same hours, and in at
the same hours, and was quite unaltered. He had worn the same straw-hat
at the Lakes that he always wore, and on returning home put it on the
top shelf of his mahogany wardrobe, where it reposed for eleven months
out of the twelve.

It would be giving a false impression to say that Mrs. Collingwood had
enjoyed herself. She took a holiday like medicine, with a view to its
after-effects, in order to enable her to return with renewed vigour to
the battle with immoral books and people who were not helpful and did
not live in closes. In order to attain this end as fully as possible she
had spent all her time out of doors, taking long strolls from breakfast
till lunch, and a walk with her husband from lunch till tea, on the
recognised plan that the best rest for a tired mind is to strenuously
overtire the body also. She had continually looked at the beauties of
nature also as part of the prescription, and had read a little
Wordsworth as she would read a guide-book in a foreign town. In the
evening, and sometimes if it was exceedingly wet, she would work, and
had produced three G. F. S. leaflets, one of which embodied her lecture
on the Downward Tendencies of Modern Fiction. Another was called No
Parleyings with the Enemy. In fact, when she and her husband returned,
she might be said to be a match for anything.

Jack arrived on a brilliant September afternoon, and, sending his
luggage on, walked himself. The old, quaint town seemed to his brisker
London eye to be dozing on as peacefully as ever, in a sort of tranquil
mediæval drowsiness. From the station, which was on a hill, he could see
across the cup-shaped hollow in which lay the red-tiled town. There were
no new houses on the way down, and the names above all the old ones were
the same. The man who had cut his hair when he was a child stood, as he
had always stood, at his door, looking on to the street, with a pair of
scissors stuck into the pocket of his white apron, neither balder nor
stouter than he used to be. It had always been a matter of wonder to
Jack how a man with so bald a head dare have his windows filled full of
infallible hair-preservers, but perhaps he was a cynic, and traded with
amusement on the fathomless credulity of man. The very slope of the
high street seemed designed for a leisurely folk; it was too steep for a
horse to trot either up or down, and the foot-passengers ascended softly
like bubbles arising through water, and descended with the same equable
motion like pebbles sinking in the sea. Half-way down he branched off
through a covered passage leading under a house into the close, and
there, too, time seemed to have stood still. A few nursery-maids wheeled
contented babies up and down its paths, and children were playing among
the grave-stones; the gray pinnacled west front seemed the incarnation
of stability. As always, the place asserted its instant charm over him;
for the moment as he passed through the grave-yard into the close he
would have asked nothing better than to say an eternal good-bye to the
froth and bubble of the world and turn the key on his ambitions. It
would be necessary, he reflected, to be rid of them, else in a week or
two he would be tingling for wider things again and chafing at the slow
passage of ungrudged hours. Like all healthily minded young men, he knew
he was going to overtop the world, and the air here was opiate. But for
the moment he was in love with tranquility.

Both his father and mother were out when he arrived at the house, and,
with the spell of soothing still on him, he sauntered off again, meaning
to return home for tea, and leaving the town, struck into a foot-path
that led through the water-meadows by the river. It has been stated how
his mother regretted that, if he was to be a painter at all, he had not
been a landscape-painter, and this afternoon the regret was his also.
Portrait-painting, he told himself, was an inspiration which might or
might not be at one’s command. For every hundred faces he looked at he
only saw one or two that suggested anything. Before now he had caused
offence, when given an order for a portrait, by insisting on seeing his
sitter before he promised anything, and then declining the task. It was
not beauty he looked for in a face, nor was it exactly intelligence. The
quality, whatever it was, might be altogether absent in the most admired
features, and present in every line of the face when there were, so to
speak, no features at all. It was this eternal search for this, the
refusal to paint where he did not find it, and a magical brush when he
did, that had already given him a somewhat unusual standing among the
younger painters of the day. His pictures were few, but, as a natural
consequence of the integrity and honesty of his art, his refusal to
paint without the conviction that his subject was for him, there was
nothing in any of them to show a want of grasp. That everything was
proper material for art he did not deny, but he emphatically affirmed
that everything was not proper material for each artist.

But, compared to the portrait-painter who thus limited himself, how
fortunate, he thought, was the landscape-painter. All trees were
paintable if you could paint a tree at all; all clear and running water
was beautiful, all clouds “composed.” This green bank on which he
wandered, the lower grasses of which waved in the suck of the brilliant
stream, the stretch of meadow beyond, tall with loose-strife and the
hundred herbs of watery places, the great austern downs beyond with the
clump or two of pines, the remnants of the great southern forests of
England–what landscape-painter could fail to find his subject in any of

He paused on the edge of the stream where the water was running in
steadfast haste toward a mill which stood a hundred yards below, and
looked long into that translucent coolness. Subaqueous plantations of
green weed undulated backward and forward in the thrust of the water
like the tail of a poised fish, alternating with bare spaces
pebble-sown, but the pebbles were glorified to topaz and amber. Here and
there tall tufts of pithy rushes stood breast-high in the water, making
strange movements of twitching as the current struck them, causing the
smooth crystal to be broken with a sudden dimple. Over the surface from
time to time there would run like a wreath of mist a darker line, as if
some finger had traced on the stream a letter which the water was trying
to efface; then the mark would change from a circle to a half-circle,
straighten itself out for a moment, and then be broken. From below came
the gush of the mill mixed with the bourdon note of the machinery, and
Jack could see the rush of water coming out of the dark passage in
torrents of white foam, a soda-water of bubbles. There, he knew, the
weeds would be altogether different; they would be close as velvet, or
moss on a tree, offering little surface to the flood, and not like
thick, branching forests, which would be torn away in the mill-race.

He had waited so long looking into the water that he saw it was nearly
time to go back, but the attraction of the stream held him by cords, and
he could not but go on, just to look at the jubilant water escaping from
the prison of the mill and perhaps extend his wandering to a pool he
knew of a hundred yards below where the water deepened suddenly and
resumed again its sedater going. A plank bridge crossed at the head of
this, just below a red brick wall which bounded the garden belonging to
the mill. He would go as far as that corner, cross the stream, and
return to Wroxton by the path on the other side of the meadows.

So on he went: the channel below the mill was all it should be, and the
sun, for his delight, caught the white spray of the plunging river and
hung a broken rainbow on it. This Jack felt was a gift thrown in; he had
not anticipated it, and it gave him a thrill of pleasure. Yet, even as
he looked, he shook his head. The need of the artist for expression was
on him, and he could only tell himself that this was all beautiful, and
he wished he was a landscape-painter. And, thinking thus, he turned the
corner of the red wall, and stopped.

In the centre of the plank bridge by which he intended to cross was
standing a girl opposite him, with a face full of laughter and anxiety,
and with her parasol she kept at bay a small retriever puppy who had
just left the water, and, still dripping, was evidently coming to his
mistress in order to shake himself and receive her congratulations on
his having had a swim. Even as Jack turned the corner the puppy began
his shake, and to his trained, quick eye the whole scene was as complete
and as faithful as an instantaneous photograph. The puppy’s head was
already shaken, and down to his shoulders he was black and curly set in
a halo of spray, but the shake had not yet touched his back and tail,
the hair of which was still shining and close. The girl was also dressed
in black; with one hand she drew her skirts away from the dog, with the
other she held out her open parasol so that the puppy should be
compelled to keep his distance, for the bridge was narrow, and he could
hardly pass. Her face, with its wide, laughing eyes set in an expression
of agonized dismay, which her smiling mouth contradicted, was a moment’s
miracle. Obviously every nerve of her body, every cell, however secret,
in her brain was taken up and lost in the amused fear that the puppy
would wet her. She had no hat on, and the perfect oval of her face was
crowned with the most glorious black hair. And Jack gave a quick-drawn
breath. A moment before he had lamented that he was not a
landscape-painter; now, for all he cared, the world might be made of
Portland cement, if only that girl would laugh and that puppy would
shake itself.

The infinite moment was soon over. Even while he stared, oblivious of
all else, the puppy had grown curly from nose to tail, the anxiety had
faded like a breath from the girl’s face, and she looked up and saw
him. She turned and retraced her steps over the plank, and stepped into
the meadow, where, only a few yards off, was sitting an oldish lady
reading a book. The girl’s hat was lying by her, and there was a
tea-basket out, the silver of which twinkled pleasantly in the sun. Jack
walked straight past them, and did not look again. He had recorded in
his brain all he wanted, and to stop and stare would be not only rude
but, what in his present frame of mind was more important, unnecessary.
He did not even look round when he heard short, scuffling steps behind
him, and impatient barkings, and a voice said, “Toby, come here at

He knew instinctively that it was the girl who had spoken, and not the
elder lady, for the voice had the _timbre_ which belonged to that face.
Who she was he did not know, and really he did not care. She had given
him a vision, and she might disappear again. He would have liked, he
longed, in fact, to paint her, but no more, and, except as a sitter, she
was nothing to him. He could even, on reflection, have thought twice
about that, for his one moment had been so complete and was so
indelible. Perhaps she was a _poseuse_, startled for once into a genuine
emotion, though on so small a matter as the wetting of her gown. It was
more than possible that she would never serve him again, though she sat
to him for a score of years, as she had served him at that moment. She
did not concern him as long as the puppy was not shaking itself close to
her, and in that regard she was his already. And as he walked back along
the water-meadows he thought no more about the amber pavement of the
stream, and envied not any mood of the landscape-painter, for whom a
water-meadow held no such exquisite surprises. But the girl was to him
no more than a subject, and though the puppy was an essential factor in
the scene, he valued it not on the principle of “Love me, love my dog.”

All the way home his vision remained vivid, and in his mind he settled
the composition of it. The girl should stand facing full, with the dog
almost straight in front of her, cutting the canvas in two by a long
black line. Behind should be the green meadow, with a narrow strip of
broken ground just indicating the stream bank, and the moment should be
when the dog had shaken its head curly again, while the rest of it was
still drowned and sleek. And in the joy of creation he laughed aloud and
let his pipe go out.

He found his father and mother had both come in, and was told they were
having tea in the garden. Canon Collingwood welcomed him warmly, and his
mother evidently remembered she was his mother. These first moments were
always a little awkward, for Jack was apt to forget how few subjects
they had in common, and would pour himself out in matters that were near
his life before perceiving that what he said was, if not distasteful to
his mother, at any rate alien to her. He did so on this occasion.

“I walked down by the river as I saw you were not in,” he said, “and I
was in luck. Just as I turned the corner by the mill I came upon a
finished picture. A girl standing on the bridge, keeping off a wet puppy
with her parasol. You should have seen her face, beautiful to begin
with, laughing in every line. I never saw anything so complete. I
wonder who she was?”

“Some young woman from the town probably,” said his mother, in tones
that would have frozen the mercury in a thermometer.

“I wish I had spoken to her now,” continued the unfortunate Jack,
“though I didn’t want to at the moment. Anyhow, I remember her face
pretty well. Besides, she looked a lady–it might have been awkward.”

“Very awkward,” said his mother.

This time he heard, and the vivacity was struck from his face. But he
went on without a pause.

“And did you enjoy your time at the Lakes, father?” he said; “I never
answered your letter, I know, but I really was tremendously busy, though
that is no excuse. I was painting Mrs. Napier; do you know her, mother?
She has a sort of Lady Hamilton face.”

Now Lady Hamilton was not a person whom Mrs. Collingwood desired to have
mentioned, and she felt it her duty to change the subject.

“There will be a beautiful sunset,” she said.

Now this was kind. Though torture and chains should not make her allude
to any one who even resembled that notorious woman, yet she was willing
to talk about subjects in the domain of art, provided only that they
were innocent, and might without profanation be mentioned under the
shadow of the Cathedral. But as a Christian woman she drew the line at
Lady Hamilton.

Canon Collingwood plunged to the rescue.

“Exquisite, quite exquisite,” he said; “that rose-colour is so–so
beautiful, and the contrast of it with the blue above is quite–quite

And, exhausted by the effort of making this discerning criticism, he
took another cup of tea. Whether conversation could have languished
further is unknown, for at the moment the butler came out of the house,
followed by Miss Clara Clifford. Mrs. Collingwood welcomed her with a
worker’s smile.

“So pleasant to see you,” she said; “you know my son, I think. We were
all enjoying the lovely sunset.”

“Beautiful, is it not?” said Miss Clara, staring at the east. She was
always a little nervous about coming to call without her sister, but
Phœbe had the tooth-ache, and Villa Montrose smelt as if it were built
of creosote. She took a sip of her tea, and laid hands upon her courage.

“And talking of sunset,” she said, “reminds me of what I wanted to say
to you, Mrs. Collingwood. May we add your name to our list of
patronesses this year for our Annual Art Exhibition? You have been so
kind as to permit it before.”

“I shall be delighted,” said Mrs. Collingwood, “for I have always found
that the Wroxton Exhibition was so delightful. You must exercise a
strict censorship over what you exhibit, and I am sure you do. I
remember very clearly seven or eight pictures of Switzerland and several
of the Lakes. Surely you remember the picture of Grasmere, William,
which was shown last year? I pointed out the original to you when we
were there.”

It was one of Mrs. Collingwood’s chiefest pleasures in the artistic line
to be able to see the “original” of a picture she had noticed, or to
recognise in a picture an “original” she knew. She cared, in fact, more
for the fact that a picture represented a place she knew than she did
for its merits. She always bought a catalogue when she went to a picture
exhibition, and always marked with a cross the pictures which had
pleased her most. These would be found to be representations of places
she knew. Occasionally, when she knew a place very well, she would have
given the picture two crosses, but two crosses in Mrs. Collingwood’s
catalogue were as rare as double stars in Baedeker. Any part of Wroxton
Cathedral would receive one, and Grasmere had a chance.

This favourable reception of her first request made Miss Clara even
bolder. She was afraid that Phœbe might consider her conduct unladylike,
but Phœbe was not there. She turned to Jack.

“We should be so much honoured,” she said, “if you could lend us a
sketch, a mere sketch. It would be the greatest pleasure, and I would
be responsible for its being well hung.”

“I have nothing with me here,” said Jack, “but”–and a thought struck
him–“but when must the pictures be sent in by?”

“The exhibition opens in ten days,” said Miss Clifford.

“Certainly then, I shall be charmed,” he said. “It will only be a
sketch, you know, but you shall have it this week. Shall I send it to
your house?”

Miss Clifford was overwhelmed with gratitude. She looked round, indeed,
apprehensively at Mrs. Collingwood, but neither she nor the Canon
appeared to have thought her request unmaidenly. The triumph of having
secured a sketch by Jack was so great that even Phœbe would probably be

Jack had come to Wroxton nominally for a holiday, but as soon as Miss
Clifford had left he began working at his sketch. He found, as he had
hoped, that the scene of the afternoon was very clearly visualized, and
by dinner-time he had sketched it out as he meant it to be. He felt an
extraordinary delight in the work, and as he progressed with it it
became more and more capable of becoming a picture. In fact, before
dinner his promised sketch, which he had intended to be an eighteen-inch
water-colour, had so changed in scheme that he determined to make an oil
picture of it, three feet by two. Whether or not it would be finished in
the three days in which he had promised that Miss Clifford should have
it was more than doubtful, but he had forgotten Miss Clifford. All he
knew was that a picture was in his head.

The face he had drawn with great minuteness, and as he found himself
reproducing, with a faithfulness for which he had scarcely dared to
hope, the laughing anguish of the girl, it crossed his mind, but for one
moment only, that he was doing rather a questionable thing. He had no
idea who his subject was. She might or might not be a resident in
Wroxton, she might or might not come to the picture exhibition, and then
find a portrait of herself; and how she would take it if she did was
equally problematical. Jack confessed to himself that he knew nothing
whatever of her. All he had seen was her laugh; she might be able to
frown; he did not know.

But the scruple lasted so short a time, and was in itself of so slight a
nature, that it never reoccurred. Artists, it is said, do their work in
a sort of somnambulism; it seemed to Jack that he worked in a state of
intoxication. He lived riotously when the brush was in his hand, his
mind sang and shouted as he worked.

Certainly as he progressed with it–and day by day it continued to
prosper and live on the canvas–he was frankly surprised at the
vividness with which the moment had been impressed upon him. The girl
had a moonstone brooch on, the dog a silver collar; the sunlight caught
some outlying hairs on her head, and though they were black, it turned
them into gold. All these things and a hundred like them he had hardly
been conscious of seeing until he began to record them.

On the fourth day it was finished, and as soon as it was dry he sent it
to Miss Clifford. The day after he was leaving himself and going back to
work, and he seemed to himself to have had no holiday at all. Yet he did
not regret it; somehow his occupation had taken hold of his mind, and
when he looked at the finished thing he knew that conscious humble pride
which alone is sufficient reward to the artist for what he has done.

“It is good,” he said to himself. “I wish I had seen that girl again,”
he added.

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