Amy Levy.

The Romance of a Shop online

. (page 6 of 13)
Online LibraryAmy LevyThe Romance of a Shop → online text (page 6 of 13)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


"I will write to you about those sketches," he said, as the cab was
announced.

Lucy and Phyllis were frisking about the studio, as young creatures will
do in the spring, when Gertrude entered, weary and dispirited, from her
expedition to The Sycamores.

The girls fell upon her at once for news.

She flung herself into the sitter's chair, which half revolved with the
violence of the action.

"Say something nice to me," she cried. "Compliment me on my beauty, my
talents, my virtues. There is no flattery so gross that I could not
swallow it."

Phyllis looked from her to Lucy and tapped her forehead in significant
pantomime.

"You are everything that is most delightful," said Lucy; "only do tell
us about the great man."

"He was odious," cried Gertrude.

"She has never been quarrelling, I will not say with her own, but with
_our_ bread-and-butter," said Phyllis, in affected dismay.

"I will never go there again, if that's what you mean."

"But what is the matter, Gerty? I found him quite polite."

"Polite? It is worse than rudeness, a politeness which says so plainly:
'This is for my own sake, not for yours.'"

"You are really cross, Gerty; what has the illustrious Sidney been doing
to you?" said Lucy, who did not suffer from violent likes and dislikes.

"Oh," cried Gertrude, laughing ruefully; "how shall I explain? He is
this sort of man; - if a woman were talking to him of - of the motions of
the heavenly bodies, he would be thinking all the time of the shape of
her ankles."

"Great heavens, Gerty, did you make the experiment?"

Phyllis opened her pretty eyes their widest as she spoke.

"We all know," remarked Lucy, with a twinkle in her eye, "that it is
best to begin with a little aversion."

Phyllis struck an attitude:

"'Friends meet to part, but foes once joined - - '"

"Girls, what has come over you?" exclaimed Gertrude, dismayed.

"Gerty is shocked," said Lucy; "one is always stumbling unawares on her
sense of propriety."

"She is like the Bishop of Rumtyfoo," added Phyllis; "she does draw the
line at such unexpected places."

[Illustration: Decoration]


[Illustration: Decoration]




CHAPTER IX.

SHOW SUNDAY.

_La science l'avait gardé naïf._
ALPHONSE DAUDET.


The last Sunday in March was Show Sunday; and Frank, who was of a
festive disposition, had invited all the people he knew in London to
inspect his pictures and Mr. Oakley's before they were sent in to the
Royal Academy.

Mr. Oakley was a middle-aged Bohemian, who had made a small success in
his youth and never got beyond it. It had been enough, however, to
launch him into the artistic world, and it was probably only owing to
the countenance of his brothers of the brush that he was able to sell
his pictures at all. Oakley was an accepted fact, if nothing more; the
critics treated him with respect if without enthusiasm; the exhibition
committees hung him, though not indeed on the line, and the public
bought his pictures, which had the advantage of being moderate in price
and signed with a name that everybody knew.

Of course this indifferent child of the earth had a wife and family; and
he had been only too glad to share his studio expenses with young
Jermyn, whose father, the Cornish clergyman, had been a friend of his
own youth.

"I wonder," said Gertrude, as the Lorimers dressed for Frank's party,
"if there will be a lot of gorgeous people this afternoon?" And she
looked ruefully at the patch on her boot, with a humiliating
reminiscence of Darrell's watchful eye.

"I don't expect so," answered Phyllis, whose pretty feet were
appropriately shod. "You know what dowdy people one meets at the
Oakleys. Oh, of course they know others, but they don't turn up,
somehow."

"Then there will be Mr. Jermyn's people," said Lucy, inspecting her
gloves with a frown.

"A lot of pretty, well-dressed girls, no doubt," answered Phyllis; "I
expect that well-beloved youth has a wife in every port, or at least a
young woman in every suburb."

"_Apropos_," said Gertrude, "I wonder if the Devonshires will be there.
We never seem to see Conny in these days."

"Isn't it rather a strain on friendship," answered Phyllis, shrewdly,
"when two sets of our friends become acquainted, and seem to prefer one
another to _us_, the old and tried and trusty friend of each?"

"What horrid things you say sometimes, Phyllis," objected Lucy, as the
three sisters trooped downstairs.

Fanny was not with them; she was spending the day with some relations of
her mother's.

A curious, dreamlike sensation stole over Gertrude at finding herself
once again in a roomful of people; and as an old war-horse is said to
become excited at the sound of battle, so she felt the social instincts
rise strongly within her as the familiar, forgotten pageant of nods and
becks and wreathed smiles burst anew upon her.

Frank shot across the room, like an arrow from the bow, as the Lorimers
entered.

"How late you are," he said; "I was beginning to have a horrible fear
that you were not coming at all."

"How pretty it all is," said Lucy, sweetly. "Those great brass jars with
the daffodils are charming; and what an overwhelming number of people."

Conny came up to them, splendid as ever, but with a restless light in
her eyes, an unnatural flush on her cheek.

"How do you do, girls?" she said, abruptly. "You look seedy, Gerty."
Then, as Frank moved off to fetch them some tea: "I do so hate afternoon
affairs, don't you?"

"How pretty Frank looks," whispered Phyllis to Lucy; "I like to see him
flying in and out among the people, as though his life depended on it,
don't you? And the daffodil in his coat just suits his complexion."

"Phyllis, don't be so silly!"

Lucy refrained from smiling, but her eyes followed, with some amusement,
the picturesque and active figure of her host, as he went about his
duties with his usual air of earnestness and candour.

"Come and look at the pictures, Lucy. That's what you're here for, you
know," remarked Fred, who had joined their group, and was looking the
very embodiment of Philistine comeliness. "I haven't seen you for an
age," he added, as they made their way to one of the easels.

"That is your own fault, isn't it?" said Lucy, lightly.

"Conny has got it into her head that you don't care to see us."

"How can Conny be so silly?"

"Don't tell her I told you. She would be in no end of a wax," he added,
as Phyllis and Constance pressed by them in the crush.

Gertrude was still standing near the doorway, sipping her tea, and
looking about her with a rather wistful interest. She had caught here
and there glimpses of familiar faces, faces from her own old world - that
world which, taken _en masse_, she had so fervently disliked; but no one
had taken any notice of the young woman by the doorway, with her pale
face and suit of rusty black.

"I feel like a ghost," she said to Frank, as she handed him her empty
cup.

"You do look horribly white," he answered, with genuine concern; "I
wish you were looking as well as your sisters - Miss Phyllis for
instance."

He glanced across as he spoke with undisguised admiration at the slim
young figure, and blooming face of the girl, who stood smiling down with
amiable indifference at one of his own canvasses.

Phyllis Lorimer belonged to that rare order of women who are absolutely
independent of their clothes.

By the side of her old black gown and well-worn hat, Constance
Devonshire's elaborate spring costume looked vulgar and obtrusive; and
Constance herself, in the light of her friend's more delicate beauty,
seemed _bourgeoise_ and overblown.

The effect of this contrast was not lost on two men who, at this point
of the proceedings, strolled into the room, and whom the Oakleys came
forward with some _empressement_ to receive.

"I have brought you Lord Watergate," Gertrude heard one of them say, in
a voice which she recognised at once, the sound of which filled her with
a vague sense of discomfort.

"Darrell, by all that's wonderful!" said Frank, _sotto voce_, his eyes
shining with enthusiasm; "there, with the light Vandyke beard - but you
know him already."

"Hasn't he a Show Sunday of his own?" replied Gertrude, in a voice that
implied that the wish was father to the thought.

"He has a gallery all to himself in Bond Street this season. I wonder if
he will sing this afternoon."

"Mr. Darrell is a person of many accomplishments it seems."

"Oh, rather!" and Frank went off to offer a pleased and modest welcome
to the illustrious guest.

Sidney Darrell, having succeeded in escaping from the Oakleys and their
tea-table, made his way across the room, stopping here and there to
exchange greetings with the people that he knew, and moving with that
ostentatious air of lack of purpose which is so often assumed in society
to mask a set and deliberate plan.

"How do you do, Miss Lorimer?" He stopped in front of Phyllis and held
out his hand.

Phyllis's flower-face brightened at this recognition from the great man.

"Now, don't you think this is the most ridiculous institution on the
face of the earth?" said Darrell, as he took his place beside her, for
Conny had moved off discreetly at his approach.

"Which institution? Tea, pictures, people?"

"Their incongruous combination under the name of Show Sunday."

"Oh, I think it's fun. But then I have never seen the sort of thing
before."

"You are greatly to be envied, Miss Lorimer."

"How lovely Phyllis is looking," cried Conny, who had joined Gertrude
near the doorway; "she grows prettier every day."

"Do you think so?" answered Gertrude. "She looks to me more delicate
than ever, with that flush on her cheek, and that shining in her eyes."

"Nonsense, Gerty; you are quite ridiculous about Phyllis. She appears to
be amusing Mr. Darrell, at any rate. She says just the sort of things
Mr. Lorimer used to. She is more like him than any of you."

"Yes." Gertrude winced; then, looking up, saw Mr. Oakley and a tall man
standing before her.

"Lord Watergate, Miss Lorimer."

The grey eyes looked straight into hers, and a deep voice said -

"We have met before. But I scarcely ventured to regard myself as
introduced to you."

Lord Watergate smiled as he spoke, and, with a sense of relief, Gertrude
felt that here, at least, was a friendly presence.

"I met you at The Sycamores on Wednesday."

"If it could be called a meeting. That's a wonderful picture of
Darrell's."

"Yes."

"Oakley has been telling me about the great success in photography of
you and your sisters."

"I don't know about success!" Gertrude laughed.

"You look so tired, Miss Lorimer; let me find you a seat."

"No, thank you; I prefer to stand. One sees the world so much better."

"Ah, you like to see the world?"

"Yes; it is always interesting."

"It is to be assumed that you are fond of society?"

"Does one follow from the other?"

"No; I merely hazarded the question."

"One demands so much more of a game in which one is taking part," said
Gertrude; "and with social intercourse, one is always thinking how much
better managed it might be."

They both laughed.

"Now what is your ideal society, Miss Lorimer?"

"A society not of class, caste, or family - but of picked individuals."

"I think we tend more and more towards such a society, at least in
London," said Lord Watergate; then added, "You are a democrat, Miss
Lorimer."

"And you are an optimist, Lord Watergate."

"Oh, I'm quite unformulated. But let us leave off this mutual
recrimination for the present; and perhaps you can tell me who is the
lady talking to Sidney Darrell."

Lord Watergate's attention had been suddenly caught by Phyllis; Gertrude
noted that he was looking at her with all his eyes.

"That is one of my sisters," she said.

He turned towards her with a start; there was a note of constraint in
his tones as he said -

"She is very beautiful."

What was there in his voice, in his face, that suddenly brought before
Gertrude's vision the image of the dead woman, her golden hair, and
haggard beauty?

Phyllis, on her part, had been aware of the brief but intense gaze which
the grey eyes had cast upon her from the other side of the room.

"Who is that person talking to my sister?" she said.

Darrell looked across coldly, and answered: "Oh, that's Lord Watergate,
the great physiologist."

"I have never met a lord before."

"And, after all, this isn't much of a lord, because the peer is quite
swallowed up in the man of science."

Oakley came up, entreating Darrell to sing.

"But isn't it quite irregular, to-day?"

"Oh, we don't pretend to be fashionable. This isn't 'Show Sunday,' pure
and simple, but just a pretext for seeing one's friends."

"By the by," said the artist, as Oakley went off to open the little
piano, "is it any good my sending the sketches this week? though it's
horribly bad form to talk shop."

"You must ask my sister about those things."

"Oh, your sister is far and away too clever for me."

"Gertrude is clever, but not in the way you mean."

"Nevertheless, I am horribly afraid of her."

Darrell went over to the piano and sang a little French song, with
perfect art, in his rich baritone. Gertrude watched him, as he sat there
playing his own accompaniment, and a vague terror stole over her of this
irreproachable-looking person, who did everything so well; whose quiet
presence was redolent of an immeasurable, because an unknown strength;
and who, she felt (indignantly remembering the cold irony of his glance)
could never, under any circumstances, be made to appear ridiculous.

At the end of the song, Phyllis came over to Gertrude.

"Aren't we going, Gerty?" she said; "It is quite unfashionable to 'make
a night of it' like this. One is just supposed to look round and sail
off to half-a-dozen other studios."

Lord Watergate, who stood near, caught the half-whispered words, and
smiled, as one smiles at the nonsense of a pretty child. Gertrude saw
the expression of his face as she answered -

"Yes, it is time we went. Tell Lucy; there she is with Mr. Jermyn."

Darrell came over to them as they were going, and shook hands, first
with Gertrude, and then with Phyllis.

"Thank you," he said to the latter, "for a very pleasant afternoon."

Both he and Lord Watergate lingered in York Place till the other guests
had departed, when they fell upon Frank for further information
respecting the photographic studio.

"It doesn't look as if it paid them," remarked Darrell, by way of
administering a damper to loyal Frank's enthusiasm.

"I wonder," said Lord Watergate, "if they would think it worth while to
prepare some slides for me?"

"For the Royal Institution lectures?" Darrell sat down to the piano as
he spoke, and ran his hands over the keys. "She is a charming
creature - Phyllis."

"Charming!" cried Frank; "and so is Miss Lucy. And Gertrude is charming,
too; she is the clever one."

"Oh, yes, Gertrude is the clever one; you can see that by her boots."

Meanwhile the Lorimers and the Devonshires were walking up Baker Street
together, engaged, on their part also, in discussing the people from
whom they had just parted.

"You are quite wrong, Gerty, about Mr. Darrell," cried Phyllis; "he is
very nice, and great fun."

"What, the fellow with the goatee?" said Fred.

"Oh, Fred, his beautiful Vandyke beard!"

"I don't care, I don't like him."

"Nor do I, Fred," said Gertrude, with decision, as the whole party
turned into Number 20B, and went up to the sitting-room.

"I think really you are a little unreasonable," said Lucy, putting her
arm round her sister's waist; "he seemed quite a nice person."

"He looks," put in Conny, speaking for the first time, "as though he
meant to have the best of everything. But so do a great many of us mean
that."

"But not," cried Gertrude, "by trampling over the bodies of other
people. Ah, you are all laughing at me. But can one be expected to think
well of a person who makes one feel like a strong-minded clown?"

They laughed more than ever at the curious image summoned up by her
words; then Phyllis remarked, critically -

"There is one thing I don't like about him, and that is his eye. I
particularly detest that sort of eye; prominent, with heavy lids, and
those little puffy bags underneath."

"Phyllis, spare us these realistic descriptions," protested Lucy, "and
let us dismiss Mr. Darrell, for the present at least. Perhaps our
revered chaperon will tell us something of her experiences with a
certain noble lord," she added, placing in her dress, with a smile of
thanks, the gardenia of which Fred had divested himself in her favour.

"It was very nice of him," said Gertrude, gravely, "to get Mr. Oakley to
introduce him to me, if only to show me that the sight of me did not
make him sick."

"I like his face," added Lucy; "there is something almost boyish about
it. Do you remember what Daudet says of the old doctor in _Jack_, 'La
science l'avait gardé naïf.'"

"What a set of gossips we are," cried Conny, who had taken little part
in the conversation. "Come along, Fred; you know we are dining at the
Greys to-night."

"Botheration! They are certain to give me Nelly to take in," grumbled
Fred, who, like many of his sex, was extremely modest where his feelings
were concerned, but cherished a belief that the mass of womankind had
designs upon him; "and we never know what on earth to say to one
another."

"There goes Mr. Jermyn," observed Phyllis, as the door closed on the
brother and sister; "he said something about coming in here to-night."

Lucy, who was seated at some distance from the window, allowed herself
to look up, and smiled as she remarked -

"What ages ago it seems since we used to wonder about him and call him
'Conny's man.'"

"'Conny's man,'" added Phyllis, with a curl of her pretty lips, "who
does not care two straws for Conny."

[Illustration: Decoration]


[Illustration: Decoration]




CHAPTER X.

SUMMING UP.

_J'ai peur d'Avril, peur de l'émoi
Qu'éveille sa douceur touchante._
SULLY PRUDHOMME.


April had come round again; and, like M. Sully Prudhomme, Gertrude was
afraid of April.

As Fanny had remarked to Frank, the month had very painful associations
for them all; but Gertrude's terror was older than their troubles, and
was founded, not on the recollection of past sorrow, so much as on the
cruel hunger for a present joy. And now again, after all her struggles,
her passionate care for others, her resolute putting away of all
thoughts of personal happiness, now again the Spring was stirring in
her veins, and voices which she had believed silenced for ever arose
once more in her heart and clamoured for a hearing.

Often, before business hours, Gertrude might be seen walking round
Regent's Park at a swinging pace, exorcising her demons; she was
obliged, as she said, to ride her soul on the curb, and be very careful
that it did not take the bit between its teeth - this poor, weak
Gertrude, who seemed such a fountain-head of wisdom, such a tower of
strength to the people among whom she dwelt.

At this period, also, she had had recourse, in the pauses of
professional work, to her old consolation of literary effort, and had
even sent some of her productions to Paternoster Row, with the same
unsatisfactory results as of yore, she and Frank uniting their voices in
that bitter cry of the rejected contributor, which in these days is
heard through the breadth and length of the land.

One morning she came into the studio after her walk, to find Lucy
engaged in focussing Frank, who was seated, wearing an air of immense
solemnity, in the sitter's chair. Phyllis, meanwhile, hovered about,
bestowing hints and suggestions on them both, secretly enjoying the
quiet humour of the scene.

"It is Mr. Jermyn's birthday present," she announced, as Gertrude
entered. "He is going to send it to Cornwall, which will be a nice
advertisement for us."

Frank blushed slightly; and Lucy cried from beneath her black cloth,
"Don't get up, Mr. Jermyn; Gertrude will excuse you, I am sure."

Gertrude, laughing, retreated to the waiting-room; where, throwing
herself into a chair, and leaning both her elbows on a rickety scarlet
table, she stared vaguely at the little picture of youth and grace which
the parted curtains revealed to her.

How could they be so cheerful, so heedless? cried her heart, with a
sudden impatience. Was this life, this ceaseless messing about in a
pokey glass out-house, this eating and drinking and sleeping in the
shabby London rooms?

Was any human creature to be blamed who rebelled against it? Did not
flesh and blood cry out against such sordidness, with all the revel of
the spring-time going on in the world beyond?

It is base and ignoble perhaps to scorn the common round, the trivial
task, but is it not also ignoble and base to become so immersed in them
as to desire nothing beyond?

"What mean thoughts I am thinking," cried Gertrude to herself, shocked
at her own mood; then, gazing mechanically in front of her, saw Lucy
disappear into the dark-room, and Frank come forward with outstretched
hand.

"At last I can say 'good-morning,' Miss Lorimer."

Gertrude gave him her hand with a smile; Jermyn's was a presence that
somehow always cleared the moral atmosphere.

"You will never guess," said Frank, "what I have brought you."

As he spoke, he drew from his pocket a number of _The Woodcut_, damp
from the press, and opening it at a particular page, spread it on the
table before her.

Phyllis, becoming aware of these proceedings, came across to the
waiting-room and leaned over her sister's shoulder.

"Oh, Gerty, what fun."

On one side of the page was a large wood-engraving representing four
people on a lawn-tennis court. Three of them were girls, in whom could
be traced distinct resemblance to the three Lorimers; while the fourth,
a man, had about him an unmistakable suggestion of Jermyn himself. The
initials "F. J." were writ large in a corner of the picture, and on the
opposite page were the following verses: -


What wonder that I should be dreaming[A]
Out here in the garden to-day?
The light through the leaves is streaming;
_Paulina cries, "Play!"_

The birds to each other are calling;
The freshly-cut grasses smell sweet -
_To Teddy's dismay comes falling
The ball at my feet!_

"_Your stroke should be over, not under._"
"_But that's such a difficult way!_"
The place is a spring-tide wonder
Of lilac and may.

Of lilac and may and laburnam;
Of blossom - "_we're losing the set!
Those volleys of Jenny's, return them,
Stand close to the net!_"


ENVOI.

You are so fond of the may-time,
My friend far away,
Small wonder that I should be dreaming
Of you in the garden to-day.


The verses were signed "G. Lorimer"; and Gertrude's eyes rested on them
with the peculiar tenderness with which we all of us regard our efforts
the first time that we see ourselves in print.

"How nice they look, Gerty," cried Phyllis. "And Mr. Jermyn's picture.
But I think they have spoilt it a little in the engraving."

"It is rather a come down after _Charlotte Corday_, isn't it?" said
Gertrude, pleased yet rueful.

Frank, who had been told the history of that unfortunate tragedy,
answered rather wistfully -

"We have all to get off our high horse, Miss Lorimer, if we want to
live. I had ten guineas this morning for that thing; and there is the
_Death of OEdipus_ with its face to the wall in the studio - and likely
to remain there, unless we run short of firewood one of these days."

"Do you remember," said Gertrude, "how Warrington threw cold water on
Pendennis by telling him to stick to poems like the _Church Porch_ and
abandon his beloved _Ariadne in Naxos_?"

"Yes," answered Frank, "and I never could share Warrington's - and
presumably Thackeray's - admiration for those verses."

"Nor I," said Gertrude, as Lucy emerged triumphantly from the dark-room
and announced the startling success of her negatives.

She was shown the wonderful poem, and the no less wonderful picture, and
then Phyllis said -

"Don't gloat so over it, Gerty." For Gertrude was still sitting at the
table absorbed in contemplation of the printed sheet spread out before
her.

Gertrude laughed and pushed the paper away; and Lucy quoted gravely -


"'We all, the foolish and the wise,


1 2 3 4 6 8 9 10 11 12 13

Online LibraryAmy LevyThe Romance of a Shop → online text (page 6 of 13)