Mrs. Humphry Ward.

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"philosophical" wine. He might, I fear, have said it of mine. Anyway,
I felt I was not made for Bacchantes - so I fell back on the usual

And he showed an 'Execution of a Witch' - filled with gruesome and
poignant detail - excellent in some of its ideas and single figures,
but as a whole crude, horrible, and weak.

'I don't improve,' he said, abruptly, turning away - 'but it keeps me
contented - that and my animals. Anatole! - _vaurien_! - _où es-tu_?'

A small monkey, in a red jacket, who had been sitting unnoticed on
the top of a cabinet since Fenwick's entrance, clattered down to the
floor, and, running to his master, was soon sitting on his shoulder,
staring at Fenwick with a pair of grave, soft eyes. Watson caressed
him; - and then pointed to a wicker cage outside the window in which a
pigeon was pecking at some Indian-corn. The cage door was wide open.
'She comes to feed here by day. In the morning I wake up and hear her
there - the darling! In the evening she spreads her wings, and I watch
her fly toward Saint-Cloud. No doubt the jade keeps a family there.
Oh! some day she'll go - like the rest of them - and I shall miss her

'You seem also to be favoured by mice?' said Fenwick, idly looking at
two traps on the floor beside him.

Watson smiled.

'My _femme de service_ sets those traps every night. She says we are
overrun - the greatest nonsense! As if there wasn't enough for all of
us! Then in the night - I sleep there, you see, behind that screen - I
wake, and hear some little fool squeaking. So I get up, and take the
trap downstairs in the dark - right away down - to the first floor. And
there I let the mouse go - those folk down there are rich enough to
keep him. The only drawback is that my old woman is so cross in the
morning, and she spends her life thinking of new traps. _Ah, ben! - Je
la laisse faire!_'

'And this place suits you?'

'Admirably - till the cold comes. Then I march. I must have the sun.'

He shivered again. Fenwick, struck by something in his tone, looked at
him more closely.

'How are you, by the way?' he asked, repentantly, 'I ought to have
inquired before. You mentioned consulting some big man here. What did
he say to you?'

'Oh, that I am phthisical, and must take care,' said Watson,
carelessly - 'that's no news. Ah! by the way' - he hurried the change of
subject - 'you know, of course, that Lord Findon and madame are to be
at Versailles?'

'They will be there to-night,' said Fenwick, after a moment.

'Ah! to-night. Then you meet them?'

'I shall see them, of course.'

'What a blessed thing to be rid of that fellow! - What's she been doing

Fenwick replied that since the death of her husband - about a year
before this date - Madame de Pastourelles, worn out with nursing, had
been pursuing health - in Egypt and elsewhere. Her father, stepmother,
and sister had been travelling with her. The sister and she were to
stay at Versailles till Christmas. It was a place for which Madame de
Pastourelles had an old affection.

'And I suppose you know that you will find the Welbys there too?'

Fenwick made a startled movement.

'The _Welbys_? How did you hear that?'

'I had my usual half-yearly letter from Cuningham yesterday. He's
the fellow for telling you the news. Welby has begun a big picture of
Marie Antoinette, at Trianon, and has taken a studio in Versailles for
the winter.'

Fenwick turned away and began to pace the bare floor of the studio.

'I didn't know,' he said, evidently discomposed.

'By the way, I have often meant to ask you. I trust he wasn't mixed
up in the "hanging" affair?' said Watson, with a quick look at his

'He was ill the day it was done, but in my opinion he behaved in an
extremely mean and ungenerous manner afterwards!' exclaimed Fenwick,
suddenly flushing from brow to chin.

'You mean he didn't support you?'

'He shilly-shallied. He thought - I have very good reason to
believe - that I had been badly treated - that there was personal
feeling in the matter - resentment of things that I had written - and so
on but he would never come out into the open and say so!'

The excitement with which Fenwick spoke made it evident that Watson
had touched an extremely sore point.

Watson was silent a little, lit another cigarette, and then said, with
a smile:

'Poor Madame de Pastourelles!'

Fenwick looked up with irritation.

'What on earth do you mean?'

'I am wondering how she kept the peace between you - her two great

'She sees very little of Welby.'

'Ah! Since when?'

'Oh! for a long time. Of course they meet occasionally - '

A big, kindly smile flickered over Watson's face.

'What - was little Madame Welby jealous?'

'She would be a great goose if she were,' said Fenwick, turning aside
to look through some sketches that lay on a chair beside him.

Watson shook his head, still smiling, then remarked:

'By the way, I understand she has become quite an invalid.'

'Has she?' said Fenwick. 'I know nothing of them.'

Watson began to talk of other things. But as he and Fenwick discussed
the pictures on the easels, or Fenwick's own projects, as they talked
of Manet, and Zola's 'L'Oeuvre,' and the Goncourts, as they compared
the state of painting in London and Paris, employing all the latest
phrases, both of them astonishingly well informed as to men and
tendencies - Watson as an outsider, Fenwick as a passionate partisan,
loathing the Impressionists, denouncing a show of Manet and Renoir
recently opened at a Paris dealer's - Watson's inner mind was really
full of Madame de Pastourelles, and that _salon_ of hers in the
old Westminster house in Dean's Yard, of which during so many years
Fenwick had made one of the principal figures. It should perhaps
be explained that some two years after Fenwick's arrival in London,
Madame de Pastourelles had thought it best to establish a little
_ménage_ of her own, distinct from the household in St. James's
Square. Her friends and her stepmother's were not always congenial to
each other; and in many ways both Lord Findon and she were the happier
for the change. Her small panelled rooms had quickly become the
meeting-place of a remarkable and attractive society. Watson himself,
indeed, had never been an _habitué_ of that or any other drawing-room.
As he had told Lord Findon long ago, he was not for the world, nor the
world for him. But whereas his volatile lordship could never draw him
from his cell, Lord Findon's daughter was sometimes irresistible, and
Watson's great shaggy head and ungainly person was occasionally to
be seen beside her fire, in the years before he left London. He had,
therefore, been a spectator of Fenwick's gradual transformation at the
hands of a charming woman; he had marked the stages of the process;
and he knew well that it had never excited a shadow of scandal in the
minds of any reasonable being. All the same, the deep store of hidden
sentiment which this queer idealist possessed had been touched by
the position. The young woman isolated and childless, so charming,
so nobly sincere, so full of heart - was she to be always Ariadne,
and forsaken? The man - excitable, nervous, selfish, yet, in truth,
affectionate and dependent - what folly, or what chivalry kept him
unmarried? Ever since the death of M. le Comte de Pastourelles, dreams
concerning these two people had been stirring in the brain of Watson,
and these dreams spoke now in the dark eyes he bent on Fenwick.

Presently, Fenwick began to talk gloomily of the death of his old
Bernard Street landlady, who had become his housekeeper and factotum
in the new Chelsea house and studio, which he had built for himself.

'I don't know what I shall do without her. For eleven years I've never
paid a bill or engaged a servant for myself. She's done everything.
Every morning she used to give me my pocket-money for the day.'

'The remedy, after all, is simple,' said Watson, with a sudden turn of
the head.

Fenwick raised his eyebrows interrogatively.

'I imagine that what Mrs. Gibbs did well, "Mrs. Fenwick" might do even
better - _n'est-ce pas?_'

Fenwick sprang up.

'Mrs. - ?' he repeated, vaguely.

He stood a moment bending over Watson - his eyes staring, his mouth
open. Then he controlled himself.

'You talk as though she were round the corner,' he said, turning away
and buttoning his coat afresh. 'But please understand, my dear fellow,
that she is not round the corner, nor likely to be.'

He spoke with a hard emphasis, smiling, and slapping the breast of his

Watson looked at him and said no more.

Fenwick walked rapidly along the Quai Voltaire, crossed the Pont Neuf,
and found himself inside the enclosure of the Louvre. Twenty minutes
to four. Some impulse, born of the seething thoughts within, took him
to the door of the Musée. He mounted rapidly, and found himself in the
large room devoted to the modern French school.

He went straight to two pictures by Hippolyte Flandrin - 'Madame Vinet'
and 'Portrait de Jeune Fille.' When, in the first year of his London
life, he had made his hurried visits to Paris, these pictures, then in
the Luxembourg, had been among those which had most vitally affected
him. The beautiful surface and keeping which connected them with
the old tradition, together with the modern spirit, the trenchant
simplicity of their portraiture, had sent him back - eager and
palpitating - to his own work on the picture of Madame de Pastourelles,
or on the last stages of the 'Genius Loci.'

He looked into them now, sharply, intently, his heart beating to
suffocation under the stress of that startling phrase of Watson's.
Still tremulous - as one in flight - he made himself recognise certain
details of drawing and modelling in 'Madame Vinet' which had given him
hints for the improvement of the portrait of Phoebe; and, again,
the ease with which the head moves on its shoulders, its relief, its
refinement - how he had toiled to rival them in his picture of Madame
Eugénie! - translating as he best could the cold and disagreeable
colour of the Ingres school into the richer and more romantic handling
of an art influenced by Watts and Burne-Jones!

Then he passed on to the young girl's portrait - the girl in white
muslin, turning away her graceful head from the spectator, and showing
thereby the delicacy of her profile, the wealth of her brown hair, the
beauty of her young and virginal form. Suddenly, his eyes clouded;
he turned abruptly away, left the room without looking at another
picture, and was soon hurrying through the crowded streets northward
towards the Gare Saint-Lazare.

Carrie! - his child! - his own flesh and blood. His heart cried out for
her. Watson's _brusquerie_ - the young girl of the picture - and his
own bitter and disappointed temper - they had all their share in the
emotion which possessed him.

The child whom he remembered, with her mother's eyes, and that light
mutinous charm, which was not Phoebe's - why, she was now seventeen! - a
little younger - only a little younger, than the girl of the portrait.
His longing fancy pursued her - saw her a wild, pretty, laughing thing,
nearly a woman - and then fell back passionately on a more familiar
image! - of the baby at his knee, open-mouthed, her pink lips rounded
for the tidbit just about to descend upon them, her sweet and
sparkling eyes fixed upon her father.

'My God! - where are they? - are they alive, or dead? How
cruel - _cruel_!' And he ground his teeth in one of those paroxysms
which every now and then, at long intervals, represented the return
upon him of the indestructible past. Often for months together it
meant little or nothing to him, but the dull weight of his secret;
twelve years had inevitably deadened feeling, and filled the mind with
fresh interests, while of late the tumult of his Academy and Press
campaign had silenced the stealing, distant voices. Yet there were
moments when all was as fresh and poignant as it had been in the first
hours, when Phoebe, with her golden head and her light, springing
step, seemed to move beside him, and he felt the drag of a small hand
in his.

He stiffened himself - like one attacked. The ghosts of dead hours came
trooping and eddying round him, like the autumn leaves that had begun
to strew the Paris streets - all the scenes of that first ghastly week
when he had hunted in desperation for his lost wife and child. His
joyous return from Chelsea, on the evening of his good-fortune - Mrs.
Gibbs's half-sulky message on the door-step that 'Mrs. Fenwick' was
in the studio - his wild rush upstairs - the empty room, the letter, the
ring: - his hurried journey North - the arrival at the Langdale cottage,
only to find on the table of the deserted parlour another letter from
Phoebe, written before she left Westmoreland, in the prevision that
he would come there in search of a clue, and urging him for both their
sakes to make no scandal, no hue and cry, to accept the inevitable,
and let her go in peace - his interview with the servant Daisy, who had
waited with the child in an hotel close to Euston, while Phoebe went
to Bernard Street, and had been sent back to the North immediately
after Phoebe's return, without the smallest indication of what
her mistress meant to do - his fruitless consultations with Anna
Mason! - the whole dismal story rose before him, as it was wont to do
periodically, filling him with the same rage, the same grief, the same
fierce and inextinguishable resentment.

Phoebe had destroyed his life. She had not only robbed him of herself
and of their child, she had forced him into an acted lie which had
poisoned his whole existence, and, first and foremost, that gracious
and beautiful friendship which was all, save his art, that she had
left him. For, in the first moments of his despair and horror, he had
remembered what it would mean to Madame de Pastourelles, did she ever
know that his mad wife had left him out of jealousy of her. He was
not slow to imagine the effect of Phoebe's action on that proud, pure
nature and sensitive conscience; and he knew what she and her
father must feel towards the deception which had led her into such a
position, and made such a tragedy possible. He foresaw her recoil, her
bitter condemnation, the final ruin of the relation between himself
and her; and yet more than these did he dread her pain, her causeless,
innocent pain. To stab the hand which had helped him, the heart which
had already suffered so much, in the very first hours of his own shock
and misery, he had shrunk from this, he had tried his best to protect
Madame de Pastourelles.

Hence the compact with his landlady, by which he had in fact bribed
her to silence, and transformed her into a devoted servant always
under his eye; hence the various means by which he had found it
possible to quiet the members of his own family and of Phoebe's - needy
folk, most of them, cannily unwilling to make an enemy of a man who
was likely, so they understood, to be rich, and who already showed a
helpful disposition. When once he had convinced himself that he had
no clue, and that Phoebe had disappeared, it had not been difficult
indeed to keep his secret, and to hide the traces of his own
wrong-doing, his own share in the catastrophe. Between Phoebe's world
and the world in which he was now to live, there were few or no links.
Bella Morrison might have supplied one. But she and her mother
had moved to Guernsey, and a year after Phoebe's flight Fenwick
ascertained that old Mrs. Morrison was dead, and that Bella had gone
to South America as companion to a lady.

So in an incredibly short time the crisis was over. The last phase was
connected with the cousin - Freddy Tolson - who had visited Phoebe the
night before her journey to London, and was now in New South Wales.

A letter from Fenwick to this young man, containing a number of
questions as to his conversation with Phoebe, and written immediately
after Phoebe's flight, obtained an answer after some three or four
months, but Tolson's reply was wholly unprofitable. He merely avowed
that he had discovered nothing at all of Phoebe's intention, and
could throw no light whatever upon her disappearance. The letter
was laboriously written by a man of imperfect education, and barely
covered three loosely written sides of ordinary note-paper. It arrived
when Fenwick's own researches were already at a standstill, and seemed
to leave nothing more to hope for. The police inquiries which had been
initiated went on intermittently for a while, then ceased; the waters
of life closed over Phoebe Fenwick and her child.

What was Fenwick's present feeling towards his wife? If amid this
crowded Paris he had at last beheld her coming to him, had seen the
tall figure and the childish look, and the lovely, pleading eyes,
would his heart have leapt within him? - would his hands have been
outstretched to enfold and pardon her? - or would he have looked at her
sombrely, unable to pass the gulf between them - to forget what she had

In truth, he could not have answered the question; he was uncertain
of himself. Her act, by its independence, its force of will, and the
ability she had shown in planning and carrying it out, had transformed
his whole conception of her. In a sense, he knew her no longer. That
she could do a thing at once so violent and so final, was so wholly
out of keeping with all his memories of her, that he could only think
of the woman who had come in his absence to the Bernard Street studio,
and defaced the sketch of Madame de Pastourelles, as in some sort a
stranger - one whom, were she to step back into his life, he would
have had to learn afresh. Sometimes, when anything reminded him of her
suddenly - as, for instance, the vision in a shop-window of the very
popular mezzotint which had been made from the 'Genius Loci' the year
after its success in the Academy - the pang from which he suffered
would seem to show that he still loved her, as indeed he had always
loved her, through all the careless selfishness of his behaviour. But,
again, there were many months when she dropped altogether - or seemed
to drop - out of his mind and memory, when he was entirely absorbed in
the only interests she had left him - his art, his quarrels, and his
relation to Eugénie de Pastourelles.

There was a time, indeed - some two or three years after the
catastrophe - when he passed through a stage of mental and moral
tumult, natural to a man of strong passions and physique. Even in
their first married life, Phoebe had been sometimes jealous, and with
reason. It was her memory of these occasions that had predisposed her
to the mad suspicion which wrecked her. And when she had deserted him,
he came violently near, on one or two occasions, to things base and
irreparable. But he was saved - first by the unconscious influence, the
mere trust, of a good woman - and, secondly, by his keen and advancing
intelligence. Dread lest he should cast himself out of Eugénie's
delightful presence; and the fighting life of the mind: it was by
these he was rescued, by these he ultimately conquered.

And yet, was it, perhaps, his bitterest grievance against his wife
that she had, in truth, left him _nothing_! - not even friendship, not
even art. In so wrenching herself from him, she had perpetuated in
him that excitable and unstable temper it should have been her first
object to allay, and had thus injured and maimed his artistic power;
while at the same time she had so troubled, so falsified his whole
attitude towards the woman who on his wife's disappearance from his
life had become naturally and insensibly his dearest friend, that
not even the charm of Madame de Pastourelles' society, of her
true, delicate, and faithful affection, could give him any lasting
happiness. He himself had begun the falsification, but it was Phoebe's
act which had prolonged and compelled it, through twelve years.

For a long time, indeed, his success as an artist steadily developed.
The very energy of his resentment - his inner denunciation - of his
wife's flight, the very force of his fierce refusal to admit that he
had given her the smallest real justification for such a step, had
quickened in him for a time all the springs of life. Through his
painting, as we have seen, he wrestled out his first battles with
fate and with temptation; and those early years were the years of
his artistic triumph, as they were also the years of Madame de
Pastourelles' strongest influence upon him. But the concealment on
which his life was based, the tragedy at the heart of it, worked
like 'a worm i' the bud.' The first check to his artistic career - the
'hanging' incident and its sequel - produced an effect of shock
and disintegration out of all proportion to its apparent
cause - inexplicable indeed to the spectators.

Madame de Pastourelles wondered, and sorrowed. But she could do
nothing to arrest the explosion of egotism, arrogance, and passion
which Fenwick allowed himself, after his breach with the Academy. The
obscure causes of it were hidden from her; she could only pity and
grieve; and Fenwick, unable to satisfy her, unable to re-establish his
own equilibrium, full of remorse towards her, and of despair about his
art, whereof the best forces and inspirations seemed to have withered
within him like a gourd in the night, went from one folly to another,
while his pictures steadily deteriorated, his affairs became involved,
and a shrewd observer like Lord Findon wondered who or what the deuce
had got hold of him - whether he had begun to take morphia - or had
fallen into the clutches of a woman.

In the midst of these developments, so astonishing and disappointing
to Fenwick's best friends, Eugénie de Pastourelles was suddenly
summoned to the death-bed of the husband from whom she had been
separated for nearly fifteen years. It was now nearly twelve months
since Fenwick had seen her; and it was his eagerness to meet her
again, much more than the necessities of his new commission, which
had brought him out post-haste to Paris and Versailles, where, indeed,
Lord Findon, in a kind letter, had suggested that he should join them.

* * * * *

Amid these memories and agitations, he found himself presently at
the Gare Saint-Lazare, taking his ticket at the _guichet_. It was
characteristic of him that he bought a first-class return without
thinking of it, and then, when he found himself pompously alone in
his compartment, while crowds were hurrying into the second-class, he
reproached himself for extravagance, and passed the whole journey in
a fume of discomfort. For eight or nine years he had been rich; and he
loathed the small ways of poverty.

Versailles was in the glow of an autumn sunset, as he walked from the
station to the famous Hôtel des Réservoirs on the edge of the Park.
The white houses, the wide avenues, the château on its hill, were
steeped in light - a light golden, lavish, and yet melancholy, as
though the autumn day still remembered the October afternoon when
Marie Antoinette turned to look for the last time at the lake and the
woods of Trianon.

As Fenwick crossed the Rue de la Paroisse, a lady on the other side of
the road, who was hurrying in the opposite direction, stopped suddenly
at sight of him, and stared excitedly. She was a woman no longer
young, much sunburnt, with high cheek-bones and a florid complexion.
He did not notice her, and after a moment's hesitation she resumed her

He went into the Park, where the statues shone flamelike amid the
bronze and orange of the trees, where the water of the fountains was
dyed in blue and rose, and all the faded magnificence and decaying
grace of the vast incomparable scene were kindling into an hour's rich
life, under the last attack of the sun. He wandered a while, restless
and unhappy - yet always counting the hours till he should see the
slight, worn figure which for a year had been hidden from him.

He dined in the well-known restaurant, wandered again in the mild
dusk, then mounted to his room and worked a while at some of the
sketches he was making for his new commission. While he was so
engaged, a carriage drew up below, and two persons descended. He
recognised Lord Findon, much aged and whitened in these last years.
The lady in deep mourning behind him paused a moment on the broad
pathway, and looked round her, at the hill of the château, at
the bright lights in the restaurant. She threw back her veil, and
Fenwick's heart leapt as he recognised the spiritual beauty, the
patient sweetness of a face which through twelve troubled years had
kept him from evil and held him to good - had been indeed 'the master

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Online LibraryMrs. Humphry WardFenwick's Career → online text (page 13 of 23)