It is not probable that Antony felt any very strong affection for his new wife, beautiful and gentle as she was. A man, in fact, who had led such a life as his had been, must have become by this time incapable of any strong and pure attachment. He, however, was pleased with the novelty of his acquisition, and seemed to forget for a time the loss of Cleopatra. He remained with Octavia a year. After that he went away on certain military enterprises which kept him some time from her. He returned again, and again he went away. All this time Octavia’s influence over him and over her brother was of the most salutary and excellent character. She soothed their animosities, quieted their suspicions and jealousies, and at one time, when they were on the brink of open war, she effected a reconciliation between them by the most courageous and energetic, and at the same time, gentle and unassuming efforts. At the time of this danger she was with her husband in Greece; but she persuaded him to send her to her brother at Rome, saying that she was confident that she could arrange a settlement of the difficulties impending. Antony allowed her to go. She proceeded to Rome, and procured an interview with her brother in the presence of his two principal officers of state. Here she pleaded her husband’s cause with tears in her eyes; she defended his conduct, explained what seemed to be against him, and entreated her brother not to take such a course as should cast her down from being the happiest of women to being the most miserable. “Consider the circumstances of my case,” said she. “The eyes of the world are upon me. Of the two most powerful men in the world, I am the wife of one and the sister of another. If you allow rash counsels to go on and war to ensue, I am hopelessly ruined; for, whichever is conquered, my husband or my brother, my own happiness will be for ever gone.”
The populous smoking-room was the one part of the club where talking with a natural loudness was not a crime. Mr. Oxford found a corner fairly free from midgets, and they established themselves in it, and liqueurs and cigars accompanied the coffee. You could actually see midgets laughing outright in the mist of smoke; the chatter narrowly escaped being a din; and at intervals a diminutive boy entered and bawled the name of a midget at the top of his voice, Priam was suddenly electrified, and Mr. Oxford, very alert, noticed the electrification.
Mr. Oxford drank his coffee somewhat quickly, and then he leaned forward a little over the table, and put his moon-like face nearer to Priam’s, and arranged his legs in a truly comfortable position beneath the table, and expelled a large quantity of smoke from his cigar. It was clearly the preliminary to a scene of confidence, the approach to the crisis to which he had for several hours been leading up.
Because I’ve bought a goodish few Farlls in my time,” Mr. Oxford continued, “and I must say I’ve sold them well. I’ve only got that one left that I showed you this morning, and I’ve been wondering whether I should stick to it and wait for a possible further rise, or sell it at once.
You would? Well, perhaps you’re right. It’s a question, in my mind, whether some other painter may not turn up one of these days who would do that sort of thing even better than Farll did it. I could imagine the possibility of a really clever man coming along and imitating Farll so well that only people like yourself, _maitre_, and perhaps me, could tell the difference. It’s just the kind of work that might be brilliantly imitated, if the imitator was clever enough, don’t you think?
Well,” said Mr. Oxford vaguely, “one never knows. The style might be imitated, and the market flooded with canvases practically as good as Farll’s. Nobody might find it out for quite a long time, and then there might be confusion in the public mind, followed by a sharp fall in prices. And the beauty of it is that the public wouldn’t really be any the worse. Because an imitation that no one can distinguish from the original is naturally as good as the original. You take me? There’s certainly a tremendous chance for a man who could seize it, and that’s why I’m inclined to accept your advice and sell my one remaining Farll.
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The thrilling voices of the choristers grew louder, and as they grew louder Priam Farll was conscious of unaccustomed phenomena in his throat, which shut and opened of itself convulsively. To divert his attention from his throat, he partially rose from the windsor chair, and peeped over the parapet of the screen into the choir, whose depths were candlelit and whose altitudes were capriciously bathed by the intermittent splendours of the sun. High, high up, in front of him, at the summit of a precipice of stone, a little window, out of the sunshine, burned sullenly in a gloom of complicated perspectives. And far below, stretched round the pulpit and disappearing among the forest of statuary in the transept, was a floor consisting of the heads of the privileged–famous, renowned, notorious, by heredity, talent, enterprise, or hazard; he had read many of their names in the _Daily Telegraph_. The voices of the choristers had become piercing in their beauty. Priam frankly stood up, and leaned over the parapet. Every gaze was turned to a point under him which he could not see. And then something swayed from beneath into the field of his vision. It was a tall cross borne by a beadle. In the wake of the cross there came to view gorgeous ecclesiastics in pairs, and then a robed man walking backwards and gesticulating in the manner of some important, excited official of the Salvation Army; and after this violet robe arrived the scarlet choristers, singing to the beat of his gesture. And then swung into view the coffin, covered with a heavy purple pall, and on the pall a single white cross; and the pall-bearers–great European names that had hurried out of the corners of Europe as at a peremptory mandate– with Duncan Farll to complete the tale!
Was it the coffin, or the richness of its pall, or the solitary whiteness of its cross of flowers, or the august authority of the bearers, that affected Priam Farll like a blow on the heart? Who knows? But the fact was that he could look no more; the scene was too much for him. Had he continued to look he would have burst uncontrollably into tears. It mattered not that the corpse of a common rascally valet lay under that pall; it mattered not that a grotesque error was being enacted; it mattered not whether the actuating spring of the immense affair was the Dean’s water-colouring niece or the solemn deliberations of the Chapter; it mattered not that newspapers had ignobly misused the name and honour of art for their own advancement–the instant effect was overwhelmingly impressive. All that had been honest and sincere in the heart of England for a thousand years leapt mystically up and made it impossible that the effect should be other than overwhelmingly impressive. It was an effect beyond argument and reason; it was the magic flowering of centuries in a single moment, the silent awful sigh of a nation’s saecular soul. It took majesty and loveliness from the walls around it, and rendered them again tenfold. It left nothing common, neither the motives nor the littleness of men. In Priam’s mind it gave dignity to Lady Sophia Entwistle, and profound tragedy to the death of Leek; it transformed even the gestures of the choir-leader into grave commands.
Every one naturally expected that in the following year the mysterious Priam Farll would, in accordance with the universal rule for a successful career in British art, contribute another portrait of another policeman to the New Gallery–and so on for about twenty years, at the end of which period England would have learnt to recognize him as its favourite painter of policemen. But Priam Farll contributed nothing to the New Gallery. He had apparently forgotten the New Gallery: which was considered to be ungracious, if not ungrateful, on his part. Instead, he adorned the Paris salon with a large seascape showing penguins in the foreground. Now these penguins became the penguins of the continental year; they made penguins the fashionable bird in Paris, and also (twelve months later) in London. The French Government offered to buy the picture on behalf of the Republic at its customary price of five hundred francs, but Priam Farll sold it to the American connoisseur Whitney C. Whitt for five thousand dollars. Shortly afterwards he sold the policeman, whom he had kept by him, to the same connoisseur for ten thousand dollars. Whitney C. Whitt was the expert who had paid two hundred thousand dollars for a Madonna and St. Joseph, with donor, of Raphael. The enterprising journal before mentioned calculated that, counting the space actually occupied on the canvas by the policeman, the daring connoisseur had expended two guineas per square inch on the policeman.
Though the query remained unanswered, Priam Farll’s reputation was henceforward absolutely assured, and this in spite of the fact that he omitted to comply with the regulations ordained by English society for the conduct of successful painters. He ought, first, to have taken the elementary precaution of being born in the United States. He ought, after having refused all interviews for months, to have ultimately granted a special one to a newspaper with the largest circulation. He ought to have returned to England, grown a mane and a tufted tail, and become the king of beasts; or at least to have made a speech at a banquet about the noble and purifying mission of art. Assuredly he ought to have painted the portrait of his father or grandfather as an artisan, to prove that he was not a snob. But no! Not content with making each of his pictures utterly different from all the others, he neglected all the above formalities–and yet managed to pile triumph on triumph. There are some men of whom it may be said that, like a punter on a good day, they can’t do wrong. Priam Farll was one such. In a few years he had become a legend, a standing side-dish of a riddle. No one knew him; no one saw him; no one married him. Constantly abroad, he was ever the subject of conflicting rumours. Parfitts themselves, his London agents, knew naught of him but his handwriting–on the backs of cheques in four figures. They sold an average of five large and five small pictures for him every year. These pictures arrived out of the unknown and the cheques went into the unknown.
So he does it, though still with an indignant gravity that impresses the young Bagnets, and even causes Mr. Bagnet to defer the ceremony of drinking Mrs. Bagnet’s health, always given by himself on these occasions in a speech of exemplary terseness. But the young ladies having composed what Mr. Bagnet is in the habit of calling “the mixtur,” and George’s pipe being now in a glow, Mr. Bagnet considers it his duty to proceed to the toast of the evening. He addresses the assembled company in the following terms.
The toast having been drunk with enthusiasm, Mrs. Bagnet returns thanks in a neat address of corresponding brevity. This model composition is limited to the three words “And wishing yours!” which the old girl follows up with a nod at everybody in succession and a well-regulated swig of the mixture. This she again follows up, on the present occasion, by the wholly unexpected exclamation, “Here’s a man!”
Here IS a man, much to the astonishment of the little company, looking in at the parlour-door. He is a sharp-eyed man–a quick keen man–and he takes in everybody’s look at him, all at once, individually and collectively, in a manner that stamps him a remarkable man.
“Yes,” says the man, coming in and closing the door. “I was going down the street here when I happened to stop and look in at the musical instruments in the shop-window–a friend of mine is in want of a second-hand wiolinceller of a good tone–and I saw a party enjoying themselves, and I thought it was you in the corner; I thought I couldn’t be mistaken. How goes the world with you, George, at the present moment? Pretty smooth? And with you, ma’am? And with you, governor? And Lord,” says Mr. Bucket, opening his arms, “here’s children too! You may do anything with me if you only show me children. Give us a kiss, my pets. No occasion to inquire who YOUR father and mother is. Never saw such a likeness in my life!”
Mr. Bucket, not unwelcome, has sat himself down next to Mr. George and taken Quebec and Malta on his knees. “You pretty dears,” says Mr. Bucket, “give us another kiss; it’s the only thing I’m greedy in. Lord bless you, how healthy you look! And what may be the ages of these two, ma’am? I should put ‘em down at the figures of about eight and ten.”
It is not necessary,” observes my Lady in her coldest manner before he can do anything but breathe amazedly, “to enter into these matters on either side. The girl is a very good girl; I have nothing whatever to say against her, but she is so far insensible to her many advantages and her good fortune that she is in love–or supposes she is, poor little fool–and unable to appreciate them.”
As Sir Leicester observed, Mr. Rouncewell, on the last occasion when we were fatigued by this business,” Lady Dedlock languidly proceeds, “we cannot make conditions with you. Without conditions, and under present circumstances, the girl is quite misplaced here and had better go. I have told her so. Would you wish to have her sent back to the village, or would you like to take her with filagra jelly you, or what would you prefer?
Sir Leicester, will you ring?” Mr. Tulkinghorn steps forward from his window and pulls the bell. “I had forgotten you. Thank you.” He makes his usual bow and goes quietly back again. Mercury, swift-responsive, appears, receives instructions whom to produce, skims away, produces the aforesaid, and departs.
Why, she is not well-bred, you see,” returns Mr. Rouncewell with some quickness in his manner, as if he were glad to have the lawyer to retort upon, “and she is an inexperienced little thing and knows no better. If she had remained here, sir, she would have improved, no doubt.”
Rosa sobs out that she is very sorry to leave my Lady, and that she was happy at Chesney Wold, and has been happy with my Lady, and that she thanks my Lady over and over again. “Out, you silly little puss!” says the ironmaster, checking her in a low voice, though not angrily. “Have a spirit, if you’re fond of Watt!” My Lady merely waves her off with indifference, saying, “There, there, child! You are a good girl. Go away!” Sir Leicester has magnificently disengaged himself from the subject and retired into the sanctuary of his blue coat. Mr. Tulkinghorn, an indistinct form against the dark street now dotted with lamps, looms in my Lady’s view, bigger and blacker than before.
No, Dame Durden! Two subjects I forbid–must forbid. The first is John Jarndyce. The second, you know what. Call it madness, and I tell you I can’t help it now, and can’t be sane. But it is no such thing; it is the one object I have to pursue. It is a pity I ever was prevailed upon to turn out of my road for any other. It would be wisdom to abandon it now, after all the time, anxiety, and pains I have bestowed upon it! Oh, yes, true wisdom. It would be very agreeable, too, to some people; but I never will.
He was in that mood in which I thought it best not to increase his determination (if anything could increase it) by opposing him. I took out Ada’s letter and put it in his hand.
As I told him yes, he laid it on the table, and resting his head upon his hand, began. He had not read far when he rested his head upon his two hands–to hide his face from me. In a little while he rose as if the light were bad and went to the window. He finished reading it there, with his back towards me, and after he had finished and had folded it up, stood there for some minutes with the letter in his hand. When he came back to his chair, I saw tears in his eyes.
Offers me,” he went on, tapping his foot upon the floor, “the little inheritance she is certain of so soon–just as little and as much as I have wasted–and begs and prays me to take it, set myself right with it, and remain in the service.
He went back to the window, and laying his arm across it, leaned his head down on his arm. It greatly affected me to see him so, but I hoped he might become more yielding, and I remained silent. My experience was very limited; I was not at all prepared for his rousing himself out of this emotion to a new sense of injury.
And this is the heart that the same John Jarndyce, who is not otherwise to be mentioned between us, stepped in to estrange from me,” said he indignantly. “And the dear girl makes me this generous offer from under the same John Jarndyce’s roof, and with the same John Jarndyce’s gracious consent and connivance, I dare say, as a new means of buying me off.”
“Richard!” I cried out, rising hastily. “I will not hear you say such shameful words!” I was very angry with him indeed, for the first time in my life, but it only lasted a moment. When I saw his worn young face looking at me as if he were sorry, I put my hand on his shoulder and said, “If you please, my dear Richard, do not speak in such a tone to me. Consider!”
You see, the foreign female–which you mentioned her name just now, with quite a native sound I am sure–caught up the word Snagsby that night, being uncommon quick, and made inquiry, and got the direction and come at dinner-time. Now Guster, our young woman, is timid and has fits, and she, taking fright at the foreigner’s looks–which are fierce–and at a grinding manner that she has of speaking–which is calculated to alarm a weak mind–gave way to it, instead of bearing up against it, and tumbled down the kitchen stairs out of one into another, such fits as I do sometimes think are never gone into, or come out of, in any house but ours. Consequently there was by good fortune ample occupation for my little woman, and only me to answer the shop. When she DID say that Mr. Tulkinghorn, being always denied to her by his employer (which I had no doubt at the time was a foreign mode of viewing a clerk), she would do herself the pleasure of continually calling at my place until she was let in here. Since then she has been, as I began by saying, hovering, hovering, sir”–Mr. Snagsby repeats the word with pathetic emphasis–”in the court. The effects of which movement it is impossible to calculate. I shouldn’t wonder if it might have already given rise to the painfullest mistakes even in the neighbours’ minds, not mentioning (if such a thing was possible) my little woman. Whereas, goodness knows,” says Mr. Snagsby, shaking his head, “I never had an idea of a foreign female, except as being formerly connected with a bunch of brooms and a baby, or at the present time with a tambourine and earrings. I never had, I do assure you, sir!”
Mr. Snagsby, with much bowing and short apologetic coughing, takes his leave, lightened in heart. Mr. Tulkinghorn goes upstairs, saying to himself, “These women were created to give trouble the whole earth over. The mistress not being enough to deal with, here’s the maid now! But I will be short with THIS jade at least!”
So saying, he unlocks his door, gropes his way into his murky rooms, lights his candles, and looks about him. It is too dark to see much of the Allegory overhead there, but that importunate Roman, who is for ever toppling out of the clouds and pointing, is at his old work pretty distinctly. Not honouring him with much attention, Mr. Tulkinghorn takes a small key from his pocket, unlocks a drawer in which there is another key, which unlocks a chest in which there is another, and so comes to the cellar-key, with which he prepares to descend to the regions of old wine. He is going towards the door with a candle in his hand when a knock comes.
While they are so conversing, a hackney-coach drives into the square, on the box of which vehicle a very tall hat makes itself manifest to the public. Inside the coach, and consequently not so manifest to the multitude, though sufficiently so to the two friends, for the coach stops almost at their feet, are the venerable Mr. Smallweed and Mrs. Smallweed, accompanied by their granddaughter Judy.
An air of haste and excitement pervades the party, and as the tall hat (surmounting Mr. Smallweed the younger) alights, Mr. Smallweed the elder pokes his head out of window and bawls to Mr. Guppy, “How de do, sir! How de do!”
There’s your fare!” says the patriarch to the coachman with a fierce grin and shaking his incapable fist at him. “Ask me for a penny more, and I’ll have my lawful revenge upon you. My dear young men, be easy with me, if you please. Allow me to catch you round the neck. I won’t squeeze you tighter than I can help. Oh, Lord! Oh, dear me! Oh, my bones!
It is well that the Sol is not far off, for Mr. Weevle presents an apoplectic appearance before half the distance is accomplished. With no worse aggravation of his symptoms, however, than the utterance of divers croaking sounds expressive of obstructed respiration, he fulils his share of the porterage and the benevolent old gentleman is deposited by his own desire in the parlour of the Sol’s Arms.
This little apostrophe to Mrs. Smallweed is occasioned by a propensity on the part of that unlucky old lady whenever she finds herself on her feet to amble about and “set” to inanimate objects, accompanying herself with a chattering noise, as in a witch dance. A nervous affection has probably as much to do with these demonstrations as any imbecile intention in the poor old woman, but on the present occasion they are so particularly lively in connexion with the Windsor arm-chair, fellow to that in which Mr. Smallweed is seated, that she only quite desists when her grandchildren have held her down in it, her lord in the meanwhile bestowing upon her, with great volubility, the endearing epithet of “a pig-headed jackdaw,” repeated a surprising number of times.