The egregious Miss Bashkirtseff did not greatly fascinate Esther. Her egotism was too hard, too self-bounded, even for egotism, and there was generally about her a lack of sympathy. Her passion for fame had something provincial in its eagerness, and her broadest ideals seemed to become limited by her very anxiety to compass them. Even her love of art seemed a form of snobbery. In all these young Mesuriers there was implicit,—partly as a bye-product of the sense of humour, and partly as an unconscious mysticism,—a surprising instinct for allowing the successes of this world their proper value and no more. Even Esther, who was perhaps the most worldly of them all, and whose ambitions were largely social, as became a bonny girl whom nature had marked out to be popular, and on whom, some day when Mike was a great actor,—and had a theatre of his own!—would devolve the cares of populous “at home” days, bright after-the-performance suppers, and all the various diplomacies of the popular wife of fame,—even Esther, however brilliant her life might become, would never for a moment imagine that such success was a thing worth winning, at the expense of the smallest loss to such human realities as the affection she felt for Mike and Henry. To love some one well and faithfully, to be one of a little circle vowed to eternal fidelity one to the other,—such was the initial success of these young lives; and it was to make them all their days safe from the dangers of more meretricious successes.
All the same, though the chief performer in Marie Bashkirtseff’s “Confessions” interested her but little, the stage on which for a little while she had scolded and whimpered did interest her—for should it not have been her stage too, and Henry’s stage, and Dot’s stage, father’s and mother’s stage too? You had only to look at father to realise that nature had really meant him for the great stage; here in Sidon, what was he but a god in exile, bending great powers and a splendid character upon ridiculously unimportant interests? Indeed, was not his destiny, more or less, their destiny as a family? Henry would escape from it through literature, and she through Mike. But what of Dot, what of Mat, not yet to speak of “the children”?
All she envied Marie Bashkirtseff was her opportunity. Great Goddess Opportunity! So much had come to Marie in the cradle, and came daily to a hundred thousand insignificant aristocratic babes, to approach which for the Mesuriers, even ten years too late, meant convulsions of the home, and to attain which in any satisfactory degree was probably impossible. French, for example, and music! Why, if so disposed, Marie Bashkirtseff might have read old French romances at ten, and to play Chopin at an earlier age was not surprising in the opportunitied, so-called “aristocratic” infant. Oh, why had they not been born like the other Sidonians, whose natures and ideals had been mercifully calculated to the meridian of Sidon!