And the young man? Doris perceived at once his likeness to his father—a feeble likeness. But he was evidently simple and good-natured, and to all appearance completely in the power of the enchantress. He fanned her assiduously. He picked up all the various belongings—gloves, handkerchiefs, handbag—which she perpetually let fall. He ran after the dog whenever it escaped from the lady’s lap and threatened mischief in the studio; and by way of amusing her—the purpose for which he had been imported—he kept up a stream of small cryptic gossip about various common acquaintances, most of whom seemed to belong to the music-hall profession, and to be either “stars” or the satellites of “stars.” Madame listened to him with avidity, and occasionally broke into a giggling laugh. She had, however, two manners, and two kinds of conversation, which she adopted with the young man and the Academician respectively. Her talk with the youth suggested the jealous ascendency of a coarse-minded woman. She occasionally flattered him, but more generally she teased or “ragged” him. She seemed indeed to feel him securely in her grip; so that there was no need to pose for him, as—figuratively as well as physically—she posed for Bentley. To the artist she gave her opinions on pictures or books—on the novels of Mr. Wells, or the plays of Mr. Bernard Shaw—in the languid or drawling tone of accepted authority; dropping every now and then into a broad cockney accent, which produced a startling effect, like that of unexpected garlic in cookery. Bentley’s gravity was often severely tried, and Doris altered the position of her own easel so that he and she could not see each other. Meanwhile Madame took not the smallest notice of Mr. Bentley’s niece, and Doris made no advances to the young man, to whom her name was clearly quite unknown. Had Circe really got him in her toils? Doris judged him soft-headed and soft-hearted; no match at all for the lady. The thought of her walking the lawns or the drawing-rooms of Crosby Ledgers as the betrothed of the heir stirred in Arthur Meadows’s wife a silent, and—be it confessed!—a malicious convulsion. Such mothers, so self-centred, so set on their own triumphs, with their intellectual noses so very much in the clouds, deserved such sons! She promised herself to keep her own counsel, and watch the play.
The sitting lasted for two hours. When it was over, Uncle Charles, all smiles and satisfaction, went with his visitors to the front door.
He was away some little time, and returned, bubbling, to the studio.
“She’s been cross-examining me about her poems! I had to confess I hadn’t read a word of them. And now she’s offered to recite next time she comes! Good Heavens—how can I get out of it? I believe, Doris, she’s hooked that young idiot! She told me she was engaged to him. Do you know anything of his people?”
The girl accountant suddenly came forward. She looked flushed and distressed.