“Heavens!” Kendal cried, as if the contingency had been physically impossible. “It is a man’s privilege to fall in love with a woman, darling—not with an incarnate idea.”
“It’s a very beautiful idea.”
“I’m not sure of that—it looks well from the outside. But it is quite incapable of any growth or much, change,” Kendal went on musingly, “and in the end—Lord, how a man would be bored!”
“You are incapable of being fair to her,” came from the coat collar.
“Perhaps. I have something else to think of—since yesterday. Janet, look up!”
She looked up, and for a little space Elfrida Bell found oblivion as complete as she could have desired between them. Then—
“You were telling me—” Janet said.
“Yes. Your Elfrida and I had a sort of friendship too—it began, as you know, in Paris. And I was quite aware that one does not have an ordinary friendship with her—it accedes and it exacts more than the common relation. And I’ve sometimes made myself uncomfortable with the idea that she gave me credit for a more faultless conception of her than I possessed; for the honest, brutal truth is, I’m afraid, that I’ve only been working her out. When the portrait was finished I found that somehow I had succeeded. She saw it, too, and so I fancy my false position has righted itself. So I haven’t been sincere to her either, Janet. But my conscience seems fairly callous about it. I can’t help reflecting that we are to other people pretty much what they deserve that we shall be. We can’t control our own respect.”
“I’ve lost hers,” Janet repeated, with depression, and Kendal gave an impatient groan.
“I don’t think you’ll miss it,” he said.
“And, Jack, haven’t you any—compunctions about exhibiting that portrait?”
“Absolutely none.” He looked at her with candid eyes. “Of course if she wished me to I would destroy it. I respect her property in it so far as that. But so long as she accepts it as the significant truth it is, I am entirely incapable of regretting it. I have painted her, with her permission, as I saw her, as she is. If I had given her a, squint or a dimple, I could accuse myself; but I have not wronged her or gratified myself by one touch of misrepresentation.”
“I am to see it this afternoon,” said Janet. Unconsciously she was looking forward to finding some measure of justification for herself in the portrait; why, it would be difficult to say.
“Yes; I put it into its frame with my own hands yesterday. I don’t know when anything has given me so much pleasure. And so far as Miss Bell is concerned,” he went on, “it is an unpleasant thing to say, but one’s acquaintance with her seems more and more to resolve itself into an opportunity for observation, and to be without significance other than that. I tell you frankly I began to see that when I found I shared what she called her friendship with Golightly Ticke. And I think, dear, with people like you and me, any more serious feeling toward her is impossible.”