It appeared with time at any rate to be to the brush that Lance had been born; for Mrs Mallow, one day when the boy was turning twenty, broke it to their friend, who shared, to the last delicate morsel, their problems and pains, that it seemed as if nothing would really do but that he should embrace the career. It had been impossible longer to remain blind to the fact that he was gaining no glory at Cambridge, where Brench’s own college had for a year tempered its tone to him as for Brench’s own sake. Therefore why renew the vain form of preparing him for the impossible? The impossible—it had become clear—was that he should be anything but an artist.
‘Oh dear, dear!’ said poor Peter.
‘Don’t you believe in it?’ asked Mrs Mallow, who still, at more than forty, had her violet velvet eyes, her creamy satin skin and her silken chestnut hair.
‘Believe in what?’
‘Why in Lance’s passion.’
’I don’t know what you mean by “believing in it”. I’ve never been unaware, certainly, of his disposition, from his earliest time, to daub and draw; but I confess I’ve hoped it would burn out.’
‘But why should it,’ she sweetly smiled, ’with his wonderful heredity? Passion is passion—though of course indeed you, dear Peter, know nothing of that. Has the Master’s ever burned out?’
Peter looked off a little and, in his familiar formless way, kept up for a moment, a sound between a smothered whistle and a subdued hum. ‘Do you think he’s going to be another Master?’
She seemed scarce prepared to go that length, yet she had on the whole a marvellous trust. ’I know what you mean by that. Will it be a career to incur the jealousies and provoke the machinations that have been at times almost too much for his father? Well—say it may be, since nothing but clap-trap, in these dreadful days, can, it would seem, make its way, and since, with the curse of refinement and distinction, one may easily find one’s self begging one’s bread. Put it at the worst—say he has the misfortune to wing his flight further than the vulgar taste of his stupid countrymen can follow. Think, all the same, of the happiness—the same the Master has had. He’ll know.’
Peter looked rueful. ‘Ah but what will he know?’
‘Quiet joy!’ cried Mrs Mallow, quite impatient and turning away.
He had of course before long to meet the boy himself on it and to hear that practically everything was settled. Lance was not to go up again, but to go instead to Paris where, since the die was cast, he would find the best advantages. Peter had always felt he must be taken as he was, but had never perhaps found him so much of that pattern as on this occasion. ’You chuck Cambridge then altogether? Doesn’t that seem rather a pity?’