‘Which is exactly what Peter,’ Mrs Mallow gaily returned—’why in the world were you so perverse, Peter?—wouldn’t, when he told him, hear of.’
Peter, when this lady looked at him with accusatory affection—a grace on her part not infrequent—could never find a word; but the Master, who was always all amenity and tact, helped him out now as he had often helped him before. ’That’s his old idea, you know—on which we’ve so often differed: his theory that the artist should be all impulse and instinct. I go in of course for a certain amount of school. Not too much—but a due proportion. There’s where his protest came in,’ he continued to explain to his wife, ’as against what might, don’t you see? be in question for Lance.’
’Ah well’—and Mrs Mallow turned the violet eyes across the table at the subject of this discourse—’he’s sure to have meant of course nothing but good. Only that wouldn’t have prevented him, if Lance had taken his advice, from being in effect horribly cruel.’
They had a sociable way of talking of him to his face as if he had been in the clay or—at most—in the plaster, and the Master was unfailingly generous. He might have been waving Egidio to make him revolve. ’Ah but poor Peter wasn’t so wrong as to what it may after all come to that he will learn.’
‘Oh but nothing artistically bad,’ she urged—still, for poor Peter, arch and dewy.
‘Why just the little French tricks,’ said the Master: on which their friend had to pretend to admit, when pressed by Mrs Mallow, that these aesthetic vices had been the objects of his dread.
‘I know now,’ Lance said to him the next year, ’why you were so much against it.’ He had come back supposedly for a mere interval and was looking about him at Carrara Lodge, where indeed he had already on two or three occasions since his expatriation briefly reappeared. This had the air of a longer holiday. ’Something rather awful has happened to me. It isn’t so very good to know.’
‘I’m bound to say high spirits don’t show in your face,’ Peter was rather ruefully forced to confess. ’Still, are you very sure you do know?’
‘Well, I at least know about as much as I can bear.’ These remarks were exchanged in Peter’s den, and the young man, smoking cigarettes, stood before the fire with his back against the mantel. Something of his bloom seemed really to have left him.
Poor Peter wondered. ’You’re clear then as to what in particular I wanted you not to go for?’
‘In particular?’ Lance thought. ’It seems to me that in particular there can have been only one thing.’
They stood for a little sounding each other. ‘Are you quite sure?’
‘Quite sure I’m a beastly duffer? Quite—by this time.’
’Oh!’—and Peter turned away as if almost with relief.