He received the telegram from Noel in the afternoon of the same day, just as he was about to set out for Leila’s to get news of her; and close on the top of it came Lavendie. He found the painter standing disconsolate in front of his picture.
“Mademoiselle has deserted me?”
“I’m afraid we shall all desert you soon, monsieur.”
“You are going?”
“Yes, I am leaving here. I hope to go to France.”
“She is at the sea with my son-in-law.”
The painter ran his hands through his hair, but stopped them half-way, as if aware that he was being guilty of ill-breeding.
“Mon dieu!” he said: “Is this not a calamity for you, monsieur le cure?” But his sense of the calamity was so patently limited to his unfinished picture that Pierson could not help a smile.
“Ah, monsieur!” said the painter, on whom nothing was lost. “Comme je suis egoiste! I show my feelings; it is deplorable. My disappointment must seem a bagatelle to you, who will be so distressed at leaving your old home. This must be a time of great trouble. Believe me; I understand. But to sympathise with a grief which is not shown would be an impertinence, would it not? You English gentlefolk do not let us share your griefs; you keep them to yourselves.”
Pierson stared. “True,” he said. “Quite true!”
“I am no judge of Christianity, monsieur, but for us artists the doors of the human heart stand open, our own and others. I suppose we have no pride—c’est tres-indelicat. Tell me, monsieur, you would not think it worthy of you to speak to me of your troubles, would you, as I have spoken of mine?”