The Bradshaws had begun to talk of leaving Naples, but this seemed to be the apology for enjoying themselves which is so characteristic of English people. Even Mrs. Bradshaw found her life from day to day very pleasant, and in consequence never saw her friends at the villa without expressing much uneasiness about affairs at home, and blaming her husband for making so long a stay. Both of them were now honoured with the special attention of Mr. Marsh. Clifford was never so much in his element as when conversing of art and kindred matters with persons who avowed their deficiencies in that sphere of knowledge, yet were willing to learn; relieved from the fear of criticism, he expanded, he glowed, he dogmatized. With Mrs. Lessingham he could not be entirely at his ease; her eye was occasionally disturbing to a pretender who did not lack discernment. But in walking about the museum with Mr. Bradshaw, he was the most brilliant of ciceroni. Jacob was not wholly credulous, for he had spoken of the young man with Mrs. Lessingham, but he found such companionship entertaining enough from time to time, and Clifford’s knowledge of Italian was occasionally a help to him.
A day or two of moderate intimacy with any person whatsoever always led Clifford to a revelation of his private circumstances; it was not long before Mr. Bradshaw was informed not only of Mr. Hibbert’s harshness, but of the painful treatment to which Clifford was being subjected at the hands of Mrs. Denyer and Madeline. The latter point was handled with a good deal of tact, for Clifford had it in view’ that through Mr. Bradshaw his words would one way or other reach Mrs. Lessingham, and so perchance come to Miss Doran’s ears. He made no unworthy charges; he spoke not in anger, but in sorrow; he was misunderstood, he was depreciated, by those who should have devoted themselves to supporting his courage under adversity. And as he talked, he became the embodiment of calm magnanimity; the rhetoric which was meant to impress his listener had an exalting effect upon himself—as usual.
“You mean to hold out, then?” asked the bluff Jacob, with a smile which all but became a chuckle.
“I am an artist,” was the noble reply. “I cannot abandon my life’s work.”
“But how about bread and cheese? They are necessary to an artist, as much as to other men, I’m afraid.”
Clifford smiled calmly.
“I shall not be the first who has starved in such a cause.”
Jacob roared as he related this conversation to his wife.
“I must keep an eye on the lad,” he said. “When I hear he’s given in, I’ll write him a letter of congratulation.”
PROOF AGAINST ILLUSION
An interesting conversation took place one morning between Mrs. Spence and Mrs. Lessingham with regard to Cecily. They were alone together at the villa; Cecily and Miriam had gone for a drive with the Bradshaws. After speaking of Reuben Elgar, Mrs. Lessingham passed rather abruptly to what seemed a disconnected subject.