“Distinction”—Mrs. Durrant said that Jacob Flanders was “distinguished-looking.” “Extremely awkward,” she said, “but so distinguished-looking.” Seeing him for the first time that no doubt is the word for him. Lying back in his chair, taking his pipe from his lips, and saying to Bonamy: “About this opera now” (for they had done with indecency). “This fellow Wagner” ... distinction was one of the words to use naturally, though, from looking at him, one would have found it difficult to say which seat in the opera house was his, stalls, gallery, or dress circle. A writer? He lacked self-consciousness. A painter? There was something in the shape of his hands (he was descended on his mother’s side from a family of the greatest antiquity and deepest obscurity) which indicated taste. Then his mouth—but surely, of all futile occupations this of cataloguing features is the worst. One word is sufficient. But if one cannot find it?
“I like Jacob Flanders,” wrote Clara Durrant in her diary. “He is so unworldly. He gives himself no airs, and one can say what one likes to him, though he’s frightening because ...” But Mr. Letts allows little space in his shilling diaries. Clara was not the one to encroach upon Wednesday. Humblest, most candid of women! “No, no, no,” she sighed, standing at the greenhouse door, “don’t break—don’t spoil”—what? Something infinitely wonderful.
But then, this is only a young woman’s language, one, too, who loves, or refrains from loving. She wished the moment to continue for ever precisely as it was that July morning. And moments don’t. Now, for instance, Jacob was telling a story about some walking tour he’d taken, and the inn was called “The Foaming Pot,” which, considering the landlady’s name ... They shouted with laughter. The joke was indecent.
Then Julia Eliot said “the silent young man,” and as she dined with Prime Ministers, no doubt she meant: “If he is going to get on in the world, he will have to find his tongue.”
Timothy Durrant never made any comment at all.
The housemaid found herself very liberally rewarded.
Mr. Sopwith’s opinion was as sentimental as Clara’s, though far more skilfully expressed.
Betty Flanders was romantic about Archer and tender about John; she was unreasonably irritated by Jacob’s clumsiness in the house.
Captain Barfoot liked him best of the boys; but as for saying why ...
It seems then that men and women are equally at fault. It seems that a profound, impartial, and absolutely just opinion of our fellow-creatures is utterly unknown. Either we are men, or we are women. Either we are cold, or we are sentimental. Either we are young, or growing old. In any case life is but a procession of shadows, and God knows why it is that we embrace them so eagerly, and see them depart with such anguish, being shadows. And why, if this—and much more than this is true, why are we yet surprised in the window corner by a sudden vision that the young man in the chair is of all things in the world the most real, the most solid, the best known to us—why indeed? For the moment after we know nothing about him.