“That lady, monsieur?” he gasped, checking himself at the young man’s side and gazing after the trap, “that is Madame d’Armand.”
“Madame d’Armand,” Saffren repeated the name slowly. “Her name is Madame d’Armand.”
“Yes, monsieur,” said Amedee complacently; “it is an American lady who has married a French nobleman.”
Like most painters, I have supposed the tools of my craft harder to manipulate than those of others. The use of words, particularly, seemed readier, handier for the contrivance of effects than pigments. I thought the language of words less elusive than that of colour, leaving smaller margin for unintended effects; and, believing in complacent good faith that words conveyed exact meanings exactly, it was my innocent conception that almost anything might be so described in words that all who read must inevitably perceive that thing precisely. If this were true, there would be little work for the lawyers, who produce such tortured pages in the struggle to be definite, who swing riches from one family to another, save men from violent death or send them to it, and earn fortunes for themselves through the dangerous inadequacies of words. I have learned how great was my mistake, and now I am wishing I could shift paper for canvas, that I might paint the young man who came to interest me so deeply. I wish I might present him here in colour instead of trusting to this unstable business of words, so wily and undependable, with their shimmering values, that you cannot turn your back upon them for two minutes but they will be shouting a hundred things which they were not meant to tell.
To make the best of necessity: what I have written of him—my first impressions—must be taken as the picture, although it be but a gossamer sketch in the air, instead of definite work with well-ground pigments to show forth a portrait, to make you see flesh and blood. It must take the place of something contrived with my own tools to reveal what the following days revealed him to me, and what it was about him (evasive of description) which made me so soon, as Keredec wished, his friend.
Life among our kin and kind is made pleasanter by our daily platitudes. Who is more tedious than the man incessantly struggling to avoid the banal? Nature rules that such a one will produce nothing better than epigram and paradox, saying old, old things in a new way, or merely shifting object for subject—and his wife’s face, when he shines for a circle, is worth a glance. With no further apology, I declare that I am a person who has felt few positive likes or dislikes for people in this life, and I did deeply like my fellow-lodgers at Les Trois Pigeons. Liking for both men increased with acquaintance, and for the younger I came to feel, in addition, a kind of championship, doubtless in some measure due to what Keredec had told me of him, but more to that half-humourous sense of protectiveness that we always have for those young people whose untempered and innocent outlook makes us feel, as we say, “a thousand years old.”