The Marriage of Phaedra by Willa Cather
The sequence of events was such that MacMaster did not make his pilgrimage
to Hugh Treffinger's studio until three years after that painter's death.
MacMaster was himself a painter, an American of the Gallicized type, who
spent his winters in New York, his summers in Paris, and no inconsiderable
amount of time on the broad waters between. He had often contemplated
stopping in London on one of his return trips in the late autumn, but he
had always deferred leaving Paris until the prick of necessity drove him
home by the quickest and shortest route.
Treffinger was a comparatively young man at the time of his death, and
there had seemed no occasion for haste until haste was of no avail. Then,
possibly, though there had been some correspondence between them,
MacMaster felt certain qualms about meeting in the flesh a man who in the
flesh was so diversely reported. His intercourse with Treffinger's work
had been so deep and satisfying, so apart from other appreciations, that
he rather dreaded a critical juncture of any sort. He had always felt
himself singularly inept in personal relations, and in this case he had
avoided the issue until it was no longer to be feared or hoped for. There
still remained, however, Treffinger's great unfinished picture, the Marriage
of Phaedra, which had never left his studio, and of which MacMaster's
friends had now and again brought report that it was the painter's most
The young man arrived in London in the evening, and the next morning went
out to Kensington to find Treffinger's studio. It lay in one of the
perplexing bystreets off Holland Road, and the number he found on a door
set in a high garden wall, the top of which was covered with broken green
glass and over which a budding lilac bush nodded. Treffinger's plate was
still there, and a card requesting visitors to ring for the attendant. In
response to MacMaster's ring, the door was opened by a cleanly built
little man, clad in a shooting jacket and trousers that had been made for
an ampler figure. He had a fresh complexion, eyes of that common uncertain
shade of gray, and was closely shaven except for the incipient muttonchops
on his ruddy cheeks. He bore himself in a manner strikingly capable, and
there was a sort of trimness and alertness about him, despite the
too-generous shoulders of his coat. In one hand he held a bulldog pipe,
and in the other a copy of Sporting Life. While MacMaster was
explaining the purpose of his call he noticed that the man surveyed him
critically, though not impertinently. He was admitted into a little tank
of a lodge made of whitewashed stone, the back door and windows opening
upon a garden. A visitor's book and a pile of catalogues lay on a deal
table, together with a bottle of ink and some rusty pens. The wall was
ornamented with photographs and colored prints of racing favorites.
"The studio is h'only open to the public on Saturdays and Sundays,"
explained the man—he referred to himself as "Jymes"—"but of
course we make exceptions in the case of pynters. Lydy Elling Treffinger
'erself is on the Continent, but Sir 'Ugh's orders was that pynters was to
'ave the run of the place." He selected a key from his pocket and threw
open the door into the studio which, like the lodge, was built against the
wall of the garden.
MacMaster entered a long, narrow room, built of smoothed planks, painted a
light green; cold and damp even on that fine May morning. The room was
utterly bare of furniture—unless a stepladder, a model throne, and a
rack laden with large leather portfolios could be accounted such—and
was windowless, without other openings than the door and the skylight,
under which hung the unfinished picture itself. MacMaster had never seen
so many of Treffinger's paintings together. He knew the painter had
married a woman with money and had been able to keep such of his pictures
as he wished. These, with all of his replicas and studies, he
had left as a sort of common legacy to the younger men of the school he
As soon as he was left alone MacMaster sat down on the edge of the model
throne before the unfinished picture. Here indeed was what he had come
for; it rather paralyzed his receptivity for the moment, but gradually the
thing found its way to him.
At one o'clock he was standing before the collection of studies done for
Boccaccio's Garden when he heard a voice at his elbow.
"Pardon, sir, but I was just about to lock up and go to lunch. Are you
lookin' for the figure study of Boccaccio 'imself?" James queried
respectfully. "Lydy Elling Treffinger give it to Mr. Rossiter to take down
to Oxford for some lectures he's been agiving there."
"Did he never paint out his studies, then?" asked MacMaster with
perplexity. "Here are two completed ones for this picture. Why did he keep
"I don't know as I could say as to that, sir," replied James, smiling
indulgently, "but that was 'is way. That is to say, 'e pynted out very
frequent, but 'e always made two studies to stand; one in watercolors and
one in oils, before 'e went at the final picture—to say nothink of
all the pose studies 'e made in pencil before he begun on the composition
proper at all. He was that particular. You see, 'e wasn't so keen for the
final effect as for the proper pyntin' of 'is pictures. 'E used to say
they ought to be well made, the same as any other h'article of trade. I
can lay my 'and on the pose studies for you, sir." He rummaged in one of
the portfolios and produced half a dozen drawings, "These three," he
continued, "was discarded; these two was the pose he finally accepted;
this one without alteration, as it were."
"That's in Paris, as I remember," James continued reflectively. "It went
with the Saint Cecilia into the Baron H—-'s collection. Could
you tell me, sir, 'as 'e it still? I don't like to lose account of them,
but some 'as changed 'ands since Sir 'Ugh's death."
"H—-'s collection is still intact, I believe," replied MacMaster.
"You were with Treffinger long?"
"From my boyhood, sir," replied James with gravity. "I was a stable boy
when 'e took me."
"You were his man, then?"
"That's it, sir. Nobody else ever done anything around the studio. I
always mixed 'is colors and 'e taught me to do a share of the varnishin';
'e said as 'ow there wasn't a 'ouse in England as could do it proper. You
ayn't looked at the Marriage yet, sir?" he asked abruptly, glancing
doubtfully at MacMaster, and indicating with his thumb the picture under
the north light.
"Not very closely. I prefer to begin with something simpler; that's rather
appalling, at first glance," replied MacMaster.
"Well may you say that, sir," said James warmly. "That one regular killed
Sir 'Ugh; it regular broke 'im up, and nothink will ever convince me as
'ow it didn't bring on 'is second stroke."
When MacMaster walked back to High Street to take his bus his mind was
divided between two exultant convictions. He felt that he had not only
found Treffinger's greatest picture, but that, in James, he had discovered
a kind of cryptic index to the painter's personality—a clue which,
if tactfully followed, might lead to much.
Several days after his first visit to the studio, MacMaster wrote to Lady
Mary Percy, telling her that he would be in London for some time and
asking her if he might call. Lady Mary was an only sister of Lady Ellen
Treffinger, the painter's widow, and MacMaster had known her during one
winter he spent at Nice. He had known her, indeed, very well, and Lady
Mary, who was astonishingly frank and communicative upon all subjects, had
been no less so upon the matter of her sister's unfortunate marriage.
In her reply to his note Lady Mary named an afternoon when she would be
alone. She was as good as her word, and when MacMaster arrived he found
the drawing room empty. Lady Mary entered shortly after he was announced.
She was a tall woman, thin and stiffly jointed, and her body stood out
under the folds of her gown with the rigor of cast iron. This rather
metallic suggestion was further carried out in her heavily knuckled hands,
her stiff gray hair, and her long, bold-featured face, which was saved
from freakishness only by her alert eyes.
"Really," said Lady Mary, taking a seat beside him and giving him a sort
of military inspection through her nose glasses, "really, I had begun to
fear that I had lost you altogether. It's four years since I saw you at
Nice, isn't it? I was in Paris last winter, but I heard nothing from you."
"I was in New York then."
"It occurred to me that you might be. And why are you in London?"
"Can you ask?" replied MacMaster gallantly.
Lady Mary smiled ironically. "But for what else, incidentally?"
"Well, incidentally, I came to see Treffinger's studio and his unfinished
picture. Since I've been here, I've decided to stay the summer. I'm even
thinking of attempting to do a biography of him."
"So that is what brought you to London?"
"Not exactly. I had really no intention of anything so serious when I
came. It's his last picture, I fancy, that has rather thrust it upon me.
The notion has settled down on me like a thing destined."
"You'll not be offended if I question the clemency of such a destiny,"
remarked Lady Mary dryly. "Isn't there rather a surplus of books on that
"Such as they are. Oh, I've read them all"—here MacMaster faced Lady
Mary triumphantly. "He has quite escaped your amiable critics," he added,
"I know well enough what you think, and I daresay we are not much on art,"
said Lady Mary with tolerant good humor. "We leave that to peoples who
have no physique. Treffinger made a stir for a time, but it seems that we
are not capable of a sustained appreciation of such extraordinary methods.
In the end we go back to the pictures we find agreeable and unperplexing.
He was regarded as an experiment, I fancy; and now it seems that he was
rather an unsuccessful one. If you've come to us in a missionary spirit,
we'll tolerate you politely, but we'll laugh in our sleeve, I warn you."
"That really doesn't daunt me, Lady Mary," declared MacMaster blandly. "As
I told you, I'm a man with a mission."
Lady Mary laughed her hoarse, baritone laugh. "Bravo! And you've come to
me for inspiration for your panegyric?"
MacMaster smiled with some embarrassment. "Not altogether for that
purpose. But I want to consult you, Lady Mary, about the advisability of
troubling Lady Ellen Treffinger in the matter. It seems scarcely
legitimate to go on without asking her to give some sort of grace to my
proceedings, yet I feared the whole subject might be painful to her. I
shall rely wholly upon your discretion."
"I think she would prefer to be consulted," replied Lady Mary judicially.
"I can't understand how she endures to have the wretched affair
continually raked up, but she does. She seems to feel a sort of moral
responsibility. Ellen has always been singularly conscientious about this
matter, insofar as her light goes,—which rather puzzles me, as hers
is not exactly a magnanimous nature. She is certainly trying to do what
she believes to be the right thing. I shall write to her, and you can see
her when she returns from Italy."
"I want very much to meet her. She is, I hope, quite recovered in every
way," queried MacMaster, hesitatingly.
"No, I can't say that she is. She has remained in much the same condition
she sank to before his death. He trampled over pretty much whatever there
was in her, I fancy. Women don't recover from wounds of that sort—at
least, not women of Ellen's grain. They go on bleeding inwardly."
"You, at any rate, have not grown more reconciled," MacMaster ventured.
"Oh I give him his dues. He was a colorist, I grant you; but that is a
vague and unsatisfactory quality to marry to; Lady Ellen Treffinger found
"But, my dear Lady Mary," expostulated MacMaster, "and just repress me if
I'm becoming too personal—but it must, in the first place, have been
a marriage of choice on her part as well as on his."
Lady Mary poised her glasses on her large forefinger and assumed an
attitude suggestive of the clinical lecture room as she replied. "Ellen,
my dear boy, is an essentially romantic person. She is quiet about it, but
she runs deep. I never knew how deep until I came against her on the issue
of that marriage. She was always discontented as a girl; she found things
dull and prosaic, and the ardor of his courtship was agreeable to her. He
met her during her first season in town. She is handsome, and there were
plenty of other men, but I grant you your scowling brigand was the most
picturesque of the lot. In his courtship, as in everything else, he was
theatrical to the point of being ridiculous, but Ellen's sense of humor is
not her strongest quality. He had the charm of celebrity, the air of a man
who could storm his way through anything to get what he wanted. That sort
of vehemence is particularly effective with women like Ellen, who can be
warmed only by reflected heat, and she couldn't at all stand out against
it. He convinced her of his necessity; and that done, all's done."
"I can't help thinking that, even on such a basis, the marriage should
have turned out better," MacMaster remarked reflectively.
"The marriage," Lady Mary continued with a shrug, "was made on the basis
of a mutual misunderstanding. Ellen, in the nature of the case, believed
that she was doing something quite out of the ordinary in accepting him,
and expected concessions which, apparently, it never occurred to him to
make. After his marriage he relapsed into his old habits of incessant
work, broken by violent and often brutal relaxations. He insulted her
friends and foisted his own upon her—many of them well calculated to
arouse aversion in any well-bred girl. He had Ghillini constantly at the
house—a homeless vagabond, whose conversation was impossible. I
don't say, mind you, that he had not grievances on his side. He had
probably overrated the girl's possibilities, and he let her see that he
was disappointed in her. Only a large and generous nature could have borne
with him, and Ellen's is not that. She could not at all understand that
odious strain of plebeian pride which plumes itself upon not having risen
above its sources."
As MacMaster drove back to his hotel he reflected that Lady Mary Percy had
probably had good cause for dissatisfaction with her brother-in-law.
Treffinger was, indeed, the last man who should have married into the
Percy family. The son of a small tobacconist, he had grown up a
sign-painter's apprentice; idle, lawless, and practically letterless until
he had drifted into the night classes of the Albert League, where Ghillini
sometimes lectured. From the moment he came under the eye and influence of
that erratic Italian, then a political exile, his life had swerved sharply
from its old channel. This man had been at once incentive and guide,
friend and master, to his pupil. He had taken the raw clay out of the
London streets and molded it anew. Seemingly he had divined at once where
the boy's possibilities lay, and had thrown aside every canon of orthodox
instruction in the training of him. Under him Treffinger acquired his
superficial, yet facile, knowledge of the classics; had steeped himself in
the monkish Latin and medieval romances which later gave his work so naive
and remote a quality. That was the beginning of the wattle fences, the
cobble pave, the brown roof beams, the cunningly wrought fabrics that gave
to his pictures such a richness of decorative effect.
As he had told Lady Mary Percy, MacMaster had found the imperative
inspiration of his purpose in Treffinger's unfinished picture, the Marriage
of Phaedra. He had always believed that the key to Treffinger's
individuality lay in his singular education; in the Roman de la Rose,
in Boccaccio, and Amadis, those works which had literally transcribed
themselves upon the blank soul of the London street boy, and through which
he had been born into the world of spiritual things. Treffinger had been a
man who lived after his imagination; and his mind, his ideals and, as
MacMaster believed, even his personal ethics, had to the last been colored
by the trend of his early training. There was in him alike the freshness
and spontaneity, the frank brutality and the religious mysticism, which
lay well back of the fifteenth century. In the Marriage of Phaedra
MacMaster found the ultimate expression of this spirit, the final word as
to Treffinger's point of view.
As in all Treffinger's classical subjects, the conception was wholly
medieval. This Phaedra, just turning from her husband and maidens to greet
her husband's son, giving him her first fearsome glance from under her
half-lifted veil, was no daughter of Minos. The daughter of heathenesse
and the early church she was; doomed to torturing visions and scourgings,
and the wrangling of soul with flesh. The venerable Theseus might have
been victorious Charlemagne, and Phaedra's maidens belonged rather in the
train of Blanche of Castile than at the Cretan court. In the earlier
studies Hippolytus had been done with a more pagan suggestion; but in each
successive drawing the glorious figure had been deflowered of something of
its serene unconsciousness, until, in the canvas under the skylight, he
appeared a very Christian knight. This male figure, and the face of
Phaedra, painted with such magical preservation of tone under the heavy
shadow of the veil, were plainly Treffinger's highest achievements of
craftsmanship. By what labor he had reached the seemingly inevitable
composition of the picture—with its twenty figures, its plenitude of
light and air, its restful distances seen through white porticoes—countless
studies bore witness.
From James's attitude toward the picture MacMaster could well conjecture
what the painter's had been. This picture was always uppermost in James's
mind; its custodianship formed, in his eyes, his occupation. He was
manifestly apprehensive when visitors—not many came nowadays—lingered
near it. "It was the Marriage as killed 'im," he would often say,
"and for the matter 'o that, it did like to 'av been the death of all of
By the end of his second week in London MacMaster had begun the notes for
his study of Hugh Treffinger and his work. When his researches led him
occasionally to visit the studios of Treffinger's friends and erstwhile
disciples, he found their Treffinger manner fading as the ring of
Treffinger's personality died out in them. One by one they were stealing
back into the fold of national British art; the hand that had wound them
up was still. MacMaster despaired of them and confined himself more and
more exclusively to the studio, to such of Treffinger's letters as were
available—they were for the most part singularly negative and
colorless—and to his interrogation of Treffinger's man.
He could not himself have traced the successive steps by which he was
gradually admitted into James's confidence. Certainly most of his adroit
strategies to that end failed humiliatingly, and whatever it was that
built up an understanding between them must have been instinctive and
intuitive on both sides. When at last James became anecdotal, personal,
there was that in every word he let fall which put breath and blood into
MacMaster's book. James had so long been steeped in that penetrating
personality that he fairly exuded it. Many of his very phrases,
mannerisms, and opinions were impressions that he had taken on like wet
plaster in his daily contact with Treffinger. Inwardly he was lined with
cast-off epitheliums, as outwardly he was clad in the painter's discarded
coats. If the painter's letters were formal and perfunctory, if his
expressions to his friends had been extravagant, contradictory, and often
apparently insincere—still, MacMaster felt himself not entirely
without authentic sources. It was James who possessed Treffinger's legend;
it was with James that he had laid aside his pose. Only in his studio,
alone, and face to face with his work, as it seemed, had the man
invariably been himself. James had known him in the one attitude in which
he was entirely honest; their relation had fallen well within the
painter's only indubitable integrity. James's report of Treffinger was
distorted by no hallucination of artistic insight, colored by no
interpretation of his own. He merely held what he had heard and seen; his
mind was a sort of camera obscura. His very limitations made him the more
literal and minutely accurate.
One morning, when MacMaster was seated before the Marriage of Phaedra,
James entered on his usual round of dusting.
"I've 'eard from Lydy Elling by the post, sir," he remarked, "an' she's
give h'orders to 'ave the 'ouse put in readiness. I doubt she'll be 'ere
by Thursday or Friday next."
"She spends most of her time abroad?" queried MacMaster; on the subject of
Lady Treffinger James consistently maintained a very delicate reserve.
"Well, you could 'ardly say she does that, sir. She finds the 'ouse a bit
dull, I daresay, so durin' the season she stops mostly with Lydy Mary
Percy, at Grosvenor Square. Lydy Mary's a h'only sister." After a few
moments he continued, speaking in jerks governed by the rigor of his
dusting: "H'only this morning I come upon this scarfpin," exhibiting a
very striking instance of that article, "an' I recalled as 'ow Sir 'Ugh
give it me when 'e was acourting of Lydy Elling. Blowed if I ever see a
man go in for a 'oman like 'im! 'E was that gone, sir. 'E never went in on
anythink so 'ard before nor since, till 'e went in on the Marriage
there—though 'e mostly went in on things pretty keen; 'ad the
measles when 'e was thirty, strong as cholera, an' come close to dyin' of
'em. 'E wasn't strong for Lydy Elling's set; they was a bit too stiff for
'im. A free an' easy gentleman, 'e was; 'e liked 'is dinner with a few
friends an' them jolly, but 'e wasn't much on what you might call big
affairs. But once 'e went in for Lydy Elling 'e broke 'imself to new
paces; He give away 'is rings an' pins, an' the tylor's man an' the
'aberdasher's man was at 'is rooms continual. 'E got 'imself put up for a
club in Piccadilly; 'e starved 'imself thin, an' worrited 'imself white,
an' ironed 'imself out, an' drawed 'imself tight as a bow string. It was a
good job 'e come a winner, or I don't know w'at'd 'a been to pay."
The next week, in consequence of an invitation from Lady Ellen Treffinger,
MacMaster went one afternoon to take tea with her. He was shown into the
garden that lay between the residence and the studio, where the tea table
was set under a gnarled pear tree. Lady Ellen rose as he approached—he
was astonished to note how tall she was—and greeted him graciously, saying
that she already knew him through her sister. MacMaster felt a certain
satisfaction in her; in her reassuring poise and repose, in the charming
modulations of her voice and the indolent reserve of her full, almond
eyes. He was even delighted to find her face so inscrutable, though it
chilled his own warmth and made the open frankness he had wished to permit
himself impossible. It was a long face, narrow at the chin, very
delicately featured, yet steeled by an impassive mask of self-control. It
was behind just such finely cut, close-sealed faces, MacMaster reflected,
that nature sometimes hid astonishing secrets. But in spite of this
suggestion of hardness he felt that the unerring taste that Treffinger had
always shown in larger matters had not deserted him when he came to the
choosing of a wife, and he admitted that he could not himself have
selected a woman who looked more as Treffinger's wife should look.
While he was explaining the purpose of his frequent visits to the studio
she heard him with courteous interest. "I have read, I think, everything
that has been published on Sir Hugh Treffinger's work, and it seems to me
that there is much left to be said," he concluded.
"I believe they are rather inadequate," she remarked vaguely. She
hesitated a moment, absently fingering the ribbons of her gown, then
continued, without raising her eyes; "I hope you will not think me too
exacting if I ask to see the proofs of such chapters of your work as have
to do with Sir Hugh's personal life. I have always asked that privilege."
MacMaster hastily assured her as to this, adding, "I mean to touch on only
such facts in his personal life as have to do directly with his work—such
as his monkish education under Ghillini."
"I see your meaning, I think," said Lady Ellen, looking at him with wide,
When MacMaster stopped at the studio on leaving the house he stood for
some time before Treffinger's one portrait of himself, that brigand of a
picture, with its full throat and square head; the short upper lip
blackened by the close-clipped mustache, the wiry hair tossed down over
the forehead, the strong white teeth set hard on a short pipestem. He
could well understand what manifold tortures the mere grain of the man's
strong red and brown flesh might have inflicted upon a woman like Lady
Ellen. He could conjecture, too, Treffinger's impotent revolt against that
very repose which had so dazzled him when it first defied his daring; and
how once possessed of it, his first instinct had been to crush it, since
he could not melt it.
Toward the close of the season Lady Ellen Treffinger left town.
MacMaster's work was progressing rapidly, and he and James wore away the
days in their peculiar relation, which by this time had much of
friendliness. Excepting for the regular visits of a Jewish picture dealer,
there were few intrusions upon their solitude. Occasionally a party of
Americans rang at the little door in the garden wall, but usually they
departed speedily for the Moorish hall and tinkling fountain of the great
show studio of London, not far away.
This Jew, an Austrian by birth, who had a large business in Melbourne,
Australia, was a man of considerable discrimination, and at once selected
the Marriage of Phaedra as the object of his especial interest.
When, upon his first visit, Lichtenstein had declared the picture one of
the things done for time, MacMaster had rather warmed toward him and had
talked to him very freely. Later, however, the man's repulsive personality
and innate vulgarity so wore upon him that, the more genuine the Jew's
appreciation, the more he resented it and the more base he somehow felt it
to be. It annoyed him to see Lichtenstein walking up and down before the
picture, shaking his head and blinking his watery eyes over his nose
glasses, ejaculating: "Dot is a chem, a chem! It is wordt to gome den
dousant miles for such a bainting, eh? To make Eurobe abbreciate such a
work of ardt it is necessary to take it away while she is napping. She has
never abbreciated until she has lost, but," knowingly, "she will buy
James had, from the first, felt such a distrust of the man that he would
never leave him alone in the studio for a moment. When Lichtenstein
insisted upon having Lady Ellen Treffinger's address James rose to the
point of insolence. "It ayn't no use to give it, noway. Lydy Treffinger
never has nothink to do with dealers." MacMaster quietly repented his rash
confidences, fearing that he might indirectly cause Lady Ellen annoyance
from this merciless speculator, and he recalled with chagrin that
Lichtenstein had extorted from him, little by little, pretty much the
entire plan of his book, and especially the place in it which the Marriage
of Phaedra was to occupy.
By this time the first chapters of MacMaster's book were in the hands of
his publisher, and his visits to the studio were necessarily less
frequent. The greater part of his time was now employed with the engravers
who were to reproduce such of Treffinger's pictures as he intended to use
He returned to his hotel late one evening after a long and vexing day at
the engravers to find James in his room, seated on his steamer trunk by
the window, with the outline of a great square draped in sheets resting
against his knee.
"Why, James, what's up?" he cried in astonishment, glancing inquiringly at
the sheeted object.
"Ayn't you seen the pypers, sir?" jerked out the man.
"No, now I think of it, I haven't even looked at a paper. I've been at the
engravers' plant all day. I haven't seen anything."
James drew a copy of the Times from his pocket and handed it to
him, pointing with a tragic finger to a paragraph in the social column. It
was merely the announcement of Lady Ellen Treffinger's engagement to
Captain Alexander Gresham.
"Well, what of it, my man? That surely is her privilege."
James took the paper, turned to another page, and silently pointed to a
paragraph in the art notes which stated that Lady Treffinger had presented
to the X—gallery the entire collection of paintings and sketches now
in her late husband's studio, with the exception of his unfinished
picture, the Marriage Of Phaedra, which she had sold for a large
sum to an Australian dealer who had come to London purposely to secure
some of Treffinger's paintings.
MacMaster pursed up his lips and sat down, his overcoat still on. "Well,
James, this is something of a—something of a jolt, eh? It never
occurred to me she'd really do it."
"Lord, you don't know 'er, sir," said James bitterly, still staring at the
floor in an attitude of abandoned dejection.
MacMaster started up in a flash of enlightenment, "What on earth have you
got there, James? It's not-surely it's not—"
"Yes, it is, sir," broke in the man excitedly. "It's the Marriage
itself. It ayn't agoing to H'Australia, no'ow!"
"But man, what are you going to do with it? It's Lichtenstein's property
now, as it seems."
"It ayn't, sir, that it ayn't. No, by Gawd, it ayn't!" shouted James,
breaking into a choking fury. He controlled himself with an effort and
added supplicatingly: "Oh, sir, you ayn't agoing to see it go to
H'Australia, w'ere they send convic's?" He unpinned and flung aside the
sheets as though to let Phaedra plead for herself.
MacMaster sat down again and looked sadly at the doomed masterpiece. The
notion of James having carried it across London that night rather appealed
to his fancy. There was certainly a flavor about such a highhanded
proceeding. "However did you get it here?" he queried.
"I got a four-wheeler and come over direct, sir. Good job I 'appened to
'ave the chaynge about me."
"You came up High Street, up Piccadilly, through the Haymarket and
Trafalgar Square, and into the Strand?" queried MacMaster with a relish.
"Yes, sir. Of course, sir," assented James with surprise.
MacMaster laughed delightedly. "It was a beautiful idea, James, but I'm
afraid we can't carry it any further."
"I was thinkin' as 'ow it would be a rare chance to get you to take the Marriage
over to Paris for a year or two, sir, until the thing blows over?"
suggested James blandly.
"I'm afraid that's out of the question, James. I haven't the right stuff
in me for a pirate, or even a vulgar smuggler, I'm afraid." MacMaster
found it surprisingly difficult to say this, and he busied himself with
the lamp as he said it. He heard James's hand fall heavily on the trunk
top, and he discovered that he very much disliked sinking in the man's
"Well, sir," remarked James in a more formal tone, after a protracted
silence; "then there's nothink for it but as 'ow I'll 'ave to make way
with it myself."
"And how about your character, James? The evidence would be heavy against
you, and even if Lady Treffinger didn't prosecute you'd be done for."
"Blow my character!—your pardon, sir," cried James, starting to his
feet. "W'at do I want of a character? I'll chuck the 'ole thing, and
damned lively, too. The shop's to be sold out, an' my place is gone
any'ow. I'm agoing to enlist, or try the gold fields. I've lived too long
with h'artists; I'd never give satisfaction in livery now. You know 'ow it
is yourself, sir; there ayn't no life like it, no'ow."
For a moment MacMaster was almost equal to abetting James in his theft. He
reflected that pictures had been whitewashed, or hidden in the crypts of
churches, or under the floors of palaces from meaner motives, and to save
them from a fate less ignominious. But presently, with a sigh, he shook
"No, James, it won't do at all. It has been tried over and over again,
ever since the world has been agoing and pictures amaking. It was tried in
Florence and in Venice, but the pictures were always carried away in the
end. You see, the difficulty is that although Treffinger told you what was
not to be done with the picture, he did not say definitely what was to be
done with it. Do you think Lady Treffinger really understands that he did
not want it to be sold?"
"Well, sir, it was like this, sir," said James, resuming his seat on the
trunk and again resting the picture against his knee. "My memory is as
clear as glass about it. After Sir 'Ugh got up from 'is first stroke, 'e
took a fresh start at the Marriage. Before that 'e 'ad been working
at it only at night for a while back; the Legend was the big
picture then, an' was under the north light w'ere 'e worked of a morning.
But one day 'e bid me take the Legend down an' put the Marriage
in its place, an' 'e says, dashin' on 'is jacket, 'Jymes, this is a start
for the finish, this time.'
"From that on 'e worked at the night picture in the mornin'—a thing
contrary to 'is custom. The Marriage went wrong, and wrong—an'
Sir 'Ugh agettin' seedier an' seedier every day. 'E tried models an'
models, an' smudged an' pynted out on account of 'er face goin' wrong in
the shadow. Sometimes 'e layed it on the colors, an' swore at me an'
things in general. He got that discouraged about 'imself that on 'is low
days 'e used to say to me: 'Jymes, remember one thing; if anythink 'appens
to me, the Marriage is not to go out of 'ere unfinished. It's worth
the lot of 'em, my boy, an' it's not agoing to go shabby for lack of
pains.' 'E said things to that effect repeated.
"He was workin' at the picture the last day, before 'e went to 'is club.
'E kept the carriage waitin' near an hour while 'e put on a stroke an'
then drawed back for to look at it, an' then put on another, careful like.
After 'e 'ad 'is gloves on, 'e come back an' took away the brushes I was
startin' to clean, an' put in another touch or two. 'It's acomin', Jymes,'
'e says, 'by gad if it ayn't.' An' with that 'e goes out. It was cruel
sudden, w'at come after.
"That night I was lookin' to 'is clothes at the 'ouse when they brought
'im 'ome. He was conscious, but w'en I ran downstairs for to 'elp lift 'im
up, I knowed 'e was a finished man. After we got 'im into bed 'e kept
lookin' restless at me and then at Lydy Elling and ajerkin' of 'is 'and.
Finally 'e quite raised it an' shot 'is thumb out toward the wall. 'He
wants water; ring, Jymes,' says Lydy Elling, placid. But I knowed 'e was
pointin' to the shop.
"'Lydy Treffinger,' says I, bold, 'he's pointin' to the studio. He means
about the Marriage; 'e told me today as 'ow 'e never wanted it sold
unfinished. Is that it, Sir 'Ugh?'
"He smiled an' nodded slight an' closed 'is eyes. 'Thank you, Jymes,' says
Lydy Elling, placid. Then 'e opened 'is eyes an' looked long and 'ard at
"'Of course I'll try to do as you'd wish about the picture, 'Ugh, if
that's w'at's troublin' you,' she says quiet. With that 'e closed 'is eyes
and 'e never opened 'em. He died unconscious at four that mornin'.
"You see, sir, Lydy Elling was always cruel 'ard on the Marriage.
From the first it went wrong, an' Sir 'Ugh was out of temper pretty
constant. She came into the studio one day and looked at the picture an
'asked 'im why 'e didn't throw it up an' quit aworriting 'imself. He
answered sharp, an' with that she said as 'ow she didn't see w'at there
was to make such a row about, no'ow. She spoke 'er mind about that
picture, free; an' Sir 'Ugh swore 'ot an' let a 'andful of brushes fly at
'is study, an' Lydy Elling picked up 'er skirts careful an' chill, an'
drifted out of the studio with 'er eyes calm and 'er chin 'igh. If there
was one thing Lydy Elling 'ad no comprehension of, it was the usefulness
of swearin'. So the Marriage was a sore thing between 'em. She is
uncommon calm, but uncommon bitter, is Lydy Elling. She's never come anear
the studio since that day she went out 'oldin' up of 'er skirts. W'en 'er
friends goes over she excuses 'erself along o' the strain. Strain—Gawd!"
James ground his wrath short in his teeth.
"I'll tell you what I'll do, James, and it's our only hope. I'll see Lady
Ellen tomorrow. The Times says she returned today. You take the
picture back to its place, and I'll do what I can for it. If anything is
done to save it, it must be done through Lady Ellen Treffinger herself,
that much is clear. I can't think that she fully understands the
situation. If she did, you know, she really couldn't have any motive—"
He stopped suddenly. Somehow, in the dusky lamplight, her small,
close-sealed face came ominously back to him. He rubbed his forehead and
knitted his brows thoughtfully. After a moment he shook his head and went
on: "I am positive that nothing can be gained by highhanded methods,
James. Captain Gresham is one of the most popular men in London, and his
friends would tear up Treffinger's bones if he were annoyed by any scandal
of our making—and this scheme you propose would inevitably result in
scandal. Lady Ellen has, of course, every legal right to sell the picture.
Treffinger made considerable inroads upon her estate, and, as she is about
to marry a man without income, she doubtless feels that she has a right to
replenish her patrimony."
He found James amenable, though doggedly skeptical. He went down into the
street, called a carriage, and saw James and his burden into it. Standing
in the doorway, he watched the carriage roll away through the drizzling
mist, weave in and out among the wet, black vehicles and darting cab
lights, until it was swallowed up in the glare and confusion of the
Strand. "It is rather a fine touch of irony," he reflected, "that he, who
is so out of it, should be the one to really care. Poor Treffinger," he
murmured as, with a rather spiritless smile, he turned back into his
hotel. "Poor Treffinger; sic transit gloria."
The next afternoon MacMaster kept his promise. When he arrived at Lady
Mary Percy's house he saw preparations for a function of some sort, but he
went resolutely up the steps, telling the footman that his business was
urgent. Lady Ellen came down alone, excusing her sister. She was dressed
for receiving, and MacMaster had never seen one so beautiful. The color in
her cheeks sent a softening glow over her small, delicately cut features.
MacMaster apologized for his intrusion and came unflinchingly to the
object of his call. He had come, he said, not only to offer her his
warmest congratulations, but to express his regret that a great work of
art was to leave England.
Lady Treffinger looked at him in wide-eyed astonishment. Surely, she said,
she had been careful to select the best of the pictures for the X—-
gallery, in accordance with Sir Hugh Treffinger's wishes.
"And did he—pardon me, Lady Treffinger, but in mercy set my mind at
rest—did he or did he not express any definite wish concerning this
one picture, which to me seems worth all the others, unfinished as it is?"
Lady Treffinger paled perceptibly, but it was not the pallor of confusion.
When she spoke there was a sharp tremor in her smooth voice, the edge of a
resentment that tore her like pain. "I think his man has some such
impression, but I believe it to be utterly unfounded. I cannot find that
he ever expressed any wish concerning the disposition of the picture to
any of his friends. Unfortunately, Sir Hugh was not always discreet in his
remarks to his servants."
"Captain Gresham, Lady Ellingham, and Miss Ellingham," announced a
servant, appearing at the door.
There was a murmur in the hall, and MacMaster greeted the smiling Captain
and his aunt as he bowed himself out.
To all intents and purposes the Marriage of Phaedra was already
entombed in a vague continent in the Pacific, somewhere on the other side
of the world.