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Black Venn
by [?]


“George,” said Plancine.

“Please say it again,” said George.

She dimpled at him and obeyed, with the soft suggestion of accent that was like a tender confidence. Her feet were sunk in Devonshire grass; her name was on the birth register of a little Devonshire sea-town; yet the sun of France was in her veins as surely as his caress was on her lips.

Therefore she said “George” with a sweet dragging sound that greatly fluttered the sensibilities of the person addressed, and not infrequently led them to alight, like Prince Dummling’s queen bee, on the very mouth of that honeyed flower of speech.

Now Plancine put her cheek on her George’s rough sleeve, and said she,–

“I have a confession to make–about something a little silly. Consequently I have postponed it till now, when it is too dark for you to see my face.”

“Never!” he murmured fervently. “A double cataract could not deprive me of that vision. It is printed here, Plancine.”

He smacked his chest hard on the left side.

“Yet it sounds hollow, George?”

“Yes,” he said. “It is a sandwich-box, an empty one. I would not consign your image to such a deplorable casket. My heart was what I meant. How I hate sandwiches–misers shivering between sheets–a vile gastronomic economy!”

“Poor boy! I will make you little dough-cakes when you go apainting.”

“Plancine! Your image here, yes. But your dough-cakes–!”

“Then keep to your sandwiches, sir.”

“I must. But the person who invented them was no gentleman!”

“Papa would like to hear you say that.”

“Say what?”

“Admit the possibility of any social distinction.”

“It is only a question of sandwiches.”

“George, must you be a Chartist and believe in Feargus O’Connor?”

“My soul, I cannot go back on my principles, for all that the violets of your eyes have sprouted under the shadow of a venerable family-tree.”

“That is very prettily said. You may kiss my thumb-nail with the white spot in it for luck. No, sir. That is presuming. Now I am snug, and you may talk.”

“Plancine, I am a son of the people. I hold by my own. No doubt, if I had blue blood to boast of, I should keep a vial of it in a prominent place on the drawing-room mantelpiece. As it is, I confess my desire is to carve for myself a name in art that shall be independent of all adventitious support; to answer to my vocation straight, upright, and manly.”

“That is better than nobility–though I have pride in my own. I wish papa thought so. Yet he has both himself.”

“The fine soul! For fifty years he has stood square to adversity with a smile on his face. Could I ever achieve that? Already I cry out on poverty; because I want an unencumbered field for work, and–yes, one other trifle.”

“One other trifle, George?”

He took Plancine’s face between his hands and looked very lovingly into her eyes.

“I think I did the old man too much honour,” he said. “You nestling of eighteen–what credit to scout misfortune with such a bird at one’s side!”

“Ah! but papa is sixty-nine and the bird but eighteen.”

“And eighteen years of heaven are a good education in happiness.”

So they coo’d, these two. The June scents of the little garden were wafted all about them. The moon had come up out of the sea, and, finding a trellis of branches over their heads, hung their young brows with coronals of shadowy leaves, like the old dame she was, rummaging in her trinket box for something for her favourites.

In the dimly-luminous parlour (that smelt of folios and warm coffee) of the little dark house in the background, the figure of papa, poring at the table over geological maps, was visible.

Fifty years ago an emigre, denounced, proscribed, and escaped from the ruin of a shattered society: here, in ’49, a stately, large-boned man, placidly enjoying the consciousness of a serene dignity maintained at the expense of much and prolonged self-effacement–this was papa.