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De Amicitia
by [?]

He did not know what to think; he knew she had been reading the Symposium.

‘After all,’ she said, ‘there’s no reason why one shouldn’t go away with a man as well as with a woman.’

His French friends would have suggested that there were many reasons why one should go away with a woman rather than a man; but, like his companion, Ferdinand looked at it in the light of pure friendship.

‘When one comes to think of it, I really don’t see why we shouldn’t. And the mere fact of staying at the same hotel can make no difference to either of us. We shall both have our work–you your painting, and I my play.’

As they considered it, the idea was distinctly pleasing; they wondered that it had not occurred to them before. Sauntering homewards, they discussed the details, and in half an hour had decided on the plan of their journey, the date and the train.

Next day Valentia went to say good-bye to the old French painter whom all the American girls called Popper. She found him in a capacious dressing-gown, smoking cigarettes.

‘Well, my dear,’ he said, ‘what news?’

‘I’m going to Holland to paint windmills.’

‘A very laudable ambition. With your mother?’

‘My good Popper, my mother’s in Cincinnati. I’m going with Mr White.’

‘With Mr White?’ He raised his eyebrows. ‘You are very frank about it.’

‘Why–what do you mean?’

He put on his glasses and looked at her carefully.

‘Does it not seem to you a rather–curious thing for a young girl of your age to go away with a young man of the age of Mr Ferdinand White?’

‘Good gracious me! One would think I was doing something that had never been done before!’

‘Oh, many a young man has gone travelling with a young woman, but they generally start by a night train, and arrive at the station in different cabs.’

‘But surely, Popper, you don’t mean to insinuate–Mr White and I are going to Holland as friends.’


He looked at her more curiously than ever.

‘One can have a man friend as well as a girl friend,’ she continued. ‘And I don’t see why he shouldn’t be just as good a friend.’

‘The danger is that he become too good.’

‘You misunderstand me entirely, Popper; we are friends, and nothing but friends.’

‘You are entirely off your head, my child.’

‘Ah! you’re a Frenchman, you can’t understand these things. We are different.’

‘I imagine that you are human beings, even though England and America respectively had the intense good fortune of seeing your birth.’

‘We’re human beings–and more than that, we’re nineteenth century human beings. Love is not everything. It is a part of one–perhaps the lower part–an accessory to man’s life, needful for the continuation of the species.’

‘You use such difficult words, my dear.’

‘There is something higher and nobler and purer than love–there is friendship. Ferdinand White is my friend. I have the amplest confidence in him. I am certain that no unclean thought has ever entered his head.’

She spoke quite heatedly, and as she flushed up, the old painter thought her astonishingly handsome. Then she added as an afterthought,–

‘We despise passion. Passion is ugly; it is grotesque.’

The painter stroked his imperial and faintly smiled.

‘My child, you must permit me to tell you that you are foolish. Passion is the most lovely thing in the world; without it we should not paint beautiful pictures. It is passion that makes a woman of a society lady; it is passion that makes a man even of–an art critic.’

‘We do not want it,’ she said. ‘We worship Venus Urania. We are all spirit and soul.’

‘You have been reading Plato; soon you will read Zola.’

He smiled again, and lit another cigarette.

‘Do you disapprove of my going?’ she asked after a little silence.

He paused and looked at her. Then he shrugged his shoulders.

‘On the contrary, I approve. It is foolish, but that is no reason why you should not do it. After all, folly is the great attribute of man. No judge is as grave as an owl; no soldier fighting for his country flies as rapidly as the hare. You may be strong, but you are not so strong as a horse; you may be gluttonous, but you cannot eat like a boa-constrictor. But there is no beast that can be as foolish as man. And since one should always do what one can do best–be foolish. Strive for folly above all things. Let the height of your ambition be the pointed cap with the golden bells. So, bon voyage! I will come and see you off to-morrow.’