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Henry James
The Real Thing 2
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I could fancy the "sort of thing" they put on the presentation-copies
of their photographs, and I was sure they wrote a beautiful hand. It
was odd how quickly I was sure of everything that concerned them. If
they were now so poor as to have to earn shillings and pence, they
never had had much of a margin. Their good looks had been their
capital, and they had good-humouredly made the most of the career
that this resource marked out for them. It was in their faces, the
blankness, the deep intellectual repose of the twenty years of
country-house visiting which had given them pleasant intonations. I
could see the sunny drawing-rooms, sprinkled with periodicals she
didn't read, in which Mrs. Monarch had continuously sat; I could see
the wet shrubberies in which she had walked, equipped to admiration
for either exercise. I could see the rich covers the Major had
helped to shoot and the wonderful garments in which, late at night,
he repaired to the smoking-room to talk about them. I could imagine
their leggings and waterproofs, their knowing tweeds and rugs, their
rolls of sticks and cases of tackle and neat umbrellas; and I could
evoke the exact appearance of their servants and the compact variety
of their luggage on the platforms of country stations.

They gave small tips, but they were liked; they didn't do anything
themselves, but they were welcome. They looked so well everywhere;
they gratified the general relish for stature, complexion and "form."
They knew it without fatuity or vulgarity, and they respected
themselves in consequence. They were not superficial; they were
thorough and kept themselves up-- it had been their line. People with
such a taste for activity had to have some line. I could feel how,
even in a dull house, they could have been counted upon for
cheerfulness. At present something had happened-- it didn't matter
what, their little income had grown less, it had grown least-- and
they had to do something for pocket-money. Their friends liked them,
but didn't like to support them. There was something about them that
represented credit-- their clothes, their manners, their type; but if
credit is a large empty pocket in which an occasional chink
reverberates, the chink at least must be audible. What they wanted
of me was to help to make it so. Fortunately they had no children-- I
soon divined that. They would also perhaps wish our relations to be
kept secret: this was why it was "for the figure"-- the reproduction
of the face would betray them.

I liked them-- they were so simple; and I had no objection to them if
they would suit. But, somehow, with all their perfections I didn't
easily believe in them. After all they were amateurs, and the ruling
passion of my life was the detestation of the amateur. Combined with
this was another perversity-- an innate preference for the represented
subject over the real one: the defect of the real one was so apt to
be a lack of representation. I liked things that appeared; then one
was sure. Whether they WERE or not was a subordinate and almost
always a profitless question. There were other considerations, the
first of which was that I already had two or three people in use,
notably a young person with big feet, in alpaca, from Kilburn, who
for a couple of years had come to me regularly for my illustrations
and with whom I was still-- perhaps ignobly-- satisfied. I frankly
explained to my visitors how the case stood; but they had taken more
precautions than I supposed. They had reasoned out their
opportunity, for Claude Rivet had told them of the projected edition
de luxe of one of the writers of our day-- the rarest of the
novelists-- who, long neglected by the multitudinous vulgar and dearly
prized by the attentive (need I mention Philip Vincent?) had had the
happy fortune of seeing, late in life, the dawn and then the full
light of a higher criticism-- an estimate in which, on the part of the
public, there was something really of expiation. The edition in
question, planned by a publisher of taste, was practically an act of
high reparation; the wood-cuts with which it was to be enriched were
the homage of English art to one of the most independent
representatives of English letters. Major and Mrs. Monarch confessed
to me that they had hoped I might be able to work THEM into my share
of the enterprise. They knew I was to do the first of the books,
"Rutland Ramsay," but I had to make clear to them that my
participation in the rest of the affair-- this first book was to be a
test-- was to depend on the satisfaction I should give. If this
should be limited my employers would drop me without a scruple. It
was therefore a crisis for me, and naturally I was making special
preparations, looking about for new people, if they should be
necessary, and securing the best types. I admitted however that I
should like to settle down to two or three good models who would do
for everything.

"Should we have often to-- a-- put on special clothes?" Mrs. Monarch
timidly demanded.

"Dear, yes-- that's half the business."

"And should we be expected to supply our own costumes?"

"Oh, no; I've got a lot of things. A painter's models put on-- or put
off-- anything he likes."

"And do you mean-- a-- the same?"

"The same?"

Mrs. Monarch looked at her husband again.

"Oh, she was just wondering," he explained, "if the costumes are in
GENERAL use." I had to confess that they were, and I mentioned
further that some of them (I had a lot of genuine, greasy last-
century things), had served their time, a hundred years ago, on
living, world-stained men and women. "We'll put on anything that
fits," said the Major.

"Oh, I arrange that-- they fit in the pictures."

"I'm afraid I should do better for the modern books. I would come as
you like," said Mrs. Monarch.

"She has got a lot of clothes at home: they might do for
contemporary life," her husband continued.

"Oh, I can fancy scenes in which you'd be quite natural." And indeed
I could see the slipshod rearrangements of stale properties-- the
stories I tried to produce pictures for without the exasperation of
reading them-- whose sandy tracts the good lady might help to people.
But I had to return to the fact that for this sort of work-- the daily
mechanical grind-- I was already equipped; the people I was working
with were fully adequate.

"We only thought we might be more like SOME characters," said Mrs.
Monarch mildly, getting up.

Her husband also rose; he stood looking at me with a dim wistfulness
that was touching in so fine a man. "Wouldn't it be rather a pull
sometimes to have-- a-- to have--?" He hung fire; he wanted me to help
him by phrasing what he meant. But I couldn't-- I didn't know. So he
brought it out, awkwardly: "The REAL thing; a gentleman, you know,
or a lady." I was quite ready to give a general assent-- I admitted
that there was a great deal in that. This encouraged Major Monarch
to say, following up his appeal with an unacted gulp: "It's awfully
hard-- we've tried everything." The gulp was communicative; it proved
too much for his wife. Before I knew it Mrs. Monarch had dropped
again upon a divan and burst into tears. Her husband sat down beside
her, holding one of her hands; whereupon she quickly dried her eyes
with the other, while I felt embarrassed as she looked up at me.
"There isn't a confounded job I haven't applied for-- waited for--
prayed for. You can fancy we'd be pretty bad first. Secretaryships
and that sort of thing? You might as well ask for a peerage. I'd be
ANYTHING-- I'm strong; a messenger or a coalheaver. I'd put on a
gold-laced cap and open carriage-doors in front of the haberdasher's;
I'd hang about a station, to carry portmanteaus; I'd be a postman.
But they won't LOOK at you; there are thousands, as good as yourself,
already on the ground. GENTLEMEN, poor beggars, who have drunk their
wine, who have kept their hunters!"

I was as reassuring as I knew how to be, and my visitors were
presently on their feet again while, for the experiment, we agreed on
an hour. We were discussing it when the door opened and Miss Churm
came in with a wet umbrella. Miss Churm had to take the omnibus to
Maida Vale and then walk half-a-mile. She looked a trifle blowsy and
slightly splashed. I scarcely ever saw her come in without thinking
afresh how odd it was that, being so little in herself, she should
yet be so much in others. She was a meagre little Miss Churm, but
she was an ample heroine of romance. She was only a freckled
cockney, but she could represent everything, from a fine lady to a
shepherdess; she had the faculty, as she might have had a fine voice
or long hair.

She couldn't spell, and she loved beer, but she had two or three
"points," and practice, and a knack, and mother-wit, and a kind of
whimsical sensibility, and a love of the theatre, and seven sisters,
and not an ounce of respect, especially for the H. The first thing
my visitors saw was that her umbrella was wet, and in their spotless
perfection they visibly winced at it. The rain had come on since
their arrival.

"I'm all in a soak; there WAS a mess of people in the 'bus. I wish
you lived near a stytion," said Miss Churm. I requested her to get
ready as quickly as possible, and she passed into the room in which
she always changed her dress. But before going out she asked me what
she was to get into this time.

"It's the Russian princess, don't you know?" I answered; "the one
with the 'golden eyes,' in black velvet, for the long thing in the

"Golden eyes? I SAY!" cried Miss Churm, while my companions watched
her with intensity as she withdrew. She always arranged herself,
when she was late, before I could turn round; and I kept my visitors
a little, on purpose, so that they might get an idea, from seeing
her, what would be expected of themselves. I mentioned that she was
quite my notion of an excellent model-- she was really very clever.

"Do you think she looks like a Russian princess?" Major Monarch
asked, with lurking alarm.

"When I make her, yes."

"Oh, if you have to MAKE her--!" he reasoned, acutely.

"That's the most you can ask. There are so many that are not

"Well now, HERE'S a lady"-- and with a persuasive smile he passed his
arm into his wife's-- "who's already made!"

"Oh, I'm not a Russian princess," Mrs. Monarch protested, a little
coldly. I could see that she had known some and didn't like them.
There, immediately, was a complication of a kind that I never had to
fear with Miss Churm.

This young lady came back in black velvet-- the gown was rather rusty
and very low on her lean shoulders-- and with a Japanese fan in her
red hands. I reminded her that in the scene I was doing she had to
look over someone's head. "I forget whose it is; but it doesn't
matter. Just look over a head."

"I'd rather look over a stove," said Miss Churm; and she took her
station near the fire. She fell into position, settled herself into
a tall attitude, gave a certain backward inclination to her head and
a certain forward droop to her fan, and looked, at least to my
prejudiced sense, distinguished and charming, foreign and dangerous.
We left her looking so, while I went down-stairs with Major and Mrs.

"I think I could come about as near it as that," said Mrs. Monarch.

"Oh, you think she's shabby, but you must allow for the alchemy of

However, they went off with an evident increase of comfort, founded
on their demonstrable advantage in being the real thing. I could
fancy them shuddering over Miss Churm. She was very droll about them
when I went back, for I told her what they wanted.

"Well, if SHE can sit I'll tyke to bookkeeping," said my model.

"She's very lady-like," I replied, as an innocent form of

"So much the worse for YOU. That means she can't turn round."

"She'll do for the fashionable novels."

"Oh yes, she'll DO for them!" my model humorously declared. "Ain't
they had enough without her?" I had often sociably denounced them to
Miss Churm.

* * * * *

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