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Henry James
The Real Thing 1
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When the porter's wife (she used to answer the house-bell), announced
"A gentleman-- with a lady, sir," I had, as I often had in those days,
for the wish was father to the thought, an immediate vision of
sitters. Sitters my visitors in this case proved to be; but not in
the sense I should have preferred. However, there was nothing at
first to indicate that they might not have come for a portrait. The
gentleman, a man of fifty, very high and very straight, with a
moustache slightly grizzled and a dark grey walking-coat admirably
fitted, both of which I noted professionally-- I don't mean as a
barber or yet as a tailor-- would have struck me as a celebrity if
celebrities often were striking. It was a truth of which I had for
some time been conscious that a figure with a good deal of frontage
was, as one might say, almost never a public institution. A glance
at the lady helped to remind me of this paradoxical law: she also
looked too distinguished to be a "personality." Moreover one would
scarcely come across two variations together.

Neither of the pair spoke immediately-- they only prolonged the
preliminary gaze which suggested that each wished to give the other a
chance. They were visibly shy; they stood there letting me take them
in-- which, as I afterwards perceived, was the most practical thing
they could have done. In this way their embarrassment served their
cause. I had seen people painfully reluctant to mention that they
desired anything so gross as to be represented on canvas; but the
scruples of my new friends appeared almost insurmountable. Yet the
gentleman might have said "I should like a portrait of my wife," and
the lady might have said "I should like a portrait of my husband."
Perhaps they were not husband and wife-- this naturally would make the
matter more delicate. Perhaps they wished to be done together-- in
which case they ought to have brought a third person to break the

"We come from Mr. Rivet," the lady said at last, with a dim smile
which had the effect of a moist sponge passed over a "sunk" piece of
painting, as well as of a vague allusion to vanished beauty. She was
as tall and straight, in her degree, as her companion, and with ten
years less to carry. She looked as sad as a woman could look whose
face was not charged with expression; that is her tinted oval mask
showed friction as an exposed surface shows it. The hand of time had
played over her freely, but only to simplify. She was slim and
stiff, and so well-dressed, in dark blue cloth, with lappets and
pockets and buttons, that it was clear she employed the same tailor
as her husband. The couple had an indefinable air of prosperous
thrift-- they evidently got a good deal of luxury for their money. If
I was to be one of their luxuries it would behove me to consider my

"Ah, Claude Rivet recommended me?" I inquired; and I added that it
was very kind of him, though I could reflect that, as he only painted
landscape, this was not a sacrifice.

The lady looked very hard at the gentleman, and the gentleman looked
round the room. Then staring at the floor a moment and stroking his
moustache, he rested his pleasant eyes on me with the remark:

"He said you were the right one."

"I try to be, when people want to sit."

"Yes, we should like to," said the lady anxiously.

"Do you mean together?"

My visitors exchanged a glance. "If you could do anything with ME, I
suppose it would be double," the gentleman stammered.

"Oh yes, there's naturally a higher charge for two figures than for

"We should like to make it pay," the husband confessed.

"That's very good of you," I returned, appreciating so unwonted a
sympathy-- for I supposed he meant pay the artist.

A sense of strangeness seemed to dawn on the lady. "We mean for the
illustrations-- Mr Rivet said you might put one in."

"Put one in-- an illustration?" I was equally confused.

"Sketch her off, you know," said the gentleman, colouring.

It was only then that I understood the service Claude Rivet had
rendered me; he had told them that I worked in black and white, for
magazines, for story-books, for sketches of contemporary life, and
consequently had frequent employment for models. These things were
true, but it was not less true (I may confess it now-- whether because
the aspiration was to lead to everything or to nothing I leave the
reader to guess), that I couldn't get the honours, to say nothing of
the emoluments, of a great painter of portraits out of my head. My
"illustrations" were my pot-boilers; I looked to a different branch
of art (far and away the most interesting it had always seemed to
me), to perpetuate my fame. There was no shame in looking to it also
to make my fortune; but that fortune was by so much further from
being made from the moment my visitors wished to be "done" for
nothing. I was disappointed; for in the pictorial sense I had
immediately SEEN them. I had seized their type-- I had already
settled what I would do with it. Something that wouldn't absolutely
have pleased them, I afterwards reflected.

"Ah, you're-- you're-- a--?" I began, as soon as I had mastered my
surprise. I couldn't bring out the dingy word "models"; it seemed to
fit the case so little.

"We haven't had much practice," said the lady.

"We've got to DO something, and we've thought that an artist in your
line might perhaps make something of us," her husband threw off. He
further mentioned that they didn't know many artists and that they
had gone first, on the off-chance (he painted views of course, but
sometimes put in figures-- perhaps I remembered), to Mr. Rivet, whom
they had met a few years before at a place in Norfolk where he was

"We used to sketch a little ourselves," the lady hinted.

"It's very awkward, but we absolutely MUST do something," her husband
went on.

"Of course, we're not so VERY young," she admitted, with a wan smile.

With the remark that I might as well know something more about them,
the husband had handed me a card extracted from a neat new pocket-
book (their appurtenances were all of the freshest) and inscribed
with the words "Major Monarch." Impressive as these words were they
didn't carry my knowledge much further; but my visitor presently
added: "I've left the army, and we've had the misfortune to lose our
money. In fact our means are dreadfully small."

"It's an awful bore," said Mrs. Monarch.

They evidently wished to be discreet-- to take care not to swagger
because they were gentlefolks. I perceived they would have been
willing to recognise this as something of a drawback, at the same
time that I guessed at an underlying sense-- their consolation in
adversity-- that they HAD their points. They certainly had; but these
advantages struck me as preponderantly social; such for instance as
would help to make a drawing-room look well. However, a drawing-room
was always, or ought to be, a picture.

In consequence of his wife's allusion to their age Major Monarch
observed: "Naturally, it's more for the figure that we thought of
going in. We can still hold ourselves up." On the instant I saw
that the figure was indeed their strong point. His "naturally"
didn't sound vain, but it lighted up the question. "SHE has got the
best," he continued, nodding at his wife, with a pleasant after-
dinner absence of circumlocution. I could only reply, as if we were
in fact sitting over our wine, that this didn't prevent his own from
being very good; which led him in turn to rejoin: "We thought that
if you ever have to do people like us, we might be something like it.
SHE, particularly-- for a lady in a book, you know."

I was so amused by them that, to get more of it, I did my best to
take their point of view; and though it was an embarrassment to find
myself appraising physically, as if they were animals on hire or
useful blacks, a pair whom I should have expected to meet only in one
of the relations in which criticism is tacit, I looked at Mrs.
Monarch judicially enough to be able to exclaim, after a moment, with
conviction: "Oh yes, a lady in a book!" She was singularly like a
bad illustration.

"We'll stand up, if you like," said the Major; and he raised himself
before me with a really grand air.

I could take his measure at a glance-- he was six feet two and a
perfect gentleman. It would have paid any club in process of
formation and in want of a stamp to engage him at a salary to stand
in the principal window. What struck me immediately was that in
coming to me they had rather missed their vocation; they could surely
have been turned to better account for advertising purposes. I
couldn't of course see the thing in detail, but I could see them make
someone's fortune-- I don't mean their own. There was something in
them for a waistcoat-maker, an hotel-keeper or a soap-vendor. I
could imagine "We always use it" pinned on their bosoms with the
greatest effect; I had a vision of the promptitude with which they
would launch a table d'hote.

Mrs. Monarch sat still, not from pride but from shyness, and
presently her husband said to her: "Get up my dear and show how
smart you are." She obeyed, but she had no need to get up to show
it. She walked to the end of the studio, and then she came back
blushing, with her fluttered eyes on her husband. I was reminded of
an incident I had accidentally had a glimpse of in Paris-- being with
a friend there, a dramatist about to produce a play-- when an actress
came to him to ask to be intrusted with a part. She went through her
paces before him, walked up and down as Mrs. Monarch was doing. Mrs.
Monarch did it quite as well, but I abstained from applauding. It
was very odd to see such people apply for such poor pay. She looked
as if she had ten thousand a year. Her husband had used the word
that described her: she was, in the London current jargon,
essentially and typically "smart." Her figure was, in the same order
of ideas, conspicuously and irreproachably "good." For a woman of
her age her waist was surprisingly small; her elbow moreover had the
orthodox crook. She held her head at the conventional angle; but why
did she come to ME? She ought to have tried on jackets at a big
shop. I feared my visitors were not only destitute, but "artistic"--
which would be a great complication. When she sat down again I
thanked her, observing that what a draughtsman most valued in his
model was the faculty of keeping quiet.

"Oh, SHE can keep quiet," said Major Monarch. Then he added,
jocosely: "I've always kept her quiet."

"I'm not a nasty fidget, am I?" Mrs. Monarch appealed to her husband.

He addressed his answer to me. "Perhaps it isn't out of place to
mention-- because we ought to be quite business-like, oughtn't we?--
that when I married her she was known as the Beautiful Statue."

"Oh dear!" said Mrs. Monarch, ruefully.

"Of course I should want a certain amount of expression," I rejoined.

"Of COURSE!" they both exclaimed.

"And then I suppose you know that you'll get awfully tired."

"Oh, we NEVER get tired!" they eagerly cried.

"Have you had any kind of practice?"

They hesitated-- they looked at each other. "We've been photographed,
IMMENSELY," said Mrs. Monarch.

"She means the fellows have asked us," added the Major.

"I see-- because you're so good-looking."

"I don't know what they thought, but they were always after us."

"We always got our photographs for nothing," smiled Mrs. Monarch.

"We might have brought some, my dear," her husband remarked.

"I'm not sure we have any left. We've given quantities away," she
explained to me.

"With our autographs and that sort of thing," said the Major.

"Are they to be got in the shops?" I inquired, as a harmless

"Oh, yes; hers-- they used to be."

"Not now," said Mrs. Monarch, with her eyes on the floor.

* * * * *

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