The Well - Beloved
A Dash For The Last Incarnation
This desultory courtship of a young girl which had been brought about by her mother's
contrivance was interrupted by the appearance of Somers and his wife and family on the
Budmouth Esplanade. Alfred Somers, once the youthful, picturesque as his own
paintings, was now a middle-aged family man with spectacles--spectacles worn, too, with
the single object of seeing through them--and a row of daughters tailing off to infancy,
who at present added appreciably to the income of the bathing- machine women
established along the sands.
Mrs. Somers--once the intellectual, emancipated Mrs. Pine-Avon--had now retrograded
to the petty and timid mental position of her mother and grandmother, giving sharp, strict
regard to the current literature and art that reached the innocent presence of her long
perspective of girls, with the view of hiding every skull and skeleton of life from their
dear eyes. She was another illustration of the rule that succeeding generations of women
are seldom marked by cumulative progress, their advance as girls being lost in their
recession as matrons; so that they move up and down the stream of intellectual
development like flotsam in a tidal estuary. And this perhaps not by reason of their faults
as individuals, but of their misfortune as child-rearers.
The landscape-painter, now an Academician like Pierston himself--rather popular than
distinguished--had given up that peculiar and personal taste in subjects which had marked
him in times past, executing instead many pleasing aspects of nature addressed to the
furnishing householder through the middling critic, and really very good of their kind. In
this way he received many large cheques from persons of wealth in England and
America, out of which he built himself a sumptuous studio and an awkward house around
it, and paid for the education of the growing maidens.
The vision of Somers's humble position as jackal to this lion of a family and house and
studio and social reputation--Somers, to whom strange conceits and wild imaginings were
departed joys never to return--led Pierston, as the painter's contemporary, to feel that he
ought to be one of the bygones likewise, and to put on an air of unromantic bufferism. He
refrained from entering Avice's peninsula for the whole fortnight of Somers's stay in the
neighbouring town, although its grey poetical outline--'throned along the sea'--greeted his
eyes every morn and eve across the roadstead.
When the painter and his family had gone back from their bathing holiday, he thought
that he, too, would leave the neighbourhood. To do so, however, without wishing at least
the elder Avice good-bye would be unfriendly, considering the extent of their
acquaintance. One evening, knowing this time of day to suit her best, he took the few-
minutes' journey to the rock along the thin connecting string of junction, and arrived at
Mrs. Pierston's door just after dark.