Poor Miss Finch HTML version
Nugent puzzles Madame Pratolungo
I WAS far from sharing Lucilla's opinion of Nugent Dubourg. His enormous self-
confidence was, to my mind, too amusing to be in the least offensive. I liked the spirit
and gaiety of the young fellow. He came much nearer than his brother did to my ideal of
the dash and resolution which ought to distinguish a man on the right side of thirty. So far
as my experience of them went, Nugent was (in the popular English phrase) good
company--and Oscar was not. My nationality leads me to attach great importance to
social qualities. The higher virtues of a man only show themselves occasionally on
compulsion, His social qualities come familiarly in contact with us every day of our lives.
I like to be cheerful: I am all for the social qualities.
There was one little obstacle in those early days, which set itself up between my
sympathies and Nugent.
I was thoroughly at a loss to understand the impression which Lucilla had produced on
The same constraint which had, in such a marked manner, subdued him at his first
interview with her, still fettered him in the time when they became better acquainted with
one another. He was never in high spirits in her presence. Mr. Finch could talk him down
without difficulty, if Mr. Finch's daughter happened to be by. Even when he was
vaporing about himself, and telling us of the wonderful things he meant to do in Painting,
Lucilla's appearance was enough to check him, if she happened to come into the room.
On the first day when he showed me his American sketches (I define them, if you ask my
private opinion, as false pretenses of Art, by a dashing amateur)--on that day, he was in
full flow; marching up and down the room, smacking his forehead, and announcing
himself quite gravely as "the coming man" in landscape painting.
"My mission, Madame Pratolungo, is to reconcile Humanity and Nature. I propose to
show (on an immense scale) how Nature (in her grandest aspects) can adapt herself to the
spiritual wants of mankind. In your joy or your sorrow, Nature has subtle sympathies
with you, if you only know where to look for them. My pictures--no! my poems in color--
will show you. Multiply my works, as they certainly will be multiplied, by means of
prints--and what does Art become in my hands? A Priesthood! In what aspect do I
present myself to the public? As a mere landscape painter? No! As Grand Consoler!" In
the midst of this rhapsody (how wonderfully he resembled Oscar in his bursts of
excitement while he was talking!)--in the full torrent of his predictions of his own coming
greatness, Lucilla quietly entered the room. The "Grand Consoler" shut up his portfolio;
dropped Painting on the spot; asked for Music, and sat down, a model of conventional
propriety, in a corner of the room. I inquired afterwards, why he had checked himself
when she came in. "Did I?" he said. "I don't know why." The thing was really
inexplicable. He honestly admired her--one had only to notice him when he was looking
at her to see it. He had not the faintest suspicion of her dislike for him--she carefully
concealed it for Oscar's sake. He felt genuine sympathy for her in her affliction--his mad
idea that her sight might yet be restored, was the natural offspring of a true feeling for
her. He was not unfavorable to his brother's marriage--on the contrary, he ruffled the
rector's dignity (he was always giving offense to Mr. Finch) by suggesting that the
marriage might be hastened. I heard him say the words myself:--"The church is close by.
Why can't you put on your surplice and make Oscar happy to-morrow, after breakfast?"
More even than this, he showed the most vivid interest--like a woman's interest rather