“One goes to the Academy in self-defence,” said Reginald. “It is the one topic one has in common with the Country Cousins.”

“It is almost a religious observance with them,” said the Other. “A kind of artistic Mecca, and when the good ones die they go” –

“To the Chantrey Bequest. The mystery is what they find to talk about in the country.”

“There are two subjects of conversation in the country: Servants, and Can fowls be made to pay? The first, I believe, is compulsory, the second optional.”

“As a function,” resumed Reginald, “the Academy is a failure.”

“You think it would be tolerable without the pictures?”

“The pictures are all right, in their way; after all, one can always LOOK at them if one is bored with one’s surroundings, or wants to avoid an imminent acquaintance.”

“Even that doesn’t always save one. There is the inevitable female whom you met once in Devonshire, or the Matoppo Hills, or somewhere, who charges up to you with the remark that it’s funny how one always meets people one knows at the Academy. Personally, I DON’T think it funny.”

“I suffered in that way just now,” said Reginald plaintively, “from a woman whose word I had to take that she had met me last summer in Brittany.”

“I hope you were not too brutal?”

“I merely told her with engaging simplicity that the art of life was the avoidance of the unattainable.”

“Did she try and work it out on the back of her catalogue?”

“Not there and then. She murmured something about being ‘so clever.’ Fancy coming to the Academy to be clever!”

“To be clever in the afternoon argues that one is dining nowhere in the evening.”

“Which reminds me that I can’t remember whether I accepted an invitation from you to dine at Kettner’s to-night.”

“On the other hand, I can remember with startling distinctness not having asked you to.”

“So much certainty is unbecoming in the young; so we’ll consider that settled. What were you talking about? Oh, pictures. Personally, I rather like them; they are so refreshingly real and probable, they take one away from the unrealities of life.”

“One likes to escape from oneself occasionally.”

“That is the disadvantage of a portrait; as a rule, one’s bitterest friends can find nothing more to ask than the faithful unlikeness that goes down to posterity as oneself. I hate posterity–it’s so fond of having the last word. Of course, as regards portraits, there are exceptions.”

“For instance?”

“To die before being painted by Sargent is to go to heaven prematurely.”

“With the necessary care and impatience, you may avoid that catastrophe.”

“If you’re going to be rude,” said Reginald, “I shall dine with you to-morrow night as well. The chief vice of the Academy,” he continued, “is its nomenclature. Why, for instance, should an obvious trout-stream with a palpable rabbit sitting in the foreground be called ‘an evening dream of unbeclouded peace,’ or something of that sort?”

“You think,” said the Other, “that a name should economise description rather than stimulate imagination?”

“Properly chosen, it should do both. There is my lady kitten at home, for instance; I’ve called it Derry.”

“Suggests nothing to my imagination but protracted sieges and religious animosities. Of course, I don’t know your kitten” –

“Oh, you’re silly. It’s a sweet name, and it answers to it– when it wants to. Then, if there are any unseemly noises in the night, they can be explained succinctly: Derry and Toms.”

“You might almost charge for the advertisement. But as applied to pictures, don’t you think your system would be too subtle, say, for the Country Cousins?”

“Every reformation must have its victims. You can’t expect the fatted calf to share the enthusiasm of the angels over the prodigal’s return. Another darling weakness of the Academy is that none of its luminaries must ‘arrive’ in a hurry. You can see them coming for years, like a Balkan trouble or a street improvement, and by the time they have painted a thousand or so square yards of canvas, their work begins to be recognised.”

“Someone who Must Not be Contradicted said that a man must be a success by the time he’s thirty, or never.”

“To have reached thirty,” said Reginald, “is to have failed in life.”

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