The Lesson of the Master by Henry James


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The Project Gutenberg eBook, The Lesson of the Master, by Henry James

This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with
almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or
re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included
with this eBook or online at

Title: The Lesson of the Master

Author: Henry James

Release Date: May 13, 2005 [eBook #898]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ISO-646-US (US-ASCII)


Transcribed from the 1915 Martin Secker edition by David Price, email

by Henry James


He had been told the ladies were at church, but this was corrected by
what he saw from the top of the steps--they descended from a great height
in two arms, with a circular sweep of the most charming effect--at the
threshold of the door which, from the long bright gallery, overlooked the
immense lawn. Three gentlemen, on the grass, at a distance, sat under
the great trees, while the fourth figure showed a crimson dress that told
as a "bit of colour" amid the fresh rich green. The servant had so far
accompanied Paul Overt as to introduce him to this view, after asking him
if he wished first to go to his room. The young man declined that
privilege, conscious of no disrepair from so short and easy a journey and
always liking to take at once a general perceptive possession of a new
scene. He stood there a little with his eyes on the group and on the
admirable picture, the wide grounds of an old country-house near
London--that only made it better--on a splendid Sunday in June. "But
that lady, who's _she_?" he said to the servant before the man left him.

"I think she's Mrs. St. George, sir."

"Mrs. St. George, the wife of the distinguished--" Then Paul Overt
checked himself, doubting if a footman would know.

"Yes, sir--probably, sir," said his guide, who appeared to wish to
intimate that a person staying at Summersoft would naturally be, if only
by alliance, distinguished. His tone, however, made poor Overt himself
feel for the moment scantly so.

"And the gentlemen?" Overt went on.

"Well, sir, one of them's General Fancourt."

"Ah yes, I know; thank you." General Fancourt was distinguished, there
was no doubt of that, for something he had done, or perhaps even hadn't
done--the young man couldn't remember which--some years before in India.
The servant went away, leaving the glass doors open into the gallery, and
Paul Overt remained at the head of the wide double staircase, saying to
himself that the place was sweet and promised a pleasant visit, while he
leaned on the balustrade of fine old ironwork which, like all the other
details, was of the same period as the house. It all went together and
spoke in one voice--a rich English voice of the early part of the
eighteenth century. It might have been church-time on a summer's day in
the reign of Queen Anne; the stillness was too perfect to be modern, the
nearness counted so as distance, and there was something so fresh and
sound in the originality of the large smooth house, the expanse of
beautiful brickwork that showed for pink rather than red and that had
been kept clear of messy creepers by the law under which a woman with a
rare complexion disdains a veil. When Paul Overt became aware that the
people under the trees had noticed him he turned back through the open
doors into the great gallery which was the pride of the place. It
marched across from end to end and seemed--with its bright colours, its
high panelled windows, its faded flowered chintzes, its
quickly-recognised portraits and pictures, the blue-and-white china of
its cabinets and the attenuated festoons and rosettes of its ceiling--a
cheerful upholstered avenue into the other century.

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