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- Celibates - 4/57 -
think I shall marry at all. There are other things besides marriage.... I'm not fitted for marriage. I'm not strong. I don't think I could have children. It would kill me.'
'All this is the result of Mrs. Fargus. I can read her ideas in every word you say. Women like Mrs. Fargus ought to be ducked in the horse- pond. They're a curse.'
'You're as strong as other girls. I never heard of anything being the matter with you. You're rather thin, that's all. You ought to go away for a change of air. I never heard such things; a young girl who has been brought up like you. I don't know what Harold would say--not fitted for marriage; not strong enough to bear children. What conversations you must have had with Mrs. Fargus; studying art, and the rest of it. Really, Mildred, I did not think a young girl ever thought of such things.'
'We cannot discuss the subject. We had better let it drop.'
'Yes,' he said, 'we'd better say no more; the least said the soonest mended. You're ill, you don't know what you're saying. You're not looking well; you've been brooding over things. You'd better go away for a change. When you come back you'll think differently.'
'Go away for a change! Yes,' she said, 'I've been thinking over things and am not feeling well. But I know my own mind now. I can never love you as I should like to.'
'Then you'd like to love me. Ah, I will make you love me.. I'll teach you to love me! Only give me the chance.'
'I don't think I shall ever love--at least, not as other girls do.'
He leaned forward and took her hand; he caught her other hand, and the movement expressed his belief in his power to make her love him.
'No,' she said, resisting him. 'You cannot. I'm as cold as ice.'
'Think what you're doing, Mildred. You're sacrificing a great love-- (no man will ever love you as I do)--and for a lot of stuff about education that Mrs. Fargus has filled your head with. You're sacrificing your life for that,' he said, pointing to the sketch that had fallen on the grass. 'Is it worth it?'
She picked up the sketch.
'It was better before you came,' she said, examining it absent- mindedly. 'I went on working at it; I've spoiled it.' Then, noticing the incongruity, she added, 'But it doesn't matter. Art is not the only thing in the world. There is good to be done if one only knew how to do it. I don't mean charity, such goodness is only on the surface, it is merely a short cut to the real true goodness. Art may be only selfishness, indeed I'm inclined to think it is, but art is education, not the best, perhaps, but the best within my reach.'
'Mildred, I really do not understand. You cannot be well, or you wouldn't talk so.'
'I'm quite well,' she said. 'I hardly expected you would understand. But I beg you to believe that I cannot act otherwise. My life is not with you. I feel sure of that.'
The words were spoken so decisively that he knew he would not succeed in changing her. Then his face grew pale with anger, and he said: 'Then everything you've said--all your promises--everything was a lie, a wretched lie.'
'No, Alfred, I tried to believe. I did believe, but I had not thought much then. Remember, I was only eighteen.' She gathered up her painting materials, and, holding out her hand, said, 'Won't you forgive me?'
'No, I cannot forgive you.' She saw him walk down the pathway, she saw him disappear in the shadow. And this rupture was all that seemed real in their love story. It was in his departure that she felt, for the first time, the touch of reality.
Mildred did not see Alfred again. In the pauses of her painting she wondered if he thought of her, if he missed her. Something had gone out of her life, but a great deal more had come into it.
Mr. Hoskin, a young painter, whose pictures were sometimes rejected in the Academy, but who was a little lion in the minor exhibitions, came once a week to give her lessons, and when she went to town she called at his studio with her sketches. Mr. Hoskin's studio was near the King's Road, the last of a row of red houses, with gables, cross- beams, and palings. He was a good-looking, blond man, somewhat inclined to the poetical and melancholy type; his hair bristled, and he wore a close-cut red beard; the moustache was long and silky; there was a gentle, pathetic look in his pale blue eyes; and a slight hesitation of speech, an inability to express himself in words, created a passing impression of a rather foolish, tiresome person. But beneath this exterior there lay a deep, true nature, which found expression in twilit landscapes, the tenderness of cottage lights in the gloaming, vague silhouettes, and vague skies and fields. Ralph Hoskin was very poor: his pathetic pictures did not find many purchasers, and he lived principally by teaching.
But he had not given Mildred her fourth lesson in landscape painting when he received an advantageous offer to copy two pictures by Turner in the National Gallery. Would it be convenient to her to take her lesson on Friday instead of on Thursday? She listened to him, her eyes wide open, and then in her little allusive way suggested that she would like to copy something. She might as well take her lesson in the National Gallery as in Sutton. Besides, he would be able to take her round the gallery and explain the merits of the pictures.
She was anxious to get away from Sutton, and the prospect of long days spent in London pleased her, and on the following Thursday Harold took her up to London by the ten minutes past nine. For the first time she found something romantic in that train. They drove from Victoria in a. hansom. Mr. Hoskin was waiting for her on the steps of the National Gallery.
'I'm so frightened,' she said; 'I'm afraid I don't paint well enough.'
'You'll get on all right. I'll see you through. This way. I've got your easel, and your place is taken.'
They went up to the galleries.
'Oh, dear me, this seems rather alarming!' she exclaimed, stopping before the crowd of easels, the paint-boxes, the palettes on the thumbs, the sheaves of brushes, the maulsticks in the air. She glanced at the work, seeking eagerly for copies, worse than any she was likely to perpetrate. Mr. Hoskin assured her that there were many in the gallery who could not do as well as she. And she experienced a little thrill when he led her to the easel. A beautiful white canvas stood on it ready for her to begin, and on a chair by the side of the easel was her paint-box and brushes. He told her where she would find him, in the Turner room, and that she must not hesitate to come and fetch him whenever she was in difficulties.
'I should like you to see the drawing,' she said, 'before I begin to paint.'
'I shall look to your drawing many times before I allow you to begin painting. It will take you at least a couple of days to get it right.... Don't be afraid,' he said, glancing round; 'lots of them can't do as well as you. I shall be back about lunch time.'
The picture that Mildred had elected to copy was Reynolds's angel heads. She looked at the brown gold of their hair, and wondered what combination of umber and sienna would produce it. She studied the delicate bloom of their cheeks, and wondered what mysterious proportions of white, ochre, and carmine she would have to use to obtain it. The bright blue and grey of the eyes frightened her. She felt sure that such colour did not exist in the little tin tubes that lay in rows in the black japanned box by her side. Already she despaired. But before she began to paint she would have to draw those heavenly faces in every feature. It was more difficult than sketching from nature. She could not follow the drawing, it seemed to escape her. It did not exist in lines which she could measure, which she could follow. It seemed to have grown out of the canvas rather than to have been placed there. The faces were leaned over--illusive foreshortenings which she could not hope to catch. The girl in front of her was making, it seemed to Mildred, a perfect copy. There seemed to be no difference, or very little, between her work and Reynolds's. Mildred felt that she could copy the copy easier than she could the original.
But on the whole she got on better than she had expected, and it was not till she came to the fifth head, that she found she had drawn them all a little too large, and had not sufficient space left on her canvas. This was a disappointment. There was nothing for it but to dust out her drawing and begin it all again. She grew absorbed in her work; she did not see the girl in front of her, nor the young man copying opposite; she did not notice their visits to each other's easels; she forgot everything in the passion of drawing. Time went by without her perceiving it; she was startled by the sound of her master's voice and looked in glad surprise.
'How are you getting on?' he said.
'Very badly. Can't you see?'
'No, not so badly. Will you let me sit down? Will you give me your charcoal?'
'The first thing is to get the heads into their places on the canvas; don't think of detail; but of two or three points, the crown of the head, the point of the chin, the placing of the ear. If you get them exactly right the rest will come easily. You see there was not much to correct.' He worked on the drawing for some few minutes, and then getting up he said, 'But you'll want some lunch; it is one o'clock. There's a refreshment room downstairs. Let me introduce you to Miss Laurence,' he said. The women bowed. 'You're doing an excellent copy, Miss Laurence.'
'Praise from you is praise indeed.'
'I would give anything to paint like that,' said Mildred.
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