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- Celibates - 5/57 -
'You've only just begun painting,' said Miss Laurence.
'Only a few months,' said Mildred.
'Miss Lawson does some very pretty sketches from nature,' said Mr. Hoskin; 'this is her first attempt at copying.'
'I shall never get those colours,' said Mildred. 'You must tell me which you use.'
'Mr. Hoskin can tell you better than I. You can't have a better master.'
'Do you copy much here?' asked Mildred.
'I paint portraits when I can get them to do; when I can't, I come here and copy.... We're in the same boat,' she said, turning to Mr. Hoskin. 'Mr. Hoskin paints beautiful landscapes as long as he can find customers; when he can't, he undertakes to copy a Turner.'
Mildred noticed the expression that passed over her master's face. It quickly disappeared, and he said, 'Will you take Miss Lawson to the refreshment room, Miss Laurence? You're going there I suppose.'
'Yes, I'm going to the lunch-room, and shall be very glad to show Miss Lawson the way.'
And, in company with quite a number of students, they walked through the galleries. Mildred noticed that Miss Laurence's nose was hooked, that her feet were small, and that she wore brown-leather shoes. Suddenly Miss Laurence said 'This way,' and she went through a door marked 'Students only.' Mr. Hoskin held the door open for her, they went down some stone steps looking on a courtyard. Mr. Hoskin said, 'I always think of Peter De Hooch when I go down these stairs. The contrast between its twilight and the brightness of the courtyard is quite in his manner.'
'And I always think how much I can afford to spend on my lunch,' said Elsie laughing.
The men turned to the left top to go to their room, the women turned to the right to go to theirs.
'This way,' said Miss Laurence, and she opened a glass door, and Mildred found herself in what looked like an eating-house of the poorer sort. There was a counter where tea and coffee and rolls and butter were sold. Plates of beef and ham could be had there, too. The students paid for their food at the counter, and carried it to the tables.
'I can still afford a plate of beef,' said Miss Laurence, 'but I don't know how long I shall be able to if things go on as they've been going. But you don't know what it is to want money,' and in a rapid glance Miss Laurence roughly calculated the price of Mildred's clothes.
A tall, rather handsome girl, with dark coarse hair and a face lit up by round grey eyes, entered.
'So you are here, Elsie,' and she stared at Mildred.
'Let me introduce you to Miss Lawson. Miss Lawson, Miss Cissy Clive.'
'I'm as hungry as a hawk,' Cissy said, and she selected the plate on which there was most beef.
'I haven't seen you here before, Miss Lawson. Is this your first day?'
'Yes, this is my first day.'
They took their food to the nearest table and Elsie asked Cissy if she had finished her copy of Etty's 'Bather.' Cissy told how the old gentleman in charge of the gallery had read her a lecture on the subject. He did not like to see such pictures copied, especially by young women. Copies of such pictures attracted visitors. But Cissy had insisted, and he had put her and the picture into a little room off the main gallery, where she could pursue her nefarious work unperceived.
The girls laughed heartily. Elsie asked for whom Cissy was making the copy.
'For a friend of Freddy's--a very rich fellow. Herbert is going to get him to give me a commission for a set of nude figures. Freddy has just come back from Monte Carlo. He has lost all his money.... He says he's "stony" and doesn't know how he'll pull through.'
'Was he here this morning?'
'He ran in for a moment to see me.... I'm dining with him to-night.'
You're not at home, then?'
'No, I forgot to tell you, I'm staying with you, so be careful not to give me away if you should meet mother. Freddy will be back this afternoon. I'll get him to ask you if you'll come.'
'I promised to go out with Walter to-night.'
'You can put him off. Say that you've some work to finish--some black and white.'
'Then he'd want to come round to the studio. I don't like to put him off.'
'As you like.... It'll be a very jolly dinner. Johnny and Herbert are coming. But I daresay Freddy'll ask Walter. He'll do anything I ask him.'
When lunch was over Cissy and Elsie took each other's arms and went upstairs together. Mildred heard Cissy ask who she was.
Elsie whispered, 'A pupil of Ralph's. You shouldn't have talked so openly before her.'
'So his name is Ralph,' Mildred said to herself, and thought that she liked the name.
Mildred soon began to perceive and to understand the intimate life of the galleries, a strange life full of its special idiosyncrasies. There were titled ladies who came with their maids and commanded respect from the keeper of the gallery, and there was a lady with bright yellow hair who occasioned him much anxiety. For she allowed visitors not only to enter into conversation with her, but if they pleased her fancy she would walk about the galleries with them and take them out to lunch. There was an old man who copied Hogarth, he was madly in love with a young woman who copied Rossetti. But she was in love with an academy student who patronised all the girls and spent his time in correcting their drawings. A little further away was another old man who copied Turner. By a special permission he came at eight o'clock, two hours before the galleries were open. It was said that with a tree from one picture, a foreground from another, a piece of distance from a third, a sky from a fourth, he had made a picture which had taken in the Academicians, and had been hung in Burlington House as an original work by Crome. Most of his work was done before the students entered the galleries; he did very little after ten o'clock; he pottered round from easel to easel chattering; but he never imparted the least of his secrets. He knew how to evade questions, and after ten minutes' cross-examination he would say 'Good morning,' and leave the student no wiser than he was before. A legend was in circulation that to imitate Turner's rough surfaces he covered his canvas with plaster of Paris and glazed upon it.
The little life of the galleries was alive with story. Walter was a fair young man with abundant hair and conversation. Elsie hung about his easel. He covered a canvas with erratic blots of colour and quaint signs, but his plausive eloquence carried him through, and Elsie thought more highly of his talents than he did of hers. They were garrulous one as the other, and it was pleasant to see them strolling about the galleries criticising and admiring, until Elsie said:
'Now, Walter, I must get back to my work, and don't you think it would be better if you went on with yours?'
So far as Mildred could see, Elsie's life seemed from the beginning to have been made up of painting and young men. She was fond of Walter, but she wasn't sure that she did not like Henry best, and later, others--a Jim, a Hubert, and a Charles--knocked at her studio door, and they were all admitted, and they wasted Elsie's time and drank her tea. Very often they addressed their attentions to Mildred, but she said she could not encourage them, they were all fast, and she said she did not like fast men.
'I never knew a girl like you; you're not like other girls. Did you never like a man? I never really. I once thought you liked Ralph.'
'Yes, I do like him. But he's different from these men; he doesn't make love to me. I like him to like me, but I don't think I should like him if he made love to me.'
'You're an odd girl; I don't believe there's another like you.'
'I can't think how you can like all these men to make love to you.'
'They don't all make love to me,' Elsie answered quickly. 'I hope you don't think there's anything wrong. It is merely Platonic.'
'I should hope so. But they waste a great deal of your time.'
'Yes, that's the worst of it. I like men, men are my life, I don't mind admitting it. But I know they've interfered with my painting. That's the worst of it.'
Then the conversation turned on Cissy Clive. 'Cissy is a funny girl,' Elsie said. 'For nine months out of every twelve she leads a highly- respectable life in West Kensington. But every now and then the fit takes her, and she tells her mother, who believes every word she says, that she's staying with me. In reality, she takes rooms in Clarges Street, and has a high old time.'
'I once heard her whispering to you something about not giving her away if you should happen to meet her mother.'
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