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- Celibates - 6/57 -
'I remember, about Hopwood Blunt. He had just returned from Monte Carlo.'
'But I suppose it is all right. She likes talking to him.'
'I don't think she can find much to talk about to Hopwood Blunt,' said Elsie, laughing. 'Haven't you seen him? He is often in the galleries.'
'What does she say?'
'She says he's a great baby--that he amuses her.'
Next day, Mildred went to visit Cissy in the unfrequented gallery where her 'Bather' would not give scandal to the visitors. She had nearly completed her copy; it was excellent, and Mildred could not praise it sufficiently. Then the girls spoke of Elsie and Walter. Mildred said:
'She seems very fond of him.'
'And of how many others? Elsie never could be true to a man. It was just the same in the Academy schools. And that studio of hers? Have you been to any of her tea-parties? They turn down the lights, don't they?'
As Mildred was about to answer, Cissy said, 'Oh, here's Freddy.'
Mr. Hopwood Blunt was tall and fair, a brawny young Englishman still, though the champagne of fashionable restaurants and racecourses was beginning to show itself in a slight puffiness in his handsome florid cheeks. He shook hands carelessly with Miss Clive, whom he called Cis, and declared himself dead beat. She hastened to hand him her chair.
'I know what's the matter with you,' she said, 'too much champagne last night at the Cafe Royal.'
'Wrong again. We weren't at the Cafe Royal, we dined at the Bristol. Don't like the place; give me the good old Cafe Savoy.'
'How many bottles?'
'Don't know; know that I didn't drink my share. It was something I had after.'
Then followed an account of the company and the dinner. The conversation was carried on in allusions, and Mildred heard something about Tommy's girl and a horse that was worth backing at Kempton. At last it occurred to Cissy to introduce Mildred. Mr. Hopwood Blunt made a faint pretence of rising from his chair, and the conversation turned on the 'Bather.'
'I think you ought to make her a little better looking. What do you say, Miss Lawson? Cis is painting that picture for a smoking-room, and in the smoking-room we like pretty girls.'
He thought that they ought to see a little more of the lady's face; and he did not approve of the drapery. Cissy argued that she could not alter Etty's composition; she reproved him for his facetiousness, and was visibly annoyed at the glances he bestowed on Mildred. A moment after Ralph appeared.
'Don't let me disturb you,' he said, 'I did not know where you were, Miss Lawson, that was all. I thought you might like me to see how you're getting on.'
Ralph and Mildred walked through two galleries in silence. Elsie had gone out to lunch with Walter; the old lady with the grey ringlets, who copied Gainsborough's 'Watering Place,' was downstairs having a cup of coffee and a roll; the cripple leaned on his crutch, and compared his drawing of Mrs. Siddons's nose with Gainsborough's. Ralph waited till he hopped away, and Mildred was grateful to him for the delay; she did not care for her neighbours to see what work her master did on her picture.
'You've got the background wrong,' he said, taking off a yellowish grey with the knife. 'The cloud in the left-hand corner is the deepest dark you have in the picture,' and he prepared a tone. 'What a lovely quality Reynolds has got into the sky! ... This face is not sufficiently foreshortened. Too long from the nose to the chin,' he said, taking off an eighth of an inch. Then the mouth had to be raised. Mildred watched, nervous with apprehension lest Elsie or the old lady or the cripple should return and interrupt him.
'There, it is better now,' he said, surveying the picture, his head on one side.
'I should think it was,' she answered enthusiastically. 'I shall be able to get on now. I could not get the drawing of that face right. And the sky--what a difference! I like it as well as the original. It's quite as good.'
Ralph laughed, and they walked through the galleries. The question, of course, arose, which was the greater, the Turner or the Claude?
Mildred thought that she liked the Claude.
'One is romance, the other is common sense.'
'If the Turner is romance, I wonder I don't prefer it to the Claude. I love romance.'
'School-girl romance, very likely.' Mildred didn't answer and, without noticing her, Ralph continued, 'I like Turner best in the grey and English manner: that picture, for instance, on the other side of the doorway. How much simpler, how much more original, how much more beautiful. That grey and yellow sky, the delicacy of the purple in the clouds. But even in classical landscape Turner did better than Claude --Turner created--all that architecture is dreamed; Claude copied his.'
At the end of each little sentence he stared at Mildred, half ashamed at having expressed himself so badly, half surprised at having expressed himself so well. Anxious to draw him out, she said:
'But the picture you admire is merely a strip of sea with some fishing-boats. I've seen it a hundred times before--at Brighton, at Westgate, at whatever seaside place we go to, just like that, only not quite so dark.'
'Yes, just like that, only not quite so dark. That "not quite so dark" makes the difference. Turner didn't copy, he transposed what he saw. Transposed what he saw,' he repeated. 'I don't explain myself very well, I don't know if you understand. But what I mean is that the more realistic you are the better; so long as you transpose, there must always be a transposition of tones.'
Mildred admitted that she did not quite understand. Ralph stammered, and relinquished the attempt to explain. They walked in silence until they came to the Rembrandts--the portrait of the painter as a young man and the portrait of the 'Jew Merchant.' Mildred preferred the portrait of the young man. 'But not because it's a young man,' she pleaded, 'but because it is, it is---'
'Compared with the "Jew Merchant" it is like a coloured photograph... Look at him, he rises up grand and mysterious as a pyramid, the other is as insignificant as life. Look at the Jew's face, it is done with one tint; a synthesis, a dark red, and the face is as it were made out of nothing--hardly anything, and yet everything is said... You can't say where the picture begins or ends, the Jew surges out of the darkness like a vision. Look at his robe, a few folds, that is all, and yet he's completely dressed, and his hand, how large, how great... Don't you see, don't you understand?'
'I think I do,' Mildred replied a little wistfully, and she cast a last look on the young man whom she must admire no more. Ralph opened the door marked _students only_, and they went down the stone steps. When they came to where the men and women separated for their different rooms, Mildred asked Ralph if he were going out to lunch? He hesitated, and then answered that it took too long to go to a restaurant. Mildred guessed by his manner that he had no money.
'There's no place in the gallery where we can get lunch--you women are luckier than us men. What do they give you in your room?'
'You mean in the way of meat? Cold meat, beef and ham, pork pies. But I don't care for meat, I never touch it.'
'What do you eat?'
'There are some nice cakes. I'll go and get some; we'll share them.'
'No, no, I really am not hungry, much obliged.'
'Oh, do let me go and get some cakes, it'll be such fun, and so much nicer than sitting with a lot of women in that little room.'
They shared their cakes, walking up and down the great stone passages, and this was the beginning of their intimacy. On the following week she wrote to say what train she was coming up by; he met her at the station, and they went together to the National Gallery. But their way led through St. James' Park; they lingered there, and, as the season advanced, their lingerings in the park grew longer and longer.
'What a pretty park this is. It always seems to me like a lady's boudoir, or what I imagine a lady's boudoir must be like.'
'Have you never seen a lady's boudoir?'
'No; I don't think I have. I've never been in what you call society. I had to make my living ever since I was sixteen. My father was a small tradesman in Brixton. When I was sixteen I had to make my own living. I used to draw in the illustrated papers. I began by making two pounds a week. Then, as I got on, I used to live as much as possible in the country. You can't paint landscapes in London.'
'You must have had a hard time.'
'I suppose I had. It was all right as long as I kept to my newspaper work. But I was ambitious, and wanted to paint in oils; but I never had a hundred pounds in front of me. I could only get away for a fortnight or a month at a time. Then, as things got better, I had to help my family. My father died, and I had to look after my mother.'
Mildred raised her eyes and looked at him affectionately.
'I think I could have done something if I had had a fair chance.'
'Done something? But you have done something. Have you forgotten what the _Spectator_ said of your farmyard?'
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