At the end of July, Elsie and Cissy spoke of going into the country, and they asked Mildred to come with them. Barbizon was a village close to the Forest of Fontainebleau. There was an inn where they would be comfortable: all the clever young fellows went to Barbizon for the summer. But Mildred thought that on the whole it would be better for her to continue working in the studio without interruption. Elsie and Cissy did not agree with her. They told her that she would find the studio almost deserted and quite intolerable in August. Bad tobacco, drains, and Italian models—Faugh! But their description of what the studio would become in the hot weather did not stir Mildred's resolution. M. Daveau had told her that landscape painting would come to her very easily when she had learnt to draw, and that the way to learn to draw was to draw from the nude. So she bore with the heat and the smells for eight hours a day. There were but four or five other pupils beside herself; this was an advantage in a way, but these few were not inclined for work; idleness is contagious, and Mildred experienced much difficulty in remaining at her easel.
In the evenings her only distraction was to go for a drive with Mrs. Fargus. But too often Mrs. Fargus could not leave her husband, and these evenings Mildred spent in reading or in writing letters. The dullness of her life and the narrowness and aridity of her acquaintance induced her to write very often to Ralph, and depression of spirits often tempted her to express herself more affectionately than she would have done in wider and pleasanter circumstances. She once spoke of the pleasure it would give her to see him, she said that she would like to see him walk into the studio. But when he took her at her word and she saw him draw aside the curtain and look in, a cloud of annoyance gathered on her face. But she easily assumed her pretty mysterious smile and said:
'When did you arrive?'
'Only this morning. You said you'd like to see me. I had to come.... I hope you are not angry.'
Then noticing that the girl next them was an English girl, Ralph spoke about Mildred's drawing. She did not like him to see it, but he asked her for the charcoal and said if she would give him her place he would see if he could find out what was wrong; he did not think she had got enough movement into the figure.
'Ah, that's what the professor says when he comes round toujours un peu froid comme mouvement. I can get the proportions; it is the movement that bothers me.'
'Movement is drawing in the real sense of the word. If they would only teach you to draw by the movement.'
He continued to correct Mildred's drawing for some time. When he laid down the charcoal, he said:
'How hot it is here! I wonder how you can bear it.'
'Yes, the heat is dreadful. I'm too exhausted to do much work. Supposing we go out.'
They went downstairs and some way along the Passage des Panoramas without speaking. At last Mildred said:
'Are you going to be in Paris for long?'
'No, I'm going back at once, perhaps to-morrow. You know I've a lot of work on hand. I'm getting on, luck has turned. I've sold several pictures. I must get back.'
'Why, to-morrow?—it was hardly worth while coming for so short a time.'
'I only came to see you. You know I couldn't—you know—I mean that I felt that I must see you.'
Mildred looked up, it was an affectionate glance; and she swung her parasol in a way that recalled their walks in the Green Park. They passed out of the passage into the boulevard. As they crossed the Rue Vivienne, Ralph said in his abrupt fragmentary way:
'You said you'd like to see me, I could see from your letters that you were unhappy.'
'No, I'm not unhappy—a little dull at times, that is all.'
'You wrote me some charming letters. I hope you meant all you said.'
'Did I say so much, then? I daresay I said more than I intended.'
'No, don't say that, don't say that.'
The absinthe drinkers, the green trees, the blue roofs of the great houses, all these signs of the boulevard, intruded upon and interrupted their thoughts; then the boulevard passed out of their sight and they were again conscious of nothing but each other.
'I met your brother. He was anxious about you. He wondered if you were getting on and I said that I'd go and see.'
'And do you think I'm getting on?'
Yes, I think you've made progress. You couldn't have done that drawing before you went to Paris.'
'You really think so.... I was right to go to Paris.... I must show you my other drawings. I've some better than that.'
The artistic question was discussed till they reached the Place de l'Opera.
'That is the opera-house,' Mildred said, 'and that is the Cafe de la Paix.... You haven't been to Paris before?'
'No; this is my first visit. But I didn't come to Paris to see Paris. I came to see you. I could not help myself. Your letters were so charming. I have read them over a thousand times. I couldn't go on reading them without seeing you.... I got afraid that you'd find some one here you'd fall in love with. Some one whom you'd prefer to me. Have you?'
'No; I don't know that I have.'
'Then why shouldn't we be married? That's what I've come to ask you.'
'You mean now, in Paris?'
'Why not? If you haven't met any one you like better, you know.'
'And give up my painting, and just at the time I'm beginning to get on! You said I had improved in my drawing.'
'Ah, your drawing interests you more than I.'
'I'd give anything to draw like Misal. You don't know him—a student of the Beaux Arts.'
'When you'd learnt all he knows, you wouldn't be any nearer to painting a picture.'
'That isn't very polite. You don't think much of my chances of success.... But we shall see.'
'Mildred, you don't understand me. This is not fair to me. Only say when you'll marry me, and I'll wait, I'll wait, yes, as long as you like—only fix a time.'
'When I've learnt to draw.'
'You're laughing at me.'
Her face darkened, and they did not speak again till the green roof of the Madeleine appeared, striking sharp against a piece of blue sky. Mildred said:
'This is my way,' and she turned to the right.
'You take offence without cause. When you have learnt to draw! We're always learning to draw. No one has ever learnt to draw perfectly.'
'I have no other answer.'
'Mildred, this isn't fair.'
'If you're not satisfied I release you from your engagement. Yes, I release you from your engagement.'
'Mildred, you're cruel. You seem to take pleasure in torturing me. But this cannot be. I cannot live without you. What am I to do?'
'You must try.'
'No, I shall not try,' he answered sullenly.
'What will you do?'
'My plans are made. I shall not live.'
'Oh, Ralph, you will not kill yourself. It would not be worth while. You've your art to live for. You are—how old are you—thirty? You're no longer a sentimental boy. You've got your man's life to lead. You must think of it.'
'I don't feel as if I could. Life seems impossible.'
She looked into his pale gentle eyes and the thought crossed her mind that his was perhaps one of those narrow, gentle natures that cannot outlive such a disappointment as she intended to inflict. It would be very terrible if he did commit suicide, the object of his visit to Paris would transpire. But no, he would not commit suicide, she was quite safe, and on that thought she said:
'I cannot remain out any longer.'
She stopped in the middle of the room, and, holding in her hand her large hat decorated with ostrich feathers, she assured herself that it was not at all likely that he would commit suicide. Yet men did commit suicide.... She did not want him to kill himself, that anything so terrible should happen would grieve her very much. She was quite sincere, yet the thought persisted that it would be very wonderful if he did do so. It would make a great scandal. That a man should kill himself for her! No woman had ever obtained more than that. Standing in the middle of the room, twirling her hat, she asked herself if she really wished him to kill himself. Of course not. Then she thought of herself, of how strange she was. She was very strange, she had never quite understood herself.
Mechanically, as if in a dream, she opened a bandbox and put her hat away. She smoothed her soft hair before the glass. Her appearance pleased her, and she wondered if she were worth a man's life. She was a dainty morsel, no doubt, so dainty that life was unendurable without her. But she was wronging herself, she did not wish him to kill himself.... Men had done so before for women.... If it came to the point, she would do everything in her power to prevent such a thing. She would do everything, yes, everything except marry him. She couldn't settle down to watch him painting pictures. She wanted to paint pictures herself. Would she succeed? He didn't think so, but that was because he wanted her to marry him. And, if she didn't succeed, she would have to marry him or some one else. She would have to live with a man, give up her whole life to him, submit herself to him. She must succeed. Success meant so much. If she succeeded, she would be spoken of in the newspapers, and, best of all, she would hear people say when she came into a room, 'That is Mildred Lawson....'
She didn't want to marry, but she would like to have all the nicest men in love with her.... Meanwhile she was doing the right thing. She must learn to draw, and the studio was the only place she could learn. But she did not want to paint large portraits with dark backgrounds. She could not see herself doing things like that. Chaplin was her idea. She had always admired him. His women were so dainty, so elegant, so eighteenth century—wicked little women in swings, as wicked as their ankles, as their lovers' guitars.
But she would have to work two or three years before any one could tell her whether she would succeed. Two or three years! It was a long time, but a woman must do something if she wishes to attract attention, to be a success. A little success in art went a long way in society. But Paris was so dull, Elsie and Cissy were still away. There was no one in the studio who interested her; moreover, Elsie had told her that any flirtation there might easily bring banishment to the ladies' studio across the way. So it was provoking that Ralph had forced her to throw him over at that particular moment. She would have liked to have kept him on, at least till the end of the month, when Elsie and Cissy would return. The break with Ralph was certainly not convenient. She still felt some interest in him. She would write to him.
'We've come back,' said Elsie. 'We heard at the studio that you had gone away feeling ill, so we came on here to find out how you were.'
'Oh, it is nothing,' said Mildred. 'I've been working rather hard lately, that's all.'
'You should have come with us,' said Cissy. 'We've had an awfully jolly time.'
'We'll go into the drawing-room. Wait a minute till I find my slippers.'
'Oh, don't trouble to get up; we only came to see how you were,' said Elsie.
'But I'm quite well, there's really nothing the matter. It was only that I felt I couldn't go on working this afternoon. The model bored me, and it was so hot. It was very good of you to come and see me like this.'
'We've had a jolly time and have done a lot of work.'
'Elsie has done a girl weaving a daisy-chain in a meadow. It is wonderful how she has got the sunlight on the grass. All our things are in the studio, you will see them to-morrow.'
'I don't see why I shouldn't see them to-day. I'll dress myself.'
The account they gave of their summer outing was tantalising to the tired and jaded girl. She imagined the hushed and shady places, the murmuring mystery of bird and insect life. She could see them going forth in the mornings with their painting materials, sitting at their easels under the tall trees, intent on their work or lying on rugs spread in the shade, the blue smoke of cigarettes curling and going out, or later in the evening packing up easels and paint-boxes, and finding their way out of the forest.
It was Elsie who did most of the talking. Cissy reminded her now and then of something she had forgotten, and, when they turned into the Passage des Panoramas, Elsie was deep in an explanation of the folly of square brush work. Both were converts to open brush work. They had learnt it from a very clever fellow, an impressionist. All his shadows were violet. She did not hold with his theory regarding the division of the tones: at least not yet. Perhaps she would come to it in time.
Mildred liked Elsie's lady in a white dress reading under a rhododendron tree in full blossom. Cissy had painted a naked woman in the garden sunshine. Mildred did not think that flesh could be so violet as that, but there was a dash and go about it that she felt she would never attain. It seemed to her a miracle, and, in her admiration for her friend's work, she forgot her own failure. The girls dined at a Bouillon Duval and afterwards they went to the theatre together. Next morning they met, all three, in the studio; the model was interesting, Mildred caught the movement more happily than usual; her friends' advice had helped her.
But at least two years would have to pass before she would know if she had the necessary talent to succeed as an artist. For that while she must endure the drudgery of the studio and the boredom of evenings alone with Mrs. Fargus. She went out with Elsie and Cissy sometimes, but the men they introduced her to were not to her taste. She had seen no one who interested her in Paris, except perhaps M. Daveau. That thick-set, black-bearded southern, with his subtle southern manner, had appealed to her, in a way. But M. Daveau had been ordered suddenly to Royon for gout and rheumatism, and Mildred was left without any one to exercise her attractions upon. She spent evening after evening with Mrs. Fargus, until the cropped hair, the spectacles, above all, the black satin dress with the crimson scarf, getting more and more twisted, became intolerable. And Mr. Fargus' cough and his vacuous conversation, in which no shadow of an idea ever appeared, tried her temper. But she forebore, seeing how anxious they were to please her. That was the worst. These simple kind-hearted people saw that their sitting-room bored Mildred, and they often took her for drives in the Bois after dinner. Crazed with boredom Mildred cast side-long glances of hatred at Mrs. Fargus, who sat by her side a mute little figure lost in Comte. Mr. Fargus' sallow-complexioned face was always opposite her; he uttered commonplaces in a loud voice, and Mildred longed to fling herself from the carriage. At last, unable to bear with reality, she chattered, laughed, and told stories and joked until her morose friends wondered at her happiness. Her friends were her audience; they sufficed to stimulate the histrionic spirit in her, and she felt pleased like an actor who has amused an audience which he despises.
She had now been in Paris seven months, but she had seen little of Paris except the studio and the Bouillon Duval where she went to breakfast with Elsie and Cissy. The spectacle of the Boulevards, the trees and the cafes always the same, had begun to weary her. Her health, too, troubled her a little, she was not very strong, and she had begun to think that a change would do her good. She would return to Paris in the spring; she would spend next summer in Barbizon; she was determined to allow nothing to interfere with her education; but, for the moment, she felt that she must go back to Sutton. Every day her craving for England grew more intolerable. She craved for England, for her home, for its food, for its associations. She longed for her own room, for her garden, for the trap. She wanted to see all the girls, to hear what they thought of her absence. She wanted to see Harold.
At first his letters had irritated her, she had said that he wanted her to look after his house; she had argued that a man never hesitates to put aside a woman's education, if it suits his convenience. But now it seemed to her that it would be unkind to leave Harold alone any longer. It was manifestly her duty to go home, to spend Christmas with him. She was only going to Sutton for a while. She loved France, and would certainly return. She knew now what Paris was like, and when she returned it would be alone, or in different company. Mrs. Fargus was very well, but she could not go on living with her for ever. She would come in useful another time. But, for the moment, she could not go on living with her, she had become a sort of Old Man of the Sea, and the only way to rid herself of her was by returning to England.
An imperative instinct was drawing her back to England, but another instinct equally strong said: 'As soon as I am rested, nothing shall prevent me from returning to Paris.'
The sea was calm and full of old-fashioned brigs and barques. She watched them growing small like pictures floating between a green sea and a mauve sky; and then was surprised to see the white cliffs so near; and the blowing woodland was welcome after the treeless French plain.
Harold was to meet her at Victoria, and when she had answered his questions regarding the crossing, and they had taken their seats in the suburban train, he said:
'You're looking a little tired, you've been over-doing it.'
'Yes, I've been working pretty hard,' she said, and the conversation paused.
The trap was waiting for them at the station and, when they got in, Mildred said: 'I wonder what there will be for dinner.'
'I think there is boiled salmon and a roast leg of mutton. Will that suit you?'
'Well,' said Mildred, 'isn't that taking a somewhat sudden leap?'
'Why, into England. I should have thought that some sort of dish—a roast chicken or a boiled chicken would have been a pas de Calais kind of dish.'
'You shall have roast chicken to-morrow, or would you like them boiled?'
'I don't mind,' said Mildred, more disappointed at the failure of her joke than at the too substantial fare that awaited her. 'Poor Harold,' she thought, 'is the best of fellows, but, like all of them, he can't see a joke. The cooking I can alter, but he'll always remain boiled and roast leg of mutton.'
But, though with little sense of humour, Harold was not as dense as Mildred thought. He saw that her spirits were forced, that she was in ill-health, and required a long rest. So he was not surprised to hear in the morning that she was too tired to come down to breakfast; she had a cup of tea in her room, and when she came down to the dining- room she turned from the breakfast table. She could touch nothing, and went out of doors to see what kind of day it was.
The skies were grey and lowering, the little avenue that led to the gate was full of dead leaves; they fluttered down from the branches; the lawn was soaked, and the few flowers that remained were pale and worn. A sense of death and desolation pervaded the damp, moist air; Mildred felt sorrow mounting in her throat, and a sense of dread, occasioned by the sudden showering of a bough, caused her to burst into tears. She had no strength left, she felt that she was going to be ill, and trembled lest she should die.
To die, and she so young! No, she would live, she would succeed. But to do that she must take more care of her health. She would eat no more bon-bons; she threw the box away. And, conquering her repugnance to butchers' meat, she finished a chop and drank a couple of glasses of wine for lunch. The food did her good, and she determined to take a long rest. For a month she would do nothing but rest, she would not think of painting, she would not even draw on the blotting-pad. Rest was what she wanted, and there was no better place to rest than Sutton.
'If it weren't so dull.' She sighed and looked out on the wet lawn. No one would call, no one knew she had come home. Was it wise for her to venture out, and on such a day? She felt that it was not, and immediately after ordered the trap.
She went to call on some friends.... If they would allow her to bring Mabel back to dinner it would be nice, she could show Mabel her dresses and tell her about Paris. But Mabel was staying with friends in London. This was very disappointing, but determined to see some one Mildred went a long way in search of a girl who used to bore her dreadfully. But she too was out. Coming home Mildred was caught in the rain; the exertion of changing her clothes had exhausted her, and sitting in the warmth of the drawing-room fire she grew fainter and fainter. The footman brought in the lamp. She got up in some vague intention of fetching a book, but, as she crossed the room, she fell full length along the floor.
When she was able to leave her room she was ordered to the sea-side. After a fortnight in Brighton she went to stay with some friends in town. Christmas she spent in Sutton. There was a large party of Harold's friends, business folk, whom Mildred hated. She was glad when they left, and she was free to choose the room that suited her purpose best. She purchased draperies, and hired models, and commenced a picture. She commenced a second picture, but that too went wrong; she then tried a few studies. She got on better with these, but it soon became clear to her that she could not carry out her ideas until she had learned to draw.
Another two years of hard work in the studio were necessary. But as she was not going to Paris till the spring her thoughts turned to the National Gallery, and on the following week she commenced copying a head by Greuse. She had barely finished sketching in the head when Miss Brand told her that Ralph was very ill and was not expected to live. She laid her charcoal on the easel, the movement was very slow, and she lifted a frightened face.
'What is the matter with him? Do you know?'
'He caught a bad cold about a month ago, he doesn't seem ever to have got over it. But for a long time he has been looking worried, you know the look of a man who has something on his mind.'
A close observer might have noticed that the expression on Mildred's face changed a little. 'He is dying for me,' she thought. 'He is dying for love of me.' And as in a ray of sunlight she basked for a moment in a little glow of self-satisfaction. Then, almost angrily, she defended herself against herself. She was not responsible for so casual a thought, the greatest saint might be the victim of a wandering thought. She was, of course, glad that he liked her, but she was sorry that she had caused him suffering. He must have suffered. Men will sacrifice anything for their passions. But no, Ralph had always been nice with her, she owed him a great deal; they had had pleasant times together—in this very gallery. She could remember almost every word he said. She had liked him to lean over her shoulder, and correct her drawing. He would never do so again.
Good heavens! ... Just before Miss Brand came up to speak to her she was wondering if she should meet him in the gallery, and what he would think of the Greuse. He wouldn't care much about it. He didn't care much about the French eighteenth century, of course he admired Watteau, but it was an impersonal admiration, there was nothing of the Watteau, Greuse, Pater, or Lancret in him. He was purely English. He took no interest in the unreal charm that that head expressed. Of course, no such girl had ever existed or could exist, those melting eyes and the impossible innocence of that mouth! It was the soul of a courtesan in the body of a virgin. She was like that, somewhat like that; and, inspired by the likeness between herself and the picture, Mildred took up her charcoal and continued her drawing.
But she must have been thinking vaguely all the while of Ralph, for suddenly her thoughts became clear and she heard the words as if they had been read to her: 'Lots of men have killed themselves for women, but to die of a broken heart proves a great deal more. Few women have inspired such a love as that.... If it were known—if—she pushed the thought angrily aside as one might a piece of furniture over which one has stumbled in the dark. It was shocking that thoughts should come uncalled for, and such thoughts! the very opposite of what she really felt. That man had been very good to her; she had liked him very much. It was shocking that she had been the cause of his death. It was too terrible. But it was most improbable, it was much more likely that his illness was the effect of the cold he had caught last month. Men did not die of broken hearts. She had nothing whatever to do with it.... And yet she didn't know. When men like him set their hearts on a woman—she was very sorry, she was sorry. But there was no use thinking any more about it...
So she locked up her paint-box and left the gallery. She was nervous; her egotism had frightened her a little. He was dying, and for her, yet she felt nothing. Not only were her eyes dry, but her heart was too. A pebble with her own name written on it, that was her heart. She wished to feel, she longed for the long ache of regret which she read of in books, she yearned for tears. Tears were a divine solace, grief was beautiful. And all along the streets she continued to woo sorrow— she thought of his tenderness, the real goodness of his nature, his solicitude for her, and she allowed her thoughts to dwell on the pleasant hours they had passed together.
Her heart remained unmoved, but her feet led her towards St. James' Park. She thought she would like to see it again, and when she stood on the bridge where they had so often stood, when she visited the seat where they had often sat chatting under the budding trees her eyes would surely fill with tears, and she would grieve for her dying lover as appropriately as any other woman.
But that day the park was submerged in blue mist. The shadows of the island fell into the lake, still as death; and the birds, moving through the little light that lingered on the water, seemed like shadows, strange and woe-begone. To Mildred it seemed all like death. She would never again walk with him in the pretty spring mornings when light mist and faint sunlight play together, and the trees shake out their foliage in the warm air. How sad it all was. But she did feel sorry for him, she really was sorry, though she wasn't overcome with grief. But she had done nothing wrong. In justice to herself she could not admit that she had. She always knew just where to draw the line, and if other girls did not, so much the worse for them. He had wanted to marry her, but that was no reason why she should marry him. She may have led him to expect that she would sooner or later, but in breaking with him she had done the wisest thing. She would not have made him happy; she was not sure that she could make any man happy...
Awaking from her thoughts she reproached herself for her selfishness, she was always thinking of herself... and that poor fellow was dying for love of her! She knew what death was; she too had been ill. She was quite well now, but she had been ill enough to see to the edge of that narrow little slit in the ground, that terrible black little slit whence Ralph was going, going out of her sight for ever, out of sight of the park, this park which would be as beautiful as ever in another couple of months, and where he had walked with her. How terrible it was, how awful—and how cold, she could not stand on the bridge any longer. She shivered and said, 'I'm catching a cold.'
For the sake of her figure she never wore quite enough clothes, and she regretted her imprudence in standing so long on the misty bridge. She must take care of herself, for her to feel ill would serve no purpose—she would not be able to see Ralph, and she wanted to see him above all things. As she crossed the open space in front of Buckingham Palace the desire to see him laid hold of her. She must know if he were really dying. She would, drive straight to his studio. She had been there before, but then she knew no one would be there. She would have to risk the chance of some one seeing her going in and coming out. But no matter who saw her, she must go. She hailed a hansom, and the discovery that she was capable of so much adventure, pleased her. She thought of his poor sick-bed in the dark room behind the studio. She had caught sight of his bedroom as she had passed through the passage. She believed herself capable and willing to sit by his sick- bed and nurse him. She did not as a rule care for sick people, but she thought she would like to nurse him.
The hansom turned through the Chelsea streets getting nearer and nearer to the studio. She wondered who was nursing him—there must be some one there.... The hansom stopped. She got out and knocked. The door was opened by a young woman who looked like a servant, but Mildred was not deceived by her appearance. 'One of his models come to nurse him,' she thought.
'I have heard,' she said, 'that Mr. Hoskin is ill.'
'Yes, he is very ill, I'm sorry to say.'
'I should like to see him. Will you inquire?'
'He's not well enough to see any one to-day. He has just dozed off. I couldn't awake him. But I'll give him any message.'
'Give him my card and say I would like to see him. Stay, I'll write a word upon it.'
While Mildred wrote on the card the girl watched her—her face was full of suspicion; and when she read the name, an involuntary 'Oh' escaped from her, and Mildred knew that Ralph had spoken of her. 'Probably,' she thought, 'she has been his mistress. She wouldn't be here nursing, if she hadn't been.'
'I'll give him your card.'
There was nothing for it but to lower her eyes and murmur 'thank you,' and before she reached the end of the street her discomfort had materially increased. She was humiliated and angry, humiliated that that girl should have seen through her so easily, angry that Ralph should have spoken about her to his mistress; for she was sure that the woman was, or had been, his mistress. She regretted having asked to see Ralph, but she had asked for an appointment, she could hardly get out of it now.... She would have to meet that woman again, but she wanted to see Ralph.
'Ralph, I suppose, told her the truth.'
A moment's reflection convinced Mildred that that was probably the case, and reassured, she went to bed wondering when she would get a letter. She might get one in the morning. She was. not disappointed; the first letter she opened read as follows:—
MADAM,—Mr. Hoskin begs me to thank you for your kind inquiry. He is feeling a little stronger and will be glad to see you. His best time is in the afternoon about three o'clock. Could you make it convenient to call about that time?
'I think it right to warn you that it would be well not to speak of anything that would be likely to excite him, for the doctor says that all hope of his recovery depends on his being kept quiet.—I am, Madam, yours truly,
'Ellen Gibbs, so that is her name,' thought Mildred. There was a note of authority in the letter which did not escape Mildred's notice and which she easily translated into a note of animosity, if not of hatred. Mildred did not like meeting this woman, something told her that it would be wiser not, but she wanted to see Ralph, and an expression of vindictiveness came into her cunning eyes. 'If she dares to try to oppose me, she'll soon find out her mistake. I'll very soon settle her, a common woman like that. Moreover she has been his mistress, I have not, she will quail before me, I shall have no difficulty in getting the best of her.'
'To-morrow. This letter was written last night, so I have to go to see him to-day, this afternoon, three o'clock, I shall have to go up after lunch by the two o'clock train. That will get me there by three.... I wonder if he is really dying? If I were to go and see him and he were to recover it would be like beginning it over again.... But I don't know why every base thought and calculation enter my head. I don't know why such thoughts should come into my head, I don't know why they do come, I don't call them nor do their promptings affect me. I am going to see him because I was once very fond of him, because I caused him, through no fault of mine, a great deal of suffering—because it appears that he's dying for love of me. I know he'd like to see me before he dies, that's why I am going, and yet horrid thoughts will come into my head; to hear me thinking, any one would imagine it was only on account of my own vanity that I wanted to see him, whereas it is quite the contrary. As a rule I hate sick people, and I'm sure it is most disagreeable to me to meet that woman.'
The two o'clock train took her to town, a hansom from Victoria to the studio; she dismissed the hansom at the corner and walked up the street thinking of the woman who would open the door to her. There was something about the woman she didn't like. But it didn't matter; she would be shown in at once, and of course left alone with Ralph... Supposing the woman were to sit there all the while. But it was too late now, she had knocked.
'I've come to see Mr. Hoskin.' Feeling that her speech was too abrupt she added, 'I hope he is better to-day.'
'Yes, I'm thankful to say he's a little better.'
Mildred stopped in the passage, and Ellen said:
'Mr. Hoskin isn't in his bedroom. We've put him into the studio.'
'I hope she doesn't think that I've been in his bedroom,' thought Mildred. Ralph lay in a small iron bed, hardly more than a foot from the floor, and his large features, wasted by illness, seemed larger than ever. But a glow appeared in his dying eyes at the sight of Mildred. Ellen placed a chair by his bedside and said:
'I will go out for a short walk. I shan't be away more than half an hour.'
Their eyes said, 'We shall be alone for half an hour,' and she took the thin hand he extended to her.
'Oh, Ralph, I'm sorry to find you ill.... But you're better to-day, aren't you?'
'Yes, I feel a little better to-day. It was good of you to come.'
'I came at once.'
'How did you hear I was ill? We've not written to each other for a long while.'
'I heard it in the National. Miss Brand told me.'
'You know her?'
'I remember, she wrote about the new pictures for an American paper.'
'Yes. How familiar it sounds, those dear days in the National.'
Ralph's eyes were fixed upon her. She could not bear their wistfulness, and she lowered hers.
'She told me you were ill.'
'But when did you return from France? Tell me.'
'About six weeks ago. I fell ill the moment I got back.'
'What was the matter?'
'I had overdone it. I had overworked myself. I had let myself run down. The doctor said that I didn't eat enough meat. You know I never did care for meat.'
'When I got better I was ordered to the seaside, then I went on a visit to some friends and didn't get back to Sutton till Christmas. We had a lot of stupid people staying with us. I couldn't do any work while they were in the house. When they left I began a picture, but I tried too difficult subjects and got into trouble with my drawing. You said I'd never succeed. I often thought of what you said. Well, then, I went to the National. Nellie Brand told me you were ill, that you had been ill for some time, at least a month.'
A thin smile curled Ralph's red lips and his eyes seemed to grow more wistful. 'I've been ill more than a month,' he said. 'But no matter, Nellie Brand told you and—-'
'Of course I could not stay at the National. I felt I must see you. I didn't know how. ... My feet turned towards St. James' Park. I stood on the little bridge thinking. You know I was very fond of you, Ralph, only it was in my way and you weren't satisfied.' She looked at him sideways, so that her bright brown eyes might have all their charm; his pale eyes, wistful and dying, were fixed on her, not intently as a few moments before, but vaguely, and the thought stirred in her that he might die before her eyes. In that case what was she to do? 'Are you listening?' she said.
'Oh yes, I'm listening,' he answered, his smile was reassuring, and she said:
'Suddenly I felt that—that I must see you. I felt I must know what was the matter, so I took a cab and came straight here. Your servant—-'
'You mean Ellen.'
'I thought she was your servant, she said that you were lying down and could not be disturbed. She did not seem to wish me to see you or to know what was the matter.'
'I was asleep when you called yesterday, but when I heard of your visit I told her to write the letter which you received this morning. It was kind of you to come.'
'Kind of me to come! You must think badly of me if you think I could have stayed away. ... But now tell me, Ralph, what is the matter, what does the doctor say? Have you had the best medical advice, are you in want of anything? Can I do anything? Pray, don't hesitate. You know that I was, that I am, very fond of you, that I would do anything. You have been ill a long while now—what is the matter?'
'Thank you, dear. Things must take their course. What that course is it is impossible to say. I've had excellent medical advice and Ellen takes care of me.'
'But what is your illness? Nellie Brand told me that you caught a bad cold about a month ago. Perhaps a specialist—-'
'Yes, I had a bad attack of influenza about a month or six weeks ago and I hadn't strength, the doctor said, to recover from it. I have been in bad health for some time. I've been disappointed. My painting hasn't gone very well lately. That was a disappointment. Disappointment, I think, is as often the cause of a man's death as anything else. The doctors give it a name: influenza, or paralysis of the brain, failure of the heart's action, but these are the superficial causes of death. There is often a deeper reason: one which medical science is unable to take into account.'
'Oh, Ralph, you mean me. Don't say that I am the cause. It was not my fault. If I broke my engagement it was because I knew I could not have made you happy. There's no reason to be jealous, it wasn't for any other man. There never will be another man. I was really very fond of you. ... It wasn't my fault.'
'No, dear, it wasn't your fault. It wasn't any one's fault, it was the fault of luck.'
Mildred longed for tears, but her eyes remained dry, and they wandered round the studio examining and wondering at the various canvases. A woman who had just left her bath passed her arms into the sleeves of a long white wrapper. There was something peculiarly attractive in the picture. The picture said something that had not been said before, and Mildred admired its naturalness. But she was still more interested in the fact that the picture had been painted from the woman who had opened the door to her.
'She sits for the figure and attends on him when he is ill, she must be his mistress. Since when I wonder?'
'How do you like it?' he asked.
'Very much. It is beautifully drawn, so natural and so original. How did you think of that movement? That is just how a woman passes her arms into her wrapper when she get out of her bath. How did you think of it?'
'I don't know. She took the pose. I think the movement is all right.'
'Yes; it is a movement that happens every morning, yet no one thought of it before. How did you think of it?'
'I don't know, I asked her to take some poses and it came like that. I think it is good. I'm glad you like it.'
'It is very different from the stupid things we draw in the studio.'
'I told you that you'd do no good by going to France.' 'I learnt a good deal there. Every one cannot learn by themselves as you did. Only genius can do that.'
'Genius! A few little pictures ... I think I might have done something if I had got the chance. I should have liked to have finished that picture. It is a good beginning. I never did better.'
'Dearest, you will live to paint your picture. I want you to finish it. I want you to: live for my sake. ... I will buy that picture.'
'There's only one thing I should care to live for.'
'And that you shall have.' 'Then I'll try to live.' He raised himself a little in bed. His eyes were fixed on her and he tried hard to believe. 'I'm afraid,' he said, 'it's too late now.' She watched him with the eyes she knew he loved, and though ashamed of the question, she could not put it back, and it slipped through her lips.
'Would you sooner live for me than for that picture?'
'One never knows what one would choose,' he said. 'Such speculations are always vain, and never were they vainer than now. ... But I'm glad you like that movement. It doesn't matter even if I never finish it, I don't think it looks bad in its present state, does it?'
'It is a sketch, one of those things that could not be finished. ... I recognise the model. She sat for it, didn't she?'
'You seem very intimate. ... She seems very devoted.'
'She has been very good to me. ... Don't say anything against her. I've nothing to conceal, Mildred. It is an old story. It began long before I knew you.'
'And continued while you knew me?'
'And you never told me. Oh, Ralph, while you were telling me you loved me you were living with this woman.'
'It happened so. Things don't come out as straight or as nice as we'd like them to—that's the way things come out in life—a bit crooked, tangled, cracked. I only know that I loved you, I couldn't have done otherwise. That's the way things happened to come out. There's no other explanation.'
'And if I had consented to marry you, you'd have put her away.'
'Mildred, don't scold me. Things happened that way.'
Mildred did not answer and Ralph said:
'What are you thinking of?'
'Of the cruelty, of the wretchedness of it all.'
'Why look at that side of it? If I did wrong, I've been punished. She knows all. She has forgiven me. You can do as much? Forgive me, kiss me. I've never kissed you.'
'I cannot kiss you now. I hear her coming. Wipe those tears away. The doctor said that you were to be kept quiet.'
'Shall I see you again?'
'I don't think I can come again. She'll be here.'
'Mildred! What difference can it make?'
'We shall see. ...'
The door opened. Ellen came in, and Mildred got up to go.
'I hope you've enjoyed your walk, Miss Gibbs.'
'Yes, thank you. I haven't been out for some days.'
'Nursing is very fatiguing. ... Good-bye, Mr. Hoskin. I hope I shall soon hear that you're better. Perhaps Miss Gibbs will write.'
'Yes, I'll write, but I'm afraid Mr. Hoskin has been talking too much. ... Let me open the door for you.'
When she got home she went to her room. She took off her dress and put on an old wrapper, and then lay on the floor and cried. She could not cry in a pair of stays. To abandon herself wholly to grief she must have her figure free.
And all that evening she hardly spoke; she lay back in her chair, her soul lost in one of her most miserable of moods. Harold spoke a few words from time to time so that she should not perceive that he was aware of her depression.
Her novel lay on her knees unread, and she sat, her eyes fixed, staring into the heart of life. She had never seen so far into life before; she was looking into the heart of life, which is death. He was about to die—he had loved her even unto death; he had loved her even while he was living with another woman. As she sat thinking, her novel on her knees, she could see that other woman sitting by his death-bed. Two candles were burning in the vast studio, and by their dim light she saw the shadow of the profile on the pillow. She thought of him as a man yearning for an ideal which he could never attain, and dying of his yearning in the end! And that so beautiful and so holy an aspiration should proceed from the common concubinage of a studio! Suddenly she decided that Ralph was not worthy of her. Her instinct had told her from the first that something was wrong. She had never known why she had refused him. Now she knew.
But in the morning she was, as she put it herself, better able to see things from a man's point of view, and she found some excuses for Ralph's life. This connection had been contracted long ago. ... Ralph had had to earn his living since he was sixteen—he had never been in society; he had never known nice women: the only women he had known were his models; what was he to do? A lonely life in a studio, his meals brought in from the public-house, no society but those women. ... She could understand. ... Nevertheless, it was a miserable thing to think that all the time he had been making love to her he had been living with that woman. 'He used to leave her to come to meet me in the park.'
This was a great bitterness. She thought that she hated him. But hatred was inconsistent with her present mood, and she reflected that, after all, Ralph was dying for love of her, that was a fact, and behind that fact it were not wise to look. No man could do more than die for the woman he loved, no man could prove his love more completely. ... But it was so sad to think he was dying. Could nothing be done to save him? Would he recover if she were to promise to be his wife? She need not carry out her promise; she didn't know if she could. But if a promise would cure him, she would promise. She would go as far as that. ... But for what good? To get him well so that he might continue living with that woman. ...
If he hadn't confessed, if she hadn't known of this shameful connection, if it hadn't been dragged under her eyes! Ralph might have spared her that. If he had spared her that she felt that she could promise to be his wife, and perhaps to keep her promise, for in the end she supposed she would have to marry some one. She didn't see how she was going to escape. ... Yes, if he had not told her, or better still, if he had not proved himself unworthy of her, she felt she would have been capable of the sacrifice.
She had been to see him! She knew that she ought not to have gone. Her instinct had told her not to go. But she had conquered her feeling. If she had known that she was going to meet that woman she would not have gone. Whenever we allow ourselves to be led by our better feelings we come to grief. That woman hated her; she knew she did. She could see it in her look. She wouldn't put herself in such a false position again. ... A moment after she was considering if she should go to Ellen and propose that she, Mildred, should offer to marry Ralph, but not seriously, only just to help him to get well. If the plan succeeded she would persuade Ralph that his duty was to marry Ellen. And intoxicated with her own altruism, Mildred's thoughts passed on and she imagined a dozen different dramas, in every one of which she appeared in the character of a heroine.
'Mildred, what is the matter?'
'Nothing, dear, I've only forgotten my pocket-handkerchief.'
How irritating were Harold's stupid interruptions. She had to ask him if he would take another cup of tea. He said that he thought he would just have time. He had still five minutes. She poured out the tea, thinking all the while of the sick man lying on his poor narrow bed in the corner of the great studio. It was shameful that he should die; tears rose to her eyes, and she had to walk across the room to hide them. It was a pitiful story. He was dying for her, and she wasn't worth it. She hadn't much heart; she knew it, perhaps one of these days she would meet some one who would make her feel. She hoped so, she wanted to feel. She wanted to love; if her brother were to die to- morrow, she didn't believe she would really care. It was terrible; if people only knew what she was like they would look the other way when she passed down the street.... But, no, all this was morbid nonsense; she was overwrought, and nervous, and that proved that she had a heart. Perhaps too much heart.
In the next few days Ralph died a hundred times, and had been rescued from death at least a dozen times by Mildred; she had watched by his bedside, she had even visited his grave. And at the end of each dream came the question: 'Would he live, would he die?' At last, unable to bear the suspense any longer, she went to the National Gallery to obtain news of him. But Miss Brand had little news of him. She was leaving the gallery, and the two girls went for a little walk. Mildred was glad of company, anything to save her from thinking of Ralph, and she laughed and talked with Nellie on the bridge in St. James' Park, until she began to feel that the girl must think her very heartless.
'How pale and ill you're looking, Mildred.'
'Am I? I feel all right.'
Nellie's remark delighted Mildred, 'Then I have a heart,' she thought, 'I'm not so unfeeling as I thought.'
The girls separated at Buckingham Palace. Mildred walked a little way, and then suddenly called a hansom and told the man to drive to Chelsea. But he had not driven far before thoughts of the woman he was living with obtruded upon her pity, and she decided that it would be unwise for her to venture on a second visit. The emotion of seeing her again might make him worse, might kill him. So she poked her parasol through the trap, and told the cabby to drive to Victoria Station. There she bought some violets, she kept a little bunch for herself, and sent him a large bouquet. 'They'll look nice in the studio,' she said, 'I think that will be best.'
Two days after she received a letter from Ellen Gibbs.
'MADAM,—It is my sad duty to inform you that Mr. Ralph Hoskin died this afternoon at two o'clock. He begged me to write and thank you for the violets you sent him, and he expressed a hope that you would come and see him when he was dead.
'The funeral will take place on Monday. If you come here to-morrow, you will see him before he is put into his coffin.—I am, yours truly,
The desire to see her dead lover was an instinct, and the journey from Sutton to Chelsea was unperceived by her, and she did not recover from the febrile obedience her desire imposed until Ellen opened the studio door.
'I received a letter from you....'
'Yes, I know, come in.'
Mildred hated the plain middle-class appearance and dress of this girl. She hated the tone of her voice. She walked straight into the studio. There was a sensation of judgment in the white profile, cold, calm, severe, and Mildred drew back affrighted. But she recovered a little when she saw that her violets lay under the dead hand. 'He thought of me to the end. I forgive him everything.'
As she stood watching the dead man, she could hear Ellen moving in the passage. She did not know what Ellen knew of her relations with Ralph. But there could be no doubt that Ellen was aware that they were of an intimate nature. She hoped, hurriedly, that Ellen did not suspect her of being Ralph's mistress, and listened again, wondering if Ellen would come into the studio. Or would she have the tact to leave her alone with the dead? If she did come in it would be rather awkward. She did not wish to appear heartless before Ellen, but tears might lead Ellen to suspect. As Mildred knelt down, Ellen entered. Mildred turned round.
'Don't let me disturb you,' said Ellen, 'when you have finished.'
'Will you not say a prayer with me?'
'I have said my prayers. Our prayers would not mingle.'
'What does she mean?' thought Mildred. She buried her face in her hands and asked herself what Ellen meant. 'Our prayers would not mingle. Why? Because I'm a pure woman, and she isn't. I wonder if she meant that. I hope she does not intend any violence. I must say nothing to annoy, her.' Her heart throbbed with fear, her knees trembled, she thought she would faint. Then it occurred to her that it would be a good idea to faint. Ellen would have to carry her into the street, and in the street she would be safe.
And resolved to faint on the slightest provocation she rose from her knees, and stood facing the other woman, whom she noticed, with some farther alarm, stood between her and the door. If she could get out of this difficulty she never would place herself in such a position again.... Mildred tried to speak, but words stuck fast in her throat, and it was some time before her terror allowed her to notice that the expression on Ellen's face was not one of anger, but of resignation.
She was safe.
'She has pretty eyes,' thought Mildred, 'a weak, nervous creature; I can do with her what I like. ... If she thinks that she can get the better of me, I'll very soon show her that she is mistaken. Of course, if it came to violence, I could do nothing but scream. I'm not strong.'
Then Mildred said in a firm voice:
'I'm much obliged to you for your letter. This is very sad, I'll send some more flowers for the coffin. Good morning.'
But a light came into Ellen's eyes, which Mildred did not like.
'Well,' she said, 'I hope you're satisfied. He died thinking of you. I hope you're satisfied.'
'Mr. Hoskin and I were intimate friends. It is only natural that he should think of me.'
'We were happy until you came... you've made dust and ashes of my life. Why did you take the trouble to do this? You were not in love with him, and I did you no injury.'
'I didn't know of your existence till the other day. I heard that—-'
'That I was his mistress. Well, so I was. It appears that you were not. But, I should like to know which of us two is the most virtuous, which has done the least harm. I made him happy, you killed him.'
'This is madness.'
'No, it is not madness. I know all about you, Ralph told me everything.'
'It surprises me very much that he should have spoken about me. It was not like him. I hope that he didn't tell you, that he didn't suggest that there were any improper relations between me and him.'
'I daresay that you were virtuous, more or less, as far as your own body is concerned. Faugh! Women like you make virtue seem odious.'
'I cannot discuss such questions with you,' Mildred said timidly, and, swinging her parasol vaguely, she tried to pass Ellen by. But it was difficult to get by. The picture she had admired the other day blocked the way. Mildred's eyes glanced at it vindictively.
'Yes,' said Ellen in her sad doleful voice, 'You can look at it. I sat for it. I'm not ashamed, and perhaps I did more good by sitting for it than you'll do with your painting.... But look at him—there he lies. He might have been a great artist if he had not met you and I should have been a happy woman. Now I've nothing to live for.... You said that you didn't know of my existence till the other day. But you knew that, in making that man love you, you were robbing another woman.'
'That is very subtle.'
'You knew that you did not love him, and that it could end only in unhappiness. It has ended in death.'
Mildred looked at the cold face, so claylike, and trembled. The horror of the situation crept over her; she had no strength to go, and listened meekly to Ellen.
'He smiled a little, it was a little sad smile, when he told me that I was to write, saying that he would be glad if you would come to see him when he was dead. I think I know what was passing in his mind—he hoped that his death might be a warning to you. Not many men die of broken hearts, but one never knows. One did. Look at him, take your lesson.'
'I assure you that we were merely friends. He liked me, I know—he loved me, if you will; I could not help that,' Mildred drew on the floor of the studio with her parasol. 'I am very sorry, it is most unfortunate. I did nothing wrong. I'm sure he never suggested—-'
'How that one idea does run in your head. I wonder if your thoughts are equally chaste.'
Mildred did not answer.
'I read you in the first glance, one glance was enough, your eyes tell the tale of your cunning, mean little soul. Perhaps you sometimes try to resist, maybe your nature turns naturally to evil. There are people like that.'
'If I had done what you seem to think I ought to have done, he would have abandoned you.' And Mildred looked at her rival triumphantly.
'That would have been better than what has happened. Then there would have been only one heart broken, now there are two.'
Mildred hated the woman for the humiliation she was imposing upon her, but in her heart she could not but feel admiration for such single heartedness. Noticing on Mildred's face the change of expression, but misinterpreting it, Ellen said:
'I can read you through and through. You have wrecked two lives. Oh, that any one should be so wicked, that any one should delight in wickedness. I cannot understand.'
'You are accusing me wrongly.... But let me go. It is not likely that we shall arrive at any understanding.'
'Go then, you came to gloat; you have gloated, go.
Ellen threw herself on a chair by the bedside. Her head fell on her hands. Mildred whisked her black crape dress out of the studio.
It was not until the spring was far advanced that the nostalgia of the boulevards began to creep into her life. Then, without intermission, the desire to get away grew more persistent, at last she could think of nothing else. Harold oppressed her. But Mrs. Fargus was not in France, she could not live alone. But why could she not live alone?
Although she asked herself this question, Mildred felt that she could not live alone in Paris. But she must go to Paris! but with whom? Not with Elsie or Cissy—they both had studios in London. Moreover, they were not quite the girls she would like to live with; they were very well as studio friends. Mildred thought she might hire a chaperon; that would be very expensive! And for the solution of her difficulty Mildred sought in vain until one day, in the National Gallery, Miss Brand suggested that they should go to Paris together.
Miss Brand had told Mildred how she had begun life as a musician. When she was thirteen she had followed Rubenstein from London to Birmingham, from Birmingham to Manchester, and then to Liverpool. Her parents did not know what had become of her. Afterwards she studied counterpoint and harmony with Rubenstein in St. Petersburg, and also with Von Bulow in Leipsic. But she had given up music for journalism. Her specialty was musical criticism, to which, having been thrown a good deal with artists, she had added art criticism. Mildred could help her with her art criticism.... She thought they'd get on very well together.... She would willingly share the expenses, of a little flat.
Mildred was fascinated by the project; if she could possibly get Harold to agree.... He must agree. He would raise many objections. But that did not matter; she was determined. And at the end of the month Mildred and Miss Brand left for Paris.
They had decided that for fifteen hundred or two thousand francs a year they could find an apartment that would suit them, five or six rooms within easy reach of the studio, and, leaning back in their cab discussing the advantages or the disadvantages of the apartment they had seen, they grew conscious of their intimacy and Mildred rejoiced in the freedom of her life. Their only trouble was the furnishing. Mildred did not like to ask Harold for any more money, and credit was difficult to obtain. But even this difficulty was surmounted: and they found an upholsterer who agreed to furnish the apartment they had taken in the Rue Hauteville for five thousand francs, payable in monthly instalments. To have to pay five hundred francs every month would keep them very short of money for the first year, but that could not be helped. They would get on somehow; and the first dinner in the half-furnished dining-room, with the white porcelain stove in the corner, seemed to them the most delicious they had ever tasted. Josephine, their servant, was certainly an excellent cook; and so obliging; they could find no fault with her. But the upholsterer was dilatory, and days elapsed before he brought the chairs that were to match the sofa; nearly every piece of drapery was hung separately, and they had given up hope of the etageres and girondoles. For a long while a grand piano was their principal piece of furniture. Though she never touched it, Miss Brand could not live without, a grand piano. 'What's the use?' she'd say. 'I've only to open the score to remember —to hear Rubenstein play the passage.'
When they were tout a fait bien installees, they had friends to dinner, and they were especially proud of M. Daveau's company. Mildred liked this large, stout man. There was something strangely winning in his manner; a mystery seemed to surround him, and it was impossible not to wish to penetrate this mystery. Besides, was he not their master, the lord of the studio? Though a large, fat man, none was more illusive, more difficult to realise, harder to get on terms of intimacy with. These were temptations which appealed to Mildred and she had determined on his subduction. But the wily Southerner had read her through. Those little brown eyes of his had searched the bottom of her soul, and, with pleasant smiles and engaging courtesies, he had answered all her coquetries. But the difficulty of conquest only whetted her appetite for victory, and she might even have pursued her quest with ridiculous attentions if accident had not made known to her the fact that M. Daveau was not only the lover of another lady in the studio, but that he loved her to the perfect exclusion of every other woman. Mildred's face darkened between the eyes, a black little cloud of hatred appeared and settled there. She invented strange stories about M. Daveau; and it surprised her that M. Daveau took no notice of her calumnies. She desired above all things to annoy the large mysterious Southerner who had resisted her attractions, who had preferred another, and who now seemed indifferent to anything she might say about him. But M. Daveau was only biding his time; and when Mildred came to renew her subscription to the studio, he told her that he was very sorry, but that he could not accept her any longer as a pupil. Mildred asked for a reason. M. Daveau smiled sweetly, enigmatically, and answered, that he wished to reduce the number of ladies in his studio. There were too many.
Expulsion from the studio made shipwreck of her life in Paris. There was no room in the flat in which she could paint. She had spent all her money, and could not afford to hire a studio. She took lessons in French and music, and began a novel, and when she wearied of her novel she joined another studio, a ladies' class. But Mildred did not like women; the admiration of men was the breath of her nostrils. With a difference, men were her life as much as they were Elsie's. She pined in this new studio; it grew hateful to her, and she spoke of returning to England.
But Miss Brand said that one of these days she would meet M. Daveau; that he would apologise if he had offended her, and that all would be made right. For Mildred had given Miss Brand to understand that M. Daveau had made love to her; then she said that he had tried to kiss her, and that it would be unpleasant for her to meet him again. And her story had been accepted as the true one by the American and English girls; the other students had assumed that Miss Lawson had given up painting or had taken a holiday. So she had got herself out of her difficulty very cleverly. And she listened complacently to Miss Brand's advice. There was something in what Nellie said. If she were to meet M. Daveau she felt that she could talk him over. But she did not know if she could bring herself to try after what had happened.... She hated him, and the desire, as she put it, to get even with him often rose up in her heart. At last she caught sight of him in the Louvre. He was looking at a picture on the other side of the gallery, and she crossed over so that he should see her. He bowed, and was about to pass on; but Mildred insisted, and, responding to the question why he had refused her subscription, he said:
'I think I told you at the time that I found myself obliged to reduce the number of pupils. But, tell me, are you copying here?'
'One doesn't learn anything from copying. Won't you allow me to come back?'
'I don't see how I can. There are so many ladies at present in the studio.'
'I hear that some have left? ... Madlle. Berge has left, hasn't she?'
'Yes, she has left.'
'If Madlle. Berge has left, there is no reason why I should not return.'
M. Daveau did not answer; he smiled satirically and bade her good-bye. Mildred hated him more than ever, but when a subscription was started by the pupils to present him with a testimonial she did not neglect to subscribe. The presentation took place in the studio. 'I think this is an occasion to forget our differences,' he said, when he had finished his speech. 'If you wish to return you'll find my studio open to you.' And to show that he wished to let bygones be bygones, he often came and helped her with her drawing; he seemed to take an interest in her; and she tried to lead him on. But one day she discovered that she could not deceive him, and again she began to hate him; but remembering the price of her past indiscretions she refrained, and the matter was forgotten in another of more importance. Miss Brand suddenly fell out of health and was obliged to return to England.
Then the little flat became too expensive for Mildred; she let it, and went to live in a boarding-house on the other side of the water, where Cissy was staying. But, at the end of the first quarter, Mildred thought the neighbourhood did not suit her, and she went to live near St. Augustine. She remained there till the autumn, till Elsie came over, and then she went to Elsie's boarding-house. Elsie returned to England in the spring, and Mildred wandered from boarding-house to boarding-house. She took a studio and spent a good deal of money on models, frames, and costumes. But nothing she did satisfied her, and, after various failures, she returned to Daveau's, convinced that she must improve her drawing. She was, moreover, determined to put her talent to the test of severe study. She got to the studio every morning at eight, she worked there till five. As she did not know how to employ her evenings, she took M. Daveau's advice and joined his night-class.
For three months she bore the strain of these long days easily; but the fourth month pressed heavily upon her, and in the fifth month she was a mere mechanism. She counted the number of heads more correctly than she used to, she was more familiar with the proportions of the human figure. Alas! her drawing was no better. It was blacker, harder, less alive. And to drag her weariness all the way along the boulevards seemed impossible. That foul smelling studio repelled her from afar, the prospect of the eternal model—a man with his hand on his hip—a woman leaning one hand on a stool, frightened her; and her blackened drawing, that would not move out of its insipid ugliness, tempted her no more with false hopes.
Mildred paused in her dressing; it seemed that she could not get her clothes on. She had to sit down to rest. Tears welled up into her eyes; and, in the midst of much mental and physical weakness, the maid knocked at her door and handed her a letter. It was from Elsie.
'DEAREST MILDRED,—Here we are again in Barbizon, painting in the day and dancing in the evening. There are a nice lot of fellows here, one or two very clever ones. I have already picked up a lot of hints. How we did waste our time in that studio. Square brush work, drawing by the masses, what rot! I suppose you have abandoned it all long ago.... Cissy is here, she has thrown over Hopwood Blunt for good and all. She is at present much interested in a division of the tones man. A clever fellow, but not nearly so good-looking as mine. The inn stands in a large garden, and we dine and walk after dinner under the trees, and watch the stars come out. There's a fellow here who might interest you—his painting would, even if he failed to respond to the gentle Platonism of your flirtations. The forest, too, would interest you. It is an immense joy. I'm sure you want change of air. Life here is very cheap, only five francs, room and meals—breakfast and dinner, everything included except coffee.'
Mildred rejoiced in the prospect of escape from the studio; and her life quickened at the thought of the inn with its young men, its new ideas, the friends, the open air, and the great forest that Elsie described as an immense joy. There was no reason why she should not go at once, that very day. And the knowledge that she could thus peremptorily decide her life was in itself a pleasure which she would not have dispensed with. There were difficulties in the way of clothes, she wanted some summer dresses. It would be difficult to get all she wanted before four o'clock. She would have to get the things ready made, others she could have sent after her. Muslins, trimmings, hats, stockings, shoes, and sunshades occupied Mildred all the morning, and she only just got to the Gare de Lyons in time to catch the four o'clock train. Elsie's letter gave explicit directions, she was not to go to Fontainebleau, she was to book to Melun, that was the nearest station, there she would find an omnibus waiting, which would take her to Barbizon, or, if she did not mind the expense, she could take a fly which would be pleasanter and quicker.
A formal avenue of trim trees led out of the town of Melun. But these were soon exchanged for rough forest growths; and out of cabbage and corn lands the irruptive forest broke into islands; and the plain was girdled with a dark green belt of distant forest.
She lay back in the fly tasting in the pure air, the keen joy of returning health, and she thrilled a little at the delight of an expensive white muslin and a black sash which accentuated the smallness of her waist. She liked her little brown shoes and brown stockings and the white sunshade through whose strained silk the red sun showed.
At the cross roads she noticed a still more formal avenue, trees planted in single line and curving like a regiment of soldiers marching across country. The whitewashed stead and the lonely peasant scratching like an insect in the long tilth were painful impressions. She missed the familiar hedgerows which make England like a garden; and she noticed that there were trees everywhere except about the dwellings; and that there were neither hollybush or sunflowers in the white village they rolled through—a gaunt white village which was not Barbizon. The driver mentioned the name, but Mildred did not heed him. She looked from the blank white walls to her prettily posed feet and heard him say that Barbizon was still a mile away.
It lay at the end of the plain, and when the carriage entered the long street, it rocked over huge stones so that Mildred was nearly thrown out. She called to the driver to go slower; he smiled, and pointing with his whip said that the hotel that Mademoiselle wanted was at the end of the village, on the verge of the forest.
A few moments after the carriage drew up before an iron gateway, and Mildred saw a small house at the bottom of a small garden. There was a pavilion on the left and a numerous company were dining beneath the branches of a cedar. Elsie and Cissy got up, and dropping their napkins ran to meet their friend. She was led in triumph to the table, and all through dinner she had a rough impression of English girls in cheap linen dresses and of men in rough suits and flowing neck-ties.
She was given some soup, and when the plate of veal had been handed round, and Elsie and Cissy had exhausted their first store of questions, she was introduced to Morton Mitchell. His singularly small head was higher by some inches than any other, bright eyes, and white teeth showing through a red moustache, and a note of defiance in his open-hearted voice made him attractive. Mildred was also introduced to Rose Turner, the girl who sat next him, a weak girl with pretty eyes. Rose already looked at Mildred as if she anticipated rivalry, and was clearly jealous of every word that Morton did not address to her. Mildred looked at him again. He was better dressed than the others, and an air of success in his face made him seem younger than he was. He leaned across the table, and Mildred liked his brusque, but withal well-bred manner. She wondered what his pictures were like. At Daveau's only the names of the principal exhibitors at the Salon were known, and he had told her that he had not sent there for the last three years. He didn't care to send to the vulgar place more than he could help.
Mildred noticed that all listened to Morton; and she was sorry to leave the table, so interesting was his conversation. But Elsie and Cissy wanted to talk to her, and they marched about the grass plot, their arms about each other's waists; and, while questioning Mildred about herself and telling her about themselves, they frequently looked whither their lovers sat smoking. Sometimes Mildred felt them press her along the walk which passed by the dining table. But for half an hour their attractions were arrayed vainly against those of cigarettes and petits verres. Rose was the only woman who remained at table. She hung over her lover, desirous that he should listen to her. Mildred thought, 'What a fool.... We shall see presently.'
The moment the young men got up Cissy and Elsie forgot Mildred. An angry expression came upon her face and she went into the house. The walls had been painted all over—landscapes, still life, nude figures, rustic, and elegiac subjects. Every artist had painted something in memory of his visit, and Mildred sought vaguely for what Mr. Mitchell had painted. Then, remembering that he had chosen to walk about with the Turner girl, she abandoned her search and, leaning on the window- sill, watched the light fading in the garden. She could hear the frogs in a distant pond, and thought of the night in the forest amid millions of trees and stars.
Suddenly she heard some one behind her say:
'Do you like being alone?'
It was Morton.
'I'm so used to being alone.'
'Use is a second nature, I will not interrupt your solitude.'
'But sometimes one gets tired of solitude.'
'Would you like to share your solitude? You can have half of mine.'
'I'm sure it is very kind of you, but—-' It was on Mildred's tongue to ask him what he had done with Rose Turner. She said instead, 'and where does your solitude hang out?'
'Chiefly in the forest. Shall we go there?'
'Is it far? I don't know where the others have gone.'
'They're in the forest, we walk there every evening; we shall meet them.'
'How far is the forest?'
'At our door. We're in the forest. Come and see. There is the forest,' he said, pointing to a long avenue. 'How bright the moonlight is, one can read by this light.'
'And how wonderfully the shadows of the tall trunks fall across the white road. How unreal, how phantasmal, is that grey avenue shimmering in the moonlight.'
'Yes, isn't the forest ghostlike. And isn't that picturesque,' he said, pointing to a booth that had been set up by the wayside. On a tiny stage a foot or so from the ground, by the light of a lantern and a few candle ends, a man and a woman were acting some rude improvisation.
Morton and Mildred stayed; but neither was in the mood to listen. They contributed a trifle each to these poor mummers of the lane's end, and it seemed that their charity had advanced them in their intimacy. Without hesitation they left the road, taking a sandy path which led through some rocks. Mildred's feet sank in the loose sand, and very soon it seemed to her that they had left Barbizon far behind. For the great grey rocks and the dismantled tree trunk which they had suddenly come upon frightened her; and she could hardly bear with the ghostly appearance the forest took in the stream of glittering light which flowed down from the moon.
She wished to turn back. But Morton said that they would meet the others beyond the hill, and she followed him through great rocks, filled with strange shadows. The pines stood round the hill-top making it seem like a shrine; a round yellow moon looked through; there was the awe of death in the lurid silence, and so clear was the sky that the points of the needles could be seen upon it.
'We must go back,' she said.
'If you like.'
But, at that moment, voices were heard coming over the brow of the hill.
'You see I did not deceive you. There are your friends, I knew we should meet them. That is Miss Laurence's voice, one can always recognise it.'
'Then let us go to them.'
'If you like. But we can talk better here. Let me find you a place to sit down.' Before Mildred could answer, Elsie cried across the glade:
'So there you are.'
'What do you think of the forest?' shouted Cissy.
'Wonderful,' replied Mildred.
'Well, we won't disturb you... we shall be back presently.'
And, like ghosts, they passed into the shadow and mystery of the trees.
'So you work in the men's studio?'
'Does that shock you?'
'No, nothing shocks me.'
'In the studio a woman puts off her sex. There's no sex in art.'
'I quite agree with you. There's no sex in art, and a woman would be very foolish to let anything stand between her and her art.'
'I'm glad you think that. I've made great sacrifices for painting.'
'I'll tell you one of these days when I know you better.'
The conversation paused a moment, and Mildred said:
'How wonderful it is here. Those pines, that sky, one hears the silence; it enters into one's very bones. It is a pity one cannot paint silence.'
'Millet painted silence. "The Angelus" is full of silence, the air trembles with silence and sunset.'
'But the silence of the moonlight is more awful, it really is very awful, I'm afraid.'
'Afraid of what? there's nothing to be afraid of. You asked me just now if I believed in Daveau's, I didn't like to say; I had only just been introduced to you; but it seems to me that I know you better now... Daveau's is a curse. It is the sterilisation of art. You must give up Daveau's, and come and work here.'
'I'm afraid it would make no difference. Elsie and Cissy have spent years here, and what they do does not amount to much. They wander from method to method, abandoning each in turn. I am utterly discouraged, and made up my mind to give up painting.'
'What are you going to do?'
'I don't know. One of these days I shall find out my true vocation.'
'You're young, you are beautiful—-'
'No, I'm not beautiful, but there are times when I look nice.'
'Yes, indeed there are. Those hands, how white they are in the moonlight.' He took her hands. 'Why do you trouble and rack your soul about painting? A woman's hands are too beautiful for a palette and brushes.'
The words were on her tongue to ask him if he did not admire Rose's hands equally, but remembering the place, the hour, and the fact of her having made his acquaintance only a few hours before, she thought it more becoming to withdraw her hands, and to say:
'The others do not seem to be coming back. We had better return.'
They moved out of the shadows of the pines, and stood looking down the sandy pathway.
'How filmy and grey those top branches, did you ever see anything so delicate?'
'I never saw anything like this before. This is primeval.... I used to walk a good deal with a friend of mine in St. James' Park.'
'The park where the ducks are, and a little bridge. Your friend was not an artist.'
'Yes, he was, and a very clever artist too.'
'Then he admired the park because you were with him.'
'Perhaps that had something to do with it. But the park is very beautiful.'
'I don't think I care much about cultivated nature.'
'Don't you like a garden?'
'Yes; a disordered garden, a garden that has been let run wild.'
They walked down the sandy pathway, and came unexpectedly upon Elsie and her lover sitting behind a rock. They asked where the others were. Elsie did not know. But at that moment voices were heard, and Cissy cried from the bottom of the glade:
'So there you are; we've been looking for you.'
'Looking for us indeed,' said Mildred.
Now, Mildred, don't be prudish, this is Liberty Hall. You must lend us Mr. Mitchell, we want to dance.'
'What, here in the sand!'
'No, in the Salon.... Come along, Rose will play for us.'
Mildred was the first down. She wore a pretty robe a fleurs, and her straw hat was trimmed with tremulous grasses and cornflowers. A faint sunshine floated in the wet garden.
A moment after Elsie cried from the door-step:
'Well, you have got yourself up. We don't run to anything like that here. You're going out flirting. It's easy to see that.'
'My flirtations don't amount to much. Kisses don't thrill me as they do you. I'm afraid I've never been what you call "in love."'
'You seem on the way there, if I'm to judge by last night,' Elsie answered rather tartly. 'You know, Mildred, I don't believe all you say, not quite all.'
A pained and perplexed expression came upon Mildred's face and she said:
'Perhaps I shall meet a man one of these days who will inspire passion in me.'
'I hope so. It would be a relief to all of us. I wouldn't mind subscribing to present that man with a testimonial.'
'I often wonder what will become of me. I've changed a good deal in the last two years. I've had a great deal of trouble.'
'I'm sorry you're so depressed. I know what it is. That wretched painting, we give ourselves to it heart and soul, and it deceives us as you deceive your lovers.'
'So it does. I had not thought of it like that. Yes, I've been deceived just as I have deceived others. But you, Elsie, you've not been deceived, you can do something. If I could do what you do. You had a picture in the Salon. Cissy had a picture in the Salon.'
'That doesn't mean much. What we do doesn't amount to much.'
'But do you think that I shall ever do as much?'
Elsie did not think so, and the doubt caused her to hesitate. Mildred perceived the hesitation and said:
'Oh, there's no necessity for you to lie. I know the truth well enough. I have resolved to give up painting. I have given it up.'
You've given up painting! Do you really mean it?'
'Yes, I feel that I must. When I got your letter I was nearly dead with weariness and disappointment—what a relief your letter was—what a relief to be here!'
'Well, you see something has happened. Barbizon has happened, Morton has happened.'
'I wonder if anything will come of it. He's a nice fellow. I like him.'
'You're not the first. All the women are crazy about him. He was the lover of Merac, the actress of the Francais. They say she could only play Phedre when he was in the stage-box. He always produced that effect upon her. Then he was the lover of the Marquise de la—de la Per——I can't remember the name.'
'Is he in love with any one now?'
'No; we thought he was going to marry Rose.'
'That little thing!'
'Well, he seemed devoted to her. He seemed inclined to settle down.'
'Did he ever flirt with you?'
'No; he's not my style.'
'I know what that means,' thought Mildred.
The conversation paused, and then Elsie said:
'It really is a shame to upset him with Rose, unless you mean to marry him. Even the impressionists admit that he has talent. He belongs to the old school, it is true, but his work is interesting all the same.'
The English and American girls were dressed like Elsie and Cissy in cheap linen dresses; one of the French artists was living with a cocotte. She was dressed more elaborately; somewhat like Mildred, Elsie remarked, and the girls laughed, and sat down to their bowls of coffee.
Morton and Elsie's young man were almost the last to arrive. Swinging their paint-boxes they came forward talking gaily.
'Yours is the best looking,' said Elsie.
'Perhaps you'd like to get him from me.'
'No, I never do that.'
'What about Rose?'
Mildred bit her lips, and Elsie couldn't help thinking, 'How cruel she is, she likes to make that poor little thing miserable. It's only vanity, for I don't suppose she cares for Morton.'
Those who were painting in the adjoining fields and forest said they would be back to the second breakfast at noon, those who were going further, and whose convenience it did not suit to return, took sandwiches with them. Morton was talking to Rose, but Mildred soon got his attention.
'You're going to paint in the forest,' she said, 'I wonder what your picture is like: you haven't shown it to me.'
'It's all packed up. But aren't you going into the forest? If you're going with Miss Laurence and Miss Clive you might come with me. You'd better take your painting materials; you'll find the time hang heavily, if you don't.'
'Oh no, the very thought of painting bores me.'
'Very well then. If you are ready we might make a start, mine is a mid-day effect. I hope you're a good walker. But you'll never be able to get along in those shoes and that dress—that's no dress for the forest. You've dressed as if for a garden-party.'
'It is only a little robe a fleurs, there's nothing to spoil, and as for my shoes, you'll see I shall get along all right, unless it is very far.'
'It is more than a mile. I shall have to take you down to the local cobbler and get you measured. I never saw such feet.'
He was oddly matter of fact. There was something naive and childish about him, and he amused and interested Mildred.
'With whom,' she said, 'do you go out painting when I'm not here? Every Jack seems to have his own Jill in Barbizon.'
'And don't they everywhere else? It would be damned dull without.'
'Do you think it would? Have you always got a Jill?'
'I've been down in my luck lately.'
'Which of the women here has the most talent?'
'Perhaps Miss Laurence. But Miss Clive does a nice thing occasionally.'
'What do you think of Miss Turner's work?'
'It's pretty good. She has talent. She had two pictures in the Salon last year.'
Mildred bit her lips. 'Have you ever been out with her?'
'Yes, but why do you ask?'
'Because I think she likes you. She looked very miserable when she heard that we were going out together. Just as if she were going to cry. If I thought I was making another person unhappy I would sooner give you—give up the pleasure of going out with you.'
'And what about me? Don't I count for anything?'
'I must not do a direct wrong to another. Each of us has a path to walk in, and if we deviate from our path we bring unhappiness upon ourselves and upon others.'
Morton stopped and looked at her, his stolid childish stare made her laugh, and it made her like him.
'I wonder if I am selfish?' said Mildred reflectively. 'Sometimes I think I am, sometimes I think I am not. I've suffered so much, my life has been all suffering. There's no heart left in me for anything. I wonder what will become of me. I often think I shall commit suicide. Or I might go into a convent.'
'You'd much better commit suicide than go into a convent. Those poor devils of nuns! as if there wasn't enough misery in this world. We are certain of the misery, and if we give up the pleasures, I should like to know where we are.'
Each had been so interested in the other that they had seen nothing else. But now the road led through an open space where every tree was torn and broken; Mildred stopped to wonder at the splintered trunks; and out of the charred spectre of a great oak crows flew and settled among the rocks, in the fissures of a rocky hill.
'But you're not going to ask me to climb those rocks,' said Mildred. 'There are miles and miles of rocks. It is like a landscape by Salvator Rosa.'
'Climb that hill! you couldn't. I'll wait until our cobbler has made you a pair of boots. But isn't that desolate region of blasted oaks and sundered rocks wonderful? You find everything in the forest. In a few minutes I shall show you some lovely underwood.'
And they had walked a very little way when he stopped and said: 'Don't you call that beautiful?' and, leaning against the same tree, Morton and Mildred looked into the dreamy depth of a summer wood. The trunks of the young elms rose straight, and through the pale leafage the sunlight quivered, full of the impulse of the morning. The ground was thick with grass and young shoots.... Something ran through the grass, paused, and then ran again.
'What is that?' Mildred asked.
'A squirrel, I think... yes, he's going up that tree.'
'How pretty he is, his paws set against the bark.'
'Come this way and we shall see him better.'
But they caught no further sight of the squirrel, and Morton asked Mildred the time.
'A quarter-past ten,' she said, glancing at the tiny watch which she wore in a bracelet.
'Then we must be moving on. I ought to be at work at half-past. One can't work more than a couple of hours in this light.'
They passed out of the wood and crossed an open space where rough grass grew in patches. Mildred opened her parasol.
'You asked me just now if I ever went to England. Do you intend to go back, or do you intend to live in France?'
'That's my difficulty. So long as I was painting there was a reason for my remaining in France, now that I've given it up—-'
'But you've not given it up.'
'Yes, I have. If I don't find something else to do I suppose I must go back. That's what I dread. We live in Sutton. But that conveys no idea to your mind. Sutton is a little town in Surrey. It was very nice once, but now it is little better than a London suburb. My brother is a distiller. He goes to town every day by the ten minutes past nine and he returns by the six o'clock. I've heard of nothing but those two trains all my life. We have ten acres of ground—gardens, greenhouses, and a number of servants. Then there's the cart—I go out for drives in the cart. We have tennis parties—the neighbours, you know, and I shall have to choose whether I shall look after my brother's house, or marry and look after my husband's.'
'It must be very lonely in Sutton.'
'Yes, it is very lonely. There are a number of people about, but I've no friends that I care about. There's Mrs. Fargus.'
'Who's Mrs. Fargus?'
'Oh, you should see Mrs. Fargus, she reads Comte, and has worn the same dinner dress ever since I knew her—a black satin with a crimson scarf. Her husband suffers from asthma, and speaks of his wife as a very clever woman. He wears an eyeglass and she wears spectacles. Does that give you an idea of my friends?'
'I should think it did. What damned bores they must be.'
'He bores me, she doesn't. I owe a good deal to Mrs. Fargus. If it hadn't been for her I shouldn't be here now.'
'What do you mean?'
They again passed out of the sunlight into the green shade of some beech trees. Mildred closed her parasol, and swaying it to and fro amid the ferns she continued in a low laughing voice her tale of Mrs. Fargus and the influence that this lady had exercised upon her. Her words floated along a current of quiet humour cadenced by the gentle swaying of her parasol, and brought into relief by a certain intentness of manner which was peculiar to her. And gradually Morton became more and more conscious of her, the charm of her voice stole upon him, and once he lingered, allowing her to get a few yards in front so that he might notice the quiet figure, a little demure, and intensely itself, in a yellow gown. When he first saw her she had seemed to him a little sedate, even a little dowdy, and when she had spoken of her intention to abandon painting, although her manner was far from cheerless, he had feared a bore. He now perceived that this she at least was not—moreover, her determination to paint no more announced, an excellent sense of the realities of things in which the other women—the Elsies and the Cissys—seemed to him to be strangely deficient. And when he set up his easel her appreciation of his work helped him to further appreciation of her. He had spread the rug for her in a shady place, but for the present she preferred to stand behind him, her parasol slanted slightly, talking, he thought very well, of the art of the great men who had made Barbizon rememberable. And the light tone of banter in which she now admitted her failure seemed to Morton to be just the tone which she should adopt, and her ridicule of the impressionists and, above all, of the dottists amused him.
'I don't know why they come here at all,' he said, 'unless it be to prove to themselves that nature falls far short of their pictures. I wonder why they come here? They could paint their gummy tapestry stuff anywhere.'
'I can imagine your asking them what they thought of Corot. Their faces would assume a puzzled expression, I can see them scratching their heads reflectively; at last one of them would say:
'"Yes, there is Chose who lives behind the Odeon—he admires Corot. Pas de blague, he really does." Then all the others in chorus: "he really does admire Corot; we'll bring him to see you next Tuesday."'
Morton laughed loudly, Mildred laughed quietly, and there was an intense intimacy of enjoyment in her laughter.
'I can see them,' she said, 'bringing Chose, le petit Chose, who lives behind the Odeon and admires Corot, to see you, bringing him, you know, as a sort of strange survival, a curious relic. It really is very funny.'
He was sorry when she said the sun was getting too hot for her, and she went and lay on the rug he had spread for her in the shade of the oak. She had brought a book to read, but she only read a line here and there. Her thoughts followed the white clouds for a while, and then she admired the man sitting easily on his camp-stool, his long legs wide apart. His small head, his big hat, the line of his bent back amused and interested her; she liked his abrupt speech, and wondered if she could love him. A couple of peasant women came by, bent under the weight of the faggots they had picked, and Mildred could see that Morton was watching the movement of these women, and she thought how well they would come into the picture he was painting.
Soon after he rose from his easel and walked towards her.
'Have you finished?' she said. 'No, not quite, but the light has changed. I cannot go on any more to-day. One can't work in the sunlight above an hour and a half.'
'You've been working longer than that.'
'But haven't touched the effect. I've been painting in some figures— two peasant women picking sticks, come and look.'
Three days after Morton finished his picture. Mildred had been with him most of the time. And now lunch was over, and they lay on the rug under the oak tree talking eagerly.
'Corot never married,' Morton remarked, as he shaded his eyes with his hand, and asked himself if any paint appeared in his sky. There was a corner on the left that troubled him. 'He doesn't seem to have ever cared for any woman. They say he never had a mistress.'