‘Aye, it’s dampish,’ said his companion, cheerfully.
The caution of the adjective set Fenwick grinning. The North found and gripped him; these are not the ways of the South.
And in a moment the sense of contrast, thus provoked, had carried him far—out of the Westmoreland night, back to London, and his shabby studio in Bernard Street. There, throned on a low platform, sat Madame de Pastourelles; and to her right, himself, sitting crouched before his easel, working with all his eyes and all his mind. The memory of her was, as it were, physically stamped upon his sight, his hands; such an intensity of study had he given to every detail of her face and form. Did he like her? He didn’t know. There were a number of curious resentments in his mind with regard to her. Several times in the course of their acquaintance she had cheapened or humiliated him in his own eyes; and the sensation had been of a sharpness as yet unknown to him.
Of course, there was in it, one way or another, an aristocratic insolence! There must be: to move so delicately and immaculately through life, with such superfine perceptions, must mean that you were brought up to scorn the common way, and those who walk in it. ’The poor in a lump are bad’—coarse and ill-mannered at any rate—that must be the real meaning of her soft dignity, so friendly yet so remote, her impossibly ethereal standards, her light words that so often abashed a man for no reasonable cause.
She had been sitting to him, off and on, for about six weeks. Originally she had meant him to make a three-hour sketch of her. He triumphed in the remembrance that she and Lord Findon had found the sketch so remarkable that, when he had timidly proposed a portrait in oils, Lord Findon himself had persuaded her to sit. Since that moment his work on the portrait, immediately begun, had absorbed him to such a degree that the ‘Genius Loci,’ still unfinished, had been put aside, and must have its last touches when he returned to town.
But in the middle of the sittings, Madame de Pastourelles being away, and he in a mood to destroy all that he had done, he had suddenly spent a stray earning on a railway ticket to Paris.
There—excitement!—illumination!—and a whole fresh growth of ambition! Some of the mid-century portraits in the Luxembourg, and in a loan exhibition then open in the Rue Royale, excited him so that he lost sleep and appetite. The work of Bastien-Lepage was also to be seen; and the air rang with the cries of Impressionism. But the beautiful surface of the older men held him. How to combine the breadth of the new with the keeping, the sheer pleasure of the old! He rushed home—aflame!—and fell to work again.
And now he found himself a little more able to cope with his sitter. He was in possession, at any rate, of fresh topics—need not feel himself so tongue-tied in the presence of this cosmopolitan culture of hers, which she did her feminine best to disguise—which nevertheless made the atmosphere of her personality. She had lived some six years in Paris, it appeared; and had known most of the chief artists and men of letters. Fenwick writhed under his ignorance of the French language; it was a disadvantage not to be made up.