But when Fenwick had gone, and the young wife sat alone beside the cottage fire, the January darkness outside seemed to her the natural symbol of her own bitter foreboding. Why had he left her? There was no reason in it, as she had said. But there must be some reason behind it. And slowly, in the firelight, she fell to brooding over the image of that pale classical face, as she had seen it in the sketch-book. John had talked quite frankly about Madame de Pastourelles—not like a man beguiled; making no mystery of her at all, answering all questions. But his restlessness to get back to London had been extraordinary. Was it merely the restlessness of the artist?
This was Tuesday. To-morrow Madame de Pastourelles was to come to a sitting. Phoebe sat picturing it; while the curtain of rain descended once more upon the cottage, blotting out the pikes, and washing down the sodden fields.
‘I must alter that fold over the arm,’ murmured Fenwick, stepping back, with a frown, and gazing hard at the picture on his easel—’it’s too strong.’
Madame de Pastourelles gave a little shiver.
The big bare room, with its Northern aspect and its smouldering fire, had been of a polar temperature this March afternoon. She had been sitting for an hour and a half. Her hands and feet were frozen, and the fur cloak which she wore over her white dress had to be thrown back for the convenience of the painter, who was at work on the velvet folds.
Meanwhile, on the further side of the room sat ’propriety’—also shivering—an elderly governess of the Findon family, busily knitting.
‘The dress is coming!’ said Fenwick, after another minute or two. ‘Yes, it’s coming.’
And with a flushed face and dishevelled hair he stood back again, staring first at his canvas and then at his sitter.
Madame de Pastourelles sat as still as she could, her thin, numbed fingers lightly crossed on her lap. Her wonderful velvet dress, of ivory-white, fell about her austerely in long folds, which, as they bent or overlapped, made beautiful convolutions, firm yet subtle, on the side turned towards the painter, and over her feet. The classical head, with its small ear, the pale yet shining face, combined with the dress to suggest a study in ivory, wrought to a great delicacy and purity. Only the eyes, much darker than the hair, and the rich brown of the sable cloak where it touched the white, gave accent and force to the ethereal pallor, the supreme refinement, of the rest—face, dress, hands. Nothing but civilisation in its most complex workings could have produced such a type; that was what prevailed dimly in Fenwick’s mind as he wrestled with his picture. Sometimes his day’s work left him exultant, sometimes in a hell of despair.
‘I went to see Mr. Welby’s studio yesterday,’ he said, hastily, after another minute or two, seeing her droop with fatigue.