“Cher maitre! You mean it?”
The girl handed him the study with a look of almost doglike gratitude in her narrow gray eyes. Lucien had never said so much to her before, though the whole atelier had noticed how often he had been coming to her easel lately, and had disparaged her in corners accordingly. She looked at the tiny silver watch she wore in a leather strap on her left wrist—he had spent nearly five minutes with her this time, watching her work and talking to her, in itself a triumph. It was almost four o’clock, and the winter daylight was going; presently they would all stop work. Partly for the pleasure of being chaffed and envied and complimented in the anteroom in the general washing of brushes, and partly to watch Lucien’s rapid progress among the remaining easels, Mademoiselle Palicsky deliberately sat down, in a prematurely vacant chair, slung one slender little limb over the other, and waited. As she sat there a generous thought rose above her exultation. She hoped everybody else in the atelier had guessed what Lucien was saying to her all that while, and had seen him carry off her day’s work, but not the little American. The little American, who was at least thirteen inches taller than Mademoiselle Palicsky, was sufficiently discouraged already, and it was pathetic, in view of almost a year of failure, to see how she clung to her ghost of a talent Besides, the little American admired Nadie Palicsky, her friend, her comrade, quite enough already.
Elfrida had heard, nevertheless. She listened eagerly, tensely, as she always did when Lucien opened his lips in her neighborhood. When she saw him take the sketch to show in the men’s atelier downstairs, to exhibit to that horde of animals below, whose studies and sketches and compositions were so constantly brought up for the stimulus and instruction of Lucien’s women students, she grew suddenly so white that the girl who worked next her, a straw-colored Swede, asked her if she were ill, and offered her a little green bottle of salts of lavender. “It’s that beast of a calorifere,” the Swede said, nodding at the hideous black cylinder that stood near them, “they will always make it too hot.”
Elfrida waved the salts back hastily—Lucien was coming her way. She worked seated, and as he seemed on the point of passing with merely a casual glance and an ambiguous “H’m!” she started up. The movement effectually arrested him, unintentional though it seemed. He frowned slightly, thrusting his hands deep into his coat-pockets, and looked again.
“We must find a better place for you, mademoiselle; you can make nothing of it here so close to the model, and below him thus.” He would have gone on, but in spite of his intention to avert his eyes he caught the girl’s glance, and something infinitely appealing in it stayed him again. “Mademoiselle,” he said, with visible irritation, “there is nothing to say that I have not said many times already. Your drawing is still ladylike, your color is still pretty, and, sapristi! you have worked with me a year! Still,” he added, recollecting himself—Lucien never lost a student by over-candor—“considering your difficult place the shoulders are not so bad. Continuez, mademoiselle.”