Kendal looked sternly at his watch. “A good twenty minutes, mademoiselle,” he returned aggrievedly. “It would be only justice—poetic justice—to say no. But I think you may, if we get on to-day.”
He was already at work, turning from the texture of the rounded throat which occupied him before she came in, to the more serious problem of the nuances of expression in the face. It was a whim of his, based partly upon a cautiousness, of which he was hardly aware, that she should not see the portrait in its earlier stages, and she had made a great concession of this. As it grew before him, out of his consciousness, under his hand, he became more and more aware that he would prefer to postpone her seeing it, for reasons which he would not pause to define. Certainly they were not connected with any sense of having failed to do justice to his subject. Kendal felt an exulting mastery over it which was the most intoxicating sensation his work had ever brought him. He had, as he painted, a silent, brooding triumph in his manipulation, in his control. He gave himself up to the delight of his insight, the power of his reproduction, and to the intense satisfaction of knowing that out of the two there grew something of more than usually keen intrinsic interest within the wide creed of his art. He worked with every nerve tense upon his conception of what he saw, which so excluded other considerations that now and then, in answer to some word of hers that distracted him, he spoke to her almost roughly. At which Elfrida, with a little smile of forgiving comprehension, obediently kept silence. She saw the artist in him dominant, and she exulted for his sake. It was to her delicious to be the medium of his inspiration, delicious and fit and sweetly acceptable. And they had agreed upon a charming pose.
Presently Kendal lowered his brush impatiently. “Talk to me a little,” he said resentfully, ignoring his usual preference that she should not talk because what she said had always power to weaken the concentration of his energy. “There is a little muteness about the lips. Am I very unreasonable? But you don’t know what a difficult creature you are.”
She threw up her chin in one of her bewitching ways and laughed. “I wouldn’t be too simple,” she returned. She looked at him with the light of her laughter still in her eyes, and went on: “I know I must be difficult —tremendously difficult; because I, whom you see as an individual, am so many people. Phases of character have an attraction for me—I wear one to-day and another to-morrow. It is very flippant, but you see I am honest about it. And it must make me difficult to paint, for it can be only by accident that I am the same person twice.”
Without answering Kendal made two or three rapid strokes. “That’s better,” he said, as if to himself. “Go on talking, please. What did you say?”
“It doesn’t seem to matter much,” she answered, with a little pout. “I said ’Baa, baa, black sheep, have you any wool?’”