For nearly four weeks he had laboured on the face, painting it in with meticulous touches only to rub it out with savage disgust. To transcribe those tranquil, liquid eyes, their expression more naive than her daughter’s—this had proved too difficult a problem for the usually facile technique of Falcroft. Give him a brilliant virtuoso theme and he could handle it with some of the sweep and splendour of the early Carolus Duran or the brutal elegance of the later Boldini. But Madame Mineur was a pastoral. She did not express nervous gesture. She was seldom dynamic. To “do” her in dots like the pointillistes or in touches after the manner of the earlier impressionists would be ridiculous. Her abiding charm was her repose. She brought to him the quiet values of an eighteenth-century eclogue—he saw her as a divinely artificial shepherdess watching an unreal flock, while the haze of decorative atmosphere would envelop her, with not a vestige of real life on the canvas. Yet he knew her as a natural, lovable woman, a mother who had suffered and would suffer because of her love for her only child. It was a paradox, like many other paradoxes of art.
The daughter—ah! perhaps she might better suit his style. She was admirable in her madcap carelessness and exotic colouring. Decidedly he would paint her when this picture was finished—if it ever would be.
Berenice avoided entering the studio during these sittings. She no longer jested with her mother about the picture, and with Hubert she preserved such an air of dignity that he fancied he had offended her. He usually came to Villiers-le-Bel on an early train three or four times a week and remained at Chalfontaine until ten o’clock. Never but once had a severe storm forced him to stay overnight. Since the episode on the wall he had not attempted any further advances. He felt happy in the company of Elaine, and gazing into her large eyes rested his spirit. It was true—he no longer played with ease the role of a soul-hunter. His youth had been troubled by many adventures, many foolish ones, and now he felt a calm in the midway of his life and that desire for domestic ease which sooner or later overtakes all men. He fancied himself painting Elaine on just such tranquil summer afternoons under a soft light. And oh! the joys of long walks, discreet gossip, and dinners at a well-served table with a few chosen friends. Was he, after all, longing for the flesh-pots of the philistine—he, Hubert Falcroft, who had patrolled the boulevards like other sportsmen of midnight!
At last the picture began to glow with that inner light he had so patiently pursued. Elaine Mineur looked at him from the canvas with veiled sweetness, a smile almost enigmatic lurking about her lips. Deepen a few lines and her expression would be one of contented sleekness. That Hubert had missed by a stroke. It was in her eyes that her chief glory abided. They were pathetic without resignation,