She praised him warmly, rescued his wool gloves and cap from snowy furrows into which their owner had angrily but helplessly dived; and then she stepped into her skis and ascended the hill beside him with that long-limbed, graceful, swinging stride which he had ventured to believe might become him also.
He said hopelessly: “If you expect me to hunt wild boar with you on skis, there’ll be some wild and widely distributed shooting in this county. How can I hit a boar while describing unwilling ellipses in mid-air or how can I run away from one while I’m sticking nose down in a snow-drift?”
Too faint with laughter to reply, she stood leaning on her trailing-pole and looking over his shoulder as he repitched his sketching easel, squeezed the colours from the leaden tubes, and set his palette.
“I’m horribly hungry,” he grumbled; “too hungry to make a decent sketch. How cold is it, anyway? I believe that this paint is trying to freeze on my palette!”
“What are you going to paint?” she asked, her rounded chin resting on his shoulder.
“That frozen brook.” He looked around at her, hesitating; and she laughed and nodded her comprehension.
“You want to make a sketch of me, dear. Why don’t you ask me? Do you think I’d refuse?”
“It’s so beastly cold to ask you to stand still——”
“Cold! Why, it’s much warmer; it’s ten above zero. I’ll stand wherever you wish. Where do you want me; here above you, against the snow and sky?”
The transcendent loveliness of the picture she made set that excited thrill quivering through every vein; but he took a matter-of-fact grip on his emotions because good work is done in cold blood, even if it sometimes may be conceived in exaltation.
“Don’t move,” he said serenely; “you are exactly right as you stand. Tell me the very moment you feel cold. Promise?”
His freezing colours bothered him, and at times he used them almost like pastels. He worked rapidly, calmly, and with that impersonal precision that made every brush stroke an integral factor in the ensemble.
At almost any stage of the study the accidental brilliancy of his progress might have been terminated abruptly, leaving a sketch rarely beautiful in its indicated and unfinished promise.
But the pitfalls of the accidental had no allurements for him. She rested, changed position, stretched her limbs, took a long circle or two, skimming the hillside when she needed the reaction. But always she came swinging back again to stand and watch her lover with a half-smiling, half-tender gaze that tried his sangfroid terribly when he strove to catch it and record it in the calm and scientific technique which might excite anybody except the workman.
“Am I pretty, Duane?”
“Annoyingly divine. I’m trying not to think of it, dear, until my hand and heart may wobble with impunity. Are you cold?”