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gone from flower to flower, draining the honey from each new blossom
and passing on. New places, new skies, new scenes had all in turn
contributed to our pleasure and given us inspiration which took form
again in our art.

The vivid desert backgrounds, the light-filled skies of Upper Egypt
crept into my pictures, the cry of impassioned Eastern music in the
forbidden dancing-dens of Keneh stole into Viola's refrains.

On that sunny afternoon in April, as we took tea in our tiny and
gimcrack drawing-room together, Viola and I felt in the best of

"Captain Lawton and Mr. and Mrs. Dixon are coming in to dinner
to-night," Viola remarked. "Lawton tells me he saw the manager
yesterday, and the piece seems getting on all right."

"I am very glad," I answered. "Do you know, Viola, a Roman girl called
here this morning, and wanted me to take her on as a model. She's
very good. I think I'd better secure her, if ... if...."

"If what...?" asked Viola smiling.

"Well, if you don't mind," I answered, colouring.

"Mind? I? No, dearest Trevor. Of course not. You must want a new model
by now. Do engage her by all means. Is she good altogether?"

"I don't know. I have only seen her face yet. That's very lovely.
Veronica she calls herself. I thought, anyway, she would do splendidly
for the head."

"What a piece of good luck she should come now. You were just wanting
a model for your Roman Forum picture," returned Viola. And then the
matter dropped, for some women came in to tea and broke off the

At eleven o'clock the next morning I was in my studio, awaiting
Veronica. I was pleased, interested, elated. The girl was really
beautiful, and the sight of beauty exhilarates and animates like wine.

She was very punctual and came confidently into the room as the clock
struck. The cold morning light through a north window fell upon her
and instead of the light warming the face as so often happens, her
face seemed to warm the light. She was about sixteen, with a skin of
velvet, dark, quite dark, but clear as wine, and with a wonderful red
flush glowing through the cheek; the eyes were brilliant, brown to
blackness, but full of fire and lustre; her hair, dark as midnight,
clustered and fell about her face in soft curls. The nose was dainty,
refined, with perfect nostrils, the mouth deepest red and curved with
the most tender, seducing lines. I had never seen such a face. The
beauty of it was glorious, to an artist awe-inspiring.

I stood gazing at her, delighted, spellbound, and the young person
keenly observed my admiration. She smiled, revealing true Italian
teeth, exquisite, white, and perfect.

"I am Veronica Bernandini," she said. "I have two hours to spare in
the morning and three in the afternoon."

My first thought was not to let any other artist have her; not till I
had painted her at any rate and startled London with her face.

"Are you sitting to any one else?" I asked mechanically.

"No. I give the rest of my time to my family. We are very poor. My
mother and father are old. I am their sole support."

I waved my hand impatiently. All models tell you that. One gets so
tired of it.

"What do you want an hour? I will take all your time. You must not sit
to any one else."

Her eyes gleamed, and the lovely crimson mouth pouted.

"Five shillings an hour if you take the five hours a day," she

"I suppose you know that's double the ordinary price?" I said smiling.
"However, I don't mind. I'll pay you if I find you sit well. Take off
your hat now and sit down - anywhere. I want just to make a rough
sketch of your head."

She obeyed, and I drew out some large paper sheets and found a piece
of charcoal. Sitting down opposite her, I gazed at her meditatively.
Now that her hat had been removed I could see the extraordinary wealth
and beauty of her hair. It was black with lights of red and gold fire
in it, and fell in its own natural waves and curls and clusters all
about her small head and smooth white forehead.

What about a Bacchante? She was a perfect study for that. I always
imagined - perhaps from seeing antiques, where it is so represented,
that the head of a Bacchante should have hair like this; and it is
rare enough in English models. Suppose I made a large picture - The
Death of Pentheus - the king in Euripides' tragedy of the Bacchæ who in
his efforts to put down the Bacchanalia was slain by the enraged
Bacchantes. Suppose I put this one in the foreground.... But then it
seemed a pity to spoil such a lovely face with a look of rage....
Well, anyway, let me have a sketch first, and see what inspiration
came to me. I got up and looked amongst my odd possessions for a
vine-leaf wreath I had. When I found it and some ivy leaves, I came
back to her and fastened them round her head, in and out of those
wonderful vine-like tendrils of hair. She sat demurely enough and very
still while I did so, but when I wanted to unfasten the ugly modern
bodice and turn it down from her throat so as to get the head well
poised and free, she pressed her lips on my hand as it passed round
her neck.

I drew my hand away.

"Don't be silly, or I shan't employ you," I said with some annoyance.

She pushed out her crimson lips.

"You are too handsome to be an artist; they are mostly such guys."

"Hush, be quiet now, be still," I said, moving back from her to see if
I had the effect I wanted. I felt with a sudden rush of delight I had.
The face was just perfect now: the head a little inclined, the leaves
in the glossy hair, no more exact image of the idea the word Bacchante
always formed in my mind could be imagined.

I sketched her head in rapidly. I made two or three draughts of it in
charcoal, then I got my colours and did a rough study of it in colour.
Her neck, like that of almost all Italians, was a shade too short, but
round and lovely in shape and colour. The time passed unnoticed, and
it was only when the luncheon gong sounded I realised how long I had
been at work.

I sprang up and gathered the sheets of paper together.

"That's all now," I said. "I'll take you again three to six. Are you
tired?" I added, as she got up rather slowly and took up her hat.

"No," she answered, shaking her head. "All that was sitting down;
that's easy."

Her voice sounded flat, but I was too hurried to take much notice of
it. I wanted to get down to show Viola the work.

"Well, three o'clock then," I repeated, and ran downstairs.

Viola was waiting in the dining-room, but not at the table. I went
over to the window where she was standing, and showed her the

"Oh, Trevor, how lovely; how perfectly beautiful!" she exclaimed,
gazing at the charcoal head.

"You have done that well, and what a glorious face!"

I flushed with pleasure.

"I'm so glad you like it. Come up this afternoon and see the model,
see me work. Say you're out, and let's have tea in the studio."

"Very well," she answered as the luncheon came in; "I'll say we want
tea up there. What a good idea to make her a Bacchante; it's the very
face for it."

"Suppose I took her as a Bacchante dancing, the whole figure I mean,
nude, under a canopy of vine leaves, make all the background,
everything, green vines with clusters of purple grapes, and then have
her dancing down the sort of avenue towards the foreground, with the
light pouring down through the leaves. How do you think that would

"I should think it would be lovely," Viola answered slowly, with a
little sigh.

I looked across at her quickly.

"You would like to be my only model for the body?" I said gently,
keeping my eyes on her face.

"No, Trevor, I really don't want to be selfish, and I do think you
should have another, only...."

"Yes, only...?"

"Well, when a woman is in love she does so long to be able to assume
all sorts of different forms, to be different women, so as to always
please and amuse and satisfy the man she loves. How delightful it
would be if one could change! One can be pretty, one can be amiable,
clever, charming, anything, but one cannot be different from oneself;
one must be the same, one can't get away from that."

I laughed.

"I don't want you to be different. I should be overwhelmed if you
suddenly changed into some one else! And whatever models I have, you
will always be the best. There could not be another such perfect
figure as yours."

Viola smiled, but an absent look came into her face.

After luncheon we both went up to the studio together, and Viola was
ensconced in my armchair when Veronica's knock came on the door.

I said, "Come in," and she entered with the confident air of the
morning. Directly she saw Viola, however, she seemed to stiffen with
resentment, and stood still by the door.

"Come in," I repeated, "and shut the door."

Viola looked at her kindly and laid down the charcoal sketch in her

"I have been looking at your head here and thinking it so beautiful,"
she said gently.

Veronica only stared at her a little ungraciously in return, and took
off her hat in silence.

I put her back into position, re-arranged the fillet on her head, and
set to work to complete the colour study.

We worked in unbroken silence till tea was brought up at four. Viola
rose to make it, and I told the girl to get up and move about if she
liked, and I set the canvas aside to dry. Viola offered the girl a cup
of tea, but she refused it and went and sat under the window on an old
couch, leaving us by the table.

The canvas was a success in a way so far, but the great sweetness of
the expression in the charcoal sketch of the morning was not there.

When tea was over I went up to Veronica and told her I must leave the
canvas of the head to dry, I could not work more on it then, and asked
her if she would pose for me as the Bacchante dancing. I wanted to see
if she would do for a larger picture.

I got no answer for a minute. Veronica looked down and began to pull
at the faded fringe of an old cushion.

At last I repeated my question.

"Not while _she's_ here," she muttered in a low, fierce tone.

I was surprised at the resentment in look and voice.

"Nonsense," I said with some annoyance. "You can pose before her as
well as before me."

Veronica did not answer, only pulled in sullen silence at the cushion.

"You are wasting my time," I said impatiently.

Veronica looked through the window.

"I shan't take off my clothes before her," she muttered defiantly.

I turned away from her in annoyance and approached Viola who had not
moved from her chair on the other side of the room. She sprang up and
came to meet me.

"She objects to my being here?" she said quickly. "Is it bothering
you? Because, if it is, I'll go; that'll settle it."

"It's awfully stupid. I'm so sorry, Viola; it's so idiotic of her."

Viola smiled brightly up at me.

"Never mind, I'll go. You'll be down soon, now."

I held the door open for her, and with a smiling nod at me she passed
through and went down the stairs. I waited till her bright head had
disappeared, and then closed the door and went back to Veronica.

"Now," I said, "Mrs. Lonsdale has left us. Will you get up and stand
as I want you to? Or do you want me to dismiss you?"

I felt extremely angry and annoyed. My heart beat violently. Viola had
come there by my invitation, she had deprived herself of any possible
society for the afternoon, and now had been practically turned out by
this impertinent little model.

Veronica got sulkily up from the couch and began to undress in

I walked away and flung myself into the armchair Viola had vacated,
and picked up the charcoal sketch.

How sweet the face was in that! And yet what an awful little devil the
girl on the couch had looked.

I was so accustomed to Viola's unfailing either good temper or
self-command, that I was beginning to forget women had bad tempers as
well as men.

After a minute or two Veronica came over to me; she had let her hair
down, and it fell prettily on her shoulders. I laid down the charcoal
sketches and looked at her critically as she approached.

Her figure had all the beauty of great plumpness and youthfulness.
Every contour was round and full, and yet firm. Her body was beautiful
in the sense that all healthy, sound, young, well-formed things are,
but there was, as it were, no soul in the beauty, nothing transcendent
in any of the lines or in the colour. It was something essentially of
earth, un-dreamlike, appealing to the senses, and to them alone.

I was struck with the great contrast it presented to the form of
Viola, which was so wonderfully ethereal, so divine in colour and
design. Every line in it was long and tapering, never coming to a
sudden stop, but merging with infinite grace into the next, and the
dazzling, immaculate whiteness of it all made it seem like something
of heaven. It suggested the vision, the ideal, all that man longs
after with his soul, that stirs the celestial fires within his brain,
not merely the flame of the senses.

In the form before me, the lines were short and often abrupt, the
curves quick and expressionless; it would do capitally for the
"Bacchante," it would not have served for a moment for the "Soul of
the Wood."

The girl was smiling now, and appeared quite amiable. Most people are
when they have got their own way. She asked me if I thought she would

"Yes, I think you will. Stand back there, please, against that green
curtain. Now put one foot forward as if you were advancing. Yes,
that's right; lift both your arms up over your head."

I got up to give her a hoop of wire to hold as an arch over her, and
put a spray of artificial ivy over it.

"That'll do. Now stand still, and let's see how that works out."

The girl posed well. Evidently she was a model of considerable
practice, and I obtained an excellent sketch before a quarter to six,
when she said she must leave off and dress.

She did so in silence, while I studied my own work. When she had her
hat on I looked up and asked her if she wanted to be paid.

"No," she answered, "we'll leave it till the end of the week.

"Good-bye," I said, and she went out. I laid the sketch on the table
beside me, and sat thinking. A sudden blankness fell upon me as I
stood mentally opposite this new idea that had never presented itself
to me in the same form before, that in my former easy, wandering
existence I had always welcomed a beautiful model, not only for the
gain to my art, but because of the incidental pleasure it might bring
me. But now I realised suddenly that this girl's beauty brought me no
elation. _It was not any use_, and in a flash I saw, too, that no
woman now, no beauty could be any use to me ever any more, for I was
not a single irresponsible existence any longer, but involved with
another which was sacred to me.

How often in the past, when entangled in some light _liaison_, I had
wished for deeper, stronger emotions, something to wake the mind and
stir the soul! Then in my love for Viola I had found all these and
welcomed them madly. She had stirred my whole sleeping being into
flame, and given me those keener and stronger desires of the brain,
and satisfied them; and till now it had seemed to me that this passion
for her was a free gift from the hands of Fate. Now, suddenly, I saw
that the gift had its price. That, after all, there was something to
be said for those light free loves of the past. That some joy had been
taken out of life, now those glittering trifles, toys of the senses,
were taken from me, made impossible.

For the first time I realised that a great passion has its yoke, and
that, in return for the great joy it gives, it demands and takes one's

I sat motionless, feeling overwhelmed by the sudden blaze of light
that the simple incident of this model's advent had thrown on an
obscure psychological fact.

I saw now that my love for Viola was not wholly a gain, not something
extra added to my life's-cup that made it full to overflowing, but, as
always in this life, something had been taken away as well as added.

I felt as a child might feel who was presented with a magnificent gift
with which he was overjoyed, but who on taking it to the nursery to
add to his other treasures, saw his nurse locking these all away from
him for ever in a glass case above his reach.

As the child might, I hugged my new gift to me and delighted in it,
but I could not help feeling regret for those other small, glittering
toys with which I had formerly played so much, now shut away behind
the deadly glass pane of conscience.

It was not that Veronica appealed to me specially. I did not feel I
cared whether she came to the studio again or not except for the
picture, but the great principle involved, now that I was face to face
with it, appalled me.

Viola had sought to leave me free, by refusing marriage with me; but,
after all, what difference does the mere nominal tie make?

The essential attribute of a great passion - something that cannot be
eliminated from it - is the chain of fidelity it forges round its

I do not know how long I sat there, but at last I rose mechanically,
put the sheets of paper together, and went downstairs.

As I came to the drawing-room door I heard that Viola was playing.
The door stood ajar, and silently I entered and took my seat behind
her. She was improvising, just playing as the inspiration came to her,
and wholly absorbed and unconscious of my presence. There was a great
glass facing her, in which her whole image was reflected, and had she
glanced into it she must have seen me; but she did not. Her eyes gazed
out before her, wrapt, delighted; her face was quite white, her lips
parted in a little smile.

I saw she was under the influence of her music and absolutely happy,
full of joy, such as I could never give her. A great jealousy ran
through me, kindling all that passion I had for her. The thoughts and
reflections of an hour back seemed swept out of mind like dead leaves
before a storm. No other lighter loves could give me one-tenth of the
emotion that the pursuit and conquest of this strange soul could do.
For I had not conquered it. It was absorbed in, and lived in mysteries
of joy that its art alone could give it, and I was outside - almost a
stranger to it.

The thought burnt and stung me, and the fire of it wrapped round me as
I sat watching her. That body, so slim, so perfect, she had given me,
but I wanted more, I wanted that inner spirit to be mine, I wanted to
conquer that.

I watched her in a fierce, jealous anger, almost as I might have done
seeing her caressed by another lover, she was so wonderfully happy, so
independent of me, so unconscious of me; but man loves that which is
above him, difficult to obtain, hard to pursue. We cannot help it. We
are made to be hunters, and I felt I loved Viola then with fresh

Some time or other I would succeed in breaking through that charmed
circle in which she lived, in making her yield up to me the spiritual
maidenhood which, as it were, was hers.

I would be first and last and everything to her, and not even her art
should count beside me.

I closed my eyes and put my head back on the couch where I was sitting
and gave myself up to listening to the music.

How the instrument answered her! What a divine melody rose from it,
floating gently on the air like quivering wings.

Then suddenly came a storm of passion, and the room was filled with a
tempest of sound, while one strong thread of melody low down in the
bass ran through it all and seemed a fierce reproach of one in
anguish. At last one sheet of sound seemed to sweep the piano from end
to end, a cry of dismay, of pain, the woe and grief of one who sees
his world shattered suddenly before his eyes; then there was silence.
I sprang up and clasped her in my arms.

"Trevor," she exclaimed, like one awakening from a dream; "I had no
idea you were there."

"No," I said savagely; "you were so absorbed, you never noticed me
come in."

"Well, I heard the model go, and I waited and waited for you to come
down; but you were so long I turned to the piano to console me."

"Which it did quite well, apparently," I answered.

A sweet, tender look came over her face, and she stretched out her
arms to me.

"Nothing could wholly console me for your absence," she said; "and you
know that quite well; but the music always helps me to bear it."

I drew her to me and strained her close up to me in silence, longing
to conquer, to come into union with that mysterious inner something we
call the Soul.

Yet in this unconquerable quality, in this pursuit of that which
always escapes from our most passionate embraces, man finds an
inexhaustible delight.



The weeks slipped by, and I worked hard at the painting, while Viola
gave herself up to the music and all the work that the approaching
production of her opera gave her. Our evenings were always spent
together. We set aside two evenings in the week for our friends,
giving only small dinners of eight or ten. On the other evenings when
we were not dining out ourselves we went to the opera, and supper

I often wondered whether there was anything or nothing in the fact
that we were not married to each other, which affected our feelings
and relations to each other. Does that conventional bond make some
subtle difference, just by its existence; and did that account for the
fact that we seemed to find a greater delight in each other's society,
a greater need of each other than the average husband and wife do; or
was it only because we happened to be two who had met and really loved
more than most people do, and had we been married, we should have felt
the same?

Certainly we were looked upon as peculiar because, being married, we
were so much together.

The true explanation is perhaps that, as a rule, the people who love
do not marry, and those who marry do not love.

Coming home from our supper after the opera, I felt the same
passionate delight in Viola as that first evening when I had driven
her to my studio. Waking in the dawn to find her sleeping on my arm, I
had the same joyous elation as I had known under the thatched roof,
during our first stay together. Unfortunately, however, a great
passion for one object does not necessarily exclude lesser passions,
or, rather, passing fancies of the senses for other objects. It is
generally supposed that it does, but my experience is rather to the

With women possibly it may do so oftener than with men, but extreme
constancy, absolute exclusiveness is not the natural product of a
great passion. It is a question rather of sentiment and artificial

Nature is not on the side of sentiment. She is always a prodigal, with
the one great aim before her of ensuring the continuance of the race.

Consequently, when a man is already loving one object with all his
force, it is not Nature's plan to make him turn from all others by
instinct. No, she is ever ready with others, ever rather prompting
him, leading him towards others, in order that, should accident or
death remove his first mate, others should not be wanting, and her
great scheme should not be spoiled nor interrupted.

Nature is always on a grand scale, always acting in and for the
plural, never for the singular.

Does she want one oak to survive, she throws on the ground a million
acorns for that purpose.

Man she has fitted to love not one, but hundreds, and our senses act
automatically and are always on the side of Nature. It is the mind
alone that man has taught to act against her, and that demands and
gives fidelity in love.

A woman's attitude towards a second lover, when she is deeply in love
with the first, is not so often "I don't want him," as "It would
grieve my first lover, therefore I will not take him."

A man, when offered a second mistress, usually thinks "I will take
her, but I mustn't let the first one know." In both it is the anxiety
of Nature that neither should be left mateless, part of her tremendous
scheme of insurance against mischance.

And all this great love and passion which I had for Viola, passion
which exhausted me almost to the point sometimes of being unable to
work, did not seal my senses against the beauty of Veronica - beauty I
painted daily in the studio.

I used to enjoy the afternoon spent there now with a different
pleasure from that of work merely. The sensuous attraction had become
very great, and I was beginning to feel it was not innocent and to
half-long for, half-dread an interruption, something to break through

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Online LibraryVictoria CrossFive Nights → online text (page 8 of 18)