The Glory of Clementina Wing - William J. Locke - ebook

The Glory of Clementina Wing ebook

William J. Locke

0,0

Opis

The best novel that Mr. Lock has written since he created his masterpiece. He put all his strength into it... history is a real story with a real plot, real people, real human emotions and real character development. History keeps you from beginning to end. You cannot lay it down. And over this story there is a constant play of that light humor and fantastic fun, which Mr. Locke alone among the living novelists knows how to charm his readers.

Ebooka przeczytasz w aplikacjach Legimi na:

Androidzie
iOS
czytnikach certyfikowanych
przez Legimi
czytnikach Kindle™
(dla wybranych pakietów)
Windows
10
Windows
Phone

Liczba stron: 510

Odsłuch ebooka (TTS) dostepny w abonamencie „ebooki+audiobooki bez limitu” w aplikacjach Legimi na:

Androidzie
iOS



Contents

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

CHAPTER IX

CHAPTER X

CHAPTER XI

CHAPTER XII

CHAPTER XIII

CHAPTER XIV

CHAPTER XV

CHAPTER XVI

CHAPTER XVII

CHAPTER XVIII

CHAPTER XIX

CHAPTER XX

CHAPTER XXI

CHAPTER XXII

CHAPTER XXIII

CHAPTER XXIV

CHAPTER I

Unless you knew that by taking a few turnings in any direction and walking for five minutes you would inevitably come into one of the great, clashing, shrieking thoroughfares of London, you might think that Romney Place, Chelsea, was situated in some world-forgotten cathedral city. Why it is called a “place,” history does not record. It is simply a street, or double terrace, the quietest, sedatest, most unruffled, most old-maidish street you can imagine. Its primness is painful. It is rigorously closed to organ-grinders and German bands; and itinerant vendors of coal would have as much hope of selling their wares inside the British Museum as of attracting custom in Romney Place by their raucous appeal. Little dogs on leads and lazy Persian cats are its genii loci. It consists of a double row of little Early Victorian houses, each having a basement protected by area railings, an entrance floor reached by a prim little flight of steps, and an upper floor. Three little houses close one end of the street, a sleepy little modern church masks the other. Each house has a tiny back garden which, on the south side, owing to the gradual slope of the ground riverwards, is on a level with the basement floor and thus on a lower level than the street. Some of the houses on this south side are constructed with a studio on the garden level running the whole height of the house. A sloping skylight in the roof admits the precious north light, and a French window leads on to the garden. A gallery runs round the studio, on a level and in communication with the entrance floor; and from this to the ground is a spiral staircase.

From such a gallery did Tommy Burgrave, one November afternoon, look down into the studio of Clementina Wing. She was not alone, as he had expected; for in front of an easel carrying a nearly finished portrait stood the original, a pretty, dainty girl accompanied by a well-dressed, well-fed, bullet-headed, bull-necked, commonplace young man. Clementina, on hearing footsteps, looked up.

“I’m sorry–” he began. “They didn’t tell me–”

“Don’t run away. We’re quite through with the sitting. Come down. This is Mr. Burgrave, a neighbour of mine,” she explained. “Tries to paint, too–Miss Etta Concannon–Captain Hilyard.”

She performed perfunctory introductions. The group lingered round the portrait for a few moments, and then the girl and the young man went away. Clementina scrutinised the picture, sighed, pushed the easel to a corner of the studio and drew up another one into the light. Tommy sat on the model-throne and lit a cigarette.

“Who’s the man?”

“This?” asked Clementina, pointing to the new portrait, that of a stout and comfortable-looking gentleman.

“No. The man with Miss Etta Something. I like the name Etta.”

“He’s engaged to her. I told you his name, Captain Hilyard. He called for her. I don’t like him,” replied Clementina, whose language was abrupt.

“He looks rather a brute–and she’s as pretty as paint. It must be awful hard lines on a girl when she gets hold of a bad lot.”

“You’re right,” she said, gathering up palette and brushes. Then she turned on him. “What are you wasting precious daylight for? Why aren’t you at work?”

“I feel rather limp this afternoon, and want stimulating. So I thought I’d come in. Can I stay?”

“Oh Lord, yes, you can stay,” said Clementina, dabbing a vicious bit of paint on the canvas and stepping back to observe the effect. “Though you limp young men who need stimulating make me tired–as tired,” she added, with another stroke, “as this horrible fat man’s trousers.”

“I don’t see why you need have painted his trousers. Why not have made him half-length?”

“Because he’s the kind of cheesemonger that wants value for his money. If I cut him off at the waist he would think he was cheated. He pays to have his hideous trousers painted, and so I paint them.”

“But you’re an artist, Clementina.”

“I got over the disease long ago,” she replied grimly, still dabbing at the creases of the abominable and unmentionable garments. “A woman of my age and appearance hasn’t any illusions left. If she has, she’s a fool. I paint portraits for money, so that one of these days I may be able to retire from trade and be a lady. Bah! Art! Look at that!”

“Hi! Stop!” laughed Tommy, as soon as the result of the fresh brush-stroke was revealed. “Don’t make the infernal things more hideous than they are already.”

“That’s where I get “character,’ ” she said sarcastically. “People like it. They say “How rugged! How strong! How expressive!’ Look at the fat, self-satisfied old pig!–and they pay me in guineas where the rest of you high artistic people get shillings. If I had the courage of my convictions and painted him with a snout, they’d pay me in lacs of rupees. Art! Don’t talk of it. I’m sick of it.”

“All right,” said Tommy, calmly puffing away at his cigarette, “I won’t. Art is long and the talk about it is longer, thank God. So it will keep.”

He was a fresh-faced, fair-haired boy of two-and-twenty, and the chartered libertine of Clementina’s exclusive studio. His uncle, Ephraim Quixtus, had married a distant relation of Clementina, so, in a vague way, she was a family connection. To this fact he owed acquaintance with her–indeed, he had known her dimly from boyhood; but his intimacy he owed to a certain charm and candour of youth which found him favour in her not very tolerant eyes.

He sat on the model-throne, clasping his knee, and, wonderingly, admiringly, watched her paint. For all her cynical depreciation of her art, she was a portrait-painter of high rank, possessing the portrait-painter’s magical gift of getting at essentials, of splashing the very soul, miserable or noble, of the subject upon the canvas. She had a rough, brilliant method, direct and uncompromising as her speech. To see her at work was at once Tommy Burgrave’s delight and his despair. Had she been a young and pretty woman, his masculine vanity might have smarted. But Clementina, with her ugliness, gruffness, and untidiness, scarcely ranked as a woman in his disingenuous mind. You couldn’t possibly fall in love with her; no one could ever have fallen in love with her. And she, of course, had never had the remotest idea of falling in love with anybody. To his boyish fancy, Clementina in love was a grotesque conception. Besides, she might be any age. He decided that she must be about fifty. But when you made allowances for her gruffness and eccentricities, you found that she was a good sort–and, there was no doubt about it, she could paint.

Of course, Clementina might have made herself look much younger and more prepossessing, and thereby have pleased the fancy of Tommy Burgrave. As a matter of fact she was only thirty-five. Many a woman with more years and even less foundation of beauty than Clementina flaunts about the world breaking men’s hearts, obfuscating their common sense, and exerting all the bewildering influences of a seductive sex. She only has to do her hair, attend to her skin, and attire herself in more or less becoming raiment. Very little care suffices. Men are ludicrously easy to please in the way of female attractiveness–but they draw the line somewhere. It must be confessed that they drew it at Clementina Wing. Her coarse black hair straggled perpetually in uncared-for strands between fortuitous hair-pins. Her complexion was dark and oily; her nose had never been powdered since its early infancy; and her face, even when she walked abroad, was often disfigured, as it was now, by a smudge of paint. She had heedlessly suffered the invasion of lines and wrinkles. A deep vertical furrow had settled hard between her black, overhanging brows. She had intensified and perpetuated the crow’s-feet between her eyes by a trick, when concentrating her painter’s vision on a sitter, of screwing her face into a monkey’s myriad wrinkles. She dressed, habitually, in any old blouse, any old skirt, any old hat picked up at random in bedroom or studio, and picked up originally, with equal lack of selection, in any miscellaneous emporium of feminine attire. When her figure, which, as women acquaintances would whisper to each other, but never (not daring) to Clementina, had, after all, its possibilities, was hidden by a straight, shapeless, colour-smeared painting-smock, and all of Clementina as God made her that was visible, save her capable hands, was the swarthy face with its harsh contours, its high cheekbones, its unlovely, premature furrows, surmounted by the bedraggled hair that would have disgraced a wigwam, Tommy Burgrave may be pardoned for regarding her less as a woman than a painter of genius who somehow did not happen to be a man.

Presently she laid down palette and brushes and pushed the easel to one side.

“I can’t do any more at it without a model. Besides, it’s getting dark. Ring for tea.”

She threw off her painting-smock, revealing herself in an old brown skirt and a soiled white blouse gaping at the back, and sank with a sigh of relief into a chair. It was good to sit down, she said. She had been standing all day. She would be glad to have some tea. It would take the taste of the trousers out of her mouth.

“If you dislike them so much, why did you rush at them, as soon as those people had gone?”

“To get the girl’s face out of my mind. Look here, mon petit,” she said, turning on him suddenly, “if you ask questions I’ll turn you into the street. I’m tired; give me something to smoke.”

He disinterred a yellow, crumpled packet of French tobacco and cigarette-papers from among a litter on the table, and lit the cigarette for her when she had rolled it.

“I suppose you’re the only woman in London who rolls her own cigarettes.”

“Well?” asked Clementina.

He laughed. “That’s all.”

“It was an idiotic remark,” said Clementina.

The maid brought in tea, and it was Tommy who played host. She softened a little as he waited on her.

“I was meant to be a lady, Tommy, and do nothing. This paint-brush walloping–after all, what is it? What’s the good of painting these fools’ portraits?”

“Each of them is work of genius,” said Tommy.

“Rot and rubbish,” said Clementina. “Let me clear your mind of a lot of foolish nonsense you hear at your high-art tea-parties, where women drivel and talk of their mission in the world. A woman has only one mission; to marry and get babies. Keep that fact in front of you when you’re taking up with any of ’em. Genius! I can’t be a genius for the simple reason that I’m a woman. Did you ever hear of a man-mother? No. It’s a contradiction in terms. So there can’t be a woman-genius.”

“But surely,” Tommy objected, more out of politeness, perhaps, than conviction, for every male creature loves to be conscious of his sex’s superiority. “Surely there was Rosa Bonheur–and–and in your line, Madame Vigée Le Brun.”

“Very pretty,” said Clementina, “but stick them beside Paul Potter and Gainsborough, and what do they look like? Could a woman have painted Paul Potter’s bull?”

“What’s your definition of genius?” asked Tommy, evading the direct question. He had visited The Hague, and stood in rapt wonder before what is perhaps the most essentially masculine bit of painting in the world. Certainly no woman could have painted it.

“Genius,” said Clementina, screwing up her face and looking at the tip of a discoloured thumb, “is the quality the creative spirit assumes as soon as it can liberate itself from the bond of the flesh.”

“Good,” said Tommy. “Did you make up that all at once? It knocks Carlyle’s definition silly. But I don’t see why it doesn’t apply equally to men and women.”

“Woman,” said Clementina, “has always her sex hanging round the neck of her spirit.”

Tommy stared. This was a new conception of woman which he was too young and candid to understand. For him women–or rather that class of the sex that counted for him as women, the mothers and sisters and wives of his friends, the women from whose midst one of these days he would select a wife himself–were very spiritual creatures indeed. That twilight region of their being in which their sex had a home was holy ground before entering which a man must take the shoes from off his feet. He took it for granted that every unmarried woman believed in the stork or gooseberry bush theory of the population of the world. A girl allowed you to kiss her because she was kind and good and altruistic, realising that it gave you considerable pleasure; but as for the girl craving the kiss for the satisfaction of her own needs, that was undreamed of in his ingenuous philosophy. And here was Clementina laying it down as a fundamental axiom that woman has her sex always hanging round the neck of her spirit. He was both mystified and shocked.

“I’m afraid you don’t know what you’re talking about, Clementina,” he said at last, with some severity.

Indeed, how on earth could Clementina know?

“Perhaps I don’t, Tommy,” she said, with ironical meekness, realising the gulf between them and the reverence, which, as the Latin Grammar tells us, is especially due to tender youth. She looked into the fire, a half-smile playing round her grim, unsmiling lips, and there was silence for a few moments. Then she asked, brusquely;

“How’s that uncle of yours?”

“All right,” said Tommy. “I’m dining with him this evening.”

“I hear he has taken to calling himself Dr. Quixtus lately.”

“He’s entitled to do so. He’s a Ph.D. of Heidelberg. I wish you didn’t have your knife into him so much, Clementina. He’s the best and dearest chap in the world. Of course, he’s getting rather elderly and precise. He’ll be forty next birthday, you know–”

“Lord save us,” said Clementina.

“–but one has to make allowances for that. Anyway,” he added, with a flash of championship, “he’s the most courtly gentleman I’ve ever met.”

“He’s civil enough,” said Clementina. “But if I were his wife, I’m sure I would throw him out of a window.”

Tommy stared again for a moment, and then laughed–more at the idea of the quaint old thing that was Clementina being married than at the picture of his uncle’s grotesque ejectment.

“I don’t think that’s ever likely to happen,” he remarked.

“Nor do I,” said Clementina.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.