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   Chapter 22 THE SECRET OF THE TWO PICTURES

Armorel of Lyonesse By Walter Besant Characters: 12751

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


A good many things troubled Armorel-the companion with whom she could not talk: her persistent praises of Mr. Feilding: the constant attendance of that illustrious genius-and she wanted advice. Generally, she was a self-reliant person, but these were new experiences. Effie, she knew, could not advise her. She might go to Mr. Jagenal; but, then, elderly lawyers are not always ready to receive confidences from young ladies. Then she thought of her cousin Philippa, whom she had not seen since that first evening. Philippa looked trustworthy and judicious. She went to see her in the morning, when she would be alone. Philippa received her with the greatest friendliness.

'If you really would like a talk about everything,' she said, 'come to my own room.' She led the way. 'Here we shall be quiet and undisturbed. It is the place where I practise every day. But I shall never be able to play like you, dear. Now, take that chair and let us begin. First, why do you come so seldom?'

'Frankly and truly, do you wish me to come often?'

'Frankly and truly, fair cousin, yes. But come alone. Mrs. Elstree and I were at school together, and we were not friends. That is all. I hope you like her for a companion.'

'The first of my difficulties,' said Armorel, 'is that I do not. I imagined when she came that it mattered nothing about her. You see, I have been for five years under masters and teachers, and I never thought anything about them outside the lesson. I thought my companion would be only another master. But she isn't. I have her company at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And all the evening. I think I am wrong not to like her, because she is always good-tempered. Somehow, she jars upon me. She likes everything I do not care about-comic operas, dance music, French novels. She has no feeling for pictures, and her taste in literature is ... not mine. Oh, I am talking scandal. And she is so perfectly inoffensive. Mostly she lies by the fire and either dozes or reads her French novels. All day long, I go about my devices. But there is the evening.'

'This is rather unfortunate, Armorel, is it not?'

'If it were only for a month or two, one would not mind. Tell me, Philippa, how long must I have a companion?'

Philippa laughed. 'I dare say the question may solve itself before long. Women generally achieve independence-with the wedding ring-unless that brings worse slavery.'

'No,' said Armorel, gravely, 'I shall not achieve independence that way.'

'Not that way?'

'Not by marrying!'

'Why not, Armorel?'

'You will not laugh at me, Philippa? I learned a long time ago that I could only marry one kind of man. And now I cannot find him.'

'You did know such a man formerly? My dear, you are not going to let a childish passion ruin your own life.'

'I knew a man who was, in my mind, this kind of man. He came across my life for two or three weeks. When he went away I kept his image in my mind, and it gradually grew as I grew-always larger and more beautiful. The more I learned-the more splendid grew this image. It was an Idol that I set up and worshipped for five long years.'

'And now your Idol is shattered?'

'No; the Idol remains. It is the man, who no longer corresponds to the Idol. The man who might have become this wonderful Image is gone-and I can never love any other man. He must be my Idol in the body.'

'But, Armorel, this is unreal. We are not angels. Men and women must take each other with their imperfections.'

'My Idol may have had his imperfections, too. Well, the man has gone. I am punished, perhaps, for setting up an Idol.'

She was silent for awhile, and Philippa had nothing to say.

'But about my companion?' Armorel went on. 'When can I do without one?'

'There is nothing but opinion to consider. Opinion says that a young lady must not live alone.'

'If one never hears what opinion says, one need not consider opinion perhaps.'

'Well, but you could not go into society alone.'

'That matters nothing, because I never go into society at all.'

'Never go into society at all? What do you mean?'

'I mean that we go nowhere.'

'Well, what are people about? They call upon you, I suppose?'

'No; nobody ever calls.'

'But where are Mrs. Elstree's friends?'

'She has no friends.'

'Oh! She has-or had-an immense circle of friends.'

'That was before her father lost everything and killed himself. They were fair-weather friends.'

'Yes, but one's own people don't run away because of misfortune.' Philippa looked dissatisfied with the explanation. 'My dear cousin, this must be inquired into. Your lawyer told me that Mrs. Elstree's large circle of friends would be of such service to you. Do you really mean that you go nowhere? And your wonderful playing absolutely wasted? And your face seen nowhere? Oh! it is intolerable that such a girl as you should be so neglected.'

'I have other friends. There is Effie Wilmot and her brother who wants to become a dramatist. And I have found an old friend, an artist. I am not at all lonely. But in the evening, I confess, it is dull. I am not afraid of being alone. I have always been alone. But now I am not alone. I have to talk.'

'And uncongenial talk.'

'Now advise me, Philippa. Her talk is always on one subject-always the wonderful virtues of Mr. Feilding.'

'My cousin Alec? Yes'-Philippa changed colour, and shaded her face with a hand-screen. 'I believe she knows him.'

'Your cousin? Oh! I had forgotten. But it is all the better, because you know him. Philippa, I am troubled about him. For not only does Zoe talk about him perpetually, but he is always calling on one pretext or other. If I go to a picture-gallery, he is there: if I walk in the park, I meet him: if I go to church-Zoe does not go-he meets me in the porch: if we go to the theatre, he is there.'

'I did not think that Alec was that kind of man,' said Philippa, still keeping the hand-screen before her face. 'Are you mistaken, perhaps? Has he said anything?'

'No: he has said nothing. But it annoys me to have this man following me about-and-and-Philippa-he is your cousin-I know-but I detest him.'

'Can you not show that you dislike his attentions? If he will not understand that you dislike him-wait-perhaps he will speak-though I hardly think-you may be mistaken, dear. If he speaks, let your answer b

e quite unmistakable.'

'Then I hope that he will speak to-morrow. Zoe wanted me to find some money in order to help him in some way-out of some worries.'

'My dear child-I implore you-do not be drawn into any money entanglements. What does Zoe mean? What does it all mean? My dear, there is something here that I cannot understand. What can it mean? Zoe to help my cousin out of worries about money? Zoe? What has Zoe to do with him and his worries?'

'He has been very kind to her and to her husband.'

'There is something we do not understand,' Philippa repeated.

'You are not angry with me for not liking your cousin?'

'Angry? No, indeed. He has been so spoiled with his success that I don't wonder at your not liking him. As for me, you know, it is different. I knew Alec before his greatness became visible. No one, in the old days, ever suspected the wonderful powers he has developed. When he was a boy, no one knew that he could even hold a pencil, nobody suspected him of making rhymes-and now see what he has done. Yet, after all, his achievements seem to me only like incongruous additions stuck on to a central house. Alec and painting don't go together, in my mind. Nor Alec and vers de société. Nor Alec and story-telling. In his youth he passed for a practical lad, full of common-sense and without imagination.'

'Was he of a sensitive, highly nervous temperament?'

'Not to my knowledge. He has been always, and is still, I think, a man of a singularly calm and even cold temper-not in the least nervous nor particularly sensitive.'

Armorel compared this estimate with that of her companion. Strange that two persons should disagree so widely in their estimate of a man.

'Then, three or four years ago, he suddenly blossomed out into a painter. He invited his friends to his chambers. He told us that he had a little surprise for us. And then he drew aside a curtain and disclosed the first picture he thought worthy of exhibition. It hangs on the wall above your head, Armorel, with its companion of the following year. My father bought them and gave them to me.'

Armorel got up to look at them.

'Oh!' she cried. 'These are copies!'

'Oh!' she cried. 'These are copies!'

'Copies? No. They are Alec's own original pictures. What makes you think they are copies?'

What made her think that they were copies was the very remarkable fact that both pictures represented scenes among the Scilly Isles: that in each of them was represented-herself-as a girl of fifteen or sixteen: that the sketches for both these pictures had been made in her own presence by the artist: that he was none other than Roland Lee: and that the picture she had seen in his studio was done by the same hand and in the same style as the two pictures before her. Of that she had no doubt. She had so trained her eye and hand that there could be no doubt at all of that fact.

She stared, bewildered. Philippa, who was beside her looking at the pictures, went on talking without observing the sheer amazement in Armorel's eyes.

'That was his first picture,' she continued; 'and this was the second. I remember very well the little speech he made while we were all crowding round the picture. "I am going," he said, "to make a new departure. You all thought I was just following the beaten road at the Bar. Well, I am trying a new and a shorter way to success. You see my first effort." It was difficult to believe our eyes. Alec a painter? One might as well have expected to find Alec a poet: and in a few months he was a poet: and then a story-teller. And his poetry is as good as it is made in these days; and his short stories are as good as any of those by the French writers.'

'What is the subject of this picture?' Armorel asked with an effort.

'The place is somewhere on the Cornish coast, I believe. He always paints the same kind of picture-always a rocky coast-a tossing sea-perhaps a boat-spray flying over the rocks-and always a girl, the same girl. There she is in both pictures-a handsome black-haired girl, quite young-it might be almost a portrait of yourself when you were younger, Armorel.'

'Almost,' said Armorel.

'This girl is now as well known to Alec's friends as Wouvermann's white horse. But no one knows the model.'

Armorel's memory went back to the day when Roland made that sketch. She stood-so-just as the painter had drawn her, on a round boulder, the water boiling and surging at her feet and the white foam running up. Behind her the granite rock, grey and black. How could she ever forget that sketch?

'Alec is wonderful in his seas,' Philippa went on. 'Look at the bright colour and the clear transparency of the water. You can feel it rolling at your feet. Upon my word, Armorel, the girl is really like you.'

'A little, perhaps. Yes; they are good pictures, Philippa. The man who painted them is a painter indeed.'

She sat down again, still bewildered.

Presently she heard Philippa's voice. 'What is it?' she asked. 'You have become deaf and dumb. Are you ill?'

'No-I am not ill. The sight of those pictures set me thinking. I will go now, Philippa. If he speaks to me I will reply so that there can be no mistake. But if he persists in following me about, I will ask you to interfere.'

'If necessary,' Philippa promised her. 'I will interfere for you. But there is something in all this which I do not understand. Come again soon, dear, and tell me everything.'

When they began this talk, one girl was a little troubled, but not much. The other was free from any trouble. When they parted, both girls were troubled.

One felt, vaguely, that danger was in the air. Zoe meant something by constantly talking about her cousin Alec. What understanding was there between him and that woman-that detestable woman?

The other walked home in a doubt and perplexity that drove everything else out of her head. What did those pictures mean? Had Roland given away his sketches? Was there another painter who had the very touch of Roland as well as his sketches? No, no; it was impossible.

Suddenly she remembered something on the fragment of paper that Effie picked up. The corner of the torn cheque-even the signature of Alec Feilding. What did that mean? Why had Roland torn up a cheque signed by Mr. Feilding? Why had he called that act the turning of the footstep?

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