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   Chapter 25 No.25

Through stained glass By George Agnew Chamberlain Characters: 7743

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


Three years later, with the approval of Le Brux, Lewis exhibited the "Startled Woman." He did not name it. It named itself. There was no single remarkable trait in the handling of the life-size nude figure beyond its triumph as a whole-its sure impression of alarm.

Leighton came to Paris for his son's début. When he saw the statue, he said:

"It is not great. You are not old enough for that. But it will be a success, probably a sensation. What else have you done?"

All the modeling that Lewis had accumulated in the three years of his apprenticeship was passed in review. Leighton scarcely looked at the casts. He kept his eyes on Le Brux's face and measured his changing expression.

"Is that all?" he asked.

"Yes," said Lewis.

"Well," said Leighton, "I suggest we destroy the lot. What do you say,

Le Brux?"

Le Brux raised his bushy eyebrows, shrugged his shoulders, and threw out his hands.

"Eh," he grunted, "it is for the boy to say. Has he the courage? They are his offspring."

The two men stood and looked at Lewis. His eyes passed from them to his work and back again to Leighton's face.

"You are my father," he said.

"Come on," cried Leighton, without a moment's hesitation, "let us all join in the slaughter. Just remember, boy, that it's no more cruel to kill your young than to sell them into slavery."

Three days later all of Paris that counts was talking of the "Startled Woman." The name of Leighton fils was in many mouths and in almost as many printed paragraphs.

"Leighton fils!" cried Lewis. Why fils?"

"Paris has a long memory for art, my boy," said Leighton. "Before I learned that I could never reach the heights, I raised a small monument on a foot-hill. They haven't forgotten it, these critics who never die."

Lewis was assailed by dealers. They offered him prices that seemed to him fabulous. But Leighton listened calmly and said, "Wait." The longer they waited, the higher climbed the rival dealers. At last came an official envelop. "Ah," said Leighton, before Lewis had opened it, "it has come."

It was an offer from the state. It was lower than the least of the dealers' bids. "That's the prize offer, boy," said Leighton. "Take it."

They went back to London together. Leighton helped Lewis search for a studio. They examined many places, pleasant and unpleasant. Finally Lewis settled on a great, bare, loft-like room within a few minutes' walk of the flat. "This will do," he said.

"Why?" asked Leighton.

"Space," said Lewis. "Le Brux taught me that. One must have space to see big."

While they were still busy fitting up the atelier a note came to Lewis from Lady Derl. She told him to come and see her at once, to bring all his clippings on the "Startled Woman," and a photograph that would do the lady more justice than had the newspaper prints.

When Lewis entered Lady Derl's room of light, it seemed to him that he had not been away from London for a day. The room was unchanged. Lady Derl was unchanged. She did not rise. She held out her hand, and Lewis raised her fingers to his lips.

"How well you do it, Lew!" she said. "Sit down."

He sat down and showed her a photograph of his work. She looked at it long. For an instant her worldliness dropped from her. She glanced shrewdly at Lewis's face. He met her eyes frankly. Then she tossed the picture aside.

"You are a nice boy," she said lightly. "I think I'll give a little dinner for you. This time your dad won't object."

"I hope not," said Lewis, smiling. "I'm bigger than he is now."

Both laughed, and then chatted until Leighton came in to join them at tea. Lady Derl told him of the dinner. He shrugged his shoulders and asked when it was to be.

"Don't look so bored," said Lady Derl. "I'll get Old Ivory to come, if you 're coming. You two always create an atmosphere within an atmospher

e where you can breathe the kind of air you like."

Leighton smiled.

"It's a funny thing," he said. "When Ivory and I meet casually, we simply nod as though we'd never shared each other's tents; but when we are both caught out in society, we fly together and hobnob like long-lost brothers. We've made three trips together. Every one of 'em was planned at some ultra dinner incrusted with hothouse flowers and hothouse women."

"Thanks," said Lady Derl.

Lewis might have been bored by that first formal dinner if he had known the difference between women grown under glass and women grown in the open. But he didn't. With the exception of Ann Leighton, mammy, and Natalie, who were not women at all so much as part and parcel of his own fiber, women were just women. He treated them all alike, and with a gallant nonchalance that astounded his two neighbors, Lady Blanche Trevoy and the Hon. Violet Materlin, accustomed as they were to find youths of his age stupidly callow or at best, in their innocence, mildly exciting. Leighton, seated at H lne's left, watched Lewis curiously.

"They've taken to him," said H lne.

"Yes," said Leighton. "Nothing wins a woman of the world so quickly as the unexpected. The unexpected adds to the ancient lure of curiosity the touch of tartness that gives life to a jaded palate. Satiated women are the most grateful for such a fillip, and once a woman's grateful, she's generous. A generous man will give a beggar a copper, but a generous woman will give away all her coppers, and throw in herself for good measure."

"When you have to try to be clever, Glen, you're a bore," remarked

H lne.

"I'm not trying to be clever," said Leighton. "There's a battle going on over there, and I was merely throwing light on it."

The battle was worth watching. The two young women were as dissimilar as beauty can be. Both had all the charms of well-nurtured and well-cared-for flesh. Splendid necks and shoulders, plenty of their own hair, lovely contour of face, practice in the use of the lot, were theirs in common. But Vi was dark, still, and long of limb. Blanche was blonde, vivacious, and compact without being in the least heavy.

Vi spoke slowly. Even for an English woman she had a low voice. It was a voice of peculiar power. One always waited for it to finish. Vi knew its power. She tormented her opponents by drawling. Blanche also spoke softly, but at will she could make her words scratch like the sharp claws of a kitten.

"And how did you ever get the model to take that startled pose?" Blanche was asking Lewis.

"That's where the luck came in," said Lewis, smiling; "and the luck is what keeps the work from being great."

"What do you mean?"

"Well," said Lewis, "Le Brux says that luck often leads to success, never to greatness."

"And how did luck come in?" drawled Vi.

Lewis smiled again.

"I'll tell you," he said. "The model is an old pal of mine. One day we were bathing in the Marne,-at least I was bathing, and she was just going to,-when a farmer appeared on the scene and yelled at her. She was startled and turning to make a run for it when I shouted, 'Hold that pose, Cellette! She's a mighty well-trained model. For a second she held the pose. That was enough. She remembered it ever after.

"Does it take a lot of training to be a model?" asked Blanche. "How would I do?" She turned her bare shoulders frankly to him.

Lewis glanced at her. "Yours is not a beauty that can be held in stone," he said. "You are too respectable for a bacchante, too vivacious for anything else." He turned to Vi. "You would do better," he said as though she too had asked.

Vi said nothing, but her large, dark eyes suddenly looked away and beyond the room. A flush rose slowly into her smooth, dusky cheek. Blanche bit her under lip.

"Vi has won out," said H lne to Leighton.

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