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   Chapter 5 No.5

A Girl of the Commune By G. A. Henty Characters: 22786

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

There was no more talk after the master had given the order for work. Most of the easels were shifted round and fresh positions taken up, then there was a little pause.

"She is late," M. Goudé said, with an impatient stamp of the foot. The words were scarcely out of his mouth when the door opened and a girl entered.

"Good-morning, messieurs," and she made a sweeping courtesy.

"You are five minutes late, Minette."

"Ma foi, master, what would you have with the Prussians in sight and all Paris in the streets-five minutes mean neither here nor there. I expected praise for having come at all."

"There, there," the artist said hastily, "run into your closet and change, we are all waiting."

She walked across the room to a door in the corner, with an expression of careless defiance in her face, and reappeared in five minutes in the dress of a Mexican peasant girl attired for a fête. The dress suited her admirably. She was rather above the middle height, her figure lithe and supple with exceptionally graceful curves; her head was admirably poised on her neck. Her hair was very dark, and her complexion Spanish rather than French. Her father was from Marseilles and her mother from Arles.

Minette was considered the best model in Paris, and M. Goudé had the merit of having discovered her. Three years before, when passing through a street inhabited by the poorer class of workmen in Montmartre, he had seen her leaning carelessly against a doorway. He was struck with the easy grace of her pose. He walked up the street and then returned. As he did so he saw her spring out and encounter an older woman, and at once enter upon a fierce altercation with her. It was carried on with all the accompaniment of southern gesture and ceased as suddenly as it began; the girl, with a gesture of scorn and contempt turning and walking back to the post she had left with a mien as haughty as that of a Queen dismissing an insolent subject.

"That girl would be worth a fortune as a model," the artist muttered. "I must secure her; her action and gesture are superb." He walked up to her, lifted his broad hat, and said "Mademoiselle, I am an artist. My name is Goudé. I have an academy for painting, and I need a model. The work is not hard, it is but to sit or stand for two or three hours of a morning, and the remuneration I should offer would be five francs a day for this. Have I your permission to speak to your parents?"

There was an angry glitter in her eye-a change in her pose that, slight as it was, reminded the artist of a cat about to spring.

"A model for a painter, monsieur? Is it that you dare to propose that I shall sit without clothes to be stared at by young men? I have heard of such things. Is this what monsieur wishes?"

"Not at all, not at all," Mr. Goudé said hastily. "Mademoiselle would always be dressed. She would be sometimes a Roman lady, sometimes a Spanish peasant, a Moorish girl, a Breton, or other maiden. You would always be free to refuse any costume that you considered unsuitable."

Her expression changed again. "If that is all, I might do it," she said; "it is an easy way of earning money. How often would you want me?"

"I should say three times a week, and on the other three days you would have no difficulty in obtaining similar work among artists of my own acquaintance. Here is my card and address."

The girl took it carelessly.

"I will speak to my father about it this evening when he comes home from work. You are quite sure that I shall not have to undress at all?"

"I have assured mademoiselle already that nothing of the sort will be required of her. There are models indeed who pose for figure, but these are a class apart, and I can assure mademoiselle that her feelings of delicacy will be absolutely respected."

The next day Minette Dufaure appeared at the studio and had ever since sat for all the female figures required. The air of disdain and defiance she had first shown soon passed away, and she entered with zest and eagerness upon her work. She delighted in being prettily and becomingly dressed. She listened intelligently to the master's descriptions of the characters that she was to assume, and delighted him with the readiness with which she assumed suitable poses, and the steadiness with which she maintained them.

There was nothing of the stiffness of the model in her attitudes. They had the charm of being unstudied and natural, and whether as a bacchanal, a peasant girl, or a Gaulish amazon, she looked the part equally well; her face was singularly mobile, and although this was an inferior consideration to the master, she never failed to represent the expression appropriate to the character she assumed.

Her reputation was soon established among the artists who occasionally dropped into Goudé's studio, and her spare time was fully occupied, and that at much higher rates of pay than those she earned with him. After the first two or three months she came but twice a week there, as that amply sufficed for the needs of the studio. On his telling her that he should no longer require her to come three times a week, as his pupils had other things to learn besides drawing the female figure, the master said-

"I must pay you higher in future, Minette. I know that my friends are paying you five francs an hour."

"A bargain is a bargain," she said. "You came to me first, and but for you I should never have earned a penny. Now we have moved into a better street and have comfortable lodgings. We have everything we want, and I am laying by money fast. You have always treated me well, and I like you though your temper is even worse than my father's. I shall keep to my agreement as long as you keep to yours, and if you do not I shall not come here at all."

With the students Minette was a great favorite. In the pause of five minutes every half-hour to allow her to change her position, she chatted and laughed with them with the frankest good temper, more than holding her own in the sallies of chaff. When they occasionally made excursions in a body into the country to sketch and paint, she was always of the party, going in the capacity of comrade instead of that of a model, contributing a full share to the lunch basket, but ready to pose as a peasant girl with a fagot on her head, a gleaner, or a country-woman with a baby on her lap, according to the scene and requirements. It was a matter of course that Minette should be present at every supper party or little fête among the students, always being placed in the seat of honor at the head of the table, and joining in all the fun of those merry reunions. For a time she treated all alike as comrades, and accepted no compliments save those so extravagant as to provoke general laughter. Gradually, however, it came to be understood among the students that Minette made an exception in the case of Arnold Dampierre, and that on occasions when they happened to break up in pairs he was generally by her side.

"One never can tell what women will do," René Caillard said one evening, when five or six of them were sitting smoking together. "Now, Minette might have the pick of us."

"No, no, René," one of the others protested, "most of us are suited already."

"Well, several of us, then. I am at present unattached, and so are André, and Pierre, and Jean; so is Cuthbert. Now, putting us aside, no woman in her senses could hesitate between the Englishman and Dampierre. He has a better figure, is stronger and better looking. He is cleverer, and is as good-tempered as the American is bad; and yet she takes a fancy for Dampierre, and treats all the rest of us, including the Englishman, as if we were boys."

"I fancy women like deference," Pierre Leroux said. "She is a good comrade with us all, she laughs and jokes with us as if she were one of ourselves. Now the American very seldom laughs and never jokes. He treats her as if she were a duchess and takes her altogether seriously. I believe he would be capable of marrying her."

The others all burst into a laugh.

"What are you laughing at?" Cuthbert asked, as he entered the room at the moment.

"Pierre is just saying that he thinks the American is capable of marrying Minette."

"I hope not," Cuthbert said, more seriously than he generally spoke. "Minette is altogether charming as she is. She is full of fun and life; she is clever and sparkling. There is no doubt that in her style she is very pretty. As to her grace it needs no saying. I think she is an honest good girl, but the idea of marrying her would frighten me. We see the surface and it is a very pleasant one, but it is only the surface. Do you think a woman could look as she does in some of her poses and not feel it? We have never seen her in a passion, but if she got into one, it would be terrible. When she flashes out sometimes it is like a tongue of flame from a slumbering volcano. You would feel that there might be an eruption that would sweep everything before it. As you know, I gave up painting her after the first two months, but I sketch her in every pose; not always her whole figure, but her face, and keep the sketches for use some day. I was looking through them only yesterday and I said to myself, 'this woman is capable of anything.' She might be a Joan of Arc, or Lucraetzia Borghia. She is a puzzle to me altogether. Put her in a quiet, happy home and she might turn out one of the best of women. Let her be thrown into turbulent times and she might become a demon of mischief. At present she is altogether undeveloped. She is two and twenty in years, but a child, or rather a piquant, amusing young girl, in manner, and perhaps in disposition. She is an enigma of which I should be sorry to have to undertake the solution. As she seems, I like her immensely, but when I try to fathom what she really is, she frightens me."

The others laughed.

"Poor little Minette," Pierre Leroux said. "You are too hard upon her altogether, Cuthbert. The girl is a born actress and would make her fortune on the stage. She can represent, by the instinct of art, passions which she has never felt. She can be simple and majestic, a laughing girl and a furious woman, a Christian martyr and a bacchanal, simply because she has mobile features, intelligence, sentiment, emotion, and a woman's instinct, that is all. She is a jolly little girl, and the only fault I have to find with her is that she has the bad taste to prefer that gloomy American to me."

"Well, I hope you are right, Pierre, though I hold my own opinion unchanged-at any rate I sincerely trust that Dampierre will not make a fool of himself with her. You men do not like him because you don't understand him. You are gay and light-hearted, you take life as it comes. You form connections easily and lightly, and break them off again a few months later just as easily. Dampierre takes life earnestly. He is indolent, but that is a matter of race and blood. He would not do a dishonorable action to save his life. I believe he is the heir to a large fortune, and he can, therefore, afford to work at his art in a dilettante sort of manner, and not like us poor beggars who look forward to earning our livelihood by it. He is passionate, I grant, but that is the effect of his bringing up on a plantation in Louisiana, surrounded by his father's slaves, for thou

gh they are now free by law the nature of the negro is unchanged, and servitude is his natural position. The little white master is treated like a god, every whim is humored, and there being no restraining hand upon him, it would be strange if he did not become hasty and somewhat arrogant.

"Not that there is any arrogance about Dampierre-he is unaffected and simple in his tastes, except in the matter of his lodgings. I question if there is one of us who spends less than he does, but he no more understands you than you understand him; he takes your badinage seriously, and cannot understand that it is harmless fun. However, he is better in that respect than when he first came over, and in time, no doubt, his touchiness will die out. God forbid that he should ever spoil his life by such a hideous mistake as marrying Minette. Except on the principle that people are always attracted by their opposites, I can't account for his infatuation for this girl, or for her taking up with him. He has never alluded to the subject to me. I don't know that her name has ever been mentioned between us. I agree with you that I think he is in earnest about her, but my conclusion is certainly not formed on anything he has ever said himself. I have often thought that a good deal of his irritability arises from his annoyance at her fun and easy way with us all. He never comes to any of our little meetings. If he is really in earnest about her, I can understand that it would be a terrible annoyance to him to see her taking a lead in such meetings and associating so freely with your, let us say, temporary wives. I have seen him on some of our sketching excursions walk away, unable to contain his anger when you have all been laughing and joking with her."

"I consider that to be an insolence," René said hotly.

"No, no, René, imagine yourself five years older, and making a fortune rapidly by your art, in love with some girl whom you hope to make your wife. I ask you whether you would like to see her laughing and chatting en bonne camarade with a lot of wild young students. Still less, if you can imagine such a thing, joining heart and soul in the fun of one of their supper parties. You would not like it, would you?"

"No," René admitted frankly. "I own I shouldn't. Of course, I cannot even fancy such a thing occurring, but if it did I can answer for it that I should not be able to keep my temper. I think now that you put it so, we shall be able to make more allowances for the American in future."

To this the others all agreed, and henceforth the tension that had not unfrequently existed between Dampierre and his fellow-students was sensibly relaxed.

"You were not here last week, Minette," M. Goudé said, as he went up on to the platform at the end of the room to arrange her pose.

"I did not think that you would expect me, master," she said, "but even if you had I could not have come. Do you think that one could stand still like a statue for hours when great things were being done, when the people were getting their liberty again, and the flag of the despot was being pulled down from the Tuileries. I have blood in my veins, master, not ice."

"Bah!" M. Goudé exclaimed. "What difference does it make to you, or to anyone as far as I see, whether the taxes are levied in the name of an Emperor or of a Republic? Do you think a Republic is going to feed you any better and reduce your rents, or to permit Belleville and Montmartre to become masters of Paris? In a short time they will grumble at the Republic just as they grumble at the Emperor. It is folly and madness. The Emperor is nothing to me, the Government is nothing to me. I have to pay my taxes-they are necessary-for the army has to be kept up and the Government paid; beyond that I do not care a puff of my pipe what Government may call itself."

"You will see what you will see," said the girl, sententiously.

"I dare say, Minette, as long as I have eyes I shall do that. Now don't waste any more time."

"What am I to be, master?"

"A Spanish peasant girl dancing; hold these slips of wood in your hand, they are supposed to be castanets; now just imagine that music is playing and that you are keeping time to it with them, and swaying your body, rather than moving your feet to the music."

After two or three changes she struck an attitude that satisfied the master.

"That will do, Minette, stand as you are; you cannot improve that. Now, gentlemen, to work."

She was standing with one foot advanced, as if in the act of springing on to it; one of her arms was held above her head, the other advanced across her body; her head was thrown back, and her balance perfect.

Cuthbert looked up from his work, took out a note-book, and rapidly sketched the figure; and then, putting his book into his pocket again, returned to his work, the subject of which was a party of Breton mobiles, with stacked arms under some trees in the Champs Elysée. He had taken the sketch two days before and was now transferring it on to canvas.

"I should not be surprised," he thought to himself, "if the girl is right, and if there is not serious trouble brewing in the slums of Paris.

"As soon as these fellows find out that they are no better off for the change, and that a Republic does not mean beer and skittles, or, as they would like, unlimited absinthe and public workshops, with short hours and high pay, they will begin to get savage, and then there will be trouble. The worst of it is one can never rely upon the troops, and discipline is certainly more relaxed than usual now that the Emperor has been upset, and every Jack thinks himself as good as his master. Altogether I think we are likely to have lively times here before long. I am not sure that the enemies within are not likely to prove as great a danger to Paris as the foe without. It was a happy idea of mine to come to Paris, and I am likely to get subjects enough to last for a life-time, though I don't know that battle scenes are altogether in my line. It does not seem to me that I have any line in particular yet. It is a nuisance having to decide on that, because I have heard Wilson say an artist, like a writer, must have a line, and when he has once taken it up he must stick to it. If a man once paints sea pieces the public look to get sea pieces from him, and won't take anything else. It is the same thing if he accustoms them to Eastern, or Spanish, or any other line.

"It maybe that this war will decide the matter for me, which will be a comfort and relief, though I doubt if I shall ever be able to stick in one groove. Goudé said only yesterday that I had better go on working at both figure and landscape. At present he could not give an opinion as to which I was likely to succeed in best, but that he rather fancied that scenes of life and action, combined with good backgrounds, were my forte, and battle scenes would certainly seem to come under that category."

After work was over Cuthbert went out by himself and spent the afternoon in sketching. He was engaged on a group of soldiers listening to one of their number reading a bulletin of the latest news, when his eye fell on a young lady walking with a brisk step towards him. He started, then closed his note-book suddenly, and as she was on the point of passing, turned to her and held out his hand.

"Have you dropped from the skies, Miss Brander?"

There was surprise, but neither embarrassment nor emotion on her face as she said, frankly-

"Why, Cuthbert Hartington, this is a curious meeting. I did know you were in Paris, for I had heard as much from my father, but I had no idea of your address and I have wondered many times since I came here, five weeks ago, whether we should run against each other. No, I have not dropped from the clouds, and you ought to have known I should be here; I told you that I was going to have a year in Germany and then a year in France. My year in Germany was up two months ago. I went home for a fortnight, and here I am as a matter of course."

"I might have known you would carry out your programme exactly as you had sketched it, but I thought that the disturbed state of things over here might have induced you to defer that part of the plan until a more appropriate season. Surely Paris is not just at present a pleasant abode for a young lady, and is likely to be a much more unpleasant one later on."

"I think there could hardly be a more appropriate time for being here, Mr. Hartington; one could have no better time for studying social problems than the present when conventionalities have gone to the winds and one sees people as they are; but this is hardly the place to talk. I am boarding with a family at No. 15 Avenue de Passy. Will you come and see me there?"

"Certainly I will, if you will allow me. What will be a convenient time?"

"I should say three o'clock in the afternoon. They are all out then, except Madame Michaud and her little daughter, and we shall be able to chat comfortably, which we could not do if you came in the evening, when the father is at home and two boys who are away at school during the day. Will you come to-morrow?"

"Yes, my afternoons are free at present."

She held out her hand and then walked away with a steady business-like step. Cuthbert stood watching her till she had disappeared in the crowd.

"She has no more sentiment in her composition at present," he said to himself with a laugh that had some bitterness in it, "than a nether millstone. Her mind is so wrapped up in this confounded fad of hers that there is no room in it for anything else. I might have been a cousin, instead of a man she had refused, for any embarrassment or awkwardness she felt at our sudden meeting. It clearly made no impression at all upon her. She remembers, of course, that she met me at Newquay. I don't suppose she has really forgotten that I asked her to be my wife, but it was a mere incident, and affected her no more than if I had asked her to buy a picture and she had refused. I wish to goodness I had not met her again. I had got fairly over it, and was even beginning to wonder how I ever could have wanted to marry anyone so different in every way from the sort of woman I fancied I should have fallen in love with. How foolish of her coming over to Paris at this time. Well, I daresay it has all saved a lot of trouble. I suppose at that time Brander would have been delighted at the prospect, but it would have been a very different thing after the failure of the bank. I don't think he would have made a pleasant father-in-law under the present circumstances. He is an old fox. I always thought so, and I think so more than ever now. It has been a queer affair altogether. I wonder what Mary thinks of it all. I suppose she will talk to me about it to-morrow afternoon. By the way, I have to go this evening with René and the others to be sworn in or attested, or whatever they call it, at the Mairie. Their report as to the officers is satisfactory. I have heard that Longfranc was an excellent officer before he came into some money, cut the army and took up art. I have no doubt he will make a good major, and he understands the men better than most army men would do. They say the Colonel is a good man, too, and was very popular with his regiment before he retired from the service."

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