Studio: international art — 26.1902

Page: 157
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1 cm
The Lay Figure


In response to urgent entreaties, the

Critic at length consented to tell his story.

" I don't care whether anyone believes it or
not," he said, " I shall content myself with
observing that those who know me will be certain
that I should not tell such a story against myself,
unless it were true—not that I should necessarily
tell it then.

" It must have been between five and six o'clock
on a December evening. I was reclining on a
roomy couch by the fireside, having just recovered
from a sharp attack of influenza; my eyes, turned
from the flickering firelight, were gazing rather
absently at a little masterpiece that hung on the
opposite wall, some ten feet away, illuminated
from below by a small reading lamp.

" This was my latest piece of extravagance
before I fell ill, this purchase of a hitherto undis-
puted Teniers, and now for the first time I was
conscious of a shade of discontent in my con-
templation of the picture. There were almost too
many of Teniers' characteristic qualities assembled
within the narrow limits of a 24 by 20 canvas.

" It was odd that I had never before noticed
those two almond-shaped recesses in the wall of
this interior, nor that curious shadowy growth that
seemed to trail like a vine from under the smoky
ceiling—it must be the effect of the illumination
from below, I thought. Strange! Now the
peasant's slouching red cap seemed to take on a
more precise shape—was it a three-cornered hat ?
No—it suggested more an animated flower—why,
it was a human mouth. Now the illusion was
complete. I was gazing on the head of a girl.
The almond-shaped recesses were two brown eyes;
the trailing vine a cascade of dark hair; the red
cap, a pouting mouth, and there in the corner
where the turnips had lain was now a half closed
hand. I could positively no longer make out the
Dutch interior.

" It was a curiously picturesque head, with its
gipsy eyes and dark wavy hair; a necklace ot
amber beads and a large-sleeved Liberty silk blouse
of the shade known as 'old gold,' sufficiently
indicated an 1880 girl of the period. Presently it
seemed to me as if the glass enclosing the canvas
were growing momentarily more dim, just where
the mouth was set, and then—I was paralysed to
hear the sound of an unmistakable sigh, faint but
distinct, proceeding apparently from the picture.
I listened, intent and motionless, then, ' What a

time he takes,' came an impatient young voice,
this time quite distinctly from the picture. Still
gazing at this charming apparition, I contrived
with an almost superhuman effort to groan out,
' How did you get there ? '

'"I do want a breath of fresh air,' said the
head ignoring my question; 1 do let me out.'
Then after a pause, ' I must do it myself, I
suppose,' and a sound of hard breathing fol-
lowed. The glass grew quite dim, and suddenly
slid out of the frame and fell to the floor.

"' Now you've done it, I suppose you're satis-
fied,' I exclaimed, feeling that this mild reproof
was quite inadequate.

" ' Quite, thanks,' said this astounding intruder
shaking a stray curl out of her eyes. ' That's
much better,' she added, taking a deep breath.

" A curious circumstance of this unsolicited
interview was that I felt in some occult way that
it was against the rules to express surprise at
any supernatural manifestation. I might be as
rude or angry as I pleased, but astonishment
would be the extreme of bad form.

" ' Who is going to pay for the glass ?' I asked,
as sternly as I could.

" ' You shouldn't have put me under glass. It's
a dreadfully stuffy existence,' objected the head.

"' You are not the picture I took you for,' I
retorted, as reproachfully as I could.

" ' No, thank goodness, I'm not. I flatter
myself I am better worth looking at than two old
things with potato noses.'

" I felt that there was more truth in this than I
was inclined to admit. Had I ever gazed as long
at my Teniers ? At a stretch, I mean.

" ' Still, you know, you are not by Teniers.' I
objected, feeling dully annoyed with myself for not
being more annoyed.

" ' Heavens, no ! But did you really think that
absurd daub was either ? '

"This was a home thrust indeed. I made a
final effort to assert myself.

" ' I would have you to know that I am con-
sidered by my friends as no mean authority on the
Dutch masters. You are evidently no judge.'

" It may only have been another freak of the
illumination, but at this it looked as if the mis-
chievous imp were putting her tongue in her cheek.

" ' No, I'm not a judge, nor a Dutchman, nor
even a Dutchwoman, for the matter of that. I
should think anyone could see that I was an 1880
girl—look at my frock and my amber beads.'

'"I can see that,' I said testily; 'but what I
can't see is what you have done with the Teniers.'

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