How now, Allard! cried Terence Offerton as Maurice entered the club. Linsleigh’s paintings at last grace the walls of the supper-room, very fine stuff, though sure I know nothing of art. Or indeed of the Ancient Greeks. But they look exceeding well, though a deal chaster than the ones that hang upstairs.
Why, 'tis about time, has been labouring over 'em these months.
Indeed so. Was wondering whether I might get him to come paint some of my fine creatures, but indeed he takes a deal of a time over his business.
Maurice, who had, over the years, posed some several times for Basil Linsleigh, sighed and concurred. Basil was a handsome fellow and, to Maurice’s somewhat untutored eye, a fine artist, but he was in no requirement to make a living at the matter. So was able to spend months if not years labouring over large canvases of mythological and historical subjects, representations of scenes from literature (Maurice had first posed for Titania’s Indian boy, many years since) and suchlike. Occasionally he sold one.
He asked Offerton how he was doing this racing season. Offerton sighed and said, sure you cannot have any more trouble with fashionable ladies and their whims than I do with my cattle. Showing very poorly at present: one greatly misses Penkarding’s advice in such matters.
A great loss, Maurice agreed.
Though the grey mare was reckoned to have the greater wisdom of the two of 'em. There was a fine woman. He sighed, clapped Maurice upon the back, and said he would not detain him longer from the sight of the paintings.
Maurice therefore felt obliged to go to the supper-room (where supper was just being laid out) and discovered there Basil Linsleigh, gazing upon his paintings with a ferocious scrutiny, doubtless endeavouring to determine whether they were hung as well as might be.
Maurice! cried Basil, flinging an arm about his shoulders, tell me, do you think this is in entirely the best light?
There were two exceeding large canvases placed vis-à-vis upon the walls of the room. One displayed fellows that were presumably Ancient Greeks entire decorously draped and reclining about a supper-table; the other displayed what might perchance be the same fellows, hardly draped at all and about wrestling in the open air.
Why, Linsleigh, said Chumbell, a short stoutish fellow with spectacles that was given out a very learned don at Oxford, indeed you have hit off that combination of philosophical symposium and physical prowess that was the ideal of the Athenians. 'Tis an excellent conceit. And yet, what I should like to see is those philosophers that engaged in discourse in the agora while the fine manly exercizes were going on.
'Tis indeed a notion, said Linsleigh.
Maurice dragged his mind away from uninvited thoughts of the philosophical Mr MacDonald wrestling in a state of nature, as Basil was saying something to him while Chumbell went up to the fellow that was serving, perchance to find out what was for supper, and perchance with some other purpose. Indeed the club livery showed off manly charms very effective.
I’m sorry, said Maurice, was quite absorbed in studying the picture, did not hear you.
Basil expatiated upon certain effects he had achieved, and then said, but, my dear, I should be very pleased might we dine privately – had a matter I wished to open to you.
Maurice’s heart sank a little. Surely Basil was not going to open to him yet again the prospect of living together? But he could think of no civil and agreeable way of refusing, and perhaps 'twas some other business.
So they went to one of the small side rooms apt to the purpose, and Basil ordered wine, and dishes were laid upon the table and they were left in discreet solitude.
After a polite exchange of civilities, during which Maurice felt himself obliged to evade any mention of how very troubled he was at present, Basil laid down his fork, took a drink of wine, and said, 'tis exceeding gratifying, I find myself with some very agreeable commissions on hand, but I come to the realization that I am a sad careless fellow. There are so many matters of business that must be dealt with, most tiresome. Alas that I may not marry myself to such an excellent fine useful wife as Raoul de Clérault has – quite entirely takes all that side of the matter from him, leaves him free to paint - is she not some relative of yours?
We are cousins.
But it occurred to me that – sure I quite saw the force of your objections to coming live with me in the capacity of a model, though you were, indeed you still are, a very fine one – but did you come in the relation of a man of business, that would handle my commissions, go deal with canvas-stretchers and frame-makers and colour-men, keep the accounts &C, could be no objection at all.
Maurice put down his own glass. Dear Basil, he said, I am entire flattered by your notions of my capacity but I have a business to run myself, cannot leave it.
Why, said Basil with a frown, should have thought you would be glad to leave such a position – must be entirely ennuyant dealing with the whims of fashionable ladies, managing a crowd of seamstresses, &C, quite a miasma of feminine vapours.
Maurice put down the knife and fork he had just taken up, lest the shaking of his hands be noticed. It was clear that Basil had no notion that he might enjoy what he did, even without the loyalty he owed to Biddy. He also had no apprehension that what Maurice did might in its own way be an art. Or that, although he would not disclose confidences, he picked up a deal of very useful gossip.
But, thought Maurice, it would be exceeding imprudent to make a blunt refusal. If this matter of Madame Francine and the loss of his business was not resolved –
Why, he said mildly, I will think upon it. Mayhap speak to cousin Phoebe. But 'tis not a time when I might just walk out from my present place, with the Season so soon upon us.
The sentiment does you entire credit. 'Tis entirely that sound prudent attitude of yours that I should require: you know what a sad feckless fellow I am.
Maurice smiled politely, for it would hardly be in good ton to say that Basil had never been obliged to be otherwise, with his wealthy family that thought it gave them considerable consequence to have a dilettante artist among their number. He was not obliged to live by his art. An entirely different position to that of Raoul de Clérault, whose family had stood upon their ancient French aristocratic lineage, considered being an artist barely better than being in trade, and cut him off quite entirely for marrying Phoebe.
His heart sank as he observed Basil looking somewhat languishing at him across the table. Over the years there had been many mutually pleasant passages between them, but this particular evening he was by no means inclined to amorous activity.
My dear, alas, I cannot linger the e’en: just looked in for an hour or so – was that almost a pout upon Basil’s handsome features? – but 'twas most agreeable to see you and that your paintings are now hung.
He had, in fact, intended to spend the evening at the club. But he would rather spend a lonely night in his lodgings than have to continue to pretend to Basil that all was well with him.