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She understood Marilda better now, and reproached herself for having taken for worldliness what was really acquiescence rather than cause any disturbance in the family such as could worry her father, of whose state she had been aware all that last summer. Cherry respected her now, though they had little in common. Marilda had become too much acclimatized to London to like country life. She made some awkward attempts at squiress duty, but was far more in her element in her office, where she took on herself to attend to business so vigorously, that no one would have known there had been any change but by the initials. Felix had been of much use to her, and had certainly gained a good deal in consideration by the manifest reliance placed on him; and his position among the citizens of Bexley was now a fixed and settled thing.
Mrs. Underwood, in the inertness of grief, did not move from Centry until she was carried up to town by her strong desire to preside at Lady Vanderkist's confinement. She was, however, disappointed, for Lady Mary undertook the care of her daughterin-law; but she made up for it as well as she could by permitting all the assiduities from the good lady that Alda would endure, and being herself extremely friendly and good-natured.
The first proposal had been that Cherry should go up with them and see the pictures on the private day, but the east wind and flying threats of rheumatism had prevented this, till Marilda, running down to inspect her works at Centry, carried her off, undertaking, with better knowledge than before, that she should be well cared for.
So here was the carriage at the door, and Edgar come to escort her to the realization of the almost incredible fact that she, as well as himself, was an artist and exhibitor. She had heard favourable opinions, but none the less did her heart palpitate with far more of distress than of exultation as at a strange presumptuous unnatural position-she, who, while striving to be satisfied with faithfully doing her best, had so much wished for success as to make it a continual prayer, that the works of their hands might be prospered upon both, and to feel it an effort honestly to add the clause, If it be thy will-if Thou see it good for us.'
She had not seen Edgar's picture, nor himself since the concert, and there had been some breaths of rumour which took form in
the saying that the absence of the family from Kensington Palace Gardens had been a sad thing for him.
However that might be, he was as much at his 'Chérie's' service as ever, though with something of the forced manner she had known in him at moments of crisis, and which betrayed much anxiety. He repeated to her many times on the way that Brynhild had been unfairly dealt with in the hanging, and related anecdotes of injustice suffered by whoever did not belong to favoured cliques, all which made her uneasy. Of hers he said little. She knew that water-colours at the Royal Academy exhibition received little notice, but had obediently followed some crotchet of Mr. Renville's which had taken her thither. Trafalgar Square was then still the locality, and when the steps had been surmounted, and they stood between the two doors leading to the water-colours, it was straight on that they went, for the sight of Brynhild was the triumph and delight that Geraldine had figured to herself for months past.
It was, as she already knew, in the second room, rather below the privileged line; and at this early hour, the numbers of visitors were so scanty that she could see the cocoon shaped glow of yellow flame across the room.
'Oh! there she is! She is smaller than I thought.' 'Just what Polly said. All ladies go in for 'igh hart on the Zam zummin scale.'
She must have hurt his feelings, she saw, or he would not have compared her criticism with Marilda's; and as she felt that he was watching her countenance as he led her forward and lodged her opposite. From eager expectation her look became constrained, as it shot through her that this was not the Brynhild of the sketch and of her imagination. She was disappointed!
'Well, what?' asked Edgar impatiently, reading the countenance in spite of all endeavours.
'What, Brynhild, the toad! So she would be. I suppose the caricature demoralized me, and the family features are the same.' 'And Sigurd is Ferdinand.'
'Nature created him for a model.'
It was not the likeness to Marilda which gave Cherry the sense
of unfulfilled expectation and dissatisfaction. The lofty expression, the deep awe, the weird cloud-land grandeur that she had connected either with the sketch or her memory of it, had passed away from the finished oil-painting; and when she had called it small, it was not because it was cabinet sized, but because it was wanting in the sense of majesty that can be conveyed in a gem as well as in a colossus. What was to have been a wild scene of terror in the world of mists would look extravagant, and neither the pose of Brynhild's limbs nor the position of Sigurd's sword, approved themselves to her eye as correct drawing.
Brother and sister were both far too acute, and too well used to read each other's looks and tones, for fencing or disguise to be possible.
'You don't like it.'
'O Edgar!' much distressed, indeed there is a great deal very beautiful, but somehow I had imagined it different.'
'Oh, if you came with a preconceived notion.'
'Perhaps that's it,' said Cherry, peeping through her eye-lashes, as long ago at the great Achilles, and making them a sieve to divest the image before her of all that her eye would condemn in spite of herself.
'I see a great deal of beauty, but somehow I thought the whole would have been more finished,' she said.
'Not possible. A rude half developed myth is not in keeping with the precision of a miniature. Besides, the finish of Sigurd's
armour throws back the vague beyond.
Her feeling had been that the Pre-Raffaelitism of the hauberk was too like worsted stockings, and not in keeping with the Turneresque whirl of flame and smoke around the sleeping Valkyr ; but the disloyalty of not admiring Edgar's picture was impossible to her loving spirit; she listened and looked through her eye-lashes, till though Brynhild's limbs were to her unassisted sense almost as uncomfortable as those of Achilles had been, he imparted a glamour, so that she thought she beheld it as it ought to have been, and believed it to be so great and deep a work of art that study alone could appreciate it.
Yes, I see I see it now-I could not before-but that is all the better !'
The room was filling and they were jostled by a group diligently CHAP. working their way with their catalogue from No. 1 to No. 1200.
'What's that glaring red and yellow thing?'
'260, Brynhild. Who was she, Flo?'
'Don't you know, Mamma? That French queen who was torn to pieces by wild horses.'
'I don't see any horses.
She is all on fire.'
she was burnt afterwards. And that's the king who
'What a horrid picture !'
'There's the intelligent public one works for,' said Edgar. 'Come and try your luck.'
He paused, however, to show her the difference a foot's elevation would have made to his painting; and she, with a mind more at leisure from itself, waited not only to sympathize but to be fascinated with the loveliness or power of more than one picture past which he would have hurried her, with murmurs at the R.A. who had secured the best situation.
Here they were in the water-colour room, obliged to wait, to penetrate the throng round the lesser ones, which were so close together that there was no distinct appropriation of the remarks.
'What a dear little thing!' 'Is it all the same child?' 'It more people than any can't be portrait, she is so pretty.'
Edgar smiled at her, and she whispered, with great inconsistency, 'No, it can't be that. Besides, childish prettiness always pleases more people than anything high and ideal.'
She tried to turn to the Acolyte, and two or three gentlemen yielded place to the lame girl. 'Geraldine Underwood,' said one, making her start, till she saw he was reading from his catalogue. 'I don't remember her name before.'
'No, and there's so much power as well as good drawing and expression, that I should not have thought it a woman's work.'
This, the most ambitioned praise a woman can receive, made her indeed Cherry-red, and Edgar's beaming glance of congratulation was most delightful.
Certainly, whatever his faults, among them was neither jealousy nor want of affectionateness; and Cherry's success gave him unqualified pleasure, both agreeing in the belief that she was
on a level with the public taste, while he soared too high beyond it.
Her paintings had a strength of colouring unusual in inexperienced artists, perhaps owing to the depth of hue she had grown accustomed to when painting for her old woman, and thus they asserted themselves, and were not killed by their neighbours, but rather, as Edgar said, committed slaughter all round.
Yet The Acolyte' was on the whole a dark picture: the Church was in a brown dim shade, within which, however, its perspective vaultings, arches, and tracery, were perfectly drawn, knowing where they were going and what they meant, yet not obtruded; and the Altar hangings, richly patterned in olive green and brown gold, were kept back in spite of all their detail, throwing out the 'flake of fire' and the glitter reflected on the gold ornaments, which had been drawn with due deference to Clement's minute information, while in the fragment of the east window just seen above, glittered a few jewels of stained glass touched by the rising sun, and to which the subdued colouring of the rest gave wonderful glory; and the server himself was so tinted with gray that even his white dress did not glare, while his face was the face of Lance, as it had been a few years back, boyish and mirthful through all its dutiful reverence. Of course it was not new to Edgar, but he owned that he was always struck by it whenever he came that way; and Cherry heaved a little sigh of parental pride and delight as she owned that her little 'server' did look better than she had expected.
Then Edgar elbowed her to what was called at home her 'Constellation,' where she had caught Stella's sweet little head four times over-in the seriousness of lesson-learning, with eager parted smiling lips with which she listened to a story, with her tender caressing expression towards the kitten she was nursing, and with the rapt dreamy gaze that her brother's music would bring over her countenance. All had the merit of being caught-in the first sketch-entirely without consciousness on Stella's part; and though she had been nailed to the positions afterwards, it had been possible to preserve the unstudied expression that was one great charm of the drawings, much more sketchy and suggestive than was their companion.