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CHAPTER XVII. A LITTLE CLOUD LIKE A MAN'S HAND.
At the Gare de Lyon, Colin put his master safely into his coupe-lit, and then wandered along the train looking out for a carriage into which he might install himself comfortably for the long journey. All the carriages, as on all French express trains, were first-class; and Colin soon picked one out for himself, with a vacant place next the window. He jumped in and took his seat; and in two minutes more the train was off, and he found himself, at last, beyond the possibility of a doubt, on his way to Rome.

Rome, Rome, Rome! how the very name seemed to bound and thrill through Colin Churchill's inmost nature! He looked at the little book of coupon tickets which his master had given him; yes, there it was, as clear as daylight, 'Paris, P.L.M., à Rome;' not a doubt about it. Rome, Rome, Rome! It had seemed a dream, a fancy, hitherto; and now it was just going to be converted into an actual living reality. He could hardly believe even now that he would ever get there. Would there be an accident at the summit level of the Mont Cenis tunnel, to prevent his ever reaching the goal of his ambition? It almost seemed as if there must be some hitch somewhere, for the idea of actually getting to Rome—that Rome that Cicolari had long ago told him was the capital of art—seemed too glorious and magnificent to be really true, for Colin Churchill.

For a while, the delightful exhilaration of knowing that that very carriage in which he sat was actually going straight through to Rome left him little room to notice the faces or personalities of his fellow-travellers. But as they gradually got well outside the Paris ring, and launched into the country towards Fontainebleau, Colin had leisure to look about him and take stock of the companions he was to have on his way southward. Three of them were Frenchmen only going to Lyon and Marseille—only, Colin thought to himself, naively, for he despised anybody now who was bound for anywhere on earth save the city of Michael Angelo and Canova and Thorwaldsen; but the other two were bound, by the labels on their luggage, for Rome itself. One of them was a tall military-looking gentleman, with a grizzled grey moustache, a Colonel somebody, the hat-box said, but the name was covered by a label; the other, apparently his daughter, was a handsome girl of about twenty, largely built and selfpossessed, like a woman who has lived much in the world from her childhood upward. Colin saw at once, that, unlike little Minna (who had essentially a painter's face and figure), this graceful full-formed woman was entirely and exquisitely statuesque. The very pose of her arm upon the slight ledge of the window as she leaned out to look at the country was instinct with plastic capabilities. Colin, with his professional interest always uppermost, felt a perfect longing to have up a batch of clay forthwith and model it then and there upon the spot. He watched each new movement and posture so closely, in fact (of course in his capacity as a sculptor only), that the girl herself noticed his evident admiration, and took it sedately like a woman of the world. She didn't blush and shrink away timidly, as Minna would have done under the same circumstances (though her skin was many shades lighter than Minna's rich brunette complexion, and would have shown the faintest suspicion of a blush, had one been present, far more readily); she merely observed and accepted Colin's silent tribute of admiration as her natural due. It made her just a trifle more self-conscious, perhaps, but that was all; indeed, one could hardly say whether even so the somewhat studied attitudes she seemed to be taking up were not really the ones which by long use had become the easiest for her. There are some beautiful women so accustomed to displaying their beauty to the best advantage that they can't even throw themselves down on a sofa in their own bedrooms without instinctively and automatically assuming a graceful position for all their limbs.

After a while, they fell into a conversation; and Colin, who was the most innocent and unartificial of men, was amused to find that even he, on the spur of the moment, had arrived at a very obvious, worldly-wise principle upon this subject. Wishing to get into a talk with the daughter, he felt half-unconsciously that it wouldn't do to begin by addressing her outright, but that he should first, with seeming guilelessness, attack her father. A man who is travelling with a pretty girl, in whatever relation, doesn't like you to begin an acquaintanceship of travel by speaking to her first; he resents your intrusion, and considers you have no right to talk to ladies under his escort. But when you begin by addressing himself, that is quite another matter; lured on by his quiet good sense, or his conversational powers, or his profound knowledge, or whatever else it is that he specially prides himself upon, you are soon launched upon general topics, and then the ladies of the party naturally chime in after a few minutes. To start by addressing him is a compliment to his intelligence or his social qualities; to start by addressing his companion is a distinct slight to himself, at the same time that it displays your own cards far too openly. You can convert him at once either into a valuable ally or into an enemy and a jealous guardian. Of course every other man feels this from his teens; but Colin hadn't yet mixed much in the world, and he smiled to himself at his acumen in discovering it at all on the first trial.

'Beautifully wooded country about here,' he said at the earliest opportunity the military gentleman gave him by laying down his Times (even in France your Englishman will stick to his paper). 'Not like most of France; so green and fresh-looking. This is Millet's country, you know; he always works about the outskirts of Fontainebleau.'

'Ah, indeed, does he?' the colonel responded, having only a very vague idea floating through his mind that Millet or Millais or something of the sort was the name of some painter fellow or other he had somewhere heard about. 'He works about Fontainebleau, does he, now? Dear me! How very interesting!'

Whenever people dismiss a subject from their minds by saying 'How very interesting!' you know at once they really mean that it doesn't interest them in the slightest degree, and they don't want to be bothered by hearing anything more about it; but Colin's observations upon mankind and the niceties of the English language had not yet carried him to this point of interpretative science, so he took the colonel literally at his word, and went on enthusiastically (for he was a great admirer of the peasant painter whose story was so like his own), 'Yes, he works at Fontainebleau. It was here, you know, that he painted his Angelus. Have you ever seen the Angelus?'

The colonel fidgeted about in his seat uneasily, and fumbled in a nervous way with the corner of the Times. 'The Angelus!' he repeated, meditatively. 'Ah, yes, the Angelus. Gwen, my dear, have we seen Mr. Millet's Angelus P Was it in the Academy?'

'No, papa,' Gwen answered, smiling sweetly and composedly. 'We haven't seen it, and it wasn't in the Academy. M. Millet is the French painter, you remember, the painter who wears sabots. So delightfully romantic, isn't it,' turning to Colin, 'to be a great painter and yet still to wear sabots?' This was a very cleverly delivered sentence of Miss Gwen's, for it was intended first to show that she at least, if not her father, knew who the unknown young artist was talking about (Gwen jumped readily at the conclusion that Colin was an artist), and secondly, to exonerate her papa from culpable ignorance in the artist's eyes by gently suggesting that a slight confusion of names sufficiently accounted for his obvious blunder. But it was also, quite unintentionally, delivered point-blank at Colin Churchill's tenderest susceptibilities. This grand young lady, then, so calm and selfpossessed, could sympathise with an artist who had risen, and who, even in the days of his comparative prosperity, still wore sabots. To be sure, Colin didn't exactly know what sabots were (perhaps the blue blouses which he saw all the French workmen were wearing?), for he was still innocent of all languages but his own, unless one excepts the Italian he had picked up in anticipation from Cicolari; but he guessed at least it was some kind of dress supposed to mark Millet's peasant origin, and that was quite enough for him. The grand young lady did not despise an artist who had been born in the ranks of the people.

'Yes,' he said warmly, 'it's very noble of him. Noble not merely that he has risen to paint such pictures as the Gleaners and the Angelus, but that he isn't ashamed now to own the peasant people he has originally sprung from.'

'Oh, ah, certainly,' the colonel replied in a short sharp voice, though the remark was hardly addressed to him. 'Very creditable of the young man, indeed, not to be ashamed of his humble origin. Very creditable. Very creditable. Gwen, my dear, would you like to see the paper?'

'No, thank you, papa,' Gwen answered with another charming smile (fine teeth, too, by Jingo). 'You know I never care to read in a train in motion. Yes, quite a romantic story, this of Millet's; and I believe even now he's horribly poor, isn't he? he doesn't sell his pictures.'

'The highest art,' Colin said quietly, 'seldom meets with real recognition during the lifetime of the artist.'

'You're a painter yourself?' asked Gwen, looking up at the handsome young man with close interest.

'Not a painter; a sculptor; and I'm going to Rome to perfect myself in my art.'

'A sculptor—to Rome!' Gwen repeated to herself. 'Oh, how nice! Why, we're going to Rome, too, and we shall be able to go all the way together. I'm so glad, for I'm longing to be told all about art and artists.'

Colin smiled. 'You're fond of art, then?' he asked simply.

'Fond of it is exactly the word,' Gwen answered. 'I know very little about it; much less than I should like to do; but I'm intensely interested in it. And a sculptor, too! Do you know, I've often met lots of painters, but I never before met a sculptor.'

'The loss has been theirs,' Colin put in with professional gravity. 'You would make a splendid model.'

The young man said it in the innocence of his heart, thinking only what a grand bust of a Semiramis or an Artemisia one might have moulded from Miss Gwen's full womanly face and figure; but the observation made the colonel shudder with awe and astonishment on his padded cushions. 'Gwen, my dear,' he said, feebly interposing for the second time, 'hadn't you better change places with me? The draught from the window will be too much for you, I'm afraid.'

'Oh dear no, thank you, papa; not at all. I haven't been roasted, you know, for twenty years in the North-West Provinces, till every little breath of air chills me and nips me like a hothouse flower. So you think I would make a good model, do you? Well, that now I call a real compliment, because of course you regard me dispassionately from a sculpturesque point of view. I've been told that a great many faces do quite well enough to paint, but that only very few features are regular and calm enough to be worth a sculptor's notice. Is that so, now?'

'It is,' Colin answered, looking straight into her beautiful bold face. 'For example, some gipsy-looking girls, who are very pretty indeed with their brown skins and bright black eyes, and who make exceedingly taking pictures—Esthers, and Cleopatras, and so forth, you know—are quite useless from the plastic point of view: their good looks depend too much upon colour and upon passing shades of expression, while sculpture of course demands that the features should be almost faultlessly perfect and regular in absolute repose.'

The colonel looked uneasy again, and pulled up his collar nervously. 'Very fine occupation indeed, a sculptor's,' he edged in sideways. 'Delightful faculty to be able to do the living marble and all that kind of thing; very delightful, really.' The colonel was always equal to a transparent platitude upon every occasion, and contributed very little else to the general conversation at any time.

'And so delightful, too, to hear an artist talk about his art,' Gwen added with a touch of genuine enthusiasm. 'Do you know, I think I should love to be a sculptor. I should love even to go about and see the studios, and watch the beautiful things growing under your hands. I should love to have my bust taken, just so as to get to know how you do it all. It must be so lovely to see the shape forming itself slowly out of a raw block of marble.'

'Oh, you know, we don't do it all in the marble, at first,' Colin said quickly. 'It's rather dirty work, the first modelling. If you come into a sculptor's studio when he's working in the clay, you'll find him all daubed over with bits of mud, just like a common labourer.'

'How very unpleasant!' said the colonel coldly. 'Hardly seems the sort of profession fit for a gentleman—now does it?'

'Oh, papa, how can you be so dreadful! Why, it's just beautiful. I should love to see it all. I think in some ways sculpture's the very finest and noblest art of all—finer and nobler even than painting.'

'The Greeks thought so,' Colin assented with quiet assurance; 'and they say Michael Angelo thought so too. Perhaps I may be prejudiced, but I certainly think so myself. There's a purity about sculpture which you don't get about painting or any other alternative form of art. In painting you may admit what is ugly—sparingly, to be sure, but still you may admit it. In sculpture everything must be beautiful. Beauty of pure form, without the accidental aid of colour, is what we aim at. Every limb must be in perfect proportion, every feature in exquisite harmony. Any deformity, any weakness of outline, any mere ungracefulness, you see, militates against that perfection of shape to which sculpture entirely devotes itself. The coldness, hardness, and whiteness of marble make it appeal only to the highest taste; its rigorous self-abnegation in refusing the aid of colour gives it a special claim in the eyes of the purest and truest judges.'

'Then you don't like tinted statues?' the colonel put it. (He knew his ground here, for had he not seen Gibson's Venus?) 'Neither do I. I always thought Gibson made a great mistake there.'

'Gibson was a very great artist,' Colin replied, curling his lip almost disdainfully, for he felt the absurdity of the colonel's glibness in condemning the noblest of modern English sculptors off-hand in this easy, mock-critical fashion. 'Gibson was a very great artist, but I think his Venus was perhaps a step in the wrong direction for all that. Its quite true that the Greeks tinted their statues——'

'Bless my soul, you don't mean to say so! the colonel ejaculated parenthetically.

'And modern practice was doubtless founded on the mistake of supposing that, because the torsos we dig up are white now, they were white originally. But even the example of the Greeks doesn't settle every question without appeal. We've tried white marble, and found it succeed. We've tried tinting, and found it wanting. The fact is, you see, the attention of the eye can't be distracted. Either it attends to form, or else it attends to colour; rarely and imperfectly to both together. Take a vase. If it's covered with figures or flowers, our attention's distracted from the general outline to the painted objects it encloses. If its colouring's uniform, we think only of the beauty of form, because our attention isn't distracted from it by conflicting sensations. That's the long and the short of it, I think. Beauty of form's a higher taste than beauty of colour—at least, so we sculptors always fancy.'

Colin delivered these remarks as if he intended them for the colonel (though they were really meant for Miss Gwen's enlightenment), and the colonel was decidedly flattered by the cunning tribute to his tastes and interests thus delicately implied. But Gwen drank in every word the young man said with the deepest attention, and managed to make him go on with his subject till he had warmed to it thoroughly, and had launched out upon his own peculiar theories as to the purpose and function of his chosen art. All along, however, Colin pointed his remarks so cleverly at the colonel, while giving Gwen her fair share of the conversation, that the colonel quite forgot his first suspicions about the young sculptor, and grew gradually quite cordial and friendly in demeanour. So well did they get on together that, by the time they had had lunch out of the colonel's basket, Colin had given the colonel his ideas as to the heinousness of palming off as sculpture veiled ladies and crying babies (both of which freaks of art, by the way, the colonel had hitherto vastly admired); while the colonel in return had imparted to Colin his famous stories of how he was once nearly killed by a tiger in a jungle at Boolundshuhr in the North-West Provinces, and how he had assisted to burn a fox out in a hunt at Gib., and how he had shot the biggest wapiti ever seen for twenty years in the neighbourhood of Ottawa. All which surprising adventures Colin received with the same sedulous show of polite interest that the colonel had extended in turn to his own talk about pictures and statues.

At last, they reached Dijon, and there Colin got out, as in duty bound, to inquire whether his master was in want of anything. Sir Henry didn't need much, so Colin returned quickly to his own carriage.

'You have a friend in a coupé-lit, I see,' the colonel said, opening the door for the young stranger. 'An invalid, I suppose.' Colin blushed visibly, so that Miss Gwen noticed his colour, and wondered what on earth could be the meaning of it. Till that moment, to say the truth, he had been so absorbed in his talk about art, and in observing Gwen (who interested him as all beautiful women interest a sculptor), that he had almost entirely forgotten, for the time being, his anomalous position. 'No, not an invalid,' he answered evasively, 'but a very old gentleman.' 'Ah,' the colonel put in, as the train moved away from Dijon station, 'I don't wonder people travel by coupe-lit when they can afford it, in spite of the prohibitive prices set upon it by these French companies. It's most unpleasant having nothing but first-class carriages on the train. You have to travel with your own servants.'

Colin smiled feebly, but said nothing. It began to strike him that in the innocence of his heart he had made a mistake in being beguiled into conversation with these grand people. And yet it was their own fault. Miss Gwen had clearly done it all, with her seductive inquiries about art and artists.

'Or rather,' the colonel went on, 'one can always put one's own servants, of course, into another carriage; but one's never safe against having to travel with other people's. We're lucky to-day in being a pleasant party all together (these French gentlemen, though they're not companionable, are evidently very decent people); but sometimes, I know, I've had to travel on the Continent here, wedged in immovably between a fat lady's-maid and a gentleman's gentleman.'

Colin's face burned hot and crimson. 'I beg your pardon,' he said, in a faltering voice, almost relapsing in his confusion into his aboriginal Dorsetshire, 'but I ought, perhaps, to have told you sooner who you are travelling with. I am valet to Sir Henry Wilberforce: he is the gentleman in the coupé-lit, and he's my master.'

The colonel sank back on his cushions with a face as white as marble, while Colin's now flushed as red as a damask rose. 'A valet!' he cried faintly. 'Gwen, my dear, did he say a valet? What can all this mean? Didn't he tell us he was a sculptor going to Rome to practise his profession?'

'I did,' Colin answered defiantly, for he was on his mettle now. 'I did tell you so, and it's the truth. But I'm going as a valet. I couldn't afford to go in any other way, and so I took a situation, meaning to use my spare time in Rome to study sculpture.'

The colonel rocked himself up and down irresolutely for a while; then he leant back a little more calmly in his seat, and gave himself up to a placid despair. 'At the next stopping station,' he thought to himself, 'we must get out and change into another carriage.' And he took up the 'Continental Bradshaw' with a sigh, to see if there was any chance of release before they got to Ambérieu.

But if the colonel was quite unmanned by this shocking disclosure, Miss Gwen's self-possession and calmness of demeanour was still wholly unshaken. She felt a little ashamed, indeed, that the colonel should so openly let Colin see into the profound depths of his good Philistine soul; but she did her best to make up for it by seeming not in any way to notice her father's chilling reception of the charming young artist's strange intelligence. 'A valet, papa,' she cried in her sprightly way, as unconcernedly as if she had been accustomed to associating intimately with valets for the last twenty years; 'how very singular! Why, I shouldn't be at all surprised if this was that Mr. Churchill (I think the name was) that Eva told us all about, who did that beautiful bas-relief, you know, ever so long ago, for poor dear uncle Philip.' Colin bowed, his face still burning. 'That is my name,' he said, pulling out a card, on which was neatly engraved the simple legend, 'Mr. Colin Churchill, Sculptor.'

'And you used to live at Wootton Mandeville?' Gwen asked, with even more of interest in her tone than ever.

'I did.'

'Then, papa, this is the same Mr. Churchill. How very delightful! How lucky we should happen to meet you so, by accident! I call this really and truly a most remarkable and fortunate coincidence.'

'Very remarkable indeed,' the colonel moaned half inarticulately from his cushion.

Miss Gwen was a very clever woman, and she tried her best to whip up the flagging energies of the conversation for a fresh run; but it was all to no purpose. Colin was too hot and uncomfortable to continue the talk now, and the colonel was evidently by no means anxious to recommence it. His whole soul had concentrated itself upon the one idea of changing carriages at Ambérieu. So after a while Gwen gave up the attempt in despair, and the whole party was carried forward in moody silence towards the next station.

'How awfully disappointing,' Gwen thought to herself as she relapsed, vanquished, into her own corner. 'He was talking so delightfully about such beautiful things, before papa went and made that horrid, stupid, unnecessary observation. Doesn't papa see the difference between an enthusiast for art and a common footman? A valet! I can see it all now. Every bit as romantic as Millet, except for the sabots. No wonder his face glowed so when he spoke about the painter who had risen from the ranks of the people. I think I know now what it is they mean by inspiration.'

At last the train reached Amberieu. Great wits jump together; and as the carriage pulled up at the platform, both the colonel and Colin jumped out unanimously, to see whether they could find a vacant place in any other compartment. But the train was exactly like all other first-class expresses on the French railways; every place was taken through the whole long line of closely packed carriages. The colonel was the first to return. 'Gwen,' he whispered angrily to his daughter, in a fierce undertone, 'there isn't a solitary seat vacant in the whole of this confounded train: we shall have to go on with this manservant fellow, at least as far as Aix, and perhaps even all the way to Modane and Turin. Now mind, Gwen, whatever you do, don't have anything more to say to him than you can possibly help, or I shall be very severely displeased with you. How could you go on trying to talk to him again after he'd actually told you he was a gentleman's servant? I was ashamed of you, Gwen, positively ashamed of you. You've no proper pride or lady-like spirit in you. Why, the fellow himself had better feelings on the subject than you had, and was ashamed of himself for having taken us in so very disgracefully.'

'He was not,' Gwen answered stoutly. 'He was ashamed of you, papa, for not being able to recognise an artist and a gentleman even when you see him.'

The colonel's face grew black with wrath, and he was just going to make some angry rejoinder, when Colin's arrival suddenly checked his further colloquy.

The young man's cheeks were still hot and red, but he entered the carriage with composure and dignity, and took his place once more in solemn silence. After a minute he spoke in a low voice to the colonel: 'I've been looking along the train, sir,' he said, 'to see if I could find myself a seat anywhere, but I can't discover one. I think you would have felt more comfortable if I could have left you, and I don't wish to stay anywhere, even in a public conveyance, where my society is not welcome. However, there's no help for it, so I must stop here till we reach Turin, when some of the other passengers will no doubt be getting out. I shall not molest you further, and I regret exceedingly that in temporary forgetfulness of my situation I should have been tempted into seeming to thrust my acquaintance unsolicited upon you.'

The colonel, misunderstanding this proud apology, muttered half-audibly to himself: 'Very right and proper of the young man, of course. He's sorry he so far forgot his natural station as to enter into conversation with his superiors. Very right and proper of him, under the circumstances, certainly, though he ought never to have presumed to speak to us at all in the first instance.'

Gwen bit her lip hard, and tried to turn away her burning face, now as red almost as Colin's; but she said nothing.

That evening, about twelve, as they were well on the way to the Mont Cenis, and Colin was dozing as best he might in his own corner, he suddenly felt a little piece of pasteboard thrust quietly into his half-closed right hand. He looked up with a start. The colonel was snoring peacefully, and it was Miss Gwen's fingers that had pushed the card into his hollow hand. He glanced at it casually by the dim light of the lamp. It contained only a few words. The engraved part ran thus: 'Miss Gwen Howard-Russell, Denhurst.' Underneath, in pencil, was a brief note—'Excuse my father's rudeness. I shall come to see your studio at Rome. G. H. R.'

Minna was the prettiest girl Colin Churchill had ever seen; but Miss Howard-Bussell had exquisitely regular features, and when her big eyes met his for one flash that moment, they somehow seemed to thrill his nature through and through with a sort of sudden mesmeric influence.


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