Puslapio vaizdai

And she could add to this sense-to what amounted to a sense of position and of being by virtue of this superficial homage, a "personage"-by her occasionally deliberate assumption that among these crowds who acknowledged a passage of a distinguished and remarkable looking woman, were an increasing minority who beheld her in her own identity, as "Sybil Verney, the talented and popular painter."

For the notion of her own celebrity was interesting to her. Even after five years of it; of newspaper acclamation, of public and private tribute, it still seemed important. For it was, as she often told herself, not only an experience and an asset, but a reward. A reward of all her years of work, of unsatisfied ambition; of that whole stretch of time between eighteen and thirty when she'd chosen to be poor and illdressed rather than accept an easy life at home and the amusements and leisure of her contemporaries. When she'd renounced also-and felt it deeply as a renunciation-all part in the war, turning her back on those possibilities of service which might have diverted her energies or weakened the intensity of her progress, and when Derek threatened to implicate her not only in the war by her own association with him, but to involve her in something even deeper and more lasting and possibly more distracting, she had shut herself up in her two rooms in Bloomsbury, and had never, following the letter of her own edict, heard of him again.

Once a bomb had fallen and killed a woman in her street and Sybil had sat up all that night sick and terrified, agonized between her

resentment and a tearing desire to throw up her work and go off and— she scarcely knew what. And in the morning she'd cleaned her brushes and taken a new canvas and got the landlady's small son to come in as a model.

It was the portrait of Tanya Marinova that had, as it were, first "caught the public eye." It had been exhibited at the Warwick Galleries -the only one of Sybil's exhibits. Marinova as she appeared in "Scheherazade," her face small and gorgeous and cruel under a fountain of white plumage, her body fantastic elongations of burning silver. And the critics had suddenly, and as far as Sybil could comprehend, capriciously focused public attention on the portrait. It became a "draw," a subject for letters, for reproductions in the illustrated papers, for comment in the "gossip" columns. An individual signed "A Lover of Old Masters" wrote to an intellectual "Weekly" that the picture was "immoral and out of proportion" and alluded to Raphael. Another individual signed "Anarchist" replied in a defense consisting mainly of generalizations such as, "Art and morality are flagrantly incompatible," and compared all the old masters, to their detriment, with a modern Jugoslav painter whose name the "Weekly" misprinted and was asked by "Anarchist" to reprint, with an apology, in the next issue.

At the end of a fortnight nine photographers had written to Sybil asking for "a sitting"; and old men, busy bouncing women, and young men with uneasy wit and half aggressive, half diffident manners, besieged her rickety door on behalf of

their "papers." She gave them their interviews, and soon discovered through the press-cuttings-which began to be showered on her existence like an ungainly and incessant confetti-that whatever she might say the interviews began "Miss Sybil Verney, the beautiful young artist," varied by "Above is a portrait of Miss Sybil Verney, the beautiful young artist whose portrait of the dancer Marinova, has enabled her to spring into fame. Miss Verney studied for two years in Paris and has since worked in London. ...

Such flares had their effect, shedding, if not the clear light of criticism, at any rate a brilliance of publicity. Sybil received a quantity of commissions, and of invitations, and as a result of the latter, still more commissions-in fact, found herself "arrived." recognition.. celebrity Mary Johnson's words echoed in her mind-and their reverberation, for the first time in Sybil's consciousness, held an infinitely subtle note of dissatisfaction.

"... Success.

[ocr errors]


[ocr errors]


[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

Entering her flat, and taking in, with all the pride of creation and ownership, its luxurious beauty, the gorgeousness of color, the exquisite furniture, the fragrance of flowers, still the echoes haunted her, "success"-"recognition"- "celebrity." As she opened a drawer in her bureau several press-cuttings fluttered to the carpet. She paused and stared down at them; stared with a curious expression on her mobile vivid features, for she had a fancy that they were like dead leaves.

That night she dreamt about Derek. He came strangely in and out of a nightmare and when she awoke, something he had said still seemed to lurk in the darkness. But she couldn't discern what it was, and she lay awake, remembering she hadn't seen him for twelve years -since that evening when he came in after he'd enlisted and asked her to marry him.

She had an abrupt clear vision of him, as he'd looked then, and she was struck by the realization of how young he'd been-how young and grave and confident. How young they'd both been. She saw his face, eager and curiously beautiful, bent toward her . . . toward her . . . then his change of expression at her words, as though a light had flickered and gone out. And she remembered how she'd heard his steps die away down the street, while she told herself over and over again, "I should be throwing everything away, all my chances, my career 1. sacrificing my art and my independence!" And his words, too, came back to her: "I thought you loved me . . . I do believe that you love me, and that you're lying to me, and lying to yourself." And he'd challenged her with the ageless cry of, "What can anything else matter? Isn't love the greatest thing of all?"

[ocr errors]

Sybil turned on her pillows and saw the dawn peep like a phantom, between the heavy curtains. She struggled restlessly with her memories... Derek . . . and Derek's steps dying away-and now he must be nearly forty.

Then a different scene assailed her-further back, and yet somehow more vivid, more complete; a scene

like a Boudin scene-the sea and the "plage" and a gay sunlit crowd strolling about on the sand; and some old boats, black and sticky, drawn up in the sun. Herself and Mary-Mary Baxendale (Mary Johnson, she'd said though! Johnson!)-Mary's hair shining in the sun -both of them dancing and meandering over the warm sand. Herself -explaining: "I want to be great -I want to paint and paint and not be disturbed by fussing and plansand to succeed while I'm still young -I want people to know who I am and to point me out as one of the few women artists who've really 'got there."" And then Mary, tossing her hair to get it dry, "I want to marry -some one whom I love very much and who loves me-and to have a house of our own and a nice fat baby." And then herself, "Like the sentimental songs!" And Mary Baxendale had laughed-and then nodded. "Yes-I suppose just like that." And Sybil had decided that she was smug, though charming.


She went to see Mary Johnson a week later.

The house stood in a row of similar small brick villas, which row had an almost complete similitude with others in the suburb. There was a small garden in front, on to which the house presented a bay-window enhanced by blue casement curtains and a dark green front door enlivened, as were all its fellow and neighboring front doors, by a brass knocker and a brass letter-box.

A small maid with round eyes answered Sybil's ring.

"Yes, madam-yes. Mrs. Johnson is at 'ome." She stood on the

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]

"Well this is fun, Sybil!" said Mary.

They held hands renewing the view that each had cherished of the other since their meeting in the National Gallery, and Sybil thought, "How young she looks, like this, without her hat," and some deeper sense than her observation added, "and how peaceful," for there was about her as she stood against the background of her cramped little plot, with its conventional oblong beds and a few shrubs, an atmosphere of spaciousness and sweetness, the remote yet intimate dignity that haunts great gardens grown old through hard winters and fragrant


[blocks in formation]

"Your maid-"

"Oh Rose Violet!" "Is that her name?" "Indeed it is; Rose Violet Lily Chubb, on her insurance card; and she'll tell you if you give her the least encouragement, that her father's a nursery gardener and that was why-" she broke off; "anyway, she told you I had a son!"

"And that his name is John and that he has holidays-"

"Only too few." Mary spoke lightly, but the thought had a perceptible shadow. "He went back last week-I'd been seeing him off that morning, when we met. I was so grateful, I mean," she confessed, "specially grateful for our meeting, for I wanted some one to talk to."

"I didn't know," and Sybil was conscious of a chagrin so transitory that it merged to a humorous consideration of its origin. "I didn't know I was being a consolation!"

"You think that was a little bit derogatory?" Mary said quickly, and then added, "Which only shows that you don't understand."

"Don't understand what?"

"Well," her tone was whimsical, "just how pleased, how interested I must have been at seeing you, to be so at all!"

"You mean-because you mind; because his going back was so-so awful?" Sybil rather hazarded.

The other nodded.

"And does he hate it too?"

"I'm afraid so."

The small maid rattled out with a

tray which she placed on the table between them, and then scuttled back into the house.

"How old is he?"

"He's not ten yet. He's a baby to be at school, but he began last term-a preparatory school at Broadstairs. He's delicate, and the doctor said that climate would help, and might make a difference in his whole life, so recommended this school. I'd go and live there, only none of the good schools there take dayboys-because of infection, you know." She hesitated, becoming aware of some query in her visitor's look.

"Yes," she said, as if Sybil had questioned her aloud, “I—I live alone-except for John. He was born only three weeks before his father was killed."

She filled Sybil's cup.

"When I was well enough, we came to live here," she added. "There's only just enough to educate John, and this is-economical."

"I'm sorry," Sybil breathed. The other met her look gravely. "It was difficult at first," she said. "I mean, difficult to live, or to want to live. We married in the middle of the war-he was home on sick-leave; he had a leg wound which kept him in England for nearly a year. We had over six months together: more than many people who married then. He'd been very unhappy. I think he'd tried to get killed, when he first went out. He'd been terribly in love with a girl, before the war that was, for years, and when the war came, he asked her to marry him; he thought she cared for him too, and that under such circumstances she'd want to

risk-well the financial difficulties is your life—and fills it, and makes that had held him back before." it worth while for you." Mary's gaze was on some shadowy horizon. "And somehow for me, even as things are, Derek fills my life . . . It's not," she added, reflecting, "that I'm mystical. It just is like that.'

Sybil's face was averted; she was staring at the three little flower beds.

"He was more a nervous wreck than anything, when he was first shipped back. I was a V. A. D. at his hospital. I cared at once, and then, later on, somehow he did. But I used to be afraid that it was just reaction. But then he changed-he got better. And we were fearfully happy; we used to plan what fun it would be when the war was over. The last letter I had said that I had made him perfectly happy. I think he meant it."

Mary paused.

"I only meant," she said gently, "that you needn't be too sorry, because of that. You see your art

[ocr errors]

"Derek!" Sybil mechanically repeated. "Derek was killed? IMary-I-"

But the other took it in with a swift painful pity.

"Oh, my dear!"

They were silent, then Sybil spoke with a bitter hesitation.

"Worth while?" she demanded. "What have I got that's worth while?"

And Mary, in her compassion, could only be silent.



I think that death will be
Like this first day of snow,
A crystal brilliance in the air,
And here below

A white expanse of space

Untouched, unstirred

By the faint penciled footprints

Of a bird.

It will be breathless, still and strange,

That sudden change,

With every thought as clear

As those bare branches etched against the hill,

The hill that of a sudden seems so near,

So white, so very still.

And will we turn and say

On that new day,
Remembering the long ago,

"Death is as beautiful
As snow?"

« AnkstesnisTęsti »