|An Imperfect Ideal
Author: S. J. Wintering PM
The hot and cold relationship of an artist and his muse. She is mysteriously recruited to work for him while he fights his dual nature, trying to maintain two women in his life. She is his imperfect ideal, and immortalises her through his medium.Rated: Fiction T - English - Romance/Tragedy - Chapters: 6 - Words: 13,418 - Reviews: 6 - Favs: 3 - Follows: 2 - Updated: 11-07-09 - Published: 09-18-09 - Status: Complete - id: 2721648
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
It was like this. She came to his house in the evening, understanding his habits in painting, and without even the decency of bringing a chaperone or her aunt for supervision. A lady of greater expectations would have considered this a jeopardising decision, but the thought had not even crossed Adelina's mind, so concentrated was she on appearing aloof before the love of her life. The only being that mattered.
After being shown in, she was told to creep up to his studio, as he was already in his painting spirit and would not be disturbed out of it by civil conventionalities. A soft smile of understanding moulded itself onto her lips as she ascended the flight of stairs, patting the marble banister with her hot, velvety fingers as she swept up. When she reached his studio door, she burnt her piercing eyes into the varnished wood, as though she saw something through it. But it was all the work of imagination.
Sucking in her breath, she pushed the door to, and stepped in, her innocent eyes finding him with animal-like instantaneity. They were together again, and yet he had not found her. His eyes, when they focused on her, were unmistakably indecisive and distant. Without a word, she sauntered to the middle of the room, where a davenport was set up for her to sit on. She did not know how he wished to paint her – clothed, or in the nude? Sitting, or lying down?
"Ada," he said looking at her from over his shoulder as he prepared his paints. "I want you to remove your clothes, drape that material over your body in some way, and then sit the way you sat in Fleet Street." And so she did. It was astonishing how well she repeated the pose – even the facial expression. His eyes stole a look at her naked figure. It was not yet fully developed – her breasts were but a pubescent girl's, and her hips were narrow and almost boyish.
He painted her sitting in complete void – never mind the davenport. There was an empty sky, a calm sea, and a lonely Venus. She sat gazing with serene countenance upon the still sky. Her lips were screwed together and turned up in gentle contentment. She sat in frigid dignity, her fingers indifferently clinging to a glossy red apple. The gauzy folds of the material draped over her lap while circling her waist, and her bare chest shone in the staged moonlight. She seemed to be parting with a pleasant dream, for there was reluctance in her staring eyes and indecision in her tightened lips. The observer knew immediately that she was abandoning Paradise for the uncertain pleasures of Earth. She was torn between both worlds, and yet seemed to hover with vague contentment in the centre of them: the gap between illusion and reality.
He had been painting for the whole night – it was dawn when he was nearly finished, for he was not one to work in stages. He always wanted to finish a painting in one sitting. When at last the first beams of the sun began piercing through the window and bouncing off the white-chested girl, he announced that he was finally finished, and that if she wished, she could be the first to see it. Gathering the gauzy folds around her shoulders, she joined him at the easel, and admired it for what it was – his finest work yet.
"Archer, you have captured me ideally," she smiled slowly, laying one hand on his shoulder and brushing her undeveloped breasts against his back. After a silence, she kissed his neck, melting into his back with her arms circling his waist. His reaction was not instantaneous, but when it came, a minute or so late, he was neither warm nor sympathetic.
"Adelina, please," he groaned, gently pushing her arms away and facing her second likeness, as if meaning to address her.
"I understand," she said, her voice quavering with violent emotion. "You could never look upon me as you did on Teresa Ballad. I was nothing to you but your wretched muse, wasn't I? And these two likenesses you have painted of me have only served to sunder us farther from each other! But you ought to know, Archer, that I did all this only to please you – to force you into loving me. Archer, pray look at me! Not that fabricated version of me. Face me, and try not to admit that you feel a particle of affection for me – your Ada." There was a breathless silence, but at the end of it he turned around, and said, with a paralysed stare at her that seemed to pierce right through her, "I entreat you to be gone, Ada. I don't know what I feel. Teresa has left me, and you are being difficult. Be the good little girl you give the appearance of being and leave me be." Her face screwed up in agony, and after tempestuously dressing herself, she dashed out into the hall, her cheeks matted with hot tears. In her fury, she drove straight into a servant. She was formulating her reply, when the man's hands stabilised her by seizing her bare shoulders. His inviting green eyes beamed compassionately upon her.
"Mr. Winsted," she murmured, sinking vulnerably into his open arms. He encompassed her snugly in them, cradling her like a child.
"Hush, Miss, hush. My master is a cold-blooded man. You ought to have known this. He may be possessive of you, but matrimony and love are very insignificant to him beside his art and painting. You have cruelly been exposed to his ambitions – I feel for you, Miss, I feel the vibrations of your wounded heart." Her tears came in gushes. His compassion in reaction to her suffering was so warm – so heartfelt and unsoiled by manly lust! But she was at fault in taking further advantage of it.
"Edwin, we must away to some distant land," she whimpered into his rising chest, her fingers sinking into his back. "Just the two of us. You have been my friend since first we met. Though I have loved Archer with unparalleled passion, you must be my husband, because his reaction to my love was cruel coldness."
"But do you love me, at least a little?" he asked cautiously.
"To be sure I do!" she lied to his face, smiling clumsily as their eyes collided. "You are to be my husband, Edwin. I always felt it must be so." The good, simple man. He was satisfied with this deceptive girl's elusive answer and confounding smile.
"In that case," he said gently ungluing her arms from his waist. "You must go home and make all the necessary arrangements for our elopement. We shall be travelling post, my darling, because it is less conspicuous."
"Whatever suits you best," she said indifferently, descending the stairs with a heavy foot. She was not more light-hearted at the end of this teary collision. She felt more heavy-hearted and deeply depressed. But nothing mattered anymore, because Archer Barry did not return her affections, and her likeness would be seen by all of London. She would be admired and analysed, while the painter would smile placidly upon it, leading an imaginary relationship with the form on the canvas. Oh, but he was to be pitied! He would die alone, without even the sensuous presence of his Turkish beauty.
She packed very little into her travelling trunk – some clothes, and provisions for the road. She stole a good deal of money from her aunt – her uncle she revered too much to attempt the offense – and was gone by daybreak.
"I heard that she was seen at an inn just outside of London in a black silk taffeta calash, wearing a blood-red pelisse. She was with some green-eyed stranger, in rougher apparel than she. He must be a servant." This was the sort of gossip that Archer had to endure at his next whist party. He did not know how to respond to his muse's elopement, but he was paralysed with shock, and the more anyone said about it, the more he shrank into himself. A final blow – a final comment sufficed to trigger his emotional collapse.
"She must have eloped on a whim – I don't believe that any young woman could do otherwise. It is a whirlwind romance, depend upon it, and the Duke and Duchess are to be pitied!" Grinding his teeth, Archer rose mechanically from his chair and stormed out of the parlour in mute wrath. He dashed with helpless ire into his studio, and upon locking the door behind him, he confronted the Venus that he had created, and pressed his hot lips to her face. After this, he took his scalpel knife with calm countenance, and drove it into his chest. The thick blood trickled onto his hand as he held it to the wound, his sculpted, caved in face still turned up to the painting as he sank to his knees, bowing before his imperfect ideal, and cursing his undiscerning nature.
"I have loved you, Ada, the only way a man like me could. Good night, wherever you may be."
The next morning, Archer Barry was found dead in his studio, his raw-boned hand fixed firmly to his bleeding heart. The new painting was observed, and exposed along with Adelina's first likeness in the London May Exposition. She was admired and analysed, while the painter lay placidly in his grave, with his hand still pressed to his dried up heart.