Next morning, Alexander Wainwright stood in the cool dawn of the meadow. One thought from last night reverberated within him—what good is the truth unless it serves life and love.
The sun cast a pale and eerie light upon the grasses and flowers bent with dew. Small animals skittered through the bush and about his feet, and insects began to chorus. Awakening to a fresh perception of creative possibilities, he set up his easel and arranged his paints and brushes.
He worked very quickly, joyful in the sureness and command of his art. In his mind’s eye, he envisioned a connection between two figures whose outlines sprang up from the page. The space between them seemed to glow and vibrate with garlands of flowers. At once, he knew they would be two beautiful women—mother and daughter— with his light shining from within them.
At nine o’clock, Celia Smith startled awake from a riot of dreams. Looking out the window, she saw the meadow suffused with an unearthly glow. Each flower—although there must have been hundreds waving in the breeze—appeared distinct and unnaturally vivid in color.
Stamens and pistols thrust grotesquely out of the surrounding petals, and fat bees dove lazily from one flower to another. With a slight shiver, she turned away to dress and brush her hair. Where was the artist she had met at dinner last night?
Looking out the window again, she saw the artist–his name was Alexander– at work at his easel in the meadow and decided to visit him. She paused. She trembled, unaccustomed to such boldness within herself. Mother had not prepared her for this sort of life.
Downstairs, she had to cross the stone terrace, dark and chilly in the shade, to gain access to the field. Several stone fences, which she had not previously noticed, had to be climbed. As she swung her leg over the first one, she felt the heat rising up from the sunlit field, warming her thighs. She barely noticed the few people at the top of the hill.
“Good morning!” she called out to Alexander, who stepped back from his easel.
Not wishing to encourage conversation, he merely nodded. What sort of muse might she be? She craned her neck around to see two female figures on the canvas— one older and the other younger. For her, the electric flow of line connecting the them contained a powerful charge—the essence of a work of art.
She asked, “Why are you out in this field when portraiture is your subject matter?”
He said, “I’m experimenting with the human figure in its natural setting—outdoors.”
“Are they mother and daughter?”
“If you want them to be, then they are.”
“I’ve been taking drawing lessons at the art gallery on Saturdays,” she said. “I thought you might give me some tips.”
Wainwright looked at her with interest. “And why do you want to draw, dear child?”
Astonished by his question, Celia blurted out, “I want to get out of myself.”
The painter laughed. “Don’t you mean you want to express yourself?”
“It’s the same thing, isn’t it?”
“Perhaps. Shall we begin the drawing lesson?” He smiled and held out the charcoal. “Let’s see what you can do.”
“All right.” She took the charcoal from his hand and approached the easel tentatively. She began to sketch the far hills and a nearby tree, and then she improvised a winding laneway. “I’ve never drawn outside before,” she said.
The artist remained silent. She could not be a muse.
Celia worked for another five minutes straight, squinching her eyes up and furrowing her brow. Then she sighed. “It’s not very good is it?”
The artist stopped to light his pipe but said nothing.
“And the laneway! The perspective’s all wrong.” Celia was about to crumple up the sheet.
The artist reached out and caught her hand. “Those are technical problems, my dear, which are easily solved.” He led her back to the stool. “There is a more fundamental problem that needs to be addressed first. You see, the work is really not so bad. Technical skill can be learned, but the real problem is you.”“You’ve stood there like a schoolgirl hoping to please the teacher. Am I doing this right? Do you like this—and worse still—do you like me? Such questions in your mind and spirit cramp your hand. Unless you can silence those voices, you will not be able to draw.” Folding his arms across his chest, he drew on his pipe. “Surely, you must experience some passion, some life of your own, without regard to the opinions of others?”
“I don’t understand.”
Celia’s face fell. Images of Mother flew into her mind. Of course, Mother demanded I try to please. What else could I do? Then she led her life with only her own pleasure in mind!
“Who has done this to you, my child? Schools? Parenting?”
In the hot sun, with a chorus of cicadas, Celia burst into tears. “Mother,” she sobbed.
Alexander reached out and took her hand.
“Dear child. Why are you crying so? It’s not just Mother, is it?”
The kindness of his tone made Celia cry again.
“No. I’m sorry,” she snuffled. “No one has ever touched me like that.” She did not withdraw her hand. “Not once.” Celia was shocked to hear her own words. She felt something unknown falling away and then something new stirring within her.
He said, “Ah, yes. Now I see. Life can be harsh and brutal without a touch of kindness—without love or at least a little compassion,” he said, starting to pack up his materials. “Celia Smith? I think we should have a cup of tea and breakfast on the terrace.”
Slowly, they climbed the hill back to the inn. Both of them were so intensely involved in their own thoughts that they scarcely noticed those they met on the path. Momentarily, the skies darkened and silence hung heavy upon them until they came to the garden of the inn. The sun broke through and hundreds of huge flowers—unnaturally vivid in colour— waved in the breeze.
Alexander spoke gently. “Come, Celia. Let’s sit on the terrace for tea and some breakfast.”
Celia only nodded. She thought—Mother taught me only that I must live to please. I was homely and so I must have a pleasing personality. And all the while she was living a secret life of libidinous pleasure!
They seated themselves in the shade close by the French doors to the kitchen. Celia fiddled with the silverware. Suddenly overcome with fury, she smacked the table with a spoon.
“Never once did she suggest that life could be lived with passion or pleasure. She cheated me out of my life and laughed at me.
Moved by the sadness in her eyes and the anger in her voice, he wondered how he could help her. “Tell me about Mother, child.” Remembering his earlier resolve to live in this world with love, he decided he could at least lend an attentive ear.
The waiter brought tea and toast with little pots of marmalade, honey and strawberry jam. She began her story of Mother, who always intimated she was homely and that she must live her life to please with a charming personality.
He was surprised when Celia said, “How can a mother preach duty and propriety on the surface and all the while be carrying on a torrid affair?”
The child was disgusted by her mother’s hypocrisy. He did not inquire further and simply suggested that both lives—one of duty and the other of passion— could be true for mother. How many people, he reflected, were driven to find that very balance?
He asked, “Perhaps people find many contradictory truths in life and struggle to live them all?
Celia looked at the artist blankly. She had scarcely heard his words. She became aware of his scent—warm and musky. Her eyes dropped to his hands folded on the table. The fingers were long and slender. At his wrists, the fine, dark hair grew thick. She imagined his gentle touch, which had made her tremble. No one has ever touched me like that. Will anyone ever again?
Celia wanted only one thing—to touch and be touched by this man. She wanted, if only for a moment, to be free of her own suffocating self and invited into another person’s world. Boldly, she reached for his hand and, taking it, stood up.
Alexander’s eyes narrowed. Of course, he knew what she wanted. But from her tale of mother and her awkwardness, he also knew she had little experience in life. Her desperation was a great danger to her. “Please sit down with me, Celia. You’re distraught and do not know what you need or want.”
A disastrous surprise lies ahead for Alexander in The Drawing Lesson. Does Celia know who Alexander is? Or is she an innocent? This is a story from The Drawing Lesson. Think of it as an appetizer!
The novels of The Trilogy of Remembrance [The Drawing Lesson, The Fate of Pryde and Night Crossing] and The Osgoode Trilogy [Conduct in Question, Final Paradox and A Trial of One] may be purchased anywhere on line. Here is just one spot. Click on the COIN
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