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Contrary Mary - Chapter 17 Post by :jamesmicucci Category :Long Stories Author :Temple Bailey Date :May 2012 Read :3187

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Contrary Mary - Chapter 17


_In Which an Artist Finds What All His Life He Has Been Looking For; and in Which He Speaks of a Little Saint in Red.

It might have been by chance that Delilah Jeliffe driving in her electric through a broad avenue on the afternoon following the christening of Constance's baby, met Porter Bigelow, and invited him to go home with her for a cup of tea.

There were certain things which Delilah wanted of Porter. Perhaps she wanted more than she would ever get. But to-day she had it in her mind to find out if he would go with her to the White House garden party.

Colin Quale was little and blond. Because of his genius, his presence had added distinction to her entrances and exits. But at the coming function, she knew that she needed more than the prestige of genius--among the group of distinguished guests who would attend, the initial impression would mean much. Porter's almost stiff stateliness would match the gown she was to wear. His position, socially, was impregnable; he had wealth, and youth, and charm. He would, in other words, make a perfectly correct background for the picture which she designed to make of herself.

The old house at Georgetown, to which they came finally, was set back among certain blossoming shrubs and bushes. A row of tulips flamed on each side of the walk. Small and formal cedars pointed their spired heads toward the spring sky.

In the door, as they ascended the steps, appeared Colin Quale.

"Come in," he said, "come in at once. I want you to see what I have done for you."

He spoke directly to Delilah. It was doubtful if he saw Porter. He was blind to everything except the fact that his genius had designed for Delilah Jeliffe a costume which would make her fame and his.

They followed him through the wide hall to the back porch in which he had set up his easel. There, where a flowering almond bush flung its branches against a background of green, he had worked out his idea.

A water-color sketch on the easel showed a girl in white--a girl who might have been a queen or an empress. Her gown partook of the prevailing mode, but not slavishly. There was distinction in it, and color here and there, which Colin explained.

"It must be of sheer white, with many flowing flounces, and with faint pink underneath like the almond bloom. And there must be a bit of heavenly blue in the hat, and a knot of green at the girdle--and a veil flung back--you see?--there'll be sky and field and flowers and a white cloud--all the delicate color and bloom----"

Still explaining, he was at last induced to leave the picture, and have tea. While Delilah poured, Porter watched the two, interested and diverted by enthusiasms which seemed to him somewhat puerile for a man who could do real things in the world of art.

Yet he saw that Delilah took the little man very seriously, that she hung on his words of advice, and that she was obedient to his demands upon her.

"She'll marry him some day," he said to himself, and Delilah seemed to divine his thought, for when at last Colin had rushed back to his sketch, she settled herself in her low chair, and told Porter of their first meeting.

"I'll begin at the beginning," she said; "it is almost too funny to be true, and it could not possibly have happened to any one but me and Colin.

"It was last summer when I was on the North Shore. Father and I stayed at a big hotel, but I was crazy to get acquainted with the cottage colony.

"But somehow I didn't seem to make good--you see that was in my crude days when I wanted to be a cubist picture instead of a daguerreotype. I liked to be startling, and thought that to attract attention was to attract friends--but I found that I did not attract them.

"One night in August there was a big dance on at one of the hotels, and I wanted a gown which should outshine all the others--the ball was to be given for the benefit of a local chanty, and all the cottage colony would attend. I sent an order for a gown to my dressmaker, and she shipped out a strange and wonderful creation. It was an imported affair--you know the kind--with a bodice of a string of jet and a wisp of lace--with a tulle tunic, and a skirt of gold brocade that was so tight about my feet that it had the effect of Turkish trousers. For my head she sent a strip of gold gauze which was to be swathed around and around my hair in a sort of nun's coif, so that only a little knot could show at the back and practically none in front. It was the last cry in fashions. It made me look like a dream from the Arabian Nights, and I liked it."

She laughed, and, in spite of himself, Porter laughed with her.

"I wore it to the dance, and it was there that I met Colin Quale. I wish I could make you see the scene--the great ballroom, and all the other women staring at me as I came in--and the men, smiling.

"I was in my element. I thought, in those days, that the test of charm was to hold the eyes of the multitude. To-day I know that it is to hold the eyes of the elect, and it is Colin who has taught me.

"I had danced with a dozen other men when he came up to claim me. I scarcely remembered that I had promised him a dance. When he was presented to me I had only been aware of a pale little man with eye-glasses and nervous hands who had stared at me rather too steadily.

"We danced in silence for several minutes and he danced divinely.

"He stopped suddenly. 'Let's get out of here,' he said. 'I want to talk to you.'

"I looked at him in amazement. 'But I want to dance.'

"'You can always dance,' he said, quietly, 'but you cannot always talk to me.'

"There was nothing in his manner to indicate the preliminaries of a flirtation. He was perfectly serious and he evidently thought that he was offering me a privilege. Curiosity made me follow him, and he led the way down the hall to a secluded reception room where there was a long mirror, a little table, and a big bunch of old-fashioned roses in a bowl.

"On our way we passed a row of chairs, where some one had left a wrap and a scarf. Colin snatched up the scarf--it was a long wide one of white chiffon. The next morning I returned it to him, and he found the owner. I am not sure what explanation he made for his theft, but it was undoubtedly attributed to the eccentricities of genius!

"Well, when, as I said, we reached the little room, he pulled a chair forward for me, so that I sat directly in front of the mirror.

"I remember that I surveyed myself complacently. To my deluded eyes, my appearance could not be improved. My head, swathed in its golden coif, seemed to give the final perfect touch."

She laughed again at the memory, and Porter found himself immensely amused. She had such a cool way of turning her mental processes inside out and holding them up for others to see.

"As I sat there, stealing glances at myself, I became conscious that my little blond man was studying me. Other men had looked at me, but never with such a cold, calculating gaze--and when he spoke to me, I nearly jumped out of my shoes--his voice was crisp, incisive.

"'Take it off,' he said, and touched the gauze that tied up my head.

"I gasped. Then I drew myself up in an attempt at haughtiness. But he wasn't impressed a bit.

"'I suppose you know that I am an artist, Miss Jeliffe,' he said, 'and from the moment you came into the room, I haven't had a bit of peace. You're spoiling your type--and it affects me as a chromo would, or a crude crayon portrait, or any other dreadful thing.'

"Do you know how it feels to be called a 'dreadful thing' by a man like that? Well, it simply made me shrivel up and have shivers down my spine.

"'But why?' I stammered.

"'Women like you,' he said, 'belong to the stately, the aristocratic type. You can be a _grande dame or a duchess--and you are making of yourself--what? A soubrette, with your tango skirt and your strapped slippers, and your hideous head-dress--take it off.'

"'But I can't take it off,' I said, almost tearfully; 'my hair underneath is--awful.'

"'It doesn't make any difference about your hair underneath--it can't be worse than it is,' he roared. 'I want to see your coloring--take it off.'

"And I took it off. My hair was perfectly flat, and as I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror, I wanted to laugh, to shriek. But Colin Quale was as solemn as an owl. 'Ah,' he said, 'I knew you had a lot of it!'

"He caught up the scarf which he had borrowed and flung it over my shoulders. He gave a flick of his fingers against my forehead and pulled down a few hairs and parted them. He whisked a little table in front of me, and thrust the bunch of roses into my arms.

"'Now look at yourself,' he commanded.

"I looked and looked again. I had never dreamed that I could be like that. The scarf and the table hid every bit of that Paris gown, and showed just a bit of white throat. My plain parted hair and the roses--I looked," and now Delilah was blushing faintly, "I looked as I had always wanted to look--like the lovely ladies in the old English portraits.

"'Do you like it?' Colin asked.

"He knew that I liked it from my eyes, and for the first time since I had met him, he laughed.

"'All my life,' he said, 'I have been looking for just such a woman as you. A woman to make over--to develop. We must be friends, Miss Jeliffe. You must let me know where I can see you again.'

"Well, I didn't dance any more that night. I wrapped the scarf about my head, and went back to my hotel. Colin Quale went with me. All the way he talked about the sacredness of beauty. He opened my eyes. I began to see that loveliness should be suggested rather than emphasized. And I have told you this because I want you to understand about Colin. He isn't in love with me. I rather fancy that back home in Amesbury or Newburyport, or whatever town it is that he hails from, there's somebody whom he'll find to marry. To him I am a statue to be molded. I am clay, marble, a tube of paint, a canvas ready for his brush. It was the same way with this old house. He wanted a setting for me, and he couldn't rest until he had found it. He has not only changed my atmosphere, he has changed my manner--I was going to say my morals--he brings to me portraits of Romney ladies and Gainsborough ladies--until I seem positively to swim in a sea of stateliness. And what I said just now about manners and morals is true. A woman lives up to the clothes she wears. If you think this change is on the surface, it isn't. I couldn't talk slang in a Gainsborough hat, and be in keeping, so I don't talk slang; and a perfect lady in a moleskin mantle must have morals to match; so in my little mantle I cannot tell a lie."

To see her with lowered lashes, telling it, was the funniest thing in the world, and Porter shouted. Then her lashes were, for a moment, raised, and the old Delilah peeped out, shrewd, impish.

"He wants me to change my name. No, don't misunderstand me--not my last one. But the first. He says that Delilah smacks of the adventuress. I don't think he is quite sure of the Bible story, but he gets his impressions from grand opera--and he knows that the Delilah of the Samson story wasn't nice--not in a lady-like sense. My middle name is Anne. He likes that better."

"Lady Anne? You'll look the part in that garden party frock he is designing for you."

And now she had reached the question toward which she had been working. "Shall you go?"

He shook his head. "I doubt it. It isn't a function from which one will be missed. And the Ballards won't be there. Mary is going over to New York with Constance for a few days before the sailing. I'm to join them on the final day."

"And you won't go to the garden party without Mary?"

He found himself moved, suddenly, to speak out to her.

"She wouldn't go if she were here--not with me."

"Contrary Mary?" she drawled the words, giving them piquant suggestion.

"It isn't contrariness. Her independence is characteristic. She won't let me do things because she wants to do them by herself. But some day she'll let me do them."

He said it grimly, and Delilah flashed a glance at him, then said carefully, "It would be a pity if she should fancy--Roger Poole."

"She won't."

"You can't tell--pity leads to the softer feeling, you know."

"Why should she pity him?"

"There's his past."

"His past? Roger Poole's? What do you know of it, Delilah?"

As he leaned forward to ask the eager question, he knew that by all the rules of the game he should not be discussing Mary with any one. But he told himself hotly that it was for Mary's good. If things had been hidden, they should be revealed--the sooner the better.

Delilah gave him the details dramatically.

"Then his wife is dead?"

"Yes. But before that the scandal lost him his church. Nobody seems to know much of it all, I fancy. Mary only gave me the outline."

"And she knows?"

"Yes. Roger told her."

"The chances are that there's--another side."

He knew that it was a small thing to say. He would not have said it to any one but Delilah. She would not think him small. To her all things would be fair for a lover.

Before he went, that afternoon, he had promised to go with Delilah to the White House garden party.

Hence a week later there floated within the vision of the celebrities and society folk, gathered together on the spacious lawn of the executive mansion, a lovely lady in faint rose-white, with a touch of heavenly blue in her wide hat, from which floated a veil which half hid her down-drooped eyes.

People began at once to ask, "Who is she?"

When it was discovered that her name was Jeliffe, and that she was not a distinguished personage, it did not matter greatly. There was about her an air of distinction--a certain quiet atmosphere of withdrawal from the common herd which had nothing in it of haughtiness, but which seemed to set her apart.

Porter, following in her wake as she swept across the green, thought of the girl in leopard skins, whose unconventionality had shocked him. Surely in this woman was developed a sense of herself as the center of a picture which was almost uncanny. He found himself contrasting Mary's simplicity and lack of pose.

Mary's presence here to-day would have meant much to a few people who knew and loved her; it would have meant nothing to the crowd who stared at Delilah Jeliffe.

Colin Quale was there to enjoy the full triumph of the transformation. He hovered at a little distance from Delilah, worshiping her for the genius which met and matched his own.

"I shall paint her in that," he said to Porter. "It will be my masterpiece. And if you could have seen her on the night I met her----"

"She told me." Porter was smiling.

"It was like one of the old masters daubed by a novice, or like a room whitewashed over rare carvings--everything was hidden which should have been shown, and everything was shown which should have been hidden. It was monstrous.

"There are few women," he went on, "whom I could make over as I have made her over. They have not the adaptability--the temperament. There was one whom I could have transformed. But I was not allowed. She was little and blonde and the wife of a clergyman; she looked like a saint---and she should have worn straight things of clear green or red, or blue. But she wore black. I've sometimes wondered if she was such a saint as she looked. There was a divorce afterward, I believe, and another man. And she died."

Porter, listening idly, came back. "What type was she?"

"Fra Angelico--to perfection. I should have liked to dress her."

"Did you ever tell her that you wanted to do it?"

"Yes. And she listened. It was then that I gained my impression--that she was not a saint. One night there was a little entertainment at the parish house and I had my way. I made of her an angel, in a red robe with a golden lyre--and I painted her afterward. She used to come to my studio, but I'm not sure that Poole liked it."

"Poole?" Porter was tense.

"Her husband. He could not make her happy."

"Was she--the one in fault?"

Colin shrugged. "There are always two stories. As I have said, she looked like a saint."

"I should like to see--the picture." Porter tried to speak lightly. "May I come up some day to your rooms?"

Colin's face beamed.

"I'm getting into new quarters. I shall want your opinion--call me up before you come."

It was Colin who went home with Delilah in Porter's car. Porter pleaded important business, and walked for an hour around the Speedway, his brain in a whirl.

Then Mary knew--Mary _knew_--and it had made no difference in her thought of Roger Poole!

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