Read The Portrait Online

Authors: Judith B. Glad

Tags: #England, #19th Century, #Regency Fiction, #coming of age, #portrait painting

The Portrait

The Portrait
A Regency Fable

 

By

Judith B. Glad

 

 

Uncial Press       Aloha, Oregon
2009

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and events described herein are products
of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any
resemblance to actual events, locations, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely
coincidental.

ISBN 13: 978-1-60174-073-1
ISBN 10: 1-60174-073-5

Copyright © 2009 by Judith B. Glad

Cover design
Copyright © 2009 by Judith B. Glad

All rights reserved. Except for use in review, the reproduction or utilization of this work in
whole or in part in any form by any electronic, mechanical or other means now known or
hereafter invented, is forbidden without the written permission of the author or publisher.

Published by Uncial Press,
an imprint of GCT, Inc.

Visit us at http://www.uncialpress.com

The Portrait

Fortesque opened the parlor door. "Mr. Kermit Sutherland," he announced, his tone
indicating that the person about to enter was a bit less than a gentleman, but a trace higher than a
tradesman. He stepped aside.

Uncertain what to expect, I found the breath catching in my chest as Mr. Sutherland
strode into the parlor. He was quite the most unusual man I had ever seen. Craggy faced,
clean-shaven, with a sleek mane of deep red-brown hanging straight and silky below the level of his
wide shoulders. He paused just inside the door, staring at me.

I know I colored under his scrutiny. No gentleman would ever stare so openly and so
penetratingly at a lady. Fortesque's instinct had been correct.

He spoke without looking at Mother. "This is the young woman I am to paint?" The
slight emphasis on the first word held a hint of scorn.

"This is my daughter, Miss Wayman." A slight lift of Mother's chins signaled me to
stand. I did so, reluctantly, feeling as if his deep-set, dark eyes were seeing right through my
clothing. The heat in my cheeks spread into my body, until I wanted to reach for the fan I had
laid on the small table beside my chair.

"Step forward."

"I...I beg your pardon."

"Step forward girl. I want to see all of you, not just your front."

"Do as he says, Chastity," Mother commanded. I wondered at her tolerance of the man's
rudeness. She rarely stood for lack of good manners or respect in anyone.

I stepped to the middle of the room. The sensation of being stripped to nakedness grew
as he slowly circled me.

"Good posture," he muttered. He tugged at a curl, dislodging half a dozen hairpins.
"Hair's a rotten color, but a little cobalt blue in the mix should liven it up."

I shivered as his fingers drifted across my nape.

"Skin's like silk. No, that's too common. Ivory. The finest African ivory. It gleams." He
cupped my chin. "Let's see your teeth."

I wanted to bite the finger that stroked my lower lip. Instead I clamped my teeth
tight.

"Your teeth, girl! Or are they rotten and black?"

I bared them. I am, however, a lady. I did not stick my tongue out at him, tempted
though I was.

"There! That's what I wanted to see. That sparkle in your eye!" He flicked a finger
against my cheek.

It stung. I jerked free of his loose clasp and stepped back. "Are you quite finished with
your appraisal, sir?"

"Chastity!" Mother cried. "Behave--"

His lip curled and one eyebrow rose. "Never mind, Lady Curran. I like to see a bit of
spirit in my subjects. One becomes tired of working with perfect little dolls." To me he said, "Get
used to having my eyes and hands on you, missy. There's no one in London who can paint you
more beautiful than I. But I can't do it by admiring you from afar."

Mother and he made the arrangements for my sittings. I did not participate, wanting as
little to do with the man as possible. Revealing my intense dislike of him to Mother would do me
no good. She was convinced that a portrait of me, to be displayed over the fireplace here in the
parlor, would add to my consequence and make me more attractive to would-be suitors.

Mother and Father were determined to see me wed advantageously, with little regard for
my sentiments toward my future husband. I was resigned to following their dictates. Nineteen
years of living with them had taught me that their vision for my future would prevail.

The first sitting was on Wednesday, one week after my introduction to Mr. Sutherland.
He arrived early in the morning, followed by a servant loaded down with an assortment of sticks
and boxes. I watched from my bed chamber as they climbed to the third floor where the artist
had approved a large, empty room with a northern exposure, calling it "as good as can be
expected in a residence."

Mother had not been amused. "I supposed one must put up with a certain artistic
temperament," she said to Father, "when one considers his reputation."

The room was directly over my bedchamber, and I listened curiously through the next
half-hour to the considerable thumping and bumping that occurred. Eventually the servant
descended the stairs. There was not a sound from overhead for several moments, then I heard
footsteps crossing the room and descending the stairs. I remained inside my bedchamber, curled
on the window seat, book in hand. To this day I cannot remember what I was reading...if I was
reading.

Shortly thereafter Mattie, the maid who usually brought my morning chocolate, tapped
lightly at my door. "Miss? Miss, you're wanted upstairs."

We ascended, I not entirely without trepidation. The man unsettled me in a way no one
had. There was no pleasure in my anticipation of the next few weeks. Ever since I had arrived in
London, just ten days ago, I had been dreading the entire adventure. Other girls might, as Mother
had often told me, look forward to their Season with delight and eagerness. I, who had never
been more than five miles from Father's principal seat, dreaded the entire process. I would far
rather stay in the country, would prefer to remain unmarried, for I did not deal well with others,
having been a solitary child without playmates. Only a nurse until I was five, then a series of
governesses, most of them pleasant enough but lacking warmth.

The draperies had been stripped from the tall dormer windows and the bright winter
light streamed through, turning the polished oaken floor to a pond of molten gold, reflecting
from the white walls until one's eyes were dazzled. I paused at the doorway, squinting.

"Don't dawdle, girl. Come here! And you--" He glowered at Mattie. "Go away. I don't
paint in public."

Mattie hesitated. "My maid will remain," I said. "Surely my mother made that
clear."

"Are you afraid I'll ravish you?" His voice was no longer harsh, but was a seductive
purr, one that sent small shivers down my spine.

After our first encounter, I had resolved not to let him gain the upper hand again. I lifted
my chin in perfect imitation of Mother and said, "Not at all sir. However, there are certain
proprieties to be observed, and I am careful to do so."

"Huh! Silly twit." He turned his back and fiddled with objects on the tall table beside his
easel. After a moment, he looked at me over his shoulder. "Well? Why aren't you sitting? There.
On that stool."

For the first time I saw the tall stool sitting alone in the middle of the room. Surely he
would not paint me without background, simply perched there like a child on a fence. I opened
my mouth to protest.

"Sit, sit!" His pointing finger commanded me. I decided to save my arguments for a
more important issue. I sat, exposing a considerable length of ankle while doing so.

His eyes gleamed.

I felt heat rise in my cheeks.

"Look at me."

Reluctantly I turned my face toward his, letting my gaze rest upon his chin. It was
square and firm, the chin of a man who gave little quarter.

He began to sketch, his hand moving quickly across the wide sheet. The soft rasp of
charcoal against paper was the only sound. After an interminable time, he said, "Raise your head.
I want to see your eyes." Without looking at me, he tore the sheet of paper from the large tablet
and sailed it across the room. It came to rest against the far wall, just out of my sight.

I turned to look.

"Damn it girl! Look at me."

I jerked my chin higher and glared at him. It was a mistake.

His eyes blazed hot green fire, compelling, mesmerizing. I could not look away, could
not even blink. Within me a small core of warmth bloomed, just enough to make me wonder if
there were not something after all to the fairy tales of love and passion in the half-dozen
romantic novels left to me by the only governess I had found a kindred spirit.

She lasted five weeks before Mother discharged her as too frivolous.

In the several years since then, I had decided the stories were the imaginings of
demented minds. Men simply did not behave with such silliness. Imagine a man believing he had
to woo and win a maid with candy and flowers. Why should he go to such effort when all he had
to do was buy her from her parents?

His gaze held mine. The warmth flared into heat, suffusing my entire body, until I felt a
faint sheen of perspiration upon my upper lip and between my breasts.

"Don't move! No, don't close your mouth either." His hand swept over the paper,
moving with the speed of a darting hummingbird. As he worked, he muttered to himself. I heard
only the occasional word. They made little sense. At least he no longer held me captive with his
gaze.

"Enticing...that little curve...there, now to...slight slant...no! Innocent seduction..." After
a interminable time, he looked at me again. "Stick out your tongue."

"I beg your pardon!"

"Don't poker up that way. Keep your chin up. That outraged expression is perfect, but I
want you to part your lips even more. Just enough to show your tongue in the corner. No, not that
far out. Just the tip of it, as if in invitation... Yes! That's perfect."

He resumed sketching. After a moment he tore off that sheet and let it fly to join the
first. His hand, holding the charcoal stick, scarcely paused. "Unconscious...unawakened...capture
that innocence...the potential of great...aha! Got it!" He tossed the charcoal stick onto the table.
"Rest now," he told me as he stepped back. "Get down, move around. Swing your arms."

Of course I did no such thing. I slipped from the stool and walked over to the windows
where I stood looking down in to the small garden at the back of our house.

"Are you as innocent as you appear, I wonder?"

I started, not having heard him approach. His breath was warm on my nape. I could feel
the heat of his body just behind me--not touching, but so close that he might as well have been. I
fought the urge to lean into his warmth, to relax against him. How I hungered for the gentle
touch of a hand, for the comfort of another body against mine.

His hands cupped my shoulders lightly, not really clasping. Barely turning my head, I
looked down to the left. His fingers were long, his nails cut square. Black charcoal marked
thumb and forefinger, as if he'd used the tips to smudge the lines he had drawn.

"Come," he said in a near-whisper. "You must move. You've been sitting still too
long."

His hands slid lightly down to grasp my wrists and he lifted them upwards, until my
arms were stretched out at shoulder height. "Stretch," he said, and I felt the curls over my ears
flutter.

"Bend." One arm went around my waist and the other hand pushed between my shoulder
blades. My spine stretched as he bent me forward.

For an instant my bottom brushed his body.

I leapt forward, colliding with the wall. "How dare you!" I gasped as I turned to face
him.

His mobile lips were spread in a wide grin. "I got you moving, didn't I? No, don't stop.
Walk the perimeter of this room, twice. Swing your arms as you do."

I obeyed, but it did not satisfy him. "Swing, girl! You mince like a puppet on a too-short
string. Big steps. Wide swings. Lift your chin. One. Two. One. Two."

I marched as commanded.

On the second circuit of the large room I realized that I felt better than I had since
coming to London. Used to daily tramps, I had initially champed at the restrictions that kept me
in the house, unless I traveled with Mother to a modiste's shop, always in a carriage. I was
drawing deep breaths, and my shoulders felt loose and relaxed. Not waiting for his command, I
began a third circuit.

"Enough. You may halt now." He pointed me back to the stool. "Face the window this
time. A little more. So." He walked all around me. "Hmmm. Lay one finger across your lips. No.
as if you were shushing someone. Yes, like that. Now don't move."

Back to his easel, and again the
scritch-scritch
of charcoal on paper was the
only sound in the room.

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