The sunlight was dazzlingly bright; the land across the sea mirage-like. It shimmered in the heat haze as somewhere a bell tolled faint, but clear. Its knell wasn't the sound of a celebration or a summons, it was languid-like: an invite to contemplation.
imagination had taken flight to a time when I had stood before that
view; to a time when the 'marbellous painter', Sir Lawrence
Alma-Tadema, had secured me an introduction to that model: his muse
for that particular scene.
Hawkins, who had been a tease was now married to a disagreeable
fellow and had, so I'd been informed, much changed from the days when
I would hear talk of her in London. Still a beauty, but a shade
paler; her skin seeming to be made of non-porous material that the
sun's rays touched but failed to warm. Her outward demeanour was said
to be cool, yet beneath this people of her acquaintance had begun to
notice a nervous tremor. A certain agitation that made her eyes dart
and glisten, her speech rapid, and her hand gestures appear
uncontrolled. Yet Sir Lawrence said he discerned none of this when
she sat for him. Then she was perfectly calm; perfectly resigned to
her being. She might sigh from time to time, but she stay contained.
Beautifully posed as directed with none of that female hysteria so
recently attributed to her. The reports he said were idle chatter
designed to undermine her new-found status for hadn't she landed one
of the noble gentry: Lord Charles Marlowe. Her rash act had brought
her jealously from both men and women as both thought it calculating.
Ironic, said Sir Lawrence, when everybody in those circles knew that
marriages were built on blood and money. The law of possession. One
prides itself on its beauty, the other on its wealth, and they both
admire and wish to obtain those properties in another.
course I deferred to his candid judgement, he having far more
knowledge than I of such matters and more experience in the presence
of women. I know little compared to a painter who in the course of
his life and pursuit of art moves with that set and spends countless
hours with models. Nor am I a physician who would perhaps recognise
disharmony within the matrimonial state or those nervous consumptive
conditions. But still I was puzzled; curious to see with my own eyes
this lady who was said to have lately changed.
elected day at the appointed hour I arrived with Sir Lawrence at the
rented abode overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. Lady Marlowe was on
the terrace we were told; Lord Marlowe was not in attendance with
a most extraordinary villa, one that Sir Lawrence principally used as
his studio finding its inner and outer architecture so inspiring: its
columns, its archways, its lavish marble surfaces and adornments.
Marlowe when we approached was resting; in a position of abandoned
repose on the curved bench: lying full length with an arm flung over
her eyes, its bare underside an inadequate shield from the blazing
sun, and with a faint trace of content on her lips. She made no
definable stir, although I felt sure she was aware of our measured
footfalls, which to my mind was slightly shocking as she had already
donned the Romanesque white dress Sir Lawrence required which
emphasised her slender figure, and because she had known there would
be a companion in tow as Sir Lawrence's guest.
few steps was all that stood between us, she acted startled and
abruptly rose upright, yet no becoming blush bloomed on her pallid
cheek. Her faun-like face scrutinised me as she graciously greeted
Sir Lawrence, then as quickly dismissed me by turning her bored gaze
to the glittering blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea and the
wave-like settlement set ashore. Her composed stature was unaffected
and yet enthralling for it was a pose that very deliberately said: I
know what's expected of me.
Picture Credit: Expectations, 1885, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema