The Secrets of Bloxley Bottom, Episode 8: Prudence Meets the Artist

Tournell pocketed his charcoals and held up his drawing to catch the light filtering through the windows of the taproom of the Crowing Cock Inn. Not bad, if he did say so himself.  In the center of the page, he’d drawn three men at a table, based on the men who’d been seated across from him a half an hour ago.  On the left he’d drawn, from memory, a lithe young girl holding a platter of ham. She closely resembled Polly, though he didn’t have the arms and hand quite right. Polly had a more graceful bearing than this figure.
     Working quickly, as he hadn’t known how long the men intended to stay, and therefore unwittingly pose for him, Tournell had drawn in the details of the fireplace behind the men, the pictures that hung upon the wall, all in an effort to capture the feeling of the place, the verisimilitude that would give a painting character. Paintings of  homey and rural scenes were at present proving most popular and were no doubt bringing ample funds to the coffers of their artists.
     There were many directions an artist might go these days. He wondered about his future and how best to secure his success.  He was good at portraits. If he did the Bloxley daughters well, and the painting captured the interest of attendees at the Royal Academy next spring – If. If. If.
    Last night he and Monty had dined here, and he vowed to do more sketches, but not of females, as Monty intended.  On a Sunday night, the inn had been quiet. Only the proprietress and the little maid Polly were about, so he’d returned this morning to try again.  But he kept getting distracted by other ideas for paintings taken from everyday life. Polly would be perfect in a rural scene. And she could be a pretty fresh face among the roses or posed with a bowl of milk just as she looked now.
      He grabbed another piece of paper and pulled out his charcoals again, trying first to capture what he remembered of the shape of Polly’s face, her full cheeks and  dimpled chin. Her eyes were bright and as blue as the summer sky, a blue that reminded him of his mother’s Sunday dress. How could he mix that color, luminous and deep? It would take several layers of paint, but his pots of paint were far away at Monty’s, and he had no way of getting there at the moment. 
Mrs. Winston came into the tap room, another lady he yearned to paint. Next to the face he was trying to make into a likeness of Polly, he sketched in a few lines to outline Mrs. Winston. Another good-looking woman in a sort of paradise of beautiful females. As she rearranged a shelf of bottles across the room, he took note of her lifted arms, reaching high over her head, the look of her heels and feet up on her tip toes. Ah, those feet, those legs in their cotton stockings. The human foot, now there was a subject for his pencils.  Infinite variety of shapes. Long toes. Stubby toes. Gracefully arched feet or broad, flat feet. And upwards to the ankles, so fine or so plump.
“Mrs. Winston,” a voice called from the serving pantry. Tournell knew all about the rooms behind the tap room, back of the house, they would have called it in a theater. He needed settings for his pictures, minutiae that would provide the kind of reality patrons wanted. He had an eye for detail.
The voice belonged to another of the village’s pretty young women, les belle jeune filles. This was Prudence, the vicar’s daughter, another he’d love to paint. She had a long graceful neck and a fine figure.
“I’ve brought the eggs, and your man is storing them in the larder.  Is there anything else I can do for you?”
Mrs. Winston met Prudence halfway across the room and Tournell again sketched a few lines to show the two women standing together.
“Then I’ll be going now, Mrs. Winston.  And deliver again on Wednesday.”
Suddenly Tournell perked up and looked up from his papers and charcoal.
“Miss Newton, are you going to the rectory?”
“Yes, sir, I have finished my deliveries.”
“I would appreciate a lift to Major Monty’s – is that on your return route?”  He knew she would go past the estate Monty leased. “You could drop me a
t the roadside, if you would not mind.”
Prudence Newton’s gray-blue eyes settled on him. She knew her mother would not approve. She’d often been warned not to provide a ride to anyone in the  donkey cart. But she knew that Tournell was to paint the Bloxley sisters, and she was curious about it. How did one arrange a painting? It might be nice to have a little sketch of herself, something to give her parents.
“You are welcome to accompany me,” Prudence said in her most careful accent, the voice that Lady Louisa had taught her for years to use in polite company. She knew Tournell the artist did not qualify as a proper companion, but he knew how the quality  spoke.
Driving the cart up the hill from the Inn with the artist beside her, Prudence wondered how to broach the subject of her portrait, not that she expected him to paint one without being paid handsomely for his efforts. But a sketch would be so very nice.  She could ask their man of all work to craft a little frame for it and present it to her mother on her birthday. But how to ask?
Tournell was contemplating almost the exact subject from the other point of view. How could he ask this pretty girl, who spoke with the voice of a young lady, to sit for him?
Thus they proceeded in silence, until the dog Spot made his appearance, but the donkey was immune to Spot’s “Arp.”
Mon Dieu,” Tournell muttered. “The first beast in Bloxley Bottom I don’t have the faintest intention of drawing. What hideousness!”
Prudence laughed, glad at last the silence was broken. “Do you make little drawings besides your big paintings?”
Oui. Of course.  Inside he was ecstatic. He didn’t have to say a word as it sounded like she was volunteering to pose for him. “Would you like a portrait of yourself, perhaps? A young lady as lovely as yourself should be captured in her prime.”
“I would like to have you make a picture of me for my mama’s birthday, a sketch perhaps, not a proper painting, but there’s no question of my being able to afford your fees for even a simple a sketch, Monsieur Tournell. ”
Tournell took a moment to consider his words, “I can do that for you. In place of my usual fee, you might allow me to sketch you for my own purposes? I do life studies for various compositions and often use them later on. Perhaps you can sit for me today?”
“You mean now?”
Oui, if you have a spare hour.”
Prudence thought for a moment. Her parents would begin to worry if she was not back by 3 pm.  “Yes, sir, I have an hour or two.”
The donkey plodded around the corner past Hilltop House.
From the window, through the lace curtain, Aurelia Gammersgill watched the cart and its occupants. She pursed her lips in disapproval. That Frenchman. With the rector’s daughter. Aurelia shook her head in genuine dismay.
“Millicent, you won’t believe what I just saw,” she called to her house-mate.  

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