[Originally published in Black & White: A Weekly Illustrated Record and Review 67.3 (14 May 1892): 641-45.]
[NOTE: In the spring of 1892 Mathilde Blind’s career (and that of her half brother) crossed paths with the career of Henry James. Blind’s short story “At Cross Purposes” appeared in Black and White a month after Henry James published “The Real Thing” in the same serial. “The Real Thing” appeared in the 16 April issue of Black and White accompanied by three illustrations drawn by Blind’s half-brother Rudolf (who was summoned to Bow Street Magistrate’s Court later that month on a charge of obscenity for exhibiting his painting “The World’s Desire“).
The parallels between Blind’s and James’s stories are striking: both are first-person narratives by painters; both are aesthetic parables; both satirize Philistinism and commodity culture; both were written by writers who though “dearly prized by the attentive” (James) suffered critical neglect early in their careers, and received sustained and serious critical attention only posthumously. (For an analysis of “The Real Thing” and its publication in Black and White, see Adam Sonstegard, “Singularly like a bad illustration”: The Appearance of Henry James’s “The Real Thing” in the Pot-Boiler Press,” Texas Studies in Literature and Language 45.2 (Summer 2003]: 173-200).
“At Cross Purposes” is the last work of fiction Blind published, a jeu d’esprit featuring an English protagonist/ painter who is in the process of making “historical landscape my specialty” as the story begins and who in the course of the narrative achieves artistic and economic independence, turning down a marriage proposal in the process. Taken together with Blind’s unpublished autobiographical fragment this quintessential New Woman story suggests the shape Blind’s second novel might have taken had she lived to complete it. It also embodies Blind’s “rooted cosmopolitanism,” reflecting both her identification with her adoptive home and her internationalist perspective: it is set in Cimiez, France near the ruins of the Roman Ampitheatre that becomes the subject of the narrator’s “Moonlight Among the Ruins,” shown at a Royal Academy exhibition in London. Thematically, the story contrasts Nietzsche’s “free spirits” like the protagonist/narrator Miss Lowe, who believes the beauty of the world “belonged to all who loved it,” with the imperialist designs of her suitor Ned Turtle, whose failed commercial ventures in America and the British colonies have rendered him a “shoddy Don Quixote” in the narrator’s eyes. Finally, it reflects Blind’s knowledge of and identification with the painters she had come to know so well in her lifetime–especially Ford Madox and Lucy Brown and Holman Hunt.]
* * * * *
We drove up to the Pension Garin at Cimiez on a brilliant day at the end of March. The green old garden with its olive yard and orange trees was as refreshing as dew after the dust and glare of Nice. Red and purple anemones, blue grape hyacinths and violets glowed in the soft young grass. Above the massive grey walls which shut in the grounds I caught a glimpse of the pale pink turrets of the Franciscan Monastery. “Here or nowhere,” I promised myself, “must that picture be painted which shall lift me at one leap from obscurity into fame.”
Indeed, it was a lovely spot to which Dr. Bell had sent Aunt Eliza, who was now, with my help, slowly mounting the nobly proportioned staircase from which I caught glimpses of olive-crowned hills and bald mountain tops, rising stage behind stage to the Alps. My enthusiasm scandalized my conservative Aunt, who wearily collapsed in an easy chair on reaching her lofty bedroom, and at once began railing at all things foreign. She seemed to travel chiefly for the pleasure of remembering the superior charms of Bayswater. I believe it was Danton who, on being advised to leave France, patriotically inquired whether you could carry your country with you, on the sole of your shoe. Had Aunt Lowe been in the patriot’s place she would have solved the difficulty by declaring that England went with her wherever she went in her tabby and her teapot! While I was still arranging her blue china, her Japanese fans, and peacock’s feathers, the dinner-bell reminded me that it was time to dress. I had only just time to twist up my hair in my own careless knot, and to slip on the long, dove-coloured plush gown whose pearly lights would have challenged the brush of a Gerard Dow. “You should look well-dressed at least on your first appearance,” sighed Auntie resignedly, fastening the lace at my throat with a spray of peach blossom.
The dining-room looked so picturesque, with its finely-arched ceilings and many windows, showing the green tangle of shrubs and blossoming fruit trees, that I was slightly reconciled to the interminable table d’hôte dinner where the people, already seated, looked as commonplace as usual. I should have fallen into my usual dreamy abstraction had not my right-hand neighbour seemed determined to talk to me. She was a gay, showily-dressed young lady, a widow, I learnt before the soup had been removed, and she seemed determined that I should know something about everybody before we got up from dinner. The fine-looking, middle-aged man at the head of the table was Mr. Harrison, the Rector of Riverside. “He,” she told me, “seems to think the whole world’s his parish in which he’s to lay down the law, you know! And that purple-cheeked girl in the crimson silk’s his daughter. Doesn’t it make you hot just to look at her. She’s doing her duty in life though, by flirting with that awfully long-nosed, putty-faced young curate, who, if you turn on the tap, will spout Browning to you by the hour, and explain him till your head begins to feel exactly as mine did when I was recovering from brain fever out in India.” Here I ventured to edge in a little remark that the young man in question curiously reminded me of “a man made after supper of cheese parings.”
My voluble neighbour, without the faintest idea where the phrase came from, considered me a wit from that moment. She sparkled into a laugh, and then whispered whether the tall, thin, angular-looking female at the bottom of the table, with her pinched features and grey hair turned up high above the forehead so as to look like a cock’s comb, didn’t look as if life had generally disagreed with her.
So she rattled on, and before we rose from table I had learnt almost everything there was to know about my neighbour. She was a Mrs. Flowers, the widow of an officer in India, who had led her a wretched life while in the flesh, and whom nothing seemed to have become so well as the leaving it, as he had left her handsomely provided for. To make up for her past sufferings, she was now having an awfully jolly time in traveling about the world with her seven-year-old little girl. Before we separated, the lively widow had confided to me, with many significant nods and smiles, that she was expecting her cousin, Mr. Turtle, from Africa in a week or two.
“It’s always well,” she said, “to have a stray young man—one with no wife and things—at one’s beck and call, you know. He isn’t very much use, though, for he may be eaten up any day by wild beasts or cannibals. But he was awfully spoony on me once, and I’m glad the savages haven’t gobbled him up yet. But mind, I’ll never marry again—never, never! And with this solemn assurance ringing in my ear we bade each other good-night.
A week or two had slipped by all too quickly while I sat sketching in the ruins of the Roman Amphitheatre, or in the baths of Diana, where the tall tulips shot like flames from between the chinks of broken marble that had once been trodden by the sandals of the Empire Salonica.
I had now discovered that I must make historical landscape my specialty in Art. It is a never-to-be-forgotten day when you hit upon your true vocation. It was high time, too, for had I not reached the mature age five-and-twenty? And was not my one ambition in life to earn every penny I spent, and to have a little flat of my own in which I might defy man the tyrant, and be mistress of all I surveyed?
Having passed in review the many enticing subjects that seemed literally crying out to be painted, I suddenly had an inspiration. It should be the Arena by moonlight! I saw it! I saw the hoary blocks ravaged, but not destroyed by time, and the tall cypresses waving like sable plumes above them, and Diana, once the tutelary Goddess of the place, sitting phantom-like in her own light, as is still popularly believed when the moon is at the full.
But in order to paint my picture I should at any rate have to make a study from nature. And how should I ever be able to do so! For I remember that in this benighted country it was just about as feasible for a young lady to jump over the moon as to go out for a walk alone when she was shining. I must, they told me, be prepared to be assaulted, outraged, robbed, murdered, found in a ditch with my throat cut. What I was more certain of was that my Aunt would have a fit of hysterics, which might injure her seriously in the delicate state of her health. So I passed in review all the men who might possibly be available—but there wasn’t a sound one amongst them all. Dreadfully put out I was pacing up and down under the olive trees, turning all kinds of things over in my mind—such as putting on men’s clothing for the occasion, till I remembered that it was considered an offence against the law. Lost in thought I had not noticed Mrs. Flowers till she was close beside me, and tapping me on the shoulder said in her breathless way: “Dreaming, as usual, Miss Lowe; how awfully jolly we should meet you here; this is my cousin Mr. Turtle, fresh from the Sahara, aren’t you Ned? At least if one can be fresh, coming from such a very dry place. You must tell Miss Lowe all about the Pyramids; she’s so interested in ruins and all that sort of thing. Let’s see, you must have been all over the world, Ned, since the last time I saw you? Wasn’t it the day after Captain Flowers had popped the question?”
“Yes, yes,” murmured Mr. Turtle blandly, and smiling at me as if it could possibly be any concern of mine.
He was a long, loosely-jointed, mild-looking individual with a long, narrow, high-coloured face; his retreating forehead was surmounted by lank, brown hair, which had worn rather threadbare on the top of his head, and he had high arched eyebrows over yellowish brown eyes set rather close together. His face, or something in the quiet inoffensiveness of the gaze, reminded me of a sheep as I have sometimes seen one bleating irresolutely in the middle of the road. It was difficult to connect this placable creature of the soft sounding name with perilous adventures in “Darkest Africa,” and in spite of my depression I felt such as strong inclination to laugh that I hurriedly beat a retreat.
From our dinner-table talk I concluded that Mr. Turtle must be a Jack of all trades. He seemed to have exported grain from California, to have turned his hand to photography in New York, to have just missed striking oil out in the far West, and to have nearly come in for a wonderful find of diamonds in South Africa, besides having been connected with shipping in Liverpool, and cotton in Manchester. Indeed, all his life Mr. Turtle appeared, like another Tantalus, to have been just within reach of the most tempting fruit—a magnificent fortune in his case—which, however, instantly withdrew on his trying to seize it. In spite of these repeated failures, however, Mr. Turtle seemed neither disappointed nor soured. I had plenty of time to observe him, for, much to my surprise, he addressed nearly the whole of his conversation to me instead of to his cousin, whom he seemed to have traveled so many hundred miles to see. Yet I only answered in monosyllables, for the commercial adventures of a shoddy Don Quixote were anything but attractive to me. Indeed, I wished he would leave me in peace, and talk to Mrs. Flowers, who was singularly quiet and grave to-night, in spite of my repeated efforts to draw her into the conversation. All at once she complained of giddiness, and, indeed, she seemed on the point of fainting as we rose from table. Assisted by Mr. Turtle and myself, she reached her  room, and with the help of eau de Cologne, sal volatile and vigorous fanning, gradually recovered. She assured me that she was subject to these faintings, and that all she needed was perfect quiet. Upon this hint Mr. Turtle bade her good-night, and went down to the hall to have a smoke. I stayed behind chafing her cold hands and secretly wondering what could have upset the jolly little woman, for I felt sure there must be some cause. But, snatching her hands away all at once, she broke into an airy laugh, and, giving me a little push, said:–
“Now, Miss Lowe, do run down and amuse M. le Cousin for me, there’s a dear. One must do something for a man who’s come all the way from Africa to pay one a visit. And I’m sure the exchange’ll be a jolly one; for you’re both so awfully clever, you’ve such a lot in common!”
“Clever! A lot in common!” I echoed in surprise.
In my heart I resented her speech as an impertinence, but seeing how very white she looked I thought it best to humour her, and promised to entertain Mr. Turtle for an hour or so.
Most of the inmates of the Pension were gathered in the hall on this warm evening. Miss Harrison and the curate were flirting as usual under cover of studying “The Ring and the Book” together. The Rector was laying down the law on Home Rule, and a few young people were noisily playing bagatelle.
No one paid any attention to the moonlight which was touching this world of prose with the glamour of romance and mystery. Mr. Turtle, leaning against the door, was actually turning his back upon it, watching the bagatelle players with a look of mild interest. All in a minute it occurred to me that I would turn him to account. Why not? On seeing me he came forward eagerly and explained that at the widow’s suggestion I had come to entertain him till he should return to his hotel. Then forgetful of etiquette I added hastily:–
“We might as well go out, don’t you think? I want so much to see the ruins by moonlight. And you know a young lady can’t on any account go out by herself here in the evening.”
Mr. Turtle assented with great alacrity. I had my sketching materials by me, so that I could make a hasty study and a few memoranda of the tone of colour. We went on to the terrace and down the little side path, bordered by the bare vine-poles, the lusty young wheat, and the luxuriant broad beans. Presently we turned into the high-road, with its white villas, each standing in its grounds of palm and pine, pepper, and Eucalyptus trees; yellow and white, budding and half-blown roses coiled themselves round the somber cypresses, or hung in long ropes over the massive garden walls. Presently we reached the ruined Arena. Indeed, it deserved the name given it by the country people—Tina de li Fada—that is, the Fairies’ Cave.
Engrossed by the beauty of the scene, I was eagerly drinking in every feature of it, quite oblivious of my escort, when he suddenly startled me by his eager exclamation:–
As he looked at me, as if for confirmation of so obvious a remark, I could not do less than reply in the affirmative. When again he broke the silence with:–
“This is indeed true happiness!”
Being thoroughly happy myself at having gained my object, I cordially agreed again; and as, contrary to what I should have expected, Mr. Turtle seemed to be under the spell of the hour as completely as I was, I couldn’t help saying beneath my breath, thinking of the glorious picture that should be the fruit of this impression:–
“In my dreams I have been looking forward to this moment, and I hope the memory of it will live with me!”
For I reflected, if my brush would only obey my will, and breathe something of this luminous loveliness on the canvas, I should not have lived in vain.
Mr. Turtle seemed again almost to echo my thought.
“Far as I have wandered,” he remarked, “and much as I have seen, I can remember no such enjoyment.”
“I see you sympathize!” I exclaimed. “How delightful! Those tiresome people at the Pension are of the earth, earthy. They would not miss their dinner for the finest sunset, the most glorious starlight. They have no souls, no love of nature, no feeling for Art. Now you and I—–”
Before I could finish my sentence Mr. Turtle eagerly interrupted me.
“Had you been with me now when I was in Rio, and shared those scenes with me.”
I sighed. In the midst of my enjoyment I could not help regretting the years I had wasted in a dreary London street. The world was so rich in beauty. It belonged to all who loved it; but because I happened to be a young woman, it was considered actually improper on my part to wish to see more of I than I was annually treated to on the Brighton pier or on the parade at Eastbourne. My Aunt considered these two places far superior to anything on the Riviera. Thinking of the obstacles in my path, I sighed regretfully.
“Ah, yes, to travel! In such scenes! Live such a life!”
“You would, indeed!” exclaimed Mr. Turtle eagerly. “Then I have not gone too far?”
“Not at all. But let us clamber up this wall, we can see so much better from there. What tales these stones could tell if they suddenly found tongues,” I said, climbing up the jagged fragment with Mr. Turtle close behind. The top of the broken tier made a most comfortable seat, so I took my sketch-book and prepared to make a rapid study of the effect I wanted. After so many futile attempts and preliminary efforts I saw my picture bodily before me.
“What light and shadow!” I cried joyfully. “Did you ever see such a fantastic effect of loophooled walls, black cypresses and glittering road?”
I became so absorbed in the scene before me that I suddenly lost the sense of its solidity, as of a landscape reflected in water. The earth seemed to be slipping away beneath me, and it was with a sense of actual relief that I was suddenly recalled to material things by Mr. Turtle’s voice. He had apparently been making sundry remarks before I was roused from my dream, for he seemed to be in the middle of quoting some verses with evident satisfaction to himself. They sounded sweetly sentimental, and might have been committed to memory from the motto of a cracker.
“I am sure you must love poetry as much as you do painting and ruins and moonlight, Miss Lowe. Can you lay down your sketch and let me look at your hand? I won’t detain you long. You must know I am skilled in palmistry, and the Negroes used to consider me quite a necromancer. I’ll tell you who your favourite poet is.”
“It looks the very hour for necromancy,” I answered smiling, “but if you know whose the line is:–
you need not trouble to study the lines of my palm for such a very simple matter.”
Mr. Turtle considered for a moment with knitted brows, as if to solve a difficult problem; then, brightening up, he declared it must, of course, be by the author of:–
“But indeed it isn’t,” I cried indignantly. “Thomson, indeed!” Nature seen through eighteenth century spectacles, and as trim as the gardens of Versailles! I see you’ll never guess, so I may as well tell you it is Shelley.”
“Shelley!” Ah, yes; of course, of course. He’s written some very pretty things. I remember there was a Mrs. Williams at Rio who was always quoting from the ‘Sensitive Plant,’ because somebody told her once that she was like the lady in the poem; and very sweet verses they were too. But wasn’t Shelley a dreadfully wicked man? Didn’t he behave like a brute to his wife, a sweet young creature called Harriet, who drowned herself in the Serpentine? Why, dear Miss Lowe, I don’t think we ought to encourage such behaviour by admiring what a man of that sort writes—I don’t, indeed.
“Well, I said, suppressing a whistle, “I didn’t mean to discuss Shelley’s matrimonial misdeeds. The night is too glorious for arguments; every minute of it is as precious to me as a sovereign to a miser.” And I went  on eagerly with my little sketch. Mr. Turtle looked more beaming than ever, as he leant over me to see what I was doing. Ah, how I wished I had the gift to convey this breadth of tone. to mass that light and shadow! Those tender greys were most tantalizing to imitate.
“Ah, what bliss it would be to realise one’s idea,” I exclaimed, suddenly looking up, and catching Mr. Turtle’s eye fixed upon me.
“Bliss, indeed!” he chimed in. “To think how unexpectedly this night has fulfilled—exceeded—the brightest dreams—and dearest wishes—-“
”Yes,” I interposed, for he stammered a little, “Yes—as yet, as you truly say, they are but dreams, but wishes; but I vow that from this moment every effort of my life shall be devoted to bring about their realization. We shall not have taken this walk in vain.”
“Henceforth I shall only live to look forward to that crowning moment—-“
Before Mr. Turtle had time to finish his sentence, I motioned to him to be quiet, in order that we might hear what hour it was by the convent bell of the Place.
“Eleven o’clock! Surely it can’t be!” I cried, horrified; jumping up, and gathering my sketching materials together. “Why the house will be shut up. I shall be locked out! What shall I do?”
Mr. Turtle tried to pacify me by declaring that we were certain to find some one about the premises who would be glad to admit me. But I, who knew the rigid punctuality of Joseph in putting out the lights, felt divided between nervous dread of the consequences of my proceedings, and a stimulating sense of adventure. What would Aunt Eliza say? Would she have a fit, I wondered, walking so fast that further talk was impossible. But as I hurried along it occurred to me that Mr. Turtle was really a much nicer sort of man than I should have given him credit for. How sympathetic he had been about it all. I owed him quite a debt. But since he was such a lover of moonlight himself, he might be repaid one day when, as I hoped, he should come unexpectedly upon my picture on the line in the Royal Academy.
We passed the quaint old Place with its Church and Franciscan Monastery, and the two gigantic Ilex trees that looked as if they had stood there since the fall of the Roman Empire. Unlatching the little wooden gate which led into the olive yard, I quickly led the way along the grassy path, and we soon stood in front of the dark and shuttered Pension, whose barred and locked gates wore a more forbidding aspect. We went on to the side entrance where the kitchen and outhouses were situated, in the hope that the head cook, a gay young bachelor, might not yet have retired with the rest of the invalid establishment. Not a gleam of light was perceptible, however, nor the sound of anyone stirring within. Only Toto, the house dog—an ugly mongrel with the head of an old sledgehammer and the softest of hearts—began growling threateningly. But on my speaking to him by name he wagged his stump of a tail and subsided.
“Oh what shall I do?” I cried, looking at Mr. Turtle who, mild and beaming as ever, proposed ringing the front door bell in the ordinary way.
“No, no, that will never do, that would bring all the gossip of the place round my ears. I have it! I have it! I exclaimed, skimming down the kitchen garden where the ruins of a temple of Apollo now served to house a family of peasants. I remembered when I had gone over this interesting bit of antiquity, there had been a ladder in a shed there along with a lot of agricultural implements and dried gourds of every possible shape and size.
“Can you manage to carry this to the house?” I asked the bewildered Mr. Turtle, who, as soon as my intention dawned upon him, was all alacrity and smiles. He proudly shouldered the ladder as if it were a musket, and he going to attack some hostile force with it. On reaching the house again I pointed out the window against which he was to place it. It was to the left of the kitchen above the ground floor, and I explained to him in a whisper that it was his cousin’s room, and that she would easily understand and not make a fuss.
“Oh, Belle will think it awful fun,” he said, suppressing a laugh. “She was up to no end of pranks when we were boy and girl together at Matlock. It will seem the most natural thing in the world to her that you should get in like this.”
“Hush, speak softly,” I whispered, “or somebody will hear us. But don’t let’s waste any more time,” and I began mounting the ladder which Mr. Turtle was holding for me.
When my foot was on the last rung Mr. Turtle suddenly, in the confusion of the moment, I suppose asked rather irrelevantly:–
“Of course, why shouldn’t you?” I whispered nervously, afraid of someone hearing. “Don’t speak please. Good night, good-bye, and thank you,” and I gently tapped at Mrs. Flowers’ window. There was no answer. But the window not being quite closed yielded to my pressure, and I had no difficulty in getting on its ledge and so into the room, Mr. Turtle very imprudently calling out:–
“Are you safe, a revederci?” and shouldered the ladder again.
I waved my handkerchief, with a sign to him to vanish as quickly as possible. Toto sent a parting groan after his retreating steps. The noise of my surreptitious entrance woke Mrs. Flowers, who to my surprise was not in bed but still in her dinner dress, asleep on the sofa. She started up with a little scream, but recognized me almost immediately by the light of a lamp burning on a little table near.
“Miss Lowe, where in the name of wonder do you come from? What a jolly fright you’ve given me. So you’ve been out with Ned all this time,” she added, as if she knew all about it somehow.
She seemed flushed and feverish, and darted a strange look at me from her quick, little hazel eyes.
“Let me tell you about it, may I?” I asked, taking a low seat near the sofa. “I’m sure you’ll understand, for you know how long I’ve been wanting to do that moonlight sketch of the Ampitheatre.”
“Yes, yes, my dear, I understand all about it, and you needn’t explain!” replied the widow, airily waving her hands as if to dispense with further explanations. “You’ve had an awfully jolly time of it, no doubt. It isn’t such a bad dodge that about sketching by moonlight. And I daresay cousin Ned added zest to the proceedings.”
“He was most kind and sympathetic about it all,” I said, eagerly untying my sketching block which had been fastened to my waistband for the climbing feat. Mrs. Flowers glanced slightly at my precious little moonlight study, saying:–
“Yes, yes, my dear, it’s all very jolly; no doubt we’ll hear more of to-night’s business before long. I must say that for such a demure and dreamy girl, you’re awfully quick and business-like.”
“Indeed, I hope you will hear more of what was begun to-night,” I answered, “but I’ll say good-night now, dear Mrs. Flowers. I’m afraid you are not quite recovered yet.”  “I’ve been thinking,” said Mrs. Flowers, “and that never agrees with me!” I was thinking of my late husband and of husbands in general; they’re a sad lot, my dear, and I wouldn’t take a second for any consideration on earth. If girls only knew what we do, they’d leave well enough alone! Well, good-night—it was awfully jolly your coming in like this through the window, for all the world like a ghost, in that sheeny grey gown. We’ll not let a soul know anything about it.”
That was more easily said than done. The next morning my escapade was all over the Pension. My Aunt was too much shocked to have hysterics. Calm and resolute, she superintended the packing of our boxes, for we were to leave that very afternoon for England by the “Rapide.” Not a word was spoken during the proceedings, and so quick were our movements that I had only time to bid Mrs. Flowers a hasty farewell; nor did I see Mr. Turtle again.
The only relief Aunt Eliza could find for the state of mind I had thrown her into, was to travel straight through from Nice to London. I suppose she burned to unbosom herself to her married sister, and to get her advice how to keep her recalcitrant niece under better control. For my own part, I enjoyed the speed of our journey immensely. It was worth while enduring two weary days and a sleepless night for the sake of realizing the startling contrast from South to North. Most of us are blunted to the wonders of railway traveling. But what is more marvelous than this smooth motion across the earth propelled by a tamed elemental force. From the flash and glitter of the deep blue Mediterranean, from the palms and pines and rose gardens of the Riviera, we found ourselves suddenly transplanted to cloud-veiled northern skies and grey seas breaking on windy shores. Yet Oh! How soft, how tender looked old England’s “dewy pastures, dewy trees” after the dusty glare of the South of France. Nature was subdued to a minor key, and the low tones of the Kentish hop kilns, of the brown thatched hamlets and mossed apple-trees, had all the delicate harmonies of a Crome and a David Cox. I wished I could take the lambs in my arms and kiss them, and plunge into the fresh glades and copses, all heavenly blue with wild hyacinths. I felt ridiculously happy. I didn’t know how dear England was to me till thus suddenly brought back to her.
When the domestic storm had blown over, and we had again settled down to our ordinary occupations, I worked with a will at my picture. My unorthodox moonlight walk bore excellent results, and the impression it had left was so strong that I was able to design and paint my picture with the aid of my little sketch, supplemented by further moonlight studies in England. At last my picture was finished and sent in to the Academy, and I awaited the verdict of the hanging committee with feverish anxiety. On the afternoon when I expected to learn my fate, I was restlessly pacing up and down my studio, when our maid announced that a gentleman wanted to see me. My heart leapt to my mouth, and the blood to my cheeks, for I thought in my inexperience that this was the friendly R.A. who had promised to give me private information about my picture. Before I had time to cool down again who should walk in but my Cinniez friend, Mr. Turtle! Remembering the adventure o the ladder and all, I went up to him impulsively, and, holding out my hand, said smiling and blushing, “So you’ve come to London after all, and just in the nick of time, too.”
Mr. Turtle seemed as hot as I, and he smiled more sweetly than ever, and looked more bland and beaming as he stammered:–
“Oh, how charming to meet again. I would have come long ago you may be sure, but I wanted to make a fortune first. So I just had a run over to Spain, where there’s a mint of money to be made by the olive. Their olives are of the finest that are grown, and they yield the best oil, too, if their ways were not so dirty and thriftless. I went well into the matter, and would be a wealthy man before long if I had only sufficient capital to start with. But I am now negotiating a loan in the city. Ah, dear Miss Lowe, some day I hope you will see Spain, and the moonlit Alhambra; but for that matter nothing in my eyes will ever beat our moonlight walk at Cimiez, and the memories connected with the Arena—-“
“Exactly,” I cried, “you feel that too! These memories are its great charm. They add a poetry to the moonlight itself, and make every stone more precious.”
“Before I left Nice,” said Mr. Turtle, “I again went over every inch of ground where we had been together that happy night, trying to recall—-“
“I wonder,” I interrupted him, eagerly, “whether you would quite remember.”
“My dear Miss Lowe, how can you doubt it!” cried Mr. Turtle, quite fervently. “Why every incident of our walk is photographed on my heart!”
I couldn’t see what Mr. Turtle’s heart had to do with the historical memories connected with the ruined Arena, so I simply said, “I daresay you will feel some interest in seeing the picture I painted of that glorious scene?”
Mr. Turtle’s eyes glistened with pleasure. “This man isn’t by any means such a noodle as he looks,” I reflected. “He has the poet’s love of moonlight, and from the way his face has lit up just now he must be a real lover of art. Perhaps, if he only made his fortune by olive oil or something of that sort, he might turn picture buyer.”
“So you’ve made a record of that happy spot!” exclaimed my visitor. “Painted a real picture of it! I am all impatience to see it. It must be brilliant indeed if it resembles your conversation. Ah,” he went on nervously, “if I only thought I might—if I only dared—-“
“After all he may not be as poor as he looks,” I thought. “But is it possible he should be thinking of buying my picture before ever he has set eyes on it! Of course, his enthusiasm for the subject may carry him away—and he has a most amiable confidence in my powers, it seems. How delightful it would be if I were to sell my picture the moment it had left the studio!”
Mr. Turtle seemed to be getting more and more absurdly nervous over the matter. He hm’d and ha’d, and looked up at the ceiling and down at his boots, and began:–
“May I hope, dear Miss Lowe, since we went for that moonlight walk together—since we shared those delightful moments—may I hope to call that longed-for treasure my own with which you can make me the proudest of men.”
Before I had time to thank him for the generous bid he was apparently just going to make for my picture, the maid entered and handed me a letter marked private, which I at once recognized as sent by my friend the R.A. I tore open the envelope with trembling fingers, ran my eyes rapidly over the contents, and unable to contain myself I exclaimed effusively, looking at Mr. Turtle:–
To my unutterable surprise and confusion Mr. Turtle exclaiming:–
“Oh my angel, how happy you have made me,” came nearer as if to embrace me.
“Mr. Turtle,” I cried in freezing accents, retreating to the wall. “Mr. Turtle! What is the matter with you? Are you taking leave of your sense to get so wildly excited over the purchase of a picture?”
“Purchase! Picture!” repeated my visitor, seeming as bewildered as I was. His jaw dropped, his forehead seemed to retreat into his forehead as with nervous hesitation he jerked out the words:–
“I—I—beg your pardon Miss Lowe—surely I can’t be under a delusion—only this minute—or was I dreaming? This very minute you told me with a beaming countenance that you accepted my offer of marriage.”
“Offer of marriage?” I cried in astonishment, as the whole irony of the situation flashed upon me all in a minute. “Really! What made you think of such a thing? Why we’ve only spent a couple of hours together. You don’t know me in the least!”
“Oh, Miss Lowe,” interrupted Mr. Turtle with the most expressive protest in his tone.
“The beset proof that you don’t know me,” I said proudly, “is shown by your proposing like this. Why nothing was farther from my thoughts! I fancied you were going to make me an offer for my picture which has just been accepted by the hanging committee of the Academy.”
My suitor seemed to grow more puzzled still. “How strange, how very, very strange!” he sighed, and added reproachfully:–
“But you asked me to walk out along with you in the moonlight!”
For the first time I realized the imprudence of my proceedings. In my eagerness to gain my object I had not reckoned with the conceit and clumsiness of men. They seem to be under a chronic delusion that a young lady can have no serious business in life but to get married. For my own part, I was determined never to put my head into that noose, but to think that I should unite myself to Mr. Turtle for the rest of my life struck me as so comic that I burst out laughing all at once.
“I am afraid,” I said, holding out my hand quite amicably, “that we two have been playing at cross purposes. You must forgive and forget me, dear Mr. Turtle, for I was only thinking of my moonlight picture, while you it seems—-“
“But my dearest Miss Lowe,” Mr. Turtle interrupted eagerly, “now that you know that I’ve loved you from the first, will you not think of it, will you not try and care for me a little, and promise to wed—-“
“My dear sir,” I answered with unmistakable decision, “please remember that I am wedded to my Art.”
Mr. Turtle looked at me for a moment without speaking, bowed, and went away without another word.
My “Moonlight among the Ruins” was a success, and I became known as a rising artist. Before very long I was able to carry out my cherished dream of taking a flat of my own and leading a life unvexed by the little tiresome restriction of my kind but fussy Aunt.
[645 ]Some years later I went back to Nice to make studies for another picture under very different circumstances.
One day as I was having an ice at Vesoul’s, on the Place Masséna, I suddenly caught sight of a trim little figure, clad in bright red silk, with a red sunshade, and a bonnet consisting of nothing but a mass of crimson poppies. In the wearer of this dazzling costume I at once recognized my sprightly young widow of old, and went up to her, saying as we shook hands:–
“What a pleasant surprise! I am so glad to meet you again, Mrs. Flowers. I hope you’ve had as lively a time as usual since that day we parted so abruptly?”
Mrs. Flowers got as red as her poppies as she took a seat near me at the little marble-topped table, and ordered a yellow chartreuse and some biscuits.
“It’s awfully jolly to come across you like this, dear—-“ She hesitated a minute, and said, “I’m not sure whether I’m still to call you Miss Lowe, you look so much grander and more independent than formerly. Yes! Then let me congratulate you, Miss Lowe. You had a narrow escape that night when—you remember—-“ and she laughed lightly. “But you mustn’t call me Mrs. Flowers any longer, for I’ve got another name now—guess!”
I looked at her inquiringly, and noticed that she didn’t appear as “awfully jolly” as she used; indeed, behind the paint and the poudre d’amour and the lace fall there was a curious, unsettled expression that reminded me of those restless little creatures at the Zoo, that are perpetually running to and fro behind their bars.
“What can it be?” I asked, and then all at once the fainting fit at the Pension recurred to me, and I asked:–
“Not Mrs. Turtle?”
“Yes, yes, my dear,” said the quondam widow, with what seemed like a sigh. “Mr. Turtle is the happy man.”
“And where are you staying here?” I inquired, hardly knowing what to say.
“Oh, I am staying at the Hotel Continental with my little girl, but Mr. Turtle is at the Antipodes just now.”
“At the Antipodes!” I exclaimed.
“Oh, I shouldn’t object to that,” said my talkative friend, “but he’s gone in for some new wild goose chase—something to do with Australian wines—which is to bring in a pile of money; but I have a shrewd notion that instead of making his fortune he will squander mine. Ah, you see what comes of marrying; now don’t you go and do likewise, Miss Lowe, don’t. You see Ned and I were cousins, and we were in love with each other in our teens. I thought him an awfully clever fellow with his head always full of some big scheme. But bless you, we never know men till we marry them, and then it’s too late to mend. My first husband was a fiend, and my second is a fool; and it’s like having jumped from the frying-pan into the fire. But, my dear Miss Lowe, you have chosen the better part. Ned told me all about his making you an offer, and how mixed you both got. For he thought you awfully gone on him, and found it was all moonshine; you thought him awfully gone on your picture, and that was all moonshine too. But I’m jolly sorry now that you didn’t accept him, for then I should still be enjoying the comforts of widowhood.”
I didn’t know what to say to this, so I said nothing but a common-place good-bye, and so we parted.