Harley Binns smoked a short clay pipe. His studio was at Kensington. He painted ideal female figures and he painted them exquisitely. He was thick set, bullet headed, bull-necked, vociferous. You would have known him at first sight for a successful artist.
Harley Binns had a friend who worked in the studio with him. His name was Walter Haselton. He also had a model — a model for the nude — a splendid girl, one of the finest in London. He was proud of his model. Her name was Emily.
She was Miss Higgs in public, but in the studio it ran to Emily.
One day, Harley Binns was strolling casually through the High street when Emily came toward him, walking with another girl. Harley Binns, as it chanced, was not only successful; but also an artist. His eye picked out that girl immediately. She had a superb figure — lithe, rounded, proportioned — the figure one paints, one imagines, one dreams about. He could interpret its subtle curves through her simple black dress, for 'twas Harley Binns' trade mentally to disrobe the female form divine as it deployed itself in bodice and skirt before him. This girl's at once attracted him. It wasn't only that its outlines and proportions were perfect; you can get mere mechanical and measurable perfection by paying for them any day. It was that the figure had soul in it. For there is soul, too, in figures. Harley Binns looked at her face. 'Twas a born lady's face — delicate, beautiful, tender. "By Jove," he said to himself in an artistic rapture, "I'd give ten pounds to paint that girl. If I'd a model like that, Burns-Jones himself would go mad with envy."
He paused as she passed, and looked after her. Then, with just a moment's hesitation, he turned again and overtook them. He touched Emily with one hand.
"I say," he cried, with a meaning look, "I want to speak to you."
The other girl walked modestly on with a shy glance at the stranger.
But Emily turned around to him, wholly unabashed. "Well, you can't get her then," she said promptly, jumping at his meaning at once, with instinctive quickness. "You are not the first by a great many that has wanted her. But she don't care to sit. She's my cousin, she is. She's been brought up to the drapery. There's plenty more have asked her, and she's always refused. It's no good trying. You won't sit, will you, Clara?"
A dainty blush, such as Harley Binns had never before seen upon a human face, suffused the girl's face as she answered hastily, "Oh, please don't, Emily.
However can you?" Harley Binns was more eager than before when he saw that rich color. Blush rose on white lily! It was exquisite, unapproachable.
He drew Emily aside a little. "Look here, my child," he said quietly, in his most persuasive voice, "I'll give your cousin three times the usual fee if ever she'll sit to me, and I'll give you a ten pound note for yourself the day you first bring her round to me at the studio."
The girl nodded and went away. From that day forth, time after time, Harley Binns asked her, "Well, how about Clara?" And time after time the model shook her head. "It's no good," she answered, with some slight contempt. "Clara's a Philistine—that's where it is; she's dreadful prejudiced." For she had picked up to some extent the slang of the studio.
Harley Binns was piqued. So was Emily, too. To both of them it seemed little short of absurd that a girl who waited behind a counter at a petty draper's shop in a back street should give herself the airs and graces of a duchess.
"Why, there's plenty 'o duchesses as 'ud sit themselves, if it comes to that, as soon as look at it," Emily observed, pouting.
"They understand the aims of art," Harley Binns responded, adding a touch to the left shoulder. "What can you expect, after all, from a draper's assistant?"
A month or two went by. Then one day at last Emily began to hint that things were not going well in Clara's family. Her mother was a widow, and her rent was in arrears. The children were short of food. Next day—still better—an execution threatened!
Harley Binns saw his chance, and proceeded to take it. He instructed Emily to make a more tempting offer to her cousin than ever. That very afternoon, the draper, as it chanced, "had words" with Clara. He dismissed her for a month.
How exceedingly lucky! She could not hold out long. And next morning, in effect, Emily came round to the painter with good news, indeed. Clara's mother was seriously ill and under stress of compulsion—ruin staring her in the face—Clara had consented to earn an honest penny by sitting in the nude to him.
Harley Binns and Walter Haselton were all agog with excitement.
At eleven o'clock, timid, shrinking, terrified, the new model crept in, and still more crimson than before, retired with shame behind the screen to disrobe herself.. That is the model's modesty. She undresses in private. Emily sat by her side to encourage the novice and accustom her to the ordeal. And when the dreaded moment fairly came, and she stood there nude and trembling, with her face in her hands, it was Emily who pushed her forward, more dead than alive, before the discreet curtain.
Harley Binns had guessed right. His breath came and went. She was an ideal model.
As he stood and gazed, waiting to begin a study of her figure in the delicious pose she herself had unconsciously adopted, a curious sight attracted his attention. The girl was blushing! Not with her face only—that would have been nothing new—but with her whole live body. A great wave of red passed over it, undulating; then a great wave of white; then red again rhythmically. It was wonderful, beautiful. Harley Binns seized his brushes, his sketching pad, his water colors. "That's perfect," he cried in artistic rapture. "If only I could that effect on canvas, Walter. I should feel I wasn't afraid of Titian's Venus!"
The girl writhed in terror. She stood there fixed, immovable. "Let me go," she cried, shrinking back. "I- I didn't mean it. I was driven to it. I didn't know what it was like. Oh, how can you be so cruel?"
Walter Haselton gazed hard at her. He was an unsuccessful artist. "Let her go, Binns," he cried, compassionate. "We ought never to have made her do it. She's a sensitive little thing. She's too good for a model."
But Harley Binns, unmoved, went on sketching those strange alternating waves of red and white. You must remember them, of course, on his marvelous "First Sitting" in last year's New Gallery. They coursed over the girl's body still, like ripples over a millpond. "No, no." he answered, drawing a long puff at his stumpy clay pipe. "Now I've got her, I'll keep her. It isn't likely I'd let her go after this, till I'm done with her. She's perfect, that's what she is. I wouldn't give her up now, not for a hundred pounds. Why she's worth every penny of it!"
"For God's sake," the girl cried, cowering, still chained to the spot. "Oh, Emily, cover me! Throw something or other over me!"
But Harley Binns shook his head and still went on sketching. Her pose was just exquisite—no art, all nature. And those shrinking virginal limbs! And that fervor of modesty! It was the picture he wanted, all making itself of itself without his aid or effort. He was charmed and delighted. "Put more coal on, Walter," he said, puffing away; "she's beginning to shiver."
He sketched for nearly an hour. And all that time the poor girl stood riveted, in an agony of shame, despair and horror. At last she mustered up courage to say, "I can't stand it any more. You must let me go now. That's enough—till—tomorrow."
Then Harley Binns let her go. She'd done quite as much as one can reasonably expect the first day for the day figure. The model slunk off behind the screen with furtive terror. Emily helped her to muddle on her clothes again somehow.
She came out fully dressed, save for her self respect, but she missed that strangely.
"Good morning," Harley Binns said in his cool way; "here's your money, cash down. You were frightened, I know. You'll get used to it in time."
The girl's hand closed over the coin mechanically and dreamily. It was all for her mother. "Yes, I'll get used to it in time, I suppose," she murmured, half dazed. And so out into the open street, and away in reeling fear from that hateful studio.
All day long, when she was gone, Harley Binns worked hard, like one inspired, at touching up the study. He surpassed himself in delicacy. He saw her still before him. He saw those living waves course crimson through her body. If the worst came to worst, from these first rough hints alone, he could manage with care to work up a picture.
Next morning at eleven Emily opened the studio door, whitefaced. Harley Binns gazed at her in surprise.
"Hullo," he cried, "how's this? I say, child, where's the other one?
"She ain't coming this morning," Emily answered , doggedly.
"Not coming this morning?" the painter repeated, drawing back, and holding his breath. "Why, I've not half done with her!"
"But you've done for her!" Emily retorted, looking hard into his cold blue eyes. "She ain't never coming again. She's gone raving mad in the night, and they've taken her to an asylum."