“An Artist’s Picture”- Story By Madeleine Board (Ethel’s Step-Niece).

I promise! I really promise we’re going to back onto Ethel Turner soon. However, I am a passionate advocate of Australian literature and culture and I didn’t want to leave it hiding away in the pages of aged newspaper print. I don’t know whether you’d describe it as a fantastic story, but it moved a long at a good pace to me and had some great ideas. As a crappy violinist and frustrated artist, I might also be biased. I thought it was rather good and really loved it.

FIRST PRIZE STORY. ‘AN ARTIST’S PICTURE.’

Keith Durant was an artist, just a struggling one — poor and unknown to fame, but he had his dreams and fancies— dreams of a wonderful picture he would paint and become famous; but when he tried to depict the delicate fancies of his mind his hand would fail in its cunning, and he would toss aside the unfinished canvas, on which, perhaps, a pale, sweet face gazed with sad, wonderful eyes from an incongruous mass of floating forms, and waving trees and flowers. His friend— the only friend he possessed— would urge him on, telling him that he save up too easily, that the face was wonderful in its beauty, but Keith would only sigh impatiently. Ah! If he could but depict the fancies his brain conceived!

His was a very solitary life. He was quite alone in the world, and nothing had ever brought the light of love into it— only his art. He was very fond of music, but was too poor to gratify that passion often.

Early one morning, whilst at breakfast, Keith read about a child violinist who had suddenly electrified the world— she was playing every night at the concert hall in the great city. She was a mystery. Nobody knew anything at all about her, who she was, or where she came from, except that she was under the care of an old grim-visaged German professor ; but her playing ! — all the people went mad over it. The greatest critics acknowledged it was wonderful — superb. She was so tiny, too, only ten years old, they said, and Keith wondered if her playing was really so wonderful as stated.

A knock sounded at the door. ‘Come in,’ he called out, lazily. The door opened and a tall, broad-shouldered youth, with a merry, laughing face appeared. ‘How’s the world using you, old fellow?’ he asked. ‘Any fresh pictures?’ ‘No,’ answered the other, gloomily; ‘but Harry, old chap, have you heard this child — this violinist everyone is crazy about ?’ ‘Yes, she’s simply wonderful. You ought to hear her, Keith, though the seats are an exorbitant price. Even I was amazed at her performance, and I care nothing at all for music. You’d go simply crazy over her.’ ‘I can’t afford it,’ slowly, ‘but I’d like to go.’ ‘I’ll lend it to you. I’m pretty well in funds. Sold one of my pictures yesterday.’ ‘Thanks, I’ll accept,’ he answered. ‘You’re a lucky chap, though. I can’t dispose of any of mine. Look ! What do you think of this?’ and he led his friend into the studio, where they stayed talking for the ensuing two or three hours.

The following night found Keith well to the fore in the crowded concert hall. Everywhere it was the same. Even in the gallery there wasn’t standing room. A glittering, excited throng sat waiting, breathlessly, expectant, their eyes fixed upon the stage. It immediately struck Keith Durant how exquisitely artistic was the stage arrangement. Great rich curtains of ruby velvet formed the background, while others of a paler shade were looped at the sides, and fell in studied carelessness over the piano, which was almost hidden in their folds. It was a beautifully conceived idea — ‘A ruby stage.’ Keith wondered whose thought it was, and thoroughly appreciated the effect. Presently the curtains were parted, and an old man with long white hair appeared, leading a tiny, shrinking child in white. A thrill ran through the excited throng. Keith understood now why the stage had been so draped — the rich ruby curtains made a superb background for the little child in her gleaming silk frock with snowdrops nestling among the billowy folds. The hair, long, rich, and heavy, of a light gold color, was combed back from the pure colorless face, and fell about her shoulders perfectly waveless. The eyes seemed to be unnaturally large and dark, and gazed with a wide-open, frightened glance at the glittering throng.

She even gave a little shuddering sigh, and shrank back from the curious eyes, but the old professor murmured something in German. She cast a terrified glance in his direction, and, airing her violin, began to play. The old man accompanied her at first, but soon only the exquisite notes of the violin rang out. She was no longer a timid, shrinking child, but a beautiful goddess of music. The pale cheeks became slightly flushed, the soft red lips parted in a tender happy smile, the eyes were shining orbs of light, though wonderfully soft.

As the great throng listened the violin told of another land— a fairer heavenly land— and of a song, the joyous song of angels, till the actual flutter of angelic wings was wafted through the air.

The music changed. Children, everywhere the children, played and sang in the shade of a green forest, where the flowers grew in profusion along the wayside, nodding their heads gaily. Mothers smiled as they thought of their laughing-eyed darlings.

Again it changed. Pain rent the hearts of the listeners. Strong men closed their lips firmly that they might not cry aloud in their heartache, and women’s tears fell softly, silently, sadly, as they listened while it told its tale of a breaking heart. It was like the wailing of a spirit in sore distress. They could see the red-seared heart pierced through and through, could hear the bitter wailing almost— then the long, long silence, and the child, tottering, caught the violin almost fiercely to her breast, the little lingers closing lovingly over the strings, as she sank to the carpeted stage. The people sat as if stunned.

Then a wild cry which was half a prayer broke from them. The old professor knelt at her side. Suddenly he stood up, his face deathly white. The Father hath called her. Her spirit hath fled,’ he said, in a voice which penetrated to the utmost part of the hall.

Then silently, slowly, softly they, with one glance at that tiny waxen face — smiling so happily in death— disappeared through the portals of the hall ; but before they went, those who were wearing flowers, laid them tenderly upon the quiet figure, so still and cold, until at last she lay asleep with a coverlet of flowers over her ; and the little child fingers still grasped the treasure she had so loved— the changeless violin.

…………

Keith Durant’s dreams had become realities. At last, he was famous. His name was on everyone’s lips. And his picture! In all the world never had there been one painted before like it. The title was ‘God’s Call.’ Flowers, vivid, many colored flowers, mingling with the green of the tall, waving grasses and the trees, grew luxuriously beautiful beneath sunny skies. Amidst the mass of color a young child stood, in a clinging robe fashioned as of some old-world dress, of snowy whiteness, the dimpled arms and neck half revealed, with one little hand raised, in a listening attitude. The pale gold of her hair and the startling pallor of the face— save where the half-parted lips formed a crimson curve— made a striking contrast to the deep darkness of the eyes, which seemed to be gazing far away with a tender softness in their wistful depths— you could almost fancy you heard the rustling of angels’ wings, coming to bear that soul away. Against the dazzling color of the back ground the little child stood out with wonderful vividness. It was the dead child musician and was truly a masterpiece.

The originator, Keith Durant had been offered large sums of money for it, but he refused every offer. He couldn’t bear to part with that picture, the only remembrance of the child violinist, whose identity had never been solved. Had it not first brought him fame? Why should he part with his little pictured child? Standing in a corner of his studio, hidden away behind rich ruby curtains, it was only when visitors came to worship at the shrine of its beauty that it was ever unveiled. Then the sunbeams flittered playfully over the little form in white, and seemed to brighten into life the dark pathetic eyes, with their strangely tender lights. Three years had passed since Keith Durant had made his name, and he had painted many beautiful pictures since, but none to equal ‘God’s Call’. It still stood hidden away from the light of the world.

While busily engaged painting in his studio one day a maid appeared in the doorway. ‘There’s a lady downstairs to see you, sir,’ she said ‘She says it’s very important, but that if you are busy she’ll wait until your are disengaged.’ ‘Who is she — anyone of my acquaintance’?’ ‘No, I don’t think so, sir ; but her face is hidden behind a thick veil.’ ‘I’ll be down in a minute,’ he said, shortly. As he entered the room a lady in deep black rose from her seat near the window, and he noted with an artist’s appreciation the extreme grace of the figure. Suddenly she flung back the thick veil, revealing a dreamily beautiful face. The eyes were large, dark, and soft, but with an intense weary sadness in their depths that reminded the artist of something, somebody. He bowed courteously, and waited. ‘You must excuse me,’ said his visitor, in a low sweet voice, ‘but — but — you have a picture, ‘God’s Call,’ which I would like to see.’ Then, entreatingly, ‘I must see it. I shall be so grateful.’ ‘Certainly, madam,’ he answered. He saw she was in sore distress. ‘I shall be pleased to show it to you. Come this way.’ He led the way to his studio, and drew back the heavy curtains which concealed the picture. As she stood before it her large eyes upraised, he saw in a flash of whom she reminded him. The eyes were like the pictured child’s- the little dead musician. A choking sigh escaped her, a sigh which was half a sob- “My Weenie.” Then, turning to the artist, she said, ‘How much will you take for it? Ah! Don’t refuse me”, as he made a gesture of dissent. “She was my only child- my baby. I can not tell you anything more, for I am bound to secrecy. “He looked at her. ‘You can have it on condition that you take it as a gift,” he said, slowly. He couldn’t refuse her request. Thank you,” she said. That was all, but there was a world of feeling in the tone.

Next day the picture was packed and dispatched to the address the fair stranger had given-a fashionable hotel, and with it Keith’s heart seemed to have gone. The ruby curtains still were draped across the corner of the room where it had stood, only in the heart of the artist grew up a great loneliness, for something seemed to go out of his life. Another four years had gone by and people had forgotten that there was such a picture as `God’s Call’, all except the artist, and he remembered.

Then, one day the canvas was brought back to him, and with it a note unsigned in a man’s heavy writing: “Sir,” it began, “I thank you in the name of one who has left us, one who has at last been given rest, for the fleeting brightness you shed over a tragic life. I thank you again in her name.” And Keith placed the picture once more with tender and loving care beneath the heavy curtains.

MADELEINE BOARD (age 17) 30 Regent-street, Paddington. Sunday Times (Sydney, NSW : 1895 – 1930), Sunday 30 July 1905, page 7

So, how did you find it? I’d love to hear your thoughts about Madeleine’s story. I’m going to print it out and drop if round to our neighbour’s who are the first people I know who have been exposed to covid and are forced quarantine. They were young children during the London Blitz, and were sent off to the country. However, they’re philosophical about their plight. She said it was better than being dead, and he said it was better than incarceration, which was referring to their stay in a nursing home after a nasty fall last year.

Best wisns,

Rowena Curtin

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