Monday, February 16, 2009

Sheriff Charley Brown: Chapter 30

Gradually Marguerite ceased to worry about her pregnancy. As the days passed she became more and more interested in her classes at the Art Institute. At first she found the long walk from home invigorating, but as her pregnancy advanced, she became aware of back pain and fatigue. She decided the two-block walk from their home to the horse-car route much easier. The ride was relaxing, and gave her thinking time. Her thoughts of St. Vincent and the past were slipping away; now she was facing new responsibilities. Her concern centered more and more upon Paul, his warm smile and constant affection. She found herself looking forward to planning meals and making improvements around the house, all to please him.

Her first day at the Art Institute had been almost overwhelming. She was dazed to see the massive collection of masterpieces that hung inside. Famous paintings by artists she had read about, but had never dreamt she would see!

She found many were private collections belonging to wealthy people, also exchange exhibits from other museums. As a beginner she had to attend hourly classes on art appreciation before actually doing any drawing or painting. She was quickly introduced to the impressionist movement of the times, but found a few students rather radical, preferring nonrealistic styles. Finally after a week of art appreciation, she was moved to a drawing class with live models. This was soft pencil work, copying body movements to gain proportion.

At first she was embarrassed at the nudity of the models, but found the city students far worldlier. They took it as a matter of course. There were no ribald remarks.

At the end of the second week their woman instructor called her aside. "Marguerite, you are wasting your time here. Tomorrow, I want you to join Mr. Dion's class in oils. Have you ever done any oils?"

"Some," Marguerite admitted. I studied under Mrs. Mostyn back in the Dakota Territory. She studied in New York years ago, and was my teacher. In fact, she encouraged me and taught me the little I know.”

Her instructor smiled, "She must be a very talented teacher judging from your ability. Why don't you finish up the day here; you are too advanced for this group."

Marguerite found it difficult to make friends in her new class. Everyone seemed so intense in his or her work that there was little time for conversation. From time to time she caught ingratiating looks from male students; they often stopped at rest-breaks to ask her name. She gave them no encouragement, rebuffing them by saying, "My name is Mrs. Evans." Then she would quickly turn to one of the closest women.

She found Andre Dion's class more than matched Mrs. Mostyn's teaching. The elderly man was emphatic, yet demonstrative, often taking her brush to show her techniques of shading. He quickly corrected a problem she had encountered, how to make the human eye come alive. Shading with charcoals had always seemed easy to her, but oils required far more technique.

Nearly three months went by before Mr. Dion approached her with a question. "How many canvasses have you done? Do you have any drawings or oils you have done in the past?"

"I've done eight 16 x 20 portraits in this class, and there are a few from back home. I'm not too proud of them though; you'll think them primitive and naive. I also have some sketches I've done of children and Indians, but they are all in my drawing book. Why do you ask?"

"The Institute is planning an exhibit in the late fall, selecting the best work from each of the several study groups. There will be quite a few influential people at hand, personages who show a definite interest in new talent -- patrons of the art, so to speak. You have ability far above average. If you persevere, I believe one day you will be a fine artist. I suggest you get your works together in the next month or so. Submit it to our selection committee when they announce the showing, then see what transpires."

Marguerite was embarrassed by the praise, but secretly pleased. This Andre Dion was from France, an accomplished painter in his own right. She had seen his work hanging among others in the building. His landscapes were spectacular, with bright colors, not the usual drab shades.

Although Paul worked nearly ten hours each day, he had Saturdays and Sundays off. Occasionally they visited his parents, but to Marguerite's delight, they often took long walks in Lincoln Park. She reveled at the occasional play or operetta, but when she saw Bizet's Carmen performed, she was enraptured. Her first thought was of her Mother and Susan. If only they could enjoy this with me!"

By mid-November she had gained nearly twenty pounds and could feel the rolling movements of the baby. One evening Paul put his ear to her stomach. He said excitedly, "I can hear the rapid pit, pit, pit of the baby’s heart."

She laughed, "I can feel her when she moves."

He smiled, "You sure it's a girl?"

"My Mother says if it kicks so you can see it, it's a boy. If it moves slow and easy, it's a girl. That's her theory and she's delivered a lot of babies among the people at home."

"That's funny! You hadn't mentioned that your Mother served as a midwife."

Smiling, she moved snugly to him, swinging a leg across his. "There are a lot of things you don't know." She jokingly raised her voice to a plaintive falsetto, "I'm just a small town girl from a poor family. We've had to make do to get along. Both Susan and I helped Mom keep the wolf from the door." She broke into peals of laughter.

"Oh, I know all about that, but what about your everyday life?"

A sudden feeling of caution came, and then she said, "I met you and liked you. A few months later I came to Chicago to be your wife. I've never pried into your life and it's not fair that you pry deeply into mine." She felt a sudden moment of anger.

"I'm sorry!" He reached to pull her close. It's none of my business, I have you now, that's all that matters."

The fall show at the gallery was scheduled for December l. Marguerite realized her pregnancy was well advanced, and her back was a constant pain. She had submitted eleven portraits and several of her old drawings, many of which were charcoals. Seven of the oils were accepted for showing, also all of her drawings of Indians and children.

The night before Paul was to escort her to the showing she had misgivings. "Paul, I stick out horribly in front! How can I ever face a crowd of nabobs looking like this?"

"It's a normal thing. A light coat should conceal your tummy." He was aware her sudden anxiety was more than just her pregnancy; it was the combination of meeting important people, people who would be critical while judging her work. Paul was curious himself, wanting to see her latest work, and how it would be received. She had carried home some of her oils for his inspection, and to him, they seemed exceptional. However, he had never asked to see her older drawings or charcoals. He knew his Mother had, for she had mentioned Marguerite’s impressive talent.

They found the lakeshore drive, upon which the institute fronted, crowded with carriages and buggies. That many wealthy families were present was evident, as drivers congregated near several expensive carriages. Just inside the entrance they found a string ensemble playing in the central lounge area. Nearly everyone was formally dressed, the ladies in loose fitting gowns, the men with stiff collars. Most of the men were dressed in cut-away frocks, but some wore Chesterfields or Cheviot suits. Marguerite's maternity dress under her loose fitting cloak matched well. She felt relieved, not feeling out-of-place. People moved slowly in small groups from picture to picture, pausing often to comment.

A small crowd was gathered near a table. As she and Paul pressed forward to find the subject of their interest, she found it was a collage of her drawings done in past years. The committee had taken the liberty of removing her drawings from her drawing book for the exhibit.

Andre Dion turned from the group when he saw Marguerite. He exclaimed. "Folks, let me introduce the young artist who drew these children." He graciously escorted Marguerite forward, "This is Mrs. Evans, Mrs. Marguerite Evans. She has recently moved to Chicago from the Dakota Territory."

Beaming faces greeted Marguerite; suddenly a woman stepped forward extending her hand. "My, you certainly must love children. You've captured them at their best, playing outdoors."

Marguerite smiled, "It was all outdoors where I lived on the prairie. Our neighborhood was alive with children, White, Indian and Métis. They all played together."

"My name is Mrs. Armour, she turned to the man at her side. This is my husband, Phillip. As he smiled and nodded his head Mrs. Armour asked, "Do you do portraits in oil?"

Marguerite was abashed, "Oh, I'm not an accomplished painter yet, I'm a student here."

Andre Dion stepped forward. "She does first-class portrait work Mrs. Armour." He cast a warning glance at Marguerite. "Some of her work is just ahead of us, located in a group. Look it over carefully, you'll see her skill and ability."

Andre moved close to Marguerite and Paul to say softly, "Don't degrade yourself. These people are wealthy. Their word carries a lot of weight." He turned to follow the group.

Paul had a smile on his face. "I guess so! That was Phillip Armour, and his wife. They are worth many millions of dollars. He owns the biggest meat packing plant in the world."

By 4 p.m. the crowd began thinning, most had completed a tour of the gallery. As Paul left to fetch their coats, Mrs. Armour hurried across from the doorway to confront Marguerite.

"We have a son of nineteen years. His name is Jonathon. Would you consider doing a portrait of him, rather a larger canvas than those others you have here?"

A sudden awakening came to Marguerite. "I'd love the chance to do a much larger portrait of your son, but I have a problem. I attend school five days a week and I don't want to drop out. It is a wonderful school."

"Perhaps you could make time on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon. I would like the background to be in our home; we could have our driver pick you up and return you."

Marguerite smiled, I'd have to consult my husband. We've only been married a short while, and as you can see, I've a child already on the way."

Mrs. Armour smiled, "Talk it over with your husband. If he approves, I'll see the compensation will be adequate." She left to join her husband who was waiting at the door.

That evening Paul and Marguerite discussed it. He knew how she loved her work and he had no qualms about her loyalty. "It would work out on week-end afternoons if you really want to do it. We don't need the money, that's not the issue. But how much time will it take?"

"I could sketch it in on the first weekend, and after that it would probably take me four days, of four hours each. It all depends a lot on the background. If it's intricate, it might take a bit longer. What do you think?"

"If you really want to do it, drop a note to the Armour family telling them the hours you can work. If it's agreeable with them, their driver can pick you up to match the times.”

Forbes, the Armour driver was prompt the first Saturday noon and delivered her to the front door of the Armour home. A maid greeted Marguerite and helped her inside with the large canvas and her equipment. Mrs. Armour soon appeared, accompanied by her son. Marguerite's first impression of Jonathon was that he was a younger copy of his Father - a slimmer version, handsome, with a boyish grin. He proved to be meticulous in dress and manner, and immediately took over the conversation.

"Where would you like me to sit for you? We have a music room, library, lounge and rather large living room. Let me show you around; you can pick the spot."

His mother spoke up. "How about seated at the piano? You spend hours on it every day." She turned to Marguerite, "Wouldn't that make a good setting?"

"Perhaps, let's take a look."

When Jonathon seated himself at the large grand piano Marguerite realized the light from the several north windows was perfect. Spreading her easel, she secured the large canvas and began outlining the subject and piano. She decided to blend out most of the background as it added nothing to the portrait. Mrs. Armour left them after Marguerite seemed satisfied with the arrangement.

"Jonathon, turn a bit more toward me and raise your face slightly. The boy complied, and then he asked, "How long will I have to sit like this?"

"Give me fifteen minutes then you can take a rest."

"As long as I'm sitting, can I practice?" Jonathon had a smile on his face.

"I'd rather you not play, you'll move too much. Perhaps when we take a break."

By four p.m. she felt exhausted, but she had captured every major feature, even his smile. She felt she could almost complete the rest of the painting at home. Still, she was determined this would be the best work she could do! She found during the brief rests, that Jonathon played classical music by memory, or instinctively by ear. He appeared to be an excellent pianist. When he erred, he corrected his mistake with a frown, as if it was painful to him. He evidently had had much training. She was amazed at his patience, and realized he was a charming boy, but just a boy. Second thoughts came when she realized they were nearly the same age. She knew he had a sudden interest in her.

"Can you hold still for another three hours tomorrow afternoon, Jonathon?" She began boxing up her paints.

He arose hurriedly, "Leave it all here! It isn't necessary to gather it up. I'm the only one who uses the Steinway. Certainly, I'll be here tomorrow, I wouldn't miss it! He smiled, "I'll fetch your coat and call the driver."

Three weekends later the portrait was finished except for drying. Mrs. Armour seemed thrilled by it. When Marguerite left, she said, "You'll hear from my husband. He has inspected your painting each weekend and commented on the excellent work. You have captured Jonathon to perfection."

The next Monday morning while working at the Institute, Andre Dion handed an unsealed envelope to Marguerite. It bore only her name. Inside she found a thank you card and a check for three hundred dollars signed by Philip Armour. Amazed, she handed the note and check to Andre. He broke into a smile, "Like I told you. You are on your way!"

As he handed the note and check back to her she suddenly said, "It's too much, I'll have to send it back."

Andre reached out with both hands to close her fingers over the check. "No you won't! I haven't seen the painting, but I know you put your heart into it. Its fair payment, and you'll get many other commissions soon. You'll see!"

Paul was excited at her good fortune, but worried about her being away from home so much. It was now nearly January and the baby was expected at the end of April. Marguerite was apprehensive, knowing the baby would be earlier. She hoped not too early. She also knew from the look on her doctor’s face that he suspected some chicanery.

She decided to withdraw from the institute at the end of January. Two portrait commissions had come to her from friends of the Armour family. She had replied that due to circumstances she would not be available to do any painting until possibly the month of June.