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At this magic hour a young painter, a man of talent, who saw in
art nothing but Art itself, was perched on a step-ladder which
helped him to work at a large high painting, now nearly finished.
Criticising himself, honestly admiring himself, floating on the
current of his thoughts, he then lost himself in one of those
meditative moods which ravish and elevate the soul, soothe it,
and comfort it. His reverie had no doubt lasted a long time.
Night fell. Whether he meant to come down from his perch, or
whether he made some ill-judged movement, believing himself to be
on the floor--the event did not allow of his remembering exactly
the cause of his accident--he fell, his head struck a footstool,
he lost consciousness and lay motionless during a space of time
of which he knew not the length.
A sweet voice roused him from the stunned condition into which he
had sunk. When he opened his eyes the flash of a bright light
made him close them again immediately; but through the mist that
veiled his senses he heard the whispering of two women, and felt
two young, two timid hands on which his head was resting. He soon
recovered consciousness, and by the light of an old-fashioned
Argand lamp he could make out the most charming girl's face he
had ever seen, one of those heads which are often supposed to be
a freak of the brush, but which to him suddenly realized the
theories of the ideal beauty which every artist creates for
himself and whence his art proceeds. The features of the unknown
belonged, so to say, to the refined and delicate type of
Prudhon's school, but had also the poetic sentiment which Girodet
gave to the inventions of his phantasy. The freshness of the
temples, the regular arch of the eyebrows, the purity of outline,
the virginal innocence so plainly stamped on every feature of her
countenance, made the girl a perfect creature. Her figure was
slight and graceful, and frail in form. Her dress, though simple
and neat, revealed neither wealth nor penury.
As he recovered his senses, the painter gave expression to his
admiration by a look of surprise, and stammered some confused
thanks. He found a handkerchief pressed to his forehead, and
above the smell peculiar to a studio, he recognized the strong
odor of ether, applied no doubt to revive him from his fainting
fit. Finally he saw an old woman, looking like a marquise of the
old school, who held the lamp and was advising the young girl.
"Monsieur," said the younger woman in reply to one of the
questions put by the painter during the few minutes when he was
still under the influence of the vagueness that the shock had
produced in his ideas, "my mother and I heard the noise of your
fall on the floor, and we fancied we heard a groan. The silence
following on the crash alarmed us, and we hurried up. Finding the
key in the latch, we happily took the liberty of entering, and we
found you lying motionless on the ground. My mother went to fetch
what was needed to bathe your head and revive you. You have cut
your forehead--there. Do you feel it?"
"Yes, I do now," he replied.
"Oh, it will be nothing," said the old mother. "Happily your head
rested against this lay-figure."
"I feel infinitely better," replied the painter. "I need nothing
further but a hackney cab to take me home. The porter's wife will
go for one."
He tried to repeat his thanks to the two strangers; but at each
sentence the elder lady interrupted him, saying, "Tomorrow,
monsieur, pray be careful to put on leeches, or to be bled, and
drink a few cups of something healing. A fall may be dangerous."
The young girl stole a look at the painter and at the pictures in
the studio. Her expression and her glances revealed perfect
propriety; her curiosity seemed rather absence of mind, and her
eyes seemed to speak the interest which women feel, with the most
engaging spontaneity, in everything which causes us suffering.
The two strangers seemed to forget the painter's works in the
painter's mishap. When he had reassured them as to his condition
they left, looking at him with an anxiety that was equally free
from insistence and from familiarity, without asking any
indiscreet questions, or trying to incite him to any wish to
visit them. Their proceedings all bore the hall-mark of natural
refinement and good taste. Their noble and simple manners at
first made no great impression on the painter, but subsequently,
as he recalled all the details of the incident, he was greatly
struck by them.
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