What's Bred In the Bone
It was late when Elma reached the station. Her pony had jibbed on
the way downhill, and the train was just on the point of moving
off as she hurried upon the platform. Old Matthews, the stout and
chubby-cheeked station-master, seized her most unceremoniously by
the left arm, and bundled her into a carriage. He had known her
from a child, so he could venture upon such liberties.
"Second class, miss? Yes, miss. Here y'are. Look sharp, please.
Any more goin' on? All right, Tom! Go ahead there!" And lifting his
left hand, he whistled a shrill signal to the guard to start her.
As for Elma, somewhat hot in the face with the wild rush for her
ticket, and grasping her uncounted change, pence and all, in her
little gloved hand, she found herself thrust, hap-hazard, at the
very last moment, into the last compartment of the last carriage
--alone--with an artist.
Now, you and I, to be sure, most proverbially courteous and
intelligent reader, might never have guessed at first sight, from
the young man's outer aspect, the nature of his occupation. The
gross and clumsy male intellect, which works in accordance with
the stupid laws of inductive logic, has a queer habit of requiring
something or other, in the way of definite evidence, before it
commits itself offhand to the distinct conclusion. But Elma Clifford
was a woman; and therefore she knew a more excellent way. HER habit
was, rather to look things once fairly and squarely in the face,
and then, with the unerring intuition of her sex, to make up her
mind about them firmly, at once and for ever. That's one of the
many glorious advantages of being born a woman. You don't need to
learn in order to know. You know instinctively. And yet our girls
want to go to Girton, and train themselves up to be senior wranglers!
Elma Clifford, however, had NOT been to Girton, so, as she stumbled
into her place, she snatched one hurried look at Cyril Wiring's
face, and knew at a glance he was a landscape painter.
Now, this was clever of her, even in a woman, for Cyril Waring,
as he fondly imagined, was travelling that line that day disguised
as a stock-broker. In other words, there was none of the brown
velveteen affectation about his easy get-up. He was an artist,
to be sure, but he hadn't assiduously and obtrusively dressed his
character. Instead of cutting his beard to a Vandyke point, or
enduing his body in a Titianesque coat, or wearing on his head
a slouched Rembrandt hat, stuck carelessly just a trifle on one
side in artistic disorder, he was habited, for all the world like
anybody else, in the grey tweed suit of the common British tourist,
surmounted by the light felt hat (or bowler), to match, of the
modern English country gentleman. Even the soft silk necktie of a
delicate aesthetic hue that adorned his open throat didn't proclaim
him at once a painter by trade. It showed him merely as a man of
taste, with a decided eye for harmonies of colour.
So when Elma pronounced her fellow-traveller immediately, in
her own mind, a landscape artist, she was exercising the familiar
feminine prerogative of jumping, as if by magic, to a correct
conclusion. It's a provoking way they have, those inscrutable women,
which no mere male human being can ever conceivably fathom.
She was just about to drop down, as propriety demands, into the corner
seat diagonally opposite to--and therefore as far as possible away
from--her handsome companion, when the stranger rose, and, with
a very flushed face, said, in a hasty, though markedly deferential
and apologetic tone--
"I beg your pardon, but--excuse me for mentioning it--I think you're
going to sit down upon--ur--pray don't be frightened--a rather
large snake of mine."
There was something so comically alarmed in the ring of his tone--as
of a naughty schoolboy detected in a piece of mischief--that,
propriety to the contrary notwithstanding, Elma couldn't for the
life of her repress a smile. She looked down at the seat where the
stranger pointed, and there, sure enough, coiled up in huge folds,
with his glossy head in attitude to spring at her, a great banded
snake lay alert and open-eyed.
"Dear me," Elma cried, drawing back a little in surprise, but not
at all in horror, as she felt she ought to do. "A snake! How curious!
I hope he's not dangerous."
"Not at all," the young man answered, still in the same half-guilty
tone of voice as before. "He's of a poisonous kind, you know; but
his fangs have been extracted. He won't do you any injury. He's
perfectly harmless. Aren't you, Sardanapalus? Eh, eh, my beauty?
But I oughtn't to have let him loose in the carriage, of course,"
he added, after a short pause. "It's calculated to alarm a nervous
passenger. Only I thought I was alone, and nobody would come in;
so I let him out for a bit of a run between the stations. It's so
dull for him, poor fellow, being shut up in his box all the time
when he's travelling."
Elma looked down at the beautiful glossy creature with genuine
admiration. His skin was like enamel; his banded scales shone bright
and silvery. She didn't know why, but somehow she felt she wasn't
in the least afraid of him. "I suppose one ought to be repelled at
once by a snake," she said, taking the opposite seat, and keeping
her glance fixed firmly upon the reptile's eye; "but then, this is
such a handsome one! I can't say why, but I don't feel afraid of
him at all as I ought, to do. Every right-minded person detests
snakes, don't they? And yet, how exquisitely flexible and beautiful
he is! Oh, pray don't put him back in his box for me. He's basking
in the sun here. I should be sorry to disturb him."
Cyril Waring looked at her in considerable surprise. He caught
the creature in his hands as he spoke, and transferred it at once
to a tin box, with a perforated lid, that lay beside him. "Go
back, Sardanapalus," he said, in a very musical and pleasant voice,
forcing the huge beast into the lair with gentle but masterful
hands. "Go back, and go to sleep, sir. It's time for your nap. ...
Oh no, I couldn't think of letting him out any more in the carriage
to the annoyance of others. I'm ashamed enough as it is of having
unintentionally alarmed you. But you came in so unexpectedly, you
see, I hadn't time to put my queer pet away; and, when the door
opened, I was afraid he might slip out, or get under the seats, so
all I could do was just to soothe him with my hand, and keep him
quiet till the door was shut to again."
"Indeed, I wasn't at all afraid of him," Elma answered, slipping
her change into her pocket, and looking prettier through her blush
than even her usual self. "On the contrary, I really liked to see
him. He's such a glorious snake! The lights and shades on his back
are so glancing and so wonderful! He's a perfect model. Of course,
you're painting him."
The stranger started. "I'm painting him--yes, that's true,"
he replied, with a look of sudden surprise; "but why 'of course,'
please? How on earth could you tell I was an artist even?"
Elma glanced back in his face, and wondered to herself, too.
Now she came to think of it, HOW did she know that handsome young
man, with the charming features, and the expressive eyes, and the
neatly-cut brown beard, and the attractive manner, was an artist
at all, or anything like it? And how did she know the snake was
his model? For the life of her, she couldn't have answered those
"I suppose I just guessed it," she answered, after a short pause,
blushing still more deeply at the sudden way she had thus been
dragged into conversation with the good-looking stranger. Elma's
skin was dark--a clear and creamy olive-brown complexion, such as
one sometimes sees in southern Europe, though rarely in England; and
the effect of the blush through it didn't pass unnoticed by Cyril
Waring's artistic eye. He would have given something for the chance
of transferring that delicious effect to canvas. The delicate
transparency of the blush threw up those piercing dark eyes, and
reflected lustre even on the glossy black hair that fringed her
forehead. Not an English type of beauty at all, Elma Clifford's,
he thought to himself as he eyed her closely: rather Spanish or
Italian, or say even Hungarian.
"Well, you guessed right, at any rate," he went on, settling down
in his seat once more, after boxing his snake, but this time face
to face with her. "I'm working at a beautiful bit of fern and
foliage--quite tropical in its way--in a wood hereabout; and I've
introduced Sardanapalus, coiled up in the foreground, just to
give life to the scene, don't you know, and an excuse for a title.
I mean to call it 'The Rajah's Rest.' Behind, great ferns and a
mossy bank; in front, Sardanapalus, after tiffin, rolled spirally
round, and taking his siesta."
This meeting was a long-wished-for occasion. Elma had never before
met a real live painter. Now, it was the cherished idea of her youth
to see something some day of that wonderful non-existent fantastic
world which we still hope for and dream about and call Bohemia. She
longed to move in literary and artistic circles. She had fashioned
to herself, like many other romantic girls, a rose-coloured picture
of Bohemian existence; not knowing indeed that Bohemia is now, alas!
an extinct province, since Belgravia and Kensington swallowed it
bodily down, digested, and assimilated it. So this casual talk
with the handsome young artist in the second-class carriage, on
the Great Southern line, was to Elma as a charming and delightful
glimpse of an enchanted region she could never enter. It was Paradise
to the Peri. She turned the conversation at once, therefore, with
resolute intent upon art and artists, determined to make the most
while it lasted of this unique opportunity. And since the subject
of self, with an attentive listener, is always an attractive
one, even to modest young men like Cyril Waring--especially when
it's a pretty girl who encourages you to dilate upon it--why, the
consequence was, that before many minutes were over, the handsome
young man was discoursing from his full heart to a sympathetic soul
about his chosen art, its hopes and its ideals, accompanied, by a
running fire of thumb-nail illustrations. He had even got so far in
the course of their intimacy as to take out the portfolio, which
lay hidden under the seat--out of deference to his disguise as
a stock-broker, no doubt--and to display before Elma's delighted
eyes, with many explanatory comments as to light and shade, or
perspective and foreshortening, the studies for the picture he had
just then engaged upon.
By-and-by, as his enthusiasm warmed under Elma's encouragement,
the young artist produced Sardanapalus himself once more from his
box, and with deftly persuasive fingers coiled him gracefully round
on the opposite seat into the precise attitude he was expected to
take up when he sat for his portrait in the mossy foreground.
Elma couldn't say why, but that creature fascinated her. The longer
she looked at him the more intensely he interested her. Not that
she was one bit afraid of him, as she might reasonably have expected
to be, according to all womanly precedent. On the contrary, she
felt an overwhelming desire to take him up in her own hands and
stroke and fondle him. He was so lithe and beautiful; his scales
so glistened! At last she stretched out one dainty gloved hand to
pet the spotted neck.
"Take care," the painter cried, in a warning voice; "don't be
frightened if he springs at you. He's vicious at times. But his
fangs are drawn; he can't possibly hurt you."
The warning, however, was quite unnecessary. Sardanapalus, instead
of springing, seemed to recognise a friend. He darted out his
forked tongue in rapid vibration, and licked her neat grey glove
respectfully. Then, lifting his flattened head with serpentine
deliberation, he coiled his great folds slowly, slowly, with sinuous
curves, round the girl's soft arm till he reached her neck in
long, winding convolutions. There he held up his face, and trilled
his swift, sibilant tongue once more with evident pleasure. He
knew his place. He was perfectly at home at once with the pretty,
olive-skinned lady. His master looked on in profound surprise.
"Why, you're a perfect snake-charmer," he cried at last, regarding
her with open eyes of wonder. "I never saw Sardanapalus behave
like that with a stranger before. He's generally by no means fond
of new acquaintances. You must be used to snakes. Perhaps you've
kept one? You're accustomed of old to their ways and manners?"
"No, indeed," Elma cried, laughing in spite of herself, a clear
little laugh of feminine triumph; for she had made a conquest, she
saw, of Sardanapalus; "I never so much as touched one in all my
life before. And I thought I should hate them. But this one seems
quite tame and tractable. I'm not in the least afraid of him. He is
so soft and smooth, and his movements are all so perfectly gentle."
"Ah, that's the way with snakes, always," Cyril Waring put in,
with an admiring glance at the pretty, fearless brunette and her
strange companion. "They know at once whether people like them or
not, and they govern themselves accordingly. I suppose it's instinct.
When they see you're afraid of them, they spring and hiss; but when
they see you take to them by nature, they make themselves perfectly
at home in a moment. They don't wait to be asked. They've no false
modesty. Well, then, you see," he went on, drawing imaginary lines
with his ticket on the sketch he was holding up, "I shall work in
Sardanapalus just there, like that, coiled round in a spire. You
catch the idea, don't you?"
As he spoke, Elma's eye, following his hand while it moved, chanced
to fall suddenly on the name of the station printed on the ticket
with which he was pointing. She gave a sharp little start.
"Warnworth!" she cried, flushing up, with some slight embarrassment
in her voice; "why, that's ever so far back. We're long past
Warnworth. We ran by it three or four stations behind; in fact,
it's the next place to Chetwood, where I got in at."
Cyril Waring looked up with a half-guilty smile as embarrassed as
"Oh yes," he said quietly. "I knew that quite well. I'm down here
often. It's half-way between Chetwood and Warnworth I'm painting.
But I thought--well, if you'll excuse me saying it, I thought
I was so comfortable and so happy where I was, that I might just
as well go on a station or two more, and then pay the difference,
and take the next train back to Warnworth. You see," he added,
after a pause, with a still more apologetic and penitent air, "I saw
you were so interested in--well, in snakes, you know, and pictures."
Gentle as he was, and courteous, and perfectly frank with her,
Elma, nevertheless, felt really half inclined to be angry at this
queer avowal. That is to say, at least, she knew it was her bounden
duty, as an English lady, to seem so; and she seemed so accordingly
with most Britannic severity. She drew herself up in a very stiff
style, and stared fixedly at him, while she began slowly and steadily
to uncoil Sardanapalus from her imprisoned arm with profound dignity.
"I'm sorry I should have brought you so far out of your way," she
said, in a studied cold voice--though that was quite untrue, for,
as a matter of fact, she had enjoyed their talk together immensely.
"And besides, you've been wasting your valuable time when you ought
to have been painting. You'll hardly get any work done now at all
this morning. I must ask you to get out at the very next station."
The young man bowed with a crestfallen air. "No time could possibly
be wasted," he began, with native politeness, "that was spent--" Then
he broke off quite suddenly. "I shall certainly get out wherever
you wish," he went on, more slowly, in an altered voice; "and I
sincerely regret if I've unwittingly done anything to annoy you
in any way. The fact is, the talk carried me away. It was art that
misled me. I didn't mean, I'm sure, to obtrude myself upon you."
And even as he spoke they whisked, unawares, into the darkness of