I AM shaken, and sore, and stiff, and bruised. As I have told you many times already, I haven't the least idea how it happened and there is no use in plaguing me with any more questions about it. Of course, if you wish it I can read you an extract from my diary, giving a full account of the events of yesterday, but if you expect to find any clue to the mystery in that, I fear you are doomed to be disappointed.
August 23, Tuesday. They say that we Photographers are a blind race at best; that we learn to look at even the prettiest faces as so much light and shade; that we seldom admire, and never love. This is a delusion I long to break through--if I could only find a young lady to photograph, realizing my ideal of beauty--above all, if her name should be--(why is it, I wonder, that I dote on the name Amelia more than any other word in the English language?)--I feel sure that I could shake off this cold, philosophic lethargy.
The time has come at last. Only this evening I fell in with young Harry Glover in the Haymarket--`Tubbs!' he shouted, slapping me familiarly on the back, `my Uncle wants you down to-morrow at his Villa, camera and all!'
`But I don't know your uncle,' I replied, with my characteristic caution. (N. B. If I have a virtue, it is quiet, gentlemanly caution.)
`Never mind, old boy, he knows all about you. You be off by the early train, and take your whole kit of bottles, for you'll find lots of faces to uglify, and--'
`Ca'n't go,' I said rather gruffly, for the extent of the job alarmed me, and I wished to cut him short, having a decided objection to talking slang in the public streets.
`Well, they'll be precious cut up about it, that's all,' said Harry, with rather a blank face, `and my cousin Amelia--'
`Don't say another word!' I cried enthusiastically, `I'll go!' And as my omnibus came by at the moment, I jumped in and rattled off before he had recovered his astonishment at my change of manner. So it is settled, and to-morrow I am to see an Amelia, and--Oh Destiny, what hast thou in store for me?
August 24, Wednesday. A glorious morning. Packed in a great hurry, luckily breaking only two bottles and three glasses in doing so. Arrived at Rosemary Villa as the party were sitting down to breakfast. Father, mother, two sons from school, a host of children from the nursery and the inevitable BABY.
But how shall I describe the daughter? Words are powerless; nothing but a Tablotype could do it. Her nose was in beautiful perspective--her mouth wanting perhaps the last possible foreshortening--but the exquisite half-tints on the cheek could have blinded one to any defects, and as to the high light on her chin, it was (photographically speaking) perfection. Oh! what a picture she would have made if fate had not--but I am anticipating.
There was a Captain Flanaghan present--
I am aware that the preceding paragraph is slightly abrupt, but when I reached that point, I remembered that the idiot actually believed himself engaged to Amelia (my Amelia!). I choked, and could get no further. His figure, I am willing to admit, was good: some might have admired his face; but what is face or figure without brains?
My own figure is perhaps a little inclined to the robust; in stature I am none of your military giraffes--but why should I describe myself? My photograph (done by myself) will be sufficient evidence to the world.
The breakfast, no doubt, was good, but I knew not what I ate or drank; I lived for Amelia only, and as I gazed on that peerless brow, those chiselled features, I clenched my fist in an involuntary transport (upsetting my coffee-cup in doing so), and mentally exclaimed, `I will photograph that woman, or perish in the attempt!'
After breakfast the work of the day commenced, which I will here briefly record.
PICTURE 1.--Paterfamilias. This I wanted to try again, but they all declared it would do very well, and had `just his usual expression'; though unless his usual expression was that of a man with a bone in his throat, endeavouring to alleviate the agony of choking by watching the end of his nose with both eyes, I must admit that this was too favourable a statement of the case.
PICTURE 2.--Materfamilias. She told us with a simper, as she sat down, that she `had been very fond of theatricals in her youth', and that she `wished to be taken in a favourite Shakespearean character'. What the character was, after long and anxious thought on the subject, I have given up as a hopeless mystery, not knowing any one of his heroines in whom an attitude of such spasmodic energy could have been combined with a face of such blank indifference, or who could have been thought appropriately costumed in a blue silk gown, with a Highland scarf over one shoulder, a ruffle of Queen Elizabeth's time round the throat, and a hunting-whip.
PICTURE 3.--17th sitting. Placed the baby in profile. After waiting till the usual kicking had subsided, uncovered the lens. The little wretch instantly threw its head back, luckily only an inch, as it was stopped by the nurse's nose, establishing the infant's claim to `first blood' (to use a sporting phrase). This, of course, gave two eyes to the result, something that might be called a nose, and an unnaturally wide mouth. Called it a full-face accordingly and went on to
PICTURE 4.--The three younger girls, as they would have appeared, if by any possibility a black dose could have been administered to each of them at the same moment, and the three tied together by the hair before the expression produced by the medicine has subsided from any of their faces. Of course, I kept this view of the subject to myself, and merely said that `it reminded me of a picture of the three Graces', but the sentence ended in an involuntary groan, which I had the greatest difficulty in converting into a cough.
PICTURE 5.--This was to have been the great artistic triumph of the day; a family group, designed by the two parents, and combining the domestic with the allegorical. It was intended to represent the baby being crowned with flowers, by the united efforts of the children, regulated by the advice of the father, under the personal superintendence of the mother; and to combine with this the secondary meaning of `Victory transferring her laurel crown to Innocence, with Resolution, Independence, Faith, Hope and Charity, assisting in the graceful task, while Wisdom looks benignly on, and smiles approval!' Such, I say, was the intention; the result, to any unprejudiced observer, was capable of but one interpretation--that the baby was in a fit--that the mother (doubtless under some erroneous notions of the principles of Human Anatomy), was endeavouring to recover it by bringing the crown of its head in contact with its chest--that the two boys, seeing no prospect for the infant but immediate destruction, were tearing out some locks of its hair as mementos of the fatal event--that two of the girls were waiting for a chance at the baby's hair, and employing the time in strangling the third--and that the father, in despair at the extraordinary conduct of his family, had stabbed himself, and was feeling for his pencil-case, to make a memorandum of having done so.
All this time I had no opportunity of asking my Amelia for a sitting, but during luncheon I succeeded in finding one, and, after introducing the subject of photographs in general, I turned to her and said, `before the day is out, Miss Amelia, I hope to do myself the honour of coming to you for a negative.'
With a sweet smile she replied `certainly, Mr. Tubbs. There is a cottage near here, that I wish you would try after luncheon, and when you've done that, I shall be at your service.'
`Faix! an' I hope she'll give you a decoisive one!' broke in that awkward Captain Flanaghan, `wo'n't you, Mely Darlint?' `I trust so, Captain Flanaghan,' I interposed with great dignity; but all politeness is wasted on that animal; he broke into a great `haw! haw!' and Amelia and I could hardly refrain from laughing at his folly. She, however, with ready tact turned it off, saying to the bear, `come, come, Captain, we mustn't be too hard on him!' (Hard on me! on me! bless thee, Amelia!)
The sudden happiness of that moment nearly overcame me; tears rose to my eyes as I thought, `the wish of a Life is accomplished! I shall photograph an Amelia!' Indeed, I almost think I should have gone down on my knees to thank her, had not the table-cloth interfered with my so doing, and had I not known what a difficult position it is to recover from.
However, I seized an opportunity toward the close of the meal to give utterance to my overwrought feelings: turning toward Amelia, who was sitting next to me, I had just murmured the words, `there beats in this bosom a heart,' when a general silence warned me to leave the sentence unfinished. With the most admirable presence of mind she said, `some tart, did you say, Mr. Tubbs? Captain Flanaghan, may I trouble you to cut Mr. Tubbs some of that tart?'
`It's nigh done,' said the captain, poking his great head almost into it, `will I send him the dish, Mely?'
`No, sir!' I interrupted, with a look that ought to have crushed him, but he only grinned and said, `don't be modest now, Tubbs, me bhoy, sure there's plenty more in the larder.'
Amelia was looking anxiously at me, so I swallowed my rage--and the tart.
Luncheon over, after receiving directions by which to find the cottage, I attached to my camera the hood used for developing pictures in the open air, placed it over my shoulder, and set out for the hill which had been pointed out to me.
My Amelia was sitting in the window working, as I passed with the machine; the Irish idiot was with her. In reply to my look of undying affection, she said anxiously `I'm sure that's too heavy for you, Mr. Tubbs. Wo'n't you have a boy to carry it?'
`Or a donkey?' giggled the captain.
I pulled up short, and faced round, feeling that now, if ever, the dignity of Man, and the liberty of the subject, must be asserted. To her I merely said, `thanks, thanks!' kissing my hand as I spoke; then, fixing my eyes on the idiot at her side, I hissed through my clenched teeth, `we shall meet again, Captain!'
`Sure, I hope so, Tubbs,' said the unconscious blockhead, `sharp six is the dinner hour, mind!' A cold shiver passed over me; I had made my great effort, and had failed; I shouldered my camera again, and strode moodily on.
Two steps, and I was myself again; her eyes, I knew, were upon me, and once more I trod the gravel with an elastic tread. What mattered to me, in that moment, the whole tribe of captains? should they disturb my equanimity?
The hill was nearly a mile from the house, and I reached it tired and breathless. Thoughts of Amelia, however, bore me up. I selected the best point of view for the cottage, so as to include a farmer and cow in the picture, cast one fond look toward the distant villa, and, muttering, `Amelia, `tis for thee!' removed the lid of the lens; in 1 minute and 40 seconds I replaced it: `it is over!' I cried in uncontrollable excitement, `Amelia, thou art mine!'
Eagerly, tremblingly, I covered my head with the hood, and commenced the development. Trees rather misty--well! The wind had blown them about a little; that wouldn't show much--the farmer? well, he had walked on a yard or two, and I should be sorry to state how many arms and legs he appeared with--never mind! call him a spider, a centipede, anything--the cow? I must, however reluctantly, confess that the cow had three heads, and though such an animal may be curious, it is not picturesque. However, there could be no mistake about the cottage; its chimneys were all that could be desired, and, `all things considered,' I thought, `Amelia will--'
At this point my soliloquy was interrupted by a tap on the shoulder, more peremptory than suggestive. I withdrew myself from the hood, need I say with what quiet dignity? and turned upon the stranger. He was a thick-built man, vulgar in dress, repulsive in expression, and carried a straw in his mouth: his companion outdid him in these peculiarities. `Young man,' began the first, `ye're trespassing here, and ya mun take yourself off, and no bones about it.' I need hardly say that I took no notice of this remark, but took up the bottle of hypo-sulphite of soda, and proceeded to fix the picture; he tried to stop me; I resisted: the negative fell, and was broken. I remember nothing further, except that I have an indistinct notion that I hit somebody.
If you can find anything in what I have just read to you to account for my present condition, you are welcome to do so; but, as I before remarked, all I can tell you is that I am shaken, and sore, and stiff, and bruised, and that how I came so I haven't the faintest idea.