Fair Women by Wm Sharp Part II
IIIWhen I came to, I was agreeably surprised to find my head in the lap of an unmistakable Fair Woman.
Before I had time to move I heard twelve strike, and by the broad daylight knew that it was noon.
Beside me was some one or something causing unnecessary pain to the calf of my leg. I half rose, and looked behind me. Imagine my astonishment to see a Cupid, perhaps Cupidon himself, standing close by, clearly sulking, and at intervals jagging at my leg with an unpleasantly sharp arrow. I was about -to remonstrate, when an abrupt hiss to my right made me start. I caught a glimpse of a snake, and the next moment was on my feet.
"Madam," I exclaimed in considerable perturbation, "are you aware that there is a viper beside you?"
"Ah, I thought you were only a belated critic," replied the Fair Woman with an amused smile.
"Pray do not joke. It is too serious. Look, don't you see it? The Snake in the Grass!"
"Oh, is that all, sir? If you knew Sir Joshua, he would tell you that it is only dangerous to those who fear it, or who have listened to its hissing till it sounds like a pleasing music. Alas! many poor women have listened overlong. Even now, I admit, as you were lying helpless with your head on my lap, I was so preoccupied that I heard neither the sweet seduction of the adders changed voicing nor the stealthy approach of that rascally little Cupid there who tried to wrest away---"
The exclamation was wrung from me by a sudden pain. Cupid had taken the opportunity to shoot an arrow at me. If it had not reached my heart, it at least got near enough to make that virginal possession beat faster.
A beautiful smile came into my late ministrant's face. Her eyes were lamps of home.
In another moment I should have been lost. I stooped and took Cupid by the shoulders, and flung him into a little pool close by; then, with a sudden gesture caught the snake by the tail, twirled him round and round, and sent him spinning into the obscure Reynoldsian background.
As an art-critic with a pot to keep boiling, I had no other course open to me. Fancy the damage to an art-critic's chances in life if the rumour got about that he had surreptitiously gone away with the lady whom Sir Joshua painted in his picture called The Snake in the Grass! It would be the Duchess of Devonshire scandal over again!
"Deliver us from evil," said a sweet, clear sweet voice beyond me. I looked, and saw a demure lady in a nun's garb.
"Who is that sweet saint?" I whispered to my companion.
"That---eh, ah, did you say saint? That is Lady Hamilton. She was, I understand, a nursery-maid at Hawarden. She had a friend, the Hon. Charles Greville, whom she rewarded by marrying his uncle Sir William Hamilton, the Ambassador at Naples. There, as you have doubtless heard, she transferred her affections to your great hero, Nelson."
I looked as reprovingly as was possible at so sweet a face, but with a laugh Miss Emma Lyon sprang to her feet, and before I could beg her to be careful, had sprung into an adjacent canvas, and the next moment was posing as the deserted Ariadne.
I was eager to join her, but just then Mr. Hoppner strolled up and begged me to give him my opinion of the beauty as well as of the dancing of a tall and handsome young woman whom I saw on the daIs. "It is Mdlle. Hillsberg," he whispered, "and I may say that my portrait of her is, in my opinion, the best thing I ever did."
"Yes, indeed, more truly than most here, she was a Fair Woman."
I think Mr. Hoppner was a little absentminded as well as slightly deaf, for he reiterated (with a slight but material difference):
"Yes, yes, to be sure, like most here, she was a Frail Woman."