Having stumbled upon Prudence, so to speak, in the stream as she bathed Spot, Tournell now cleared his throat, hoping the sound would alert her to his presence so that she wouldn't be startled.
"Mr. Tournell!" she said, "I didn't hear you coming."
"You were too busy laughing." Prudence was almost as wet as the dog. Her hair was damp, as was the bodice of her gown, which clung wetly to her bosom. "It is good to see that Spot is getting a bath. He was beginning to stink."
"Mr. Tournell! How would you know whether Spot smelled or not?"
Tournell shrugged. "I may occasionally find myself with a spare bit of meat and, keeping in mind that old adage, waste not, want not, I may throw it Spot's way." This was true enough, although Tournell often fed Spot with else besides meat. A few days ago it had been a bit of fruit cake, which the dog had seemed to enjoy.
Prudence looked at the artist with new eyes. Why, Mr. Tournell was human, regardless of his being a man and being French. "That's very good of you. I thought I was the only person who fed Spot."
"Well, now you know that you are not alone." He smiled easily at Prudence. "You look quite lovely like that," he told her.
She gave him a level gaze. "I'm not lovely at all. Please do not mock me."
Tournell placed his palm upon his breast, "You wound me. To think that I would mock you! You are quite lovely, whether you choose to believe so or not. In fact, I am going to sit here and sketch you while you finish with Spot." With that, he dismounted the horse and pulled his drawing tools from the saddle bag.
"I'm a mess!" she protested.
"Ah, but you are a glowing, lovely mess, little one."
Prudence sighed, "I wish I were
beautiful, then I would have a hope of marrying well. I wish I could go to London and have gowns made and have my hair done and go to fabulous balls and mingle with sophisticated people."
Tournell raised an eyebrow and stopped his sketching. "That's rather a broad wish, non? Still, it is not impossible. Although, I don't know how much you would like the reality."
"What do you mean?"
"Oh, just that society is very shallow, ma petite. It is comprised of many people, all of whom believe that they are the most important creature in the universe and who live their lives as though they were. It's all quite superficial. French gowns and fripperies do not a nice person make. That's it, Miss Newton - the sort of society you so envy is filled with people who, underneath, are not very nice. At least that is the way I see it."
"Perhaps you are right, but I would like see it all, just once."
"So you shall."
"How do you know that?"
"If you wish a thing, you can make it so. If you set yourself a goal in life, whatever it may be, you need only to keep an eye upon that goal and then to make the choices in life that will bring you nearer to it."
"You make it all sound so simple."
"Alors, it is not difficult! What is it that you really want from life? Beyond a silk embroidered ball gown?" As Tournell waited for her response, he sketched Prudence with sure strokes. The scene before him now would be used in one of his `daily life' paintings for certain.
"I suppose what I want most is to leave Bloxley Bottom." How could she explain to Tournell, or to anyone, that she simply knew that she was destined for a bigger life than could be found here?
"And so to London, hhmmm?"
Prudence stood and filled a jug with water and began to rinse Spot's coat. "It will never come true," she sighed.
"You give up too easily?"
She sighed, "I cannot speak French."
Tournell laughed aloud. "It is not funny!" Prudence told him. "One must speak French if one is to be thought well educated and a lady."
"Who told you that?"
"I read it in a magazine."
"You do not need to speak French to be thought worthy of membership in the bon ton."
Prudence looked at Tournell doubtfully. Surely The Lady's Magazine knew more about the subject than he?
"But just to put your mind at ease, Tournell will teach you to speak French."
Prudence dropped her water jug into the stream. "Oh, will you? Is it very difficult? How long will it take for me to be able to speak it properly?"
"Oh, be calm, Mademoiselle Prudence, you are kicking up the water and getting my sketch pad wet! Sit, sit. Now, it would take you years to learn the nuances of the French language. I am not going to teach you the entire French language, feminine verbs, nouns, plurals. . . . There is no need for it, no matter what your magazine advises. All you will need are a few phrases you can use to pepper your conversation at the appropriate moments."
"Do you think?"
"Non, I know. I am certain, ma petite."
"Non, is that French for no?"
"Oui. Which is French for yes. You see, it will not be difficult at all."
Labels: The Secrets of Bloxley Bottom