The Judgment of Paris
THE JUDGMENT OF PARIS.
It had been done in a thousand ways a thousand times before, but then, his name being Tarrant, it began, like Titian and Tintiretto, with a T. "All great colourists' names begin with a T," said Will Tarrant, and he sneered at Rubens, as he mentally contemplated his vast project on a blank canvas. He was going to paint the Judgment of Paris over again, and his heart did not fail him till he tried to get three really suitable models. Then he cursed his lot, and the absurdly small number of beautiful women.
"There isn't such a thing, I declare!" said the painter; "it's purely a sexual delusion! Sometimes one does see a beautiful man, but a woman is bound to be imperfect."
He hunted for the three appropriate lovelinesses for many months, but in vain. Yet he wouldn't work piece-meal.
"You can't sort the bits of a dozen women properly," was his argument; "your bones never come right, and your planes get mixed, and the whole thing has the pale cast of woolliness over it. If I can't get a whole Venus, and a complete Juno, and thorough Minerva, I'll chuck the thing!"
Then he found the Juno. She was a splendidly tall and majestic woman, who wanted at least two-and-sixpence an hour, even for a very Jupiter of the brush. It required uncommon courage to request her to keep one position, but Tarrant was brave, or he would never have started his picture. He paid Milly Juno Thomson a large retaining fee, or, rather, bound her over to come up for Judgment when called upon.
Then he renewed his search for Minerva and Venus. Minerva came eventually out of a bonnet and mantle shop. Her name was Smith, and she was as big a fool as could be discovered among forty millions. But she looked as if she knew everything, and was rather sad about it. So Tarrant bound her over too.
His last find was the Venus.
That nearly finished him. If he hadn't been rich enough to know better than paint he would have given it up. For he had to import Aphrodite from Paris. She wept so at leaving the artistic centre of all Phenomena that she nearly ended—unlike her prototype—in going back in a shell instead of coming in one.
Then the picture and the real trouble began, for Juno soon lost her haughty superiority. Just as Tarrant had chosen a delightful expression of entire and goddess-like disdain, she began to look human and appreciative. He gave her a rest and tried the Minerva. Here again his path was not peace. Miss Smith's real character started to peep out. She looked an unutterable idiot, and uttered many idiotic things.
Tarrant was in despair, for he could by no means understand it. He was only conceited about his painting. That was really bad. About his own looks he thought nothing. They were really very good, for he was as handsome as the God of Song.
These two goddesses had fallen in love with him.
He began to paint the Venus. Then came the finishing touch. He fell in love with her, and soon let her see and hear it. He got more true colour into his words than into his picture. But Sophie was obdurate, and flouted him. Instead of looking languishing and softly sweet in every curve, she scorned him as though she were a cross between the real Juno and Minerva. For she had a lover in Paris—an insignificant fellow who had succeeded in making her suffer very much. Therefore she was fond of him, and very faithful.
In spite of his passion, Tarrant was still faithful to his project. He offered to marry Sophie, in bad French—and in a church, too. She would have none of him. Though he would not allow her to break her signed and sealed contract; he gave her a rest and tried Juno again.
But Juno was more in love with him than ever, and told him so, indirectly. How could he paint the domineering Queen of Olympus when she melted visibly, and shot at him glances of the tenderest meaning? He tried all methods in vain, until at last he thought of praising Minerva to her. It answered for a sitting, but no more—for Juno had brains, and saw through his trick.
He sent for Minerva. She made stupid but obvious love to him. He fairly raved about Juno to her, and the wise goddess burst into tears. Tarrant tore his hair, and cursed himself, and woman, and love, and all the goddesses, especially those who twist and twine and sever human lives.
"I'll paint the Furies next," he said, "or Hecabe."
He became irritable, and told poor Juno that painting was a business, and that he wanted one expression, not twenty.
"D'ye think I could paint dawn at midday, or night! I want you to look haughty and disdainful. Just fancy you have got someone you hate and despise to look at."
"But I haven't!" said Juno; and, having gone far by this, she added, "you know I like you very much!"
"It's not business! it's not business!" said Tarrant. But he felt, "I'll have you hate me yet, Miss Thomson. I'm only a selfish brute—that's all!"
With Minerva he tried other tactics.
"It's no good falling in love with me," he urged pathetically. "Lots of women do, and I can't help it. If you will only be what you ought to be for half-an-hour, you shall stop and have tea with me, and I'll be cross to every other woman for three days." But Minerva knew the Venus was coming after that. When Sophie did turn up Tarrant had some news for her. "Your lover is not the man you thought, Sophie. I have sent over to Paris."
And he told her about an old rival of hers. Sophie flew in a rage, swore it was false, resumed all her attire, and rushed for Charing Cross. On the third day she returned. "It's best to know the truth, after all," she admitted, a week later.
And when Juno and Minerva heard that Tarrant was going to marry Venus, they did very well as models. For Juno never spoke to him, and even poor foolish Minerva had some pride in her tender heart. So the picture was finished.