Ophelia's Muse

Ophelia's Muse by Rita Cameron Read Free Book Online Page A

Book: Ophelia's Muse by Rita Cameron Read Free Book Online
Authors: Rita Cameron
Back to work. I want to hear nothing but the sound of flying needles.” She looked over at Lizzie. “Miss Siddal, if you’re finished, I’ll see you now.”
    Lizzie stood and followed Mrs. Tozer into a small office at the back of the shop. Mrs. Tozer dropped heavily into a chair and indicated that Lizzie should sit as well.
    â€œIt feels good to sit for a moment,” Mrs. Tozer said, kneading her hands against the small of her back. “It’s hard work keeping after all you girls, you know! And the orders keep coming in, sometimes three or four for the same customer!”
    Lizzie nodded, unsure why Mrs. Tozer should have called her aside. As far as she knew, her work had been satisfactory.
    â€œLizzie,” Mrs. Tozer began, with a confidential smile. “I have a very interesting proposal for you. It seems that you’ve caught the attention of one of our customers, a Mrs. Deverell. She has a son, a painter, and he wishes you to sit for a portrait.”
    Mrs. Tozer’s words caught Lizzie completely off guard. “A portrait? For an advertisement for the shop?”
    Mrs. Tozer laughed. “No, dear, though that’s certainly an idea! It’s a proper portrait he wants.”
    â€œThere must be some mistake,” Lizzie said, thinking that she was being set up for some elaborate joke.
    â€œNo mistake, but between us, I was as surprised as you! I suggested that Miss Evans might be more suitable, but he seemed set on having you.” Mrs. Tozer paused, perhaps aware that she had been unkind. “But really, you do have some nice features. It’s a shame about your hair, of course—such an unfortunate color—but your complexion is lovely. Apparently this Mr. Deverell sees something artistic in you! So there it is.” Mrs. Tozer did not seem to notice Lizzie’s growing embarrassment. “His mother made a large order, and I couldn’t very well refuse her request. And at any rate, you’ll be paid seven shillings a day for your work; your mother can hardly turn her nose up at such a sum.”
    Lizzie was quiet. It was true that her mother could easily find a use for seven shillings a day. “But my position here? Don’t you need me?”
    â€œYou needn’t worry about that—I can spare you for a few days, though it will be a strain.”
    Lizzie had seen many portraits of ladies in exquisite gowns in the halls of the National Galleries. How many times had she imagined herself to be one of them? A slight smile passed over her lips and then faded. It was out of the question, of course—her mother would never allow it. And besides, having a society portrait done was quite a different thing from sitting as a paid model. The former was an honor afforded to wealthy ladies, while the latter was often done by women who wouldn’t be fit to serve in their houses.
    Mrs. Tozer sighed. “It’s just like one of my girls, not to see a real opportunity when it comes their way! There’s no need to look so scandalized, Lizzie. You’ll be properly chaperoned at all times, Mrs. Deverell has assured me. And it’s really very flattering! If he wants to paint you, he must think you beautiful. Perhaps it will lead to something more. At the very least, you’re bound to meet some really refined people—artists, and perhaps others in their circle, their patrons. I’ve seen you glancing over your books and daydreaming when you thought no one was looking—not much passes in my shop without my knowledge. But of course you must do as you see fit.”
    â€œBut if people should find out. It could ruin my chances . . .”
    â€œIt’s not as if you’ll be posing in your knickers! This is quite a different thing—you shall sit to Mr. Deverell as if you were his sister. He tells me that the subject of the painting is taken from Shakespeare—what could be scandalous about that? And really, my dear,

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