The Merciless Ladies

The Merciless Ladies by Winston Graham Read Free Book Online

Book: The Merciless Ladies by Winston Graham Read Free Book Online
Authors: Winston Graham
She would not admit us, even when our mission was made known, and kept a hand up to the neck of her dressing-gown as if she suspected our intentions.
    She made no secret of the fact that Leo had been there, but said he had left that morning. Leo had been sharing her room since Sunday night. She gave dancing lessons both here and in Greek Street, where she had met Leo. She had known him a month. He was very unwell, very upset, suffering from a malaise. He had said he was coming and had come. He had stayed and not gone out. They had cooked their meals together. This morning he had said he was going and had gone. No, she did not know where. Possibly home; who could tell? Now, please, she was busy.
    We stared together at the door where a moment before her dark, sulphurous but attractive face had been.
    â€˜Is she telling the truth?’
    â€˜Yes’, said Paul.
    â€˜I got that impression too.’
    We went down the stairs.
    â€˜Well’, I said, ‘Leo’s particular broomstick isn’t a common prostitute.’
    â€˜No, indeed’, said Paul. ‘A distinctly uncommon one. I’d like to paint her as Madame de Montespan. I’ve always wanted to paint Madame de Montespan.’
    I glanced at him. ‘Yes, what is this idea you’ve got?’
    â€˜What idea?’
    â€˜Someone told me you were thinking of painting a series – famous courtesans, they said. Using, I presume, present day models.’
    â€˜That’s the idea.’
    â€˜With what end in view?’
    â€˜What end could there be except the usual? To exhibit. Probably to sell. It seems to me an interesting notion.’
    I kicked some mud off my heel. ‘It isn’t exactly a forward step, is it?’
    â€˜What d’you mean?’
    â€˜Well … it’s illustration , isn’t it? It’s not quite the – the creative art I thought you were aiming at.’
    â€˜You’ll sound like old Becker soon, Bill. Serving God and Mammon etc. Anyway that objection is rubbish . Plain rubbish . What about Rubens and his ‘‘Rebecca’’ and his ‘‘Sarah’’, and five hundred other people out of the Bible? What about ‘‘The Last Supper’’? Is that illustration? What about Vermeer’s ‘‘ Diana at her Toilette’’? Or ‘‘Christ in the House of Martha and Mary’’? Illustrations? Or Rembrandt’s allegorical paintings? Or just a few thousand others?’
    â€˜You out-gun me’, I said. ‘Sorry I spoke.’
    â€˜No need to be. But don’t join the crap-brigade. There are one or two critics have got me in their sights – I was too good too young. The fact that I’m going to paint a series of high-class prostitutes doesn’t accord with accepted ideas quite as well as if I was painting the twelve thousandth allegorical portrait of the Virgin Mary. That’s all.’
    We had been walking back towards the tube.
    I said pacifically: ‘So what’s the next move about Leo?’
    â€˜I suppose we could telephone again, see if by any chance we’ve crossed in the post. Though my general feeling is to let it drop.’
    â€˜We’ll telephone’, I said.
    We entered a nearby call-box and I rang Leo’s lodgings. The now familiar voice of Leo’s landlady came crackling through the wire.
    Who? Mr Who? Never heard of him. Oh, Mr Lynn. Yes, he’d just come in, just after we’d left. See him? No, she hadn’t seen him. She knew his footsteps. Speak to him?
    The line faded out, became clear again. Speak to him? Hold on: she’d see.
    A long wait. Hullo. Were we still there? She’d been up to his room but he wouldn’t come down. Yes, she’d given the name. Well, there it was; it wasn’t her business if we’d fallen out over something …
    Contact ended, and I hung up and explained the position to Paul.
    He gave a shrug of impatience.

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