Waiting on Elizabeth's portrait

Upon my arrival, I can tell from her raspy greeting they had been singing at the studio piano then likely singing a capella instead of being at task for this interminable sitting. The walls seem to pulsate with absorbed melodies and laughter. If I put my fingers on the plaster, would they palpate vibrations?

Her mother started this project with Sargent. An expense, as he is known to be slow. But she wanted her daughter portrayed as she was when engaged. Prima del matrimonio. Who knows what I, as the mid-tier career soldier, might do to diminish her daughter? She will tell my children "Your mother was a great beauty." with a grand gesture toward the portrait.

I am not a fool. I see an aspect of Elsie coming through. Sargent's warm regard in wanting her. I lean over his shoulder and note the blush and exaggerated care given to her lips. As I loom he is silent, not from bravery but a worry a tremble in his voice may reveal too much. Famous as he is, he is still vulnerable and must fear a bad report. Yet he knows I will not pounce upon his work. His creation will outlast this room and my review. His desire imbues her portrait and becomes what she exudes for him. I have earned and sustained my higher station, but my victories on the field and maneuvers in this scene may not last as long as this portrait. His strategy is longer.

In her cool appraisal of those who evaluate her, the flush of her cheeks, this portrait is Elizabeth as a maiden. As she stands apart from me now, a laugh still in her stance, has she been girlish with him? I do not think she would be so rude as to bite her lip and act less womanly than she is. That may put him off, too. Knowing her power, and knowing it is accentuated by being not yet attained. She is not flighty here, she is strong. She knows and has lived, much by what we have shared. Her mother is not getting the portrait she wanted. That is gratifying.

And I indulge Elsie. No, too patronizing. I endure from others the whispers, asides, occasional daring remark in my presence that Elsie's avocation and accomplishments as a concert singer are déclassé.

But it fills her. To see her take savor and draw in the air, bosom rising, delay before her note, knowing she could convey so much in her lilting soprano then drop to a feral resonance. Where will she go? Follow her training? Let the spirit take the moment? She is lost and happy and delirious in the suspension of the world and those fixed on her. We are held in thrall. She is happy. Obliged to perform, but the setting is of her choosing. Let them natter on in parties. She feeds from us. I am among those feeling within her and sustaining her. Admiring her as the room does, coveting my own all the more as others covet her. Then, her decision or spirit assented to, the note selected, force sanctioned, she carries us all along again.

And, my hand will be on the upper side of her hips, John, as her hand is posed off her waist. I will hold her there as she's straddled over me to fix her in place. And her left hand will be set over mine to pin her even more. She will press on me with the assurance and lovely heft you have conveyed so well, John. And before then the palm of her right hand will tend to my need, wrapped with confidence as on the rim of your sitting chair. Yes, Sargent, those hands are daring and skilled and loving and clever and I know you have made a guess that is so, but I see you do not know from experience. You have posed her hands in speculation. I am amused.

This is a painting of allegation, admiration, want, abundance, poise. Her bosom is a marvel. I have seen our child feed there, and I still have desire and feel relief to take refuge and time there. And she lets me. Her soldier is happy there. And I am happy to make her happy.

"We are obliged to leave soon." I say glancing at the clock on the wall. Strong chance Sargent's clock is not accurate. Stronger chance any array of clocks he may have here do not corroborate one another.

Mrs. George Swinton (nee Elizabeth "'Elsie" Ebsworth) painted by John Singer Sargent

"What time is it?" Elsie says. Her voice evenly modulated. I do not think Sargent would truly do anything untoward. He tantalizes himself. I look at the nearest clock again.

"It's 22 past six." Recital at 8. Reception at 9. Would she wear this ensemble? He paints her in white and coppery pearlish taupe. She stands now in royal blue. He is using her expression and proportions. She will not need a change tonight.

After the recital: praise, and flattery, and as she is flush with regard and expression I shall take her home, and we will bid the help good night then gaze upon our infant son asleep in the cradle then adjourn to our chambers. I will pin her down by her left wrist, leaving her right hand and my left to wander as they please, and I shall take her as she is arrayed now. She will see how what she set in motion by my catching her in this scene in the studio and her later scenes this evening will culminate in the light in my eyes fueled from the swells of desire from the crowds of men and envious women channeled and churning through me and she will be well pleased and sleep soundly and it will be a good morning.