CHAPTER FOUR

 

The Thursday morning of the following week brought James Kelly to the West End in order to discuss a new project with his agent, and later that day, with business concluded more or less to their mutual satisfaction, he decided to visit the nearby National Gallery in Trafalgar Square - a thing he hadn't done for several years, largely because, as an Irish citizen, he considered it irrelevant to his nationality.

     Arriving at the gallery in an optimistic frame-of-mind, he headed straight for Room 45, where the Impressionists were exhibited.  In consequence of anti-Christian sentiments he always preferred to start his tour of the rooms back-to-front and to follow an anti-clockwise direction, thereby guaranteeing himself the maximum of patience and concentration for the secular works, which he feared might not get investigated at all were he to begin the other way around, as presumably most visitors to the National did, and thus wade through medieval Christendom first.... Not that he was entirely prejudiced against the religious paintings.  For there were, among their considerable number, some he still quite admired on account of the brilliance of their colours and the precision of their details.  But, generally speaking, he was more drawn to the secular than to the religious works, which was why he invariably began at the end.

     On this occasion, however, with the exception of a brief glance en passant at Seurat's Bathers, Asnières, which he admired more for the degree of perseverance required in the execution of its pointillist technique than for its simple subject-matter, he ignored the Impressionists altogether and proceeded straight to Room 35, in which a number of Canaletto's Venetian scenes were hung.  It struck him as being singularly appropriate, as he stood respectfully in front of View of the Grand Canal, Venice, that this great artist should have been born with the name Canal - a name he subsequently modified - in view of his considerable predilection for depicting the leading canals of Venice!  Chief among the many qualities which appealed to Kelly about this painter's work was its in-depth perspective, its ability to conquer the flat planes of the canvas with a three-dimensional illusion which, as one followed the lines of the buildings on either side of the canal along to that point in the far distance where they appeared to converge, almost beguiled one into taking it for reality, so accomplished was the resultant artistry.  With Canaletto, one didn't merely view a painting which depicted a Venetian scene; one virtually became an integral part of it, a passenger, as it were, on a gondola heading downstream with hundreds of fellow-passengers in front of one.  And to make the illusion more complete, the buildings on either side of the canal weren't invariably spotlessly clean or new-looking but, with few exceptions, betrayed various stages of dilapidation: the painter having meticulously endowed certain walls with quite severe attacks of mildew or paint erosion.

     On the other side of the room, the Regatta on the Grand Canal, Venice presented a much more intricate spectacle to the eye as, with mounting humility in the presence of such skill, Kelly took especial note of the great crowds taking part in the regatta where, in the foreground, every figure had been given a carefully defined costume and a no-less carefully defined physiognomy.  There could be no question of any of the numerous participants being confounded with insignificant blobs of paint, as in the case of much twentieth-century art, where the conceptual took precedence over the perceptual and emotional subjectivity accordingly prevailed.  This was not decadent art, still less anti-art, but painterly art-proper and, as such, the depiction of everything had to be highly meticulous, in accordance with the more concretely objective criteria of that age.

     Passing on through the nearest rooms, it soon became apparent to James Kelly that the National Gallery was playing host, as usual, to large numbers of foreign nationals of mostly Continental origin who wandered from painting to painting in small groups and talked between themselves in respectfully subdued tones, occasionally halting to inquire of a uniformed attendant, as best they could, where one could find a certain painting or gallery.  It was indeed pleasing to behold all these French, Italian, Spanish, and German tourists who were only really there, after all, because of the large amount of art which their ancestors had produced and which, by some quirk of historical fate, now reposed in England's foremost gallery.

     The Adoration of the Golden Calf by Nicolas Poussin, one of those ancestors who happened to be French, brought Kelly's wanderings to a temporary halt in Room 32, which appeared to be the largest in the entire building.  Although the actual subject held no great appeal for him, it served to remind him of the Poussins he had viewed in the Louvre, a few years previously.  He recalled that virtually the entire length of a ground-floor gallery had been devoted to the works of this singular genius, who obviously held a special position in the hierarchy of French classical art.  In addition to the 'Golden Calf' motif, which could also be found in the Louvre, Kelly now unearthed some fragments of memory associated with classical ruins - a subject which seemed to figure rather prominently in Poussin's vast oeuvre.  But he had to admit that the colour schemes usually adopted by this master, with their ochreous mixtures of brown, red, pink, and pale orange, usually depressed him after a while, as did his rather down-to-earth choice of subject-matter, and this occasion was to prove no exception! 

     On the other hand, The Preaching of St. John the Baptist by Van Haalem (1562-1638) providentially provided him with the antidote he required to disperse the depressing effects of Poussin, whose matt tones were now eclipsed by the brilliant colours of this magnificent painting.  There was nothing of late-Christian austerity or melancholy about this colourful outpouring of religious fervour, as the great prophet confidently announced the glad tidings of Christ's Coming to a motley crowd standing in a forest glade which, bathed in luminous light from the open spaces beyond, was distinctly suggestive of the Supernatural, so ethereal was the overall impression.  For James Kelly, paintings of this nature partly redeemed religious art in his eyes, made them appear precious to an otherwise irreligious or secular temperament.  Even if, from the vantage-point of late-twentieth-century secularism, one despised traditional religion, with its objective faith in miracles and superstitious clinging to outmoded beliefs, of which the concept of a unitary Creator was the most fundamental in Kelly's estimation, one was constrained to admit that it had inspired a wealth of extremely beautiful art, and some of that art, no matter how irrelevant from a contemporary standpoint, was deserving of due recognition.

     Abandoning the small central area between the two main parts of Room 28, Kelly immediately headed towards Room 22, wherein he wanted to gaze at The Toilet of Venus, the divine cynosure of which suggested a likeness, in his imagination, to the supple body of Paloma Searle, whom he had never seen nude but was inclined to suppose, from recent experience, the possessor of a similarly shaped body herself.  However, he had only just set foot in this particular room when he caught sight of a young woman with long wavy-blonde hair who was viewing the work in question.  Freezing in his tracks, he gazed with rapture upon the hair and shapely calf-muscles of this fair person, whose physical appearance, seen from behind, almost surrealistically connoted with the Adoration of the Golden Calf he had viewed only a few minutes before.  Dismissing the connotation as frivolous, he discreetly approached the real-life woman, so that they were standing side-by-side in front of the Velazquez, and endeavoured, with a slight turn of his neck, to peer into her face, which at that moment was presented in profile.  However, this slight movement was insufficient to distract her attention from that part of the painting in which its subject's face is reflected in the small mirror held up to her by a cherub positioned at the foot of the luxuriously draped bed upon which the goddess of love reclines.  But before he could muster the courage to risk another glance at her, she had taken leave of the painting and was heading towards the exit.

     Panic-stricken at the prospect of losing sight of her, Kelly automatically abandoned his intention of studying the Valazquez and, slightly self-consciously, followed her at a discreet distance.  Once more, he had time to note the seductive contours of her pale-stockinged legs and the volatile texture of her hair, before she came to a gentle halt in front of Rubens' Rape of the Sabines in Room 20.  Not wishing to follow her directly to that turbulent painting, which was hung in the middle of the nearest wall between two other works by the same artist, he brought himself to a halt beside The Triumph of Julius Caesar and gave its vibrant colours, painted in the manner of Mantegna, a cursory inspection.  But although this was one of the paintings he had particularly intended to view, his gaze soon reverted to the unknown beauty, whose attention he so desperately wanted to attract.

     This time, however, he was more successful.  For she turned a pair of inscrutable eyes upon him just long enough to enable him to discern the extent of her facial beauty.  His heart leapt excitedly, as his mind registered its full impact.  But he was unable to prevent a feeling of acute self-consciousness from marring an otherwise objective appraisal, and quickly returned his attention to the Rubens again.  He suddenly felt the urge to swallow hard, but was afraid he would only make a noise which would compromise him and increase his embarrassment.  Ironically, the perfectly representational painting in front of him had been transformed into a jumble of nondescript shapes and blurred colours, akin to abstract expressionism, under pressure of his emotions, which threatened to break out of the prison of skull containing them and explode in all directions at once, bespattering both viewers and paintings alike with bits of his brain.  At that moment he needed to sit down to recover his aplomb, but the few seats in the room were already occupied.  An elderly couple came from nowhere and stood next to the woman who had ignited his emotions, tantalizingly blocking his view of her.

     Turning away from them, he strode across to a painting directly opposite the one he had been trembling in front of and, with considerable difficulty, managed to decipher its title.  Ordinarily he would have had no trouble distinguishing the broad outlines of The Judgement of Paris.  But since the thunderbolt of love struck him, he found it difficult to even recognize it as one of Rubens' paintings, regardless of the fact that he had stood in front of it on at least three previous occasions and noted the turbulence and, to his mind, excessive flabbiness so characteristic of this master's buxom females.  Today, however, he was conscious of only one thing - namely, the desire to make the blonde his girlfriend that very day!

     A second or two later he became freshly conscious of a slim figure in a white vest and matching miniskirt passing closely behind him - oh, so closely as to gently brush the arm of his sleeve!  A faint aroma of sweet perfume lodged in his nostrils as she turned the corner and disappeared from sight.  Overcoming his timidity vis-à-vis the room's attendant, who stared directly at him as he broke away from the Rubens, he followed the young beauty, at a discreet distance, into Room 15, where she subsequently came to a respectful halt in front of Correggio's The School of Love.  Unable from shyness to follow her directly to it, he took up a parallel position in front of that same master's Ecce Homo, the other side of one of the room's exits.  He was conscious, as he came to a halt in front of this painting, that the young woman was perfectly aware of the fact he had been following her.  For she stared across the intervening space at him a moment, before returning her attention to the canvas in front of her.  As he in turn returned his attention to the Correggio, he noticed, out of the corner of his right eye, something bright and, turning his head towards the wall which formed a right-angle with the one in front of him, he beheld a portrait entitled A Blonde Woman, whose long wavy-golden hair and impassive face, painted with what appeared to be consummate skill by Palma Vecchio, struck him as profoundly akin to the woman he had just followed into the room.  Admittedly, the eyes were brown instead of blue, but in so many other respects the face bore a remarkable resemblance to that of the real woman who stood no more than eight or nine yards to his left.  Perhaps this was a lucky omen, an indication that he ought to make her acquaintance in this very room and thereby achieve the initial part of his romantic objectives?  He didn't really know what to think.  But, correspondences aside, he realized that he would have to act pretty soon if he didn't want to lose her and perhaps spend the rest of the day regretting his indecision!

     Glancing back over his shoulder, he noticed that the young beauty in question had taken up a position in front of Bronzino's alluring Venus, Cupid, Folly, and Time, the far side of the room.  This intriguing allegory, in which Venus is being kissed and fondled by Cupid, while Time, in the guise of an old winged greybeard, holds up the pale-blue drapery upon which the goddess poses and Folly clasps his demented head in what appears to be jealous disapproval, was easily the most erotic of all the nude paintings in the National Gallery, forming, for most people, the undisputed cynosure of the room.  It occurred to James Kelly that if he could muster the courage or willpower to go across to the painting and make a show of admiring it, he would have an excellent opportunity to attract her attention with a smiling glance, and thus make it perfectly clear to her that he was interested in doing something similar.  From then on, everything should follow like clockwork.

     Calling upon every shred of willpower at his disposal, he crossed the room and stationed himself beside the blonde.  With a brief inspection of Venus' naked body behind him, he stole a glance at her latter-day counterpart, whose lips had formed into a gentle smile.  Could it be that she was smiling from pride at being admired by such a handsome young man as himself, or was there something about the painting which amused her - say, its overly erotic proceedings?  Naturally, it wasn't a question he cared to dwell on there and then.  What mattered was finding the courage to say something to her and somehow get a conversation under way.

     Already the words were on the tip of his tongue and, just as he was about to open his mouth and allow them to tumble out, along came a middle-aged man in expensive-looking clothes who stationed himself immediately to her right!  He swallowed hard to quell the incipient tumble of admiring words and simultaneously stifle the anger and frustration mounting inside him, as the incident brought a fresh rush of blood to his face.  It was as though he had been caught red-handed in the act of doing something dishonourable.  For even the painting, ordinarily one which would have added some amusement to his aesthetic appreciation of its graceful outlines, now caused him to feel uncomfortable in light of his seductive intent.

     Confined for the nonce to the cage of his psychological discomfiture, he kept his attention focused on the dove beneath Cupid's right foot at the bottom left-hand corner of the painting, in an attempt to conceal his embarrassment from the other viewers.  What he actually saw of it was little more than a blur, but at least this stratagem provided him with something to cling-on to in the face of his shameful predicament.  But why oh why did that idiot have to come between him and his intentions at the vital moment!  How could he possibly be expected to commit himself to making the young beauty's acquaintance in front of a middle-aged intruder whose respectful demeanour created the distinct impression that such a thing wasn't done in galleries, least of all in galleries of this magnitude, where classical and religious art ruled supreme?  Admittedly, he had never attempted to pick anyone up in a gallery of any description before, since a certain moral misgiving about the whole idea of 'picking up' female strangers had often installed itself into his consciousness at critical times, making him mindful of the risks involved, and having more than a little to do with his unwillingness, as a cultured person, to be seduced by appearances alone, which would somehow have struck him as somehow cheap and superficial.  Ideally, one waited for the right female to come along, and one only got to know her by degrees, as the regular contacts one had with her blossomed into an amorous relationship.  In the meantime, one just had to be patient and play the waiting game.

     But there were times - and this was evidently one of them - when one was literally overwhelmed by the stunning beauty of a delightful stranger who happened to cross one's path and, no matter where it was, felt literally compelled to 'pick her up'.  At such times, the power of beauty, the promise of real sexual fulfilment, seemed to overrule any abstract ethical conceptions one might ordinarily have adhered to, in consequence of which one found oneself committed to securing her companionship on the grounds that such beauty precluded the likelihood of psychological incompatibility and accordingly rendered preliminary associations irrelevant.

     It seemed an eternity to James Kelly as he stood in front of the Bronzino and continued to stare at the white dove, not knowing what to do next.  Although he had only been there little over a minute he felt that if he didn't act immediately, either by wrenching himself away from the painting altogether or, preferably, turning towards the 'Venus' beside him to unburden his heart to her, the situation would become too conspicuously embarrassing and people would become cynically suspicious of his motives for standing where he was, in such close proximity to the young woman in question.  Then they would follow him through the room with disapproving eyes or whisper between themselves in sarcastic derision at his lack of cultural reverence.

     Confined to the cage of his personal subjectivity, Kelly could only speculate along these rather paranoid lines.  For in this unbalanced state-of-mind it simply didn't occur to him that other people might not give a damn whether he said anything to the female by his side or not; that they might even take them for lovers anyway, and be more interested in viewing paintings than listening-in to other people's conversations.  He was much too self-centred to think anything of the kind, so preoccupied had he become with the struggle going on inside him between the desire to avoid making a fool of himself and the much more positive desire to obtain what he was after.  And, not surprisingly, it was the latter which was winning out, since he now resolved to speak to the woman regardless of the consequences.  The smartly-dressed bourgeois tourist had been reduced, as this resolve took shape in a moment of supreme defiance, to an insignificant foreigner whose opinions didn't matter and who, in any case, stood about as much chance of 'picking up' the blonde at his expense as he would stand if, as a balding English tourist with a burgeoning paunch, he was attempting to 'pick up' some beautiful Italian woman at the expense of a handsome young Italian in some Florentine or Rome gallery.

     Clearing his throat for the benefit of the beautiful stranger, he turned his neck to the right and ... but no! How could it possibly be?  For he encountered the middle-aged tourist and another, younger man whom he hadn't noticed before!  His expression immediately changed to horrified amazement at the sight of them and, tearing himself away from where he stood, he hurried across to the centre of the room to get a better view of his surroundings.  Of the twelve or thirteen other people there, not one of them was wearing a white vest or displaying a beautiful pair of firm legs beneath the rim of a tight-fitting miniskirt.  He recalled that he had been so embarrassed, on first sighting the middle-aged tourist, that he had endeavoured to conceal it from the young woman by riveting his attention on the furthermost corner of the painting from her.  And, during that time, she had evidently taken her leave of it and exited the room!  But in which direction?  After all, there were three exits to choose from here, which made it trebly difficult to come to the right decision.  It was unlikely, anyway, that she had returned through the one which had served them both as an entrance to the room, so that left two.  Since a poker-faced attendant was standing by the exit in front of him at that moment, he decided to try the one to his right.

     Taking no interest in the paintings exhibited in the adjoining rooms, he kept his eyes peeled for the woman whose beauty had so captivated him earlier that afternoon.  He passed through at least four rooms in quick succession, but without visible success.  She was nowhere to be seen!

     Too annoyed with himself for having lost track of her, yet too intent on finding her again to be particularly disconcerted by his swift passage through successive rooms, he gave the greater part of his attention to scrutinizing the visitors encountered en route, ignoring, where possible, both attendants and paintings alike.  Only in Rooms 9 and 10 did he allow his preoccupation with the elusive beauty to be shelved awhile, as some of the paintings there captured his attention.  In Room 9, for instance, The Family of Darius before Alexander stopped him in his tracks for a moment as, with slightly less than his customary attention to detail, he granted this huge masterpiece by Paolo Veronese a sort of reverential inspection.  Nearby, Tintoretto's St. George and the Dragon managed to arrest his attention in like fashion, whilst, on another wall, the same master's Origin of the Milky Way returned him to something approaching his usual self, as, forgetting the cause of his recent tribulations, he permitted his gaze to wander over the entire range of this highly imaginative canvas, noting, in particular, the golden stars which spurted from the breasts of the naked mother of the Milky Way who, raising herself on one hand from the luxuriously draped bed to the left of the painting, receives the attentions of a suckling child held up to her left breast by a father-figure, presumably God, whose nudity is wrapped in salmon-pink drapery.  In addition to four cherubim, one beheld two pheasants to the lower right-hand side of the canvas and an eagle, or other bird of prey, carrying in its talons what at first sight looked like a crab but which, on closer inspection, transpired to being a sort of bushy-tailed monster with pointed limbs and a sharply protruding tongue - in short, the Devil.  The entire scene, set in the heavens, with clouds above and below the naked woman, was suggestive of some strange surrealism peculiar to the sixteenth century.  The colour combinations used in its composition were still extremely impressive.

     Stationed there with hands in his jacket pockets, Kelly found himself wondering why none of the nudes he had seen on canvas that day seemed to possess any pubic hair, but generally presented an appearance of innocent sexlessness.  The erotic content had been narrowed down, in the vast majority of cases, to the breasts and thighs, so that only a mild stimulus resulted.  Obviously, it was necessary for the gallery not to create a public scandal or give offence to various people by displaying anything highly erotic.  And it was evidently just as necessary not to encourage the wrong sort of people into the gallery for the wrong reasons, including a desire to masturbate in front of something or someone.  Somehow a golden mean had to be established in the interests of both gallery and public alike.  But, even so, Kelly wasn't completely satisfied by this conviction as to the real reason for the absence of pubic hair from such nudes as presented their lower abdomen to public scrutiny.  Heading towards Room 10, he convinced himself that it was simply not the done thing, in religious art of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, to depict pubic hair on canvas.

     However, the despondency which had earlier engulfed him at not being able to find the young woman he had lost track of in Room 15, temporarily palliated by the genius of Tintoretto, now returned to him in full measure, and it was as much as he could do to adopt anything approaching a receptive frame-of-mind as he stood in front of Mantegna's Agony in the Garden - a work which, on previous occasions, had never failed to impress him.  Of the two paintings by this title hung to either side of the nearer of the two exits from the room, it was the Mantegna rather than the Bellini which he had a special fondness for, even though the latter was unquestionably a significant work.  However, much as he could still appreciate its brilliant colour-scheme, his disturbed state-of-mind made him somewhat critical of the fact that the wonderful aesthetic effects created by its highly engaging colours, reminiscent of the Van Haalem noted earlier, were at distinct loggerheads with the theme the painting sought to convey.  Instead of being made conscious of Christ's agony, one's attention was arrested by the beauty and technical mastery of the composition itself.  And the same criticism could also be levelled at Giovanni Bellini's version, though perhaps to a lesser extent, in view of the sombre clouds which hovered ominously above the Saviour's head, like some dark bird of prey, and the less-vibrant tones employed in its execution.  He felt quite certain, at any rate, that had a modern artist like, say, Francis Bacon or Eduard Munch tackled this subject, the agony of Christ's suffering would have been conveyed to the viewer in no uncertain terms!

     Taking his leave of the manneristic works in question, he reluctantly allowed himself to be seduced into admiring Mantegna's The Introduction of the Cult of Cybele at Rome.  There was something about the silver figures before his eyes which mitigated the despondency he had been plunged into anew, in consequence of his unappeased desire.  Perhaps the fact of their being pertinent to an engraving rather than to a painting had some significance in this respect?  He couldn't tell, but he was grateful, all the same, that the work of this leading fifteenth-century artist had an effect on him akin to a mild soporific.  However, he hadn't entirely abandoned all hope of finding the young woman and introducing himself to her.  Admittedly, he wasn't as keen now as he had been, a few minutes before, to hunt through successive rooms in search of his sexual quarry with a near-philistine disregard for their time-hallowed contents.  He had virtually resigned himself to having lost her.  But there were still a number of rooms to investigate and, for all he knew, she might well be in one of them.

     He had arrived at an area between rooms with a winding staircase leading to the downstairs galleries.  Never having visited them in the past, he thought it worth his while to check things out anyway, in the hope that, even if his quarry wasn't there, he would encounter something he hadn't seen before.  But despite his interest in a few of the exhibits, he couldn't draw any real relief from this change of scenery.  In gallery A, which was by far the largest, he found himself walking between numerous rows of paintings hung on elongated wooden supports, thereby enabling the gallery in question to exhibit hundreds of works in the immense space between the walls, which, in any case, were almost entirely hidden behind paintings.  Conscious of the many attendants on duty there, Kelly feigned interest, as best he could, in the exhibits, turning his gaze to left and right as he went up one row and down another, so to speak, and briefly stopping in front of one of them every so often.  On the end of a row to the left of the gallery, a work entitled The Worship of the Egyptian Bull-God, Apis genuinely intrigued him.  But, although he would have ideally preferred to give the gallery as a whole more attention than he actually was doing, this Fillippino Lippi notwithstanding, the recollection of his real motive for being there spurred him on to taking his leave of it.  Yet the golden-haired woman was nowhere to be found in any of the adjoining galleries either, and, of all the colourful paintings being exhibited, he could only bring himself to halt briefly in front of two - the first, in gallery B, entitled Cognoscenti in a Room hung with Pictures, which was attributed to the Flemish School Ca. 1620, and the second, in gallery F, entitled The Toilet of Venus, from the studio of Guido Reni (1575-1642), which, though manifestly inferior to the one upstairs, nevertheless intrigued him on account of the fact that he hadn't realized there existed another version of this theme, but had been content, for some curious reason, to regard the Velazquez as the only one of its kind!  And neither had he been aware that, in addition to Nicolas Poussin, there was also a Charles Poussin, an engaging example of whose work had been put on show in one of the downstairs galleries.  But he couldn't permit himself to linger any longer in this particular department of the National Gallery since, at that moment, the sensual desire to set eyes on the real-life 'Venus' again was much stronger than the aesthetic desire to contemplate any number of representational paintings, for which, in any case, he had much less enthusiasm, these days, than formerly.

     Once upstairs, however, he felt his heart sink at the immensity of the task before him, of the vast number of rooms he would still have to traverse in his endeavour to find her!  He had already walked backwards and forwards from room to room and gallery to gallery with no success and, not altogether surprisingly, his legs were less fresh now than at the beginning.  By the time he got to Room 8, he had resigned all hope of achieving his objective and, with a sigh of defeat, he slumped resignedly onto one of its soft-leather seats.  In front of him, da Vinci's The Virgin of the Rocks appeared more melancholy than on any previous occasion he could recall - in fact so melancholy, that he could hardly bear to look at it!  He felt doubly cheated for having lost the woman who had, wittingly or unwittingly, seduced him into following her in the first place and, through his obsession with her, deprived him of a studious appreciation of a number of paintings which, despite their manifest antiquity, weren't entirely without some contemporary relevance.  It seemed to him, as he sat with bowed head, that the afternoon had been thoroughly misspent; that he should never have elected to visit the National Gallery in the first place.  In consequence of which, the only sensible thing to do now, not to prolong the agony, was to apply the coup de grâce to himself and leave the place without further ado!

     Forcing himself up from the seat with this in mind, he ambled towards the exit, scarcely bothering to pay any attention to those around him.  To the left and several yards ahead of him, in one of the smaller rooms, a middle-aged woman was being informed by a stern-faced attendant that it was illegal to step over the rope to take a closer look at the paintings.  Undaunted, the woman then blandly informed the attendant that she had absolutely no intention of touching or damaging anything.  But the attendant, trained to do a specific job, still requested her to step back over the rope.  Not taking any notice of him, the woman continued to inspect the small painting before her eyes, and the attendant, growing sterner by the second, persisted in requesting her to step back over the rope and thus abide by the rules.  As Kelly passed by the room he heard the attendant call for the supervisor, and felt a bitter anger growing inside him at the stupidity and unreasonableness of the offending viewer.  It didn't occur to him that she might be short-sighted, but it certainly occurred to him, as he took a passing glance at her, that it was just the sort of futile scene to mark the climax of an altogether futile afternoon.

     When he arrived in the commercial area, however, his glum state-of-mind suddenly took a turn for the better, and he decided to buy a postcard of The Toilet of Venus to commemorate the occasion of his first setting eyes on the young woman who happened to be staring at that painting at the time.  In addition, he bought a few other postcards, including Van Huijsum's Fruit and Flowers, which circumstances had prevented him from viewing in the flesh, as it were, of the actual work.  Then he headed for the exit and, pushing his way through its swing-doors, came to an abrupt standstill just outside.  For the person who caught his attention at that very moment was none other than the woman for whom he had been frantically searching all afternoon!  And she was not staring-out over Trafalgar Square or looking at other people.  Standing with her back to the railings, she was staring directly at him!

     As though at a command from her eyes he was beside her and mumbling an invitation to a meal somewhere.  She smiled her acceptance and, within a couple of minutes, they were walking down the steps together and proceeding in the general direction of Charing Cross Road.  He soon learnt that her name was Sharon, and that she was an actress.

 

 

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