I 'adn't the foggiest it would be so boring.
The brocade round me neck is itching summ'at awful. I dare'nt move me 'and, so I wriggle me shoulders until he barks, "Stand still." So I do, tryin' to think of summ'at else to take me mind off it.
The dress is killing me under me shoulders. I'm a bit plumper than 'er, I s'pose. I wonder if 'e'll paint in the little creases where the fabric is stretched across me bust.
The job sounded so fancy when 'e first showed up. Mind you, I was up to me eyes in fish scales at the time, so I weren't feeling picky.
"Excuse me, miss." Ever so polite 'e was. A real gentleman, me ma said, when I took him to meet 'er later.
"Excuse me, miss. I wonder if you'd be interested in being a model for me? I paint portraits, you see."
Well, my William looked 'bout ready to fillet 'im like a mackerel as he stood there, 'is 'at in 'is 'and like a proper toff. 'E obviously realised 'e'd started off badly, so 'e quickly explained. "Nothing improper, I promise you. You could bring a chaperone, of course. You see, I've been commissioned to paint the Duchess of Barnstable's eldest daughter. A coming-out portrait. She's a famous beauty. But, the thing is, she can only let me have three sittings, so I need a stand-in. Someone who resembles her. To wear her dress. Stand in her pose. And I saw you, and you're perfect."
Well, I didn't need no second invite. I took off me apron and 'anded it to William, 'oo was scowling fit to bust. And that's 'ow I ended up 'ere, me 'air piled on me 'ead like a Sunday pudding.
Now I've got cramp in me leg. I wonder if he'll notice if I bend it under me skirts… ow, ow... Oh no, there's the plinth gone. Mind you, it weren't good craftsmanship. Me dad could've done a better job with one 'and be'ind 'is back.
Oh, when's me hour up? It ain't no fun bein' a stand-in.
We're 'avin' a break, and now 'e wants to talk. Showin' me 'is paintin's. Wants to show off, I s'pose.
"This is the Earl of Caernarvon."
"Well, 'e looks like he fancies 'imself, standing with 'is 'ands in 'is pockets like that."
"Yes, perhaps. It was remarkably difficult to persuade him that his pet pig didn't belong in the painting. He needed some mollifying after that, I seem to recall… Ah, yes, this is the Countess of Middlesex."
"And she's no better than she oughta be. Look at that dress. A wonder she didn't catch 'er death of cold. Catch me wearin' summat like that."
"Well, I couldn't possibly comment on that. But tell me, what sort of art do you like?"
"Art? Me? I never 'ave time for things like that. I've got me job at the fish-stall and then me Ma and Dad to cook for when I get 'ome. Us workin' folks aint got time for yer fancy stuff."
"Well, I think that's a pity. Art can teach us so much. Now tell me, what do you think of this?"
'E pulls out an enormous painting. Dark, it is. I can 'ardly make it out. Then I realise, it's a man on a cross. 'Alf a dozen women standin' around wringing their 'ands. Gloomy, I call it. Not what I'd want on me wall at 'ome.
Still, it's good to be polite. "Very nice. Sort of meaningful, I 'spect."
He looks at me with 'is 'ead one one side, like 'e's about to pick up 'is paintbrush. "Well, I like to think so. Do you know who it is?"
"What kind'a fool d'you take me for? Course I know 'oo it is."
"And do you know why he's doing it?"
"I ain't no university professor, mister. Ask them as knows."
"The thing is, it's not university professors who understand this best. It's ordinary people like you and me."
"Well, speak for yerself, mister. I don't know nothin' about that."
"But you do, of course you do. You see, he was a stand-in, too."
"A stand-in? 'Oo for?"
"For you, Hettie. For me. You see, it's not just the toffs who need a substitute."
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