Men I Have Painted/Mrs. Asquith
THERE is a fascinating sound about "The Wharf." It carries one to so many places at once. It recalls sun-sprinkled water, lapping against barnacle-covered posts upholding rickety structures in ancient wood, over which boyish figures hang to peer into clear depths for crawling creatures and lazy fish. It reminds one of rushing noises, of bright colours, of groanings and grindings, as great side-wheel steamers labour and surge before they are rope-bound to giant wooden stays, to empty out the motley throng of joyous and care-free people seeking holiday. So when I first heard that I was to come to "The Wharf," my imagination pictured many things by sea and lake and river, without hitting once upon the place it really is. But more definite names at last led me to think of the Thames and Oxford, and all that charming country that I learned to know so well when Abbey was painting, at Morgan Hall, in Fairford, the Search for the Holy Grail. I could picture Joseph of Arimathea and Guinevere and Launcelot, and all the knights around King Arthur's table. And here, too, had been my son, with Professor Turner, numbering stars that were as grains of sand upon the sea-shore.
And when I found "The Wharf," there was a river and a weir, and the most delightful of houses, a garden full of roses, a mill, a mill-race, and a vine-covered barn—but no wharf!
And then a lady came tripping in to greet me, smiling so frankly and kindly, that I was at home at once, and in love with the books and flowers, and the gay vista, through the garden to the silver willows, casting shadows on the placid river. And, as I stood by her side talking about the simple and pretty border-flowers, I glanced sidewise at the slight, frail, but somewhat rigid figure, at the delicate Dante-like profile, the dark, full eyes, and wondered at the woman who had jumped into the field of life, and surmounted its obstacles at a run, a gallop, a canter, and a trot, but never at a walk.
Was she thinking of the flowers, the bees, and the butterflies? Or, like mine, were her thoughts straying among the other thoughts that were then crowding around her—impulses in the ether, surging over her from the most distant lands in the far-flung Empire, because she had revealed her soul to the peoples?