I should never be forgiven, if I were to let you--and Miss Dorrit--go, without doing so. May I? You can excuse the disorder and discomfort of a painter's studio?'
The inquiries were addressed to Miss Fanny, who graciously replied that she would be beyond anything interested and enchanted. Mrs Gowan went to a door, looked in beyond it, and came back. 'Do Henry the favour to come in,' said she, 'I knew he would be pleased!'
The first object that confronted Little Dorrit, entering first, was Blandois of Paris in a great cloak and a furtive slouched hat, standing on a throne platform in a corner, as he had stood on the Great Saint Bernard, when the warning arms seemed to be all pointing up at him. She recoiled from this figure, as it smiled at her.
'Don't be alarmed,' said Gowan, coming from his easel behind the door. 'It's only Blandois. He is doing duty as a model to-day. I am making a study of him. It saves me money to turn him to some use. We poor painters have none to spare.'
Blandois of Paris pulled off his slouched hat, and saluted the ladies without coming out of his corner.
'A thousand pardons!' said he. 'But the Professore here is so inexorable with me, that I am afraid to stir.'
'Don't stir, then,' said Gowan coolly, as the sisters approached the easel. 'Let the ladies at least see the original of the daub, that they may know what it's meant for. There he stands, you see. A bravo waiting for his prey, a distinguished noble waiting to save his country, the common enemy waiting to do somebody a bad turn, an angelic messenger waiting to do somebody a good turn--whatever you think he looks most like!' 'Say, Professore Mio, a poor gentleman waiting to do homage to elegance and beauty,' remarked Blandois.
'Or say, Cattivo Soggetto Mio,' returned Gowan, touching the painted face with his brush in the part where the real face had moved, 'a murderer after the fact. Show that white hand of yours, Blandois. Put it outside the cloak. Keep it still.'
Blandois' hand was unsteady; but he laughed, and that would naturally shake it.
'He was formerly in some scuffle with another murderer, or with a victim, you observe,' said Gowan, putting in the markings of the hand with a quick, impatient, unskilful touch, 'and these are the tokens of it. Outside the cloak, man!--Corpo di San Marco, what are you thinking of?'
Blandois of Paris shook with a laugh again, so that his hand shook more; now he raised it to twist his moustache, which had a damp appearance; and now he stood in the required position, with a little new swagger.
His face was so directed in reference to the spot where Little Dorrit stood by the easel, that throughout he looked at her. Once attracted by his peculiar eyes, she could not remove her own, and they had looked at each other all the time. She trembled now; Gowan, feeling it, and supposing her to be alarmed by the large dog beside him, whose head she caressed in her hand, and who had just uttered a low growl, glanced at her to say, 'He won't hurt you, Miss Dorrit.'
'I am not afraid of him,' she returned in the same breath; 'but will you look at him?'
In a moment Gowan had thrown down his brush, and seized the dog with both hands by the collar.
'Blandois! How can you be such a fool as to provoke him! By Heaven, and the other place too, he'll tear you to bits! Lie down!
Lion! Do you hear my voice, you rebel!
'The great dog, regardless of being half-choked by his collar, was obdurately pulling with his dead weight against his master, resolved to get across the room. He had been crouching for a spring at the moment when his master caught him.
'Lion! Lion!' He was up on his hind legs, and it was a wrestle between master and dog. 'Get back! Down, Lion! Get out of his sight, Blandois! What devil have you conjured into the dog?'
'I have done nothing to him.'
'Get out of his sight or I can't hold the wild beast! Get out of the room! By my soul, he'll kill you!'
The dog, with a ferocious bark, made one other struggle as Blandois vanished; then, in the moment of the dog's submission, the master, little less angry than the dog, felled him with a blow on the head, and standing over him, struck him many times severely with the heel of his boot, so that his mouth was presently bloody.