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Jacob's Room

CHAPTER TEN
Through the disused graveyard in the parish of St. Pancras, Fanny Elmer strayed
between the white tombs which lean against the wall, crossing the grass to read a
name, hurrying on when the grave-keeper approached, hurrying into the street, pausing
now by a window with blue china, now quickly making up for lost time, abruptly entering
a baker's shop, buying rolls, adding cakes, going on again so that any one wishing to
follow must fairly trot. She was not drably shabby, though. She wore silk stockings, and
silver-buckled shoes, only the red feather in her hat drooped, and the clasp of her bag
was weak, for out fell a copy of Madame Tussaud's programme as she walked. She had
the ankles of a stag. Her face was hidden. Of course, in this dusk, rapid movements,
quick glances, and soaring hopes come naturally enough. She passed right beneath
Jacob's window.
The house was flat, dark, and silent. Jacob was at home engaged upon a chess
problem, the board being on a stool between his knees. One hand was fingering the
hair at the back of his head. He slowly brought it forward and raised the white queen
from her square; then put her down again on the same spot. He filled his pipe;
ruminated; moved two pawns; advanced the white knight; then ruminated with one
finger upon the bishop. Now Fanny Elmer passed beneath the window.
She was on her way to sit to Nick Bramham the painter.
She sat in a flowered Spanish shawl, holding in her hand a yellow novel.
"A little lower, a little looser, so--better, that's right," Bramham mumbled, who was
drawing her, and smoking at the same time, and was naturally speechless. His head
might have been the work of a sculptor, who had squared the forehead, stretched the
mouth, and left marks of his thumbs and streaks from his fingers in the clay. But the
eyes had never been shut. They were rather prominent, and rather bloodshot, as if from
staring and staring, and when he spoke they looked for a second disturbed, but went on
staring. An unshaded electric light hung above her head.
As for the beauty of women, it is like the light on the sea, never constant to a single
wave. They all have it; they all lose it. Now she is dull and thick as bacon; now
transparent as a hanging glass. The fixed faces are the dull ones. Here comes Lady
Venice displayed like a monument for admiration, but carved in alabaster, to be set on
the mantelpiece and never dusted. A dapper brunette complete from head to foot
serves only as an illustration to lie upon the drawing-room table. The women in the
streets have the faces of playing cards; the outlines accurately filled in with pink or
yellow, and the line drawn tightly round them. Then, at a top-floor window, leaning out,
looking down, you see beauty itself; or in the corner of an omnibus; or squatted in a
ditch--beauty glowing, suddenly expressive, withdrawn the moment after. No one can
count on it or seize it or have it wrapped in paper. Nothing is to be won from the shops,
 
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