Nettie’s Secret by Dilly Court Read Online (FREE)
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Covent Garden, 1875
Robert Carroll appeared in the doorway of his attic studio, wiping his hands on his already paint-stained smock. A streak of Rose Madder appeared like a livid gash on his forehead. ‘Nettie, I want you to go to Winsor and Newton in Rathbone Place and get me some more Cobalt Blue, Indian Yellow and Zinc White. I can’t finish this painting without them.’
Nettie looked up from the garment she had been mending. ‘Do you need them urgently, Pa? I promised to finish this for Madame Fabron. It’s the opening night of her play at the Adelphi, and she must have her gown.’
‘And I have to finish this commission, or I won’t get paid and we’ll find ourselves homeless. We’re already behind with the rent, and Ma Burton isn’t the most reasonable of souls.’
‘All right, Pa. I’ll go, but I thought we didn’t have any money, which was why we had nothing but onions for supper last night.’ Reluctantly, Nettie laid her sewing aside.
‘Food is not important when art is concerned, Nettie,’ Robert said severely. ‘I can’t finish my work without paint, and if I don’t get this canvas to Dexter by tomorrow there’ll be trouble.’ He took some coins from his pocket and pressed them into her hand. ‘Go now, and hurry.’
‘I know you think the world of Duke Dexter, but how do you know that the copies you make of old masters’ works aren’t passed off as the real thing?’ Nettie pocketed the money. ‘You only have Duke’s word for the fact that he sells your canvases as reproductions.’
‘Nonsense, Nettie. Duke is a respectable art dealer with a gallery in Paris as well as in London.’ Robert ran his hand through his hair, leaving it more untidy than ever. ‘And even if he weren’t an honest dealer, what would you have me do? Commissions don’t come my way often enough to support us, even in this rat-infested attic.’
‘I still think you ought to check up on him, Pa.’
‘Stop preaching at me, Nettie. Be a good girl and get the paint or we’ll both starve to death.’
‘You have such talent, Pa,’ Nettie said sadly. ‘It’s a pity to squander it by making copies of other people’s work.’ She snatched up her bonnet and shawl and left her father to get on as best he could until she returned with the urgently needed paints. Everything was always done in a panic, and their way of living had been one of extremes ever since she could remember. When Robert Carroll sold one of his canvases they lived well and, despite Nettie’s attempts to save something for the lean times to come, her father had a habit of spending freely without any thought to the future.
Nettie made her way down the narrow, twisting staircase to the second floor, where the two rooms were shared by the friends who had kept her spirits up during the worst of hard times. Byron Horton, whom she thought of as a much-loved big brother, was employed as a clerk by a firm in Lincoln’s Inn. Nettie had been tempted to tell him that she suspected Marmaduke Dexter of being a fraud, but that might incriminate her father and so she had kept her worries to herself. The other two young men were Philip Ransome, known fondly as Pip, who worked in the same law office as Byron, and Ted Jones, whose tender heart had been broken so many times by his choice of lady friend that it had become a standing joke. Ted worked for the Midland Railway Company, and was currently suffering from yet another potentially disastrous romantic entanglement.