Cover image for The adventures of Allegra Fullerton, or, A memoir of startling and amusing episodes from itinerant life
The adventures of Allegra Fullerton, or, A memoir of startling and amusing episodes from itinerant life
Begiebing, Robert J., 1946-
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Publication Information:
Hanover, NH : University Press of New England, [1999]

Physical Description:
xiii, 310 pages : portraits ; 23 cm.
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X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Begiebing masterfully conjures the voice and perspective of a young widow in the early 19th century, struggling toward independence and artistic fulfillment in a society unprepared to grant either to a woman.'

Author Notes

Robert J. Begiebing is Professor of English at New Hampshire College

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Begiebing, who took readers back to the seventeenth century in his well-received first novel The Strange Death of Mistress Coffin (1991), now visits mid-nineteenth-century New England and Italy as seen through the eyes of Mrs. Allegra Fullerton. Orphaned young and widowed at 20, Allegra takes to the road as an itinerant portrait painter, with her brother as companion. As her fortunes and skills improve, she is accepted as a student by the artist George Spooner in Boston before being cruelly abducted and imprisoned for months by a young rogue, an event which, in its aftermath, changes the course of her brother's life. Historic figures make more than mere appearances here: Richard Henry Dana is Allegra's rescuer and introduces her to Margaret Fuller, who will become a key figure in Allegra's life during her sojourn in Italy with Spooner, while John Ruskin incites her intellect and assists in family matters. Amidst discussions of art, beauty, and truth, and descriptions of Italian cities and countrysides, there also are pleasures of the flesh, most discreetly described. --Michele Leber

Publisher's Weekly Review

Scholarly research and an imaginative plot are the linchpins of Begiebing's beguiling second novel (after The Strange Death of Mistress Coffin). A historian taking inventory of a Massachusetts archive stumbles across a kunstlerroman (artist novel) written by feisty Allegra Fullerton, who details her adventures as a traveling portrait painter in 19th-century New England. Begiebing presents Allegra's memoirs in formal, lustrous period language, and his meticulously evoked settings, dialogue and characters provide a seamlessly authentic entry into the era. Widowed in 1836 at the age of 20, Allegra returns to the New Hampshire farm where she was raised, but rather than endure the drudgeries of farm life, she decides to use her gift for creating "true likenesses." Accompanied by her brother Tom, who serves as her "assistant-promoter-protector," Allegra takes to the road to earn their livelihoods by "limning" the features of both the living and the dead (through then-fashionable memorial portraits). Though clients are initially skeptical of the idea of a woman painter, Allegra's work speaks for itself, and soon they are flush from her commissions. A wealthy textiles manufacturer in Worcester, Mass., provides a lucrative assignment for Allegra, but his degenerate son drugs, abducts and holds her hostage, expecting an "intimate friendship" with his prisoner. Escaping after months of captivity, Allegra is taken to a home for fallen women, where she is befriended by early feminist Margaret Fuller, who arranges for her stay at a utopian commune. Reunion with a joyful Tom leads to tragedy, and Tom goes abroad while Allegra returns to Boston, but her world expands as she learns the principles of transcendentalism. Her studies with master painter George Spooner lead to a trip to Italy, where she meets art critic John Ruskin. She becomes a celebrated artist, blossoming amid the political upheavals in a rapidly changing society. Saturated with vivid period detail, sprinkled with rousing feminist sentiments, if occasionally slowed by didactic discourse on the meaning of art, the novel will keep readers engrossed in its intelligent heroine's adventures. Reproductions of 19th-century portraits provide a visual supplement to this first-rate tale. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Begiebing's fourth bookÄhe published the acclaimed Death of Mistress Coffin in 1991Äintroduces contemporary readers to the nuances and concerns of the 19th century through the fictional diary of itinerant artist Allegra Fullerton. An appealing, independent, and spunky woman who would be deemed extraordinary in any era, Fullerton begins her reminiscences shortly after the untimely death of her husband in the late 1830s. Accompanied by her brother, Fullerton tweaks gender norms by traveling throughout New England and painting the portraits of anyoneÄthe upstanding as well as the less respectableÄwith the cash to hire her. Her musings about each locale make for amusing and often intriguing reading. Art, philosophy, religion, slavery, sexual propriety, suffrageÄall are addressed with candid clarity. Although the language of the era is sometimes difficult for modern readers, the effort it takes is ultimately rewarded. Highly recommended.ÄEleanor J. Bader, Brooklyn, NY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One The onset of my captivity                    From the beginning, my time of bondage was like a terrible dream: filled with lurid strangers and events. Dark moments of unknowing alternated with moments of oppressive enlightenment. My heart seemed to oscillate between desire for liberty--sickening in its very intensity--and utter hopelessness.     Of the first day in my room I remember little. I recall a dim Pandemonium of carts, carriages, and people below my window each time I awoke, only to lie in a stupor. If I arose languidly in an effort to understand my circumstances in this room somewhere in the city, fatigue soon drove me back to bed. Beside my bed was a simple night table on which sat two well-trimmed sperm candles. Plush, red brocaded curtains on the single window hung to a carpet patterned in unicorns and other mythical creatures.     It must have been near dusk when I awoke once more to the presence of others in the room. But I lay in my lethargy and feigned sleep.     "The doc give her another dose after she came," I heard a woman's voice say softly.     "The old sot must have kill't her nearly," a man's deep voice said.     The voices began to whisper at the far end of the room, but with the clamor on the street and the difficulty I had concentrating on the words, I couldn't comprehend them. I began to understand, however, that I had been in some way besotted, which accounted for my lassitude and nausea.     I heard a tray slide off the table and the door close quietly. I slept again, waking briefly two or three times in the night, and finally, near daybreak, I began to feel some of my vital energy returning. After a patch of sky near the top of my window had turned blue, I finally arose and began to examine the room closely. I found a washbowl full of cool water on a dressing table and washed myself as well as I could. The room was close, but the window was sealed shut in some way. Still, I heard from the street below the same hubbub I had heard in wakeful intervals the day before. As I looked down upon the street I began to feel dizzy again, so I sat on the bed a while, facing the locked door.     Eventually, a key turned and the door to my room opened slowly. I looked up to see the head of a woman, her hair covered with a colorful nightcap, peering in at me. Her face was for the moment inscrutable, neither frowning nor smiling, encouraging nor discouraging. She entered the room with a tray of food and set the tray beside me on the bed. As she did so, I noticed that her face was well powdered and that she wore an unfamiliar scent, at once exotic and sweet. Her bright, loosely fastened dressing gown, worn décolleté fashion, revealed an ample bosom, as powdered as her face--a woman of thirty-five years or more.     Before speaking a word, she pointed to the tray of food and allowed a quick little smile and a nod of her head, whereupon her face immediately resumed its expression of impassivity.     "Who are you?" I asked. "And why have you brought me here against my will?"     "You'll find out soon enough, my dear," she answered. "For now, see to yourself. You must eat, rest well, and bathe later. And those clothes! Have you seen yourself?" She glanced toward the large mirror attached to the dressing table. "You'll soon have clothing suitable to ..." She paused and looked around the room. "To your position here."     "But why am I here?" My raised voice seemed to give her a start.     Her eyes narrowed a bit. "You'll see soon enough," she repeated. "No more questions till you take care of yourself."     The door opened again and a large, rough-looking Negro man entered. In one hand he carried a fresh chamber pot; over his other arm he had draped what appeared to be several nightgowns and a dressing gown not unlike the one my mysterious interlocutor was wearing. He said nothing, never even stole a glance at me.     "Put those things on the chair, Reggie," the woman said. When he had done so, she thanked him. Still speechless, he then stooped over and reached under my bed, slid out the chamber pot, and carried it out of the room, closing the door behind him.     "I must have some fresh air," I said. "This room is oppressive."     She looked at me in silence, then said matter-of-factly: "None of these things we discuss till you eat, bathe, and change. Come now." She indicated the tray of food again and stood there waiting. By then I was hungry, and I saw that I had no choice but to comply with her wishes.     As I began to eat, she explained that once I finished I was to go under her supervision three flights down to the washroom on the first floor. After my bath, she continued, I was to prepare myself for an interview with a certain gentleman that evening. She refused to answer any further questions, averring once again that all such conversation was to cease until I had done everything I was told.     After I ate, she led me downstairs and into the washroom, remaining there with me until I finished and dressed in one of the dressing gowns the Negro had brought in for me. I had found it most difficult to bathe under her appraising eyes. But somehow I completed my task and soon found myself back in my room. Or cell rather.     I stood for a time at the window looking down upon the busy, unfamiliar street--a place of heterogeneous shops and boardinghouses. Below, the comings and goings of an odd assortment of people flowed continually. Sailors and shop clerks strode cheek by jowl; substantial men of trade rubbed elbows with hawkers and ballad singers; black men and women thronged among white, some exchanging greetings, others entering or exiting various shops or taverns together. As one door down the street swung open, I dimly heard a burst of wild fiddle music, as if from a dance hall. Two young men somewhat above the middle station of life, their linen suits rumpled and vests undone, lurched out of a rumhole into broad daylight and, leaning on one another, endeavored to regain their bearings before setting off down the declining street. They nearly fell over a handbarrow from which a man and woman sold their wares. Following these two men was a most perfidious looking fellow whose swarthy laborer's clothes were disheveled, even unto the tattered cap askant on his greasy head.     Had I been at liberty to run out into the street, I would not, I now understood, have felt safe asking for help. Many of the people I saw seemed exuberant, some nearly to the point of delirium, yet there was a garish cast to their persons and proceedings that suggested to me the desperation of Nether Regions, of antic figures from Hogarth or Brueghel.     Yet I had witnessed a mere pocket of my new neighborhood, in, as I soon discovered, its quieter hours. For later, as I watched evening coming and finally darkness spreading over the city and settling comfortably into the corners and alleyways, the scene below seemed to quicken, to throb and blazon forth under a strange flaring light that, for me, only heightened the tawdry chaos of this neighborhood. How many afternoons and how many evenings was I condemned to witness the shameless little dramas of the street?     I recall feeling in the early days and weeks as if I were an aloof and ruthful spirit looking down upon the vanities and follies of the human race, as if, indeed, the windowpanes through which I observed these people were in fact that adamantine barrier which separates the visible from the invisible worlds.     I was soon to discover, however, that the barrier between me and the street below was something more than those thin panes of glass through which I observed the garish parade. For on the third night of my immurement I met my chief tormentor.     It happened after the Ethiopian had returned to my room with a supper tray balanced on one enormous hand. He placed the tray on my bed, again without a single word, and without expression on his face. I turned from my window to watch him in a silence of my own as he came and went. Then I ate the light meal and drank off the small pot of tea. I began to understand that every meal (there were two a day) was to be light. But just as I had finished, someone knocked softly on the door. I asked who was there, but for reply heard only another knock. I stood up and returned to my sealed window, thereby placing the bed, with its curtains drawn aside, between me and whoever should enter.     A key turned in the lock and the knock was repeated.     "Come in," I said softly. The door opened and suddenly there before me stood Joseph Dudley.     My knees began to tremble as if I were about to engage in life and death struggle. A thousand unspoken questions coursed through my mind. No doubt prepared for my confusion, he merely indicated with a small gesture that I should sit in the chair by the window and compose myself. I sat down, without taking my eyes off his face. In his white waistcoat and kid gloves, he was handsome as ever, as if he were on his way to the theater or opera, his full dark hair combed perfectly into place, shining like polished leather above the rather pale but perfect skin of his smooth-shaven face.     He was smiling, almost as if to encourage me. When he began to speak, I remained in the chair.     "I'm truly sorry, Mrs. Fullerton," he said, "that we should meet again in these circumstances." His good eye glanced quickly around the small room, his face tending toward disapproval. "Rest assured you are under my protection here. No injury shall befall you so long as you are my concern." He smiled again.     "I'm sure you're aware of betraying my confidence previously. I'm not a man to nurse grudges." He spoke serenely, pausing to let his words make their mark upon me. "Yet like every man I do not relish being taken for a fool. Mattie, Mrs. Moore, assures me that you've been seen to, and she has treated you well, I believe, just as I've instructed."     I found my voice. "Mrs. Moore? To what end have you brought me here, Mr. Dudley? And to what sort of establishment?"     "You are safe here," he suggested, again in a calm voice, "so long as you betray me no further, as I'm sure you would not wish to."     "My questions remain, sir!"     "Yes, my hand is in your restraint," he said. "And why should it not be, given your promises and deceits? Yet, as I've said, I bear no grudge. I do not desire that you should suffer, nor to restrain you any longer than necessary."     "Necessary!"     "Please, Mrs. Fullerton. If I may ..." He walked over to the bed, sat upon it, and turned enough to face me. "If I may," he began again. "I want you to understand two things. First, that I and I alone have stayed your uncle's hand, and the hands of his ... emissaries." He put a long, gloved finger to his lips. "Please allow me to continue. I have your interests at heart, you see. I do not wish that your uncle should have you forcibly returned or treated as a common criminal. Nor do I wish to see you, in transit, at the mercy of hireling mollbuzzers or reprobates.     "Secondly," he began after a brief pause, "I wish that we, you and I, should reach an understanding, more than a mere accommodation. That you can trust me, that I do not wish to restrict you, that I welcome your ambitions, your lack of conventionalisms--that, finally, I wish us to become friends and intimates. Since discovering after long search your whereabouts, I have delighted in hearing of your progress. I have the acquaintance of two or three gallery owners. In brief, I too may be of some use to you, if you'll but relinquish your scruples toward me--I am the first to admit that we started on the wrong foot--and accept my offer of friendship."     He paused. I could hardly find where to begin. "And what does your betrothed know of your wishes," I blurted, "to say nothing of this--what shall I call it?--captivity you have placed me in?"     "Please, Mrs. Fullerton," he said, raising his hand again. "You have the habit of seeing everyone in the worst possible light, if I may say so. To be brief, in answer to your rather personal query, my engagement to Amelia, to Miss Simmons, is terminated. I am quite free to cultivate other friendships and relations with the fair sex. So you see, there is no hindrance from that quarter, no need to scruple."     "Mr. Dudley, unless I'm free to leave this ... house immediately, I will not hear of friendships and relations. I will not listen to you further."     "I understand your concern, Mrs. Fullerton," he said before I could go on. "Indeed, I share it. I had hoped you'd listen." He smiled. "To my reasonable appeals. I will press you no further this evening, as I am in any event otherwise engaged." He pulled out his watch. "But I wish you to consider a little longer my offer of protection and friendship. And help in your work. Were I to relinquish my interest in you, and in your safety, your uncle's men would swoop down on you like owls upon a helpless chick."     He rose off the bed, smiled, and without a single word more quietly let himself out of my room. I heard the key turn in the lock, and again I was alone.     I remained seated by the window, confused and feeling even more helpless than I had before his appearance. Gradually, there came over me a terrible oppressiveness of spirit. It was not merely the sealed window, the locked door, the utter dependency upon total strangers for my most basic needs. It was all that, of course. But more than these strictures, it now came to me with frightening clarity, was a deeper violation.     Held in this tiny room through each round of the sun and moon, I might be in any state of dress, dishabille, sleep, wakefulness, or personal function when, without warning, one of the strangers whom I had now seen, and God knows what others, might unlock my door and enter abruptly. It was, finally, this exposure to the sudden violation of my dignity and privacy that now truly oppressed me. It was as if my every movement, thought, and dream were no longer my own, were no longer inviolate to the merest whim or incidental intrusion of others. And now I knew that it was none other than young Joseph Dudley who had undone me, destroyed my dreams, smothered my ambitions, and turned the course of my life, as if a free highland rivulet had been straightened to a ceaseless drudgery at the manufacturer's wheel. Yet how could I have foreseen my undoing upon meeting him or upon meeting, first, his most respectable father?     I recalled the day my brother Tom, my companion in travel, and I had entered Worcester--an industrious town of woollen and cotton mills--feeling hopeful, as if our luck were turning for the better once again after a bad day in Fitchburg. Even the broad, tree-lined streets with handsome buildings and shops, a perfectly delightful, well-shaded Common, and surrounding undulant hills with well-regulated homes and farms seemed to welcome us.     We no sooner saw our own advertisement for taking likenesses in the newspaper late the next afternoon than a most prosperous-looking gentleman called. It was immediately clear to us that he had his suspicions about traveling painters. While we sat on the settee in the sitting room of our lodging house, Mr. Augustus Dudley asked if we knew of "this fellow Grimmage, Mr. Jason Grimmage, a limner like yourselves."     We were pleased to say we knew nothing about him; Mr. Dudley's manner suggested that his association with Grimmage was not a happy one.     "A most ridiculous and disrespectful fellow, this Grimmage," he said. "My wife nearly boxed the man's ears; she sent him packing in no uncertain terms! I can tell you that."     "How dreadful for you and Mrs. Dudley, sir," I offered. "Was his work so poor as that?"     "We never discovered the measure of his work, for he was most intemperate."     "Ah, I see, sir," I said, "and that was his offense, then. Mrs. Dudley did well to send him away directly."     "His commission was to paint a family portrait and one each of me and Mrs. Dudley. But at each sitting he seemed more intoxicated than at the last. So on the third attempt we threw him out."     We conversed for some time, and eventually Mr. Dudley seemed satisfied with our deportment and offered to accompany us to see his manufactory, which he wished to be evidenced in his own portrait. The mill was located below the town in one of the many villages on the south-flowing Blackstone River. And his splendid home, where he wished us to take the sittings, was on a rise nearby, among the farms neatly enclosed by fence and fold. His portrait alone was my most handsome commission yet, and I expected to spend nearly three days on it. Since we would need to stay on a considerable time to execute all the work he had in mind, Mr. Dudley offered us lodging, with only the cost of our meals to be deducted from the commissions.     It was late in the second day of his sitting that I began, from sketch-studies, the depiction of his mills through a handsomely draped window. The mills were white clapboarded buildings, with the main building topped by a cupola and a full clerestory monitor roof. Here was a man who had weathered the financial storms that had undone so many others, including Tom's former employer, and who clearly intended his portrait to celebrate his emergence as a commercial patrician with whom the world must now reckon.     It was at the end of the second sitting that I met his eldest son, Joseph, who entered to see how the portrait was progressing as his father was leaving to attend to more important affairs. I had just turned my attention to the representation of his mills. Mr. Dudley introduced us, but I felt as though I already knew the young man. For his father had spoken to me proudly of his family, and especially of this eldest son among eight children who were the products of his three marriages. His first wife had died of the consumption, his second in childbirth. It was Joseph who worked alongside his father in their textile business.     He was a handsome young man, and he knew it, but given to an inordinance of pomatum and Old West India bay water, to a stiffness of waistcoat, a tightness of trouser, and an exorbitance of silk cravats. And he was quick-witted. I knew, however, of his betrothal to the daughter of a prominent judge. Moreover, I found rather discomposing his one immobile glass eye--which his father had informed me was the result of a factory accident. It detracted nothing from his agreeable appearance but added a slight, inexplicably sinister element to his aspect. As soon as his father left the room we discussed the portrait briefly, and then Mr. Joseph asked after "my husband"--meaning Tom. I explained my situation as a widow and my true relation to Tom, who was out posting handbills in the city. Thereafter, Mr. Joseph grew attentive toward me. I had no idea just how things stood between him and his betrothed, but his behavior seemed improvidently forward.     As he fumbled with his watch chain and seals in departing, he had the face to ask if I would walk out with him after tea to enjoy the cooler evening air, a summer habit, he assured me, of his own. I made no promises but let him talk on. He confirmed, also, that I would be staying on somewhat longer to take a likeness of his mother, and he suggested that Tom and I might do well to advertise among the mill girls, whether in the village or elsewhere, for portraits.     That evening Mr. Augustus Dudley seemed pleased to have us at his table, spread over a Saxony carpet and laid with every silver goblet, spoon, knife, and fork imaginable, with every bright French china vase, silver tureen, olive boat, plate, and compotier. He and Tom conversed much of business, the recent financial debacle, and current machinery of textile manufacturing. At one point while we were with the Dudleys, Mr. Dudley did indeed offer Tom work in his mills, but my faithful brother declined, saying that he had promised his devotion to my own success and that a gentleman could hardly leave such a "comely and talented young widow to fend for herself on the open road." Nevertheless, Tom suggested, he would be pleased to consider the offer if extended again once my independence had been assured.     During these mealtime colloquia, I found myself engaged mostly by young Joseph and Mrs. Dudley. On the evening before our final day, Joseph renewed his invitation to walk out with him in the evening, and because I had seen that he did regularly take the cool air after his evening meal, and because I had come to make his acquaintance a little better, I saw no harm in it.     The evening was lovely, the moon casting a white iridescence over everything it touched. In the distance whippoorwills called and everywhere crickets sang their love songs in that great thrumming of the night, as if moonlight and cricket song were the obverse of sunlight and the throbbing of bees among summer blossoms. Had any of our artists, I wondered for a moment, ever quite captured on canvas this effect of unearthly moonlight laid gently upon our terrestrial surface, that enwhitened American landscape punctuated only by the shadows of houses, barns, and trees? Even the divine Allston generalizes.     "You are warm enough, Mrs. Fullerton?" Joseph asked as I admired his mother's blue-and-white planting bed at the center of her garden, which was all the more striking for the moonlight.     "Quite. It's a lovely summers eve."     "All the more so for your company," he said.     I remained silent. I supposed he might mean no harm; a certain forwardness seemed to be his natural manner, or perhaps what he had been bred to by so enterprising a father.     "Your father tells me," I began as we walked on, "that you are to be married soon." He hesitated. "You must feel elevated at the prospect."     "Not particularly," he said. "You see, I've known the young lady all my life; we were at times playmates as young children. She's an eminently worthy person, and makes for me an excellent marriage, but we are, so to speak, fulfilling the enduring expectations of others more than our own inclinations."     "I'm sure that knowing one another so well, you'll learn to love lastingly, as do so many others in time. Familiarity merely allays infatuation."     "Ah, you are no doubt right, Mrs. Fullerton. Why don't we rest a moment here," he said, indicating the fanciful wrought-iron garden bench separating two large flower gardens. "I don't wish to tire you at this hour."     "I'm not at all tired, Mr. Dudley. But we may sit if you like."     He turned the conversation to his plans for the family properties and business, which one day he would pass on to an heir of his own as an estate enlarged beyond even his father's ambitions.     He seemed a little too insistent in pressing upon me his future prospects, and he hinted of my own appeal to him, all in spite of his betrothal. At length, he began to insinuate that he had experienced certain interludes, of a questionable nature I had no doubt, with several available young women. I tried to change the tack of his conversation, but with little effect. For he suddenly turned to me and took my hand, with a remarkable delicacy I seemed unable to shun, and looked into my eyes.     "Does not a beautiful widow such as yourself, Mrs. Fullerton, suffer the absence of a husband's tendernesses?"     "What I suffer, sir, is my own affair, and hardly any concern of yours."     It was then that he stole a kiss. He was most insistent, as if he were used to women's pliancy. He quickly stood up as I pulled back from him, but he retained my hand and kept his good eye on mine. I admit that he was shockingly handsome in the moonlight, especially in his moment of passion, but I could hardly let this man have the advantage of me, even though he had most likely had the advantage of nearly everything and everyone he desired. I was not about to become another of his playthings.     Yet he was relentless, the grasp of his hand had grown alarmingly forceful, and I began to fear my situation, as we were completely alone in the garden and some distance from the manse. Moreover, as he stood before me like a passionate hero in some giddy tale, it was clear that he was most certainly aroused and capable of almost anything.     I confess I felt an unsettling mixture of terror and excitement for a moment. Here stood the first man to confront me with his feelings since I cast off my weeds in favor of the open road and the unrestrained practice of my humble arts. Here stood the first man, indeed, to seize my hand--nay, my arm--in passion since the loss of my husband whose many tendernesses I sorely missed, as young Mr. Dudley's words had so starkly reminded me.     I now saw clearly my own weaknesses, and I saw further that Mr. Dudley was a man adept at perceiving the weaknesses and wounds in another. That he was not above utilizing for his own gratification what he perceived in others was now equally clear to me. I suddenly stood up and backed away a step, yet his hand still clutched mine.     "Mrs. Fullerton," he said, "there is a summer house, completely private I assure you, just over here."     "Mr. Dudley, you behave like a precocious child, with no concern for the effects of your behavior upon others. I must insist that you allow me to return to my room. Please do not follow. I will complete the promised portraits of your father and mother, and then be on my way."     He pulled me toward him, as if to interrupt my little lecture on his behavior, whereupon I gave a small cry of surprise. At that very moment, dear Tom, who had come out to see what kept us, stepped in between Mr. Dudley and me and calmly threatened to spoil that young man's face to such an extent that no woman would look at him twice ever again.     "And you may count your blessings, sir," Tom added, "if I do not expose your brutal actions toward this innocent woman to your father."     Young Mr. Dudley evinced the slightest sneer of contempt, turned on his heel, and walked briskly away.     I lay troubled all that night. And how was I to remain calm the following day as my generous patrons sat before me while I completed their portraits?     But the next morning I arose early, set Tom to priming three canvases with a base coat of light gray, and went directly into the sitting room where I was to finish Mr. Dudley's portrait. I adjusted the damask draperies as I knew he desired, set up my easel, palette, and maul stick, and steeled myself to complete these commissions expeditiously. Indeed, I completed his before noon, and worked on Mrs. Dudley's from about two o'clock.     She chose to sit in her favorite room (the music room on the second floor, with prodigious mahogany gilt mirrors and a rosewood pianoforte) where she had arranged a satin daybed before a large window, swag-curtained in double silks, that looked out over her gardens. Here she sat in her modest, pleasing manner, wearing a bright blue, tight-waisted gown set off by a stunning necklace of coral beads, as if to charm away any intrusion of bad luck or evil in her life. At first she engaged me in pleasant if trivial conversation about her children, her garden, and fashion--commenting particularly upon my own habit of simple dress.     "Few," she offered approvingly, "have the grace and trim to be so free of artificial compressions about the waist, of binding ligatures that prevent the natural movement of one's limbs. You are a most fortunate and unusual young woman, Mrs. Fullerton." She smiled.     "I sometimes feel a little unusual, Mrs. Dudley, but hardly ever fortunate." I returned her smile.     "I hope my stepson has behaved well, Mrs. Fullerton. I suspect he might be a little distracted by you."     I stopped my brush and looked directly into her eyes. Without a blink she went on.     "I noticed perhaps a rather sudden strain between Tom and Joseph." She smiled again. "You see, my husband has worked very hard for everything we have. And he is incapable of dishonesty or discourtesy. We lay his every success in bad times and good to the sweat of his brow, to his probity, and to a certain--what shall I call it?--civic virtue. Yes, and why not? He has been a pillar of strength in church and village."     "I don't doubt his merit, Mrs. Dudley. He seems very industrious, and has been in every way straightforward with my brother and me."     "Yes," she said. "That is what I mean. But our young Joseph has come into all this," she glanced around the room as if taking in the entire house and grounds, "through the long labors and risks endured by his father, not by himself. We have perhaps somewhat overindulged him, perhaps he is rather impulsive and assumptive as a result. I notice that he does not always observe every courtesy with the ladies. That he can be impatient. That he too often expects his wishes to be accommodated ..."     "I'm sure more experience of life will teach him otherwise, Mrs. Dudley."     "I should think so." She smiled. "Please don't misunderstand me, Mrs. Fullerton. My husband requires that he work hard for his place in the mills and for his rewards. Mr. Dudley would never have it otherwise. But we have wanted the best for all the children and, well, to be forthright myself, Joseph has gotten himself into misunderstandings and scrapes before, because of his expectations, I believe. There are times when he seems to believe that the world has been arranged for his particular gratification. He is a great one for the ladies, for sleighing and summering parties, all manner of amusements."     "He is young still," I offered, keeping my brush busy. I wanted to spend my final days here free of further complications; I wanted to finish my work and be away.     "Yes, I agree." She smiled again. "My hope is that he take greater responsibility for his actions--beyond the mills, I mean--and become a man worthy of his father, and of all his father has struggled to build. You have heard him speak of Miss Simmons?"     "Yes. Surely matrimony will restrain him, give him opportunity for these other ... responsibilities?"     "So we had hoped, Mrs. Fullerton. But I confess I am no longer as certain as I once was. I see now that she has grown up even more indulged than he. They are perhaps too much alike in their need to have every impulse gratified, finally, to be good for one another. For her part, she seems to believe that life arranges itself about her like a sentimental romance--and she the heroine at the center of it. I believe Joseph indulges her fancies, toys with her for his own ends, as it were, and she finds pleasure in pretending that she doesn't realize he's doing so. It does not seem a healthy basis for relations, and I think he begins to tire of her himself. But all this is a long way to say that I hope he has not offended you in any way. I am fond of Joseph and know him to be capable of goodness. But I know he is also at times capable of causing much trouble for himself and others."     "No," I said. "I have taken no offense, Mrs. Dudley. I found him merely forward, perhaps. But I think we understand one another. Please don't concern yourself. My object is to work well while I am here, to give you and your husband good satisfaction by my portraits. And then Tom and I shall be on our way to pursue our own fortunes."     She seemed to accept my assurances. She must have known her stepson well enough to fear the worst. Whether she spoke to him I did not know, but Joseph Dudley never showed himself during the remainder of my tenure, allowing me to accomplish my task more readily than I had reason to hope.     And while I was completing Mrs. Dudley's portrait, Tom busied himself in promoting our trade among the mill operatives in the Blackstone Valley from Worcester to the southern limits of the Commonwealth, just above Woonsocket, Rhode Island. Late the following day I departed the Dudley manse for our rooms in Worcester with all the dispatch I had promised Mr. Joseph.     As my wagon pulled away, I caught sight of him in one of the upper windows, grim-faced, stepping aside just as I looked up, and a dark bat of foreboding flitted across my vision. And now, sitting in a room sealed by his hand, I asked myself how might I thwart his tyranny? I had entertained various fancies. But the sheer gravity of practical considerations and the press of utter vulnerability weighed so heavily upon my mind and soul that I could not settle on a strategy. Only once did I consider terminating my life as the sole means of escape. But I felt the repugnance of self-destruction upon awakening one night from a dream, just before the hour of dawn.     I had been standing on the bank of a wide, shallow, swift-moving river that opened into sunlight from the dark wood beyond either shore. The bright water reflected the blue of the sky exactly. A young girl emerged from the wood and stood on the far side looking at me. I soon noticed that she held in front of her (turned back side toward me) a framed canvas. Then I recognized Effie, a child I had painted in death, at her mother's request. She was wearing the same white sleeping gown I had painted her in. I was unable to turn from her and run back into the deep forest behind me.     She smiled in a friendly manner, waved as if in greeting, and motioned for me to join her on the opposite bank. Unable to move, I was equally unable to turn away from her. I knew that soon she would turn the front side of the canvas toward me, and I also knew that I did not want to see the painting. When she did turn it toward me, I recognized a portrait of myself--perhaps she had painted it!--and I began to cry out. My own cries awakened me, and I slept no more.     Recalling that dream now, I stood up and began to pace about my enclosure, as if movement would help ward off panic. Perhaps my only hope of liberation would be through some subterfuge directed at Mr. Dudley, some masquerade of compliance that might raise opportunities for escape. But I sickened at the thought of the cost of any degree of compliance.     No, until I knew the circumstances of my captivity in every dimension, I now thought, I had better not act rashly. Survival and quiet resistance, held in some difficult balance under Mr. Dudley's discipline, was all I dared. His reasonableness and gentility, his apparent concern for my well-being, like his impeccable opera-suit, seemed all too shamlike for me. How could I ever willingly capitulate to his momentarily restrained passions? I would, for the immediate future, have to live under the oppressions I have described, lying in wait, in hope and cunning, for the first occasion of my deliverance. Copyright © 1999 Robert J. Begiebing. All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. xiii
Prefacep. 1
1 The onset of my captivityp. 5
2 How I became an itinerant painterp. 22
3 First enterprises The persecution of a bearded manp. 28
4 My captivity continuesp. 34
5 Recherche dramasp. 39
6 Little Effie again, and women who discovered independencep. 48
7 Boston and my associations with artists This strange captivity beginsp. 59
8 A mysterious opportunity for libertyp. 76
9 Eden in Massachusetts Et in Arcadia egop. 95
10 Precious reunionp. 105
11 Doubts and quandariesp. 117
12 A murderous instancep. 124
13 A Canterbury tale from our retreat to Connecticutp. 132
14 To Springfield and beyond Mr. Stock tells a curious talep. 144
15 Far travels and new resolutionsp. 167
16 Temptation in the shape of a manp. 180
17 My returnp. 185
18 Chas returns to mep. 209
19 My italian adventurep. 217
20 Our Pelasgian Arcadyp. 237
21 The rivalp. 250
22 Mr. Ruskin terminates his visitp. 263
23 Miss Fuller embraces Italyp. 277
24 My leave-takingp. 286
25 The wreck of the Elizabethp. 296