You can find the rest of Ursula’s story here.
“Well, I’m sure you’ve seen quite enough of my work by now,” Ursula exclaimed, flipping the sketchbook shut over the Czarina’s fingers. “Would anybody care for more tea?”
“Really, my dear!” Mrs. Marshall exclaimed. “I must say that I am shocked! This is most inappropriate for a young woman of your station–for any woman at all, I dare say!”
“I apologize if my work has offended you, Mrs. Marshall, I assure you–” Ursula halted on a strangled noise as Humphrey reached across her and tugged the sketchbook from his mother’s fingers. He flipped the book open to the painting in question and his eyes widened briefly.
“Really, mother, this is hardly worth troubling yourself over,” Humphrey said. He sounded almost bored, though Ursula could see the tips of his ears had flushed pink. “Any artist serious about her craft is sure to have many studies of the human form.”
“Many–” Mrs. Marshall began.
“May I see the work in question?” Mrs. Elliott asked quellingly, stopping the Czarina’s tirade but only adding to her apoplexy. Wordlessly Humphrey handed the book across the table.
“I see,” Matilda said after a moment’s perusal. “Well, I have seen much of Ursula’s work, and I can assure you that works such as this are few and far between. I suppose this was an assignment of her teacher’s?”
“Er–yes, Master Fournier wished us to study muscles,” Ursula lied smoothly. “I was reluctant to undertake the assignment; he had specified that he preferred us to work from nude models–” Mrs. Marshall went pale at this announcement and Ursula hurriedly continued “–but I could not bring myself to do so. Father had suggested that I do a study of the furnace in his workshop, and I had thought to find his workers with sleeves rolled up or perhaps their outer shirts removed in deference to the heat. It was…rather warmer than I had originally supposed.”
“Well,” Mrs. Marshall said huffily. “If you say so, dear. Though I dare say I still find it highly improper.”
“I was most uncomfortable drawing such figures myself,” Ursula assured her. That at least was the truth; she liked to consider herself a practical and unflappable young woman, but there were certain things a young lady was not prepared to witness. Truth be told, she was proud of the painting, for she thought she had caught the shadows and reflections of the furnace’s light quite well, but it still gave her an odd sort of shiver to think of that light reflecting off of the sweaty skin of so many male bodies.
And now you sound like a harem tale, Ursula scolded herself. “Humphrey,” she said aloud, turning away from Mrs. Marshall to address her son in a too-cheerful voice. “You must tell me about life at Harvard. I must confess it has been far too long since I have been to Boston, and I don’t know that I have ever been to Cambridge.”
“I am sure you would find both most pleasant,” Humphrey said after a moment. “The grounds at Harvard are quite beautiful…”
Ursula permitted herself a small sigh and did her best to appear intent on Humphrey’s descriptions of the campus, relieved to no longer be the center of attention.
Poor Ursula has gone three weeks since we last left her. My apologies for this; travel was far from conducive to extending her story. I hope to avoid such long gaps in the future. Things are still not developing nearly as quickly as I would like, but I think (hope?) next week we will finally start to Get Somewhere, assuming the Czarina doesn’t throw another fit about Ursula’s art…