62. The Marrying Kind of Man
“What on earth are you doing down on your hands and knees, Angus?” Domenica had knocked, but had not been heard. When Angus was in his studio, with the door closed, that could happen, and so, finding the front door ajar – Angus did not bother about security: “such a bourgeois notion,” he had said to Domenica – she pushed it further open and entered the flat.
Domenica wrinkled her nose. She had always found that Angus’s flat had a strange smell to it – not an entirely disagreeable smell, it must be said, but a strange one nonetheless. It was a mixture of oil paint from the studio, kippers from the kitchen – Angus bought kippers each week from Creelers at the farmers’ market – and dog. Domenica had been assured by Angus that Cyril was bathed regularly – at least twice a year – and that as dogs went he was not particularly smelly. But she could still detect his presence through the odour of slightly damp fur and gaminess that wafted about him.
She moved through the corridor, noticing that Angus had not opened his mail for a few days but had left it where the postie tossed it each morning, in a pile in the corner. If Angus were married – not that anybody would marry him, she thought – then all of this would be changed. The skylights, which she now looked up at, would be cleaned, the floorboards would be stripped and revarnished, Cyril would be shampooed once a week; everything would be sparkling.
And Angus himself would be spruced up. A wife could get rid of his clothes and march him round to Stewart, Christie for a complete new wardrobe. That Harris tweed jacket of his would be the first to go, although even a charity shop would draw the line at that. Perhaps the best thing would be to get the Council to come round for a special collection, in the way in which they came round to uplift old fridges and beds, if you booked them. The Council could come and take away all of Angus’s clothes.
But all of this was completely hypothetical, Domenica reminded herself. Nobody would marry Angus; nobody could bear to take the whole project on. Certainly she would not… She stopped herself. It was all very well for her to say that she would never marry Angus, but could she really say that nobody else would? There were many desperate women in Edinburgh – legions of them – who would probably be quite happy to marry any man, even Angus, if a man were to ask them, which alas he had not. These women would do anything to secure a husband, and would overlook any defects in a man if needs be. Domenica herself was not in this position, but she knew many who were. Lack of inclination on the man’s part to marry was a comparatively minor issue for such women. One friend of Domenica’s had married a man of such talent and sensitivity in the field of interior decoration that it was widely felt that he was unlikely to have the time to marry. Single-minded pursuit, traps and – or so Domenica felt – sheer force on the woman’s part had eventually settled that matter. Another friend, having despaired of finding a full-size husband, had settled for a man who was so thin as to be almost invisible when viewed from the side. He had himself been keen to marry, but had never found anybody, probably, Domenica thought, because nobody had ever actually seen him. “Better than nothing,” her friend had said philosophically. And it had been a very happy marriage; from the merest scraps, from part of something, may something whole be made.
But then the thought occurred to Domenica: what if another woman, one of these desperate women, were to marry Angus? Would she resent this other woman’s taking her friend from her? Angus would presumably not be allowed to drop in on Scotland Street with the comfortable frequency of their current arrangement. Women did not like their husbands to have other women as friends, no matter how innocent the relationship. Angus had always been there in her life; without him, things would be quite different. Perhaps… But what was the point of marrying Angus, other than to look after him? Did she really want to be in his company all the time, or at least for as much time as being married to him would entail? She thought not.
She pushed open the studio door and saw Angus on his hands and knees. He looked up, smiled and rose to his feet.
“I was inspecting a painting,” he said. “A very beautiful – and, if I am proved right – a very important painting too.”
Intrigued, Domenica crossed the floor of the studio to stand before the portrait.
“I see,” she began. “Is it who I think it is?”
Angus brushed the dust off the knees of his trousers. “It certainly is,” he said. “Or rather, I think it is.”
“And who painted it, do you think?” asked Domenica.
Angus let the question hang in the air for a few moments. Then he said, “Raeburn. Henry Raeburn.”
Domenica leaned forward and peered at the portrait. “It has that feel, doesn’t it? That richness.” She paused. “Is it signed?”
Angus shook his head. “Raeburn didn’t sign. You decide these things on technique and on the documentary evidence.”
“And the technique in this painting is right?”
Angus opened his hands in a gesture of uncertainty. “I think so,” he said. “But then there are people who know more about these things than I do.”
“Precisely. We’ll obviously have to show it to him and see what he says.” He moved away from the painting and took an outsize, red-bound book from a shelf. “This is Armstrong’s book on Raeburn,” he said. “There’s a long list of his sitters at the back here. Look.”
“And is Burns mentioned?”
“No. But that doesn’t mean too much. This list is not exhaustive.”
Domenica straightened up and took a few steps back to admire the painting from more of a distance.
“You know,” she said, “I’m not sure why women found Burns attractive.”
Angus frowned. “But Burns was handsome,” he protested. “Look at him.”
“To an extent,” said Domenica. “It’s what one might call an easy face. Reasonably harmonious.”
“Perhaps women liked him because he liked them,” said Angus. “Isn’t that how women feel?”
“I’ve heard that said,” answered Domenica.