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AND OTHER STORIES
G. H. P.
A MODERN ACCOUNT
NO. I. INTRODUCTORY AND EXPLANATORY.
(_Eastlake has renewed an episode of his past life. The formalities have been satisfied at a chance meeting, and he continues_.)
… So your carnations lie over there, a bit beyond this page, in a confusion of manuscripts. Sweet source of this idle letter and gentle memento of the house on Grant Street and of you! I fancy I catch their odor before it escapes generously into the vague darkness beyond my window. They whisper: “Be tender, be frank; recall to her mind what is precious in the past. For departed delights are rosy with deceitful hopes, and a woman’s heart becomes heavy with living. We are the woman you once knew, but we are much more. We have learned new secrets, new emotions, new ambitions, in love–we are fuller than before.” So–for to-morrow they will be shrivelled and lifeless–I take up their message to-night.
I see you now as this afternoon at the Goodriches’, when you came in triumphantly to essay that hot room of empty, passive folk. Someone was singing somewhere, and we were staring at one another. There you stood at the door, placing us; the roses, scattered in plutocratic profusion, had drooped their heads to our hot faces. We turned from the music to _you_. You knew it, and you were glad of it. You knew that they were busy about you, that you and your amiable hostess made an effective group at the head of the room. You scented their possible disapproval with zest, for you had so often mocked their good-will with impunity that you were serenely confident of getting what you wanted. Did you want a lover? Not that I mean to offer myself in flesh and blood: God forbid that I should join the imploring procession, even at a respectful distance! My pen is at your service. I prefer to be your historian, your literary maid–half slave, half confidant; for then you will always welcome me. If I were a lover, I might some day be inopportune. That would not be pleasant.
Yes, they were chattering about you, especially around the table where some solid ladies of Chicago served iced drinks. I was sipping it all in with the punch, and looking at the pinks above the dark hair, and wondering if you found having your own way as good fun as when you were eighteen. You have gained, my dear lady, while I have been knocking about the world. You are now more than “sweet”: you are almost handsome. I suppose it is a question of lights and the time of day whether or not you are really brilliant. And you carry surety in your face. There is nothing in Chicago to startle you, perhaps not in the world.
She at the punch remarked, casually, to her of the sherbet: “I wonder when Miss Armstrong will settle matters with Lane? It is the best she can do now, though he isn’t as well worth while as the men she threw over.” And her neighbor replied: “She might do worse than Lane. She could get more from him than the showy ones.” So Lane is the name of the day. They have gauged you and put you down at Lane. I took an ice and waited–but you will have to supply the details.
Meantime, you sailed on, with that same everlasting enthusiasm upon your face that I knew six years ago, until you spied me. How extremely natural you made your greeting! I confess I believed that I had lived for that smile six years, and suffered a bad noise for the sound of your voice. It seemed but a minute until we found ourselves almost alone with the solid women at the ices. One swift phrase from you, and we had slipped back through the meaningless years till we stood _there_ in the parlor at Grant Street, mere boy and girl. The babbling room vanished for a few golden moments. Then you rustled off, and I believe I told Mrs. Goodrich that musicales were very nice, for they gave you a chance to talk. And I went to the dressing-room, wondering what rare chance had brought me again within the bondage of that voice.
Then, then, dear pinks, you came sailing over the stairs, peeping out from that bunch of lace. I loitered and spoke. Were the eyes green, or blue, or gray; ambition, or love, or indifference to the world? I was at my old puzzle again, while you unfastened the pinks, and, before the butler, who acquiesced at your frivolity in impertinent silence, you held them out to me. Only you know the preciousness of unsought-for favors. “Write me,” you said; and I write.
What should man write about to you but of love and yourself? My pen, I see, has not lost its personal gait in running over the mill books. Perhaps it politely anticipates what is expected! So much the better, say, for you expect what all men give–love and devotion. You would not know a man who could not love you. Your little world is a circle of possibilities. Let me explain. Each lover is a possible conception of life placed at a slightly different angle from his predecessor or successor. Within this circle you have turned and turned, until your head is a bit weary. But I stand outside and observe the whirligig. Shall I be drawn in? No, for I should become only a conventional interest. “If the salt,” etc. I remember you once taught in a mission school.
The flowers will tell me no more! Next time give me a rose–a huge, hybrid, opulent rose, the product of a dozen forcing processes–and I will love you a new way. As the flowers say good-by, I will say goodnight. Shall I burn them? No, for they would smoulder. And if I left them here alone, to-morrow they would be wan. There! I have thrown them out wide into that gulf of a street twelve stories below. They will flutter down in the smoky darkness, and fall, like a message from the land of the lotus-eaters, upon a prosy wayfarer. And safe in my heart there lives that gracious picture of my lady as she stands above me and gives them to me. That is eternal: you and the pinks are but phantoms. Farewell!
NO. II. ACQUIESCENT AND ENCOURAGING.
(_Miss Armstrong replies on a dull blue, canvas-textured page, over which her stub-pen wanders in fashionable negligence. She arrives on the third page at the matter in hand_.)
Ah, it was very sweet, your literary love-letter. Considerable style, as you would say, but too palpably artificial. If you want to deceive this woman, my dear sir trifler, you must disguise your mockery more artfully.
Why didn’t I find you at the Stanwoods’? I had Nettie send you a card. I had promised you to a dozen delightful women, “our choicest lot,” who were all agog to see my supercilious and dainty sir…. Why will you always play with things? Perhaps you will say because I am not worth serious moments. You play with everything, I believe, and that is banal. Ever sincerely,
NO. III. EXPLANATORY AND AUTOBIOGRAPHIC.
(_Eastlake has the masculine fondness for seeing himself in the right_.)
I turned the Stanwoods’ card down, and for your sake, or rather for the sake of your memory. I preferred to sit here and dream about you in the midst of my chimney-pots and the dull March mists rather than to run the risk of another, and perhaps fatal, impression. And so far as you are concerned your reproach is just. Do I “play with everything”? Perhaps I am afraid that it might play with me. Imagine frolicking with tigers, who might take you seriously some day, as a tidbit for afternoon tea–if you should confess that you were serious! That’s the way I think of the world, or, rather, your part of it. Surely, it is a magnificent game, whose rules we learn completely just as our blood runs too slowly for active exercise. I like to break off a piece of its cake (or its rank cheese at times) and lug it away with me to my den up here for further examination. I think about it, I dream over it; yes, in a reflective fashion, I _feel_. It is a charming, experimental way of living.
Then, after the echo becomes faint and lifeless, or, if you prefer, the cheese too musty, I sally out once more to refresh my larder. You play also in your way, but not so intelligently (pardon me), for you deceive yourself from day to day that your particular object, your temporary mood, is the one eternal thing in life. After all, you have mastered but one trick–the trick of being loved. With that trick you expect to take the world; but, alas! you capture only an old man’s purse or a young man’s passion.
Artificial, my letters–yes, if you wish. I should say, not crude– matured, considered. I discuss the love you long to experience. I dangle it before your eyes as a bit of the drapery that goes to the ball of life. But when dawn almost comes and the ball is over, you mustn’t expect the paper roses to smell. This mystifies you a little, for you are a plain, downright siren. Your lovers’ songs have been in simple measures. Well, the moral is this: take my love-letters as real (in their way) as the play, or rather, the opera; infinitely true for the moment, unreal for the hour, eternal as the dead passions of the ages. Further, it is better to feel the aromatic attributes of love than the dangerous or unlovely reality. You can flirt with number nine or marry number ten, but I shall be stored away in your drawer for a life.
You have carried me far afield, away from men and things. So, for a moment, I have stopped to listen to the hum of this chaotic city as it rises from Dearborn and State in the full blast of a commercial noon. You wonder why an unprofitable person like myself lives here, and not in an up-town club with my fellows. Ah, my dear lady, I wish to see the game always going on in its liveliest fashion. So I have made a den for myself, not under the eaves of a hotel, but on the roof, among the ventilators. Here I can see the clouds of steam and the perpetual pall of smoke below me. I can revel in gorgeous sunsets when the fiery light threads the smoke and the mists and the sodden clouds eastward over the lake. And at night I take my steamer chair to the battlements and peer over into a sea of lights below. As I sit writing to you, outside go the click and rattle of the elevator gates and other distant noises of humanity. My echo comes directly enough, but it does not deafen me. Below there exists my barber, and farther down that black pit of an elevator lies lunch, or a cigar, or a possible cocktail, if the mental combination should prove unpleasant. Across the hall is Aladdin’s lamp, otherwise my banker; and above all is Haroun al Raschid. Am I not wise? In the morning, if it is fair, I take a walk among the bulkheads on the roof, and watch the blue deception of the lake. Perhaps, if the wind comes booming in, I hear the awakening roar in the streets and think of work. Perhaps the clear emptiness of a Sunday hovers over the shore; then I wonder what you will say to this letter. Will you feel with me that you should live on a housetop and eat cheese? Do you long for a cool stream without flies, and a carpet of golden sand? Do you want a coal fire and a husband home at six-thirty, or a third-class ticket to the realms of nonsense? Are you thinking of Lane’s income, or Smith’s cleverness, or the ennui of too many dinners?
I know: you are thinking of love while you read this, and are happy. If I might send you a new sensation in every line, I should be happy, too, for your prodigal nature demands novelty. I should then be master for a moment. And love is mastery and submission, the two poles of a strong magnet. Adieu.
NO. IV. FURTHER AUTOBIOGRAPHIC.
(_Eastlake continues apropos of a chance meeting_.)
So you rather like the curious flavor of this new dish, but it puzzles you. You ask for facts? What a stamp Chicago has put on your soul! You will continue to regard as facts the feeble fancies that God has allowed to petrify. I warn you that facts kill, but you shall have them. I had meditated a delightful sheet of love that has been disdainfully shoved into the waste-basket. A grave moral there for you, my lady!
Do you remember when I was very young and _gauche_? Doubtless, for women never forget first impressions of that sort. You dressed very badly, and were quite ceremonious. I was the bantling son of one of your father’s provincial correspondents, to adopt the suave term of the foreigners. I had been sent to Chicago to fit for a technical school, where I was to learn to be very clever about mill machinery. Perhaps you remember my father–a sweet-natured, wiry, active man, incapable of conceiving an interest in life that was divorced from respectability. I think he had some imagination, for now and then he was troubled about my becoming a loafer. However, he certainly kept it in control: I was to become a great mill owner.
It was all luck at first: you were luck, and the Tech. was luck. Then I found my voice and saw my problem: to cross my father’s aspirations, to be other than the Wabash mill owner, would have been cruel. You see his desires were more passionate than mine. I worried through the mechanical, deadening routine of the Tech. somehow, and finally got courage enough to tell him that I could not accept Wabash quite yet. I had the audacity to propose two years abroad. We compromised on one, but I understood that I must not finally disappoint him. He cared so much that it would have been wicked. A few people in this world have positive and masterful convictions. An explosion or insanity comes if their wills smoulder in ineffectual silence. Most of us have no more than inclinations. It seems wise and best that those of mere inclinations should waive their prejudices in favor of those who feel intensely. So much for the great questions of individuality and personality that set the modern world a-shrieking. This is a commonplace solution of the great family problem Turgenieff propounded in “Fathers and Sons.” Perchance you have heard of Turgenieff?
So I prepared to follow my father’s will, for I loved him exceedingly. His life had not been happy, and his nature, as I have said, was a more exacting one than mine. The price of submission, however, was not plain to me until I was launched that year in Paris in a strange, cosmopolitan world. I was supposed to attend courses at the Ecole Polytechnique, but I became mad with the longings that are wafted about Europe from capital to capital. I went to Italy–to Venice and Florence and Rome–to Athens and Constantinople and Vienna. In a word, I unfitted myself for Wabash as completely as I could, and troubled my spirit with vain attempts after art and feeling.
You women do not know the intoxication of five-and-twenty–a few hundred francs in one’s pockets, the centuries behind, creation ahead. You do not know what it is to hunger after the power of understanding and the power of expression; to see the world as divine one minute and a mechanic hell the next; to feel the convictions of the vagabond; to grudge each sunbeam that falls unseen by you on some mouldering gate in some neglected city, each face of the living wherein possible life looks out untried by you, each picture that means a new curiosity. No, for, after all, you are material souls; you need a Bradshaw and a Baedeker, even in the land of dreams. All men, I like to think, for one short breath in their lives, believe this narrow world to be shoreless. They feel that they should die in discontent if they could not experience, test, this wonderful conglomerate of existence. It is an old, old matter I am writing you about. We have classified it nicely, these days; we call it the “romantic spirit,” and we say that it is made three parts of youth and two of discontent–a perpetual expression of the world’s pessimism.
I look back, and I think that I have done you wrong. Women like you have something nearly akin to this mood. Some time in your lives you would all be romantic lovers. The commonest of you anticipate a masculine soul that shall harmonize your discontent into happiness. Most of you are not very nice about it; you make your hero out of the most obvious man. Yet it is pathetic, that longing for something beyond yourselves. That passionate desire for a complete illusion in love is the one permanent note you women have attained in literature. In your heart of hearts you would all (until you become stiff in the arms of an unlovely life) follow a cabman, if he could make the world dance for you in this joyous fashion. Some are hard to satisfy–for example, you, my lady–and you go your restless, brilliant little way, flirting with this man, coquetting with that, examining a third, until your heart grows weary or until you are at peace. You may marry for money or for love, and in twenty years you will teach your daughters that love doesn’t pay at less than ten thousand a year. But you don’t expect them to believe you, and they don’t.
I am not sneering at you. I would not have it otherwise, for the world would be one half cheaper if women like you did not follow the perpetual instinct. True, civilization tends to curb this romantic desire, but when civilization runs against a passionate nature we have a tragedy. The world is sweeter, deeper, for that. Live and love, if you can, and give the lie to facts. Be restless, be insatiable, be wicked, but believe that your body and soul were meant for more than food and raiment; that somewhere, somehow, some day, you will meet the dream made real, and that _he_ will unlock the secrets of this life.
It is late. I am tired. The noises of the city begin, far down in the darkness. This carries love.
NO. V. AROUSED.
(_Miss Armstrong protests and invites_.)
It is real, real, _real_. If I can say so, after going on all these years with but one idea (according to my good friends) of settling myself comfortably in some large home, shouldn’t you believe it? You have lived more interestingly than I, and you are not dependent, as most of us are. You really mock me through it all. You think I am worthy of only a kind of candy that you carry about for agreeable children, which you call love. To me, sir, it reads like an insult–your message of love tucked in concisely at the close.
No, keep to facts, for they are your _metier_. You make them interesting. Tell me more about your idle, contemplative self. And let me see you to-morrow at the Thorntons’. Leave your sombre eyes at home, and don’t expect infinities in tea-gabble. I saw you at the opera last night. For some moments, while Melba was singing, I wanted you and your confectioner’s love. That Melba might always sing, and the tide always flood the marshes! On the whole, I like candy. Send me a page of it.
NO. VI. AUTOBIOGRAPHIC.
(_Eastlake, disregarding her comments, continues._)
Dear lady, did you ever read some stately bit of prose, which caught in its glamour of splendid words the vital, throbbing world of affairs and passions, some crystallization of a rich experience, and then by chance turn to the “newsy” column of an American newspaper? (Forsooth, these must be literary letters!) Well, that tells the sensations of going from Europe to Wabash. I had caught the sound of the greater harmony, or struggle, and I must accept the squeak of the melodeon. I did not think highly of myself; had started too far back in the race, and I knew that laborious years of intense zeal would place me only third class, or even lower, in any pursuit of the arts. Perhaps if I had felt that I could have made a good third class, I should have fought it out in Europe. There are some things man cannot accomplish, however, our optimistic national creed to the contrary. And there would have been something low in disappointing my father for such ignoble results, such imperfect satisfaction.
So to Wabash I went. I resolved to adapt myself to the billiards and whiskey of the Commercial Club, and to the desk in the inner office behind the glass partitions. And I like to think that I satisfied my father those two years in the mills. After a time I achieved a lazy content. At first I tried to deceive myself; to think that the newsy column of Wabash was as significant as the grand page of London or Paris. That simple yarn didn’t satisfy me many months.
Then my father died. I hung on at the mills for a time, until the strikes and the general depression gave me valid reasons for withdrawing. To skip details, I sold out my interests, and with my little capital came to Chicago. My income, still dependent in some part upon those Wabash mills, trembles back and forth in unstable equilibrium.
Chicago was too much like Wabash just then. I went to Florence to join a man, half German Jew, half American, wholly cosmopolite, whom I had known in Paris. His life was very thin: it consisted wholly of interests–a tenuous sort of existence. I can thank him for two things: that I did not remain forever in Italy, trying to say something new, and that I began a definite task. I should send you my book (now that it is out and people are talking about it), but it would bore you, and you would feel that you must chatter about it. It is a good piece of journeyman work. I gathered enough notes for another volume, and then I grew restless. Business called me home for a few months, so I came back to Chicago. Of all places! you say. Yes, to Chicago, to see this brutal whirlpool as it spins and spins. It has fascinated me, I admit, and I stay on–to live up among the chimneys, hanging out over the cornice of a twelve-story building; to soak myself in the steam and smoke of the prairie and in the noises of a city’s commerce.
Am I content? Yes, when I am writing to you; or when the pile of manuscripts at my side grows painfully page by page; or when, peering out of the fort-like embrasure, I can see the sun drenched in smoke and mist and the “sky-scrapers” gleam like the walls of a Colorado canon. I have enough to buy me existence, and at thirty I still find peepholes into hopes.
Are these enough facts for you? Shall I send you an inventory of my room, of my days, of my mental furniture? Some long afternoon I will spirit you up here in that little steel cage, and you shall peer out of my window, tapping your restless feet, while you sniff at the squalor below. You will move softly about, questioning the watercolors, the bits of bric-a-brac, the dusty manuscripts, the dull red hangings, not quite understanding the fox in his hole. You will gratefully catch the sounds from the mound below our feet, and when you say good-by and drop swiftly down those long stories you will gasp a little sigh of relief. You will pull down your veil and drive off to an afternoon tea, feeling that things as they are are very nice, and that a little Chicago mud is worth all the clay of the studios. And I? I shall take the roses out of the vase and throw them away. I shall say, “Enough!” But somehow you will have left a suggestion of love about the place. I shall fancy that I still hear your voice, which will be so far away dealing out banalities. I shall treasure the words you let wander heedlessly out of the window. I shall open my book and write, “To-day she came–_beatissima hora_.”
NO. VII. OF THE NATURE OF A CONFESSION.
(_Miss Armstrong is nearing the close of her fifth season. Prospect and retrospect are equally uninviting. She wills to escape_.)
I shall probably be thinking about the rents in your block, and wondering if the family had best put up a sky-scraper, instead of doing all the pretty little things you mention in your letter. At five-and-twenty one becomes practical, if one is a woman whose father has left barely enough to go around among two women who like luxury, and two greedy boys at college with expensive “careers” ahead. This letter finds me in the trough of the wave. I wonder if it’s what you call “the ennui of many dinners?” More likely it’s because we can’t keep our cottage at Sorrento. Well-a- day! it’s gray this morning, and I will write off a fit of the blues.
I think it’s about time to marry number nine. It would relieve the family immensely. I suspect they think I have had my share of fun. Probably you will take this as an exquisite joke, but ’tis the truth, alas!
Last night I was at the Hoffmeyers’ at dinner. It was slow. All such dinners are slow. The good Fraus don’t know how to mix the sheep and the goats. For a passing moment they talked about you and about your book in a puzzled way. They think you so clever and so odd. But I know how hollow he is, and how thin his fame! I got some points on the new L from the Hoffmeyers and young Mr. Knowlton. That was interesting and exciting. We dealt in millions as if they were checkers. These practical men have a better grip on life than the cynics and dreamers like you. You call them plebeian and _bourgeois_ and Philistine and limited–all the bad names in your select vocabulary. But they know how to feel in the good, old, common-sense way. You’ve lost that. I like plebeian earnestness and push. I like success at something, and hearty enjoyment, and good dinners, and big men who talk about a million as if it were a ten-spot in the game.
You see I am looking for number nine and my four horses. Then I mean to invite you to my country house, to have a lot of “fat” girls to meet you who will talk slang at you, and one of them shall marry you–one whose father is a great newspaper man. And your new papa will start you in the business of making public opinion. You will play with that, too, but, then, you will be coining money.
No, not here in Chicago, but if you had talked to me at Sorrento as you write me from your sanctum on the roof, I might have listened and dreamed. The sea makes me believe and hope. I love it so! That’s why I made mamma take a house near the lake–to be near a little piece of infinity. Yes, if you had paddled me out of the harbor at Sorrento, some fine night when the swell was rippling in, like the groaning of a sleepy beast, and the hills were a-hush on the shore, then we might have gone on to that place you are so fond of, “the land east of the sun, and west of the moon.”
NO. VIII. BIOGRAPHIC AND JUDICIAL.
(_Eastlake replies analytically_.)
But don’t marry him until we are clear on all matters. I haven’t finished your case. And don’t marry that foreign-looking cavalier you were riding with to-day in the park. You are too American ever to be at home over there. You would smash their fragile china, and you wouldn’t understand. England might fit you, though, for England is something like that dark green, prairie park, with its regular, bushy trees against a Gainsborough sky. You live deeply in the fierce open air. The English like that. However, America must not lose you.
You it was, I am sure, who moved your family in that conventional pilgrimage of ambitious Chicagoans–west, south, north. Neither your father nor your mother would have stirred from sober little Grant Street had you not felt the pressing necessity for a career. Rumor got hold of you first on the South Side, and had it that you were experimenting with some small contractor. The explosion which followed reached me even in Vienna. Did you feel that you could go farther, or did you courageously run the risk of wrecking him then instead of wrecking yourself and him later? Oh well, he’s comfortably married now, and all the pain you gave him was probably educative. You may look at his flaunting granite house on that broad boulevard, and think well of your courage.
Your father died. You moved northward to that modest house tucked in lovingly under the ample shelter of the millionnaires on the Lake Shore Drive. I fancy there has always been the gambler in your nerves; that you have sacrificed your principle to getting a rapid return on your money. And you have dominated your family: you sent your two brothers to Harvard, and filled them with ambitions akin to yours. Now you are impatient because the thin ice cracks a bit.
But I have great faith: you will mend matters by some shrewd deal with the manipulators at Hoffmeyer’s, or by marrying number nine. You will do it honestly–I mean the marrying; for you will convince him that you love, so far as love is in you, and you will convince yourself that marriage, the end of it all, is unselfish, though prosaic. You will accept resignation with an occasional sigh, feeling that you have gone far, perhaps as far as you can go. I trust that solution will not come quickly, however, because I cannot regard it as a brilliant ending to your evolution. For you have kept yourself sweet and clean from fads, and mean pushing, and the vulgar machinery of society. You never forced your way or intrigued. You have talked and smiled and bewitched yourself straight to the point where you now are. You were eager and curious about pleasures, and the world has dealt liberally with you.
Were you perilously near the crisis when you wrote me? Did the reflective tone come because you were brought at last squarely to the mark, because you must decide what one of the possible conceptions of life you really want? Don’t think, I pray you; go straight on to the inevitable solution, for when you become conscious you are lost.
Do you wonder that I love you, my hybrid rose; that I follow the heavy petals as they push themselves out into their final bloom; that I gather the aroma to comfort my heart in these lifeless pages? I follow you about in your devious path from tea to dinner or dance, or I wait at the opera or theatre to watch for a new light in your face, to see your world written in a smile. You are dark, and winning, and strong. You are pagan in your love of sensuous, full things. You are grateful to the biting air as it touches your cheek and sends the blood leaping in glad life. You love water and fire and wind, elemental things, and you love them with fervor and passion. All this to the world! Much more intimate to me, who can read the letters you scrawl for the impudent, careless world. For deep down in the core of that rose there lies a soul that permeates it all–a longing, restless soul, one moment revealing a heaven that the next is shut out in dark despair.
Yes, keep the cottage by the sea for one more dream. Perchance I shall find something stable, eternal, something better than discontent and striving; for the sea is great and makes peace.
NO. IX. CRITICISM.
(_Miss Armstrong vindicates herself by scorning._)
You are a tissue of phrases. You feel only words. You love! What mockery to hear you handle the worn, old words! You have secluded yourself in careful isolation from the human world you seem to despise. You have no right to its passions and solaces. Incarnate selfishness, dear friend, I suspect you are. You would not permit the disturbance of a ripple in the contemplative lake of your life such as love and marriage might bring.
Pray what right may you have to stew me in a saucepan up on your roof, and to send me flavors of myself done up nicely into little packages labelled deceitfully “love”? It is lucky that this time you have come across a woman who has played the game before, and can meet you point by point. But I am too weary to argue with a man who carries two-edged words, flattery on one side and sneers on the reverse. Mark this one thing, nevertheless: if I should decide to sell myself advantageously next season I should be infinitely better than you,–for I am only a woman.
NO. X. THE LIMITATION OF LIFE.
(_Eastlake summarizes, and intends to conclude._)
My lady, my humor of to-day makes me take up the charges in your last letters; I will define, not defend, myself. You fall out with me because I am a dilettante (or many words to that one effect), and you abuse me because I deal in the form rather than the matter of love. Is that not just to you?
In short, I am not as your other admirers, and the variation in the species has lost the charm of novelty.
Believe me that I am honest to-day, at least; indeed, I think you will understand. Only the college boy who feeds on Oscar Wilde and sentimental pessimism has that disease of indifference with which you crudely charge me. It is a kind of chicken-pox, cousin-French to the evils of literary Paris. But I must not thank God too loudly, or you will think I am one with them at heart.
No, I am in earnest, in terrible earnest, about all this–I mean life and what to do with it. That is a great day when a man comes into his own, no matter how paltry the pittance may be the gods have given him–when he comes to know just how far he can go, and where lies his path of least resistance. That I know. I am tremendously sure of myself now, and, like your good business men, I go about my affairs and dispose of my life with its few energies in a cautious, economical way.
What is all this I make so much to-do about? Very little, I confess, but to me more serious than L’s and sky-scrapers; yes, than love. Mine is an infinite labor: first to shape the true tool, and then to master the material! I grant you I may die any day like a rat on a housetop, with only a bundle of musty papers, the tags of broken conversations, and one or two dead, distorted nerves. That is our common risk. But I shall accomplish as much of the road as God permits the snail, and I shall have moulded something; life will have justified itself to me, or I to life. But that is not our problem to-day.
Why do I isolate myself? Because a few pursuits in life are great taskmasters and jealous ones. A wise man who had felt that truth wrote about it once. I must husband my devotions: love, except the idea of love, is not for me; pleasure, except the idea of pleasure, is too keen for me; energy, except the ideas energy creates, is beyond me. I am limited, definite, alone, without you.
I confess that two passions are greater than any man, the passion for God and the passion of a great love. They send a man hungry and naked into the street, and make his subterfuges with existence ridiculous. How rarely they come! How inadequate the man who is mistaken about them! We peer into the corners of life after them, but they elude us. There are days of splendid consciousness, and we think we have them–then—-
No, it is foolish, _bete_, dear lady, to be deceived by a sentiment; better the comfortable activities of the world. They will suit you best; leave the other for the dream hidden in a glass of champagne.
But let me love you always. Let me fancy you, when I walk down these gleaming boulevards in the silent evenings, as you sit flashingly lovely by some soft lamplight, wrapped about in the cotton-wools of society. That will reconcile me to the roar of these noonday streets. The city exists for _you_.
NO. XI. UNSATISFIED.
(_Miss Armstrong wills to drift_.)
… Come to Sorrento….
NO. XII. THE ILLUSION.
(_Eastlake resumes some weeks later. He has put into Bar Harbor on a yachting trip. He sits writing late at night by the light of the binnacle lamp_.)
Sweet lady, a few hours ago we slipped in here past the dark shore of your village, in almost dead calm, just parting the heavy waters with our prow. It was the golden set of the summer afternoon: a thrush or two were already whistling clear vespers in he woods; all else was fruitfully calm.
And then, in the stillness of the ebb, we floated together, you and I, round that little lighthouse into the sheltering gloom of the woods. Then we drifted beyond it all, in serene solution of this world’s fret! To- morrows you may keep for another.
This night was richly mine. You brought your simple self, undisturbed by the people who expect of you, without your little airs of experience. I brought incense, words, devotion, and love. And I treasure now a few pure tones, some simple motions of your arm with the dripping paddle, a few pure feelings written on your face. That is all, but it is much. We got beyond necessity and the impertinent commonplace of Chicago. We had ourselves, and that was enough.
And to-night, as I lie here under the cool, complete heavens, with only a twinkling cottage light here and there in the bay to remind me of unrest, I see life afresh in the old, simple, eternal lines. These are _our_ days of full consciousness.
Do you remember that clearing in the woods where the long weeds and grass were spotted with white stones–burial-place it was–their bright faces turned ever to the sunshine and the stars? They spoke of other lives than yours and mine. Forgotten little units in our disdainful world, we pass them scornfully by. Other lives, and perhaps better, do you think? For them the struggle never came which holds us in a fist of brass, and thrashes us up and down the pavement of life. Perhaps–can you not, at one great leap, fancy it?–two sincere souls could escape from this brass master, and live, unmindful of strife, for a little grave on a hillside in the end? They must be strong souls to renounce that cherished hope of triumph, to be content with the simple, antique things, just living and loving–the eternal and brave things; for, after all, what you and I burn for so restlessly is a makeshift ambition. We wish to go far, “to make the best of ourselves.” Why not, once for all, rely upon God to make? Why not live and rejoice?
And the little graves are not bad: to lie long years within sound of this great-hearted ocean, with the peaceful, upturned stones bearing this full legend, “This one loved and lived….” Forgive me for making you sad. Perhaps you merely laugh at the intoxication your clear air has brought about. Well, dearest lady, the ships are striking their eight bells for midnight, the gayest cottages are going out, light by light, and somewhere in the still harbor I can hear a fisherman laboriously sweeping his boat away to the ocean. Away!–that is the word for us: I, in this boat southward, and ever away, searching in grim fashion for an accounting with Fate; you, in your intrepid loveliness, to other lives. And if I return some weeks hence, when I have satisfied the importunate business claims, what then? Shall we slip the cables and drift quietly out “to the land east of the sun and west of the moon”?
NO. XIII. SANITY.
(_Eastlake refuses Miss Armstrong’s last invitation, continues, and concludes_.)
Last night was given to me for insight. You were brilliantly your best, and set in the meshes of gold and precious stones that the gods willed for you. There was not a false note, not an attribute wanting. Over your head were mellow, clear, electric lights that showed forth coldly your faultless suitability. From the exquisitely fit pearls about your neck to the scents of the wine and the flowers, all was as it should be. I watched your face warm with multifold impressions, your nostrils dilate with sensuousness, appreciation, your pagan head above the perfect bosom; about you the languid eyes of your well-fed neighbors.
The dusky recesses of the rooms, heavy with opulent comfort, stretched away from our long feast. There you could rest, effectually sheltered from the harsh noises of the world. And I rejoiced. Each minute I saw more clearly things as they are. I saw you giving the nicest dinners in Chicago, and scurrying through Europe, buying a dozen pictures here and there, building a great house, or perhaps, tired of Chicago, trying your luck in New York; but always pressing on, seizing this exasperating life, and tenaciously sucking out the rich enjoyments thereof! For the gold has entered your heart.
What splendid folly we played at Sorrento! If you had deceived yourself with a sentiment, how long would you have maintained the illusion? When would the morning have come for your restless eyes to stare out at the world in longing and the unuttered sorrow of regret? Ah, I touch you but with words! The cadence of a phrase warms your heart, and you fancy your emotion is supreme, inevitable. Nevertheless, you are a practical goddess: you can rise beyond the waves toward the glorious ether, but at night you sink back. ‘Tis alluring, but–eternal?
Few of us can risk being romantic. The penalty is too dreadful. To be successful, we must maintain the key of our loveliest enthusiasm without stimulants. You need the stimulants. You imagined that you were tired, that rest could come in a lover’s arms. Better the furs that are soft about your neck, for they never grow cold. Perchance the lover will come, also, as a prince with his princedom. It will be comfortable to have your cake and the frosting, too. If not, take the frosting; go glittering on with your pulses full of the joys, until you are old and fagged and the stupid world refuses to revolve. Remember my sure word that you were meant for dinners, for power and pleasure and excitement. Trust no will-o’-the- wisp that would lead you into the stony paths of romance.
Some days in the years to come I shall enter at your feasts and watch you in admiration and love. (For I shall always love you.) Then will stir in your heart a mislaid feeling of some joy untasted. But you will smile wisely, and marvel at my exact judgment. You will think of another world where words and emotions alone are alive, where it is always high tide, and you will be glad that you did not force the gates. For life is not always lyric. Farewell.
NO. XIV. THAT OTHER WORLD.
(_Miss Armstrong writes with a calm heart_.)
I have but a minute before I must go down to meet _him_. Then it will be settled. I can hear his voice now and mother’s. I must be quick.
So you tested me and found me wanting in “inevitableness.” I was too much clay, it seems, and “pagan.” What a strange word that is! You mean I love to enjoy; and, perhaps you are right, that I need my little world. Who knows? One cannot read the whole story–even you, dear master–until we are dead. We can never tell whether I am only frivolous and sensuous, or merely a woman who takes the best substitute at hand for life. I do not protest, and I think I never shall. I, too, am very sure–_now_. You have pointed out the path and I shall follow it to the end.
But one must have other moments, not of regret, but of wonder. Did you have too little faith? Am I so cheap and weak? Before you read this it will all be over…. Now and then it seems I want only a dress for my back, a bit of food, rest, and your smile. But you have judged otherwise, and perhaps you are right. At any rate, I will think so. Only I know that the hours will come when I shall wish that I might lie among those little white gravestones above the beach.
CHICAGO, November, 1893.
A QUESTION OF ART
John Clayton had pretty nearly run the gamut of the fine arts. As a boy at college he had taken a dilettante interest in music, and having shown some power of sketching the summer girl he had determined to become an artist. His numerous friends had hoped such great things for him that he had been encouraged to spend the rest of his little patrimony in educating himself abroad. It took him nearly two years to find out what being an artist meant, and the next three in thinking what he wanted to do. In Paris and Munich and Rome, the wealth of the possible had dazzled him and confused his aims; he was so skilful and adaptable that in turn he had wooed almost all the arts, and had accomplished enough trivial things to raise very pretty expectations of his future powers. He had enjoyed an uncertain glory among the crowd of American amateurs. When his purse had become empty he returned to America to realize on his prospects.
On his arrival he had elaborately equipped a studio in Boston, but as he found the atmosphere “too provincial” he removed to New York. There he was much courted at a certain class of afternoon teas. He was in full bloom of the “might do,” but he had his suspicions that a fatally limited term of years would translate the tense into “might have done.” He argued, however, that he had not yet found the right _milieu_; he was fond of that word–conveniently comprehensive of all things that might stimulate his will. He doubted if America ever could furnish him a suitable _milieu_ for the expression of his artistic instincts. But in the meantime necessity for effort was becoming more urgent; he could not live at afternoon teas.
Clayton was related widely to interesting and even influential people. One woman, a distant cousin, had taken upon herself his affairs.
“I will give you another chance,” she said, in a business-like tone, after he had been languidly detailing his condition to her and indicating politely that he was coming to extremities. “Visit me this summer at Bar Harbor. You shall have the little lodge at the Point for a studio, and you can take your meals at the hotel near by. In that way you will be independent. Now, there are three ways, any one of which will lead you out of your difficulties, and if you don’t find one that suits you before October, I shall leave you to your fate.”
The young man appeared interested.
“You can model something–that’s your line, isn’t it?”
Clayton nodded meekly. He had resolved to become a sculptor during his last six months in Italy.
“And so put you on your feet, professionally.” Clayton sighed. “Or you can find some rich patron or patroness who will send you over for a couple of years more until your _chef d’ oeuvre_ makes its appearance.” Her pupil turned red, and began to murmur, but she kept on unperturbed. “Or, best of all, you can marry a girl with some money and then do what you like.” At this Clayton rose abruptly.
“I haven’t come to that,” he growled.
“Don’t be silly,” she pursued. “You are really charming; good character; exquisite manners; pleasant habits; success with women. You needn’t feel flattered, for this is your stock in trade. You are decidedly interesting, and lots of those girls who are brought there every year to get them in would be glad to make such an exchange. You know everybody, and you could give any girl a good standing in Boston or New York. Besides, there is your genius, which may develop. That will be thrown in to boot; it may bear interest.”
Clayton, who had begun by feeling how disagreeable his situation was when it exposed him to this kind of hauling over, ended by bursting into a cordial laugh at the frank materialism with which his cousin presented his case. “Well,” he exclaimed, “it’s no go to talk to you about the claims and ideals of art, Cousin Della, but I will accept your offer, if only for the sake of modelling a bust of ‘The Energetic Matron (American).'”
“Of course, I don’t make much of ideals in art and all that,” replied his cousin, “but I will put this through for you, as Harry says. You must promise me only one thing: no flirting with Harriet and Mary. Henry has been foolish and lost money, as you know, and I cannot have another beggar on my hands!”
By the end of July Clayton had found out two things definitely; he was standing in his little workshop, pulling at his mustache and looking sometimes at a half-completed sketch, and sometimes at the blue stretch of water below the cliff. The conclusions were that he certainly should not become interested in Harriet and Mary, and, secondly, that Mount Desert made him paint rather than model.
“It’s no place,” he muttered, “except for color and for a poet. A man would have to shut himself up in a cellar to escape those glorious hills and the bay, if he wanted to work at that putty.” He cast a contemptuous glance at a rough bust of his Cousin Della, the only thing he had attempted. As a solution of his hopeless problem he picked up a pipe and was hunting for some tobacco, preparatory to a stroll up Newport, when someone sounded timidly at the show knocker of the front door.
“Is that you, Miss Marston?” Clayton remarked, in a disappointed tone, as a middle-aged woman entered.
“The servants were all away,” she replied, “and Della thought you might like some lunch to recuperate you from your labors.” This was said a little maliciously, as she looked about and found nothing noteworthy going on.
“I was just thinking of knocking off for this morning and taking a walk. Won’t you come? It’s such glorious weather and no fog,” he added, parenthetically, as if in justification of his idleness.
“Why do you happen to ask me?” Miss Marston exclaimed, impetuously. “You have hitherto never paid any more attention to my existence than if I had been Jane, the woman who usually brings your lunch.” She gasped at her own boldness. This was not coquettishness, and was evidently unusual.
“Why! I really wish you would come,” said the young man, helplessly. “Then I’ll have a chance to know you better.”
“Well! I will.” She seemed to have taken a desperate step. Miss Jane Marston, Della’s sister-in-law, had always been the superfluous member of her family. Such unenviable tasks as amusing or teaching the younger children, sewing, or making up whist sets, had, as is usual with the odd members in a family, fallen to her share. All this Miss Marston hated in a slow, rebellious manner. From always having just too little money to live independently, she had been forced to accept invitations for long visits in uninteresting places. As a girl and a young woman, she had shown a delicate, retiring beauty that might have been made much of, and in spite of gray hair, thirty-five years, and a somewhat drawn look, arising from her discontent, one might discover sufficient traces of this fading beauty to idealize her. All this summer she had watched the wayward young artist with a keen interest in the fresh life he brought among her flat surroundings. His buoyancy cheered her habitual depression; his eagerness and love of life made her blood flow more quickly, out of sympathy; and his intellectual alertness bewildered and fascinated her. She was still shy at thirty-five, and really very timid and apologetic for her commonplaceness; but at times the rebellious bitterness at the bottom of her heart would leap forth in a brusque or bold speech. She was still capable of affording surprise.
“Won’t I spoil the inspiration?” she ventured, after a long silence.
“Bother the inspiration!” groaned Clayton. “I wish I were a blacksmith, or a sailor, or something honest. I feel like a hypocrite. I have started out at a pace that I can’t keep up!”
Miss Marston felt complimented by this apparent confidence. If she had had experience in that kind of nature, she would have understood how indifferent Clayton was to her personally. He would have made the same confession to the birds, if they had happened to produce the same irritation in his mind.
“They all say your work is so brilliant,” she said, soothingly.
“Thunder!” he commented. “I wish they would not say anything kind and pleasant and cheap. At college they praised my verses, and the theatres stole my music for the Pudding play, and the girls giggled over my sketches. And now, at twenty-six, I don’t know whether I want to fiddle, or to write an epic, or to model, or to paint. I am a victim of every artistic impulse.”
“I know what you should do,” she said, wisely, when they had reached a shady spot and were cooling themselves.
“Smoke?” queried Clayton, quizzically.
“You ought to marry!”
“That’s every woman’s great solution, great panacea,” he replied, contemptuously.
“It would steady you and make you work.”
“No,” he replied, thoughtfully, “not unless she were poor, and in that case it would be from the frying-pan into the fire!”
“You should work,” she went on, more courageously. “And a wife would give you inspiration and sympathy.”
“I have had too much of the last already,” he sighed. “And it’s better not to have it all of one sort. After awhile a woman doesn’t produce pleasant or profitable reactions in my soul. Yes, I know,” he added, as he noticed her look of wonderment, “I am selfish and supremely egotistical. Every artist is; his only lookout, however, should be that his surroundings don’t become stale. Or, if you prefer to put it more humanely, an artist isn’t fit to marry; it’s criminal for him to marry and break a woman’s heart.”
After this heroic confession he paused to smoke. “Besides, no woman whom I ever knew really understands art and the ends which the artist is after. She has the temperament, a superficial appreciation and interest, but she hasn’t the stimulus of insight. She’s got the nerves, but not the head.”
“But you just said that you had had too much sympathy and molly-coddling.”
“Did I? Well, I was wrong. I need a lot, and I don’t care how idiotic. It makes me courageous to have even a child approve. I suppose that shows how closely we human animals are linked together. We have got to have the consent of the world, or at any rate a small part of it, to believe ourselves sane. So I need the chorus of patrons, admiring friends, kind women, etc., while I play the Protagonist, to tell me that I am all right, to go ahead. Do you suppose any one woman would be enough? What a great posture for an arm!” His sudden exclamation was called out by the attitude that Miss Marston had unconsciously assumed in the eagerness of her interest. She had thrown her hand over a ledge above them, and was leaning lightly upon it. The loose muslin sleeve had fallen back, revealing a pretty, delicately rounded arm, not to be suspected from her slight figure. Clayton quickly squirmed a little nearer, and touching the arm with an artist’s instinct, brought out still more the fresh white flesh and the delicate veining.
“Don’t move. That would be superb in marble!” Miss Marston blushed painfully.
“How strange you are,” she murmured, as she rose. “You just said that you had given up modelling, or I would let you model my arm in order to give you something to do. You should try to stick to something.”
“Don’t be trite,” laughed Clayton, “and don’t make me consistent. You will keep yourself breathless if you try that!”
“I know what you need,” she said, persistently unmindful of his admonition. “You need the spur. It doesn’t make so much difference _what_ you do–you’re clever enough.”
“‘Truth from the mouths of babes—-‘”
“I am not a babe.” She replied to his mocking, literally. “Even if I am stupid and commonplace, I may have intuitions like other women.”
“Which lead you to think that it’s all chance whether Raphael paints or plays on the piano. Well, I don’t know that you are so absurd. That’s my theory: an artist is a fund of concentrated, undistributed energy that has any number of possible outlets, but selects one. Most of us are artists, but we take so many outlets that the hogshead becomes empty by leaking. Which shall it be? Shall we toss up a penny?”
“Painting,” said Miss Marston, decisively. “You must stick to that.”
“How did you arrive at that conclusion–have you observed my work?”
“No! I’ll let you know some time, but now you must go to work. Come!” She rose, as if to go down to the lodge that instant. Clayton, without feeling the absurdity of the comedy, rose docilely and followed her down the path for some distance. He seemed completely dominated by the sudden enthusiasm and will that chance had flung him.
“There’s no such blessed hurry,” he remarked at last, when the first excitement had evanesced. “The light will be too bad for work by the time we reach Bar Harbor. Let’s rest here in this dark nook, and talk it all over.”
Clayton was always abnormally eager to talk over anything. Much of his artistic energy had trickled away in elusive snatches of talk. “Come,” he exclaimed, enthusiastically, “I have it. I will begin a great work–a modern Magdalen or something of that sort. We can use you in just that posture, kneeling before a rock with outstretched hands, and head turned away. We will make everything of the hands and arms!”
Miss Marston blushed her slow, unaccustomed blush. At first sight it pleased her to think that she had become so much a part of this interesting young man’s plans, but in a moment she laughed calmly at the frank desire he expressed to leave out her face, and the characteristic indifference he had shown in suggesting negligently such a subject.
“All right. I am willing to be of any service. But you will have to make use of the early hours. I teach the children at nine.”
“Splendid!” he replied, as the vista of a new era of righteousness dawned upon him. “We shall have the fresh morning light, and the cool and the beauty of the day. And I shall have plenty of time to loaf, too.”
“No, you mustn’t loaf. You will find me a hard task-mistress!”
True to her word, Miss Marston rapped at the door of the studio promptly at six the next morning. She smiled fearfully, and finding no response, tried stones at the windows above. She kept saying to herself, to keep up her courage: “He won’t think about me, and I am too old to care, anyway.” Soon a head appeared, and Clayton called out, in a sleepy voice:
“I dreamt it was all a joke; but wait a bit, and we will talk it over.”
Miss Marston entered the untidy studio, where the _debris_ of a month’s fruitless efforts strewed the floor. Bits of clay and carving-tools, canvases hurled face downward in disgust and covered with paint-rags, lay scattered about. She tip-toed around, carefully raising her skirt, and examined everything. Finally, discovering an alcohol-lamp and a coffee- pot, she prepared some coffee, and when Clayton appeared–a somewhat dishevelled god–he found her hunting for biscuit.
“You can’t make an artist of me at six in the morning,” he growled.
In sudden inspiration, Miss Marston threw open the upper half of the door and admitted a straight pathway of warm sun that led across the water just rippling at their feet. The hills behind the steep shore were dark with a mysterious green and fresh with a heavy dew, and from the nooks in the woods around them thrush was answering thrush. Miss Marston gave a sigh of content. The warm, strong sunlight strengthened her and filled her wan cheeks, as the sudden interest in the artist’s life seemed to have awakened once more the vigor of her feelings. She clasped her thin hands and accepted both blessings. Clayton also revived. At first he leant listlessly against the door-post, but as minute by minute he drank in the air and the beauty and the hope, his weary frame dilated with incoming sensations. “God, what beauty!” he murmured, and he accepted unquestioningly the interference in his life brought by this woman just as he accepted the gift of sunshine and desire.
“Come to work,” said Miss Marston, at last.
“That’s no go,” he replied, “that subject we selected.”
“I dare say you won’t do much with it, but it will do as well as any other for experiment and practice.”
“I see that you want those arms preserved.”
The little woman shrank into her shell for a moment: her lazy artist could scatter insults as negligently as epigrams. Then she blazed out.
“Mr. Clayton, I didn’t come here to be insulted.”
Clayton, utterly surprised, opened his sleepy eyes in real alarm.
“Bless you, my dear Miss Marston, I can’t insult anybody. I never mean anything.”
“Perhaps that’s the trouble,” replied Miss Marston, somewhat mollified. But the sitting was hardly a success. Clayton wasted almost all his time in improvising an easel and in preparing his brushes. Miss Marston had to leave him just as he was ready to throw himself into his work. He was discontented, and, instead of improving the good light and the long day, he took a pipe and went away into the hills. The next morning he felt curiously ashamed when Miss Marston, after examining the rough sketch on the easel, said:
“Is that all?”
And this day he painted, but in a fit of gloomy disgust destroyed everything. So it went on for a few weeks. Miss Marston was more regular than an alarm-clock; sometimes she brought some work, but oftener she sat vacantly watching the young man at work. Her only standard of accomplishment was quantity. One day, when Clayton had industriously employed a rainy afternoon in putting in the drapery for the figure, she was so much pleased by the quantity of the work accomplished that she praised him gleefully. Clayton, who was, as usual, in an ugly mood, cast an utterly contemptuous look at her and then turned to his easel.
“You mustn’t look at me like that,” the woman said, almost frightened.
“Then don’t jabber about my pictures.”
Her lips quivered, but she was silent. She began to realize her position of galley-slave, and welcomed with a dull joy the contempt and insults to come.
One morning Clayton was not to be found. He did not appear during that week, and at last Miss Marston determined to find him. She made an excuse for a journey to Boston, and divining where Clayton could be found, she sent him word at a certain favorite club that she wanted to see him. He called at her modest hotel, dejected, listless, and somewhat shamefaced; he found Miss Marston calm and commonplace as usual. But it was the calm of a desperate resolve, won after painful hours, that he little recognized. Her instinct to attach herself to this strange, unaccountable creature, to make him effective to himself, had triumphed over her prejudices. She humbled herself joyfully, recognizing a mission.
“Della said that I might presume on your escort home,” she remarked dryly, trembling for fear that she had exposed herself to some contemptuous retort. One great attraction, however, in Clayton was that he never expected the conventional. It did not occur to him as particularly absurd that this woman, ten years his senior, should hunt him up in this fashion. He took such eccentricities as a matter of course, and whatever the circumstances or the conversation, found it all natural and reasonable. Women did not fear him, but talked indiscreetly to him about all things.
“What’s the use of keeping up this ridiculous farce about my work?” he said, sadly. Then he sought for a conventional phrase. “Your unexpected interest and enthusiasm in my poor attempts have been most kind, my dear Miss Marston. But you must allow me to go to the dogs in my own fashion; that’s the inalienable right of every emancipated soul in these days.” The politeness and mockery of this little epigram stung the woman.
“Don’t be brutal, as well as good for nothing,” she said, bitterly. “You’re as low as if you took to drink or any other vice, and you know it. I can’t appreciate your fine ideas, perhaps, but I know you ought to do something more than talk. You’re terribly ambitious, but you’re too weak to do anything but talk. I don’t care what you think about my interference. I can make you work, and I will make you do something. You know you need the whip, and if none of your pleasant friends will give it to you, I can. Come!” she added, pleadingly.
“Jove!” exclaimed the young man, slowly, “I believe you’re an awful trump. I will go back.”
On their return they scarcely spoke. Miss Marston divined that her companion felt ashamed and awkward, and that his momentary enthusiasm had evaporated under the influence of a long railroad ride. While they were waiting for the steamer at the Mount Desert ferry, she said, as negligently as she could, “I have telegraphed for a carriage, but you had better walk up by yourself.”
He nodded assent. “So you will supply the will for the machine, if I will grind out the ideas. But it will never succeed,” he added, gloomily. “Of course I am greatly obliged and all that, and I will stick to it until October for the sake of your interest.” In answer she smiled with an air of proprietorship.
One effect of this spree upon Clayton was that he took to landscape during the hours that he had formerly loafed. He found some quiet bits of dell with water, and planted his easel regularly every day. Sometimes he sat dreaming or reading, but he felt an unaccustomed responsibility if, when his mentor appeared with the children late in the afternoon, he hadn’t something to show for his day. She never attempted to criticise except as to the amount performed, and she soon learned enough not to measure this by the area of canvas. Although Clayton had abandoned the Magdalen in utter disgust, Miss Marston persisted in the early morning sittings. She made herself useful in preparing his coffee and in getting his canvas ready. They rarely talked. Sometimes Clayton, in a spirit of deviltry, would tease his mentor about their peculiar relationship, about herself, or, worse than all, would run himself and say very true things about his own imperfections. Then, on detecting the tears that would rise in the tired, faded eyes of the woman he tortured, he would throw himself into his work.
So the summer wore away and the brilliant September came. The unsanctified crowds flitted to the mountains or the town, and the island and sea resumed the air of free-hearted peace which was theirs by right. Clayton worked still more out of doors on marines, attempting to grasp the perplexing brilliancy that flooded everything.
“It’s no use,” he said, sadly, as he packed up his kit one evening in the last of September. “I really don’t know the first thing about color. I couldn’t exhibit a single thing I have done this entire summer.”
“What’s the real matter?” asked Miss Marston, with a desperate calm.
“Why, I have fooled about so much that I have lost a lot I learnt over there in Paris.”
“Why don’t you get–get a teacher?”
Clayton laughed ironically. “I am pretty old to start in, especially as I have just fifty dollars to my name, and a whole winter before me.”
They returned silently. The next morning Miss Marston appeared at the usual hour and made the coffee. After Clayton had finished his meagre meal, she sat down shyly and looked at him.
“You’ve never interested yourself much in my plans, but I am going to tell you some of them. I’m sick of living about like a neglected cat, and I am going to New York to–to keep boarders.” Her face grew very red. “They will make a fuss, but I am ready to break with them all.”
“So you, too, find dependence a burden?” commented Clayton, indifferently.
“You haven’t taken much pains to know me,” she replied. “And if I were a man,” she went on, with great scorn, “I would die before I would be dependent!”
“Talking about insults–but an artist isn’t a man,” remarked Clayton, philosophically smoking his pipe.
“I hate you when you’re like that,” Miss Marston remarked, with intense bitterness.
“Then you must hate me pretty often! But continue with your plans. Don’t let our little differences in temperament disturb us.”
“Well,” she continued, “I have written to some friends who spend the winters in New York, and out of them I think I shall find enough boarders–enough to keep me from starving. And the house has a large upper story with a north light.” She stopped and peeped at him furtively.
“Oh,” said Clayton, coolly, “and you’re thinking that I would make a good tenant.”
“Exactly,” assented Miss Marston, uncomfortably.
“And who will put up the tin: for you don’t suppose that I am low enough to live off you?”
“No,” replied the woman, quietly. “I shouldn’t allow that, though I was not quite sure you would be unwilling. But you can borrow two or three hundred dollars from your brother, and by the time that’s gone you ought to be earning something. You could join a class; the house isn’t far from those studios.”
Clayton impulsively seized her arms and looked into her face. She was startled and almost frightened.
“I believe,” he began, but the words faded away.
“No, don’t say it. You believe that I am in love with you, and do this to keep you near me. Don’t be quite such a brute, for you _are_ a brute, a grasping, egotistical, intolerant brute.” She smiled slightly. “But don’t think that I am such a fool as not to know how impossible _that_ is.”
Clayton still held her in astonishment. “I think I was going to say that I was in love with you.”
“Oh, no,” she laughed, sadly. “I am coffee and milk and bread and butter, the ‘stuff that dreams are made on.’ You want some noble young woman–a goddess, to make you over, to make you human. I only save you from the poor-house.”
There followed a bitter two years for this strange couple. Clayton borrowed a thousand dollars–a more convenient number to remember, he said, than three hundred dollars–and induced a prominent artist “who happens to know something,” to take him into his crowded classes for a year. He began with true grit to learn again what he had forgotten and some things that he had never known. At the end of the year he felt that he could go alone, and the artist agreed, adding, nonchalantly: “You may get there; God knows; but you need loads of work.”
Domestically, the life was monotonous. Clayton had abandoned his old habits, finding it difficult to harmonize his present existence with his clubs and his fashionable friends. Besides, he hoarded every cent and, with Miss Marston’s aid, wrung the utmost of existence out of the few dollars he had left. Miss Marston’s modest house was patronized by elderly single ladies. It was situated on one of those uninteresting East Side streets where you can walk a mile without remembering an individual stone. The table, in food and conversation, was monotonous. In fact, Clayton could not dream of a more inferior _milieu_ for the birth of the great artist.
Miss Marston had fitted herself to suit his needs, and in submitting to this difficult position felt that she was repaying a loan of a new life. He was so curious, so free, so unusual, so fond of ideas, so entertaining, even in his grim moods, that he made her stupid life over. She could enjoy vicariously by feeling his intense interest in all living things. In return, she learnt the exact time to bring him an attractive lunch, and just where to place it so that it would catch his eye without calling out a scowl of impatience. She made herself at home in his premises, so that all friction was removed from the young artist’s life. He made no acknowledgment of her devotion, but he worked grimly, doggedly, with a steadiness that he had never before known. Once, early in the first winter, having to return to Boston on some slight business, he permitted himself to be entrapped by old friends and lazed away a fortnight. On his return Miss Marston noticed with a pang that this outing had done him good; that he seemed to have more spirit, more vivaciousness, more ideas, and more zest for his work. So, in a methodical fashion, she thought out harmless dissipations for him. She induced him to take her to the opera, even allowing him to think that it was done from pure charity to her. Sunday walks in the picturesque nooks of New York–they both shunned the Fifth Avenue promenade for different reasons–church music, interesting novels, all the “fuel,” as Clayton remarked, that she could find she piled into his furnace. She made herself acquainted with the peculiar literature that seemed to stimulate his imagination, and sometimes she read him asleep in the evenings to save his overworked eyes. Her devotion he took serenely, as a rule. During the second winter, however, after a slight illness brought on by over-application, he seemed to have a thought upon his mind that troubled him. One day he impatiently threw down his palette and put his hands upon her shoulders.
“Little woman, why do you persist in using up your life on me?”
“I am gambling,” she replied, evasively.
“What do you expect to get if you win?”
“A few contemptuous thanks; perhaps free tickets when you exhibit, or a line in your biography. But seriously, Jack, don’t you know women well enough to understand how they enjoy drudging for someone who is powerful?”
“But even if I have any ability, which you can’t tell, how do you enjoy it? You can’t appreciate a picture.”
She smiled. “Don’t bother yourself about me. I get my fun, as you say, because you make me feel things I shouldn’t otherwise. I suppose that’s the only pay you artists ever give those who slave for you?”
Such talks were rare. They experienced that physical and mental unity in duality which comes to people who live and think and work together for a common aim. They had not separated a day since that first visit to Boston. The summer had been spent at a cheap boarding-house on Cape Ann, in order that Clayton might sketch in company with the artist who had been teaching him. Neither thought of conventionality; it was too late for that.
As the second year came to an end, the pressure of poverty began to be felt. Clayton refused to make any efforts to sell his pictures. He eked out his capital and went on. The end of his thousand came; he took to feeding himself in his rooms. He sold his clothes, his watch, his books, and at last the truck he had accumulated abroad. “More fuel for the fire,” he said bitterly.
“I will lend you something,” remarked Miss Marston.
“No, thanks,” he said, shortly, and then added, with characteristic brutality, “my body is worth a hundred. Stevens will give that for it, which would cover the room-rent. And my brother will have to whistle for his cash or take it out in paint and canvas.”
She said nothing, for she had a scheme in reserve. She was content meantime to see him pinched; it brought out the firmer qualities in the man. Her own resources, moreover, were small, for the character of her boarders had fallen. Unpleasant rumors had deprived her of the unexceptionable set of middle-aged ladies with whom she had started, but she had pursued her course unaltered. The reproach of her relatives, who considered her disgraced, had been a sweet solace to her pride.
The rough struggle had told on them both. He had forgotten his delicate habits, his nicety of dress. A cheap suit once in six months was all that he could afford. His mind had become stolidly fixed, so that he did not notice the gradual change. It was a grim fight! The elements were relentless; day by day the pounding was harder, and the end of his resistance seemed nearer. Although he was deeply discontented with his work, he did not dare to think of ultimate failure, for it unnerved him for several days. Miss Marston’s quiet assumption, however, that it was only a question of months, irritated him.
“God must have put the idea into your head that I am a genius,” he would mutter fiercely at her. “I never did, nor work of mine. You don’t know good from bad, anyway, and we may both be crazy.” He buried his face in his hands, overcome by the awfulness of failure. She put her arms about his head.
“Well, we can stand it a little longer, and then—-“
“And then?” he asked, grimly.
“Then,” she looked at him significantly. They both understood. “Lieber Gott,” he murmured, “thou hast a soul.” And he kissed her gently, as in momentary love. She did not resist, but both were indifferent to passion, so much their end absorbed them.
At last she insisted upon trying to sell some marines at the art stores. She brought him back twenty-five dollars, and he did not suspect that she was the patron. He looked at the money wistfully.
“I thought we should have a spree on the first money I earned. But it’s all fuel now.”
Her eyes filled with tears at this sign of humanity. “Next time, perhaps.”
“So you think that’s the beginning of a fortune. I have failed–failed if you get ten thousand dollars for every canvas in this shop. You will never know why. Perhaps I don’t myself.” And then he went to work. Some weeks later he came to her again. This time she tried to enlist the sympathy of the one successful artist Clayton knew, and through his influence she succeeded in selling a number of pictures and placed others upon sale. She was so happy, so sure that the prophetic instinct in her soul was justified, that she told Clayton of her previous fraud. He listened carefully; his face twitched, as if his mind were adjusting itself to new ideas. First he took twenty-five dollars from the money she had just brought him and handed it to her. Then putting his arms about her, he looked inquisitively down into her face, only a bit more tenderly than he squinted at his canvases.
“Jane!” She allowed him to kiss her once or twice, and then she pushed him away, making a pathetic bow.
“Thanks for your sense of gratitude. You’re becoming more civilized. Only I wish it had been something more than money you had been thankful for. Is money the only sacrifice you understand?”
“You can take your dues in taunts if you like. I never pretended to be anything but a huge, and possibly productive polypus. I am honest enough, anyway, not to fool with lovers’ wash. You ought to know how I feel toward you–you’re the best woman I ever knew.”
“Kindest to you, you mean? No, Jack,” she continued, tenderly; “you can have me, body and soul. I am yours fast enough now, what there is left of me. I have given you my reputation, and that sort of thing long ago–no, you needn’t protest. I know you despise people who talk like that, and I don’t reproach you. But don’t deceive yourself. You feel a little moved just now. If I had any charms, like a pretty model, you might acquire some kind of attachment for me, but love–you never dreamed of it. And,” she continued, after a moment, “I begin to think, after watching you these two years, never will. So I am safe in saying that I am yours to do with what you will. I am fuel. Only, oh, Jack, if you break my heart, your last fuel will be gone. You can’t do without me!”
It seemed very absurd to talk about breaking hearts–a tired, silent man; a woman unlovely from sordid surroundings, from age, and from care. Clayton pulled back the heavy curtain to admit the morning light, for they had talked for hours before coming to the money question. The terrible, passionate glare of a summer sun in the city burst in from the neighboring housetops.
“Why don’t you curse _Him_?” muttered Clayton.
“Because He gave you a heart to love, and made you lonely, and then wasted your love!”
“Jack, the worst hasn’t come. It’s not all wasted.”
Clayton gradually became conscious of a new feeling about his work. He was master of his tools, for one thing, and he derived exquisite pleasure from the exercise of execution. The surety of his touch, the knowledge of the exact effect he was after, made his working hours an absorbing pleasure rather than an exasperating penance. And through his secluded life, with its singleness of purpose, its absence of the social ambitions of his youth, and the complexity of life in the world, the restlessness and agitation of his earlier devotion to his art disappeared. He was content to forget the expression of himself–that youthful longing–in contemplating and enjoying the created matter. In other words, the art of creation was attended with less friction. He worked unconsciously, and he did not, hen-like, call the attention of the entire barnyard to each new- laid egg. He felt also that human, comfortable weariness after labor when self sinks out of sight in the universal wants of mankind–food and sleep. Perhaps the fact that he could now earn enough to relieve him from actual want, that to some extent he had wrestled with the world and wrung from it the conditions of subsistence, relieved the strain under which he had been laboring. He sold his pictures rarely, however, and only when absolutely compelled to get money. Miss Marston could not comprehend his feeling about the inadequacy of his work, and he gave up attempting to make her understand where he failed.
The bond between them had become closer. This one woman filled many human relationships for him–mother, sister, friend, lover, and wife in one. The boarding-house had come to be an affair of transients and young clerks, so that all her time that could be spared from the drudgery of housekeeping was spent in the studio. Slowly he became amenable to her ever-present devotion, and even, in his way, thoughtful for her. And she was almost happy.
The end came in this way. One day Clayton was discovered on the street by an intimate college friend. They had run upon each other abruptly, and Clayton, finding that escape was decently impossible, submitted without much urging to be taken to one of his old clubs for a quiet luncheon. As a result he did not return that night, but sent a note to Miss Marston saying that he had gone to Lenox with a college chum. That note chilled her heart. She felt that this was the beginning of the end, and the following week she spent in loneliness in the little studio, sleeping upon the neglected lounge. And yet she divined that the movement and stimulus of this vacation was what Clayton needed most. She feared he was becoming stale, and she knew that in a week, or a fortnight, or perhaps a month, he would return and plunge again into his work.
He came back. He hardly spoke to her; he seemed absorbed in the conception of a new work. And when she brought him his usual luncheon she found the door locked, the first time in many months. She sat down on the stairs and waited–how long she did not know–waited, staring down the dreary hall and at the faded carpet and at herself, faded to suit the surroundings. At length she knocked, and Clayton came, only to take her lunch and say absently that he was much absorbed by a new picture and should not be disturbed. Would she bring his meals? He seemed to refuse tacitly an entrance to the studio. So a week passed, and then one day Clayton disappeared again, saying that he was going into the country for another rest. He went out as he had come in, absorbed in some dream or plan of great work. Pride kept her from entering his rooms during that week.
One day, however, he came back as before and plunged again into his work. This time she found the door ajar and entered noiselessly, as she had learned to move. He was hard at work; she admired his swift movements that seemed premeditated, the ease with which the picture before him was rowing. Surely he had a man’s power, now, to execute what his spirit conceived! And the mechanical effort gave him evidently great pleasure. His complete absorption indicated the most intense though unconscious pleasure.
The picture stunned her. She knew that she was totally ignorant of art, but she knew that the picture before her was the greatest thing Clayton had accomplished. It seemed to breathe power. And she saw without surprise that the subject was a young woman. Clayton’s form hid the face, but she could see the outline of a woman beside a dory, on a beach, in the early morning. So it had come.
When she was very close to Clayton, he felt her presence, and they both stood still, looking at the picture. It was almost finished–all was planned. Miss Marston saw only the woman. She was youthful, just between girlhood and womanhood–unconscious, strong, and active as the first; with the troubled mystery of the second. The artist had divined an exquisite moment in life, and into the immature figure, the face of perfect repose, the supple limbs, he had thrown the tender mystery that met the morning light. It was the new birth–that ancient, solemn, joyous beginning of things in woman and in day.
Clayton approached his picture as if lovingly to hide it. “Isn’t it immense?” he murmured. “It’s come at last. I don’t daub any more, but I can see, I can paint! God, it’s worth the hell I have been through–“
He paused, for he felt that his companion had left him.
“Jane,” he said, curiously examining her face. “Jane, what’s the matter?”
“Don’t you know?” she replied, looking steadily at him. He looked first at her and then at the picture, and then back again. Suddenly the facts in the case seemed to get hold of him. “Jane,” he cried, impetuously, “it’s all yours–you gave me the power, and made me human, too–or a little more so than I was. But I am killing you by living in this fashion. Why don’t you end it?”
She smiled feebly at his earnestness. “There is only one end,” she whispered, and pointed to his picture. Clayton comprehended, and seizing a paint-rag would have ruined it, but the woman caught his hand.
“Don’t let us be melodramatic. Would you ruin what we have been living for all these years? Don’t be silly–you would always regret it.”
“It’s your life against a little fame.”
“No, against your life.” They stood, nervelessly eying the picture.
“Oh, Jack, Jack,” she cried, at last, “why did God make men like you? You take it all, everything that life gives, sunshine and love and hope and opportunity. Your roots seem to suck out what you want from the whole earth, and you leave the soil exhausted. My time has gone; I know it, I know it, and I knew it would go. Now some other life will be sacrificed. For you’ll break her heart whether she’s alive now or you’re dreaming of someone to come. You’ll treat her as you have everything. It isn’t any fault–you don’t understand.” The words ended with a moan. Clayton sat doggedly looking at his picture. But his heart refused to be sad.
LITTLE CRANBERRY, ME.,
The narrow slant of water that could be seen between the posts of the felza was rippling with little steely waves. The line of the heavy beak cut the opening between the tapering point of the Lido and the misty outline of Tre Porti. Inside the white lighthouse tower a burnished man- of-war lay at anchor, a sluggish mass like a marble wharf placed squarely in the water. From the lee came a slight swell of a harbor-boat puffing its devious course to the Lido landing. The sea-breeze had touched the locust groves of San Niccolo da Lido, and caught up the fragrance of the June blossoms, filling the air with the soft scent of a feminine city.
When the scrap of the island Sant’ Elena came enough into the angle to detach itself from the green mass of the Giardino Pubblico, the prow swung softly about, flapping the little waves, and pointed in shore where a bridge crossed an inlet into the locust trees.
“You can see the Italian Alps,” Miss Barton remarked, pulling aside the felza curtains and pointing lazily to the snow masses on the blue north horizon. “That purplish other sea is the Trevisan plain, and back of it is Castelfranco–Giorgione’s Castelfranco–and higher up where the blue begins to break into the first steps of the Alps is perched Asolo–Browning’s Asolo. Oh! It is so sweet! a little hill town! And beyond are Bassano and Belluno, and somewhere in the mist before you get to those snow-heads is Pieve da Cadore.” Her voice dropped caressingly over the last vowels. The mere, procession of names was a lyric sent across sea to the main.
“They came over them, then, the curious ones,” the younger man of the two who lounged on cushions underneath the felza remarked, as if to prolong the theme. “To the gates of Paradise,” he continued, while his companion motioned to the gondolier. “And they broke them open, but they could never take the swag after all.”
He laughed at her puzzled look. He seemed to mock her, and his face became young in spite of the bald-looking temples and forehead, and the copperish skin that indicated years of artificial heat.
“They got some things,” the older man put in, “and they have been living off ’em ever since.”
“But they never got _it_,” persisted his companion, argumentatively. “Perhaps they were afraid.”
The gondola was gliding under the stone bridge, skilfully following the line of the key-stones in the arch. It passed out into a black pool at the feet of the Church of San Niccolo. The marble bishop propped up over the pediment of the door lay silently above the pool. The grove of blossoming locusts dropped white-laden branches over a decaying barca chained to the shore.
“What is _’it’_?” the girl asked, slowly turning her face from the northern mountains. She seemed to carry a suggestion of abundance, of opulence; of beauty made of emphasis. “You,” the young man laughed back, enigmatically.
“They came again and again, and they longed for you, and would have carried you away by force. But their greedy arms snatched only a few jewels, a dress or two, and _you_ they left.”
The girl caught at a cluster of locust blossoms that floated near.
“It is an allegory.”
“I’ll leave Niel to untie his riddles.” Their companion lit his pipe and strode ashore. “I am off for an hour with the Adriatic. Don’t bother about me if you get tired of waiting.”
He disappeared in the direction of the Lido bathing stablimento. The two gathered up cushions and rugs, and wandered into the grove. The shade was dark and cool. Beyond were the empty acres of a great fort grown up in a tangle of long grass like an abandoned pasture. Across the pool they could see the mitred bishop sleeping aloft in the sun, and near him the lesser folk in their graves beside the convent wall.
“No, I am not all that,” Miss Barton said, thoughtfully, her face bending, as if some rich, half-open rose were pondering.
“_He_ says that I am a fragment, a bit of detritus that has been washed around the world–“
“And finally lodged and crystallized in Italy.”
This mystified her again, as if she were compelled to use a medium of expression that was unfamiliar.
“Papa was consul-general, you know, first at Madrid, then in the East, and lastly merely a consul at Milan.” She fell back in relief upon a statement of fact.
“Yes, I know.”
“And mamma–she was from the South but he married her in Paris. They called me the polyglot bebe at the convent.” She confided this as lazily interesting, like the clouds, or the locusts, or the faint chatter of the Adriatic waves around the breakwater of the Lido.
“Nevertheless you are Venice, you are Italy, you are Pagan”–the young man iterated almost solemnly, as if a Puritan ancestry demanded this reproach. Then he rolled his body half over and straightened himself to look at her rigidly. “How did you come about? How could Council Bluffs make it?” His voice showed amusement at its own intensity. She shook her head.
“I don’t know,” she said, softly.
“It doesn’t seem real. They tell me so, just as they say that the marble over there comes from that blue mountain. But why bother about it? I am here—-“
They drifted on in personal chat until the sunlight came in parallel lines between the leaves.
“Where is Caspar?” he said at last, reluctantly. “It’s too late to get back to the Britannia for dinner.” He jumped up as if conscious of a fault.
“Oh, we’ll dine here. Caspar has found some one at the stablimento and has gone off. Ask Bastian–there must be some place where we can get enough to eat.”
Lawrence hesitated as if not quite sure of the outcome of such unpremeditation. But Miss Barton questioned the gondolier. “The Buon Pesche–that will be lovely; Bastian will paddle over and order the supper. We can walk around.”
So Lawrence, as if yielding against his judgment, knelt down and picked up her wrap. “Bastian will take care of the rest,” she said, gleefully, walking on ahead through the long grass of the abandoned fort. “Be a bit of detritus, too, and enjoy the few half-hours,” she added, coaxingly, over her shoulder.
When they were seated at the table under the laurel-trees before the Buon Pesche, Lawrence threw himself into the situation, with all the robustness of a moral resolve to do the delightful and sinful thing. Just why it should be sinful to dine there out-doors in an evening light of luminous gold, with the scent of locusts eddying about, and the mirage-like show of Venice sleeping softly over beyond–was not quite clear. Perhaps because his companion seemed so careless and unfamiliar with the monitions of strenuous living; perhaps because her face was brilliant and naive–some spontaneous thing of nature, unmarked by any lines of consciousness.
Under a neighboring tree a couple were already eating, or quarrelling in staccato phrases. Lawrence thought that the man was an artist.
Miss Barton smiled at his seriousness, crossing her hands placidly on the table and leaning forward. To her companion she gleamed, as if a wood- thing, a hamadryad, had slipped out from the laurel-tree and come to dine with him in the dusk.
The woman of the inn brought a flask of thin yellow wine and placed it between them. Lawrence mutely decanted it into the glasses.
“Well?” she said, questioningly.
Her companion turned his head away to the solemn, imperial mountains, that were preparing with purple and gold for a night’s oblivion.
“You are thinking of Nassau Street, New York, of the rooms divided by glass partitions, and typewriters and the bundles of documents–bah! Chained!” She sipped scornfully a drop or two from the glass.
The man flushed.
“No, not that exactly. I am thinking of the police courts, of the squalor, of taking a deposition in a cell with the filthy breathing all about. The daily jostle.” He threw his head back.
“Don’t try it again,” she whispered.
“I am only over for six weeks, you know, health–“
“Yes? and there is a girl in Lowell,”–she read his mind impudently.
“Was,” he emended, with an uneasy blush.
“Poor, starved one! Here is our fish and spaghetti. To-night is a night of feast.”
The dusk grew grayer, more powderish; the mountains faded away, and the long Lido banks disappeared into lines pointed by the lights of Torcello and Murano. Sant’ Elena became sea, and the evening wind from the Adriatic started in toward the city. A few sailors who had come for a glass were sitting under the arbor of the Buon Pesche smoking, with an occasional stinging word dropped nonchalantly into the dusk. Their hostess was working in the garden patch behind the house. At last the artist moved off with his companion through the grove of laurel between the great well- heads. Bastian loitered suggestively near.
So they gathered their thoughts and followed the gondolier to the bank. Miss Barton lingered by one of the well-heads to peer at the pitchy bottom.
“Here they came for fresh water, the last gift of Venice before they took sail. And sometimes a man never went farther–it was a safe kind of a grave.” She laughed unconcernedly.
“Perhaps you came out of the locusts and took a hand in pitching the bodies in.”
The woman shivered.
“No! no! I only brought them here.”
Bastian turned the prow into the current, heading to weather Sant’ Elena. Lawrence took an oar silently. He liked the rush on the forward stroke, the lingering recovery. The evening puffs were cool. They slid on past a ghostly full-rigged ship from the north, abandoned at the point of Sant’ Elena, until the black mass of trees in the Giardino Pubblico loomed up. A little off the other quarter the lights from the island of San Lazzaro gleamed and faded. It was so very silent on the waste of waters!
Lawrence looked back at his companion; she was holding her hat idly, huddled limply on the cushions.
“Come,” she said again, adding mockingly—-
“If you are so ferocious, we shall get there too soon.”
Lawrence gave up his oar and lay down at her feet. Bastian’s sweep dipped daintily in and out; the good current was doing his work. They drifted silently on near Venice. The halo of light above the squares grew brighter. San Giorgio Maggiore appeared suddenly off the quarter.
Miss Barton signed to the gondolier to wait. They were outside the city wash; the notes of the band in San Marco came at intervals; the water slipped noiselessly around the channels, and fire-fly lights from the gondolas twinkled on the Grand Canal. San Giorgio was asleep.
Miss Barton’s head was leaning forward, her eyes brooding over the black outlines, her ears sensuously absorbing the gurgle of the currents. A big market boat from Palestrina winged past them, sliding over the oily water. Several silent figures were standing in the stern.
Lawrence looked up; her eyes seemed lit with little candles placed behind. Her face gleamed, and one arm slipped from her wrap to the cushion by his side.
“Bella Venezia,” he murmured.
She smiled, enveloping him, mastering him, taking him as a child with her ample powers.
“You will never go back to ‘that’!”
Her arm by his side filled out the thought.
“Never,” he heard himself say as on a stage, and the dusky lights from that radiant face seemed very near.
“Because I am—-“
“Sh,” she laid her fingers lightly on his forehead. “There is no thine and mine.”
Bastian dipped his sweep once more. San Giorgio’s austere facade went out into the black night. One cold ripple of Adriatic wind stirred the felza curtains.
The garden on the Giudecca was a long narrow strip on the seaward side, blossoming profusely with flowers. A low vine-covered villino slanted along the canal; beyond, there was a cow-house where a boy was feeding some glossy cows. The garden was full of the morning sun.
Lawrence could see her from the open door, a white figure, loitering in a bed of purple tulips. Her dark hair was loosely knotted up; stray wisps fell about her ears.
Lawrence closed the door that opened from the canal and walked softly through the plats of lilies and tulips. Miss Barton glanced up.
“Ecco! il cavaliere!”
“Didn’t you expect me!” he asked, clumsily, revealing one potent reason for his appearance.
She smiled for an answer.
“Last night,” he began again, explanatorily. Her eyes followed his lips and interrupted him.
“What do you think of our place?” She had turned away as if to direct his speech into indifferent channels.
He looked about bewildered.
“I can’t think anything; I _feel_ it; it’s one mass of sense.”
“Exactly. We found it, papa and I, one day two years ago when we were paddling around the Giudecca. One is so much at home here. At night you can see the lights along the Lido, and all the campaniles over there in Venice. Then the Redentore sweeps up so grandly–“
Lawrence slapped a bending tulip.
“Yes, the world lies far away.”
“And you are afraid to lose sight of it,” she turned on him swiftly. And she added, before he could find defence, “You have come to redeem your words, to tell me that you love me desperately; that you want to make an engagement; and some day marry me and go over there to live?”
“Caspar would do that.”
“And Severance has something to offer,” Lawrence remarked, bluntly.
“Half a million.”
She began to walk slowly across the little grass-plot over to the Lido side. Here the oily swell was gurgling in the stone embankment.
She was like a plant flowering in the garden–a plant, part lily, part hyacinth.
“And you do not want me,” she began, softly, less to him than to herself. “I don’t fit in. You cannot take me up and put me aside, at your will. You would be _mine_.”
“It should have been different. We should never have met. They should have made you a saint, or a priest, or a pastor for the bleeding world. You are a trifle late; half a century ago, you could have given your soul to God, quite easily, and not bothered about one woman.”
“Yes, I agree, but that was settled by the way the world has ground,” the young man sighed. “Why should it bother you, my fooling with the forlorn and wretched–the others? Any more than I mind your dealings with men?”
They turned about and crossed the dozen paces to the Redentore wall where lay a blade of dark shade.
“You could flirt with the multitude? Yes, I should object,” she looked at him slowly, “I couldn’t understand it.”
He threw his head back as if to look beyond Venice.
“The maimed in body and spirit,” he muttered.
“They call you; I call you; you—-“
“I was starved,” he pleaded, “I love flesh and glory, too.”
She laughed unconcernedly.
“Oh, no. I think not. You are trying to very hard. You think you are enjoying your wine and your figs and the sun; but you say a prayer.”
Her words taunted him. The vines on the villino swayed in the sun.
“Come, we will go out to the water, and I will master your doubt.”
They stood silent, looking at each other, half curiously. At length she uttered what was common to their minds.
“Marry the world; it woos you. Love me and leave me; love another and leave her. The world, that is your mistress.”
“And the world incarnate, that is you. The world, breathing, living, loving, the world a passion of delight.”
Their hands touched for a moment. Then she said, hastily:
“Too late! There is Caspar. I forgot we were to go to Burano. Will you join us?”
A figure in white ducks was coming toward them. His cordial smile seemed to include a comment–a mental note of some hint he must give. “In stalks the world of time and place,” the young man muttered. “No, I will not go with you.”