A BOOKFUL OF GIRLS
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By Anna Fuller
A Literary Courtship A Venetian June Peak and Prairie Pratt Portraits Later Pratt Portraits One of the Pilgrims Katherine Day A Bookful of Girls
The Thunderhead Lady By Anna Fuller and Brian Read
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A BOOKFUL OF GIRLS
Author of "Pratt Portraits," "Katherine Day," etc.
G. P. Putnam's Sons New York and London
The Knickerbocker Press
Copyright, 1905 by Anna Fuller
The Knickerbocker Press, New York
S. E. R.
THE YOUNGEST OF ALL MY FRIENDS
Blythe Halliday's Voyage 1
Artful Madge 63
The Ideas of Polly 130
Nannie's Theatre Party 196
Olivia's Sun-Dial 219
Bagging a Grandfather 242
"Suddenly a new sound reached her ear." Frontispiece
"Eleanor's eyes had wandered to the high, broad north window." 80
"Mufty hastily established himself across her shoulder." 142
"All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand." 201
"Please ma'am, will ye gimme a bowkay?" 227
"'Good afternoon, Grandfather,' was the apparition's cheerful greeting." 255
BLYTHE HALLIDAY'S VOYAGE
THE CROW'S NEST
"You never told me how you happened to name her Blythe."
The two old friends, Mr. John DeWitt and Mrs. Halliday, were reclining side by side in their steamer-chairs, lulled into a quiescent mood by the gentle, scarcely perceptible, motion of the vessel. It was an exertion to speak, and Mrs. Halliday replied evasively, "Do you like the name?"
"For Blythe,—yes. But I don't know another girl who could carry it off so well. Tell me how it happened."
Then Blythe's mother reluctantly gathered herself together for a serious effort, and said: "It was the old Scotch nurse who did it. She called her 'a blythe lassie' before she was three days old. We had been hesitating between Lucretia for Charles's mother and Hannah for mine, and we compromised on Blythe!"
Upon which the speaker, allowing her eyes to close definitively, took on the appearance of gentle inanition which characterised nine-tenths of her fellow-voyagers, ranged side by side in their steamer-chairs along the deck.
They had passed the Azores, that lovely May morning, and were headed for Cape St. Vincent,—the good old Lorelei lounging along at her easiest gait, the which is also her rapidest. For there is nothing more deceptive than a steamer's behaviour on a calm day when the sea offers no perceptible resistance to the keel.
Here and there an insatiable novel-reader held a paper-covered volume before his nose, but more often the book had slid to the deck, to be picked up by Gustav, the prince of deck-stewards, and carefully tucked in among the wraps of the unconscious owner.
Just now, however, Gustav was enjoying a moment of unaccustomed respite from activity, for his most exacting beneficiaries were not sufficiently awake to demand a service of him. He had administered bouillon and lemonade and cracked ice by the gallon; he had scattered sandwiches and ginger cookies broadcast among them; he had tenderly inquired of the invalids, "'Ow you feel?" and had cheerfully pronounced them, one and all, to be "mush besser"; and now he himself was, for a fleeting moment, the centre of interest in the one tiny eddy of animation on the whole length of the deck.
Just aft of the awning, in the full sunshine, he was engaged in "posing," with the sheepish air of a person having his photograph taken, while a fresh, comely girl of sixteen stood, kodak in hand, waiting for his attitude to relax. Half a dozen spectators, elderly men and small boys, stood about making facetious remarks, but Gustav and his youthful "operator" were too much in earnest to pay them much heed.
Blythe Halliday was usually very much in earnest; by which is not to be inferred that she was of an alarmingly serious cast of mind. Her earnestness took the form of intense satisfaction in the matter in hand, whatever that might be, and she had found life a succession of delightful experiences, of which this one of an ocean voyage was perhaps the most delectable of all.
In one particular Blythe totally disagreed with her mother; for Mrs. Halliday had declared, on one of the first universally unbecoming days of the voyage, that it was a mystery how all the agreeable people got to Europe, since so few of them were ever to be discovered on an ocean steamer! Whereas Blythe, for her part, had never dreamed that there were so many interesting persons in the world as were to be discovered among their fellow-voyagers.
Was not the big, bluff Captain himself, with his unfathomable sea-craft and his autocratic power, a regular old Viking such as you might read of in your history books, but would hardly expect to meet with in the flesh? And was there not a real Italian Count, elderly but impressive, who had dealings with no one but his valet, the latter being a nimble personage with a wicked eye who seemed to possess the faculty of starting up through the deck as if summoned by a species of wireless telegraphy? Best of all, was not Blythe's opposite neighbour at the Captain's table a shaggy, keen-eyed Englishman, figuring on the passenger-list as "Mr. Grey," but who was generally believed to be no less a personage than Hugh Dalton, the famous poet, travelling incognito?
This latter gentleman was more approachable than the Count, and had taken occasion to tell Blythe some very wonderful tales, besides still further endearing himself to her by listening with flattering attention to such narratives as she was pleased to relate for his benefit. Indeed, they were rapidly becoming fast friends and she was seriously contemplating a snap-shot at his expense.
Mr. Grey, meanwhile, had joined the group in the sunshine, where he stood, pipe in mouth, with his hands thrust deep into the pockets of his reefer, regarding Gustav's awkwardness with kindly amusement.
"There they go, those energetic young persons!" Mr. De Witt observed, a few minutes later, as Blythe and the Englishman walked past, in search of the Captain, whom Mr. Grey had suggested as the next subject for photographic prowess. "Do you suppose that really is Dalton?"
Mr. De Witt spoke with entire disregard of the fact that Mrs. Halliday appeared to be slumbering tranquilly. And indeed an interrupted nap is so easily made good on shipboard that Blythe used sometimes to beg her mother to try and "fall awake" for a minute!
On this occasion, as she walked past with the alleged poet, she remarked: "Even Mr. De Witt can't keep Mamma awake on shipboard, and she isn't a bit of a sleepy person on dry land."
By way of response, Mr. Grey turned to contemplate the line of steamer-chairs, billowy with voluminous wraps, saying: "Doesn't the deck look like a sea becalmed? See! Those are the waves, too lazy to break!"
"How funny the ocean would look if the waves forgot to turn over!" Blythe exclaimed, glancing across the gently undulating surface of the sea. "I don't suppose they've kept still one single instant in millions of years!"
"Not since the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters," her companion returned, with quiet emphasis; and Blythe felt surer than ever that he really was the great poet whom people believed him to be.
A moment later they had stormed the bridge, where they two, of all the ship's company, were pretty sure of a welcome. They found the Captain standing, with his sextant at his eye, the four gold stripes on his sleeve gleaming gaily in the sunshine. Evidently things were going right, for the visitors and their daring proposal were most graciously received.
The fine old sea-dog stood like a man to be shot at; and as Blythe faced him, kodak in hand, the breeze playing pranks with her hair and blowing her golf-cape straight back from her shoulders, it was all so exhilarating that before she knew it she had turned her little camera upon the supposed Hugh Dalton himself, who made an absurd grimace and told her to "let her go!"
It was always a delightful experience for Blythe to stand on the bridge and watch the ship's officers at their wonderful work of guiding the great sea-monster across the pathless deep. Here was the brain of the ship, as Mr. Grey had once pointed out, and to-day, when a sailor suddenly appeared above the gangway and, touching his hat, received a curt order,—"That is one of the nerves of the vessel," her companion said. "It carries the message of the brain to the furthest parts of the body."
"And I suppose the eyes are up there," Blythe returned, glancing at the "crow's nest," half-way up the great forward mast, where the two lookouts were keeping their steady watch.
"Yes," he rejoined, "that must be why they always have a pair of them,—so as to get a proper focus. Nicht wahr, Herr Capitaen?"
And the little fiction was explained to the Captain, who grew more genial than ever under the stimulus of such agreeable conversation.
"Ja wohl!" he agreed, heartily; "Ja wohl!"—which was really quite an outburst of eloquence for Captain Seemann.
"If I couldn't be captain," Blythe announced, "I think I should choose to be lookout."
"How is dat?" the Captain inquired.
"It must be the best place of all, away up above everything and everybody."
"And you would like to go up dare?"
"Of course I should!"
"And you would not be afraid?"
Upon which the Captain, in high good-humour, declared, "I belief you!"
After that he fell to speaking German with Mr. Grey, and Blythe moved to the end of the bridge, and stood looking down upon the steerage passengers, where they were disporting themselves in the sun on the lower deck.
They were a motley crew, and she never tired of watching them, as they sat about in picturesque groups, singing or playing games, or lay stretched on the deck, fast asleep.
Somewhat apart from the others was a woman with a little girl whom Blythe had not before observed. The child lay on a bright shawl, her head against the woman's knee, her dark Italian eyes gazing straight up into the luminous blue of the sky. There was a curiously high-bred look in the pale features, young and unformed as they were, and Blythe wondered how such a child as that came to belong to the stout, middle-aged woman who did not herself seem altogether out of place in the rough steerage.
At this point in her meditations, a quiet, matter-of-fact voice struck her ear, and, turning, she found that Mr. Grey had come up behind her.
"The Captain says he will have the 'crow's nest' lowered and let you go up in it if you like," was the startling announcement which roused her from her revery.
"Oh, you are making fun!" she protested.
"I don't wonder you think so, but he seems quite in earnest, and I can tell you it's the chance of a lifetime!"
"I should think it was!" she gasped. "Oh, tell him he's an angel with wings! And please, please don't let him change his mind while I run and ask Mamma!" With which Blythe vanished down the gangway, her golf-cape rising straight up around her head as the draught took it.
We may well believe that such a prospect as that drove from her mind all speculations as to the steerage passengers, and that even the thought of the little girl with the wonderful eyes did not again visit her in the few hours intervening.
Yet when, that afternoon at eight-bells, she passed with Mr. Grey down the steep gangway to the steerage deck, which they were obliged to traverse on their way to the forecastle, and they came upon the little creature lying, with upturned face, against the woman's knee, Blythe felt a sharp pang of compunction and pity. The child looked even more pathetic than when seen from above, and the young girl involuntarily stooped in passing, and touched the wan little cheek. Whereupon one of those ineffable smiles which are the birthright of Italians lighted the little face, and the small hand was lifted with so captivating a gesture that Blythe, clasping it in her own, dropped on her knees beside the child.
"Is it your little girl?" she asked, looking up into the face of the woman, whose marked unlikeness to the child was answer enough.
"No, no, Signorina," the woman protested. "She is my little Signorina."
"And you are taking her to Italy?"
"Si, Signorina; alla bella Italia!"
Then the lips of the little girl parted with a still more radiant smile, and she murmured, "Alla bella Italia!"
A moment later, Blythe and her companion had passed on and up to the forward deck where, climbing a short ladder to the railing of the "crow's nest," they dropped lightly down into this most novel of elevators. There was a shrill whistle from the boatswain, the waving of white handkerchiefs where Mrs. Halliday and Mr. DeWitt stood, forward of the wheel-house, to watch the start; then the big windlass began to turn, the rope was "paid out," and the slow, rather creaky journey up the mast had begun.
It was a perfect day for the adventure. The ship was not rolling at all, the little motion to be felt being a gentle tilt from stem to stern which manifested itself at long intervals in the slightest imaginable dip of the prow. And presently the ascent was accomplished, and the "crow's nest" once more clung in its accustomed place against the mast,—forty feet up in the air, according to Mr. Grey's reckoning.
As they looked across the great sea the horizon seemed to have receded to an incalculable distance, and the airs that came to them across that broad expanse, unsullied by the faintest trace of man or his works, were purer than are often vouchsafed to mortals. Blythe felt her heart grow big with the sense of space and purity, and this wonderful swift passage through the upper air. Involuntarily she took off her hat to get the full sweep of the breeze upon her forehead.
Suddenly, a new sound reached her ear,—a small, remote, confidential kind of voice, that seemed to arrive from nowhere in particular.
"It's the Captain, hailing us through his megaphone," her companion remarked; and, glancing down, far down, in the direction of the bridge, Blythe beheld the Captain, looking curiously attenuated in the unusual perspective, standing with a gigantic object resembling a cornucopia raised to his lips.
"You like it vare you are?" quoth the uncanny voice, not loud, but startlingly near.
And Blythe nodded her head and waved her hat in vigorous assent.
The great ship stretched long and narrow astern, the main deck shut in with awnings through which the huge smokestacks rose, and the wide-mouthed ventilators crooked their necks. Along either outer edge of the awnings a line of lifeboats showed, tied fast in their high-springing davits, while from the mouth of the yellow ship's-funnels black masses of smoke floated slowly and heavily astern. The Lorelei swam the water like a wonderful white aquatic bird, leaving upon the quiet sea a long snowy track of foam.
On a line with their lofty perch a sailor swung spider-like among the network of sheets and halyards that clung about the mainmast, its meshes clearly defined against the pure blue of the sky, while below there, on the bridge, the big brass nautical instruments gleamed, and the caps of the Captain and his lieutenants showed white in the sun. As Blythe glanced down and away from this stirring outlook, she could just distinguish among the dark figures of the steerage the small white face of the child upturned toward the sky; and again a sharp pang took her, a feeling that the little creature did not belong among those rough men and women. No wonder that the beautiful Italian eyes always sought the sky; it was their only refuge from sordid sights.
"I suppose the woman meant that the child was her little mistress; did she not?" Blythe asked abruptly.
"That was what I understood."
"It's probably a romance; don't you think so?" and Blythe felt that she was applying to a high authority for information on such a head.
"Looks like it," the great authority opined. "I think we shall have to investigate the case."
"Oh, will you? And you speak Italian so beautifully!"
"How do you know that?"
"Oh, I'm sure of it! It sounds so exactly like the hand-organ men!"
"Look here, Miss Blythe," the poet protested, "you must not flatter a modest man like that. My daughter would say you were turning my head."
"Oh, I rather think your daughter knows that it's not the kind of head to be turned," Blythe answered easily. She was beginning to feel as if she had known this famous personage all her life.
"I shall tell her that," said he.
Presently one-bell sounded a faint tinkle far below, and the big megaphone inquired whether they wanted to come down, and was assured that they did not. And all the while during their voyage through the air, which was prolonged for another half-hour, the two good comrades were weaving romances about the little girl; and with a curious confidence, as if, forsooth, they could conjure up what fortunes they would out of that vast horizon toward which the good ship was bearing them on.
At last the time came for them to go below, and they reluctantly signalled to the sailors, grouped about the deck in patient expectation. Upon which the windlass was set going, and slowly and creakingly the "crow's nest" was lowered from its airy height.
The two aeronauts found the steerage still populous with queer figures, and the atmosphere seemed more unsavoury than ever after their sojourn among the upper airs. To their disappointment, however, the woman and her Signorina were nowhere to be seen. Blythe and Mr. Grey looked for them in every corner of the deck, but no trace of them was to be found, and Blythe mounted the gangway to their own deck with much of the reluctance which she often felt in submitting to an interruption in a serial story.
They found Mrs. Halliday amusing herself with a glass of cracked ice, giving casual attention the while to a very long story told by a garrulous fellow-passenger in a wadded hood.
"Oh, Mamma," Blythe cried, perching upon the extension foot of her mother's chair, "why didn't you and Mr. DeWitt stay longer? And how did it happen that nobody else got wind of it? I don't believe a single person knows what we've been about! And oh! we have had such a glorious time! It was like being a bird! Only that little girl in the steerage oughtn't to be there, and Mr. Grey and I are going to see what can be done about it, and——"
The wadded hood had fallen silent, and now its wearer rose, with an air of resignation, and carried her tale to another listener, while Mr. Grey also moved away, leaving Blythe to tell her own story.
They were great friends, Mrs. Halliday and this only child of hers, and well they might be; for, as Blythe had informed Mr. Grey early in their acquaintance; "Mamma and I are all there are of us."
As she sat beside this best of friends,—having dropped into the chair left vacant by the wadded hood,—Blythe lived over again every experience and sensation of that eventful afternoon, and with the delightful sense of sharing it with somebody who understood. And, since the most abiding impression of all had been her solicitude for the little steerage passenger, she found no difficulty in arousing her mother to an almost equal interest in the child's fate.
And presently, when the cornet player passed them, with the air of short-lived importance which comes to a ship's cornet three times a day, and, stationing himself well aft, played the cheerful little tune which heralds the approaching dinner-hour, Blythe slipped her hand into her mother's and said:
"We'll do something about that little girl; won't us, Mumsey?"
Upon which Mrs. Halliday, rising, and patting the rosy cheek which she used to call the "apple of her eye," said:
"I shouldn't wonder if us did, Blythe."
THE LITTLE SIGNORINA
Blythe lay awake a long time that night, thinking, not of the bridge nor of the "crow's nest," not of the Captain nor of the supposed Hugh Dalton, but of the child in the steerage. How stifling it must be down there to-night! It was hot and airless enough here, where Blythe had a stateroom to herself,—separated from her mother's by a narrow passageway, and where the port-holes had been open all day. Now, to be sure, they were closed; for the sea was rising, and already the spray dashed against the thick glass. Oh, how must it be in the steerage! And how did it happen that that nice woman had been obliged to take her little Signorina in such squalid fashion to la bella Italia?
Blythe fell asleep with the sound of creaking timbers in her ears, as the good ship strained against the rising sea, and when the clear note of the cornet, playing the morning hymn, roused her from her dreams, the roaring of wind and waves sent her thoughts with a shock of pity to the little steerage passenger shut up below. For with such a sea as this the waves must be sweeping the lower deck, and there could be no release for the poor little prisoner.
"Vhy you not report that veather from the lookout?" the Captain asked with mock severity as Blythe appeared at the breakfast table.
The racks were on, and the knives and forks had begun their time-honoured minuet within their funny little fences. The amateur "lookout" glanced across the table at her friend and ally the poet, who nodded encouragingly as she answered:
"Oh, we knew the Captain knew all about it!"
"You think de Capitaen know pretty much eferything, wie es scheint!" was the reply, uttered in so deep a guttural that Blythe knew the old Viking did not take very seriously the "bit of weather" that seemed to her so violent. In fact, he owned as much before he had finished his second cup of coffee.
Yet when she came up the companionway after breakfast, she found a stout rope stretched across the deck from stanchion to stanchion to hold on by, the steamer chairs all tied fast to the rail that runs around the deckhouse, and every preparation made for rough weather.
It was not what a sailor would have called a storm, but the sea was changed enough from the smiling calm of yesterday. Not many passengers were on deck, half a dozen, only, reclining in their chairs in the lee of the deckhouse, close reefed in their heavy wraps; while here and there a pair of indefatigable promenaders lurched and slid along the heaving deck arm in arm, or clung to any chance support in a desperate effort to keep their footing.
Blythe had to buffet her way lustily as she turned a corner to windward. Holding her golf-cape close about her and jamming her felt hat well down on her head, she made her way to the narrow passageway forward of the wheel-house where one looks down into the steerage. The waves were dashing across the deck, which was deserted excepting for one or two dark-browed men crouched under shelter of the forecastle.
There was a light, drizzling rain, and now and then the spray struck against her face. Blythe looked up at the "crow's nest," which was describing strange geometrical figures against the sky. The lookouts in their oil-coats did not seem in the least to mind their erratic passage through space. She wished it were eight-bells and time for them to change watch; it was always such fun to see them running up the ladder, hand over hand, their quick, monkey-like figures silhouetted against the sky.
How nobly the great ship forged ahead against an angry sea, climbing now to the crest of a big wave, and giving a long, shuddering shake of determination before plunging down into a black, swirling hollow! And how the wind and the waters bellowed together!
The Captain was on the bridge in his rubber coat and sou'-wester. He had said this would not last long, and he had stopped for a second cup of coffee before leaving the table. All the same, Blythe would not have ventured to accost him now, even if he had passed her way.
Presently she returned under shelter of the awning and let Gustav tuck her up in her chair to dry off. And Mr. DeWitt came and sat down beside her and instructed her in the delectable game of "Buried Cities," in which she became speedily so proficient that, taking her cue from the lettering on one of the lifeboats, she discovered the city of Bremen lying "buried" in "the sombre menace of the sea!"
After a while, Gustav appeared before them, bearing a huge tray of bouillon and sandwiches, with which he was striking the most eccentric angles; and Blythe discovered that she was preposterously hungry. And while her nose was still buried in her cup, she espied over its rim a pair of legs planted well apart, in the cause of equilibrium, and the big, pleasant voice of Mr. Grey made itself heard above wind and sea, saying, "Guess where I've been."
"In the smoking-room," was the prompt reply.
"On the bridge,—only you wouldn't dare!"
"Oh, I know," Blythe cried, setting her thick cup down on the deck, and tumbling off her chair in a snarl of steamer-rugs; "You've been down in the steerage finding out about the little Signorina!"
"Who told you?"
"You did! You looked so pleased with yourself! Oh, do tell me all about her!"
"Well, I've had a long talk with the woman. Shall we walk up and down?"
And off they went, with that absence of ceremony which characterises life on shipboard, leaving Mr. DeWitt to bury his cities all unaided and unapplauded. Then, as the two walked up and down,—literally up and down, for the ship was pitching a bit, and sometimes they were labouring up-hill, and sometimes they were running down a steep incline,—as they walked up and down Mr. Grey told his story.
The woman, Giuditta, had confided to him all she knew, and he had surmised more. Giuditta had known the family only since the time, three years ago, when she had been called in to take care of the little Cecilia during the illness of the Signora. The father had been a handsome good-for-nothing, who had got shot in a street row in that quarter of New York known as "Little Italy." He was nothing,—niente, niente;—but the Signora! Oh, if the gentleman could but have known the Signora, so beautiful, so patient, so sad! Giuditta had stayed with her and shared her fortunes, which were all, alas! misfortunes,—and had nursed her through a long decline. But never a word had she told of her own origin,—the beautiful Signora,—nor had her father's name ever passed her lips. Had she known that she was dying, perhaps then, for the child's sake, she might have forgotten her pride. But she was always thinking she should get well,—and then, one day, she died!
There was very little left,—only a few dollars; but among the squalid properties of the pitiful little stage where the poor young thing had enacted the last act of her tragedy, was one picture, a Madonna, with the painter's name, G. Bellini, just decipherable. It was a little picture, twelve inches by sixteen, in a dingy old frame, and not a pretty picture at that. But a kind man, a dealer in antiquities, had given Giuditta one hundred dollars for it. "Think of that, Signore! One hundred dollars for an ugly little black picture no bigger than that!"
"I suppose," Mr. Grey remarked, as they stood balancing themselves at an angle of many degrees,—"I suppose that the picture was genuine,—else the man would hardly have paid one hundred dollars for it."
"And would it be worth more than that?"
"A trifle," he replied, rather grimly. "Somewhere among the thousands."
"But why should they have kept such a picture when they were so poor? Why didn't they sell it?"
"That would hardly have occurred to them. It was evidently a family heirloom that the girl had taken with her because she loved it. I doubt if she guessed its value. A Bellini! A Giovanni Bellini, in a New York tenement house! Think of it! And now I suppose some millionaire has got it. Likely enough somebody who doesn't know enough to buy his own pictures! Horrible idea! Horrible!" and Mr. Grey strode along, all but snorting with rage at the thought.
"But tell me more about the little girl," Blythe entreated, wishing the wind wouldn't blow her words out of her mouth so rudely. "Her name is Cecilia, you say?"
"Yes; Cecilia. Dopo is the name they went by, but the nurse doesn't think it genuine. Her idea is that her Signora was the daughter of some great family, and got herself disowned by marrying an opera singer who subsequently made a fiasco and dropped his name with his fame. She doesn't think Dopo ever was a family name. It means 'after,' you know, and they may have adopted it for its ironical significance."
"And the poor lady died and never told!" Blythe panted, as they toiled painfully up-hill with the rain beating in their faces.
"Yes, and—look out! hold tight!" for suddenly the slant of the deck was reversed, and they came coasting down to an impromptu seat on a bench.
"It seems," Mr. Grey went on, when they had resumed their somewhat arduous promenade,—"it seems the woman, Giuditta, is quite alone in the world and has been longing to get back to Italy. So she easily persuaded herself that she could find the child's family and establish her in high life. Giuditta has an uncommonly high idea of high life," he added. "I think she imagines that somebody in a court train and a coronet will come to meet her Signorina at the pier in Genoa. Poor things! There'll be a rude awakening!"
"But we won't let it be rude!" Blythe protested. "We must do something about it. Can't you think of anything to do?"
They were standing now, clinging to the friendly rope stretched across the deck, shoulder high.
"Giuditta's plan," Mr. Grey replied, "is the naive one of appealing to the Queen about it. And, seriously, I think it may be worth while to ask the American Minister to make inquiries. For there is, of course, a bare chance that the family may be known at Court. In the meantime——"
"In the meantime," Blythe interposed, "we've got to get her out of the steerage!"
"Oh, Mamma will arrange that. We'll just make a cabin passenger of her, and I can take her in with me in my stateroom. Oh! how happy she will be, lying in my steamer chair, with that dear Gustav to wait on her! I must go down at once and get Mamma to say yes!"
"And you think she will?"
"I know she will! She is always doing nice things. If you really knew her you wouldn't doubt it!" And with that the young optimist vanished in her accustomed whirl of golf-cape.
If faith can move mountains, it is perhaps no wonder that the implicit and energetic faith of which Blythe Halliday was possessed proved equal to the removal of a small child from one quarter to another of the big ship. The three persons concerned in bringing about the change were easily won over; for Mrs. Halliday was quite of Blythe's mind in the matter, Mr. Grey had little difficulty in bringing the Captain to their point of view, while, as for Giuditta, she hailed the event as the first step in the transformation of her small Signorina into the little "great lady" she was born to be.
Accordingly, close upon luncheon time, when the sun was just breaking through the clouds, and the sea, true to the Captain's prediction, was already beginning to subside, the tiny Signorina was carried, in the strong arms of Gustav, up the steep gangway by the wheel-house, where Blythe and her mother, Mr. DeWitt and the poet, to say nothing of Captain Seemann himself, formed an impromptu reception committee for her little ladyship.
As the child was set on her feet at the head of the gangway, she turned to throw a kiss down upon her faithful Giuditta, and then, without the slightest hesitation, she placed her hand in Blythe's, and walked away with her.
That evening there was a dance on board the Lorelei; for it had been but the fringe of a storm which they had crossed, and the sea was again taking on its long, easy swell.
The deck presented a festal appearance for the occasion. Rows of Japanese lanterns were strung from side to side against the white background of awning and deckhouse, and the flags of many nations lent their gay colours to the pretty scene. The ship's orchestra was in its element, playing with a "go" and rhythm which seemed caught from the pulsing movement of the ship itself.
As Blythe, with Mr. DeWitt, who had been a famous dancer in his day, led off the Virginia Reel, she wondered how it would strike the sailors of a passing brig,—this gay apparition of light and music, riding the great, dark, solemn sea.
The dance itself was rather a staid, middle-aged affair, for Blythe was the only young girl on board, and none but the youngest or the surest-footed could put much spirit into a dance where the law of gravitation was apparently changing base from moment to moment. Blythe and her partner, however, took little account of the moving floor beneath their feet, or the hesitating demeanour of their companions. One after another, even the most reluctant and self-distrustful of the revellers found themselves caught up into active participation in the figure.
In a quiet corner of the deck sat Mrs. Halliday, with little Cecilia beside her, snugly stowed away in a nest of steamer-rugs; for they could not bear to take her below, out of the fresh, invigorating air. Their little guest spoke hardly any English, but, although Mrs. Halliday was under the impression that she herself spoke Italian, the child seemed more conversable in Blythe's company than in that of any one else, not excepting Mr. Grey, about whose linguistic accomplishments there could be no question.
Accordingly when, the Virginia Reel being finished, Blythe came and sat on the foot of the little girl's chair, they fell into an animated conversation, each in her own tongue. And presently, during a pause in the music, the Italian Count chanced to pass their way, and, stopping in his solitary promenade, appeared to give ear to their talk.
Suddenly he stooped, and, looking into the animated face of the child, inquired in his own tongue; "What is thy name, little one?"
But when the pure, liquid, childish voice answered "Cecilia Dopo," he merely lifted his hat and, bowing ceremoniously, passed on.
Mr. Grey, who had watched the little scene from a distance, joined the group a moment later and, taking a vacant chair beside Mrs. Halliday, remarked:
"I think we shall have to cultivate the old gentleman. He might be induced to lend a hand in behalf of this young person. They are both Florentines," he added, thoughtfully, "and Florentine society is not large."
"Then you really believe the nurse is right about the child?" Mrs. Halliday asked.
"Oh, I shouldn't dare say that the mother was a great lady," he returned; "but there is certainly something high-bred about the little thing."
"They often have that air," Mrs. Halliday demurred,—"even the beggar children."
"Yes; to our eyes. But, do you know, I rather think the Italians themselves can tell the difference. I would rather trust Giuditta's judgment than my own. Besides," he added, after a long pause, during which he had been watching the expressive face of the child. "Besides,—there's that Giovanni Bellini. That sort of thing doesn't often stray into low society."
At this juncture the tall Italian moved again into their neighbourhood, and stood, at a point where the awning had been drawn back, gazing, with a preoccupied air, out to sea.
Rising from his seat, Mr. Grey approached him, remarking abruptly, and with a jerk of the head toward Cecilia, "Florentine, is she not?"
"Sicuro," was the grave reply; upon which the Count moved away, to be seen no more that evening.
As the Englishman rejoined them after this laconic interview, Blythe greeted him with a new theory.
"Do you know," she said, "I used to think the Count was haughty and disagreeable, but I have changed my mind."
"That only shows how susceptible you good Republicans are to any sign of attention from the nobility," was the teasing reply.
"Perhaps you are right," Blythe returned, with the fair-mindedness which distinguished her. "You know I never saw a titled person before, excepting one red-headed English Lord, who hadn't any manners. I've often thought I should like, of all things, to know a King or Queen really well!"
"You don't say so!" Mr. Grey laughed. "And what's your opinion now, of the old gentleman, since he deigned to interrupt your conversation?"
"I believe he is unhappy."
"What makes you think so?"
"There's an unhappy look away back in his eyes. I never looked in before,—and then——"
"There's something about his voice."
"Yes; Tuscan, you know."
"Oh, is that it? Well, any way, I like him!"
"If that's the case, perhaps you could make better headway with him than I."
"But I don't speak Italian."
"Perhaps you speak French."
"I know my conjugations," was the modest admission.
"And I'm sure he would be enchanted to hear them," Mr. Grey laughed, as the orchestra struck into the familiar music of the Lancers, causing him to beat a retreat into the smoking-room.
And while Blythe danced gaily and heartily with a boy somewhat younger than herself, and not quite as tall, her little protegee fell into a deep sleep. And presently, the dance being over, the faithful Gustav carried her down to Blythe's stateroom, where she was snugly tucked away in the gently rocking cradle of the lower berth.
As for Blythe, thus relegated to the upper berth, she entered promptly into an agreeable dreamland, where she found herself speaking Italian fluently, and where she discovered, to her extreme satisfaction, that the Queen of Italy was her bosom friend!
A NEW DAWN
It was pretty to see the little Signorina revive under the favouring influences of prosperity; and indeed the soft airs of the southern seas were never sweeter nor more caressing than those which came to console our voyagers for their short-lived storm.
Life was full of interest and excitement for the little girl. The heavy lassitude of her steerage days had fallen from her, and already that first morning a delicate glow of returning vigour touched the little cheek.
"She's picking up, isn't she?" Mr. DeWitt remarked, as he joined Blythe and the child at the head of the steerage gangway, where the little one was throwing enthusiastic kisses and musical Italian phrases down upon the hardly less radiant Giuditta.
"Oh, yes!" was the confident reply. "She's a different child since her saltwater bath and her big bowl of oatmeal. Mamma says she really has a splendid physique, only she was smothering down there in the steerage."
Then Mr. DeWitt stooped and, lifting the child, set her on the railing, where she could get a better view of her faithful friend below.
"There! How do you like that?" he inquired.
Upon which the little girl, finding herself unexpectedly on a level with Blythe's face, put up her tiny hand and stroked her cheek.
"Like-a Signorina," she remarked with apparent irrelevance.
"Oh! You do, do you? Well, she's a nice girl."
"Nice-a girl-a," the child repeated, adding a vowel, Italian fashion, to each word.
Then, with an appreciative look into the pleasant, whiskered countenance, whose owner was holding her so securely on her precarious perch, she pressed her little hand gently against his waistcoat, and gravely remarked, "Nice-a girl-a, anche il Signore!"
"So! I'm a nice girl too, am I?" the old gentleman replied, much elated with the compliment.
And Giuditta, down below, perceiving that her Signorina was making new conquests, snatched her bright handkerchief from her head, and waved it gaily; whereupon a score of the steerage passengers, seized with her enthusiasm, waved their hats and handkerchiefs and shouted; "Buon' viaggio, Signorina! Buon' viaggio!"
And the little recipient of this ovation became so excited that she almost jumped out of the detaining arms of Mr. DeWitt, who, being of a cautious disposition, made haste to set her down again; upon which they all walked aft, under the big awning.
"She makes friends easily," Mr. Grey remarked, later in the morning, as he and Blythe paused a moment in their game of ring-toss. The child was standing, clinging to the hand of a tall woman in black, a grave, silent Southerner who had hitherto kept quite to herself.
"Yes," Blythe rejoined, "but she is fastidious. She will listen to no blandishments from any one whom she doesn't take a fancy to. That good-natured, talkative Mr. Distel has been trying all day to get her to come to him, but she always gives him the slip." And Blythe, in her preoccupation, proceeded to throw two rings out of three wide of the mark.
"Has the Count taken any more notice of her?" Mr. Grey inquired, deftly tossing the smallest of all the rings over the top of the post.
"Apparently not; but she takes a great deal of notice of him. See, she's watching him now. I should not be a bit surprised if she were to speak to him of her own accord one of these days."
"There are not many days left," her companion remarked. "The Captain says we shall make Cape St. Vincent before night."
"Oh, how fast the voyage is going!" Blythe sighed.
Yet, sorry as she would be to have the voyage over, no one was more enchanted than Blythe when Cape St. Vincent rose out of the sea, marking the end of the Atlantic passage. It was just at sundown, and the beautiful headland, bathed in a golden light, stood, like the mystic battlements of a veritable "Castle in Spain," against a luminous sky.
"Mamma," Blythe asked, "did you ever see anything more beautiful than that?"
They were standing at the port railing, with the little girl between them, watching the great cliffs across the deep blue sea.
"Nothing more beautiful than that seen through your eyes, Blythe."
"I believe you do see it through my eyes, Mumsey," Blythe answered, thoughtfully, "just as I am getting to see things through Cecilia's eyes. I never realised before how things open up when you look at them that way."
And Mrs. Halliday smiled a quiet, inward smile that Blythe understood with a new understanding.
They took little Cecilia ashore with them at Gibraltar the next morning, and again Blythe experienced the truth of her new theory.
It was our heroine's first glimpse of Europe, and no delectable detail of their hour's drive, no exotic bloom, no strange Moorish costume, no enchanting vista of cliff or sea, was lost upon her. Yet she felt that even her enthusiasm paled before the deep, speechless ecstasy of the little Cecilia. It was as if, in the tropical glow and fragrant warmth, the child were breathing her native air,—as if she had come to her own.
On their return, as the grimy old tug which had carried them across the harbour came alongside the big steamer, the child suddenly exclaimed, "Ecco, il Signore!" and, following the direction of her gesture, their eyes met those of the Count looking down upon them. He instantly moved away, and they had soon forgotten him, in the pleasurable excitement of bestowing upon Giuditta the huge, hat-shaped basket filled with fruit which they had brought for her.
Later in the day, as they weighed anchor and sailed out from the shadow of the great Rock, Blythe found herself standing with Mr. Grey at the stern-rail of their own deck, watching the face of the mighty cliff as it changed with the varying perspective.
"Oh! I wish I were a poet or an artist or something!" she cried.
"Would you take that monstrous fortress for a subject?" he asked.
"Yes, and I should do something so splendid with it that nobody would dare to be satirical!" and she glanced defiantly at her companion, whose good-humoured countenance was wrinkling with amusement.
"Let us see," he said. "How would this do?" And he gravely repeated the following:
"There once was a fortress named Gib, Whose manners were haughty and—
What rhymes with Gib?"
"Glib!" Blythe cried.
Whose manners were haughty and glib. If you tried to get in, She replied with a grin,—
Quick! Give me another rhyme for Gib."
"Rib!" Blythe suggested, audaciously.
"Excellent, excellent! Rib! Now, how does it go?
There once was a fortress named Gib, Whose manners were haughty and glib! If you tried to get in, She replied, with a grin, 'I'm Great Britain's impregnable rib!'
Rather neat! Don't you think?"
"O Mr. Grey!" Blythe cried. "You've got to write that in my voyage-book! It's the——"
At that moment, a gesture from her companion caused her to turn and look behind her. There, only a few feet from where they were standing, but with his back to them, was the Count, sitting on one of the long, stationary benches fastened against the hatchway, while just at his knees stood little Cecilia. She was balancing herself with some difficulty on the gently swaying deck, holding out for his acceptance a small bunch of violets, which one of the market-women at Gibraltar had bestowed upon her.
As he appeared to hesitate: "Prendili!" she cried, with pretty wilfulness. Upon which he took the little offering, and lifted it to his face.
The child stood her ground resolutely, and presently, "Put me up!" she commanded, still in her own sweet tongue.
Obediently he lifted her, and placed her beside him on the seat, where she sat clinging with one little hand to the sleeve of his coat to keep from slipping down, with the gentle dip of the vessel.
The two sat, for a few minutes, quite silent, gazing off toward the African coast, and Blythe and her companion drew nearer, filled with curiosity as to the outcome of the interview.
Presently the child looked up into the Count's face and inquired, with the pretty Tuscan accent which sounded like an echo of his own question on the evening of the dance:
"What is thy name?"
"Giovanni Battista Allamiraviglia."
Cecilia repeated after him the long, musical name, without missing a syllable, and with a certain approving inflection which evidently had an ingratiating effect upon the many-syllabled aristocrat; for he lifted his carefully gloved hand and passed it gently over the little head.
The child took the caress very naturally, and when, presently, the hand returned to the knee, she got possession of it, and began crossing the kid fingers one over the other, quite undisturbed by the fact that they invariably fell apart again as soon as she loosed her hold.
At this juncture the two eavesdroppers moved discreetly away, and Blythe, leaving her fellow-conspirator far behind, flew to her mother's side, crying:
"O Mumsey! She's simply winding him round her finger, and there's nothing he won't be ready to do for us now!"
"Yes, dear; I'm delighted to hear it," Mrs. Halliday replied, with what Blythe was wont to call her "benignant and amused" expression. "And after a while you will tell me what you are talking about!"
But Blythe, nothing daunted, only appealed to Mr. Grey, who had just caught up with her.
"You agree with me, Mr. Grey; don't you?" she insisted.
"Perfectly, and in every particular. Mrs. Halliday, your daughter and I have been eavesdropping, and we have come to confess."
Whereupon Blythe dropped upon the foot of her mother's chair, Mr. Grey established himself in the chair adjoining, and they gave their somewhat bewildered auditor the benefit of a few facts.
"I really believe," the Englishman remarked, in conclusion,—"I really believe that haughty old dago can help us if anybody can. And when your engaging young protegee has completed her conquest,—to-morrow, it may be, or the day after, for she's making quick work of it,—we'll see what can be done with him."
And, after all, what could have been more natural than the attraction which, from that time forth, manifested itself between the Count and his small countrywoman? If the little girl, in making her very marked advances, had been governed by the unwavering instinct which always guided her choice of companions, the old man, for his part, could not but find refreshment, after his long, solitary voyage, in the pretty Tuscan prattle of the child. Most Italians love children, and the Count Giovanni Battista Allamiraviglia appeared to be no exception to his race.
The two would sit together by the hour, absorbed, neither in the lovely sights of this wonderful Mediterranean voyage, nor in the movements of those about them, but simply and solely in one another.
"She's telling her own story better than we could do," Mr. Grey used to say.
It was now no unusual thing to see the child established on the old gentleman's knee, and once Blythe found her fast asleep in his arms. But it was not until the very last day of the voyage that the most wonderful thing of all occurred.
The sea was smooth as a lake, and all day they had been sailing the length of the Riviera. All day people had been giving names to the gleaming white points on the distant, dreamy shore,—Nice, Mentone, San Remo,—names fragrant with association even to the mind of the young traveller, who knew them only from books and letters.
Blythe and the little girl were sitting, somewhat apart from the others, on the long bench by the hatchway where Cecilia had first laid siege to the Count's affections, and Blythe was allowing the child to look through the large end of her field-glass,—a source of endless entertainment to them both. Suddenly Cecilia gave a little shriek of delight at the way her good friend, Mr. Grey, dwindled into a pigmy; upon which the Count, attracted apparently by her voice, left his chair and came and sat down beside them.
As he lifted his hat, with a polite "Permetta, Signorina," Blythe noticed, for the first time on the whole voyage, that he was without his gloves. Perhaps the general humanising of his attitude, through intercourse with the child, had caused him to relax this little point of punctilio.
Cecilia, meanwhile, had promptly climbed upon his knee, and now, laying hold of one of the ungloved hands, she began twisting a large seal ring which presented itself to her mind as a pleasing novelty. Presently her attention seemed arrested by the device of the seal, and she murmured softly, "Fideliter."
Blythe might not have distinguished the word as being Latin rather than Italian, had she not been struck by the change of countenance in the wearer of the ring. He turned to her abruptly, and asked, in French:
"Does she read?"
"No," Blythe answered, thankful that she was not obliged to muster her "conjugations" for the emergency!
There was a swift interchange of question and answer between the old man and the child, of which Blythe understood but little. She heard Cecilia say "Mamma," in answer to an imperative question; the words "orologio" and "perduto" were intelligible to her. She was sure that the crest and motto formed the subject of discussion, and it was distinctly borne in upon her that the same device—a mailed hand and arm with the word Fideliter beneath it—had been engraved on a lost watch which had belonged to the child's mother. But it was all surmise on her part, and she could hardly refrain from shouting aloud to Mr. Grey, standing over there, in dense unconsciousness, to come quickly and interpret this exasperating tongue, which sounded so pretty, and eluded her understanding so hopelessly.
The mind of the Count seemed to be turning in the same direction, for, after a little, he arose abruptly, and, setting the child down beside Blythe, walked straight across the deck to the Englishman, whom he accosted so unceremoniously that Blythe's sense of wonders unfolding was but confirmed.
The two men turned and walked away to a more secluded part of the deck, where they remained, deep in conversation, for what seemed to Blythe a long, long time. She felt as if she must not leave her seat, lest she miss the thread of the plot,—for a plot it surely was, with its unravelling close at hand.
At last she saw the two men striding forward in the direction of the steerage, and with a conspicuous absence of that aimlessness which marks the usual promenade at sea.
The little girl was again amusing herself with the glasses, and, as the two arbiters of her destiny passed her line of vision, she laughed aloud at their swiftly diminishing forms. Impelled by a curious feeling that the child must take some serious part in this crucial moment of her destiny, Blythe quietly took the glasses from her and said, as she had done each night when she put her little charge to bed:
"Will you say a little prayer, Cecilia?"
And the child, wondering, yet perfectly docile, pulled out the little mother-of-pearl rosary that she always wore under her dress, and reverently murmured one of the prayers her mother had taught her. After which, as if beguiled by the association of ideas into thinking it bedtime, she curled herself up on the bench, and, with her head in Blythe's lap, fell fast asleep.
And Blythe sat, lost in thought, absently stroking the little head, until suddenly Mr. Grey appeared before her.
"You have been outrageously treated, Miss Blythe," he declared, seating himself beside her, "but I had to let the old fellow have his head."
"Oh, don't tell me anything, till we find Mamma," Blythe cried. "It's all her doing, you know,—letting me have Cecilia up here," and, gently rousing the sleeper, she said, "Come, Cecilia. We are going to find the Signora."
"And you consider it absolutely certain?" Mrs. Halliday asked, when Mr. Grey had finished his tale. She was far more surprised than Blythe, for she had had a longer experience of life, to teach her a distrust in fairy-stories.
"There does not seem a doubt. The child's familiarity with the crest was striking enough, but that Bellini Madonna clinches it. And then, Giuditta's description of both father and mother seems to be unmistakable."
"Oh! To think of his finding the child that he had never heard of, just as he had given up the search for her mother!" Blythe exclaimed.
Cecilia was again playing happily with the glasses, paying no heed to her companions.
"The strangest thing of all to me," Mrs. Halliday declared, "is his relenting toward his daughter after all these years."
"You must not forget that Fate had been pounding him pretty hard," Mr. Grey interposed. "When a man loses in one year two of his children, and the only grandchild he knows anything about, it's not surprising that he should soften a bit toward the only child he has left."
They were still discussing this wonderful subject, when, half an hour later, the tall figure of the Count emerged from the companionway. As he bent his steps toward the other side of the deck he was visible only to the child, who stood facing the rest of the group. She promptly dropped the glasses upon Blythe's knee, and crying, "Il Signore!" ran and took hold of his hand; whereupon the two walked away together and were not seen for a long, long time.
Then Blythe and Mr. Grey went up on the bridge and told the Captain. No one else was to know—not even Mr. DeWitt—until after they had landed, but the Captain was certainly entitled to their confidence.
"For," Blythe said, "you know, Captain Seemann, it never would have happened if you had not sent us up in the crow's nest that day."
Upon which the Captain, beaming his brightest, and letting his cigar go out in the damp breeze for the sake of making his little speech, declared:
"I know one thing! It would neffer haf happen at all, if I had sent anybody else up in the crow's nest but just Miss Blythe Halliday with her bright eyes and her kind heart!"
And Blythe was so overpowered by this tremendous compliment from the Captain of the Lorelei that she had not a word to say for herself.
That evening Mr. Grey inscribed his nonsense-verse in Blythe's book; and not that only, for to those classic lines he added the following:
"The above was composed in collaboration with his esteemed fellow-passenger, Miss Blythe Halliday, by Hugh Dalton, alias 'Mr. Grey.'"
It was, of course, a great distinction to own such an autograph as that; yet somehow the kind, witty Mr. Grey had been so delightful just as he was, that Blythe hardly felt as if the famous name added so very much to her satisfaction in his acquaintance.
"I knew it all the time," she declared, quietly; "but it didn't make any difference."
"That's worth hearing," said Hugh Dalton.
* * * * *
They parted from the little Cecilia at sunrise, but with promises on both sides of a speedy meeting among the hills of Tuscany.
The old Count, with the child's hand clasped in his, paused as he reached the gangway, at the foot of which the triumphant Giuditta was awaiting them, and pointed toward the rosy east which was flushing the beautiful bay a deep crimson.
"Signorina," he said in his careful French, made more careful by his effort to control his voice,—"Signorina, it is to you that I owe a new dawn,—to you and to your honoured mother."
Then, as Mr. DeWitt and Mr. Grey approached, to tell them that everything was in readiness for them to land, Blythe turned, with the light of the sunrise in her face, and said, under her breath, so that only her mother could hear:
"O Mumsey! How beautiful the world is, with you and me right in the very middle of it!"
THE PRIZE CONTEST
"Artful Madge" was the very flippant name by which Madge Burtwell's brother Ned had persisted in calling her from the time when, at the age of sixteen, she gained reluctant permission to become a student at the Art School.
"Not that we have any objection to art," Mrs. Burtwell was wont to explain in a deprecatory tone; "only we should have preferred to have Madge graduate first, before devoting herself to a mere accomplishment. It seems a little like putting the trimming on a dress before sewing the seams up," she would add; "I did it once when I was a girl, and the dress always had a queer look."
But Mrs. Burtwell, though firm in her own opinions, was something of a philosopher in her attitude toward the contrary-minded, and even where her own children were concerned she never allowed her influence to degenerate into tyranny. When she found Madge, at the age of sixteen, more eager than ever before to study art, and nothing else, she told her husband that they might as well make up their minds to it, and, at the word, their minds were made up. For Mr. Burtwell was the one entirely and unreasoningly tractable member of Mrs. Burtwell's flock; in explanation of which fact he was careful to point out that only a mature mind could appreciate the true worth of Mrs. Burtwell's judgment.
The Burtwells were people of small means and of correspondingly modest requirements. They lived in an unfashionable quarter of the city, kept a maid-of-all-work, sent their children to the public schools, and got their books from the Public Library. Having no expensive tastes, they regarded themselves as well-to-do and envied no one.
If Madge Burtwell's eyes had been a whit less clear, or her nature a thought less guileless, Ned would not have been so enchanted with his new name for her. Indeed, a few years ago she had been described by an only half-appreciative friend as "a splendid girl without a mite of tact," and if she had succeeded in somewhat softening the asperity of her natural frankness, there was enough of it left to lend a delicate shade of humour to the name.
Artful Madge, then, was a student at the Art School, and a very promising one at that. At the end of three years she had made such good progress that she was promoted to painting in the Portrait Class, and since her special friend and crony, Eleanor Merritt, was also a member of that class, Madge considered her cup of happiness full. Not that there were not visions in plenty of still better things to come, but they seemed so far in the future that they hardly took on any relation with the actual present. Madge and Eleanor dreamed of Europe, of the old masters and of the great Paris studios, but it is a question whether the fulfillment of any dream could have made them happier than they were to-day. Certain it is, that, as they stood side by side in the great barren studio, clad in their much-bedaubed, long-sleeved aprons, and working away at a portrait head, they had little thought for anything but the task in hand. The one vital matter for the moment was the mixing and applying of their colours, and, in their eagerness to reproduce the exact contour of a cheek, or the precise shadow of an unbeautiful nose, they would hardly have transferred their attention from the most ill-favoured model to the last and greatest Whistler masterpiece.
The girls at the Art School had got hold of Ned's name for his sister and adopted it with enthusiasm.
"If you want to know the truth, ask Artful Madge," was a very common saying among them.
"Artful Madge says it's a good likeness, anyhow!" modest little Minnie Drayton would maintain, when hard pressed by the teasing of the older girls.
The incongruity of the name seemed somehow to throw into brighter relief the peculiar sincerity of its bearer's character, and by the time it was generally adopted among the students Madge Burtwell's popularity was established.
It was well that Madge was a favourite, for in certain respects she was the worst sinner in the class. To begin with, her palette was the very largest in the room, and the most plentifully besmeared with colours, and woe to the girl who ventured too near it! As Madge stood before her easel, tall and fair and earnest, painting with an ardour and concentration which was all too sure to beguile her into her besetting sin of "exaggerating details," she wielded both brush- and palette-arm with a genial disregard of consequences. Nor could one count upon her confining her activities to one location. Like all the students, she was in the habit of backing away from her natural anchorage from time to time, the better to judge of her work, and not one of them all had such a fatal tendency to come up against an unoffending easel in the rear, sending canvas and paint-tubes rattling upon the floor.
Instantly she would drop upon her knees, overcome with contrition, and help collect the scattered treasures, giving many a jar or joggle to neighbouring easels in the process.
"It's a shame, Miss Folsom!" she would cry, struggling to her feet again, still clutching her beloved palette, which seemed fairly to rain colours on every surrounding object. "It's a shame! But if you will just cast your eye upon that thing of mine, you will perceive that it was the recklessness of desperation. Look at it! There's not a value in it!"
Artful Madge was always forgiven, and no one ever thought of calling her awkward, and when, in the early autumn, a Saturday sketching club was organised, it was christened "The Artful Daubers" in honor of Madge, and she was unanimously elected president.
The girls were not in the habit of paying much attention to chance visitors who came in from time to time and made the perilous passage among the easels, and lucky was the "parent" or "art-patron" who escaped without a streak of colour on some portion of his raiment. When Mrs. Oliver Jacques looked in upon them one memorable morning in February no premonition of great things to come stirred the company; only indifferent glances were directed upon her by the few who deigned to observe her at all. And this pleased Mrs. Oliver Jacques very much indeed.
Yet, if the girls had paused to consider,—a thing which they never did when there was a model on the platform,—they would have been aware that their visitor was a person of importance in the world of Art, for importance in no other world would have secured to her the personal escort of Mr. Salome, the adored teacher of their class. Yet Mrs. Jacques was a charming little old lady who would have commanded attention on her own merits in any less preoccupied assembly than that of the studio. Her exceedingly bright eyes and her exceedingly white hair seemed to accentuate her animation of manner; there was so much sparkle in her face that even her silence did not lack point.
She had accomplished her tortuous passage among the easels without meeting with any mishaps in the shape of Cremnitz-white or crimson-lake. She had paused occasionally and had bestowed a critical nod upon the one "blocked-in" countenance, or had drawn her brows together questioningly over a study in which the nose had a startlingly finished appearance in a still sketchy environment, but not until she had successfully avoided the last easel, planted at an erratic angle just where the unwary would be sure to stub his toe, did she make any remark.
"A lot of them, aren't there?" she observed.
"Yes, the school is pretty full," Mr. Salome replied. "In fact, we're a little bothered for room."
"Any imagination among them?"
"Well, as to that, it's rather early to form an opinion. Our aim just now is to keep them to facts. Some of them," the artist added with a smile, "are rather too much inclined to draw upon their imagination. Now there is one girl there who is, humanly speaking, certain to paint the model's hair jet-black, or as black as paint can be made. And yet, you see, there is not a black thread in it."
"I wonder whether you would object to my making an experiment?" Mrs. Jacques asked, abruptly.
And from that seemingly unpremeditated question of Mrs. Jacques', and from the consultation that ensued, grew the Prize Contest, destined to be famous in the annals of the school.
When, on that very afternoon, the students were assembled for the occasion, they had not yet had time to adjust their minds to the magnitude of the interests involved. Yet the conditions were simple enough. That student who should, in the space of two hours, produce the best composition illustrative of "Hope" was to receive a prize of five hundred dollars! The conviction prevailed among them that the vivacious little old lady with the white hair could be none other than the fairy godmother of nursery lore, and it was only too delightful to find that agile and beneficent myth interesting herself in the cause of Art.
When once the class was fairly launched upon its new emprise, a change in the usual aspect of things became apparent. In the first place, most of the students were seated; for, in a task of pure composition, there was no occasion either for standing or for "prowling,"—the term familiarly applied to the sometimes disastrous backward and forward movements of which mention has been made, and which ordinarily gave so much action to the scene. Furthermore, the use of watercolor, as lending itself more readily than oils to rapid execution, deprived the scene of one of its most picturesque features,—namely, the brilliant-hued palette which, with its similarity to a shield, was wont to lend its bearer an Amazonian air, not lost upon the class caricaturists. Subdued, however, and almost "lady-like" as the appearance of the class had become, hardly half an hour had passed before the genial spirit of creation had so taken possession of the assembly as to cast a glow and glamour of its own upon it. Here and there, to be sure, might still be seen an anxious, intent young face with eyes fixed upon vacancy, or an idle, if somewhat begrimed and parti-coloured hand, fiercely clutching a dejected head; but nearly all were already busily at work, eagerly painting, or as eagerly obliterating strokes too hastily made. The subject, hackneyed as it certainly is, had pleased and stimulated the girls. There was a mingled vagueness and familiarity in its suggestion which puzzled them and spurred them on at the same time.
Among the most impetuous workers, almost from the outset, was Artful Madge. She had instantly conceived of Hope as a vague, beckoning figure, which was to take its significance from the multitude and variety of its followers. She chose a large sheet of paper and quickly sketched in the upper left-hand corner a very indefinite hint of a winged, luminous something,—it might have been an angel or a bird or a cloud, seen from a great distance, against a somewhat threatening sky. Without defining the form at all she very cleverly produced an impression of receding motion;—she ventured even to hope that there was something alluring in the motion. That, however, must be made unmistakably clear through the pursuing figures with which she proposed to fill the foreground.
She glanced at Eleanor, who had not yet mixed a colour.
"What are you waiting for?" she asked.
"I don't seem ready to begin," said Eleanor, in an absent tone of voice.
"Have you got an idea?"
"I think so."
"Then do hurry up and go ahead, or you'll get left."
Madge sat a moment, looking straight before her.
"What are you going to put in there?" asked Eleanor.
"What I want is all the people in the world," Madge replied, with perfect gravity. "But there is not room for them."
A moment later she was working furiously, with hot cheeks and shining eyes and breath coming faster and faster.
First she would have a soldier. Madge had always loved a soldier; her father had been one in the great and splendid days before she was born. Yes, a soldier must come first. And forthwith a very sketchy warrior stepped, with a very martial air, upon the paper. Then an artist ought to come next;—only she could not think of any way of indicating his calling without the aid of some conventional emblem. A mere look of inspiration might belong to a poet or a preacher as well as to an artist. Besides which, she was by no means sure that she knew how to paint a look of inspiration. And then it came to her that, unless she could paint just that, her picture must be a failure; and so she fell upon it, and began sketching in figures of old and young, rich and poor, trying only to put into each face the eager, upward look which should focus all, in spirit as well as in actual direction, upon the flying, luminous figure. In some attempts she succeeded and in some she failed. There was one old woman, with abnormally deep wrinkles, and shoulders somewhat out of drawing, whose face had caught a curiously inspired look; Madge did not dare touch her again for fear of losing it. Her artist, on the other hand, the young man with the ideal brow and very large eyes, grew more and more inane and expressionless the more eagerly his creator worked at him.
On the whole, the production as a two-hour composition by a three-year student was rather good than bad. When time was called Madge felt pretty sure that she should not win the prize; she had undertaken too much, both for the occasion and for her own ability. And yet it was borne in upon her to-day that she was going to make a better artist than she had ever before dared hope.
So absorbed had she been in her own work, that she had completely forgotten Eleanor, and had not even been aware that her friend had begun painting an hour ago. Now she turned to her with compunction in her heart. Eleanor held her finished sketch in her hand, but her eyes had wandered to the high, broad north window which was one great sheet of radiant blue sky.
Eleanor's composition was very simple, but extremely well done, and in the glance Madge was able to give it before the sketches were handed in she saw that it was delicately suggestive. It represented a curving shore, a quiet sea, and a saffron sky,—no sails on the sea, no clouds in the sky. Upon the shore stood a solitary pine-tree, almost denuded of branches, and against the tree leaned the slender figure of a youth, looking dreamily across the sea to the horizon, where the saffron colour was tinged with gold. That was all, but Madge felt sure that it was enough; and, as she thought about it, she felt herself very small and crude and confused, and she was conscious of a perfectly calm and dispassionate wish to tear her own sketch in two. She did not do so, however. There was no irritation, nor envy, nor even displeasure, in her mind. She had not supposed that either she or Eleanor could do anything so good as that sketch,—since one of them could, why, that was just so much clear gain.
A moment later the studio was in a tumult. The sketches had been handed over to the three judges, who had gone into instant consultation over them. Mrs. Jacques had decreed, with characteristic decision, that the judges were bound to be as prompt as the competitors, and the award was promised within half an hour. What wonder if the usual tumult of dispersion was increased tenfold by the excitement of the occasion? The voices were pitched in a higher key, the easels clattered more noisily than ever, there was a more lively movement among the many-hued aprons, as they were pulled off and consigned with many a shake and a flourish to their respective pegs.
"What did you paint?" asked one high voice, whose owner was enthusiastically shaking the water from her paint-brush all over the floor.
"I painted you—working for the prize."
"Yes, really! You were just at the right angle for it, and you did look so hopeful!"
"You can't make me believe you played such a shabby trick upon me, Mary Downing!"
"Shabby! If you knew how good-looking you were at a three-eighths' angle you would be grateful to me! You did have such an inspired look for a little while,—before you got disgusted, and began to wash out."
"Jane Rhoades did an awfully pretty thing—a white bird with a boy running after it. But I felt perfectly certain that the little wretch had a gun in his other hand!"
"What a fiery head you gave your angel, Mattie Stiles! He looked like Loge in Rheingold!"
"I don't care," said Mattie, in a tone of voice that showed that she did care very much indeed. "I do like red hair, and we haven't had a chance to paint any all winter."
"Red hair wouldn't make Titians of us," sighed Miss Isabella Ricker, who was of a despondent temperament.
"It wouldn't be any hindrance, anyhow!" Mattie insisted.
Meanwhile the half-hour was drawing to a close. A general air of rough order had descended upon the studio. The girls were sitting or standing about in groups, their remarks getting more disjointed and irrelevant as the nervousness of anticipation grew upon them. Madge and Eleanor had found a seat on the steps of the platform. The former was making a pencil sketch of Miss Isabella Ricker, who had abandoned herself to dejection in a remote corner of the room. Madge looked up suddenly, and found that Eleanor was watching her work.
"Your thing is very interesting," she remarked, in a reserved tone, which, nevertheless, sent the colour mounting slowly up her friend's sensitive cheek. They both understood that no more commendatory adjective than "interesting" was to be found in the art-student's vocabulary.
"You're partial, Madge."
"Not a bit of it. But I know an interesting thing when I see it. If you win the prize," she asked abruptly, "what shall you do with the money?"
"If you go to the moon next week, what shall you do with the green cheese?" Eleanor retorted, with an unprecedented outburst of sarcasm.
"I think you might answer my question," said Madge; and at that instant the door opened and a hush fell upon the room.
The suspense was not painfully prolonged. The Curator of the Art Museum, who had been associated with Mrs. Jacques and Mr. Salome as judge, stepped upon the platform, from which Madge and Eleanor had precipitately retreated, and made the following announcement:
"We have, on the whole," he said, "been very well pleased with the work we have had to consider. In fact, several of the sketches were better than anything we had looked for. Nevertheless our decision was not a difficult one, and our choice is unanimous. The prize which Mrs. Jacques has had the originality and the generosity to offer has been awarded to Mary Eleanor Merritt."
* * * * *
"And now will you answer my question?"
Madge and Eleanor were walking home together through the light snow which had just begun to fall. They had been curiously shy of speaking, and, before the silence was broken, a pretty wreath of snow had formed itself about the rim of each of their black felt hats, while little ribbons of it were decorating the folds of their garments.
"What are you going to do with your green cheese?"
"I shall go to Paris next autumn," said Eleanor, tightly clasping the check which she held inside her muff.
"That's what I thought," said Madge; and if her eyes grew a trifle red and moist it was perhaps natural enough, since the snow was flying straight into them.
"What makes you keep looking at me, Eleanor Merritt? You're not a bit of a good model!"
Thus reproved, Eleanor once more fixed her eyes upon a very bad oil-portrait of Great-grandfather Burtwell, an elderly man of a wooden countenance, in stock and choker, surmounting an expanse of black broadcloth which occupied two-thirds of the canvas.
The girls were established in what was known as the spare-room of the Burtwell house, which, with its north light and usual freedom from visitors made a very good studio. Madge was painting a miniature of Eleanor. The diminutive size of her undertaking was causing her a good deal of embarrassment, and she was consequently inclined to be rather severe with her sitter.
"You know I am not going to have many more chances of looking at you for a year to come," Eleanor urged, in a tone of meek dejection.
"And I can't see you, even now," Madge persisted, "if you don't turn more toward the light."
There was silence again for some minutes, while Madge painted steadily on. Difficult as was this new task which she had set herself, she was captivated with it. However the miniature might turn out as a likeness, she felt sure that each stroke of her brush was making a prettier picture of it. The eyes already had the real Eleanor look, and the hair was "pretty nice." The mouth was troublesome, to be sure, and to-day she did not feel inspired to improve it, and had turned her attention to less important details.
"You've got such a pretty ear!" she remarked presently, as she touched its outermost rim with a hair line, cocking her head to one side, the while, in a very professional manner; "Did you ever notice what a pretty ear you have?"
"Better be careful how you talk about it," Eleanor laughed, "for fear it should begin to burn!"
The artist looked in some trepidation at the feature in question, but its soft hue did not deepen. She took the precaution, however, to change the subject; to one which she often chose, indeed, for the sake of the animation it brought into the pretty face of her model. Eleanor's "repose" sometimes bothered her.
"What shall you do the first day in Paris?" Madge asked.
"I shall write to you."
"Good gracious! You won't write to me before you have seen the Louvre!"
"I shall write to you the very first minute. And then I shall write again that same evening, and tell you whether there really is a Louvre! If there shouldn't be one, you know, I shouldn't feel so like a pig in being there without you!"
"You needn't feel like a pig, as far as that goes," said Madge. "I couldn't have gone to Paris if I had won the prize."
"Well, I had it out with Father this morning. He says it's not a mere matter of money; that if he and Mother thought well of my going, they could manage it."
"O Madge! Can't you make them think well of it?"
"I'm afraid not. Father never did really believe in my going in for art, and I think he believes in it less now than he ever did. He says I've been at it for three years, and I haven't painted a pretty picture yet. And he says he doesn't see what good it's going to do me in after-life; that if I marry I sha'n't keep it up, and there wouldn't be any good in my trying to;—which is, of course a mistake, only I can't make him believe that it is,—and he says that if I don't marry, I've got to earn my living sooner or later."
"Why, but that's just it, Madge! You're going to be able to earn your living! You're sure to!"
But Madge was again engrossed in her work. The afternoon would soon draw to a close, and if she wished to carry out her designs upon that ear it behooved her to stop talking. Though her little picture was an oval of three inches by four, it had cost her more strokes than any canvas of ten times the size had ever done. And Eleanor was to sail in a fortnight!
At last the light began to fade, and Madge knew that she must stop.
"What do you suppose Father said to me this morning?" she asked, as she washed out her brushes and put her paint-box in order.
"I can't imagine."
"Well, he said that when any good judge thought my pictures worth paying for in good hard cash, it would be time to think of sending me 'traipsing over the world with my paint-pot.' He said that if I would come to him with a fifty-dollar bill of my own earning he should begin to think there was some sense in my art-talk."
"Did he really say that? Why, Madge, who knows?"
Madge had shut up her paint-box and moved to the window, where she was gloomily looking down into her neighbours' backyards.
"If you mean Noah's Dove," she said, "You might as well give him up. He's come back for the thirteenth time."
Now "Noah's Dove" was the name which Madge had bestowed upon a small bundle of pen-and-ink sketches which she had been sending about to the illustrated papers for two or three months past, and which had earned their name by the persistency with which they had found their way back again. The girls had both thought them funny and original; indeed Eleanor, with the partiality of one's best friend, did not hesitate to pronounce them better than many of the things that got accepted. Up to this time, however, no editor had seemed disposed to recognise their merits, and they had been repeatedly and ignominiously rejected.
"But you'll keep on sending them, won't you, Madge?" Eleanor insisted.
"Of course I shall, as long as there is a picture-paper left in the country; though the postage does cost an awful lot!"
The sun had set, and a tinge of rosy colour was spreading across the northern sky behind the chimneys. The girls stood silent for a moment, watching the colour deepen, while a wistful look came into Eleanor's face.
"After all, Madge," she said; "it must be nice to have somebody think for you, even when he doesn't think the way you want him to."
"Oh, of course, Father's a dear. I don't suppose I would swap him off, even for Paris!"
"I wish I could even remember my father or my mother, or anybody that really belonged to me!" Eleanor said; then, feeling that she was making an appeal for sympathy, a thing which she was principled against doing, she turned her eyes away from the tender, beguiling colour behind the chimneys, and looked, instead, at the big oil portrait on the wall. "It's something to have even a painted grandfather of your own!" she declared.
"How I should love to give you mine!" laughed Madge. "He's such a horrible daub, and I should so like to have the frame when it comes time to exhibit! You would not insist upon having him in a frame, would you, Nell?"
Presently the girls went down-stairs together and Eleanor stayed to tea, and told the family all about her Paris plans, and how she felt like a pig to be going without Madge. And all the time, as she talked to these kindly, sympathetic people, it seemed to her that Madge was even more to be envied than she; and she wished she knew how to say so in an acceptable manner. But Eleanor found as much difficulty as most of us do, in expressing our best and truest thoughts, and so the Burtwell family never knew what a heart-warming impression they had made upon their guest.
Eleanor had lived for the past three years with a married cousin, a daughter of the not particularly congenial or affectionate Aunt Sarah, now deceased, who had brought her up from babyhood. The gentle, sensitive girl, with the artistic temperament, had never been happy with her cousin, though the latter was far from suspecting the fact. Mrs. Hamilton Hicks was fond of Eleanor, or imagined herself to be so, and she always gave her young cousin her due share of credit, in view of the fact that they had "never had any words together." Nevertheless, she had acceded very readily to the Paris plan, and had herself taken pains to find a suitable chaperon for the young traveller.
The result was, that on the fifteenth of September Eleanor went forth into the great world in company with a lively and voluble Frenchwoman, a lady whom she had seen but twice before in her life, who had promised to establish her in a good private family in Paris. And since Mrs. Hamilton Hicks had negotiated the arrangement, its success was a foregone conclusion.
When Madge left the railway station after bidding Eleanor good-bye, and stepped out into the crowded city thoroughfare, the world seemed to her very empty and desolate, in spite of the multitude of her fellow-creatures who jostled against her. She could think of nothing but Eleanor, standing on the platform of the car as the train moved out of the station, and she was desperately sorry to have lost the last sight of her friend's tearful face, because of a curious blur that had come over her own eyes at the moment. At the recollection, she mechanically put her hand into her pocket in search of the miniature which she usually carried about with her. She had left it at home lest she should lose it in the crowded railway station. It gave her a pang not to find it, and she made up her mind then and there that she would never go without it again.
The moment she reached her own room she seized the picture and had a good look at it. She had placed it in the inner gilt rim of an old daguerreotype, which set it off very nicely. She had discarded the hard leather daguerreotype case, as being too clumsy to carry about in her pocket, and in its place had made a sort of pocket-book of red morocco which was a sufficient protection for the glass, in her careful keeping.
She had never liked the picture so well as she did to-day, for she thought of it now for the first time, not as a work of art, but as a likeness, and imperfect as it was, even from that point of view, it gave her very great pleasure to look at it. Yes, decidedly, she must always have it by her hereafter; and she slipped it into her pocket while she made herself ready for tea.
But supposing she should have her pocket picked! A pickpocket, she reflected, might, in the hastiness which must always characterise his operations, mistake the little leather case for a purse, and then—how should she ever get the precious miniature back again? "Not that he would want to keep it," she said to herself, as she took it out once more for a parting look,—"unless he should lose his heart to that ear!"—and she regarded the tiny pink object with pardonable pride. But with the best intentions in the world, how would he be able to restore it? She must put her address in the case; that would be a simple matter.
An hour later, the family were gathered about the great round table in the pleasant sitting-room, pursuing their various avocations by the light of an excellent argand burner. Mr. Burtwell was reading his evening paper, imparting occasional choice bits to his wife and his eldest daughter, Julia, who were dealing with a heap of mending. The two younger children were playing lotto, while Ned was having a hand-to-hand tussle with his Cicero, a foeman likely to prove worthy of his steel.
Madge had taken out a sheet of paper, with a view to inscribing her address upon it. The mere act of doing so had called up to her mind so vivid an impression of the thief for whose information it was destined, that she suddenly felt impelled to address to him a few words of admonition. With an agreeable sense of the absurdity of her performance, she began a letter to this figment of her imagination, and this is what she wrote:
* * * * *
"For, as I shall never leave this miniature about anywhere, you must be a pickpocket if it falls into your hands. To begin with, then; it is not a good miniature at all, and there is no use in your trying to sell it. In fact, it is a very bad miniature, as you will see if you know anything about such things, which you probably don't. But it is very valuable to me, and so I hope you will return it to me as soon as you find out how bad it is. You probably won't want to bring it yourself,—I'm sure I should not think you would!—but you can perfectly well send it by express, and you can let them collect charges on delivery, unless you think that, under the circumstances, you ought to prepay them. My address is,
Miss Margaret Burtwell," etc.
* * * * *
Madge read over her production with an amusement and satisfaction which quite filled, for the moment, the aching void of which she had been so painfully conscious. The letter occupied but one-half the sheet, and, as the young artist's eye fell upon the blank third page, she was seized with an irresistible impulse to draw a picture on it.
The figure of the pickpocket was by this time so vivid to her mind, that she began making a pen-and-ink sketch of him, as a dark-browed villain in the act of rifling the pocket of a very haughty young woman proceeding along the street with an air of extreme self-consciousness. The drawing was on a very small scale, and when it was finished to her satisfaction there was still half the page unoccupied. Madge hastily wrote under the sketch the words: "The Crime," and a moment later she was engrossed in the execution of a still more dramatic design, representing the criminal in the hands of two stalwart policemen, being ignominiously dragged through the street toward a sort of mediaeval fortress, with walls some twenty feet thick, upon which was inscribed in enormous characters, "JAIL." Still more action was given the drawing by the introduction of two or three small and gleeful ragamuffins, dancing a derisive war-dance behind the captive, and of two dogs of doubtful lineage, barking like mad on the outskirts of the group. Under this picture was inscribed, "The Consequences of Crime," and at the bottom of the page appeared the words, "Behold and tremble!"
"What's Artful Madge up to?" asked Ned, as he closed his Latin Dictionary with a bang.
"Writing a letter," Madge replied, composedly.
"To the Prize Pig?"
"The Prize Pig! You know Eleanor said she felt like a pig to be going to Paris without you, and as she got the prize——"
"You impudent boy!"
"Not in the least. I'm only witty."
"Yes,—I've heard wit defined as the unexpected."
"The dictionary doesn't define it so, and good manners don't define impudence as wit."
"We're not discussing impudence, we're discussing wit. And I know positively that wit is defined as the unexpected."
"Let's have your authority," said Mr. Burtwell, who had not heard the first part of the discussion.
"Let us see what the dictionary says," suggested Julia, who was the scholar of the family.
"Very well; and what will you bet that I'm not right?"
"We don't bet in this family," said Mr. Burtwell, with decision.
"Oh, well, that's only a form of speech. What will you do for me, Madge, if I'm right?"
"I'll put you into an allegorical sketch."
"Good! I always wondered that you didn't make use of such good material in the artful line!"
The wire dictionary-stand, containing the portly form of Webster Unabridged, was instantly brought up to the light, and there was half a minute's silence while Ned turned the leaves.
"Score me one!" he shouted, in high glee. "Listen to Webster! 'Wit. 3. Felicitous association of objects not usually connected, so as to produce a pleasant surprise.' Quite at your service, my artful relative, whenever you would like a sitting!"
"I protest! You haven't won!"
"Haven't won, indeed! I leave it to the gentlemen of the jury. Is not the name of Prize Pig for Miss Eleanor Merritt a 'felicitous association of objects not usually connected'?"
"No! The association is infelicitous, and consequently it does not produce a 'pleasant surprise.'"
The family listened with the amused tolerance with which they usually left such discussions to the two chief wranglers.
"I maintain," insisted Ned, "that the association of objects is felicitous, and must be, because it was instituted by Miss Eleanor Merritt herself. She won the prize, and she said she was a pig."
"But it doesn't produce a pleasant surprise," Madge objected.
"I beg your pardon! It has produced a pleasant surprise, as I can testify, for I have experienced it myself. What is your verdict, Mother?"
"My verdict is, that it's a pity, as I always thought it was, that you are not to be a lawyer, and that Madge can't do better than practise her drawing by making the allegorical sketch."
That Mrs. Burtwell should be on Ned's side was a foregone conclusion, and Madge appealed to her father.
"Father, is calling Eleanor Merritt a prize pig a form of wit?"
"Pretty poor wit I should call it!"
"Father is on my side!" shouted Ned. "He says it's poor wit, which is only one way of saying that it is wit!"
"Can wit be poor?" asked Julia.
"Father says it can."
"Then it isn't wit!" Madge protested.
"I should like to know why not. Old Mr. Tanner is a poor man, but he's a man for all that, and votes at elections for the highest bidder. And your logic's poor, but I suppose you'd call it logic!"
"I have an idea!" cried Madge. "I'm going to make my fortune out of you! I'm going to make a pair of excruciatingly funny pictures of you! The first shall be called The Student and Logic, and the second shall be called Logic and the Student! In the first the student shall be patting Logic on the head, and in the second,—oh, it's an inspiration!"
And forthwith Madge seized a large sheet of paper and began work.
"I'm not sure that this won't be the beginning of a series," she declared. "When it's finished I shall send it to a funny paper and get fifty dollars for it,—and when I have got fifty dollars for it, Father will send me to Paris; won't you, Daddy, dear?"
"What's that? What's that?" asked Mr. Burtwell.
"When I get fifty dollars,—or more!—for my Student, you will send me to Europe!"
"Oh, yes! And when you're Queen of England I shall be presented at Court! Listen to what the paper says: 'The Honourable Jacob Luddington and family have just returned from an extensive foreign tour. The two Miss Luddingtons were presented at the Court of St. James, where their exceptional beauty and elegance are said to have made a marked impression.' Good for the Honourable Jacob! His father was my father's chore-man, and here are his daughters hobnobbing with crowned heads!"
From which digression it is fair to conclude that Mr. Burtwell did not attach any great importance to his daughter's question or to his own answer. But Madge put away the promise in the safest recesses of her memory as carefully as she had tucked the letter to her "dear pickpocket" inside the red morocco pocket-book. It seemed as if the one were likely to be called for about as soon as the other,—"which means never at all!" she said to herself, with a profound sigh.
"The throes of creation have begun," Ned chuckled; and then, as he watched his sister's business-like proceedings, marvelling the while at what he secretly considered her quite phenomenal skill, he let himself be sufficiently carried away by enthusiasm to remark, "I say, Madge, you're no fool at that sort of thing, if you are a girl!"
"I really think, Miss Burtwell, you might be a little more careful," Miss Isabella Ricker wailed, in a tone of hopeless remonstrance. It was the third time that morning that Madge had knocked against her easel, and human nature could bear no more.
"I think so too," said Madge, in a voice as dejected as her victim's own. "If I only knew how to prowl more intelligently, I would, I truly would."
"Tie yourself to your own easel," suggested Delia Smith; "then that will have to go first."
"You're a good one to talk!" cried Mary Downing. "You've upset my things twice this very morning!"
"Put those two behind each other," Josephine Wilkes suggested. "It will be a lesson to them."
"And who's going to sit behind the rear one?" somebody asked.
"Harriet Wells," Delia Smith proposed. "Mr. Salome said 'very good' to her this morning; she must be proof against adversity."
"No one is proof against adversity," Madge declared, in a tragic tone; but her remark passed unheeded. The girls were already at work again, and nothing short of another wreck was likely to distract their attention. The scrape of a palette-knife, the tread of a prowler, or the shoving of a chair to one side, were the only sounds audible in the room, excepting when the occasional roar of an electric car or the rattle of a passing waggon came in at the open window. It was the first warm day in April.
Artful Madge's sententious observation with regard to adversity was the fruit of bitter experience. Misfortune's arrows had been raining thick and fast about her, and although she was holding her ground against them very well, she felt that adversity was a subject on which she was fitted to speak with authority.
In the first place, her Student series was proving to be quite as much of a Noah's Dove as the first set of sketches which had so signally failed to find a permanent roosting-place in an inhospitable world. Only yesterday the familiar parcel had made its appearance on the front-entry table, that table which, for a year past, she had never come in sight of without a quicker beating of the heart. If she ever did have a bit of success, she often reflected, that piece of ancestral mahogany was likely to be the first to know of it. How often she had dreamed of the small business envelope, addressed in an unfamiliar hand, which might one day appear there! It would be half a second before she should take in the meaning of it. Then would come a premonitory thrill, instantly justified by a glance at the upper left-hand corner of the envelope, where the name of some great periodical would seem literally blazoned forth, however small the type in which it was printed. And then,—oh, then! the tearing open of the envelope, the unfolding of the sheet with trembling fingers, the check! Would it be for $10 or $15 or even $25, and might there be a word of editorial praise or admonition? Foolish, foolish dreams! And there was that hideous parcel, which she was getting to hate the very sight of! As she squeezed a long rope of burnt-sienna upon her palette, she made up her mind that she would wait a week before exposing herself to another disappointment. Perhaps the Student would improve with keeping, like violins and old masters. Certainly if he was anything like his prototype he needed maturing.