A DAUGHTER OF TO-DAY by Sara Jeannette Duncan
Miss Kimpsey dropped into an arm-chair in Mrs. Leslie Bell's drawing-room and crossed her small dusty feet before her while she waited for Mrs. Leslie Bell. Sitting there, thinking a little of how tired she was and a great deal of what she had come to say, Miss Kimpsey enjoyed a sense of consideration that came through the ceiling with the muffled sound of rapid footsteps in the chamber above. Mrs. Bell would be "down in a minute," the maid had said. Miss Kimpsey was inclined to forgive a greater delay, with this evidence of hasteful preparation going on overhead. The longer she had to ponder her mission the better, and she sat up nervously straight pondering it, tracing with her parasol a sage-green block in the elderly aestheticated pattern of the carpet.
Miss Kimpsey was thirty-five, with a pale, oblong little face, that looked younger under its softening "bang" of fair curls across the forehead. She was a buff-and-gray-colored creature, with a narrow square chin and narrow square shoulders, and a flatness and straightness about her everywhere that gave her rather the effect of a wedge, to which the big black straw hat she wore tilted a little on one side somehow conduced. Miss Kimpsey might have figured anywhere as a representative of the New England feminine surplus—there was a distinct suggestion of character under her unimportant little features—and her profession was proclaimed in her person, apart from the smudge of chalk on the sleeve of her jacket. She had been born and brought up and left over in Illinois, however, in the town of Sparta, Illinois. She had developed her conscience there, and no doubt, if one knew it well, it would show peculiarities of local expansion directly connected with hot corn-bread for breakfast, as opposed to the accredited diet of legumes upon which consciences arrive at such successful maturity in the East. It was, at all events, a conscience in excellent controlling order. It directed Miss Kimpsey, for example, to teach three times a week in the boys' night-school through the winter, no matter how sharply the wind blew off Lake Michigan, in addition to her daily duties at the High School, where for ten years she had imparted instruction in the "English branches," translating Chaucer into the modern dialect of Sparta, Illinois, for the benefit of Miss Elfrida Bell, among others. It had sent her on this occasion to see Mrs. Leslie Bell, and Miss Kimpsey could remember circumstances under which she had obeyed her conscience with more alacrity.
"It isn't," said Miss Kimpsey, with internal discouragement, "as if I knew her well."
Miss Kimpsey did not know Mrs. Bell at all well. Mrs. Bell was president of the Browning Club, and Miss Kimpsey was a member, they met, too, in the social jumble of fancy fairs in aid of the new church organ; they had a bowing acquaintance—that is, Mrs. Bell, had. Miss Kimpsey's part of it was responsive, and she always gave a thought to her boots and her gloves when she met Mrs. Bell. It was not that the Spartan social circle which Mrs. Bell adorned had any vulgar prejudice against the fact that Miss Kimpsey earned her own living—more than one of its ornaments had done the same thing—and Miss Kimpsey's relations were all "in grain" and obviously respectable. It was simply that none, of the Kimpseys, prosperous or poor, had ever been in society in Sparta, for reasons which Sparta itself would probably be unable to define; and this one was not likely to be thrust among the elect because she taught school and enjoyed life upon a scale of ethics.
Mrs. Bell's drawing-room was a slight distraction to Miss Kimpsey's nervous thoughts. The little school-teacher had never been in it before, and it impressed her. "It's just what you would expect her parlor to be," she said to herself, looking furtively round. She could not help her sense of impropriety; she had always been taught that it was very bad manners to observe anything hi another person's house, but she could not help looking either. She longed to get up and read the names of the books behind the glass doors of the tall bookcase at the other end of the room, for the sake of the little quiver of respectful admiration she knew they would give her; but she did not dare to do that. Her eyes went from the bookcase to the photogravure of Dore's "Entry into Jerusalem," under which three Japanese dolls were arranged with charming effect. "The Reading Magdalen" caught them next, a colored photograph, and then a Magdalen of more obscure origin in much blackened oils and a very deep frame; then still another Magdalen, more modern, in monochrome. In fact, the room was full of Magdalens, and on an easel in the corner stood a Mater Dolorosa, lifting up her streaming eyes. Granting the capacity to take them seriously, they might have depressed some people, but they elevated Miss Kimpsey.
She was equally elevated by the imitation willow pattern plates over the door, and the painted yellow daffodils on the panels, and the orange-colored Revue des Deux Mondes on the corner of the table, and the absence of all bows or draperies from the furniture. Miss Kimpsey's own parlor was excrescent with bows and draperies. "She is above them," thought Miss Kimpsey, with a little pang. The room was so dark that she could not see how old the Revue was; she did not know either that it was always there, that unexceptionable Parisian periodical, with Dante in the original and red leather, Academy Notes, and the Nineteenth Century, all helping to furnish Mrs. Leslie Bell's drawing-room in a manner in accordance with her tastes; but if she had, Miss Kimpsey would have been equally impressed. It took intellect even to select these things. The other books, Miss Kimpsey noticed by the numbers labelled on their backs, were mostly from the circulating library—"David Grieve," "Cometh up as a Flower," "The Earthly Paradise," Ruskin's "Stones of Venice," Marie Corelli's "Romance of Two Worlds." The mantelpiece was arranged in geometrical disorder, but it had a gilt clock under a glass shade precisely in the middle. When the gilt clock indicated, in a mincing way, that Miss Kimpsey had been kept waiting fifteen minutes, Mrs. Bell came in. She had fastened her last button and assumed the expression appropriate to Miss Kimpsey at the foot of the stair. She was a tall, thin woman, with no color and rather narrow brown eyes much wrinkled round about, and a forehead that loomed at you, and grayish hair twisted high into a knot behind—a knot from which a wispy end almost invariably escaped. When she smiled her mouth curved downward, showing a number of large even white teeth, and made deep lines which suggested various things, according to the nature of the smile, on either side of her face. As a rule one might take them to mean a rather deprecating acceptance of life as it stands—they seemed intended for that—and then Mrs. Bell would express an enthusiasm and contradict them. As she came through the door under the "Entry into Jerusalem," saying that she really must apologize, she was sure it was unpardonable keeping Miss Kimpsey waiting like this, the lines expressed an intention of being as agreeable as possible without committing herself to return Miss Kimpsey's visit.
"Why, no, Mrs. Bell," Miss Kimpsey said earnestly, with a protesting buff-and-gray smile, "I didn't mind waiting a particle—honestly I didn't. Besides, I presume it's early for a call; but I thought I'd drop in on my way from school." Miss Kimpsey was determined that Mrs. Bell should have every excuse that charity could invent for her. She sat down again, and agreed with Mrs. Bell that they were having lovely weather, especially when they remembered what a disagreeable fall it had been last year; certainly this October had been just about perfect. The ladies used these superlatives in the tone of mild defiance that almost any statement of fact has upon feminine lips in America. It did not seem to matter that their observations were entirely in union.
"I thought I'd run in—" said Miss Kimpsey, screwing herself up by the arm of her chair.
"And speak to you about a thing I've been thinking a good deal of, Mrs. Bell, this last day or two. It's about Elfrida."
Mrs. Bell's expression became judicial. If this was a complaint—and she was not accustomed to complaints of Elfrida—she would be careful how she took it.
"I hope—" she began.
"Oh, you needn't worry, Mrs. Bell. It's nothing about her conduct, and it's nothing about her school work."
"Well, that's a relief," said Mrs. Bell, as if she had expected it would be. "But I know she's bad at figures. The child can't help that, though; she gets it from me. I think I ought to ask you to be lenient with her on that account."
"I have nothing to do with the mathematical branches, Mrs, Bell. I teach only English to the senior classes. But I haven't heard Mr. Jackson complain of Elfrida at all." Feeling that she could no longer keep her errand at arm's length, Miss Kimpsey desperately closed with it. "I've come—I hope you won't mind—Mrs. Bell, Elfrida has been quoting Rousseau in her compositions, and I thought you'd like to know."
"In the original?" asked Mrs. Bell, with interest. "I didn't think her French was advanced enough for that."
"No, from a translation," Miss Kimpsey replied. "Her sentence ran: 'As the gifted Jean Jacques Rousseau told the world in his "Confessions"'—I forget the rest. That was the part that struck me most. She had evidently been reading the works of Rousseau."
"Very likely. Elfrida has her own subscription at the library," Mrs. Bell said speculatively. "It shows a taste in reading beyond her years, doesn't it, Miss Kimpsey? The child is only fifteen."
"Well, I've never read Rousseau," the little teacher stated definitely. "Isn't he—atheistical, Mrs. Bell, and improper every way?"
Mrs. Bell raised her eyebrows and pushed out her lips at the severity of this ignorant condemnation. "He was a genius, Miss Kimpsey—rather I should say he is, for genius cannot die. He is much thought of in France. People there make a little shrine of the house he occupied with Madame Warens, you know."
"Oh!" returned Miss Kimpsey, "French people."
"Yes. The French are peculiarly happy in the way they sanctify genius," said Mrs. Bell vaguely, with a feeling that she was wasting a really valuable idea.
"Well, you'll have to excuse me, Mrs. Bell. I'd always heard you entertained about as liberal views as there were going on any subject, but I didn't expect they embraced Rousseau." Miss Kimpsey spoke quite meekly. "I know we live in an age of progress, but I guess I'm not as progressive as some."
"Many will stay behind," interrupted Mrs. Bell impartially, "but many more will advance."
"And I thought maybe Elfrida had been reading that author without your knowledge or approval, and that perhaps you'd like to know."
"I neither approve nor disapprove," said Mrs. Bell, poising her elbow on the table, her chin upon her hand, and her judgment, as it were, upon her chin. "I think her mind ought to develop along the lines that nature intended; I think nature is wiser than I am"—there was an effect of condescending explanation here—"and I don't feel justified in interfering. I may be wrong—"
"Oh no!" said Miss Kimpsey.
"But Elfrida's reading has always been very general. She has a remarkable mind, if you will excuse my saying so; it devours everything. I can't tell you when she learned to read, Miss Kimpsey—it seemed to come to her. She has often reminded me of what you see in the biographies of distinguished people about their youth. There are really a great many points of similarity sometimes. I shouldn't be surprised if Elfrida did anything. I wish I had had her opportunities!"
"She's growing very good-looking," remarked Miss Kimpsey.
"It's an interesting face," Mrs. Bell returned. "Here is her last photograph. It's full of soul, I think. She posed herself," Mrs. Bell added unconsciously.
It was a cabinet photograph of a girl whose eyes looked definitely out of it, dark, large, well shaded, full of a desire to be beautiful at once expressed and fulfilled. The nose was a trifle heavily blocked, but the mouth had sensitiveness and charm. There was a heaviness in the chin, too, but the free springing curve of the neck contradicted that, and the symmetry of the face defied analysis. It was turned a little to one side, wistfully; the pose and the expression suited each other perfectly.
"Full of soul!" responded Miss Kimpsey. "She takes awfully well, doesn't she! It reminds me—it reminds me of pictures I've seen of Rachel, the actress, really it does."
"I'm afraid Elfrida has no talent that way." Mrs. Bell's accent was quite one of regret.
"She seems completely wrapped up in her painting just now," said Miss Kimpsey, with her eyes still on the photograph.
"Yes; I often wonder what her career will be, and sometimes it comes home to me that it must be art. The child can't help it—she gets it straight from me. But there were no art classes in my day." Mrs. Bell's tone implied a large measure of what the world had lost in consequence. "Mr. Bell doesn't agree with me about Elfrida's being predestined for art," she went on, smiling; "his whole idea is that she'll marry like other people."
"Well, if she goes on improving in looks at the rate she has, you'll find it difficult to prevent, I should think, Mrs. Bell." Miss Kimpsey began to wonder at her own temerity in staying so long. "Should you be opposed to it?"
"Oh, I shouldn't be opposed to it exactly. I won't say I don't expect it. I think she might do better, myself; but I dare say matrimony will swallow her up as it does everybody—almost everybody—else." A finer ear than Miss Kimpsey's might have heard in this that to overcome Mrs. Bell's objections matrimony must take a very attractive form indeed, and that she had no doubt it would. Elfrida's instructress did not hear it; she might have been less overcome with the quality of these latter-day sentiments if she had. Little Miss Kimpsey, whom matrimony had not swallowed up, had risen to go. "Oh, I'm sure the most gifted couldn't do better!" she said, hardily, in departing, with a blush that turned her from buff-and-gray to brick color.
Mrs. Bell picked up the Revue after she had gone, and read three lines of a paper on the climate and the soil of Poland. Then she laid it down again at the same angle with the corner of the table which it had described before.
"Rousseau!" she said aloud to herself. "C'est un peu fort mais—" and paused, probably for maturer reflection upon the end of her sentence.
"Leslie." said Mrs. Bell, making the unnecessary feminine twist to get a view of her back hair from the mirror with a hand-glass, "aren't you delighted? Try to be candid with yourself now, and own that she's tremendously improved."
It would not have occurred to anybody but Mrs. Bell to ask Mr. Leslie Bell to be candid with himself. Candor was written in large letters all over Mr. Leslie Bell's plain, broad countenance. So was a certain obstinacy, not of will, but of adherence to prescribed principles, which might very well have been the result of living for twenty years with Mrs. Leslie Bell. Otherwise he was a thick-set man with an intelligent bald head, a fresh-colored complexion, and a well-trimmed gray beard. Mr. Leslie Bell looked at life with logic, or thought he did, and took it with ease, in a plain way. He was known to be a good man of business, with a leaning toward generosity, and much independence of opinion. It was not a custom among election candidates to ask Leslie Bell for his vote. It was pretty well understood that nothing would influence it except his "views," and that none of the ordinary considerations in use with refractory electors would influence his views. He was a man of large, undemonstrative affections, and it was a matter of private regret with him that there should have been only one child, and that a daughter, to bestow them upon. His simplicity of nature was utterly beyond the understanding of his wife, who had been building one elaborate theory after another about him ever since they had been married, conducting herself in mysterious accordance, but had arrived accurately only at the fact that he preferred two lumps of sugar in his tea.
Mr. Bell did not allow his attention to be taken from the intricacies of his toilet by his wife's question until she repeated it.
"Aren't you charmed with Elfrida, Leslie? Hasn't Philadelphia improved her beyond your wildest dreams?"
Mr. Bell reflected. "You know I don't think Elfrida has ever been as pretty as she was when she was five years old, Maggie."
"Do say Margaret," interposed Mrs. Bell plaintively. She had been suffering from this for twenty years.
"It's of no use, my dear; I never remember unless there's company present. I was going to say Elfrida had certainly grown. She's got to her full size now, I should think, and she dwarfs you, moth—Margaret."
Mrs. Bell looked at him with tragic eyes. "Do you see no more in her than that?" she exclaimed.
"She looks well, I admit she looks well. She seems to have got a kind of style in Philadelphia."
"I don't mean fashionable style—a style of her own; and according to the professors, neither the time nor the money has been wasted. But she's been a long year away, Maggie. It's been considerably dull without her for you and me. I hope she won't take it into her head to want to leave home again."
"If it should be necessary to her plan of life—"
"It won't be necessary. She's nineteen now, and I'd like to see her settle down here in Sparta, and the sooner the better. Her painting will be an interest for her all her life, and if ever she should be badly off she can teach. That was my idea in giving her the training."
"Settle down in Sparta!" Mrs. Bell repeated, with a significant curve of her superior lip. "Why, who is there—"
"Lots of people, though it isn't for me to name them, nor for you either, my dear. But speaking generally, there isn't a town of its size in the Union with a finer crop of go-ahead young men in it than Sparta."
Mrs. Bell was leaning against the inside shutter of their bedroom window, looking out, while she waited for her husband. As she looked, one of Sparta's go-ahead young men, glancing up as he passed in the street below and seeing her there behind the panes, raised his hat.
"Heavens, no!" said Mrs. Bell. "You don't understand, Leslie."
"Perhaps not," Mr. Bell returned. "We must get that packing-case opened after dinner. I'm anxious to see the pictures." Mr. Bell put the finishing touches to his little finger-nail and briskly pocketed his penknife. "Shall we go downstairs now?" he suggested. "Fix your brooch, mother; it's just on the drop."
Elfrida Bell had been a long year away—a year that seemed longer to her than it possibly could to anybody in Sparta, as she privately reflected when her father made this observation for the second and the third time. Sparta accounted for its days chiefly in ledgers, the girl thought; there was a rising and a going down of the sun, a little eating and drinking and speedy sleeping, a little discussion of the newspapers. Sparta got over its days by strides and stretches, and the strides and stretches seemed afterward to have been made over gaps and gulfs full of emptiness. The year divided itself and got its painted leaves, its white silences, its rounding buds, and its warm fragrances from the winds of heaven, and so there were four seasons in Sparta, and people talked of an early spring or a late fall; but Elfrida told herself that time had no other division, and the days no other color. Elfrida seemed to be unaware of the opening of the new South Ward Episcopal Methodist Church. She overlooked the municipal elections too, the plan for overhauling the town waterworks, and the reorganization of the public library. She even forgot the Browning Club.
Whereas—though Elfrida would never have said "whereas" —the days in Philadelphia had been long and full. She had often lived a week in one of them, and there had been hours that stretched themselves over an infinity of life and feeling, as Elfrida saw it, looking back. In reality, her experience had been usual enough and poor enough; but it had fed her in a way, and she enriched it with her imagination, and thought, with keen and sincere pity, that she had been starved till then. The question that preoccupied her when she moved out of the Philadelphia station in the Chicago train was that of future sustenance. It was under the surface of her thoughts when she kissed her father and mother and was made welcome home; it raised a mute remonstrance against Mr. Bell's cheerful prophecy that she would be content to stay in Sparta for a while now, and get to know the young society; it neutralized the pleasure of the triumphs in the packing-box. Besides, their real delight had all been exhaled at the students' exhibition in Philadelphia, when Philadelphia looked at them. The opinion of Sparta, Elfrida thought, was not a matter for anxiety. Sparta would be pleased in advance.
Elfrida allowed one extenuating point in her indictment of Sparta: the place had produced her as she was at eighteen, when they sent her to Philadelphia. This was only half conscious—she was able to formulate it later —but it influenced her sincere and vigorous disdain of the town correctively, and we may believe that it operated to except her father and mother from the general wreck of her opinion to a greater extent than any more ordinary feeling did. It was not in the least a sentiment of affection for her birthplace; if she could have chosen she would very much have preferred to be born somewhere else. It was simply an important qualifying circumstance. Her actual and her ideal self, her most mysterious and interesting self, had originated in the air and the opportunities of Sparta. Sparta had even done her the service of showing her that she was unusual, by contrast, and Elfrida felt that she ought to be thankful to somebody or something for being as unusual as she was. She had had a comfortable, spoiled feeling of gratitude for it before she went to Philadelphia, which had developed in the meantime into a shudder at the mere thought of what it meant to be an ordinary person. "I could bear not to be charming," said she sometimes to her Philadelphia looking-glass, "but I could not bear not to be clever."
She said "clever," but she meant more than that. Elfrida Bell believed that something other than cleverness entered into her personal equation. She looked sometimes into her very soul to see what, but the writing there was in strange characters that faded under her eyes, leaving her uncomprehending but tranced. Meanwhile art spoke to her from all sides, finding her responsive and more responsive. Some books, some pictures, some music brought her a curious exalted sense of double life. She could not talk about it at all, but she could slip out into the wet streets on a gusty October evening, and walk miles exulting in it, and in the light on the puddles and in the rain on her face, coming back, it must be admitted, with red cheeks and an excellent appetite. It led her into strange absent silences and ways of liking to be alone, which gratified her mother and worried her father. When Elfrida burned the gas of Sparta late in her own room, it was always her father who saw the light under the door, and who came and knocked and told her that it was after eleven, and high time she was in bed. Mrs. Bell usually protested. "How can the child reach any true development," she asked, "if you interfere with her like this?" to which Mr. Bell usually replied that whatever she developed, he didn't want it to be headaches and hysteria. Elfrida invariably answered, "Yes, papa," with complete docility; but it must be said that Mr. Bell generally knocked in vain, and the more perfect the submission of the daughterly reply the later the gas would be apt to burn. Elfrida was always agreeable to her father. So far as she thought of it she was appreciatively fond of him, but the relation pleased her, it was one that could be so charmingly sustained. For already out of the other world she walked in—the world of strange kinships and insights and recognitions, where she saw truth afar off and worshipped, and as often met falsehood in the way and turned raptly to follow—the girl had drawn a vague and many-shaped idea of artistic living which embraced the filial attitude among others less explicable. It gave her pleasure to do certain things in certain ways. She stood and sat and spoke, and even thought, at times, with a subtle approval and enjoyment of her manner of doing it. It was not actual artistic achievement, but it was the sort of thing that entered her imagination, as such achievement's natural corollary. Her self-consciousness was a supreme fact of her personality; it began earlier than any date she could remember, and it was a channel of the most unfailing and intense satisfaction to her from many sources. One was her beauty, for she had developed an elusive beauty that served her moods. When she was dull she called herself ugly—unfairly, though her face lost tremendously in value then—and her general dislike of dullness and ugliness became particular and acute in connection with herself. It is not too much to say that she took a keen enjoying pleasure in the flush upon her own cheek and the light in her own eyes no less than in the inward sparkle that provoked it—an honest delight, she would not have minded confessing it. Her height, her symmetry, her perfect abounding health were separate joys to her; she found absorbing and critical interest in the very figment of her being. It was entirely preposterous that a young woman should kneel at an attic window in a flood of spring moonlight, with, her hair about the shoulders of her nightgown, repeating Rossetti to the wakeful budding garden, especially as it was for herself she did it—nobody else saw her. She knelt there partly because of a vague desire to taste the essence of the spring and the garden and Rossetti at once, and partly because she felt the romance of the foolish situation. She knew of the shadow her hair made around her throat, and that her eyes were glorious in the moonlight. Going back to bed, she paused before the looking-glass and wafted a kiss, as she blew the candle out, to the face she saw there. It was such a pretty face, and so full of tire spirit of. Rossetti and the moonlight, that she couldn't help it. Then she slept, dreamlessly, comfortably, and late; and in the morning she had never taken cold.
Philadelphia had pointed and sharpened all this. The girl's training there had vitalized her brooding dreams of producing what she worshipped, had given shape and direction to her informal efforts, had concentrated them upon charcoal and canvas. There was an enthusiasm for work in the Institute, a canonization of names, a blazing desire to imitate that tried hard to fan itself into originality. Elfrida kindled at once, and felt that her soul had lodged forever In her fingers, that art had found for her, once for all, a sacred embodiment. She spoke with subdued feeling of its other shapes; she was at all points sympathetic; but she was no longer at all points desirous. Her aim was taken. She would not write novels or compose operas; she would paint. There was some renunciation in it and some humility. The day she came home, looking over a dainty sandalwood box full of early verses, twice locked against her mother's eye, "The desire of the moth for the star," she said to herself; but she did not tear them up. That would have been brutal.
Elfrida wanted to put off opening the case that held her year's work until next day. She quailed somewhat in anticipation of her parents' criticisms as a matter of fact; she would have preferred to postpone parrying them. She acknowledged this to herself with a little irritation that it should be so, but when her father insisted, chisel in hand, she went down on her knees with charming willingness to help him. Mrs. Bell took a seat on the sofa and clasped her hands with the expression of one who prepares for prayer.
One by one Mr. Leslie Bell drew out his daughter's studies and copies, cutting their strings, clearing them of their paper wrappings, and standing each separately against the wall in his crisp, business-like way. They were all mounted and framed; they stood very well against the wall; but Mr. Bell, who began hopefully, was presently obliged to try to hide his disappointment, the row was so persistently black and white. Mrs. Bell, on the sofa, had the look of postponing her devotions.
"You seem to have done a great many of these—etchings," said Mr. Bell.
"Oh, papa! They're not etchings, they're subjects in charcoal—from casts and things."
"They do you credit—I've no doubt they do you credit. They're very nicely drawn," returned her father, "but they're a good deal alike. We wont be able to hang more than two of them in the same room. Was that what they gave you the medal for?"
Mr. Bell indicated a drawing of Psyche. The lines were delicate, expressive, and false; the relief was imperfect, yet the feeling was undeniably caught. As a drawing it was incorrect enough, but its charm lay in a subtle spiritual something that bad worked into it from the girl's own fingers, and made the beautiful empty classic face modernly interesting. In view of its inaccuracy the committee had been guilty of a most irregular proceeding in recognizing it with a medal; but in a very young art school this might be condoned.
"It's a perfectly lovely thing," interposed Mrs. Bell from the sofa. "I'm sure it deserves one."
Elfrida said nothing. The study was ticketed, it had obviously won a medal.
Mr. Bell looked at it critically. "Yes, it's certainly well done. In spite of the frame—I wouldn't give ten cents for the frame—the effect is fine. We most find a good light for that. Oh, now we come to the oil-paintings. We both presumed you would do well at the oil-paintings; and for my part," continued Mr. Bell definitely, "I like them best. There's more variety in them." He was holding at arm's-length, as he spoke, an oblong scrap of filmy blue sky and marshy green fields in a preposterously wide, flat, dull gold frame, and looking at it in a puzzled way. Presently he reversed it and looked again.
"No, papa," Elfrida said, "you had it right side up before." She was biting her lip, and struggling with a desire to pile them all back into the box and shut the lid and stamp on it.
"That's exquisite!" murmured Mrs. Bell, when Mr. Bell had righted it again.
"It's one of the worst," said Elfrida briefly. Mr. Bell looked relieved. "Since that's your own opinion, Elfrida," he said, "I don't mind saying that I don't care much about it either. It looks as if you'd got tired of it before you finished it."
"Does it?" Elfrida said.
"Now this is a much better thing, in my opinion," her father went on, standing the picture of an old woman behind an apple-stall along the wall with the rest "I don't pretend to be a judge, but I know what I like, and I like that. It explains itself."
"It's a lovely bit of color," remarked Mrs. Bell.
Elfrida smiled. "Thank you, mamma," she said, and kissed her.
When the box was exhausted, Mr. Bell walked up and down for a few minutes in front of the row against the wall, with his hands in his pockets, reflecting, while Mrs. Bell discovered new beauties to the author of them.
"We'll hang this lot in the dining-room," he said at length, "and those black-and-whites with the oak mountings in the parlor. They'll go best with the wall-paper there."
"And I hope you won't mind, Elfrida," he added, "but I've promised that they shall have one of your paintings to raffle off in the bazar for the alterations in the Sunday-school next week."
"Oh no, papa. I shall be delighted."
Elfrida was sitting beside her mother on the sofa, and at the dose of this proposition Mr. Bell came and sat there too. There was a silence for a moment while they all three confronted the line of pictures leaning against the wall Then Elfrida began to laugh, and she went on laughing, to the astonishment of her parents, until the tears came into her eyes. She stopped as suddenly, kissed her mother and father, and went upstairs. "I'm afraid you've hurt Her feelings, Leslie," said Mrs. Bell, when she had well gone.
But Elfrida's feelings had not been hurt, though one might say that the evening left her sense of humor rather sore. At that moment she was dallying with the temptation to describe the whole scene in a letter to a valued friend in Philadelphia, who would have appreciated it with mirth. In the end she did not write. It would have been too humiliating.
"Pas mal, parbleu!" Lucien remarked, with pursed-out lips, running his fingers through his shock of coarse hair, and reflectively scratching the top of his big head as he stepped closer to Nadie Palicsky's elbow, where she stood at her easel in his crowded atelier. The girl turned and looked keenly into his face, seeking his eyes, which were on her work with a considering, interested look. Satisfied, she sent a glance of joyous triumph at a somewhat older woman, whose place was next, and who was listening with the amiable effacement of countenance that is sometimes a more or less successful disguise for chagrin. On this occasion it seemed to fail, for Mademoiselle Palicsky turned her attention to Lucien and her work again with a slight raising of the eyebrows and a slighter sigh. Her face assumed a gentle melancholy, as if she were pained at the exhibition of a weakness of her sex; yet it was unnecessary to be an acute observer to read there the hope that Lucien's significant phrase had not by any chance escaped her neighbor.
"The drawing of the neck," Lucien went on, "is excellently brutal." Nadie wished he would speak a little louder, but Lucien always arranged the carrying power of his voice according to the susceptibilities of the atelier. He thrust his hands into his pockets and still stood beside her, looking at her study of the nude model who posed upon a table in the midst of the students. "In you, mademoiselle," he added in a tone yet lower, "I find the woman and the artist divorced. That is a vast advantage—an immense source of power. I am growing more certain of you; you are not merely cleverly eccentric as I thought. You have a great deal that no one can teach you. You have finished that—I wish to take it downstairs to show the men. It will not be jeered at, I promise you."
"Cher maitre! You mean it?"
The girl handed him the study with a look of almost doglike gratitude in her narrow gray eyes. Lucien had never said so much to her before, though the whole atelier had noticed how often he had been coming to her easel lately, and had disparaged her in corners accordingly. She looked at the tiny silver watch she wore in a leather strap on her left wrist—he had spent nearly five minutes with her this time, watching her work and talking to her, in itself a triumph. It was almost four o'clock, and the winter daylight was going; presently they would all stop work. Partly for the pleasure of being chaffed and envied and complimented in the anteroom in the general washing of brushes, and partly to watch Lucien's rapid progress among the remaining easels, Mademoiselle Palicsky deliberately sat down, in a prematurely vacant chair, slung one slender little limb over the other, and waited. As she sat there a generous thought rose above her exultation. She hoped everybody else in the atelier had guessed what Lucien was saying to her all that while, and had seen him carry off her day's work, but not the little American. The little American, who was at least thirteen inches taller than Mademoiselle Palicsky, was sufficiently discouraged already, and it was pathetic, in view of almost a year of failure, to see how she clung to her ghost of a talent Besides, the little American admired Nadie Palicsky, her friend, her comrade, quite enough already.
Elfrida had heard, nevertheless. She listened eagerly, tensely, as she always did when Lucien opened his lips in her neighborhood. When she saw him take the sketch to show in the men's atelier downstairs, to exhibit to that horde of animals below, whose studies and sketches and compositions were so constantly brought up for the stimulus and instruction of Lucien's women students, she grew suddenly so white that the girl who worked next her, a straw-colored Swede, asked her if she were ill, and offered her a little green bottle of salts of lavender. "It's that beast of a calorifere," the Swede said, nodding at the hideous black cylinder that stood near them, "they will always make it too hot."
Elfrida waved the salts back hastily—Lucien was coming her way. She worked seated, and as he seemed on the point of passing with merely a casual glance and an ambiguous "H'm!" she started up. The movement effectually arrested him, unintentional though it seemed. He frowned slightly, thrusting his hands deep into his coat-pockets, and looked again.
"We must find a better place for you, mademoiselle; you can make nothing of it here so close to the model, and below him thus." He would have gone on, but in spite of his intention to avert his eyes he caught the girl's glance, and something infinitely appealing in it stayed him again. "Mademoiselle," he said, with visible irritation, "there is nothing to say that I have not said many times already. Your drawing is still ladylike, your color is still pretty, and, sapristi! you have worked with me a year! Still," he added, recollecting himself—Lucien never lost a student by over-candor—"considering your difficult place the shoulders are not so bad. Continuez, mademoiselle."
The girl's eyes were fastened immovably upon her work as she sat down again, painting rapidly in an ineffectual, meaningless way, with the merest touch of color in her brush. Her face glowed with the deepest shame that had ever visited her. Lucien was scolding the Swede roundly; she had disappointed him, he said. Elfrida felt heavily how impossible it was that she should disappoint him. And they had all heard—the English girl in the South Kensington gown, the rich New Yorker, Nadie's rival the Roumanian, Nadie herself; and they were all, except the last, working more vigorously for hearing. Nadie had turned her head away, and so far as the back of a neck and the tips of two ears could express oblivion of what had passed, it might have been gathered from hers. But Elfrida knew better, and she resented the pity of the pretence more than if she had met Mademoiselle Palicsky's long light gray eyes full of derisive laughter.
For a year she had been in it and of it, that intoxicating life of the Quartier Latin: so much in it that she had gladly forgotten any former one; so much of it that it had become treason to believe existence supportable under any other conditions. It was her pride that she had felt everything from the beginning; her instinctive apprehension of all that is to be apprehended in the passionate, fantastic, vivid life on the left side of the Seine had been a conscious joy from the day she had taken her tiny appartement in the Rue Porte Royale, and bought her colors and sketching-block from a dwarf-like little dealer in the next street, who assured her proudly that he supplied Henner and Dagnan-Bouveret, and moreover knew precisely what she wanted from experience. "Moi aussi, mademoiselle, je suis artist!" She had learned nothing, she had absorbed everything. It seemed to her that she had entered into her inheritance, and that in the possessions that throng the Quartier Latin she was born to be rich. In thinking this she had an Overpowering realization of the poverty of Sparta, so convincing that she found it unnecessary to tell herself that she would never go back there. That was the unconscious pivotal supposition in everything she thought or said or did. After the first bewildering day or two when the exquisite thrill of Paris captured her indefinitely, she felt the full tide of her life turn and flow steadily in a new direction with a delight of revelation and an ecstasy of promise that made nothing in its sweep of every emotion that had not its birth and growth in art, and forbade the mere consideration of anything that might be an obstacle, as if it were a sin. She entered her new world with proud recognition of its unwritten laws, its unsanctified morale, its riotous overflowing ideals; and she was instant in gathering that to see, to comprehend these was to be thrice blessed, as not to see, not to comprehend them was to dwell in outer darkness with the bourgeois, and the "sandpaper" artists, and others who are without hope. It gave her moments of pure delight to reflect how little "the people" suspected the reality of the existence of such a world notwithstanding all they read and all they professed, and how absolutely exclusive it was in the very nature of nature; how it had its own language untranslatable, its own creed unbelievable, its own customs unfathomable by outsiders, and yet among the true-born how divinely simple recognition was. Her allegiance had the loyalty of every fibre of her being; her scorn of the world she had left was too honest to permit any posing in that regard. The life at Sparta assumed the colors and very much the significance depicted on a bit of faded tapestry; when she thought of it, it was to groan that so many of her young impressionable years had been wasted there. She hoarded her years, now that every day and every hour was suffused with its individual pleasure or interest, or that keen artistic pain which also had its value, as a sensation, in the Quartier Latin. It distressed her to think that she was almost twenty-one.
The interminable year that intervened between Elfrida's return from Philadelphia and her triumph in the matter of being allowed to go to Paris to study, she had devoted mainly to the society of the Swiss governess in the Sparta Seminary for young ladies—Methodist Episcopal—with the successful object of getting a working knowledge of French. There had been a certain amount of "young society" too, and one or two incipient love-affairs, watched with anxious interest by her father and with a harrowed conscience by her mother, who knew Elfrida's capacity for amusing herself; and unlimited opportunities had occurred for the tacit exhibition of her superiority to Sparta, of which she had not always taken advantage. But the significance of the year gathered into the French lessons; it was by virtue of these that the time had a place in her memory. Mademoiselle Joubert supplemented her instruction with a violent affection, a great deal of her society, and the most entertainingly modern of the French novels, which Brentano sent her monthly in enticing packets, her single indulgence. So that after the first confusion of a multitude of tongues in the irrelevant Parisian key Elfrida found herself reasonably fluent and fairly at ease. The illumined jargon of the atelier staid with her naturally; she never forgot a word or a phrase, and in two months she was babbling and mocking with the rest.
She lived alone; she learned readily to do it on eighty francs a month, and her appartement became charming in three weeks. She divined what she should have there, and she managed to get extraordinary bargains in mystery and history out of the dealers in such things, so cracked and so rusty, so moth-eaten and of such excellent color, that the escape of the combined effect from banalite was a marvel. She had a short, sharp struggle with her American taste for simple elegance in dress, and overthrew it, aiming, with some success, at originality instead. She found it easy in Paris to invest her striking personality in a distinctive costume, sufficiently becoming and sufficiently odd, of which a broad soft felt hat, which made a delightful brigand of her, and a Hungarian cloak formed important features. The Hungarian cloak suited her so extremely well that artistic considerations compelled her to wear it occasionally, I fear, when other people would have found it uncomfortably warm. In nothing that she said or did or admired or condemned was there any trace of the commonplace, except, perhaps, the desire to avoid it; it had become her conviction that she owed this to herself. She was thoroughly popular in the atelier, her petits soupers were so good, her enthusiasms so generous, her drawing so bad. The other pupils declared that she had a head divinement tragique, and for those of them she liked she sometimes posed, filling impressive parts in their weekly compositions. They all knew the little appartement in the Rue Porte Royale, more or less well according to the favor with which they were received. Nadie Palicsky perhaps knew it best—Nadie Palicsky and her friend Monsieur Andre Vambery, who always accompanied her when, she came to Elfrida's in the evening, finding it impossible to allow her to be out alone at night, which Nadie confessed agreeable to her vanity, but a bore.
Elfrida found it difficult in the beginning to admire the friend. He was too small for dignity, and Nadie's inspired comparison of his long black hair to "serpents noirs" left her unimpressed. Moreover she thought she detected about him a personal odor which was neither that of sanctity nor any other abstraction. It took time and conversation and some acquaintance with values as they obtain at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, and the knowledge of what it meant to be "selling," to lift Monsieur Vambery to his proper place in her regard. After that she blushed that he had ever held any other. But from the first Elfrida had been conscious of a kind of pride in her unshrinking acceptance of the situation. She and Nadie had exchanged a pledge of some sort, when Mademoiselle Palicsky bethought herself of the unconfessed fact. She gave Elfrida a narrow look, and then leaned back in her low chair and bent an imperturbable gaze upon the slender spiral of blue smoke that rose from the end of her cigarette.
"It is necessary now that you should know, petite—nobody else does, Lucien would be sure to make a fuss, but—I have a lover, and we have decided about marriage that it is ridiculous. It is a brave ame. You ought to know him; but if it makes any difference—"
Elfrida reflected afterward with satisfaction that she had not even changed color, though she had found the communication electric. It seemed to her that there had been something dignified, noble almost, in the answer she had made, with a smile that acknowledged the fact that the world had scruples on such accounts as these:
"Cela m'est absolument egal!"
So far as the life went it was perfect. The Quartier spoke and her soul answered it, and the world had nothing to compare with a conversation like that. But the question of production, of achievement, was beginning to bring her moments when she had a terrible sensation that the temperature of her passion was chilled. She had not yet seen despair, but she had now and then lost her hold of herself, and she had made acquaintance with fear. There had been no vivid realization of failure, but a problem was beginning to form in her mind, and with it a distinct terror of the solution, which sometimes found a shape in her dreams. In waking, voluntary moments she would see her problem only as an unanswerable enigma.
Yet in the beginning she had felt a splendid confidence. Her appropriation of theory had been so brilliant and so rapid, her instructive appreciation had helped itself out so well with the casual formulas of the schools, she seemed to herself to have an absolute understanding of expression. She held her social place among the others by her power of perception, and that, with the completeness of her repudiation of the bourgeois, had given her Nadie Palicsky, whom the rest found difficult, variable, unreasonable. Elfrida was certain that if she might only talk to Lucien she could persuade him of a great deal about her talent that escaped him—she was sore it escaped him—in the mere examination of her work. It chafed her always that her personality could not touch the master; that she must day after day be only the dumb, submissive pupil. She felt sometimes that there were things she might say to Lucien which would be interesting and valuable for him to hear.
Lucien was always non-committal for the first few months. Everybody said so, and it was natural enough. Elfrida set her teeth against his silences, his casual looks and ambiguous encouragements for a length of time which did infinite credit to her determination. She felt herself capable of an eternity of pain; she was proudly conscious of a willingness to oppose herself to innumerable discouragements—to back her talent, as it were, against all odds. That was historic, dignified, to be expected! But in the inmost privacy of her soul she had conceived the character of the obstacles she was prepared to face, and the list resolutely excluded any idea that it might not be worth while. Indifference and contempt cut at the very roots of her pledges to herself. As she sat listening on this afternoon to the vivid terms of Lucien's disapproval of what the Swede had done, she had a sharp consciousness of this severance.
She had nothing to say to any one in the general babble of the anteroom, and nobody notified her white face and resolute eyes particularly—the Americans were always so pale and so exalte. Nadie kept away from her. Elfrida had to cross the room and bring her, with a little touch of angry assertion upon the arm, from the middle of the group she had drawn around her, on purpose, as her friend knew.
"I want you to dine with me—really dine," she said, and her voice was both eager and repressed. "We win go to Babaudin's—one gets an excellent haricot there—and you shall have that little white cheese that you love. Come! I want you particularly. I will even make him bring champagne—anything."
Nadie gave her a quick look and made a little theatrical gesture of delight.
"Quell bonheur!" she cried for the benefit of the others; and then in a lower tone: "But not Babaudins, petite. Andre will not permit Babaudin's; he says it is not convenable," and she threw up her eyes with mock resignation. "Say Papaud's. They keep their feet off the table at Papaud's—there are fewer of those betes des Anglais."
"Papaud's is cheaper," Elfrida returned darkly. "The few Englishmen who dine at Babaudin's behave perfectly well. I will not be insulted about the cost. I'll be answerable to Andre. You don't lie as a general thing, and why now? I can afford it, truly. You need not be distressed."
Mademoiselle Palicsky looked into the girl's tense face for an instant, and laughed a gay assent. But to herself she said, as she finished drying her brushes on an inconceivably dirty bit of cotton: "She has found herself out, she has come to the truth. She has discovered that it is not in her, and she is coming to me for corroboration. Well, I will not give it, me! It is extremely disagreeable, and I have not the courage. Pourquoi donc! I will send her to Monsieur John Kendal; she may make him responsible. He will break her, but he will not lie to her; they sacrifice all to their consciences, those English! And now, you good-natured fool, you are in for a devil of an evening!"
"Three months more," Elfrida Bell said to herself next morning, in the act of boiling an egg over a tiny kerosene stove in the cupboard that served her as a kitchen, "and I will put it to every test I know. Three unflinching months! John Kendal will not have gone back to England by that time. I shall still get his opinion. If he is only as encouraging as Nadie was last night, dear thing! I almost forgave her for being so much, much cleverer than I am. Oh, letters!" as a heavy knock repeated itself upon the door of the room outside.
There was only one; it was thrust beneath the door, showing a white triangle to her expectancy as she ran out to secure it, while the fourth flight creaked under Madame Vamousin descending. She picked it up with a light heart—she was young and she had slept. Yesterday's strain had passed; she was ready to count yesterday's experience among the things that must be met. Nadie had been so sensible about it. This was a letter from home, and the American mail was not due until next day. Inside there would be news of a little pleasure trip to New York, which her father and mother had been planning lately —Elfrida constantly urged upon her parents the necessity of amusing themselves—and a remittance. The remittance would be more than usually welcome, for she was a little in debt—a mere trifle, fifty or sixty francs; but Elfrida hated being in debt. She tore the end of the envelope across with absolute satisfaction, which was only half chilled when she opened out each of the four closely written sheets of foreign letter-paper in turn and saw that the usual postal order was not there.
Having ascertained this however, she went back to her egg; in another ten seconds it would have been hard-boiled, a thing she detested. There was the, egg, and there was some apricot-jam—the egg in a slender-stemmed Arabian silver cup, the jam golden in a little round dish of wonderful old blue. She set it forth, with the milk-bread and the butter and the coffee, on a bit of much mended damask with a pattern of rosebuds and a coronet in one corner. Her breakfast gave her several sorts of pleasure.
Half an hour after it was over she was still sitting with the letter in her lap. It is possible to imagine that she looked ugly. Her dark eyes had a look of persistence in spite of fear, a line or two shot up from between her brows, her lips were pursed a little and drawn down at the corners, her chin thrust forward. Her face and her attitude helped each other to express the distinctest possible negative. Her neck had an obstinate bend; she leaned forward clasping her knees, for the moment a creature of rigid straight lines. She had hardly moved since she read the letter.
She was sorry to learn that her father had been unfortunate in business, that the Illinois Indubitable Insurance Company had failed. At his age the blow would be severe, and the prospect, after a life of comparative luxury, of subsisting even in Sparta on eight hundred dollars a year could not be an inviting one for either of her parents. When she thought of their giving up the white brick house in Columbia Avenue and going to live in Cox Street, Elfrida was thoroughly grieved. She felt the sincerest gratitude, however, that the misfortune had not come sooner, before she had learned the true significance of living, while yet it might have placed her in a state of blind irresolution which would probably have lasted indefinitely. After a year in Paris she was able to make up her mind, and this she could not congratulate herself upon sufficiently, since a decision at the moment was of such vital importance! For one point upon which Mrs. Leslie's letter insisted, regretfully but strongly, was that the next remittance, which they hoped to be able to send in a week or two, would necessarily be the last. It would be as large as they could make it; at all events it would amply cover her passage and railway expenses to Sparta, and of course she would sail as soon as it reached her. It was an elaborate letter, written in phrases which Mrs. Leslie thought she evolved, but probably remembered from a long and comprehensive course of fiction as appropriate to the occasion, and Elfrida read between the lines with some impatience how largely their trouble was softened to her mother by the consideration that it would inevitably bring her back to them. "We can bear it well if we bear it together," wrote Mrs. Bell. "You have always been our brave daughter, and your young courage will be invaluable to us now. Your talents will be our flowers by the way-side. We shall take the keenest possible delight in watching them expand, as, even under the cloud of financial adversity, we know they will."
"Dear over-confident parent," Elfrida reflected grimly at this point, "I must yet prove that I have any."
Along with the situation she studied elaborately the third page of the Sparta Sentinel. When it had arrived, months before, containing the best part of a long letter describing Paris, which she had written to her mother in the first freshness of her delighted impressions, she had glanced over it with half-amused annoyance at the foolish parental pride that suggested printing it. She was already too remote from the life of Sparta to care very much one way or another, but such feeling as she had was of that sort. And the compliments from the minister, from various members of the Browning Club, from the editor himself, that filtered through her mother's letters during the next two or three weeks, made her shrug with their absolute irrelevance to the only praise that could thrill her and the only purpose she held dear. Even now, when the printed lines contained the significance of a possible resource, she did not give so much as a thought to the flattering opinion of Sparta as her mother had conveyed it to her. She read them over and over, relying desperately on her own critical sense and her knowledge of what the Paris correspondent of the Daily Dial thought of her chances in that direction. He, Frank Parke, had told her once that if her brush failed she had only to try her pen, though he made use of no such commonplace as that. He said it, too, at the end of half an hour's talk with her, only half an hour. Elfrida, when she wished to be exact with her vanity, told herself that it could not have been more than twenty-five minutes. She wished for particular reasons to be exact with it now, and she did not fail to give proper weight to the fact that Frank Parke had never seen her before that day. The Paris correspondent of the Daily Dial was well enough known to be of the monde, and rich enough to be as bourgeois as anybody. Therefore some of the people who knew him thought it odd that at his age this gentleman should prefer the indelicacies of the Quartier to those of "tout Paris," and the bad vermouth and cheap cigars of the Rue Luxembourg to the peculiarly excellent quality of champagne with which the president's wife made her social atonement to the Faubourg St. Germain. But it was so, and its being so rendered Frank Parke's opinion that Miss Bell could write if she chose to try, not only supremely valuable to her, but available for the second time if necessary, which was perhaps more important.
There would be a little more money from Sparta, perhaps one hundred and fifty dollars. It would come in a week, and after that there would be none. But a supply of it, however modest, must be arranged somehow—there were the "frais" of the atelier, to speak of nothing else. The necessity was irritatingly absolute. Elfrida wished that her scruples were not so acute about arranging it by writing for the press. "If I could think for a moment that I had any right to it as a means of expression!" she reflected. "But I haven't. It is an art for others. And it is an art, as sacred as mine. I have no business to degrade it to my uses." Her mental position when she went to see Frank Parke was a cynical compromise with her artistic conscience, of which she nevertheless sincerely regretted the necessity.
The correspondent of the Daily Dial had a club for one side of the river and a cafe for the other. He dined oftenest at the cafe, and Elfrida's card, with "urgent" inscribed in pencil on it, was brought to him that evening as he was finishing his coffee. She had no difficulty in getting it taken in. Mr. Parke's theory was that a newspaper man gained more than he lost by accessibility. He came out immediately, furtively returning a toothpick to his waistcoat pocket—a bald, stout gentleman of middle age, dressed in loose gray clothes, with shrewd eyes, a nose which his benevolence just saved from being hawk-like, a bristling white mustache, and a pink double chin. It rather pleased Frank Parke, who was born in Hammersmith, to be so constantly taken for an American—presumably a New Yorker.
"Monsieur—" began Elfrida a little formally. She would not have gone on in French, but it was her way to use this form with the men she knew in Paris, irrespective of their nationality, just as she invariably addressed letters which were to be delivered in Sparta, Illinois, "a madame Leslie Bell, Avenue Columbia," of that municipality.
"Miss Elfrida, I am delighted to see you," he interrupted her, stretching out one hand and looking at his watch with the other. "I am fortunate in having fifteen whole minutes to put at your disposal At the end of that time I have an appointment with a cabinet minister, who would rather see the devil. So I most be punctual. Shall we walk a bit along these dear boulevards, or shall I get a fiacre? No? You're quite right—Paris was made for eternal walking. Now, what is it, my dear child?"
Mr. Parke had already concluded that it was money, and had fixed the amount he would lend. It was just half of what Mademoiselle Knike, of Paolo Rossi's, had succeeded in extracting from him last week. He liked having a reputation for amiability among the ateliers, but he must not let it cost too much.
Elfrida felt none of that benumbing shame which sometimes seizes those who would try literature confessing to those who have succeeded in it, and the occasion was too important for the decorative diffidence that might have occurred to her if it had been trivial. She had herself well gathered together, and she would have been concise and direct even if there had been more than fifteen minutes.
"One afternoon last September, at Nadie Palicsky's—there is no chance that you will remember, but I assure you it is so—you told me that I might, if I tried—write, monsieur."
The concentration of her purpose in her voice made itself felt where Frank Parke kept his acuter perceptions, and put them at her service.
"I remember perfectly," he said.
"Je m'en felicite. It is more than I expected. Well, circumstances have made it so that I must either write or scrub. Scrubbing spoils one's hands, and besides, it isn't sufficiently remunerative. So I have come to ask you whether you seriously thought so, or whether it was only politeness—blague—or what? I know it is horrible of me to insist like, this, but you see I must." Her big dark eyed looked at him without a shadow of appeal, rather as if he were destiny and she were unafraid.
"Oh, I meant it," he returned ponderingly. "You can often tell by the way people talk that they would write well. But there are many things to be considered, you know."
"Oh, I know—whether one has any real right to write, anything to say that makes it worth while. I'm afraid I can't find that I have. But there must be scullery-maid's work in literature—in journalism, isn't there? I could do that, I thought. After all, it's only one's own art that one need keep sacred." She added the last sentence a little defiantly.
Bat the correspondent of the Daily Dial was not thinking of that aspect of the matter. "It's not a thing you can jump into," he said shortly. "Have you written anything, anywhere, for the press before?"
"Only one or two things that have appeared in the local paper at home. They were more or less admired by the people there, so far as that goes."
"Were you paid for them?"
Elfrida shook her head. "I've often heard the editor say he paid for nothing but his telegrams," she said.
"There it is, you see."
"I want to write for Raffini's Chronicle," Elfrida said quickly. "You know the editor of Raffini, of course, Mr. Parke. You know everybody. Will you do me the very great favor to tell him that I will report society functions for him at one half the price he is accustomed to pay for such writing, and do it more entertainingly?"
Frank Parke smiled. "You are courageous indeed, Hiss Elfrida. That is done by a woman who is invited, every where in her proper person, and knows 'tout Paris' like her alphabet I believe she holds stock in Raffini; anyway, they would double her pay rather than lose her. You would have more chance of ousting their leader-writer."
"I should be sorry to oust anybody," Elfrida returned with dignity.
"How do you propose to help it, if you go in for doing better or cheaper what somebody else has been doing before?"
Miss Bell thought for a minute, and demonstrated her irresponsibility with a little shrug. "Then I'm very sorry," she said. "But, monsieur, you haven't told me what to do."
The illuminator of European politics for the Daily Dial wished heartily that it had been a matter of two or three hundred francs.
"I'm afraid I—well, I don't see how I can give you any very definite advice. The situation doesn't admit of it, Miss Bell. But—have you given up Lucien?"
"No. It is only that—that I must earn money to pay him."
"Oh! Home supplies stopped?"
"My people have lost all their money except barely enough to live on. I cant expect another sou."
"That's hard lines!"
"I'm awfully sorry for them. But it isn't enough, being sorry, you know. I must do something. I thought I might write for Raffini, for—for practice, you know—the articles they print are really very bad—and afterward arrange to send Paris letters to some of the big American newspapers. I know a woman who does it I assure you she is quite stupid. And she is paid—but enormously!" Mr. Parke repressed his inclination to smile.
"I believe that sort of thing over there is very much in the hands of the syndicates—McClure and those fellows," he said, "and they won't look at you unless you're known. I don't want to discourage you, Miss Bell, but it would take you at least a year to form a connection. You would have to learn Paris about five times as well as you fancy you know it already, and then you would require a special course of training to find out what to write about. And then, remember, you would have to compete with people who know every inch of the ground. Now if I can be of any assistance to you en camarade, you know, in the matter of your passage home—"
"Thanks," Elfrida interposed quickly, "I'm not going home. If I can't write I can scrub, as I said. I must find out." She put out her hand. "I am sure there are not many of those fifteen minutes left," she said, smiling and quite undismayed. "I have to thank you very sincerely for—for sticking to the opinion you expressed when it was only a matter of theory. As soon as I justify it in practice I'll let you know."
The correspondent of the Daily Dial hesitated, looked at his watch and hesitated again. "There's plenty of time," he fibbed, frowning over the problem of what might be done.
"Oh no!" Elfrida said. "You are very kind, but there can't be. You will be very late, and perhaps his Excellency will have given the audience to the devil instead—or to Monsieur de Pommitz." Her eyes expressed perfect indifference. Frank Parke laughed outright. De Pommitz was his rival for every political development, and shone dangerously in the telegraphic columns of the London World.
"De Pommitz isn't in it this time," he said. "I'll tell you what I might do, Miss Elfrida. How long have you got for this—experiment?"
"Less than a week."
"Well, go home and write me an article—something locally descriptive. Make it as bright as you can, and take a familiar subject. Let me have it in three days, and I'll see if I can get it into Raffini for you. Of course, you know, I can't promise that they'll look at it."
"You are very good," Elfrida returned hastily, seeing his real anxiety to be off. "Something locally descriptive. I've often thought the atelier would make a good subject."
"Capital, capital! Only be very careful about personalities and so forth. Raffini hates giving offence. Good-bye! Here you, cocher! Boulevard Haussmann!"
John Kendal had only one theory that was not received with respect by the men at Lucien's. They quoted it as often as other things he said, but always in a spirit of derision, while Kendal's ideas as a rule got themselves discussed seriously, now and then furiously. This young man had been working in the atelier for three years with marked success almost from the beginning. The first things he did had a character and an importance that brought Lucien himself to admit a degree of soundness in the young fellow's earlier training, which was equal to great praise. Since then he had found the line in the most interesting room in the Palais d'Industrie, the cours had twice medalled him, and Albert Wolff was beginning to talk about his coloration delicieuse. Also it was known that he had condescended for none of these things. His success in Paris added piquancy to his preposterous notion that an Englishman should go home and paint England and hang his work in the Academy, and made it even more unreasonable than if he had failed.
"For me," remarked Andre Vambery, with a finely curled lip, "I never see an English landscape without thinking of what it would bring par hectare. It is trop arrangee, that country, all laid out in a pattern of hedges and clumps, for the pleasure of the milords. And every milord has the taste of every other milord. He will go home to perpetuate that!"
"Si, si! Mais c'est pour sa patrie."
Nadie defended him. Women always did.
"Bah!" returned her lover. "Pour nous autres artists la France est la patrie, et la France seule! Every day he is in England he will lose—lose—lose. Enfin, he will paint the portraits of the wives and daughters of Sir Brown and Sir Smith, and he will do it as Sir Brown and Sir Smith advise. Avec son talent unique, distinctive! Oh, je suis a bout de patience!"
When Kendal's opinion materialized and it became known that he meant to go back in February, and would send nothing to the Salon that year, the studio tore its hair and hugged its content. All but the master, who attempted to dissuade his pupil with literal tears, of which he did not seem in the least ashamed and which annoyed Kendal very much. In fact, it was a dramatic splash of Lucien's which happened to fall upon his coat-sleeve that decided Kendal finally about the impossibility of living always in Paris. He could not take life seriously where the emotions lent themselves so easily. And Kendal thought that he ought to take life seriously, because his natural tendency was otherwise. Kendal was an Englishman with a temperament which multiplied his individuality. If his father, who was once in the Indian Staff Corps, had lived, Kendal would probably have gone into the Indian Staff Corps too. And if his mother, who was of clerical stock, had not died about the same time, it is more than likely that she would have persuaded him to the bar. With his parents the obligation to be anything in particular seemed to Kendal to have been removed, however, and he followed his inclination in the matter instead, which made him an artist. He would have found life too interesting to confine his observation of it within the scope of any profession, but of course he could have chosen none which presents it with greater fascination. To speak quite baldly about him, his intelligence and his sympathies had a wider range than is represented by any one power of expression, even the catholic brush. He had the analytical turn of the age, though it had been denied him to demonstrate what he saw except through an art which is synthetic. With a more comprehensive conception of modern tendencies and a subtler descriptive vocabulary, Kendal might have divided his allegiance between Lucien and the magazines, and ended a light-handed fiction-maker of the more refined order of realists. As it was, he made his studies for his own pleasure, and if the people he met ministered to him further than they knew, nothing came of it more than that. What he liked best to achieve was an intimate knowledge of his fellow-beings from an outside point of view. Where intimate knowledge came of intimate association he found that it usually compromised his independence of criticism, which in the Quartier Latin was a serious matter. So he rather cold-bloodedly aimed at keeping his own personality independent of his observation of other people's, and as a rule he succeeded.
That Paris had neither made Kendal nor marred him may be gathered for the first part from his contentment to go back to paint in his native land, for the second from the fact that he had a relation with Elfrida Bell which at no point verged toward the sentimental. He would have found it difficult to explain in which direction it did verge—in fact, he would have been very much surprised to know that he sustained any relation at all toward Miss Bell important enough to repay examination. The red-armed, white-capped proprietress of a cremerie had effected their introduction by regretting to them jointly that she had only one helping of compote de cerises left, and leaving them to arrange its consumption between them. And it is safer than it would be in most similar cases to say that neither Elfrida's heavy-lidded beauty nor the smile that gave its instant attraction to Kendal's delicately eager face had much to do with the establishment of their acquaintance, such as it was. Kendal, though his virtue was not of the heroic order, would have turned a contemptuous heel upon any imputation of the sort, and Elfrida would have stared it calmly out of countenance.
To Elfrida it soon became a definite and agreeable fact that she and the flower of Lucien's had things to say to each other—things of the rare temperamental sort that say themselves seldom. Within a fortnight she had made a niche for him in that private place where she kept the images of those toward whom she sustained this peculiarly sacred obligation, and to meet him had become one of those pleasures which were in Sparta so notably unattainable. I cannot say that considerations which from the temperamental point of view might be described as ulterior had never suggested themselves to Miss Bell. She had thought of them, with a little smile, as a possible development on Kendal's part that might be amusing. And then she had invariably checked the smile, and told herself that she would be sorry, very sorry. Instinctively she separated the artist and the man. For the artist she had an admiration none the less sincere for its exaggerations, and a sympathy which she thought the best of herself; for the man, nothing, except the half-contemptuous reflection that he was probably as other men.
If Elfrida stamped herself less importantly upon the surface of Kendal's mind than he did upon hers, it may be easily enough accounted for by the multiplicity of images there before her. I do not mean to imply that all or many of these were feminine, but, as I have indicated, Kendal was more occupied with impressions of all sorts than is the habit of his fellow-countrymen, and at twenty eight he had managed to receive quite enough to make a certain seriousness necessary in a fresh one. There was no seriousness in his impression of Elfrida. If he had gone so far as to trace its lines he would have found them to indicate a more than slightly fantastic young woman with an appreciation of certain artistic verities out of all proportion to her power to attain them. But he had not gone so far. His encounters with her were among his casual amusements; and if the result was an occasional dinner together or first night at the Folies Dramatiques, his only reflection was that a girl who could do such things and not feel compromised was rather pleasant to know, especially so clever a girl as Elfrida Bell. He did not recognize in his own mind the mingled beginnings of approval and disapproval which end in a personal theory. He was quite unaware, for instance, that he liked the contemptuous way in which she held at arm's length the moral laxities of the Quartier, and disliked the cool cynicism with which she flashed upon them there the sort of jeu de mot that did not make him uncomfortable on the lips of a Frenchwoman. He understood that she had nursed Nadie Palicsky through three weeks of diphtheria, during which time Monsieur Vambery took up his residence fourteen blocks away, without any special throb of enthusiasm; and he heard her quote Voltaire on the miracles—some of her ironies were a little old-fashioned —without conscious disgust He was willing enough to meet her on the special plane she constituted for herself—not as a woman, but as an artist and a Bohemian. But there were others who made the same claim with whom it was an affectation or a pretence, and Kendal granted it to Elfrida without any special conviction that she was more sincere than the rest. Besides, it is possible to grow indifferent, even to the unconventionalities, and Kendal had been three years in the Quartier Latin.
If Lucien had examined Miss Bell's work during the week of her experiment with Anglo-Parisian journalism, he would have observed that it grew gradually worse as the days went on. The devotion of the small hours to composition does not steady one's hand for the reproduction of the human muscles, or inform one's eye as to the correct manipulation of flesh tints. Besides, the model suffered from Elfrida an unconscious diminution of enthusiasm. She was finding her first serious attempt at writing more absorbing than she would have believed possible, and she felt that she was doing it better than she expected. She was hardly aware of the moments that slipped by while she dabbled aimlessly in unconsidered color meditating a phrase, or leaned back and let nothing interfere with her apprehension of the atelier with the other reproductive instinct. She did not recognize the deterioration in her work, either; and at the very moment when Nadie Palicsky, observing Lucien's neglect of her, inwardly called him a brute, Elfrida was to leave the atelier an hour earlier for the sake of the more urgent thing which she had to do. She finished it in five days, and addressed it to Frank Parke with a new and uplifting sense of accomplishment. The ever fresh miracle happened to her, too, in that the working out of one article begot the possibilities of half a dozen more, and the next day saw her well into another. In posting the first she had a premonition of success. She saw it as it would infallibly appear in a conspicuous place in Raffini's Chronicle, and heard the people of the American Colony wondering who in the world could have written it. She conceived that it would fill about two columns and a half. On Saturday afternoon, when Kendal joined her crossing the courtyard of the atelier, she was preoccupied with the form of her rebuff to any inquiries that might be made as to whether she had written it.
They walked on together, talking casually of casual things. Kendal, glancing every now and then at the wet study Elfrida was carrying home, felt himself distinctly thankful that she did not ask his opinion of it, as she had, to his embarrassment once or twice before; though it was so very bad that he was half disposed to abuse it without permission. Miss Bell seemed persistently interested in other things, however—the theatres, the ecclesiastical bill before the Chamber of Deputies, the new ambassador, even the recent improvement of the police system. Kendal found her almost tiresome. His half-interested replies interpreted themselves to her after a while, and she turned their talk upon trivialities, with a gay exhilaration which was not her frequent mood.
She asked him to come up when they arrived, with a frank cordiality which he probably thought of as the American way. He went up, at all events, and for the twentieth time admired the dainty chic of the little apartment, telling himself, also for the twentieth time, that it was extraordinary how agreeable it was to be there —agreeable with a distinctly local agreeableness whether its owner happened to be also there or not. In this he was altogether sincere, and only properly discriminating. He spent fifteen minutes wondering at her whimsical interest, and when she suddenly asked him if he really thought the race had outgrown its physical conditions, he got up to go, declaring it was too bad, she must have been working up back numbers of the Nineteenth Century. At which she consented to turn their talk into its usual personal channel, and he sat down again content.
"Doesn't the Princess Bobaloff write a charming hand!" Elfrida said presently, tossing him a square white envelope.
"It isn't hers if it's an invitation. She has a wretched relation of a Frenchwoman living with her who does all that. May I light a cigarette?"
"You know you may. It is an invitation, but I didn't accept."
"Her soiree last night? If I'd known you had been asked I should have missed you."
"I ought to tell you," Elfrida went on, coloring a little, "that I was invited through Leila Van Camp—that ridiculously rich girl, you know, they say Lucien is in love with. The Van Camp has been affecting me a good deal lately. She says my manners are so pleasing, and besides, Lucien once told her she painted better than I did. The princess is a great friend of hers."
"Why didn't you go?" Kendal asked, without any appreciable show of curiosity. If he had been looking closely enough he would have seen that she was waiting for his question.
"Oh, it lies somehow, that sort of thing, outside my idea of life. I have nothing to say to it, and it has nothing to say to me."
Kendal smiled introspectively. He saw why he had been shown the letter. "And yet," he said, "I venture to hope that if we had met there we might have had some little conversation."
Elfrida leaned back in her chair and threw up her head, locking her slender fingers over her knee. "Of coarse," she said indifferently. "I understand why you should go. You must. You have arrived at a point where the public claims a share of your personality. That's different."
Kendal's face straightened out. He was too much of an Englishman to understand that a personally agreeable truth might not be flattery, and Elfrida never knew how far he resented her candor when it took the liberty of being gracious.
"I went in the humble hope of getting a good supper and seeing some interesting people," he told her. "Loti was there, and Madame Rives-Chanler, and Sargent."
"And the supper?" Miss Bell inquired, with a touch of sarcasm.
"Disappointing," he returned seriously. "I should say bad—as bad as possible." She gave him an impatient glance.
"But those people—Loti and the rest—it is only a serio-comic game to them to go the Princess Bobaloffs. They wouldn't if they could help it They don't live their real lives in such places—among such people!"
Kendal took the cigarette from his mouth and laughed. "Your Bohemianism is quite Arcadian in its quality —deliriously fresh," he declared. "I think they do. Genius clings to respectability after a time. A most worthy and amiable lady, the Princess."
Elfrida raised the arch of her eyebrows. "Much too worthy and amiable," she ventured, and talked of something else, leaving Kendal rasped, as she sometimes did, without being in any degree aware of it.
"How preposterous it is," he said, moved by his irritation to find something preposterous, "that girls like Miss Van Camp should come here to work."
"They can't help being rich. It shows at least the germ of a desire to work out their own salvation. I think I like it."
"It shows the germ of an affectation in rather an advanced stage of development. I give her three months more to tire of snubbing Lucien and distributing caramels to the less fortunate young ladies of the studio. Then she will pack up those pitiful attempts of hers and take them home to New York, and spend a whole season in glorious apology for them."
Elfrida looked at him steadily for an instant. Then she laughed lightly. "Thanks," she said. "I see you had not forgotten my telling you that Lucien said she painted better than I did."
Kendal wondered whether he had really meant to go so far. "I am sorry," he said, "but I am afraid I had not forgotten it."
"Well, you would not say it out of ill-nature. You must have wanted me to know—what you thought."
"I think," he said seriously, "that I did—at least that I do—want you to know. It seems a pity that you should work on here—mistakenly—when there are other things that you could do well."
"'Other things' have been mentioned to me before," she returned, with a strain in her voice that she tried to banish. "May I ask what particular thing occurs to you?"
He was already remorseful. After all, what business of his was it to interfere, especially when he knew that she attached such absurd importance to his opinion? "I hardly know," he said, "but there must be something; I am convinced that there is something."
Elfrida put her elbows on a tittle table, and shadowed her face with her hands.
"I wish I could understand," she said, "why I should be so willing to—to go on at any sacrifice, if there is no hope in the end."
Kendal's mood of grim frankness overcame him again. "I believe I know," he said, watching her. Her hands dropped from her face, and she turned it toward him mutely.
"It is not achievement you want, but success. That is why," said he.
There was silence for a moment, broken by light footsteps on the stair and a knock. "My good friends," cried Mademoiselle Palicsky from the doorway, "have you been quarrelling?" She made a little dramatic gesture to match her words, which brought out every line of a black velvet and white corduroy dress, which would have been a horror upon an Englishwoman. Upon Mademoiselle Palicsky it was simply an admiration-point of the kind never seen out of Paris, and its effect was instantaneous. Kendal acknowledged it with a bow of exaggerated deference. "C'est parfait!" he said with humility, and lifted a pile of studies off the nearest chair for her.
Nadie stood still, pouting. "Monsieur is amused," she said. "Monsieur is always amused. But I have that to tell which monsieur will graciously take au grand servieux."
"What is it, Nadie?" Elfrida asked, with something like dread in her voice. Nadie's air was so important, so rejoiceful.
"Ecoutez donc! I am to send two pictures to the Salon this year. Carolos Duran has already seen my sketch for one, and he says there is not a doubt—not a doubt—that it will be considered. Your congratulations, both of you, or your hearts' blood! For on my word of honor I did not expect it this year."
"A thousand and one!" cried Kendal, trying not to see Elfrida's face. "But if you did not expect it this year, mademoiselle, you were the only one who had so little knowledge of affairs," he added gaily.
"And now," Nadie went on, as if he had interrupted her, "I am going to drive in the Bois to see what it will be like when the people in the best carriages turn and say, 'That is Mademoiselle Nadie Palicsky, whose picture has just been bought for the Luxembourg.'"
She paused and looked for a curious instant at Elfrida, and then slipped quickly behind her chair. "Embrasse moi, cherie!" she said, bringing her face with a bird-like motion close to the other girl's.
Kendal saw an instinctive momentary aversion in the backward start of Elfrida's head, and from the bottom of his heart he was sorry for her. She pushed her friend away almost violently.
"No!" she said. "No! I am sorry, but it is too childish. We never kiss each other, you and I. And listen, Nadie: I am delighted for you, but I have a sick headache—la migraine, you understand. And you must go away, both of you—both of you!" Her voice raised itself in the last few words to an almost hysterical imperativeness. As they went down the stairs together Mademoiselle Palicsky remarked to Mr. John Kendal, repentant of the good that he had done:
"So she has consulted her oracle and it has barked out the truth. Let us hope she will not throw herself into the Seine!"
"Oh no!" Kendal replied. "She's horribly hurt but I am glad to believe that she hasn't the capacity for tragedy. Somebody," he added gloomily, "ought to have told her long ago."
Half an hour later the postman brought Elfrida a letter from Mr. Frank Parke, and a packet containing her manuscript. It was a long letter, very kind, and appreciative of the article, which Mr. Parke called bright and gossipy, and, if anything, too cleverly unconventional in tone. He did not take the trouble to criticise it seriously, and left Elfrida under the impression that, from his point of view at least, it had no faults. Mr. Parke had offered the article to Raffini, but while they might have printed it upon his recommendation, it appeared that even his recommendation could not induce them to promise to pay for it. And it was a theory with him that what was worth printing was invariably worth paying for, so he returned the manuscript to its author in the sincere hope that it might yet meet its deserts. He had been thinking over the talk they had had together, and he saw more plainly than ever the hopelessness of her getting a journalistic start in Paris, however, and he would distinctly advise her to try London instead. There were a number of ladies' papers published in London—he regretted that he did not know the editors of any of them—and amongst them, with her freshness of style, she would be sure to find an opening. Mr. Parke added the address of a lodging-house off Fleet Street, where Elfrida would be in the thick of it, and the fact that he was leaving Paris for three months or so, and hoped she would write to him when he came back. It was a letter precisely calculated to draw an unsophisticated amateur mind away from any other mortification, to pour balm upon any unrelated wound. Elfrida felt herself armed by it to face a sea of troubles. Not absolutely, but almost, she convinced herself on the spot that her solemn choice of an art had been immature, and to some extent groundless and unwarrantable; and she washed all her brushes with a mechanical and melancholy sense that it was for the last time. It was easier than she would have dreamed for her to decide to take Frank Parke's advice and go to London. The life of the Quartier had already vaguely lost in charm since she knew that she must be irredeemably a failure in the atelier, though she told herself, with a hot tear or two, that no one loved it better, more comprehendingly, than she did. Her impulse was to begin packing at once; but she put that off until the next day, and wrote two or three letters instead. One was to John Kendal. This is the whole of it:
"Please believe me very grateful for your frankness this afternoon. I have been most curiously blind. But I agree with you that there is something else, and I am going away to find it out and to do it. When I succeed I will let you know, but you shall not tell me that I have failed again.
The other was addressed to her mother, and when it reached Mr. and Mrs. Bell in Sparta they said it was certainly sympathetic and very well written. This was to disarm one another's mind of the suspicion that its last page was doubtfully daughterly.
"In view of what are now your very limited resources, I am sure dear mother, you will understand my unwillingness to make any additional drain upon them, as I should do if I followed your wishes and came home. I am convinced of my ability to support myself, and I am not coming home. To avoid giving you the pain of repeating your request, and the possibility of your sending me money which you cannot afford to spare, I have decided not to let you know my whereabouts until I can write to you that I am in an independent position. I will only say that I am leaving Paris, and that no letters sent to this address will be forwarded. I sincerely hope you will not allow yourself to be in any way anxious about me, for I assure you that there is not the slightest need. With much love to papa and yourself,
"Always your affectionate daughter,
"P.S.—I hope your asthma has again succumbed to Dr. Paley."
There was a scraping and a stumbling sound in the second floor front bedroom of Mrs. Jordan's lodgings in a by-way of Fleet Street, at two o'clock in the morning. It came up to Elfrida mixed with the rattle of a departing cab over the paving-stones below, outside where the fog was lifting and showing one street-lamp to another. Elfrida in her attic had been sitting above the fog all night; her single candle had not been obscured by it. The cab had been paid and the andirons were being disturbed by Mr. Golightly Ticke, returned from the Criterion Restaurant, where he had been supping with the leading lady of the Sparkle Company, at the leading, lady's expense. She could afford it better than he could, she told him, and that was extremely true, for Mr. Ticke had his capacities for light comedy still largely to prove, while Mademoiselle Phyllis Fane had almost disestablished herself upon the stage, so long and so prosperously had she pirouetted there. Mr. Golightly Ticke's case excited a degree of the large compassion which Mademoiselle Phyllis had for incipient genius of the interesting sex, and which served her instead of virtue of the more ordinary sort. He had a doable claim upon it, because, in addition to being tall and fair and misunderstood by most people, with a thin nose that went beautifully with a medieval costume, he was such a gentleman. Phyllis loosened her purse-strings instinctively, with genuine gratification, whenever this young man approached. She believed in him; he had ideas, she said, and she gave him more; in the end he would be sure to "catch on." Through the invariable period of obscurity which comes before the appearance of any star, she was in the habit of stating that he would have no truer friend than Filly Fane. She "spoke to" the manager, she pointed out Mr. Ticke's little parts to the more intimate of her friends of the press. She sent him delicate little presents of expensive cigars, scents, and soaps; she told him often that he would infallibly "get there." The fact of his having paid his own cab-fare from the Criterion on this particular morning gave him, as he found his way upstairs, almost an injured feeling of independence.
As the sounds defined themselves move distinctly, troublous and uncertain, Elfrida laid down her pen and listened.
"What an absurd boy it is!" she said. "He's trying to go to bed in the fireplace."
As a matter of fact, Mr. Ticke's stage of intoxication was not nearly so advanced as that; but Elfrida's mood was borrowed from her article, and she felt the necessity of putting it graphically. Besides, a picturesque form of stating his condition was almost due to Mr. Ticke. Mr. Ticke lived the unfettered life; he was of the elect; Elfrida reflected, as Mr. Ticke went impulsively to bed, how easy it was to discover the elect. A glance would do it, a word, the turning of an eyelid; she knew it of Golightly Ticke days before he came up in an old velvet coat, and without a shirt collar, to borrow a sheet of note paper and an envelope from her. On that occasion Mr. Ticke had half apologized for his appearance, saying, "I'm afraid I'm rather a Bohemian," in his sympathetic voice. To which Elfrida had responded, hanging him the note paper, "Afraid!" and the understanding was established at once. Elfrida did not consider Mr. Ticke's other qualifications or disqualifications; that would have been a bourgeois thing to do. He was a belle dame, that was sufficient. He might find life difficult, it was natural and probable. She, Elfrida Bell, found it difficult. He had not succeeded yet; neither had she; therefore they had a comradeship—they and a few others—of revolt against the dull conventional British public that barred the way to success. Yesterday she had met him at the street-door, and he had stopped to remark that along the Embankment nature was making a bad copy of one of Vereschagin's pictures. When people could say things like that, nothing else mattered much. It is impossible to tell whether Miss Bell would have found room in this philosophy for the godmotherly benevolence of Mademoiselle Fane, if she had known of it, or not.