A Face Illumined
by E. P. Roe
As may be gathered from the following pages, my title was obtained a a number of years ago, and the story has since been taking form and color in my mind. What has become of the beautiful but discordant face I saw at the concert garden I do not know, but I trust that that the countenance it suggested, and its changes may not prove so vague and unsatisfactory as to be indistinct to the reader. It has looked upon the writer during the past year almost like the face of a living maiden, and I have felt, in a way that would be hard to explain, that I have had but little to do with its expressions, and that forces and influences over which I had no control were moulding character.
The old garden, and the aged man who grew young within it, are not creations, but sacred memories.
That the book may tend to ennoble other faces than that of Ida Mayhew, is the earnest wish of
E. P. Roe.
Cornwall-on-the-Hudson, N. Y.
Chapter I: A Face..............................................11 Chapter II: Ida Mayhew.........................................22 Chapter III: An Artist's Freak.................................35 Chapter IV: A Parthian Arrow...................................42 Chapter V: Spite...............................................51 Chapter VI: Reckless Words and Deeds...........................60 Chapter VII: Another Feminine Problem..........................71 Chapter VIII: Glimpses of Tragedy..............................85 Chapter IX: Unexpectedly Thrown Together.......................96 Chapter X: Phrases too Suggestive.............................108 Chapter XI: A "Tableau Vivant"................................118 Chapter XII: Miss Mayhew is Puzzled...........................126 Chapter XIII: Nature's Broken Promise.........................137 Chapter XIV: A Revelation.....................................145 Chapter XV: Contrasts.........................................159 Chapter XVI: Out Among Shadows................................172 Chapter XVII: New Forces Developing...........................184 Chapter XVIII: Love Put to Work...............................195 Chapter XIX: Man's Highest Honor..............................203 Chapter XX: A Wretched Secret that Must be Kept...............209 Chapter XXI: A Deliberate Wooer...............................216 Chapter XXII: A Vain Wish.....................................225 Chapter XXIII: Jennie Burton's Remedies.......................232 Chapter XXIV: A Hateful, Wretched Life........................239 Chapter XXV: Half-Truths......................................246 Chapter XXVI: Sunday Table-Talk...............................251 Chapter XXVII: A Family Group.................................262 Chapter XXVIII: Rather Volcanic...............................268 Chapter XXIX: Evil Lives Cast Dark Shadows....................278 Chapter XXX: The Deliberate Wooer Speaks First................284 Chapter XXXI: An Emblem.......................................293 Chapter XXXII: The Dangers of Despair.........................303 Chapter XXXIII: "Hope Dies Hard"..............................311 Chapter XXXIV: Puzzled........................................324 Chapter XXXV: Desperately Wounded.............................335 Chapter XXXVI: Temptation's Voice.............................350 Chapter XXXVII: Voices of Nature..............................360 Chapter XXXVIII: A Good Man Speaks............................369 Chapter XXXIX: Van Berg's Escape..............................387 Chapter XL: Van Berg's Conclusions............................397 Chapter XLI: The Protestant Confessional......................403 Chapter XLII: The Corner-Stone of Character...................424 Chapter XLIII: A "Heavenly Mystery"...........................435 Chapter XLIV: "The Garden of Eden"............................443 Chapter XLV: Problems Beyond Art..............................470 Chapter XLVI: A Resolute Philosopher..........................486 Chapter XLVII: The Concert Garden Again.......................500 Chapter XLVIII: Ida's Temptation..............................518 Chapter XLIX: The Blind God...................................538 Chapter L: Swept Away.........................................555 Chapter LI: From Deep Experience..............................569 Chapter LII: An Illumined Face................................589 Chapter LIII: A Night's Vigil.................................601 Chapter LIV: Life and Trust...................................615
Chapter 1. A Face.
Although the sun was approaching the horizon, its slanting rays found a young artist still bending over his easel. That his shoulders are broad is apparent at a glance; that upon them is placed a shapely head, well thatched with crisp black hair, is also seen at once; that the head is not an empty one is proved by the picture on the easel, which is sufficiently advanced to show correct and spirited drawing. A brain that can direct the hand how to do one thing well, is like a general who has occupied a strategic point which will give him the victory if he follows up his advantage.
A knock at the door is not answered at once by the intent and preoccupied artist, but its sharp and impatient repetition secures the rather reluctant invitation,
"Come in," and even as he spoke he bent forward to give another stroke.
"Six o'clock, and working still!" cried the intruder. "You will keep the paint market active, if you achieve nothing else as an artist."
"Heigho! Ik, is that you?" said he of the palette, good-naturedly; and rising slowly he gave a lingering look at his work, then turned and greeted his friend with the quiet cordiality of long and familiar acquaintance. "What a marplot you are with your idle ways!" he added. "Sit down here and make yourself useful for once by doing nothing nothing for ten minutes. I am in just the mood and have just the light for a bit of work which perhaps I can never do as well again," and the artist returned promptly to his picture.
In greeting his friend he had revealed that he was above middle height, that he had full black eyes that were not only good for seeing, but could also, if he chose, give great emphasis to his words, and at times be even more expressive. A thick mustache covered his lip, but the rest of his face was cleanly shaven, and was strong and decided in its outlines rather than handsome.
"They say a woman's work is never done," remarked Ik Stanton, dropping into the easiest chair in the studio, "and for this reason, were there no other, your muse is evidently of the feminine persuasion. I also admit that she is a lady of great antiquity. Indeed I would place her nearer to the time when 'Adam delved and Eve span' than to the classic age."
"My dear Ik," responded the artist, "I am often at a loss to know whether I love or despise you most. If a little of the whirr of our great grandam's spinning wheel would only get into your brain the world might hear from you. You are a man of unbounded stomach and unbounded heart, and so you have won all there is of me except my head, and that disapproves of you."
"A fig for the world! what good will it do me or it to have it hear from me? you ambitious fellows are already making such a din that the poor old world is half ready for Bedlam; and would go stark mad were it not for us quiet, easy-going people, who have time for a good dinner and a snack between meals. You've got a genius that's like a windmill in a trade wind, always in motion; you are worth more money than I shall ever have, but you are the greatest drudge in the studio building, and work as many hours as a house-painter."
"When your brain once gets in motion, Ik, fiction will be its natural product. You must admit that I have not painted many pictures."
"That is one of the things I complain of; I, your bosom friend and familiar, your, I might add, guardian angel—I, who have so often saved your life by quenching the flame of your consuming genius with a hearty dinner, have been able to obtain one picture only from you, and as one might draw a tooth. Your pictures are like old maid's children—they must be so perfect that they can't exist at all. But come, the ten minutes are up. Here's the programme for the evening—a drive in the Park and a little dinner at a cool restaurant near Thomas's Garden, and then the concert. That prince of musical caterers has made a fine selection for to-night, and, with the cigar stand on one side of us and the orchestra on the other, we are certain to kill a couple of hours that will die like swans."
"You mention the cigar-stand first."
"Why not? Smoke is more real than empty sound."
"Are you not equally empty, Ik, save after dinner? How have the preceding hours of this long day been killed?"
"Like boas. They have enfolded me with a weary weight."
"The snakes in your comparison are larger than your pun, and the pun, rather than yourself, suggests a constrictor's squeeze."
"Come, you are only abusing me to gain time, and you may gain too much. My horses have more mettle than their master, and may carry off my trap and groom to parts unknown, while you are wasting paint and words. You are like the animals at the Park, that are good-natured only after they are fed. So shut up your old paint shop, and come along; we will shorten our ride and lengthen our dinner."
With mutual chaffing and laughter the young men at last went down to where a liveried coachman and a pair of handsome bays were in waiting. Taking the high front seat and gathering up the reins, Ik Stanton, with his friend Harold Van Berg at his side, bowled away towards the Park at a rapid pace.
Harold Van Berg was, in truth, something of a paradox. He was an artist, and yet was rich; he had inherited large wealth, and yet had formed habits of careful industry. The majority of his young acquaintances, who had been launched from homes like his own, were known only as sons of their fathers, and degenerate sons at that. Van Berg was already winning a place among men on the ground of what he was and could do himself.
It were hard to say which was the stronger motive, his ambition or the love of his art; but it seemed certain that between the two, such talent as he had been endowed with would be developed quite thoroughly. And he did possess decided talent, if not genius. But his artistic gift accorded with his character, and was controlled by judgement, correct taste, and intellectuality rather than by strong and erratic impulses. His aims were definite and decided rather than vague and diffusive; but his standards were so high that, thus far, he had scarcely attempted more than studies that were like the musician's scales by which he seeks to acquire a skill in touch that shall enable him to render justly the works of the great composers.
His family had praised his work unstintedly, and honestly thought it wonderful; he had also been deluged with that kind of flattery which relaxes the rules of criticism in favor of the wealthy. Thus it was not strange that the young fellow, at one time, believed that he was born to greatness by a kindly decree of fate. But as his horizon widened he was taught better. His mind, fortunately, grew faster than his vanity, and as he compared his crude but promising work with that of mature genius, he was not stricken with that most helpless phase of blindness—the inability to see the superiority of others to one's self. Every day, therefore, of study and observation was now chastening Harold Van Berg and preparing him to build his future success on the solid ground of positive merit as compared with that of other and gifted artists.
Van Berg's taste and talent led him to select, as his specialty, the human form and countenance, and he chiefly delighted in those faces which were expressive of some striking or subtle characteristic of the indwelling mind. He would never be content to paint surfaces correctly, giving to features merely their exact proportions. Whether the face were historical, ideal, or a portrait, the controlling trait or traits of the spirit within must shine through, or else he regarded the picture as scarcely half finished.
A more sincere idolator than Van Berg, in his worship of beauty, never existed; but it was the beauty of a complete man or a complete woman. Even in his early youth he had not been so sensuous as to be captivated by that opaque fragment of a woman—an attractive form devoid of a mind. Indeed with the exception of a few boyish follies, his art had been his mistress thus far, and it was beginning to absorb both heart and brain.
With what a quiet pulse—with what a complacent sense of security we often meet those seemingly trivial events which may change the whole character of our lives! The ride had been taken, the dinner enjoyed, and the two friends were seated in the large cool hallway off the concert garden, where they could smoke without offence. The unrivalled leader, Thomas, had just lifted his baton—that magic wand whose graceful yet mysterious motion evokes with equal ease, seemingly, the thunder of a storm, the song of a bird, the horrid din of an inferno, or a harmony so pure and lofty as to suggest heavenly strains. One of Beethoven's exquisite symphonies was to be rendered, and Van Berg threw away his half-burned cigar, settled himself in his chair and glanced around with a congratulatory air, as if to say, "Now we are to have one of those pleasures which fills the cup of life to overflowing."
Oh, that casual glance! It was one of those things that we might justly call "little." Could anything have been more trivial, slight, and apparently inconsequential than this half involuntary act? Indeed it was too aimless even to have been prompted by a conscious effort of the will. But this book is one of the least results of that momentary sweep of the eye. Another was, that Van Berg did not enjoy the symphony at all, and was soon in a very bad humor. That casual glance had revealed, not far away, a face that with his passion for beauty, at once riveted his attention. His slight start and faint exclamation, caused Ik Stanton to look around also, and then, with a mischievous and observant twinkle in his eyes, the bon vivant resumed his cigar, which no symphony could exorcise from his mouth.
At a table just within the main audience room, there sat a young lady and gentleman. Even Van berg, who made it his business to discover and study beauty, was soon compelled to admit to himself that he had never seen finer features than were possessed by this fair young stranger. Her nose was straight, her upper lip was short, and might have been modelled from Cupid's bow; her chin did not form a perfect oval after the cold and severe Grecian type, but was slightly firm and prominent, receding with decided yet exquisite curves to the full white throat. Her cheeks had a transparent fairness, in which the color came and went instead of lingering in any conventional place and manner; her hair was too light to be called brown and too dark to be golden, but was shaded like that on which the sunlight falls in one of Bougereau's pictures of "Mother and Child;" and it rippled away from a broad low brow in natural waves, half hiding the small, shell-like ears.
Van Berg at first though her eyes to be her finest feature, but he soon regarded them as the worst, and for the same reason, as he speedily discovered, that the face, each feature of which seemed perfect, became, after brief study, so unsatisfactory as to cause positive annoyance. To a passing glance they were large, dark, beautiful eyes, but they lost steadily under thoughtful scrutiny. A flashing gem may seem real at first, but as its meretricious rays are analyzed, they lose their charm because revealing a stone not only worthless worse than worthless, since it mocks us with a false resemblance, thus raising hopes only to disappoint them. The other features remained beautiful and satisfactory to Van Berg's furtive observation because further removed from the informing mind, and therefore more justly capable of admiration upon their own merits; but the eyes are too near akin to the animating spirit not to suffer from the relationship, should the spirit be essentially defective.
That the beautiful face was but a transparent mask of a deformed, dwarfed, contemptible little soul was speedily made evident. The cream and a silly flirtation with her empty-headed attendant—a pallid youth who parted his hair like a girl and had not other parts worth naming—absorbed her wholly, and the exquisite symphony was no more to her than an annoying din which made it difficult to hear her companion's compliments that were as sweet, heavy, and stale as Mailard's chocolates, left a year on the shelves. Their mutual giggle and chatter at last became so obtrusive that an old and music-loving German turned his broad face towards them, and hissed out the word "Hist!" with such vindictive force as to suggest that all the winds had suddenly broken lose from the cave of Aeolus.
Ik Stanton, who had been watching Van Berg's perturbed, lowering face, and the weak comedy at the adjacent table, was obviously much amused, although he took pains to appear blind to it all and kept his back, as far as possible, towards the young lady.
The German's "hist" had been so fierce as to be almost like a rap from a policeman's club, and there was an enforced and temporary suspension of the inane chatter. The attendant youth tried to assume the incensed and threatening look with which an ancient gallant would have laid his hand on the hilt of his sword. But some animals and men only become absurd when they try to appear formidable. It was ludicrous to see him weakly frowning at the sturdy Teuton who had already forgotten his existence as completely as he might that of a buzzing mosquito he had exterminated with a slap.
They young girl's face grew even less satisfactory as it became more quiet. A muddy pool, rippled by a breeze, will sparkle quite brilliantly while in motion; but when quiet it is seen the more plainly to be only a shallow pool. At first the beautiful features expressed only petty resentment at the public rebuke. As this faintly lurid light faded out and left the countenance in its normal state it became more heavy and earthy in its expression than Van Berg would have deemed possible, and it ever remained a mystery to him how features so delicate, beautiful, and essentially feminine could combine to show so clearly that the indwelling nature was largely alloyed with clay. there was not that dewy freshness in the fair young face which one might expect to see in the early morning of existence. The Lord from heaven breathed the breath of life into the first fair woman; but this girl might seem to have been the natural product of evolution, and her soul to be as truly of the earth as her body.
It was evident that she had been made familiar too early and thoroughly with conventional and fashionable society, and, although this fraction of the world is seldom without its gloves, its touch nevertheless had soiled her nature. Her face did not express any active or malignant principle of evil; but a close observer, like Van Berg, in whom the man was in the ascendant over the animal, could detect the absence of the serene, maidenly purity of expression, characteristic of those girls who have obtained their ideas of life from good mothers, rather than from French novels, French plays, and a phase of society that borrows its inspiration from fashionable Paris.
With the ending of the symphony the chatting and flirting at the table began again, to Van Berg's increased disgust. Indeed, he was so irritated that he could no longer control himself, and rose abruptly, saying to his companion:
"Come, let us walk outside."
His sudden movement drew the young lady's attention, but by this time he had only his broad shoulders turned towards her. She saw Ik Stanton looking at her, however, with a face full of mischief, and she recognized him with a nod and a smile.
He, with the familiarity that indicated relationship, but with a motion too slight to be noticed by others, threw her a kiss from the tips of his fingers, as one might toss a sugar-plum to a child, and then followed his friend.
Chapter II. Ida Mayhew.
What is the matter, Van? You remind me of a certain horned beast that has seen a red flag," said Ik Stanton, linking his arm in that of Van Berg's.
"An apt illustration. I have been baited and irritated for the last twenty minutes."
"I thought you enjoyed Beethoven's music, and surely Thomas rendered it divinely to-night."
"That is one of the chief of my grievances. I haven't been able to hear a note," was the wrathful response.
"That's strange," said Stanton with mock gravity. "Were I not afraid you would take it amiss I would hint that your ears are of goodly size. How comes it that they have so suddenly failed you?"
"Having seen your dinner you have no eyes for anything else. If you had, you would have seen a face near us."
"I saw a score of faces near us. A German had one with the area of an acre."
"Was he the one who said, 'hist,' like a blast from the North?"
"From a porpoise rather."
"Did you observe the girl towards whom his gusty rebuke was directed?"
"Yes, an inoffensive young lady."
"Inoffensive, indeed!" interrupted Van Berg. "She has put me into purgatory."
"You do seem quite ablaze. Well, you are not the first one that she has put there. But really, Van, I did not know that you were so inflammable."
"If you had any of the instincts of an artist you would know that I am inflamed with no gentler feeling than anger."
"Why! what has the poor child done to you?"
"She is not a child. She knows too much about some things."
"I've no doubt she is better than either you or I," said Stanton, sharply.
"That fact would be far from proving her a saint."
"What the dickens makes you so vindictive against the girl?"
"Because she has the features of an angel and the face of a fool. What business has a woman to mock and disappoint one so! When I first saw her I thought I had discovered a prize—a new revelation of beauty; but a moment later she looked so ineffably silly that I felt as if I had bitten into an apple of Sodom. Of course the girl is nothing to me. I never saw her before and hope I may never see her again; but her features were so perfect that I could not help looking at them, and the more I looked the more annoyed I became to find that, instead of being blended together into a divine face by the mind within, they were the reluctant slaves of as picayune a soul as ever maintained its microscopic existence in a human body. It is exasperating to think what that face might be, and to see what it is. How can nature make such absurd blunders? The idea of building so fair a temple for such an ugly little divinity!"
"I thought you artists were satisfied with flesh and blood women, if only put together in a way pleasing to your fastidious eyes."
"If nature had designed that women should consist only of flesh and blood women, if only put together in a way pleasing to your fastidious eyes."
"If nature had designed that women should consist only of flesh and blood, one would have to be content; but no one save the 'unspeakable Turk,' believes in such a woman, or wants her. Who admires such a fragment of a woman save the man that is as yet undeveloped beyond the animal? My mother is my friend, my companion, my inspiration. The idea of yonder silly creature being the companion of a MAN."
"Good evening, Coz," said a voice that was a trifle shrill and loud for a public place, and looking up, the friends saw the subject of their conversation, who, with her spindling attendant was also taking a promenade.
Stanton raised his hat with a smile, while Van Berg touched his but coldly.
"I wish to speak with you," she said in passing.
"I will join you soon," Stanton answered.
"So this lady is your cousin?" remarked Van Berg.
"She is," said Stanton laughing.
"You will do me the justice to remember that I spoke in ignorance of the fact. If I were you I would give her some cousinly advice."
"Bless you! I have, but it's like pouring water on a duck's back. For one sensible word I can say to her she gets a thousand compliments from rich and empty-headed young fools, like the one now with her, who will eventually be worth half a million in his own name. I was interested to see how her face would strike you, and I imagine that your estimate has hit pretty close upon the truth, for in my judgment she is the prettiest and silliest girl in New York. She has recently returned from a year's absence abroad, and I was in hopes that she would find something to remember besides her own handsome face, but I imagine she has seen little else than it and the admiring glances which everywhere follow her. Take us as we average, Van, Mr. Darwin has not go us very far along yet, and if the face of a woman suits us we are apt to stare at it as far as such politeness as we possess permits, without giving much thought to her intellectual endowments. When it comes to companionship, however, I agree with you. Heaven help the man who is tied to such a woman for life. Still, in the fashionable crowd my cousin trains with, this makes little difference. The husband goes his way and the wife hers, and they are not long in getting a good ways apart. But come, let me introduce you, I have always thought the little fool had some fine gold mingled with her dross, and you are such a skilful analyst that perhaps you will discover it."
"No, I thank you," said Van Berg, with a slight expression of disgust. "I could not speak civilly to a lady that I had just seen giggling and flirting through one of Beethoven's finest symphonies."
"Well well," said Stanton laughing, "I am rather glad to find one man who is not drawn to her pretty face like a moth to a candle. I will join you again by and by."
Van Berg sat down in one of the little stalls that stood open to the main promenade, and saw his friend thread his way among the moving figures, and address his cousin. As she turned to speak with Stanton, the artist received again that vivid impression of beauty, which her face ever caused before time was given for closer scrutiny. Indeed from his somewhat distant point of observation, and in the less searching light, the fatal flaw could scarcely be detected. Her affected tones and silly words could not be heard, and he saw only dark lustrous eyes lighting up features that were almost a revelation even to him with his artistic familiarity with beauty.
"If I could always keep her at about that distance," he muttered, "and arrange the lights and shadows in which to view her face, I could not ask for a better study, for she would give me a basis of perfect beauty, and I could add any expression of characteristic that I desired." And now he feasted his eyes as a compensation, in part, for the annoyance she had caused him in the glare of the audience room.
He soon saw a frown lower upon her hitherto laughing face like the shadow of a passing cloud, and it was evident that something had been said that was not agreeable to her vanity.
A moment or two after Stanton had joined the young lady her escort for the evening had excused himself for a brief time, and had left the cousins together. She had then asked, "I say, Ik, who was that gentleman you were talking with?"
"He's an old friend of mine."
"He's not an OLD friend of any one. He is young and quite good-looking, or rather he has a certain 'distingue' air that makes one look at him twice. Who is he?"
"He is an artist, and if he lives and works as he is now doing, through an ordinary lifetime, he will indeed by distinguished. In fact, he stands high already."
"How nice," she exclaimed.
"He has another characteristic, which you will appreciate far more than anything he will ever accomplish with his brush—he is very rich."
"Why! he's perfectly splendid. Whoever heard of such a strange, rare creature! I've flirted with lots of poor artists, but never with a rich one. Bring him to me, and introduce him at once."
"He is not one that you can flirt with, like the attenuated youth who has just meandered to the barroom."
"If you had eyes for anything save your own pretty face, and the public stare, you would have seen that my friend is not a 'creature,' but a man."
"Come, Cousin Ik," she replied in more natural tones, "too much of your house is made of glass for you to throw stones. Flirting and frolicking are as good any day as eating, smoking, and dawdling."
Stanton bit his lip, but retorted, "I don't profess to be a bit better than you are, Coz; but I at least have the sense to appreciate those who are my superiors."
"So have I, when I find them; I am beginning to think, however, that you men are very much alike. All you ask is a pretty face, for you all think that you have brains enough for two. But bring your paragon and introduce him, that I may share in your gaping admiration."
"You would, indeed, my dear Coz, yawn over his conversation, for you couldn't understand half of it. I think we had better remain where we are till your shadow returns with his eyes and nose slightly inflamed. He is aware of at least one method of becoming a spirited youth, it seems."
"A man who is worth half a million is usually regarded as rather substantial," she retorted.
"Yes, but in this case the money-bags outweigh the man too ridiculously. For heaven's sake, Coz, do not make a spectacle of yourself by marrying this attenuation, or society will assert there was a regularly drawn bill of sale."
"I assure you that I do not intend to put myself under any man's thumb for a long time to come. I am having too good a time; and that reminds me that I would enjoy meeting your friend much more than listening to your cynical speeches. Did I not know that you were like my little King Charles—all bark rather than bite—I wouldn't stand them; and I won't any longer, to-night. So go and bring your great embryo artist, or he will become one of the old masters before I see him."
"I fear I must give you a wee bit of bite this time. I have offered to introduce him and he declines the honor."
"How is that?" she asked, flushing with anger.
"I will quote his words exactly, and then you can interpret them as you think best. He said, 'I could not speak civilly to a lady that I had just seen giggling and flirting through one of Beethoven's finest symphonies.'"
The young girl's face looked anything but amiable in response to this speech; but, after a moment, she tossed her head, and replied:
"'N'importe'—there are plenty who can use not only civil words but complimentary ones."
"Yes, and the mischief of it is that you will listen to them and to no others. What sort of muscle can one make who lives only on sugar-plums?"
"They agree with me better than the vinegar drops you and your unmannerly friend delight in. I don't believe he ever painted anything better than a wooden squaw for one of your beloved cigar-shops—welcome back Mr. Minty. You have been away an unconscionably long time."
"Thanks for the compliment of being missed. I have tried to make amends by ordering a 'petit souper' for three, for I was sure your cousin would join us. It will be brought to one of yonder stalls, where, while we enjoy it, we can both see and hear."
Surmising that the viands would consist of the choicest delicacies of the season, Stanton readily accepted the invitation, and it so happened that the cloth was laid for the party in the stall next to that in which Van Berg was quietly enjoying a cigar and a frugal glass of lager. They took their places quite unaware of his proximity, and he listened with considerable interest to the tones and words of the fair stranger who had so unexpectedly taken possession of his thoughts. Were it not for a slight shrillness and loudness at times, and the fashionable affectation of the day, her voice would have been sweet and girlish enough. As it was, it suggested an instrument tuned to a false key and consequently discordant with all true and womanly harmonies. Her conversation with young Minty was as insipid as himself, but occasionally Stanton's cynical banter evoked something like repartee and wit.
In the course of her talk she said: "By the way, Ik, mother and I start for the country next week. We are to spend the summer at the Lake House, which is up the Hudson somewhere—you know where better than I. If you will bring your bays and a light wagon I shall be very glad to see you there; otherwise I shall welcome you—well—as my cousin."
"If I come I will surely bring my bays, and possibly may invite you to drive with me."
"Oh, I will save you all trouble in that respect by inviting myself, when so inclined."
The orchestra was now about to give a selection that Van Berg wished to hear to better advantage than he could in his present position; therefore, unobserved by the party on the other side of the thin partition, he returned to his old seat in the main hallway. Not very long after, Stanton, with his cousin and Mr. Minty, entered from the promenade, and again Van Berg received the same vivid impression of beauty, and, with many others, could not withdraw his eyes from the exquisite features that were slightly flushed with champagne and excitement. But, as before, this impression passed quickly, and the face again became as exasperating to the artist as the visage of the Venus of Milo would be should some vandal hand pencil upon it a leer or a smirk. A heavy frown was gathering upon his brow when the young lady, happening to turn suddenly, caught and fully recognized his lowering expression. It accorded only too well with her cousin's words in regard to Van Berg's estimate of herself, and greatly increased her resentment towards the one who had already wounded her vanity—the most vulnerable and sensitive trait in her character. The flush that deepened so suddenly upon her face was unmistakably that of anger. She promptly turned her back upon her critic, nor did she look towards him again until the close of the evening. That his words and manner rankled in her memory, however, was proved by a slightly preoccupied manner, followed by fits of gayety not altogether natural, and chiefly by the fact that she could not leave the place without a swift glance at the disturbing cause of her wonted self-approval. But Van Berg took pains to manifest his indifference by standing with his back towards her when she knew that he must be aware of her departure, from her slightly ostentatious leave-taking of her cousin, in which, of course, the spoiled beauty had no other object than to attract attention to herself.
As Van Berg, with his friend, was passing out a few minutes later, he asked rather abruptly, showing that he also was not so indifferent as he had pretended to be:
"What is your cousin's name, Stanton?"
"Her name is as pretty as herself—Ida Mayhew, and it is worse than a disquieting ghost in a good many heads and hearts that I know of. Indeed its owner has robbed men that I thought sensible, not only of their peace, but, I should say, of their wits also. I had one friend of whom I thought a great deal, and it was pitiable to see the abject state to which the heartless little minx reduced him. I am glad to find that her witchery has no spell for you, and that you detect just what she is through her disguise of beauty. 'Entre nous,' Van, I will tell you a secret. I was once over ears in love with her myself, but my cousinly relationship enabled me to see her so often and intimately that she cured me of my folly on homeopathic principles. 'Similia similibus curantur.' Even the blindness of love could not fail to discover that when one subtracted vanity, coquetry, and her striking external beauty from Ida Mayhew, but little was left, and that little not a heavenly compound. Those who know her least, and who add to her beauty many ideal perfections, are the ones that rave about her most. I doubt whether she ever had a heart; if so, it was frittered away long ago in her numberless flirtations. But with all her folly she has ever had the sense to keep within the conventionalities of her own fashionable 'coterie,' which is the only world she knows anything about, and whose unwritten laws are her only creed and religion. Her disappointed suitors can justly charge her with cruelty, silliness, ignorance, and immeasurable vanity, but never with indiscretion. She has to perfection the American girl's ability to take care of herself, and no man will see twice to take a liberty beyond that which etiquette permits. I have now given you in brief the true character of Ida Mayhew. It is no secret, for all who come to know her well, arrive at the same opinion. When I saw you had observed her this evening for the first time, I was quite interested in watching the impression she would make upon you, and I am very glad that your judgment has been both good and prompt; for I slightly feared that your love of beauty might make you blind to everything else."
Stanton's concluding words were as incense to Van Berg, for he prided himself in no slight degree on his even pulse and sensible heart, that, thus far, had given him so little trouble; and he therefore replied, with a certain tinge of complacency and consciousness of security:
"You know me well enough, Ik, to be aware that I am becoming almost a monomaniac in my art. A woman's face is to me little more than a picture which I analyze from an artistic stand-point. A MERELY PRETTY face is like a line of verse of musical rhythm, but without sense or meaning. This is bad and provoking enough; but when the most exquisite features give expression only to some of the meanest and unworthiest qualities that can infest a woman's soul, one is exasperated almost beyond endurance. At least I am, for I am offended in my strongest instincts. Think of employing stately Homeric words and measure in describing a belle's toilet table with its rouge-pots, false hair, and other abominations! Much worse is it, in my estimation, that the features of a goddess should tell us only of such moral vermin as vanity, silliness, and the egotism of a poor little self that thinks of nothing, and knows nothing save its own small cravings. Pardon me, Ik; I am not speaking of your cousin but in the abstract. In regard to that young lady, as you saw, I was very much struck with the face. Indeed, to tell the honest truth, I never saw so much beauty spoiled before, and the fact has put me in so bad a humor that you, no doubt, are glad I have reached my corner and so must say good-night."
"Ida Mayhew can realize all such abstractions," muttered Ik Stanton, as he walked on alone.
The reader will be apt to surmise, however, that some resentment, resulting from his former and unrequited sentiment towards the girl, gave an unjust bias to his judgement.
Chapter III. An Artist's Freak.
Van Berg's night-key admitted him to a beautiful home, which he now had wholly to himself, since his parents and sister had sailed for Europe early in the spring, intending to spend the summer abroad. The young man had already travelled and studied for years in the lands naturally attractive to an artist, and it was now his purpose to familiarize himself more thoroughly with the scenery of his own country.
On reaching his own apartment he took down a prosy book, that he might read himself into that condition of drowsiness which would render sleep possible; but sleep would not come, and the sentences were like the passers-by in the street, whom we see but do not note, and for whose coming and going we know not the reasons. Between himself and the page he saw continually the exquisite features and the exasperating face of Ida Mayhew. At last he threw aside the book, lighted a cigar, and gave himself up to the reveries to which this beautiful, but discordant visage so strongly predisposed him. Its perfection in one respect, its strongly marked imperfection in another, both appealed equally to his artistic and thoughtful mind. At one moment it would appear before him with an ideal loveliness such as had never blessed the eye of his fancy even; but while he yet looked the features would distort themselves into the vivid expression of some contemptible trait, so like what he had seen in reality, during the evening, that, in uncontrollable irritation, he would start up and pace the floor.
His uncurbed imagination conjured up all kinds of weird and grotesque imagery. He found himself commiserating the girl's features as if they were high-toned captives held in degrading bondage by a spiteful little monster, that delighted to put them to low and menial uses. To one of his temperament such beauty as he had just witnessed, controlled by, and ministering to, some of the meanest and pettiest of human vices, was like Mary Magdalene when held in thraldom by seven devils.
A cool and matter-of-fact person could scarcely understand Van Berg's annoyance and perturbation. If a true artist were compelled to see before him a portrait that required only a few skillful touches in order to become a perfect likeness, and yet could not give those touches, the picture would become a constant vexation; and the better the picture, the nearer it approached the truth, the deeper would be the irritation that all should be spoiled through defects for which there was no necessity.
In the face that persistently haunted him Van Berg saw a beauty that might fulfil his best ideal; and he also saw just why it did not and never could, until its defects were remedied. He felt a sense of personal loss that he should have discovered a gem so nearly perfect and yet marred by so fatal a flaw.
The next day it was still the same. The face of Ida Mayhew interposed itself before everything that he sought to do or see. Whether it were true or not, it appeared to him that in all his wanderings and observations he had never seen features so capable of fulfilling his highest conception of beauty did they but express the higher qualities and emotions of the soul. He also felt that never before had he seen a face that would seem to him so hideous in its perversion.
He threw down his brush and palette in despair and again gave himself up to his fancies. He then sketched in outline the beautiful face as expressing joy, hope, courage, thought or love, but was provoked to find that he ever obtained the best likeness when portraying the vanity, silliness, or petulance which had been the only characteristics he had seen.
He now grew metaphysical and tried to analyze the girl's mind. He sought to grope mentally his way back into the recesses of the soul, which had looked, acted, and spoken the previous evening. A strange little place he imagined it, and oddly furnished. It occurred to him that it bore a resemblance to her dressing room, and was full of queer feminine mysteries and artificial ideas that had been created by conventional society rather than inspired by nature.
He asked himself, "Can it be that here is a character in which the elements of a true and good woman do not exist? Has she no heart, no mind, no conscience worthy of the name? At her age she cannot have lost these qualities. Have they never been awakened? Do they exist to that degree that they can be aroused into controlling activity? I suppose there can be pretty idiots. As people are born blind or scrofulous, so I suppose others can be born devoid of heart or conscience, inheriting from a degenerate ancestry sundry mean and vile propensities in their places. Human nature is a scale that runs both up and down, and it is astonishing how far the extremes can be apart."
"How high is it possible for the same individual to rise in this scale? I imagine we are all prone to judge of people as if they were finished pictures, and to think that the defects our first scrutiny discovers will remain for all time. It is in real life much as in fiction. From first to last a villain is a villain, as if he had been created one. The heroine is a moss rose-bud by equal and unchanging necessity. Is this girl a fool, and will she remain one by any innate compulsion? By Jove! I would like to see her again in the searching light of day. I would like to follow her career sufficiently long, to discover whether nature has been guilty of the grotesque crime of associating inseparably with that fine form and those exquisite features, a hideous little mind that must go on intensifying its dwarfed deformity, until death snuffs it out. If this be true, the beautiful little monster that is bothering me so suggests a knotty problem to wiser heads than mine."
Somewhat later his musings led him to indulge in a broad laugh.
"Possibly," he said aloud, "she is a modern and fashionable Undine, and has never yet received a woman's soul. The good Lord deliver me from trying to awaken it, as did the knight of old in the story, by swelling the long list of her victims. I can scarcely imagine a more pitiable and abject creature than a man (once sane and sensible) in thraldom to such a tantalizing semblance of a woman. She would no more appreciate his devotion than the jackdaw the pearl necklace it pecked at.
"I fear my Undine theory won't answer. Stanton says she has no heart, and her face and manner confirm his words. But now I think of it, the original Undine lived a long time ago—in the age of primeval simplicity, when even cool-blooded water nymphs had hearts. One is induced to think, in our age, that this organ will eventually disappear with the other characteristics of ancient and undeveloped man, and that the brain, or what stands for it, will become all in all. In the first instance the woman's soul came in through the heart; but I suppose that in the case of a modern Undine it could enter most readily through the head. I wonder if there is something like an unawakened mind, sleeping under that broad low brow that mocks one with its fair intellectual outline. I wonder if it would be possible to set her thinking, and so eventually render her capable of receiving a woman's soul. As it is now she seems to possess only certain disagreeable feminine propensities. One might engage in such an experiment as a philosopher rather than a lover; or, what is more to my purpose, as an artist.
"By Jove! I would half like to make the attempt; it would give zest to one's summer vacation. Well, what is to hinder? Now I think of it she remarked that she was to spend the season at the Lake House, not far from the Hudson, a place well suited to my purposes. There are the wild highlands on one side, and a soft pastoral country on the other. I could there find abundant opportunity for varied studies in scenery, and at the same time beguile my idle hours at the hotel with this face of marvellous capabilities and possibilities. The features already exist, and would be beautiful if the girl were dead, and they could be no longer distorted by the small vices of the spirit back of them. They might become transcendently beautiful, could she in very truth receive the soul of a true and thoughtful woman—a soul such as makes my mother beautiful in her plain old age.
"I'm inclined to follow this odd fancy. That girl is a 'rara avis' such as has never flown across my path before. I shall have a quarrel with nature all my life if I must believe she can fashion a face capable of meaning so much and yet actually meaning so little, and that little disgusting."
After a few moments of deep thought, he again started to his feet and commenced pacing his studio.
"Suppose," he soliloquized, "I attempt a novel bit of artistic work as my summer recreation. Suppose I take the face of this stranger instead of a piece of canvas and try to illumine it with thought, with womanly character and intelligence. If I fail, as I probably shall, no harm will be done. If her silliness and vanity are ingrained and essential parts of her nature, she shall learn that there is at least one man who can see her as she is, and whose heart is not wax on which to stamp her pretty and senseless image. If I only partially succeed, if I discern she has a mind, but so feeble that it can only half reclaim her from her weakness and folly, still something will be accomplished. Her features are so beautiful, that should they come to express even the glimmerings of that which is admirable, the face will be in part redeemed. But if by some happy miracle, as in the instance of the original Undine, a mind can be awakened that will gradually prepare a place for the soul of a true woman, I shall accomplish the best work of my life, even estimated from an artistic point of view. Possibly, for my reward, she will permit me to paint her portrait as a souvenir of our summer's acquaintance."
It did not take Van Berg long to complete his arrangements for leaving town. He wrote a line to his friend Stanton, saying that he proposed spending a few weeks in the vicinity of the Highlands on the Hudson, and that he could not say when he would be at his rooms or at home again. The afternoon of the following day found him a passenger on a fleet steamboat, and fully bent upon carrying out his odd artistic freak.
Chapter IV. A Parthian Arrow.
As, in the quiet June evening, Harold Van Berg glided through the shadows of the Highlands, there came a slight change over his spirit of philosophical and artistic experiment. The season comported with his early manhood, and the witching hour and the scenery were not conducive to cold philosophy. He who prided himself on his steady pulse and a devotion to art so absorbing that it even prompted his impulses and gave character to his recreation, was led to feel, on this occasion, that his mistress was vague and shadowy, and to half wish for that companionship which the most self-reliant natures have craved at times, ever since man first felt, and God knew, that it was "not good for him to be alone." If he could turn from the beauty of the sun-tipped hills and rocks and the gloaming shadows to an appreciative and sympathetic face, such as he could at least imagine the visage of Ida Mayhew might become, would not his enjoyment of the beauty he saw be doubly enhanced? In his deepest consciousness he was compelled to admit that it would. He caught a glimpse of the truth that he would never attain in his highest manhood until he had allied himself to a womanhood which he should come to believe supremely true and beautiful.
The ringing of the bell announced his landing, and in the hurry and bustle of looking after his luggage and obtaining a ticket which he had forgotten to procure, he speedily became again, in the world's estimation, and perhaps in his own, a practical, sensible man. An hour or two's ride among he hills brought him at last to the Lake House, where he selected a room that had a fine prospect of the mountains, the far distant river, and the adjacent open country, engaging it only for a brief time so that he might depart when he chose, in case the object of his pursuit should not appear, or he should weary of the effort, or despair of its success.
A few days passed, but the face which had so haunted his fancy presented no actual appearance. The scenery, however, was beautiful, the weather so perfect, and he enjoyed his rambles among the hills and his excursions on the water so thoroughly that he was already growing slightly forgetful of his purpose and satisfied that he could enjoy himself a few weeks without the zest of artistically redeeming the face of Ida Mayhew. But one day, while at dinner, he overheard some gossip concerning a "great belle" who was to come that evening, and he at once surmised that it was the fair stranger he had seen at the concert.
At the time, therefore, of the arrival of the evening stage he observantly puffed his cigar in a corner of the piazza, and was soon rewarded by seeing the object of his contemplated experiment step out of the vehicle, with the airy grace and confidence of one who regards each new abiding-place as a scene of coming pleasures and conquests, and who feels sure every glance toward her is one of admiration. There were eyes, however, that noted disapprovingly her jaunty self-assurance and self-assertion, and when she met those eyes her complacency seemed disturbed at once, for she flushed and promptly turned her back upon them. In fact, from the time she had first seen Van Berg's frowning face it had been a disagreeable memory, and now here it was again and frowning still. Although he sat at a distance from the landing-place, her eyes seemed drawn towards his as if by some fascination, and she already had the feeling that whenever he was present she would be conscious of his cool, critical observation.
Van Berg had scarcely time to note a rather stout and overdressed person emerge from the stage, how was evidently the young lady's mother, when Ik Stanton, with his bays and a light country wagon, dashed up to the main entrance. Stanton was an element in the artistic problem that Van Berg had not bargained for, and what influence he would have, friendly or adverse, only time could show.
While Stanton was accompanying his aunt and cousin to the register, as the gentleman of the party, the young lady said to him:
"That horrid artist friend of yours is here. I wish he hadn't come. Did you tell him we were coming here?"
"No, 'pon my honor."
"I have believe you did. If so I'll never forgive you, for the very sight of him spoils everything."
"Come now, Coz, be reasonable. From all the indications I have seen, Van Berg is the last man to follow you here or anywhere else, even though he knew of your prospective movements. He is here, as scores of others are, for his own pleasure. So follow your mother to your room, smooth your ruffled plumage and come down to supper."
Even Miss Mayhew's egotism could find no fault with so reasonable an explanation, and she went pouting up the stairway in anything but a complacent mood.
Stanton stepped out upon the piazza to greet his friend, saying:
"Why, Van, it is an unexpected pleasure to find you here."
"I was equally and quite as agreeably surprised to see you drive to the door. If you cousin had not come I might have helped you exercise your bays. I am doing some sketching in the vicinity."
"My cousin shall not keep you from many an idle hour behind the bays—that is, if you will not carry your antipathy so far as to cut me on account of my relationship."
"I'm not conscious of any antipathy for Miss Mayhew," replied Van Berg, with a slight shrug.
"Oh, only indifference! Well, if you will both maintain that attitude there will be no trouble about the bays or anything else. I'll smoke with you after supper."
"She evidently has an antipathy for me," mused Van Berg. "Stanton, no doubt, has told her of my uncomplimentary remarks, and possibly of the fact that I declined an introduction. That's awkward, for if I should now ask to be presented to her, she would very naturally decline, and so we might drift into something as closely resembling a quarrel as is possible in the case of two people who have never spoken to each other."
He concluded that it would be best to leave to chance the occasion which should place them on speaking terms, and tried to persuade himself that her unpromising attitude towards him was not wholly unfavorable to his purpose. He never could hope to accomplish anything without at first piquing her pride and wounding her vanity. His only fear was that this had been done too effectually, and that from first to last she would simply detest him.
In his preoccupation he forgot that the supper hour was passing, but at last started hastily for his room. As he rapidly turned a sharp corner he nearly ran into two ladies who were coming from an opposite direction, and looking up saw Mrs. Mayhew and the flushed, resentful face of her daughter. In spite of himself our even-pulsed philosopher flushed also, but instantly removing his hat he ejaculated:
"I beg your pardon," and passed on.
As Ida joined her cousin at the supper-table she whispered exultantly:
"He has spoken to me."
"Who has spoken to you?"
"How did that happen?"
"Well, he nearly ran over me—horrid thing! I suppose that's another of his peculiar ways."
"Did he embrace you?"
"Embrace me! Good heavens, what an escape I have had! So this too is characteristic of your friend?"
"You said he was a bear. If so, he should have given you a hug on the first opportunity."
"He didn't have an opportunity, and he never will."
"Poor fellow! It will make him sick if I tell him so. Well, since it is another case of beauty and the beast, what did the beast say?"
"He said that it was very proper he should say to me after all his hatefulness. He said, 'I beg your pardon.'"
"And then I suppose you kissed and made up."
"Hush, you horrid thing. I noticed him no more than I would a chair that I might have stumbled over."
"Thus displaying that sweet trait of yours—Charity. But I thought it was he that stumbled over you?"
"A musty, miserable pun! It was he, and I'm delighted it so happened, that the first time he ever spoke to me he had to ask my pardon."
"Well, well! I'm glad it so happened, too, and that the ice is broken between you, for Van Berg is a good friend of mine, and it would be confoundedly disagreeable to have you two lowering at each other across a bloody chasm of dark, revengeful thoughts."
"The ice isn't broken at all. He has begged my pardon as he ought to do a hundred times; but I haven't granted it, and I never will. What's more, I'll never speak to him in all my life; never, never!"
"Swear it by the 'inconstant moon'!"
"Hush, here he comes. Ah, 'peste!' his table is right opposite ours."
"Who is that tall and rather distinguished-looking gentleman that just entered?" asked Mrs. Mayhew, suddenly emerging from a pre-occupation with her supper which a good appetite had induced.
"He IS distinguished, or will be. He's a particular friend of Ida's, and is as rich as Croesus."
"Three items in his favor," said Mrs. Mayhew complacently; "but Ida has so many friends, or beaux, rather, that I can't keep track of them. Her friends speedily become furnace-like lovers, or else escape for their lives into the dim and remote region of mere bowing acquaintanceship. I once tried to keep a list of the various and variegated gentlemen with red whiskers and black whiskers, with whiskers sandy, brown, and occasionally almost white, but borrowing a golden hue from their purses, that appeared and disappeared so rapidly, as to almost make me dizzy. I was about as bewildered as the poor Indian who sought to take the census of London by notching a stick for every passer-by he met. And now before we are through supper on the first evening of our arrival, another appears, who is evidently an eligible 'parti' and twice as good as the minx deserves; but in a few days he, too, will vanish into thin air, and another and different style of man will take his place. Mark my words, Ida, you will be through the woods before long, and I expect you will take up with the crookedest of crooked sticks on the farther side," and the voluble Mrs. Mayhew resumed her supper with a zest which this dismal prospect did not by any means impair.
"If I were in search of a crabbed, crooked stick, I would not have to look farther than yonder table," said the young lady, petulantly. "What you suppose about that dabbler in paint is about as far from the truth as your sketch of those who are my friends. That man never was my friend, and never shall be. I don't want you to get acquainted with him or speak to him. You must not introduce him to me, for if you do, I shall be rude to him."
"Hoity-toity! what's the matter?"
"I don't like him. Only Ik thinks he's wonderful. He has probably blinded our cousin to his faults by painting a flattering likeness of the vain youth here."
"But in suggesting another portrait that was not altogether pleasing, he sinned beyond hope," whispered Stanton.
Ida bit her lip and frowned, recalling the obnoxious artist's portrait of herself as giggling and flirting through one of Beethoven's symphonies; and she said spitefully:
"He can never hope for anything from me."
"Poor, hopeless wretch!" groaned Stanton. "How can he sip his tea yonder so complacently oblivious of his doom?"
"Mother, I'm in earnest," resumed the daughter. "I have reasons for disliking that man, and I do not wish the annoyance of his acquaintance."
"Well, well," said Mrs. Mayhew; "as long as the wind blows from that cool quarter, we can keep cool till it changes. If I mistake not, he is the same gentleman who met us in the corridor. I'm sure he has fine manners."
"If it is fine manners in a man to nearly run over two ladies, he is perfect. But I am sick of hearing about him, and especially of seeing him. I insist, Ik, that you have our table changed to yonder corner, and then arrange it so that I can sit with my back towards him."
"I am your Caliban, but would hint, my amiable Coz, that you should not bite off your own pretty nose in spite. Must all your kin join in this bitter feud? May I not smoke with my ancient familiar?"
"Oh, be off, and if you and your friend disappear like your cigars, the world will survive."
"I fear it is because my friend will never dissolve in sighs that you are so willing he should end in smoke."
Having winged this Parthian arrow over his shoulder, Stanton strolled out on the piazza whither Van Berg had preceded him.
Chapter V. Spite.
Miss Mayhew apparently had not given a single glance to the artist, as he sat opposite to her and but a little out of earshot. Indeed, so well did she simulate unconsciousness of his presence, that were if not for an occasional glance from Mrs. Mayhew he might have thought himself unnoticed; but something in that lady's manner, as caught by occasional glances, led him to suspect that he was the subject of their conversation.
But Ida's indifference was, in truth, only seeming; for although she never looked directly at him, she subjected his image, which was constantly flitting across the retina of her eye, to the closest scrutiny, and no act or expression of his escaped her. She was piqued by the fact that he showed no disturbed consciousness of her presence, and that his glance was occasionally as free and natural towards her as towards any other guest of the house. His bearing annoyed her excessively, for it seemed an easy and quiet assertion of indifference and superiority—two manifestations that were to her as objectionable as unusual. Neither in looks nor manner did she appear very agreeable during the brief time she spent in the public parlors. The guests of the house, even to the ladies who foresaw an eclipse of their own charms, were compelled to admit that she was very pretty; but it was a general remark that her face did not make or leave a pleasant impression.
Van Berg surmised that Stanton's disposition to teaze and banter would lead him to repeat and, perhaps, distort, anything he might say concerning the young lady, so he made no reference whatever to the Mayhews, but took pains to give the impression that he was deeply interested in the scenery.
"I shall probably be off with my sketch-book before you are up," he said; "for if I remember correctly, you are up with the lark only when you have been up over-night."
"You are the greater sinner of the two," yawned Stanton; "for if I occasionally keep unseasonable hours at night, you do so habitually in the morning. Either you are not as brilliant as usual this evening, or else the country air makes me drowsy. Good-night. We will take a ride to-morrow, and you can sketch five miles of fence if you find that you cannot resist your mania for work."
Perhaps Stanton HAD found his friend slightly preoccupied, for, in spite of the constraint he had put upon himself to appear as usual, this second and closer view of the face which had taken so strong a hold upon his fancy did not dissipate his first impressions. Indeed, they were deepened rather, for he saw again and more clearly the same marvellous capabilities in the features, and also their exasperating failure to make a beautiful face.
He dreamed over his project some little time after his friend had retired, and the conclusion of his revery was:
"I must soon make some progress in my experiment or else decamp, for that girl's contradictory face is a constant incentive to profanity."
After seeing Mrs. Mayhew, however, he felt that justice required him to admit that the daughter was a natural and logical sequence; and in the mother he saw an element more hopelessly inartistic and disheartening than anything in the girl herself; for even if the latter could be changed, would not the shadow of the stout and dressy mother ever fall athwart the picture?
Van Berg retired with the feeling that his project of illuminating a face by awakening a mind that, as yet, had slept, did not promise very brilliantly.
Miss Mayhew tried to persuade herself that it was a relief not to see the critical artist at breakfast, nor to meet him as she strolled from the parlors to the piazza and thence to the croquet-ground, where she listlessly declined to take part in a game.
There was, in truth, great need that her mind should be awakened and her whole nature radically changed, if it were a possible thing,—a need shown by the fact the fair June morning, with its fragrance and beauty, could not light up her face with its own freshness and gladness. The various notes of the birds were only sounds; the landscape, seen for the first time, was like the map of Switzerland, that, in the days of her geography lessons, gave her as vivid an idea of the country as a dry sermon does of heaven. Although her ears and eyes were so pretty, she was, in the deepest and truest sense of the word, deaf and blind. The lack of some petty and congenial excitement made time hang heavily on her hands and clouded her face with 'ennui.'"
Even her cousin had failed her, for he was down at the stables, making arrangements for the care of his bays and his carriage. Thus from very idleness she fell to nursing her small spite against the man whose voice had made such harsh discord with the honeyed chorus of flattery to which she was accustomed. She wished that he would appear, and that in some way she might show how little she cared for him or his opinion; but as he did not, she at last lounged to her room and sought to kill a few hours with a novel.
Her wounded pride, however, induced her to dress quite elaborately for dinner; for she had faith in no better way of asserting her personality than that afforded by the toilet. She would teach him, by the admiration she excited in others, how mistaken he had been in his estimate, and her vanity whispered that even he could not look upon her beauty for any length of time without being won by it as so many others had been.
The change of seats having been effected, she scarcely thought it necessary to turn her back upon him while sitting at such a dim distance. Indeed she was inclined to regret the change, for now her toilet and little airs, which she imagined to be so pretty, would be lost upon him.
It would seem that they were, for Van Berg ate his dinner as quietly, and chatted as unconcernedly to those about him as if she had no existence. Never had a man ignored her so completely before, and she felt that she could never forgive him.
After the event of the day was over, and the guests were circling and eddying through the halls and parlors and out on the piazza, Ida still had the annoyance of observing that Van Berg was utterly oblivious of her as far as she could perceive. He spoke here and there with the ease and freedom of one familiar with society, and she saw more eyes following his tall form approvingly than were turned towards herself. Few gentlemen remained at the house during the week, and Miss Mayhew was not a favorite with her own sex. Those who most closely resembled her in character envied rather than admired her, and those who were better endowed and developed found fault even with her beauty from a moral point of view, as Van Berg had on artistic grounds. She consoled herself, however, with the thought that it was Saturday, and that the evening boat and trains would bring a number of gentlemen, among whom she told Stanton, exultantly, that she had "some friends"—moths rather whose wings were in danger of being singed.
As the afternoon was not sultry, Stanton had said to his friend that they could enjoy their cigars and a ride at the same time, and that he would drive around for him in a few minutes. Ida overheard the remark, and, quietly slipping off to her room, returned with her hat and shawl. As her cousin approached she hastened down the steps, past Van Berg, exclaiming:
"Oh, thank you, Ik! How good of you! I was dying for a ride. Don't trouble yourself. I can get in without aid," and she sprang lightly into the buggy before her cousin could utter a word.
He turned with a look of comic dismay and deprecation to his friend, who stood laughing on the steps. Ida, also, could not resist her inclination to catch a glimpse of the artist's chagrin and disappointment, but she was provoked beyond measure to find him acting as if Stanton were the victim rather than himself. As the sweep of the road again brought them in view of the piazza, this impression was confirmed by seeing Van Berg stroll carelessly away, complacently puffing his cigar as if he had already dismissed her from his mind.
"Really," grumbled Stanton, "I never had beauty and happiness thrust upon me so unexpectedly before."
"Very well then," retorted Ida; "stop your horses and thrust me out into the road. I'd rather go back, even if I have to walk."
"Oh, no! there is to be no going back for two hours or more. I once cured a horse of running away by making him run long after he wanted to stop."
"You seem to be learning your friend's hateful manners."
"I asked you this morning if you would take a drive, and you declined."
"I changed my mind."
"Very abruptly, indeed, it seemed. Since you took so much touble to annoy my friend, it's a pity you failed."
"I don't believe I failed. He's probably as cross as you are about it, only he can keep it to himself."
"Dove-like creatiah! thanks. Will you please drive while I light a cigar?"
"I don't like any one to smoke as near me as you are."
"If your theory in regard to Van Berg is correct, none of us will enjoy what we like this afternoon. Of course I never smoke without a lady's permission, but unless quieted by a cigar, I am a very reckless driver," and he enforced his words by a sharp crack of the whip, which sent the horses off like the wind.
"Oh, stop them; smoke; do anything hateful you wish, so you don't break my neck. I will never ride with you again, and I wish I had never come to this horrid place; and if your sneering painter does not leave soon, I will."
"I'm afraid Van would survive, and you only suffer from your spite. But come, since you have so sweetly permitted me to smoke, I'll make your penance as light as possible, and then we will consider matters even between us," and away they bowled up breezy hills and down into shady valleys, Stanton stolidly smoking, and Ida nursing her petty wrath. Two flitting ghosts hastening to escape from the light of day, could not have seen less, or have felt less sympathy with the warm beautiful scenes through which they were passing. There is no insulation so perfect as that of small, selfish natures preoccupied with a pique.
When, late in the afternoon, her cousin, with mock politeness, assisted her to alight at the entrance of the hotel, Ida was compelled to feel that she had indeed been the chief victim of her own spite. but, with the usual logic of human nature, she never thought of blaming herself, and her resentment was chiefly directed against the man whose every word and glance, although he was but a stranger, had seemed to possess a power to annoy and wound from the first. She felt an almost venomous desire to retaliate; but he appeared invulnerable in his quiet and easy superiority, while she, who expected, as a matter of course, that all masculine thoughts should follow her admiringly, had been compelled to see that his critical eyes had detected that in her which had awakened his contempt.
"I'll teach him this evening, when my gentlemen friends arrive, how ridiculous are his airs," she muttered, as she went to her room and sought to enhance her beauty by all the arts of which she was the mistress. "I'll show him that there are plenty who can see what he cannot, or will not. Because he is an artist, he need not think he can face me out of the knowledge of my beauty, the existence of which I have been assured of by so many eyes and tongues ever since I can remember."
When she came down to await the arrival of the stages and carriages, she was indeed radiant with all the beauty of which she was then capable. Her neck and shoulders, with their exquisite lines and curves, were more suggestively revealed than hidden by a slight drapery of gauze-like illusion, and her white rounded arms were bare. She trod with the light airy grace of youth, and yet with the assured manner of one who is looking forward to the familiar experiences of a reigning belle.
Van Berg, from his quiet corner of observation, was compelled to admit that, seen at her present distance, she almost embodied his best dreams, and might do so wholly were there less of the fashionable art of the hour, and more of nature in her appearance. But he knew well that if she came nearer, and spoke so as to reveal herself, the fatal defect in her beauty would be as apparent as a black line running athwart the sculptured face of a Greek goddess. The only question with him was, did the ominous deformity lie so near the surface that it could be refined away, or was it ingrained into the very material of her nature, thus forming an essential part of herself? He feared that the latter might be true, or that the remedy was far beyond his skill or power; but every glance he caught of the girl, as with her mother she paced the farther end of the piazza, deepened his regret, as an artist, that so much beauty should be in degrading bondage to a seeming fool.
Chapter VI. Reckless Words and Deeds.
Light carriages now began to wheel rapidly up to the entrance, and were followed soon by the lumbering and heavily-laden stages. Joyous greetings and merry repartee made the scene pleasant to witness even by one who, like Van Berg, had no part in it. Stanton, who at this moment joined him, drew his special attention to a thin and under-sized gentleman somewhat past middle age, who mounted the steps with a tread that was as inelastic as his face was devoid of animation.
"There is poor Uncle Mayhew," remarked the young man indifferently. "I suppose I must go and speak to him."
"Mr. Mayhew?" said Van Berg, in some surprise. "You have not spoken of him before. I was not aware that there was any such person in existence."
"You are not to blame for that," replied Stanton with a shrug. "You might have been one of the friends of the family and scarcely have learned the fact. Indeed, poor man, he only about half exists, for he has been so long overshadowed by his fashionable wife and daughter, that he is but a sickly plant of a man."
Van Berg saw that the greeting received by Mr. Mayhew from his wife and daughter was very undemonstrative to say the least, and that then the gentleman quickly disappeared, as if fearing that he might be in the way.
"From my very limited means of judging," Van Berg remarked, "I cannot see anything more objectionable in the head of the family than in the other members."
"Your phrase, 'head of the family,' as applied to Mr. Mayhew, makes me smile. His name figures at the head of the large family bills, but scarcely elsewhere with much prominence. You will soon learn, if you remain here, that Mr. Mayhew imbibes rather more than is good for him, so I may as well mention the disagreeable fact at once. But to do the poor man justice, I suppose he drinks to keep his spirits up to the ordinary level, rather than from any hope of becoming a little jolly occasionally. Why my aunt married him I scarcely know; and yet I have often thought that he might be a very different did she not so quench him by a manner all her own. As it is, his life seems to consist of toiling and moiling all the week, and of stolidly and joylessly soaking himself into semi-stupidity on Sunday. It this wretched state of affairs could be kept secret I would not mention it even to you, my intimate friend; but, since it continues no secret wherever they happen to remain for any length of time, I would rather tell you the exact truth at once, than permit you to guess at it through distorted rumors. As you artists occasionally express yourselves concerning pictures, so I suppose you will think that this family, with all its wealth is quite lacking in tone."
"Well, Stanton, I must admit that I find myself chiefly inclined towards the subdued and neutral-tinted Mr. Mayhew. If you have a chance I wish you would introduce me to him."
"Are you in earnest?"
"Then I'll ask him to smoke with us after supper. Well, Van, I congratulate you again that your correct and cultivated taste enabled you to see the fatal flaw in my cousin's beauty. If you had been bewitched by her, and had insisted on imagining (as so many others have done) that her faultless features were the reflex of what she is or could become in mind and character, I might have had a good deal of trouble with you; for you are a mulish fellow when you get a purpose in your head. I don't care how badly singed the average run of moths become. You may see two or three fluttering around to-night, if you care to look on, but I wish no friend of mine to make sport, at serious cost to himself, for yonder incorrigible coquette, if she is my cousin. But after what you have seen and now know, you would be safe enough, even if predisposed to folly. The little minx! but I punished her well for her spite this afternoon."
"O most prudent Ulysses! you have indeed filled my ears with wax. I thank you all the same as if my danger were greater."
"Well, view them all with such charity as you can. I hope you were not very much annoyed by the loss of your ride. The young lady will not be in a hurry to play such a trick again. I'll join you after supper in this your favorite and out-of-the-way corner."
"Was beauty ever environed within and without by such desperately prosaic and inartistic surroundings?" mused Van Berg. "It glistens like a lost jewel in an ash-barrel; or, more correctly, it is like an exquisite flower that nature has perversely made the outcome of a rank and poisonous vine. Of course the flower is poisonous also, and as soon as its first delicate bloom is over, will grow as rank and repulsive as the vine that bears it. Like produces like; and with such parentage, what hope is there for her? I am glad no one suspects my absurd project; for every hour convinces me of its impracticability. The ancient Undine was a myth, and my modern Undine might be called a white lie, but one that will grow darker every day. At a distance she presents the semblance of a very fair woman, but I have been unable to detect a single element yet that will prevent her from developing into an old and ugly hag, in spite of all that art and costume can do for her."
After supper Stanton brought Mr. Mayhew to Van Berg's retired nook, and the artist gave the hand of the weary, listless man such a cordial pressure as to cause him a slight surprise, but after satisfying his faint interest by a brief glance, he turned the back of his chair towards all the gay company, although it contained his wife and daughter, puffed mechanically at his cigar, and looked vacantly into space. Before the evening was over, however, Van berg had drawn from him several quite animated remarks, and secured the promise that he would join him and Stanton in a ramble immediately after breakfast the following morning.
Nor had the young man been oblivious of the daughter who now seemed in her native element. From his dusky point of observation he caught frequent glimpses of her, now whirling through a waltz in the parlor, now talking and laughing in a rather pronounced way from the midst of a group of gentlemen, and again coquettishly stealing off with one of them through the moonlit walks. Her manner, whether assumed or real, was that of extravagant gaiety. Occasionally she seemed to glance towards their obscure corner, but neither she nor her mother came to seek the man who had been toiling all the week to maintain their idle luxury.
As Mrs. Mayhew and her daughter were preparing for dinner on the following day, Mr. Mayhew entered with a brisker step than usual.
"Why, father, where have you been?" Ida asked, surprised by the fact that he had not been drinking and dozing in his room all the morning.
"I have been shown a glimpse of something that I have not seen for many years."
"Indeed, and what is that?"
"Beauty that seemed beautiful."
"That's a compliment to us," remarked Mrs. Mayhew, acidly.
"I mean the kind of beauty which does one good and makes a man wish that he were a man."
"Do you mean an unmarried man?" said his wife with a discordant laugh.
"Probably your own wishes suggested that speech, madam," replied the husband, bitterly.
"And pray, where did you find so much beauty?" said Mrs. Mayhew, ignoring his last remark.
"On a breezy hill-side. It's a kind of beauty, too, that one can enjoy without paying numberless bills for its enhancement. I refer to that of the scenery."
"Oh," remarked Mrs. Mayhew, indifferently; "it would have been more to your credit if you had gone to church instead of tramping around the fields."
"I think the fields have done more for me than church for you."
"Why so?" was the sharp response.
"They have at least kept me from indulging in one bad habit. I am sober."
"They do not keep you from making ill-natured remarks," said Mrs. Mayhew, sailing out of the room fully bedizened for the solemnity of dinner.
"You say you were 'shown' all this beauty," remarked Ida, who was giving the finishing touches to her toilet before a large mirror, and by whom the frequent bickerings of her parents were scarcely noted. "Who officiated as showman?"
"A man who understands the beauties of a landscape so well that he could make them visible even to my dim eyes, and attractive to my deadened and besotted nature. I'd give all the world if I could be young, strong, and hopeful like him, again. It was good of him—yes, good of him, to try to cheer a stranger with pleasant thoughts and sights. I suppose you are acquainted with Mr. Van Berg, since he is a friend of Ik's?"
"No, I'm not," was the sharp reply; "nor do I wish to be."
"Why not?" asked Mr. Mayhew in some surprise.
"It's sufficient that I don't like him."
"He's not your style, I suppose you mean to say?"
"Indeed he is not."
"So much worse for your style, Ida."
She was sweeping petulantly from the room when her father added with a depth of feeling very unlike his wonted apathy: "O, Ida, it were better that all three of us had never been born than to live as we do! Your life and your mother's is froth, and mine is mud. How I hated it all this bright June morning, as Mr. Van Berg gave me a glimpse into another and better world!"
"Do you mean to say that Mr. Van Berg presumed to criticise my mode of life?" Ida asked with a darkening face.
"Oh, no, no! How small and egotistical all your ideas are! He never mentioned you, and probably never thought of you. He only took a little pains that a tired and dispirited man might see and feel the eternal beauty and freshness of nature, as one might give, in passing, a cup of water to a traveller."
"I don't see what reason you have for feeling and appearing so forlornly, thus asking for sympathy from strangers, as it were, and causing it to seem as if we were making a martyr of you. As for this artist, with his superior airs, I detest him. He never loses a chance to annoy and mortify me. I've no doubt he hoped you would come home and tell us, as you have, how much better he was than—-"
"There, there, quit that kind of talk or I'll be drunk in half an hour." said her father, harshly. "If you had the heart of a woman, let alone that of a daughter, you would thank the man who had unwittingly kept me from making a beast of myself for one day at least. Go down to your dinner, I'm in no mood for eating."
She went without a word, but with a more severe compunction of conscience than she had ever felt before in her life. Her father's face and words smote her with a keen reproach, piercing the thick armor of her vanity and selfishness. She saw, for a moment, how unnatural and unlovely she must appear to him, in spite of her beauty, and the thought crossed her mind:
"Mr. Van Berg despises me because he sees me in the same light. How I hate his cold, critical eyes!"
Even at his far remove Van Berg could see that she was ill at ease during the dinner hour. There would be times of forced and unnatural gayety, followed by a sudden cloud upon the brow and an abstracted air, as if her thoughts had naught to do with the chattering group around her. It would also appear that her appetite was flagging unusually, and once or twice he thought she darted an angry look towards him.
As if something were burdening her mind, she at last left the table hastily, before the others were through with their dessert.
As may be surmised, she sought her father's room. Receiving no response to her knock, she entered and saw at a glance the confirmation of her fears. Her father sat in an arm-chair with his head upon his breast. A brandy bottle stood on the table beside him. At the sound of her step he looked up for a moment with heavy eyes, and mumbled:
"He ain't of your style, is he? Nor of mine, either. Froth and mud!"
Ida gave a sudden stamp of rage and disgust, and whirled from the room.
Van Berg happened to see her as she descended to the main hall-way, and her face was so repulsive as to suggest to him the lines from Shakespeare:
"In nature there's no blemish, but the mind; None can be called deformed, but the unkind; Virtue is beauty; but the beauteous—evil Are empty trunks, o'er flourished by the devil."
That afternoon and evening her reckless levity and open coquetry secured unfavorable comment not only from the artist, but from others far more indifferent, whose attention she half compelled by a manner that did not suggest spring violets.
Van Berg was disgusted. He was less versed in human nature than art, and did not recognize in the forced and obtrusive gayety the effort to stifle the voice of an aroused conscience. Even to her blunted sense of right it seemed a hateful and disgraceful truth that a stranger had helped her father towards manhood, an that she had destroyed the transient and salutary influence. Her complacency had been disturbed from the time her cousin had repeated Van Berg's remark, "I could not speak civilly to a lady that I had just seen giggling and flirting through one of Beethoven's finest symphonies;" and now, through an unexpected chain of circumstances, she had, for the first time in her life, reached a point of self-disgust and self-loathing. Such a moral condition is evil's opportunity when a disposition towards penitence or reform is either absent or resisted. The thought, therefore, of her father's drunkenness that day, and of herself as the immediate cause, made her so wretched and reckless that she tried to forget her miserable self in excitement, as he had in lethargy. Even her mother chided her, asking if she did not "remember the day."