THE COAST OF BOHEMIA
By W. D. Howells
NEW YORK AND LONDON HARPER & BROTHERS, PUBLISHERS 1899
Copyright, 1893, 1899, by WILLIAM DEAN HOWELLS.
All rights reserved.
In one of the old-fashioned books for children there was a story of the adventures of a cent (or perhaps that coin of older lineage, a penny) told by itself, which came into my mind when the publishers suggested that the readers of a new edition of this book might like to know how it happened to be written. I promptly fancied the book speaking, and taking upon itself the burden of autobiography, which we none of us find very heavy; and no sooner had I done so than I began actually to hear from it in a narrative of much greater distinctness than I could have supplied for it.
"You must surely remember," it protested to my forgetfulness, "that you first thought of me in anything like definite shape as you stood looking on at the trotting-races of a county fair in Northern Ohio, and that I began to gather color and character while you loitered through the art-building, and dwelt with pitying interest upon the forlorn, unpromising exhibits there.
"But previous to this, my motive existed somewhere in that nebulous fore-life where both men and books have their impalpable beginning; for even you cannot have forgotten that when a certain passionately enterprising young editor asked you for a novel to be printed in his journal, you so far imagined me as to say that I would be about a girl. When you looked over those hapless works of art at the Pymantoning County Fair, you thought, 'What a good thing it would be to have a nice village girl, with a real but limited gift, go from here to study art in New York! And get in love there! And married!' Cornelia and her mother at once stepped out of the inchoate; Ludlow advanced from another quarter of Chaos, and I began really to be.
"The getting me down on paper was a much later affair—nearly two years later. There were earlier engagements to be met; there was an exciting editorial episode to be got behind you; and there was material for a veridical representation of the ardent young life of the New York Synthesis of Art Studies to be gathered as nearly at first hands and as furtively as possible.
"I should be almost ashamed to remind you of the clandestine means you employed before you were forced to a frankness alien to your nature, and went and threw yourself on the mercy of a Member who, upon your avowing your purpose, took you through the schools of the Synthesis and instructed you in its operation. Not satisfied with this, you got an undergraduate of the Synthesis to coach you as to its social side, and while she was consenting to put it all down in writing for your convenience, you were shamelessly making notes of her boarding-house, as the very place to have Cornelia come to.
"Your methods were at first so secret and uncandid that I wonder I ever came to be the innocent book I am; and I feel that the credit is far less due to you than to the friends who helped you. But I am glad to remember how you got your come-uppings when, long after, a student of the Synthesis whom you asked, in your latent vanity, how she thought that social part of me was managed, answered, 'Well, any one could see that it was studied altogether from the outside, that it wasn't at all the spirit of the Synthesis.'
"It was enough almost to make me doubt myself, but I recovered my belief in my own truth when I reflected that it was merely a just punishment for you. I could expose you in other points, if I chose, and show what slight foundations you built my facts and characters upon; but perhaps that would be ungrateful. You were at least a doting parent, if not a wise one, and in your fondness you did your best to spoil me. You gave me two heroines, and you know very well that before you were done you did not know but you preferred Charmian to Cornelia. And you had nothing whatever to build Charmian upon, not the slightest suggestion from life, where you afterwards encountered her Egyptian profile! I think I ought to say that you had never been asked to a Synthesis dance when you wrote that account of one in me; and though you have often been asked since, you have never had the courage to go for fear of finding out how little it was like your description.
"But if Charmian was created out of nothing, what should you say if I were frank about the other characters of my story? Could you deny that the drummer who was first engaged to Cornelia was anything more than a materialization from seeing a painter very long ago make his two fingers do a ballet-dance? Or that Ludlow was not at first a mere pointed beard and a complexion glimpsed in a slim young Cuban one night at Saratoga? Or that Cornelia's mother existed by any better right than your once happening to see a poor lady try to hide the gap in her teeth when she smiled?
"When I think what a thing of shreds and patches I am, I wonder that I have any sort of individual temperament or consciousness at all. But I know that I have, and that you wrote me with pleasure and like me still. You think I have form, and that, if I am not very serious, I am sincere, and that somehow I represent a phase of our droll American civilization truly enough. I know you were vexed when some people said I did not go far enough, and insisted that the coast of Bohemia ought to have been the whole kingdom. As if I should have cared to be that! There are shady places inland where I should not have liked my girls to be, and where I think my young men would not have liked to meet them; and I am glad you kept me within the sweet, pure breath of the sea. I think I am all the better book for that, and, if you are fond of me, you have your reasons. I——"
"Upon my word," I interrupted at this point, "it seems to me that you are saying rather more for yourself than I could say for you, if you are one of my spoiled children. Don't you think we had both better give the reader a chance, now?"
"Oh, if there are to be any readers!" cried the book, and lapsed into the silence of print.
Transcriber's Note: The Table of Contents has been added for the convenience of the reader.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
I. XXI. II. XXII. III. XXIII. IV. XXIV. V. XXV. VI. XXVI. VII. XXVII. VIII. XXVIII. IX. XXIX. X. XXX. XI. XXXI. XII. XXXII. XIII. XXXIII. XIV. XXXIV. XV. XXXV. XVI. XXXVI. XVII. XXXVII. XVIII. XXXVIII. XIX. XXXIX. XX.
THE COAST OF BOHEMIA.
The forty-sixth annual fair of the Pymantoning County Agricultural Society was in its second day. The trotting-matches had begun, and the vast majority of the visitors had abandoned the other features of the exhibition for this supreme attraction. They clustered four or five deep along the half-mile of railing that enclosed the track, and sat sweltering in the hot September sun, on the benching of the grandstand that flanked a stretch of the course. Boys selling lemonade and peanuts, and other boys with the score of the races, made their way up and down the seats with shrill cries; now and then there was a shriek of girls' laughter from a group of young people calling to some other group, or struggling for a programme caught back and forth; the young fellows shouted to each other jokes that were lost in mid-air; but, for the most part, the crowd was a very silent one, grimly intent upon the rival sulkies as they flashed by and lost themselves in the clouds that thickened over the distances of the long, dusty loop. Here and there some one gave a shout as a horse broke, or settled down to his work under the guttural snarl of his driver; at times the whole throng burst into impartial applause as a horse gained or lost a length; but the quick throb of the hoofs on the velvety earth and the whir of the flying wheels were the sounds that chiefly made themselves heard.
The spectacle had the importance which multitude givers, and Ludlow found in it the effects which he hoped to get again in his impression. He saw the deep purples which he looked to see with eyes trained by the French masters of his school to find them, and the indigo blues, the intense greens, the rainbow oranges and scarlets; and he knew just how he should give them. In the light of that vast afternoon sky, cloudless, crystalline in its clearness, no brilliancy of rendering could be too bold.
If he had the courage of his convictions, this purely American event could be reported on his canvas with all its native character; and yet it could be made to appeal to the enlightened eye with the charm of a French subject, and impressionism could be fully justified of its follower in Pymantoning as well as in Paris. That golden dust along the track; the level tops of the buggies drawn up within its ellipse, and the groups scattered about in gypsy gayety on the grass there; the dark blur of men behind the barrier; the women, with their bright hats and parasols, massed flower-like,—all made him long to express them in lines and dots and breadths of pure color. He had caught the vital effect of the whole, and he meant to interpret it so that its truth should be felt by all who had received the light of the new faith in painting, who believed in the prismatic colors as in the ten commandments, and who hoped to be saved by tone-contrasts. For the others, Ludlow was at that day too fanatical an impressionist to care. He owed a duty to France no less than to America, and he wished to fulfil it in a picture which should at once testify to the excellence of the French method and the American material. At twenty-two, one is often much more secure and final in one's conclusions than one is afterwards.
He was vexed that a lingering doubt of the subject had kept him from bringing a canvas with him at once, and recording his precious first glimpses of it. But he meant to come to the trotting-match the next day again, and then he hoped to get back to his primal impression of the scene, now so vivid in his mind. He made his way down the benches, and out of the enclosure of the track. He drew a deep breath, full of the sweet smell of the bruised grass, forsaken now by nearly all the feet that had trodden it. A few old farmers, who had failed to get places along the railing and had not cared to pay for seats on the stand, were loitering about, followed by their baffled and disappointed wives. The men occasionally stopped at the cattle-pens, but it was less to look at the bulls and boars and rams which had taken the premiums, and wore cards or ribbons certifying the fact, than to escape a consciousness of their partners, harassingly taciturn or voluble in their reproach. A number of these embittered women brokenly fringed the piazza of the fair-house, and Ludlow made his way toward them with due sympathy for their poor little tragedy, so intelligible to him through the memories of his own country-bred youth. He followed with his pity those who sulked away through the deserted aisles of the building, and nursed their grievance among the prize fruits and vegetables, and the fruits and vegetables that had not taken the prizes. They were more censorious than they would have been perhaps if they had not been defeated themselves; he heard them dispute the wisdom of most of the awards as the shoutings and clappings from the racetrack penetrated the lonely hall. They creaked wearily up and down in their new shoes or best shoes, and he knew how they wished themselves at home and in bed, and wondered why they had ever been such fools as to come, anyway. Occasionally, one of their husbands lagged in, as if in search of his wife, but kept at a safe distance, after seeing her, or hung about with a group of other husbands, who could not be put to shame or suffering as they might if they had appeared singly.
Ludlow believed that if the right fellow ever came to the work, he could get as much pathos out of our farm folks as Millet got out of his Barbizon peasants. But the fact was that he was not the fellow; he wanted to paint beauty not pathos; and he thought, so far as he thought ethically about it, that, the Americans needed to be shown the festive and joyous aspects of their common life. To discover and to represent these was his pleasure as an artist, and his duty as a citizen. He suspected, though, that the trotting-match was the only fact of the Pymantoning County Fair that could be persuaded to lend itself to his purpose. Certainly, there was nothing in the fair-house, with those poor, dreary old people straggling through it, to gladden an artistic conception. Agricultural implements do not group effectively, or pose singly with much picturesqueness; tall stalks of corn, mammoth squashes, huge apples and potatoes want the beauty and quality that belong to them out of doors, when they are gathered into the sections of a county fair-house; piles of melons fail of their poetry on a wooden floor, and heaps of grapes cannot assert themselves in a very bacchanal profusion against the ignominy of being spread upon long tables and ticketed with the names of their varieties and exhibitors.
Ludlow glanced at them, to right and left, as he walked through the long, barn-like building, and took in with other glances the inadequate decorations of the graceless interior. His roving eye caught the lettering over the lateral archways, and with a sort of contemptuous compassion he turned into the Fine Arts Department.
The fine arts were mostly represented by photographs and crazy quilts; but there were also tambourines and round brass plaques painted with flowers, and little satin banners painted with birds or autumn leaves, and gilt rolling-pins with vines. There were medley-pictures contrived of photographs cut out and grouped together in novel and unexpected relations; and there were set about divers patterns and pretences in keramics, as the decoration of earthen pots and jars was called. Besides these were sketches in oil and charcoal, which Ludlow found worse than the more primitive things, with their second-hand chic picked up in a tenth-rate school. He began to ask himself whether people tasteless enough to produce these inanities and imagine them artistic, could form even the subjects of art; he began to have doubts of his impression of the trotting-match, its value, its possibility of importance. The senseless ugliness of the things really hurt him: his worship of beauty was a sort of religion, and their badness was a sort of blasphemy. He could not laugh at them; he wished he could; and his first impulse was to turn and escape from the Fine Arts Department, and keep what little faith in the artistic future of the country he had been able to get together during his long sojourn out of it. Since his return he had made sure of the feeling for color and form with which his country-women dressed themselves. There was no mistake about that; even here, in the rustic heart of the continent he had seen costumes which had touch and distinction; and it could not be that the instinct which they sprang from should go for nothing in the arts supposed higher than mantua-making and millinery. The village girls whom he saw so prettily gowned and picturesquely hatted on the benches out there by the race-course, could it have been they who committed these atrocities? Or did these come up from yet deeper depths of the country, where the vague, shallow talk about art going on for the past decade was having its first crude effect? Ludlow was exasperated as well as pained, for he knew that the pretty frocks and hats expressed a love of dressing prettily, which was honest and genuine enough, while the unhappy effects about him could spring only from a hollow vanity far lower than a woman's wish to be charming. It was not an innate impulse which produced them, but a sham ambition, implanted from without, and artificially stimulated by the false and fleeting mood of the time. They must really hamper the growth of aesthetic knowledge among people who were not destitute of the instinct.
He exaggerated the importance of the fact with the sensitiveness of a man to whom aesthetic cultivation was all-important. It appeared to him a far greater evil than it was; it was odious to him, like a vice; it was almost a crime. He spent a very miserable time in the Fine Arts Department of the Pymantoning County Agricultural Fair; and in a kind of horrible fascination he began to review the collection in detail, to guess its causes in severalty and to philosophize its lamentable consequences.
In this process Ludlow discovered that there was more of the Fine Arts Department than he had supposed at first. He was aware of some women who had come into the next aisle or section, and presently he overheard fragments of their talk.
A girl's voice said passionately: "I don't care! I shan't leave them here for folks to make remarks about! I knew they wouldn't take the premium, and I hope you're satisfied now, mother."
"Well, you're a very silly child," came in an older voice, suggestive of patience and amiability. "Don't tear them, anyway!"
"I shall! I don't care if I tear them all to pieces."
There was a sound of quick steps, and of the angry swirl of skirts, and the crackling and rending of paper.
"There, now!" said the older voice. "You've dropped one."
"I don't care! I hope they'll trample it under their great stupid hoofs."
The paper, whatever it was, came skating out under the draped tabling in the section where Ludlow stood, arrested in his sad employment by the unseen drama, and lay at his feet. He picked it up, and he had only time to glance at it before he found himself confronted by a fiercely tearful young girl who came round the corner of his section, and suddenly stopped at sight of him. With one hand she pressed some crumpled sheets of paper against, her breast; the other she stretched toward Ludlow.
"Oh! will you——" she began, and then she faltered; and as she turned her little head aside for a backward look over her shoulder, she made him, somehow, think of a hollyhock, by the tilt of her tall, slim, young figure, and by the colors of her hat from which her face flowered; no doubt the deep-crimson silk waist she wore, with its petal-edged ruffle flying free down her breast, had something to do with his fantastic notion. She was a brunette, with the lightness and delicacy that commonly go with the beauty of a blonde. She could not have been more than fifteen; her skirts had not yet matured to the full womanly length; she was still a child.
A handsome, mild, middle-aged woman appeared beside the stormy young thing, and said in the voice which Ludlow had already heard, "Well, Cornelia!" She seemed to make more account than the girl made of the young fellow's looks. He was of the medium height for a man, but he was so slight that he seemed of lower stature, and he eked out an effect of distinction by brushing his little moustache up sharply at the corners in a fashion he had learned in France, and by wearing a little black dot of an imperial. His brow was habitually darkened by a careworn frown, which came from deep and anxious thinking about the principles and the practice of art. He was very well dressed, and he carried himself with a sort of worldly splendor which did not intimidate the lady before him. In the country women have no more apprehension of men who are young and stylish and good-looking than they have in the city; they rather like them to be so, and meet them with confidence in any casual encounter.
The lady said, "Oh, thank you," as Ludlow came up to the girl with the paper, and then she laughed with no particular intention, and said, "It's one of my daughter's drawings."
"Oh, indeed!" said Ludlow, with a quick perception of the mother's pride in it, and of all the potentialities of prompt intimacy. "It's very good."
"Well, I think so," said the lady, while the girl darkled and bridled in young helplessness. If she knew that her mother ought not to be offering a stranger her confidence like that, she did not know what to do about it. "She was just going to take them home," said the mother vaguely.
"I'm sorry," said Ludlow. "I seem to be a day after the fair, as far as they're concerned."
"Well, I don't know," said the mother, with the same amiable vagueness. She had some teeth gone, and when she smiled she tried to hide their absence on the side next Ludlow; but as she was always smiling she did not succeed perfectly. She looked doubtfully at her daughter, in the manner of mothers whom no severity of snubbing can teach that their daughters when well-grown girls can no longer be treated as infants. "I don't know as you'd think you had lost much. We didn't expect they would take the premium, a great deal."
"I should hope not," said Ludlow. "The competition was bad enough."
The mother seemed to divine a compliment in this indefinite speech. She said: "Well, I don't see myself why they didn't take it."
"There was probably no one to feel how much better they were," said Ludlow.
"Well, that's what I think," said the mother, "and it's what I tell her." She stood looking from Ludlow to her daughter and back, and now she ventured, seeing him so intent on the sketch he still held, "You an artist?"
"A student of art," said Ludlow, with the effect of uncovering himself in a presence.
The mother did not know what to make of it apparently; she said blankly, "Oh!" and then added impressively, to her daughter: "Why don't you show them to him, Cornelia?"
"I should think it a great favor," said Ludlow, intending to be profoundly respectful. But he must have overdone it. The girl majestically gave her drawings to her mother, and marched out of the aisle.
Ludlow ignored her behavior, as if it had nothing to do with the question, and began to look at the drawings, one after another, with various inarticulate notes of comment imitated from a great French master, and with various foreign phrases, such as "Bon! Bon! Pas mauvais! Joli! Chic!" He seemed to waken from them to a consciousness of the mother, and returned to English. "They are very interesting. Has she had instruction?"
"Only in the High School, here. And she didn't seem to care any for that. She seems to want to work more by herself."
"That's wrong," said Ludlow, "though she's probably right about the High School."
The mother made bold to ask, "Where are you taking lessons?"
"I?" said Ludlow, dreamily. "Oh! everywhere."
"I thought, perhaps," the mother began, and she stopped, and then resumed, "How many lessons do you expect to take?"
Ludlow descended from the high horse which he saw it was really useless for him to ride in that simple presence. "I didn't mean that I was a student of art in that sense, exactly. I suppose I'm a painter of some sort. I studied in Paris, and I'm working in New York—if that's what you mean."
"Yes," said the lady, as if she did not know quite what she meant.
Ludlow still remained in possession of the sketches, and he now looked at them with a new knot between his eyebrows. He had known at the first glance, with the perception of one who has done things in any art, that here was the possibility of things in his art, and he had spoken from a generous and compassionate impulse, from his recognition of the possibility, and from his sympathy with the girl in her defeat. Now his conscience began to prick him. He asked himself whether he had any right to encourage her, whether he ought not rather to warn her. He asked her mother: "Has she been doing this sort of thing long?"
"Ever since she was a little bit of a thing," said the mother. "You might say she's been doing it ever since she could do anything; and she ain't but about fifteen, now. Well, she's going on sixteen," the mother added, scrupulously. "She was born the third of July, and now it's the beginning of September. So she's just fifteen years and a little over two months. I suppose she's too young to commence taking lessons regularly?"
"No one would be too young for that," said Ludlow, austerely, with his eyes on the sketch. He lifted them, and bent them frankly and kindly on the mother's face. "And were you thinking of her going on?" The mother questioned him for his exact meaning with the sweet unwisdom of her smile. "Did you think of her becoming an artist, a painter?"
"Well," she returned, "I presume she would have as good a chance as anybody, if she had the talent for it."
"She has the talent for it," said Ludlow, "and she would have a better chance than most—that's very little to say—but it's a terribly rough road."
"Yes," the mother faltered, smiling.
"Yes. It's a hard road for a man, and it's doubly hard for a woman. It means work that breaks the back and wrings the brain. It means for a woman, tears, and hysterics, and nervous prostration, and insanity—some of them go wild over it. The conditions are bad air, and long hours, and pitiless criticism; and the rewards are slight and uncertain. One out of a hundred comes to anything at all; one out of a thousand to anything worth while. New York is swarming with girl art-students. They mostly live in poor boarding-houses, and some of them actually suffer from hunger and cold. For men the profession is hazardous, arduous; for women it's a slow anguish of endeavor and disappointment. Most shop-girls earn more than most fairly successful art-students for years; most servant-girls fare better. If you are rich, and your daughter wishes to amuse herself by studying art, it's all very well; but even then I wouldn't recommend it as an amusement. If you're poor——"
"I presume," the mother interrupted, "that she would be self-supporting by the time she had taken six months' lessons, and I guess she could get along till then."
Ludlow stared at the amiably smiling creature. From her unruffled composure his warning had apparently fallen like water from the back of a goose. He saw that it would be idle to go on, and he stopped short and waited for her to speak again.
"If she was to go to New York to take lessons, how do you think she'd better——" She seemed not to know enough of the situation to formulate her question farther. He had pity on her ignorance, though he doubted whether he ought to have.
"Oh, go into the Synthesis," he said briefly.
"Yes; the Synthesis of Art Studies; it's the only thing. The work is hard, but it's thorough; the training's excellent, if you live through it."
"Oh, I guess she'd live through it," said the mother with a laugh. She added, "I don't know as I know just what you mean by the Synthesis of Art Studies."
"It's a society that the art-students have formed. They have their own building, and casts, and models; the principal artists have classes among them. You submit a sketch, and if you get in you work away till you drop, if you're in earnest, or till you're bored, if you're amusing yourself."
"And should you think," said the mother gesturing toward him with the sketches in her hand, "that she could get in?"
"I think she could," said Ludlow, and he acted upon a sudden impulse. He took a card from his pocketbook, and gave it to the mother. "If you'll look me up when you come to New York, or let me know, I may be of use to you, and I shall be very glad to put you in the way of getting at the Synthesis."
"Thanks," the mother drawled with her eyes on the card. She probably had no clear sense of the favor done her. She lifted her eyes and smiled on Ludlow with another kind of intelligence. "You're visiting at Mrs. Burton's."
"Yes," said Ludlow, remembering after a moment of surprise how pervasive the fact of a stranger's presence in a village is. "Mr. Burton can tell you who I am," he added in some impatience with her renewed scrutiny of his card.
"Oh, it's all right," she said, and she put it in her pocket, and then she began to drift away a little. "Well, I'm sure I'm much obliged to you." She hesitated a moment, and then she said, "Well, good afternoon."
"Good-by," said Ludlow, and he lifted his hat and stood bowing her out of the Fine Arts Department, while she kept her eyes on him to the last with admiration and approval.
"Well, I declare, Cornelia," she burst out to her daughter, whom she found glowering at the agricultural implements, "that is about the nicest fellow! Do you know what he's done?" She stopped and began a search for her pocket, which ended successfully. "He's given me his name, and told me just what you're to do. And when you get to New York, if you ever do, you can go right straight to him."
She handed Ludlow's card to the girl, who instantly tore it to pieces without looking at it. "I'll never go to him—horrid, mean, cross old thing! And you go and talk about me to a perfect stranger as if I were a baby. And now he'll go and laugh at you with the Burtons, and they'll say it's just like you to say everything that comes into your head, that way, and think everybody's as nice as they seem. But he isn't nice! He's horrid, and conceited, and—and—hateful. And I shall never study art anywhere. And I'd die before I asked him to help me. He was just making fun of you all the time, and anybody but you would see it, mother! Comparing me to a hired girl!"
"No, I don't think he did that, Cornelia," said the mother with some misgiving. "I presume he may have been a little touched up by your pictures, and wanted to put me down about them——"
"Oh, mother, mother, mother!" The girl broke into tears over the agricultural implements. "They were the dust under his feet."
"Why, Cornelia, how you talk!"
"I wish you wouldn't talk, mother! I've asked you a thousand times, if I've asked you once, not to talk about me with anybody, and here you go and tell everything that you can think of to a person that you never saw before."
"What did I tell him about you?" asked her mother, with the uncertainty of ladies who say a great deal.
"You told him how old I was almost to a day!"
"Oh, well, that wasn't anything! I saw he'd got to know if he was to give any opinion about your going on that was worth having."
"It'll be all over town, to-morrow. Well, never mind! It's the last time you'll ever have a chance to do it. I'll never, never, never touch a pencil to draw with again! Never! You've done it now, mother! I don't care! I'll help you with your work, all you want, but don't ever ask me to draw a single thing after this. I guess he wouldn't have much to say about the style of a bonnet, or set of a dress, if it was wrong!"
The girl swept out of the building with tragedy-queen strides that refused to adjust themselves to the lazy, lounging pace of her mother, and carried her homeward so swiftly that she had time to bang the front gate and the front door, and her own room door and lock it, and be crying on the bed with her face in the pillow, long before her mother reached the house. The mother wore a face of unruffled serenity, and as there was no one near to see, she relaxed her vigilance, and smiled with luxurious indifference to the teeth she had lost.
Ludlow found his friend Burton smoking on his porch when he came back from the fair, and watching with half-shut eyes the dust that overhung the street. Some of the farmers were already beginning to drive home, and their wheels sent up the pulverous clouds which the western sun just tinged with red; Burton got the color under the lower boughs of the maple grove of his deep door-yard.
"Well," he called out, in a voice expressive of the temperament which kept him content with his modest fortune and his village circumstance, when he might have made so much more and spent so much more in the world outside, "did you get your picture?"
Ludlow was only half-way up the walk from the street when the question met him, and he waited to reach the piazza steps before he answered.
"Oh, yes, I think I've got it." By this time Mrs. Burton had appeared at the hall door-way, and stood as if to let him decide whether he would come into the house, or join her husband outside. He turned aside to take a chair near Burton's, tilted against the wall, but he addressed himself to her.
"Mrs. Burton, who is rather a long-strung, easy-going, good-looking, middle-aged lady, with a daughter about fifteen years old, extremely pretty and rather peppery, who draws?"
Mrs. Burton at once came out, and sat sidewise in the hammock, facing the two men.
"How were they dressed?"
Ludlow told as well as he could; he reserved his fancy of the girl's being like a hollyhock.
"Was the daughter pretty?"
"Yes, 'all that's best of dark and bright.'"
"Were they both very graceful?"
"Very graceful indeed."
"Why it must be Mrs. Saunders. Where did you see them?"
"In the Art Department."
"Yes. She came to ask me whether I would exhibit some of Cornelia's drawings, if I were she."
"And you told her you would?" her husband asked, taking his pipe out for the purpose.
"Of course I did. That was what she wished me to tell her."
Burton turned to Ludlow. "Had they taken many premiums?"
"No; the premiums had been bestowed on the crazy quilts and the medley pictures—what extraordinarily idiotic inventions!—and Miss Saunders was tearing down her sketches in the next section. One of them slipped through on the floor, and they came round after it to where I was."
"And so you got acquainted with Mrs. Saunders?" said Mrs. Burton.
"No. But I got intimate," said Ludlow. "I sympathized with her, and she advised with me about her daughter's art-education."
"What did you advise her to do?" asked Burton.
"Not to have her art-educated."
"Why, don't you think she has talent?" Mrs. Burton demanded, with a touch of resentment.
"Oh, yes. She has beauty, too. Nothing is commoner than the talent and beauty of American girls. But they'd better trust to their beauty."
"I don't think so," said Mrs. Burton, with spirit.
"You can see how she's advised Mrs. Saunders," said Burton, winking the eye next Ludlow.
"Well, you mustn't be vexed with me, Mrs. Burton," Ludlow replied to her. "I don't think she'll take my advice, especially as I put it in the form of warning. I told her how hard the girl would have to work: but I don't think she quite understood. I told her she had talent, too; and she did understand that; there was something uncommon in the child's work; something—different. Who are they, Mrs. Burton?"
"Isn't there!" cried Mrs. Burton. "I'm glad you told the poor thing that. I thought they'd take the premium. I was going to tell you about her daughter. Mrs. Saunders must have been awfully disappointed."
"She didn't seem to suffer much," Ludlow suggested.
"No," Mrs. Burton admitted, "she doesn't suffer much about anything. If she did she would have been dead long ago. First, her husband blown up by his saw-mill boiler, and then one son killed in a railroad accident, and another taken down with pneumonia almost the same day! And she goes on, smiling in the face of death——"
"And looking out that he doesn't see how many teeth she's lost," Burton prompted.
Ludlow laughed at the accuracy of the touch.
Mrs. Burton retorted, "Why shouldn't she? Her good looks and her good nature are about all she has left in the world, except this daughter."
"Are they very poor?" asked Ludlow, gently.
"Oh, nobody's very poor in Pymantoning," said Mrs. Burton. "And Mrs. Saunders has her business,—when she's a mind to work at it."
"I suppose she has it, even when she hasn't a mind to work at it," said Burton, making his pipe purr with a long, deep inspiration of satisfaction. "I know I have mine."
"What is her business?" asked Ludlow.
"Well, she's a dressmaker and milliner—when she is." Mrs. Burton stated the fact with the effect of admitting it. "You mustn't suppose that makes any difference. In a place like Pymantoning, she's 'as good as anybody,' and her daughter has as high social standing. You can't imagine how Arcadian we are out here."
"Oh, yes, I can; I've lived in a village," said Ludlow.
"A New England village, yes; but the lines are drawn just as hard and fast there as they are in a city. You have to live in the West to understand what equality is, and in a purely American population, like this. You've got plenty of independence, in New England, but you haven't got equality, and we have,—or used to have." Mrs. Burton added the final words with apparent conscience.
"Just saved your distance, Polly," said her husband. "We haven't got equality now, any more than we've got buffalo. I don't believe we ever had buffalo in this section; but we did have deer once; and when I was a boy here, venison was three cents a pound, and equality cheaper yet. When they cut off the woods the venison and the equality disappeared; they always do when the woods are cut off."
"There's enough of it left for all practical purposes, and Mrs. Saunders moves in the first circles of Pymantoning," said Mrs. Burton.
"When she does move," said Burton. "She doesn't like to move."
"Well, she has the greatest taste, and if you can get her to do anything for you your fortune's made. But it's a favor. She'll take a thing that you've got home from the city, and that you're frantic about, it's so bad, and smile over it a little, and touch it here and there, and it comes out a miracle of style and becomingness. It's like magic."
"She was charming," said Ludlow, in dreamy reminiscence.
"Isn't she?" Mrs. Burton demanded. "And her daughter gets all her artistic talent from her. Mrs. Saunders is an artist, though I don't suppose you like to admit it of a dressmaker."
"Oh, yes, I do," said Ludlow. "I don't see why a man or woman who drapes the human figure in stuffs, isn't an artist as well as the man or woman who drapes it in paint or clay."
"Well, that's sense," Mrs. Burton began.
"She didn't know you had any, Ludlow," her husband explained.
Mrs. Burton did not regard him. "If she had any ambition she would be anything—just like some other lazy-boots," and now she gave the large, dangling congress gaiter of her husband a little push with the point of her slipper, for purposes of identification, as the newspapers say. "But the only ambition she's got is for her daughter, and she is proud of her, and she would spoil her if she could get up the energy. She dotes on her, and Nie is fond of her mother, too. Do you think she can ever do anything in art?"
"If she were a boy, I should say yes; as she's a girl, I don't know," said Ludlow. "The chances are against her."
"Nature's against her, too," said Burton.
"Human nature ought to be for her, then," said Mrs. Burton. "If she were your sister what should you wish her to be?" she asked Ludlow.
"I should wish her to be"—Ludlow thought a moment and then concluded—"happily married."
"Well, that's a shame!" cried Mrs. Burton.
Her husband laughed, while he knocked the ashes out of his pipe against the edge of his chair-seat. "Rough on the holy estate of matrimony, Polly."
"Oh, pshaw! I believe as much in the holy estate of matrimony as anybody, but I don't believe it's the begin-all or the end-all for a woman, any more than it is for a man. What, Katy?" she spoke to a girl who appeared and disappeared in the doorway. "Oh! Well, come in to supper, now. I hope you have an appetite, Mr. Ludlow. Mr. Burton's such a delicate eater, and I like to have somebody keep me in countenance." She suddenly put her hand on the back of her husband's chair, and sprung it forward from its incline against the wall, with a violence that bounced him fearfully, and extorted a roar of protest from him.
They were much older than Ludlow, and they permitted themselves the little rowdy freedoms that good-natured married people sometimes use, as fearlessly in his presence as if he were a grown-up nephew. They prized him as a discovery of their own, for they had stumbled on him one day before any one else had found him out, when he was sketching at Fontainebleau. They liked the look of his picture, as they viewed it at a decent remove over his shoulder, and after they got by Burton proposed to go back and kill the fellow on account of the solemn coxcombery of his personal appearance. His wife said: "Well, ask him what he'll take for his picture, first," and Burton returned and said with brutal directness, while he pointed at the canvas with his stick, "Combien?" When Ludlow looked round up at him and answered with a pleasant light in his eye, "Well, I don't know exactly. What'll you give?" Burton spared his life, and became his friend. He called his wife to him, and they bought the picture, and afterwards they went to Ludlow's lodging, for he had no studio, and conscientiously painted in the open air, and bought others. They got the pictures dog cheap, as Burton said, for Ludlow was just beginning then, and his reputation which has never since become cloud-capt, was a tender and lowly plant. They made themselves like a youngish aunt and uncle to him, and had him with them all they could while they stayed in Paris. When they came home they brought the first impressionistic pictures ever seen in the West; at Pymantoning, the village cynic asked which was right side up, and whether he was to stand on his head or not to get them in range. Ludlow remained in France, which he maintained had the only sun for impressionism; and then he changed his mind all at once, and under an impulse of sudden patriotism, declared for the American sky, and the thin, crystalline, American air. His faith included American subjects, and when, after his arrival in New York, Burton wrote to claim a visit from him and ironically proposed the trotting-match at the County Fair as an attraction for his pencil, Ludlow remembered the trotting-matches he had seen in his boyhood, and came out to Pymantoning with a seriousness of expectation that alarmed and then amused his friends.
He was very glad that he had come, and that night, after the supper which lasted well into the early autumn lamp-light, he went out and walked the village streets under the September moon, seeing his picture everywhere before him, and thinking his young, exultant thoughts. The maples were set so thick along the main street that they stood like a high, dark wall on either side, and he looked up at the sky as from the bottom of a chasm. The village houses lurked behind their door-yard trees, with breadths of autumnal bloom in the gardens beside them. Within their shadowy porches, or beside their gates, was
"The delight of happy laughter, The delight of low replies,"
hushing itself at his approach, and breaking out again at his retreat. The air seemed full of love, and in the midst of his proud, gay hopes, he felt smitten with sudden isolation, such as youth knows in the presence of others' passion. He walked back to Burton's rather pensively, and got up to his room and went to bed after as little stay for talk with his hosts as he could make decent; he did not like to break with his melancholy.
He was roused from his first sleep by the sound of singing, which seemed to stop with his waking. There came a confused murmur of girls' and young men's voices, and Ludlow could see from his open window the dim shapes of the serenaders in the dark of the trees below. Then they were still, and all at once the silence was filled with a rich contralto note, carrying the song, till the whole choir of voices took up the burden. Nothing prettier could have happened anywhere in the world. Ludlow hung rapt upon the music till Burton flung up his window, as if to thank the singers. They stopped at the sound, and with gay shouts and shrieks, and a medley of wild laughter, skurried away into the farther darkness, where Ludlow heard them begin their serenade again under distant windows as little localized as any space of the sky.
Ludlow went back to New York and took up his work with vigor and with fervor. The picture of the County Fair, which he exhibited at the American Artists', ran a gauntlet of criticism in which it was belabored at once for its unimaginative vulgarity and its fantastic unreality; then it returned to his studio and remained unsold, while the days, weeks, months and years went by and left each their fine trace on him. His purposes dropped away, mostly unfulfilled, as he grew older and wiser, but his dreams remained and he was still rich in a vast future. His impressionism was somewhat modified; he offered his palette less frequently to the public; he now and then permitted a black object to appear in his pictures; his purples and greens were less aggressive. His moustache had grown so thick that it could no longer be brushed up at the points with just the effect he desired, and he suffered it to branch straight across his cheeks; his little dot of an imperial had become lost in the beard which he wore so conscientiously trimmed to a point that it might be described as religiously pointed. He was now twenty-seven.
At sixteen Cornelia Saunders had her first love-affair. It was with a young man who sold what he called art-goods by sample—satin banners, gilt rolling-pins, brass disks and keramics; he had permitted himself to speak to her on the train coming over from the Junction, where she took the cars for Pymantoning one afternoon after a day's shopping with her mother in Lakeland. It did not last very long, and in fact it hardly survived the brief stay which the young man made in Pymantoning, where his want of success in art-goods was probably owing to the fact that he gave his whole time to Cornelia, or rather Cornelia's mother, whom he found much more conversable; he played upon the banjo for her, and he danced a little clog-dance in her parlor, which was also her shop, to the accompaniment of his own whistling, first setting aside the bonnet-trees with their scanty fruitage of summer hats, and pushing the show-table against the wall. "Won't hurt 'em a mite," he reassured her, and he struck her as a careful as well as accomplished young man. His passion for Cornelia lingered a while in letters, which he proposed in parting, and then, about six months later, Mrs. Saunders received the newspaper announcement of his marriage to Miss Tweety Byers of Lakeland. There were "No Cards," but Mrs. Saunders made out, with Mrs. Burton's help, that Tweety was the infantile for the pet name of Sweety; and the marriage seemed a fit union for one so warm and true as the young traveller in art-goods.
Mrs. Saunders was a good deal surprised, but she did not suffer keenly from the disappointment which she had innocently done her best to bring upon her daughter. Cornelia, who had been the passive instrument of her romance, did not suffer from it at all, having always objected to the thickness of the young man's hands, and to the early baldness which gave him the Shakespearian brow he had so little use for. She laughed his memory to scorn, and employed the episode as best she could in quelling her mother's simple trust of passing strangers. They worked along together, in the easy, unambitious village fashion, and kept themselves in the average comfort, while the time went by and Cornelia had grown from a long, lean child to a tall and stately young girl, who carried herself with so much native grace and pride that she had very little attention from the village youth. She had not even a girl friendship, and her chief social resource was in her intimacy at the Burtons. She borrowed books of them, and read a good deal; and when she was seventeen she rubbed up her old studies and got a teacher's certificate for six months, and taught a summer term in a district at Burnt Pastures. She came home in the fall, and when she called at the Burtons' to get a book, as usual, Mrs. Burton said, "Nelie, you're not feeling very well, are you? Somehow you looked fagged."
"Well, I do feel queer," said the girl. "I seem to be in a kind of dream. It—scares me. I'm afraid I'm going to be sick."
"Oh, I guess not," Mrs. Burton answered comfortably. "You're just tired out. How did you like your school?"
"I hated it," said the girl, with a trembling chin and wet eyes. "I don't believe I'm fit for teaching. I won't try it any more; I'll stay at home and help mother."
"You ought to keep up your drawing," said Mrs. Burton in general admonition. "Do you draw any now?"
"Nothing much," said the girl.
"I should think you would, to please your mother. Don't you care anything for it yourself?"
"Yes; but I haven't the courage I had when I thought I knew it all. I don't think I should ever amount to anything. It would be a waste of time."
"I don't think so," said Mrs. Burton. "I believe you could be a great artist."
The girl laughed. "What ever became of that painter who visited you year before last at fair time?"
"Mr. Ludlow? Oh, he's in New York. He thought your sketches were splendid, Nelie."
"He said the girls half-killed themselves there studying art."
"Did he?" demanded Mrs. Burton with a note of wrath in her voice.
"Mm. He told mother so that day."
"He had no business to say such a thing before you. Was that what discouraged you?"
"Oh, I don't know. I got discouraged. Of course, I should like to please mother. How much do you suppose it would cost a person to live in New York? I don't mean take a room and board yourself; I shouldn't like to do that; but everything included."
"I don't know, indeed, Nelie. Jim always kept the accounts when we were there, and we stayed at the Fifth Avenue Hotel."
"Do you suppose it would be twice as much as it is here? Five dollars a week?"
"Yes, I'm afraid it would," Mrs. Burton admitted.
"I've got sixty-five dollars from my school. I suppose it would keep me three months in New York, if I was careful. But I'm not going to throw it away on any such wild scheme as that. I know that much."
They talked away from the question, and then talked back to it several times, after they had both seemed to abandon it. At last Mrs. Burton said, "Why don't you let me write to Mr. Ludlow, Nelie, and ask him all about it?"
The girl jumped to her feet in a fright. "If you do, Mrs. Burton, I'll kill myself! No, I didn't mean to say that. But I'll never speak to you again. Now you won't really, will you?"
"No, I won't, Nelie, if you don't want me to; but I don't see why—— Why, bless the child!"
Mrs. Burton sprang forward and caught the girl, who was reeling as if she were going to fall. "Katy! Katy! Bring some water here, quick!"
When they had laid Cornelia on a sofa and restored her from her faint, Mrs. Burton would not let her try to rise. She sent out to Burton, who was reading a novel in the mild forenoon air under the crimson maples, and made him get the carryall and take Cornelia home in it. They thought they would pretend that they were out for a drive, and were merely dropping her at her mother's door; but no ruse was necessary. Mrs. Saunders tranquilly faced the fact; she said she thought the child hadn't been herself since she got back from her school, and she guessed she had better have the doctor now.
It was toward the end of January before Cornelia was well enough to be about in the old way, after her typhoid fever. Once she was so low that the rumor of her death went out; but when this proved false it was known for a good sign, and no woman, at least, was surprised when she began to get well. She was delirious part of the time, and then she raved constantly about Ludlow, and going to New York to study art. It was a mere superficial effect from her talk with Mrs. Burton just before she was taken down with the fever; but it was pathetic, all the same, to hear her pleading with him, quarrelling, protesting that she was strong enough, and that she was not afraid but that she should get through all right if he would only tell her how to begin. "Now you just tell me that, tell me that, tell me that! It's the place that I can't find. If I can get to the right door! But it won't open! It won't open! Oh, dear! What shall I do!"
Mrs. Burton, who heard this go on through the solemn hours of night, thought that if Ludlow could only hear it he would be careful how he ever discouraged any human being again. It was as much as her husband could do to keep her from writing to him, and making the girl's fever a matter of personal reproach to him; but she refrained, and when Cornelia got up from it she was so changed that Mrs. Burton was glad she had never tried to involve any one else in her anxieties about her.
Not only the fever had burned itself out, but Cornelia's temperament seemed for awhile to have been consumed in the fire. She came out of it more like her mother. She was gentler than she used to be, and especially gentle and good to her mother; and she had not only grown to resemble her in a greater tranquillity and easy-goingness, but to have come into her ambitions and desires. The change surprised Mrs. Saunders a good deal; up to this time it had always surprised her that Cornelia should not have been at all like her. She sometimes reflected, however, that if you came to that, Cornelia's father had never been at all like her, either.
It was only a passing phase of the girl's evolution. With the return of perfect health and her former strength, she got back her old energetic self, but of another quality and in another form. Probably she would have grown into the character she now took on in any case; but following her convalescence as it did, it had a more dramatic effect. She began to review her studies and her examination papers before the doctor knew it, and when the county examiners met in June she was ready for them, and got a certificate authorizing her to teach for a year. With this she need not meet the poor occasions of any such forlorn end-of-the-earth as Burnt Pastures. She had an offer of the school at Hartley's Mills, and she taught three terms there, and brought home a hundred and fifty dollars at the end. All through the last winter she drew, more or less, and she could see better than any one else that she had not fallen behind in her art, but after having let it drop for a time, had taken it up with fresh power and greater skill. She had come to see things better than she used, and she had learned to be faithful to what she saw, which is the great matter in all the arts.
She had never formulated this fact, even if she knew it; and Mrs. Burton was still further from guessing what it was that made Cornelia's sketches so much more attractive than they were, when the girl let her look at them, in one of her proud, shy confidences. She said, "I do wish Mr. Ludlow could see these, Nelie."
"Do you think he would be very much excited?" asked the girl, with the sarcastic humor which had risen up in her to be one of the reliefs of her earlier intensity.
"He ought to be," said Mrs. Burton. "You know he did admire your drawings, Nelie; even those you had at the fair, that time."
"Did he?" returned the girl, carelessly. "What did he say?"
"Well, he said that if you were a boy there couldn't be any doubt about you."
Cornelia laughed. "That was a pretty safe kind of praise. I'm not likely ever to be a boy." She rose up from where they were sitting together, and went to put her drawings away in her room. When she came back, she said, "It would be fun to show him, some day, that even so low down a creature as a girl could be something."
"I wish you would, Nie," said Mrs. Burton, "I just wish you would. Why don't you go to New York, this winter, and study! Why don't you make her, Mrs. Saunders?"
"Who? Me?" said Mrs. Saunders, who sat by, in an indolent abeyance. "Oh! I ain't allowed to open my mouth any more."
"Well," said Cornelia, "don't be so ungrammatical, then, when you do it without being allowed, mother."
Mrs. Saunders laughed in lazy enjoyment. "One thing I know; if I had my way she'd have been in New York studying long ago, instead of fooling away her time out here, school-teaching."
"And where would you have been, mother?"
"Me?" said Mrs. Saunders again, incorrigibly. "Oh, I guess I should have been somewhere!"
"Well, I'll tell you what," Mrs. Burton broke in, "Nie must go, and that's all about it. I know from what Mr. Ludlow said that he believes she could be an artist. She would have to work hard, but I don't call teaching school play, exactly."
"Indeed it isn't!" said Mrs. Saunders. "I'd sooner set all day at the machine myself, and dear knows that's trying enough!"
"I'm not afraid of the hard work," said Cornelia.
"What are you afraid of, then?" demanded her mother. "Afraid of failing?"
"No; of succeeding," answered Cornelia, perversely.
"I can't make the child out," said Mrs. Saunders, with apparent pleasure in the mystery.
Cornelia went on, at least partially, to explain herself. "I mean, succeeding in the way women seem to succeed. They make me sick!"
"Oh," said her mother, with sarcasm that could not sustain itself even by a smile letting Mrs. Burton into the joke, "going to be a Rosa Bonnhure?"
Cornelia scorned this poor attempt of her mother. "If I can't succeed as men succeed, and be a great painter, and not just a great woman painter, I'd rather be excused altogether. Even Rosa Bonheur: I don't believe her horses would have been considered so wonderful if a man had done them. I guess that's what Mr. Ludlow meant, and I guess he was right. I guess if a girl wants to turn out an artist she'd better start by being a boy."
"I guess," said Mrs. Burton, with admiring eyes full of her beauty, "that if Mr. Ludlow could see you now, he'd be very sorry to have you a boy!"
Cornelia blushed the splendid red of a brunette. "There it is, Mrs. Burton! That's what's always in everybody's mind about a girl when she wants to do something. It's what a magnificent match she'll make by her painting or singing or acting! And if the poor fool only knew, she needn't draw or sing or act, to do that."
"A person would think you'd been through the wars, Cornelia," said her mother.
"I don't care! It's a shame!"
"It is a shame, Nelie," said Mrs. Burton, soothingly; and she added, unguardedly, "and I told Mr. Ludlow so, when he spoke about a girl's being happily married, as if there was no other happiness for a girl."
"Oh! He thinks that, does he?"
"No, of course, he doesn't. He has a very high ideal of women; but he was just running on, in the usual way. He told afterwards how hard the girl art-students work in New York, and go ahead of the young men, some of them—where they have the strength. The only thing is that so few of them have the strength. That's what he meant."
"What do you think, mother?" asked the girl with an abrupt turn toward her. "Do you think I'd break down?"
"I guess if you didn't break down teaching school, that you hated, you won't break down studying art, when you love it so."
"Well," Cornelia said, with the air of putting an end to the audience, "I guess there's no great hurry about it."
She let her mother follow Mrs. Burton out, recognizing with a smile of scornful intelligence the ladies' wish to have the last word about her to themselves.
"I don't know as I ever saw her let herself go so far before," said Mrs. Saunders, leaning on the top of the closed gate, and speaking across it to Mrs. Burton on the outside of the fence. "I guess she's thinking about it, pretty seriously. She's got money enough, and more than enough."
"Well," said Mrs. Burton, "I'm going to write to Mr. Ludlow about it, as soon as I get home, and I know I can get him to say something that'll decide her."
"So do!" cried Mrs. Saunders, delighted.
She lingered awhile talking of other things, so as to enable herself to meet Cornelia with due unconsciousness when she returned to her.
"Have you been talking me over all this time, mother?" the girl asked.
"We didn't hardly say a word about you," said her mother, and now she saw what a good thing it was that she had staid and talked impersonalities with Mrs. Burton.
"Well, one thing I know," said the girl, "if she gets that Mr. Ludlow to encourage me, I'll never go near New York in the world."
Mrs. Saunders escaped into the next room, and answered back from that safe distance, "I guess you'd better get her to tell you what she's going to do."
When she returned, the girl stood looking dreamily out of the little crooked panes of the low window. She asked, with her back to her mother, "What would you do, if I went?"
"Oh, I should get along," said Mrs. Saunders with the lazy piety which had never yet found Providence to fail it. "I should get Miss Snively to go in with me, here. She ain't making out very well, alone, and she could be company to me in more ways than one."
"Yes," said the girl, in a deep sigh. "I thought of her." She faced about.
"Why, land, child!" cried her mother, "what's the matter?"
Cornelia's eyes were streaming with tears, and the passion in her heart was twisting her face with its anguish. She flung her arms round her mother's neck, and sobbed on her breast. "Oh, I'm going, I'm going, and you don't seem to care whether I go or stay, and it'll kill me to leave you."
Mrs. Saunders smiled across the tempest of grief in her embrace, at her own tranquil image in the glass, and took it into the joke. "Well, you ain't going to leave this minute," she said, smoothing the girl's black hair. "And I don't really care if you never go, Nie. You mustn't go on my account."
"Don't you want me to?"
"Not unless you do."
"And you don't care whether I'm ever an artist or not?"
"What good is your being an artist going to do me?" asked her mother, still with a joking eye on herself in the mirror.
"And I'm perfectly free to go or to stay, as far as your wish is concerned?"
"Well!" said Mrs. Saunders, with insincere scorn of the question.
The girl gave her a fierce hug; she straightened herself up, and dashed the water from her eyes. "Well, then," she said, "I'll see. But promise me one thing, mother."
"What is it?"
"That you won't ask me a single thing about it, from this out, if I never decide!"
"Well, I won't, Nie. I promise you that. I don't want to drive you to anything. And I guess you know ten times as well what you want to do, as I do, anyway. I ain't going to worry you."
Three weeks later, just before fair time, Cornelia went to see Mrs. Burton. It was warm, and Mrs. Burton brought out a fan for her on the piazza.
"Oh, I'm not hot," said Cornelia. "Mrs. Burton, I've made up my mind to go to New York this winter, and study art."
"I knew you would, Nie!" Mrs. Burton exulted.
"Yes. I've thought it all out. I've got the money, now. I keep wanting to paint, and I don't know whether I can or not, and the only way is to go and find out. It'll be easy enough to come home. I'll keep money enough to pay my way back."
"Yes," said Mrs. Burton, "it's the only way. But I guess you'll find out you can paint fast enough. It's a pretty good sign you can, if you want to."
"Oh, I don't know. Some girls want to write poetry awfully, and can't. Mrs. Burton," she broke off, with a nervous laugh, "I don't suppose you expect that Mr. Ludlow out to the fair this year?"
"No, Nelie, I don't," said Mrs. Burton, with tender reluctance.
"Because," said the girl with another laugh, "he might save me a trip to New York, if he could see my drawings." Something, she did not know what, in Mrs. Burton's manner, made her ask: "Have you heard from him lately? Perhaps he's given it up, too!"
"Oh, no!" sighed Mrs. Burton, with a break from her cheerfulness with Cornelia, which set its voluntary character in evidence to the girl's keen, young perception. "But he seemed to be rather discouraged about the prospects of artists when he wrote." She was afraid Cornelia might ask her when he had written. "He seemed to think the ranks were very full. He's a very changeable person. He's always talked, before now, about there being plenty of room at the top."
"Well, that's where I expect to be," said the girl, smiling but trembling. She turned the talk, and soon rose to go, ignoring to the last Mrs. Burton's forced efforts to recur to her plan of studying art in New York. Now she said: "Mrs. Burton, there's one thing I'd like to ask you," and she lifted her eyes upon her with a suddenness that almost made Mrs. Burton jump.
"What is it, Nelie?"
"You've always been so good to me—and—and taken such an interest, that I'm afraid—I thought you might try—I want you to promise me you won't write to Mr. Ludlow about me, or ask him to do the least thing, for me!"
"I won't, I won't indeed, Nelie!" Mrs. Burton promised with grateful perfervor.
"Because," said the girl, taking her skirt in her left hand, preparatory to lifting it for her descent of the piazza steps, "now that I've made up my mind, I don't want to be discouraged, and I don't want to be helped. If I can't do for myself, I won't be done for."
After she got down through the maples, and well out of the gate, Burton came and stood in the hall door-way, with his pipe in his mouth. "Saved your distance, Polly, as usual; saved your distance."
"What would you have done?" retorted his wife.
"I should have told her that I'd just got a letter from Ludlow this morning, and that he begged and entreated me by everything I held dear, to keep the poor girl from coming to New York, and throwing away her time and health and money."
"You wouldn't!" cried Mrs. Burton. "You wouldn't have done anything of the kind. It would have made her perfectly hate him."
Burton found his pipe out. He lighted a match and hollowed his hands over it above the pipe, to keep it from the draught. "Well," he said, avoiding the point in controversy, "why shouldn't she perfectly hate him?"
September was theoretically always a very busy month with Mrs. Saunders. She believed that she devoted it to activities which she called her fall work, and that she pressed forward in the fulfilments of these duties with a vigor inspired by the cool, clear weather. But in reality there was not much less folding of the hands with her in September than there was in July. She was apt, on the coolest and clearest September day, to drop into a chair with a deep drawn "Oh, hum!" after the fatigue of bringing in an apronful of apples, or driving the hens away from her chrysanthemums, and she spent a good deal of time wondering how, with all she had to do, she was ever going to get those flowers in before the frost caught them. At one of these times, sitting up slim, graceful and picturesque, in the feather-cushioned rocker-lounge, and fanning her comely face with her shade-hat, it occurred to her to say to Cornelia, sewing hard beside the window, "I guess you won't see them in blossom this Christmas, Nie."
"Not unless you cut them at the roots and send them to me by mail to look at," said the girl.
Her mother laughed easily. "Well, I must really take hold and help you, or you'll never get away. I've put off everybody else's work, till it's perfectly scandalous, and I'm afraid they'll bring the roof about my ears, and yet I seem to be letting you do all your sewing. Well, one thing, I presume I hate to have you go so!"
"Mother!" cried the girl, drawing out her needle to the full length of her thread before she let her hand drop nervelessly at her side, and she fell back to look fixedly at Mrs. Saunders. "If that's the way you feel!"
"I don't! I want you to go just as much as ever I did. But looking at you there, just against the window, that way, I got to thinking you wouldn't be there a great while; and——" Mrs. Saunders caught her breath, and was mute a moment before she gave way and began to whimper. From the force of habit she tried to whimper with one side of her mouth, as she smiled, to keep her missing teeth from showing; and at the sight of this characteristic effort, so familiar and so full of long association, Cornelia's heart melted within her, and she ran to her mother, and pulled her head down on her breast and covered the unwhimpering cheek with kisses.
"Don't you suppose I think of that, too, mother? And when you go round the room, or out in the yard, I just keep following you as if I was magnetized, and I can see you with my eyes shut as well as I can with them open; and I know how I shall feel when that's all I've got of you! But I'll soon be back! Why I'll be here in June again! And it's no use, now. I've got to go."
"Oh, yes," said her mother, pushing herself free, and entering upon so prolonged a search for her handkerchief that her tears had almost time to dry without it before she found it. "But that don't make it any easier, child."
They had agreed from the time Cornelia made up her mind to go, and they had vowed the Burtons to secrecy, that they were not to tell any one till just before she started; but it was not in Mrs. Saunders's nature or the nature of things, that she should keep her part of the agreement. She was so proud of Cornelia's going to study art in New York, and going on her own money, that she would have told all her customers that she was going, even if it had not proved such a good excuse for postponing and delaying the work they brought her.
It was all over town before the first week was out, and the fact had been canvassed in and out of the presence of the principals, with much the same frankness. What Cornelia had in excess of a putting-down pride her mother correspondingly lacked; what the girl forbade, Mrs. Saunders invited by her manner, and there were not many people, or at least many ladies, in Pymantoning, who could not put their hands on their hearts and truly declare that they had spoken their minds as freely to Mrs. Saunders as they had to anybody.
As the time drew near Mrs. Burton begged to be allowed to ask Mr. Ludlow about a boarding-place for Cornelia; and to this Cornelia consented on condition that he should be strictly prohibited from taking any more trouble than simply writing the address on a piece of paper. When Mrs. Burton brought it she confessed that Mr. Ludlow seemed to have so far exceeded his instructions as to have inquired the price of board in a single room.
"I'm afraid, Nelie, it's more than you expected. But everything is very dear in New York, and Mr. Ludlow thought it was cheap. There's no fire in the room, even at that, but if you leave the door open when you're out, it heats nicely from the hall. It's over the door, four flights up; it's what they call a side room."
"How much is it, Mrs. Burton?" Cornelia asked, steadily; but she held her breath till the answer came.
"It's seven dollars a week."
"Well, the land!" said Mrs. Saunders, for all comment on the extortionate figure.
For a moment Cornelia did not say anything. Then she quietly remarked, "I can be home all the sooner," and she took the paper which Ludlow had written the address on; she noticed that it smelt of tobacco smoke.
"He said you could easily find your way from the Grand Central Depot by the street cars; it's almost straight. He's written down on the back which cars you take. You give your check to the baggage expressman that comes aboard the train before you get in, and then you don't have the least trouble. He says there are several girl art-students in the same house, and you'll soon feel at home. He says if you feel the least timid about getting in alone, he'll come with a lady friend of his, to meet you, and she'll take you to your boarding-house."
Mrs. Burton escaped with rather more than her life from the transmission of this offer. Cornelia even said, "I'm very much obliged to him, I'm sure. But I shouldn't wish to trouble him, thank you. I won't feel the least timid."
But her mother followed Mrs. Burton out to the gate, as usual. "I guess," Mrs. Saunders explained, "she hated to have him make so much to-do about it. What makes him want to bring a lady friend to meet her? Somebody he's engaged to?"
"Well, that's what I wondered, at first," said Mrs. Burton. "But then when I came to think how very different the customs are in New York, I came to the conclusion that he did it on Cornelia's account. If he was to take her to the boarding-house himself, they might think he was engaged to her."
"Well!" said Mrs. Saunders.
"You may be sure it's because he's good and thoughtful about it, and wants her not to have any embarrassment."
"Oh, I guess he's all right," said Mrs. Saunders. "But who'd ever have thought of having to take such precautions? I shouldn't think life was worth having on such terms, if I was a girl."
She told Cornelia about this strange social ceremony of chaperonage, which now for the first time practically concerned them.
The night began to fall an hour before Cornelia's train reached New York, and it drew into the station, through the whirl and dance of parti-colored lights everywhere.
The black porter of the sleeping-ear caught up her bag and carried it out for her, as if he were going to carry it indefinitely; and outside she stood letting him hold it, while she looked about her, scared and bewildered, and the passengers hurrying by, pushed and bumped against her. When she collected her wits sufficiently to take it from him, she pressed on with the rest up toward the front of the station where the crowd frayed out in different directions. At the open doorway giving on the street she stopped, and stood holding her bag, and gazed fearfully out on a line of wild men on the curbstone; they all seemed to be stretching their hands out to her, and they rattled and clamored: "Keb? A keb, a keb, a keb? Want a keb? Keb here! Keb? A keb, a keb, a keb!" They were kept back by a policeman who prevented them from falling upon the passengers, and restored them to order when they yielded by the half-dozen to the fancy that some one had ordered a cab, and started off in the direction of their vehicles, and then rushed back so as not to lose other chances. The sight of Cornelia standing bag in hand there, seemed to drive them to a frenzy of hope; several newsboys, eager to share their prosperity, rushed up and offered her the evening papers.
Cornelia strained forward from the doorway and tried to make out, in the kaleidoscopic pattern of lights, which was the Fourth Avenue car; the street was full of cars and carts and carriages, all going every which way, with a din of bells, and wheels and hoofs that was as if crushed to one clangerous mass by the superior uproar of the railroad trains coming and going on a sort of street-roof overhead. A sickening odor came from the mud of the gutters and the horses and people, and as if a wave of repulsion had struck against every sense in her, the girl turned and fled from the sight and sound and smell of it all into the ladies' waiting-room at her right.
She knew about that room from Mrs. Burton, who had said she could go in there, and fix her hair if it had got tumbled, when she came off the train. But it had been so easy to keep everything just right in the nice dressing-room on the sleeper that she had expected to step out of the station and take a Fourth Avenue car without going into the ladies-room. She found herself the only person in it, except a comfortable, friendly-looking, middle-aged woman, who seemed to be in charge of the place, and was going about with a dust-cloth in her hand. She had such a home-like air, and it was so peaceful there, after all that uproar outside, that Cornelia could hardly keep back the tears, though she knew it was silly, and kept saying so to herself under her breath.
She put her hand-bag down, and went and stood at one of the windows, trying to make up her mind to venture out; and then she began to move back and forth from one window to the other. It must have been this effect of restlessness and anxiety that made the janitress speak to her at last: "Expecting friends to meet you?"
Cornelia turned round and took a good look at the janitress. She decided from her official as well as her personal appearance that she might be trusted, as least provisionally. It had been going through her mind there at the windows what a fool she was to refuse to let Mr. Ludlow come to meet her with that friend of his, and she had been helplessly feigning that she had not refused, and that he was really coming, but was a little late. She was in the act of accepting his apology for the delay when the janitress spoke to her, and she said: "I don't know whether I'd better wait any longer. I was looking for a Fourth Avenue car."
"Well, you couldn't hardly miss one," said the janitress. "They're going all the time. Stranger in the city?"
"Yes, I am," Cornelia admitted; she thought she had better admit it.
"Well," said the janitress, "if I was you I'd wait for my friends a while longer. It's after dark, now, and if they come here and find you gone, they'll be uneasy, won't they?"
"Well," said Cornelia, and she sank submissively into a seat.
The janitress sat down too. "Not but what it's safe enough, and you needn't be troubled, if they don't come. You can go half an hour later just as well. My! I've had people sit here all day and wait. The things I've seen here, well, if they were put into a story you couldn't hardly believe them. I had a poor woman come in here one morning last week with a baby in her arms, and three little children hanging round her, to wait for her husband; and she waited till midnight, and he didn't come. I could have told her first as well as last that he wasn't ever coming; I knew it from the kind of a letter he wrote her, and that she fished up out of her pocket to show me, so as to find whether she had come to the right place to wait, or not, but I couldn't bear to do it; and I did for her and the children as well as I could, and when it came to it, about twelve, I coaxed her to go home, and come again in the morning. She didn't come back again; I guess she began to suspect something herself."
"Why, don't you suppose he ever meant to come?" Cornelia asked, tremulously.
"I don't know," said the janitress. "I didn't tell her so. I've had all kinds of homeless folks come in here, that had lost their pocket-books, or never had any, and little tots of children, with papers pinned on to tell me who they were expecting, and I've had 'em here on my hands till I had to shut up at night."
"And what did you do then?" Cornelia began to be anxious about her own fate, in case she should not get away before the janitress had to shut up.
"Well, some I had to put into the street, them that were used to it; and then there are homes of all kinds for most of 'em; old ladies' homes, and young girls' homes, and destitute females' homes, and children's homes, where they can go for the night, and all I've got to do is to give an order. It isn't as bad as you'd think, when you first come to the city; I came here from Connecticut."
Cornelia thought she might respond so far as to say, "I'm from Ohio," and the janitress seemed to appreciate the confidence.
She said, "Not on your way to the White House, I suppose? There are so many Presidents from your State. Well, I knew you were not from near New York, anywhere. I do have so many different sorts of folks coming in here, and I have to get acquainted with so many of 'em whether or no. Lots of foreigners, for one thing, and men blundering in, as well as women. They think it's a ticket-office, and want to buy tickets of me, and I have to direct 'em where. It's surprising how bright they are, oftentimes. The Irish are the hardest to get pointed right; the Italians are quick; and the Chinese! My, they're the brightest of all. If a Chinaman comes in for a ticket up the Harlem road, all I've got to do is to set my hand so, and so!" She faced south and set her hand westward; then she faced west, and set her hand northward. "They understand in a minute, and they're off like a flash."
As if she had done now all that sympathy demanded for Cornelia, the janitress went about some work in another part of the room and left the girl to herself. But Cornelia knew that she was keeping a friendly eye on her, and in the shelter of her presence, she tried to gather courage to make that start into the street alone, which she must finally make and which she was so foolish to keep postponing. She had written to the landlady of her boarding house that she should arrive on such a day, at such an hour; and here was the day, and she was letting the hour go by, and very likely the landlady would give her room to some one else. Or, if the expressman who took her check on the train, should get there with her trunk first, the landlady might refuse to take it. Cornelia did not know how people acted about such things in New York. She ought to go, and she tried to rise; but she was morally so unable that it was as if she were physically unable.
People came and went; some of them more than once, and Cornelia began to feel that they noticed her and recognized her, but still she could not move. Suddenly a figure appeared at the door, the sight of which armed her with the power of flight. She knew that it was Ludlow, from the photograph he had lately sent Mrs. Burton, with the pointed beard and the branching moustache which he had grown since they met last, and she jumped up to rush past him where he stood peering sharply round at the different faces in the room, and finally letting his eyes rest in eager question on hers.
He came towards her, and then it was too late to escape. "Miss Saunders? Oh, I'm so glad! I've been out of town, and I've only just got Mrs. Burton's telegram. Have I kept you waiting long?"
"Not very," said Cornelia. She might have said that he had not kept her waiting at all; the time that she had waited, without being kept by him, was now like no time at all; but she could not say anything more, and she wished to cry, she felt so glad and safe in his keeping. He caught up her bag, and she followed him out, with a blush over her shoulder for the janitress, who smiled after her with mistaken knowingness. But this was at least her self-delusion, and Cornelia had an instant in the confusion when it seemed as if Ludlow's coming had somehow annulled the tacit deceit she had practised in letting the janitress suppose she expected some one.
Ludlow kept talking to her all the way in the horse-car, but she could find only the briefest and dryest answers to his friendly questions about her mother and the Burtons; and all Pymantoning; and she could not blame him for taking such a hasty leave of her at her boarding-house that he almost flew down the steps before the door closed upon her.
She knew that she had disgusted him; and she hinted at this in the letter of scolding gratitude which she wrote to Mrs. Burton before she slept, for the trick she had played her. After all, though, she reasoned, she need not be so much troubled: he had done it for Mrs. Burton, and not for her, and he had not thought it worth while to bring a chaperon. To be sure, he had no time for that; but there was something in it all which put Cornelia back to the mere child she was when they first met in the Fair House at Pymantoning; she kept seeing herself angry and ill-mannered and cross to her mother, and it was as if he saw her so, too. She resented that, for she knew that she was another person now, and she tingled with vexation that she had done nothing to make him realize it.
Ludlow caught a cab in the street, and drove furiously to his lodging, where he dressed in ten minutes, so that he was not more than fifteen minutes late at the dinner he had risked missing for Cornelia's sake.
"I'm afraid I'm very late," he said, from his place at the left of his hostess; he pulled his napkin across his lap, and began to attack his oysters at once.
"Oh, not at all," said the lady, but he knew that she would have said much the same if he had come as they were rising from table.
A clear, gay voice rose from the corner of the board diagonally opposite: "The candles haven't begun to burn their shades yet; so you are still early, Mr. Ludlow."
The others laughed with the joy people feel in having a familiar fact noted for the first time. They had all seen candle-shades weakly topple down on the flames and take fire at dinner.
The gay voice went on, rendered, perhaps, a little over-bold by success: "If you see the men rising to put them out, you may be sure that they've been seated exactly an hour."
Ludlow looked across the bed of roses which filled two-thirds of the table, across the glitter of glass, and the waver of light and shadow, and said, "Oh, you're there!"
The wit that had inspired the voice before gave out; the owner tried to make a pout do duty for it. "Of course I'm there," she said; then pending another inspiration she was silent. Everybody waited for her to rise again to the level of her reputation for clever things, and the general expectation expressed itself in a subdued creaking of stiff linen above the board, and the low murmur of silken skirts under the table.
Finally one of the men said, "Well, it's bad enough to come late, but it's a good deal worse to come too early. I'd rather come late, any time."
"Mr. Wetmore wants you to ask him why, Mrs. Westley," said Ludlow.
Mrs. Westley entreated, "Oh, why, Mr. Wetmore?" and every one laughed.
"All right, Ludlow," said the gentleman in friendly menace. Then he answered Mrs. Westley: "Well, one thing, your hostess respects you more. If you come too early you bring reproach and you meet contempt; reproach that she shouldn't have been ready to receive you, and contempt that you should have supposed her capable of dining at the hour fixed."
It was a Mrs. Rangeley who had launched the first shaft at Ludlow; she now fitted another little arrow to her string, under cover of the laugh that followed Mr. Wetmore's reasons. "I shouldn't object to any one's coming late, unless I were giving the dinner; but what I can't bear is wondering what it was kept them."
Again she had given a touch that reminded the company of their common humanity and their unity of emotion, and the laugh that responded was without any of that reservation or uncertainty which a subtle observer may often detect in the enjoyment of brilliant things said at dinner. But the great charm of the Westley dinners was that people generally did understand each other there. If you made a joke, as Wetmore said, you were not often required to spell it. He celebrated the Westleys as ideal hosts: Mrs. Westley had the youth and beauty befitting a second wife; her social ambition had as yet not developed into the passion for millionaires; she was simply content with painters, like himself and Ludlow, literary men, lawyers, doctors and their several wives.
General Westley was in what Wetmore called the bloom of age. He might be depended upon for the unexpected, like fate. He occasionally did it, he occasionally said it, from the passive hospitality that characterized him.
"I believe I share that impatience of yours, Mrs. Rangeley," he now remarked; "though in the present case I think we ought to leave everything to Mr. Ludlow's conscience."
"Oh, do you think that would be quite safe?" she asked with burlesque seriousness. "Well! If we must!"
Ludlow said, "Why, I think Mrs. Rangeley is right. I would much rather yield to compulsion. I don't mind telling what kept me, if I'm obliged to."
"Oh, I almost hate to have you, now!" Mrs. Rangeley bubbled back. "Your willingness, somehow, makes it awful. You may be going to boast of it!"
"No, no!" Wetmore interposed. "I don't believe it's anything to boast of."
"Now, you see, you must speak," said Mrs. Westley.
Ludlow fell back in his chair, and dreamily crumbled his bread. "I don't see how I can, exactly."
Wetmore leaned forward and looked at Ludlow round the snowy shoulder of a tall lady next him.
"Is there any particular form of words in which you like to be prompted, when you get to this point?"
"Dr. Brayton might hypnotize him," suggested the lady whose shoulder Wetmore was looking round.
The doctor answered across the table, "In these cases of the inverted or prostrated will, there is often not volition enough to cooeperate with the hypnotizer. I don't believe I could do anything with Mr. Ludlow."
"How much," sighed Mrs. Rangeley, "I should like to be the centre of universal interest like that!"
"It's a good pose," said Wetmore; "but really I think Ludlow is working it too hard. I don't approve of mob violence, as the papers say when they're going to; but if he keeps this up much longer I won't be answerable for the consequences. I feel that we are getting beyond the control of our leaders."
Ludlow was tempted to exploit the little incident with Cornelia, for he felt sure that it would win the dinner-table success which we all like to achieve. Her coming to study art in New York, and her arriving in that way, was a pretty romance; prettier than it would have been if she were plainer, and he knew that he could give the whole situation so that she should appear charming, and should appeal to everybody's sympathy. If he could show her stiff and blunt, as she was, so much the better. He would go back to their first meeting, and bring in a sketch of Pymantoning County Fair, and of the village itself and its social conditions, with studies of Burton and his wife. Every point would tell, for though his commensals were now all well-to-do New Yorkers, he knew that the time had been with them when they lived closer to the ground, in simple country towns, as most prosperous and eminent Americans have done.
"Well," said Wetmore, "how long are you going to make us wait?"
"Oh, you mustn't wait for me," said Ludlow. "Once is enough to-night. I'm not going to say what kept me."
This also was a success in its way. It drew cries of protest and reproach from the ladies, and laughter from the men. Wetmore made himself heard above the rest. "Mrs. Westley, I know this man, and I can't let you be made the victim of one of his shameless fakes. There was really nothing kept him. He either forgot the time, or, what is more probable, he deliberately put off coming so as to give himself a little momentary importance by arriving late. I don't wish to be hard upon him, but that is the truth."
"No, no," said the hostess in the applause which recognized Wetmore's mischievous intent. "I'll not believe anything of the kind." From her this had the effect of repartee, and when she asked with the single-heartedness which Wetmore had praised among her friends as her strongest point, and advised her keeping up as long as she possibly could, "It isn't so, is it, Mr. Ludlow?" the finest wit could not have done more for her. The general beamed upon her over the length of the table. Mrs. Rangeley said at his elbow, "She's always more charming than any one else, simply because she is," and he made no effort to turn the compliment upon her as she thought he might very well have done.
Under cover of what the others now began saying about different matters, Ludlow murmured to Mrs. Westley, "I don't mind telling you. You know that young girl you said you would go with me to meet when I should ask you?"
"The little school-mistress?"
"Yes." Ludlow smiled. "She isn't so very little, any more. It was she who kept me. I found a dispatch at my place when I got home to-day, telling me she was coming, and would arrive at six, and there was no time to trouble you; it was half-past when I got it."
"She's actually come then?" asked Mrs. Westlay. "Nothing you could say would stop her?"
"No," said Ludlow with a shrug. He added, after a moment, "But I don't know that I blame her. Nothing would have stopped me."
"And is there anything else I can do? Has she a pleasant place to stay?"
"Good enough, I fancy. It's a boarding-house where several people I know have been. She must be left to her own devices, now. That's the best thing for her. It's the only thing."
In spite of his theory as to what was best for her, in some ways Ludlow rather expected that Cornelia would apply to him for advice as to how and where she should begin work. He forgot how fully he had already given it; but she had not. She remembered what she had overheard him say to her mother, that day in the Fair House, about the superiority of the Synthesis of Studies, and she had since confirmed her faith in his judgment by much silent inquiry of the newspapers. They had the Sunday edition of the Lakeland Light at Pymantoning, and Cornelia had kept herself informed of the "Gossip of the Ateliers," and concerning "Women and Artists," "Artists' Summer Homes," "Phases of Studio Life," "The Ladies who are Organizing Ceramic Clubs," "Women Art Students," "Glimpses of the Dens of New York Women Artists," and other aesthetic interests which the Sunday edition of the Light purveyed with the newspaper syndicate's generous and indiscriminate abundance. She did not believe it all; much of it seemed to her very silly; but she nourished her ambition upon it all the same.
The lady writers who celebrated the lady artists, and who mostly preferred to swim in seas of personal float, did now and then offer their readers a basis of solid fact; and they all agreed that the Synthesis of Art Studies was the place for a girl if she was in earnest and wished to work.
As these ladies described them the conditions were of the exacting sort which Cornelia's nature craved, and she had her sex-pride in the Synthesis, too, because she had read that women had borne an important part in founding it; the strictest technical training and the freest spirit of artistic endeavor prevailed in a school that owed its existence so largely to them. That was a great point, even if every one of the instructors was a man. She supposed that Mr. Ludlow would have sheltered himself behind this fact if she had used the other to justify herself in going on with art after he had urged that as a woman, she had better not do so. But the last thing Cornelia intended was to justify herself to Mr. Ludlow, and she vehemently wished he would not try to do anything more for her, now. After sleeping upon the facts of their meeting she felt sure that he would not try. She approved of herself for not having asked him to call in parting. She was almost glad that he hardly had given her a chance to do so.