Works of Robert W. Chambers
The Common Law The Adventures of a Modest Man Ailsa Paige The Danger Mark Special Messenger The Firing Line The Younger Set The Fighting Chance Some Ladies in Haste The Tree of Heaven The Tracer of Lost Persons A Young Man in a Hurry Lorraine Maids of Paradise Ashes of Empire The Red Republic Outsiders The Green Mouse Iole The Reckoning The Maid-at-Arms Cardigan The Haunts of Men The Mystery of Choice The Cambric Mask The Maker of Moons The King in Yellow In Search of the Unknown The Conspirators A King and a Few Dukes In the Quarter
Garden-Land Forest-Land River-Land Mountain-Land Orchard-Land Outdoor-Land Hide and Seek in Forest-Land
ROBERT W. CHAMBERS
WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY
CHARLES DANA GIBSON
NEW YORK AND LONDON D. APPLETON AND COMPANY 1911
TO CHARLES DANA GIBSON
A FRIEND OF MANY YEARS
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
"She sat at the piano, running her fingers lightly over the keyboard" Frontispiece
"There was a long, brisk, decisive ring at the door" 3
"'Now, Miss West,' he said decisively" 13
"'I know perfectly well that this isn't right,'she said" 31
"'What's the matter with it, then?'" 40
"For a long while she sat, her cheek resting on one palm, looking fixedly into space" 65
"Neville stood stock-still before the canvas" 81
"When he first tried to ring her up the wire was busy" 83
"'Kelly, dear, are you unhappy?'" 90
"He picked up a bit of white chalk ... and traced on the floor the outline of her shoes" 93
"'I will call you a god if I like!'" 96
"'If she's as much of a winner as all that,' began Cameron with decision, 'I want to meet her immediately—'" 109
"'Come on, Alice, if you're going to scrub before luncheon'" 116
"'I know it is you. Is it?' 125
"A smartly dressed and very confident drummer" 136
"Valerie sat cross-legged on the grass ... scribbling away" 145
"'How well you look!' He exclaimed" 149
"Querida had laughed ... and returned compliment for compliment" 175
"'Me lord, the taxi waits!'" 179
Mazie Gray 183
"And the last rose dropped from her hand" 188-189
"'How perfectly horrid you can be!'she exclaimed" 199
"She began by balancing her check book" 224
"He stood before it, searching in it for any hint of that elusive and mysterious something" 229
"'I shall have need of friends,' she said half to herself" 245
'"Don't do it, Valerie!'" 247
"Ogilvy stood looking sentimentally at the two young girls" 249
"Valerie's lips trembled on the edge of a smile as she bent lower over her sewing" 286
"She and Rita dined with him once or twice" 293
"Tall, transparently pale, negative in character" 297
"Her poise, her unconsciousness, the winning simplicity of her manner were noticed everywhere" 307
"'Where do you keep those pretty models, Louis?' he demanded" 315
"'Your—profession—must be an exceedingly interesting one,' said Lily" 326
"It was a large, thick, dark book, and weighed nearly four pounds" 338
The Countess d'Enver 347
"'May I sit here with you until she arrives? I am Stephanie Swift'" 355
"'John, you don't look very well,' said Valerie" 359
"'It is very beautiful, Louis,' said his mother, with a smile of pride" 387
"'You are not happy, Louis'" 390
"'What have you been saying to your mother?' he asked" 404
"'If you'll place a lump of sugar on my nose, and say "when," I'll perform'" 409
"And what happier company for her than her thoughts—what tenderer companionship than her memories?" 413
"She prowled around the library, luxuriously, dipping into inviting volumes" 415
"'Miss West!' he exclaimed. 'How on earth did you ever find your way into my woods?'" 417
"'Dearest,' he whispered, putting his arm around her, 'you must come with us'" 427
"'Well, Louis, what do you know about this?'" 430
"The parrot greeted her, flapping his brilliant wings and shrieking from his perch" 449
"'And they—the majority of them—are, after all, just men'" 453
"His thoughts were mostly centred on Valerie" 458
"Ogilvy ... began a lively fencing bout with an imaginary adversary" 479
"Then Rita came silently on sandalled feet to stand behind him and look at what he had done" 483
"'You'd better understand, Kelly, that Rita Tevis is as well born as I am'" 491
"She knelt down beside the bed and ... said whatever prayer she had in mind" 507
"She was longer over her hair ... gathering it and bringing it under discipline" 510
"'Yes,' she said, 'it is really great'" 521
"'I am scared blue. That's why I'm holding on to your hand so desperately'" 531
THE COMMON LAW
There was a long, brisk, decisive ring at the door. He continued working. After an interval the bell rang again, briefly, as though the light touch on the electric button had lost its assurance.
"Somebody's confidence has departed," he thought to himself, busy with a lead-weighted string and a stick of soft charcoal wrapped in silver foil. For a few moments he continued working, not inclined to trouble himself to answer the door, but the hesitating timidity of a third appeal amused him, and he walked out into the hallway and opened the door. In the dim light a departing figure turned from the stairway:
"Do you wish a model?" she asked in an unsteady voice.
"No," he said, vexed.
"Then—I beg your pardon for disturbing you—"
"Who gave you my name?" he demanded.
"Who sent you to me? Didn't anybody send you?"
"But how did you get in?"
There was a scarcely perceptible pause; then she turned away in the dim light of the corridor.
"You know," he said, "models are not supposed to come here unless sent for. It isn't done in this building." He pointed to a black and white sign on his door which bore the words: "No Admittance."
"I am very sorry. I didn't understand—"
"Oh, it's all right; only, I don't see how you got up here at all. Didn't the elevator boy question you? It's his business."
"I didn't come up on the elevator."
"You didn't walk up!"
"Both elevators happened to be in service. Besides, I was not quite certain that models were expected to use the elevators."
"Good Lord!" he exclaimed, "you must have wanted an engagement pretty badly."
"Yes, I did."
He stared: "I suppose you do, still,"
"If you would care to try me."
"I'll take your name and address, anyhow. Twelve flights! For the love of—oh, come in anyway and rest."
It was dusky in the private hallway through which he preceded her, but there was light enough in the great studio. Through the vast sheets of glass fleecy clouds showed blue sky between. The morning was clearing.
He went over to an ornate Louis XV table, picked up a note book, motioned her to be seated, dropped into a chair himself, and began to sharpen a pencil. As yet he had scarcely glanced at her, and now, while he leisurely shaved the cedar and scraped the lead to a point, he absent-mindedly and good-humouredly admonished her:
"You models have your own guild, your club, your regular routine, and it would make it much easier for us if you'd all register and quietly wait until we send for you.
"You see we painters know what we want and we know where to apply for it. But if you all go wandering over studio buildings in search of engagements, we won't have any leisure to employ you because it will take all our time to answer the bell. And it will end by our not answering it at all. And that's why it is fit and proper for good little models to remain chez eux."
He had achieved a point to his pencil. Now he opened his model book, looked up at her with his absent smile, and remained looking.
"Aren't you going to remove your veil?"
"Oh—I beg your pardon!" Slender gloved fingers flew up, were nervously busy a moment. She removed her veil and sat as though awaiting his comment. None came.
After a moment's pause she said: "Did you wish—my name and address?"
He nodded, still looking intently at her.
"Miss West," she said, calmly. He wrote it down.
"Is that all? Just 'Miss West'?"
"Valerie West—if that is custom—necessary."
He wrote "Valerie West"; and, as she gave it to him, he noted her address.
"Head and shoulders?" he asked, quietly.
"Yes," very confidently.
"Draped or undraped?"
When he looked up again, for an instant he thought her skin even whiter than it had been; perhaps not, for, except the vivid lips and a carnation tint in the cheeks, the snowy beauty of her face and neck had already preoccupied him.
"Do you pose undraped?" he repeated, interested.
"I—expect to do—what is—required of—models."
"Sensible," he commented, noting the detail in his book. "Now, Miss West, for whom have you recently posed?"
And, as she made no reply, he looked up amiably, balancing his pencil in his hand and repeating the question.
"Is it necessary to—tell you?"
"Not at all. One usually asks that question, probably because you models are always so everlastingly anxious to tell us—particularly when the men for whom you have posed are more famous than the poor devil who offers you an engagement."
There was something very good humoured in his smile, and she strove to smile, too, but her calmness was now all forced, and her heart was beating very fast, and her black-gloved fingers were closing and doubling till the hands that rested on the arms of the gilded antique chair lay tightly clenched.
He was leisurely writing in his note book under her name:
"Height, medium; eyes, a dark brown; hair, thick, lustrous, and brown; head, unusually beautiful; throat and neck, perfect—"
He stopped writing and lifted his eyes:
"How much of your time is taken ahead, I wonder?"
"How many engagements have you? Is your time all cut up—as I fancy it is?"
"Could you give me what time I might require?"
"I think so."
"What I mean, Miss West, is this: suppose that your figure is what I have an idea it is; could you give me a lot of time ahead?"
She remained silent so long that he had started to write, "probably unreliable," under his notes; but, as his pencil began to move, her lips unclosed with, a low, breathless sound that became a ghost of a voice:
"I will do what you require of me. I meant to answer."
"Do you mean that you are in a position to make a time contract with me?—provided you prove to be what I need?"
She nodded uncertainly.
"I'm beginning the ceiling, lunettes, and panels for the Byzantine Theatre," he added, sternly stroking his short mustache, "and under those circumstances I suppose you know what a contract between us means."
She nodded again, but in her eyes was bewilderment, and in her heart, fear.
"Yes," she managed to say, "I think I understand."
"Very well. I merely want to say that a model threw me down hard in the very middle of the Bimmington's ball-room. Max Schindler put on a show, and she put for the spot-light. She'd better stay put," he added grimly: "she'll never have another chance in your guild."
Then the frown vanished, and the exceedingly engaging smile glimmered in his eyes:
"You wouldn't do such a thing as that to me," he added; "would you, Miss West?"
"Oh, no," she replied, not clearly comprehending the enormity of the Schindler recruit's behaviour.
"And you'll stand by me if our engagement goes through?"
"Yes, I—will try to."
"Good business! Now, if you really are what I have an idea you are, I'll know pretty quick whether I can use you for the Byzantine job." He rose, walked over to a pair of closed folding doors and opened them. "You can undress in there," he said. "I think you will find everything you need."
For a second she sat rigid, her black-gloved hands doubled, her eyes fastened on him as though fascinated. He had already turned and sauntered over to one of several easels where he picked up the lump of charcoal in its silver foil.
The colour began to come back into her face—swifter, more swiftly: the vast blank window with its amber curtains stared at her; she lifted her tragic gaze and saw the sheet of glass above swimming in crystal light. Through it clouds were dissolving in the bluest of skies; against it a spiderweb of pendant cords drooped from the high ceiling; and she saw the looming mystery of huge canvases beside which stepladders rose surmounted by little crow's-nests where the graceful oval of palettes curved, tinted with scraped brilliancy.
"What a dreamer you are!" he called across the studio to her. "The light is fine, now. Hadn't we better take advantage of it?"
She managed to find her footing; contrived to rise, to move with apparent self-possession toward the folding doors.
"Better hurry," he said, pleasantly. "If you're what I need we might start things now. I am all ready for the sort of figure I expect you have."
She stepped inside the room and became desperately busy for a moment trying to close the doors; but either her hands had suddenly become powerless or they shook too much; and when he turned, almost impatiently, from his easel to see what all that rattling meant, she shrank hastily aside into the room beyond, keeping out of his view.
The room was charming—not like the studio, but modern and fresh and dainty with chintz and flowered wall-paper and the graceful white furniture of a bed-room. There was a flowered screen there, too. Behind it stood a chair, and onto this she sank, laid her hands for an instant against her burning face, then stooped and, scarcely knowing what she was about, began to untie her patent-leather shoes.
He remained standing at his easel, very busy with his string and lump of charcoal; but after a while it occurred to him that she was taking an annoyingly long time about a simple matter.
"What on earth is the trouble?" he called. "Do you realise you've been in there a quarter of an hour?"
She made no answer. A second later he thought he heard an indistinct sound—and it disquieted him.
There was no reply.
Impatient, a little disturbed, he walked across to the folding doors; and the same low, suppressed sound caught his ear.
"What in the name of—" he began, walking into the room; and halted, amazed.
She sat all huddled together behind the screen, partly undressed, her face hidden in her hands; and between the slender fingers tears ran down brightly.
"Are you ill?" he asked, anxiously.
After a moment she slowly shook her head.
"Then—what in the name of Mike—"
"P-please forgive me. I—I will be ready in a in-moment—if you wouldn't mind going out—"
"Are you ill? Answer me?"
"Has anything disturbed you so that you don't feel up to posing to-day?"
"No.... I—am—almost ready—if you will go out—"
He considered her, uneasy and perplexed. Then:
"All right," he said, briefly. "Take your own time, Miss West."
At his easel, fussing with yard-stick and crayon, he began to square off his canvas, muttering to himself:
"What the deuce is the matter with that girl? Nice moment to nurse secret sorrows or blighted affections. There's always something wrong with the best lookers.... And she is a real beauty—or I miss my guess." He went on ruling off, measuring, grumbling, until slowly there came over him the sense of the nearness of another person. He had not heard her enter, but he turned around, knowing she was there.
She stood silent, motionless, as though motion terrified her and inertia were salvation. Her dark hair rippled to her waist; her white arms hung limp, yet the fingers had curled till every delicate nail was pressed deep into the pink palm. She was trying to look at him. Her face was as white as a flower.
"All right," he said under his breath, "you're practically faultless. I suppose you realise it!"
A scarcely perceptible shiver passed over her entire body, then, as he stepped back, his keen artist's gaze narrowing, there stole over her a delicate flush, faintly staining her from brow to ankle, transfiguring the pallour exquisitely, enchantingly. And her small head drooped forward, shadowed by her hair.
"You're what I want," he said. "You're about everything I require in colour and form and texture."
She neither spoke nor moved as much as an eyelash.
"Look here, Miss West," he said in a slightly excited voice, "let's go about this thing intelligently." He swung another easel on its rollers, displaying a sketch in soft, brilliant colours—a multitude of figures amid a swirl of sunset-tinted clouds and patches of azure sky.
"You're intelligent," he went on with animation,—"I saw that—somehow or other—though you haven't said very much." He laughed, and laid his hand on the painted canvas beside him:
"You're a model, and it's not necessary to inform you that this Is only a preliminary sketch. Your experience tells you that. But it is necessary to tell you that it's the final composition. I've decided on this arrangement for the ceiling: You see for yourself that you're perfectly fitted to stand or sit for all these floating, drifting, cloud-cradled goddesses. You're an inspiration in yourself—for the perfections of Olympus!" he added, laughing, "and that's no idle compliment. But of course other artists have often told you this before—as though you didn't have eyes of your own I And beautiful ones at that!" He laughed again, turned and dragged a two-storied model-stand across the floor, tossed up one or two silk cushions, and nodded to her.
"Don't be afraid; it's rickety but safe. It will hold us both. Are you ready?"
As in a dream she set one little bare foot on the steps, mounted, balancing with arms extended and the tips of her fingers resting on his outstretched hand.
Standing on the steps he arranged the cushions, told her where to be seated, how to recline, placed the wedges and blocks to support her feet, chalked the bases, marked positions with arrows, and wedged and blocked up her elbow. Then he threw over her a soft, white, wool robe, swathing her from throat to feet, descended the steps, touched an electric bell, and picking up a huge clean palette began to squeeze out coils of colour from a dozen plump tubes.
Presently a short, squarely built man entered. He wore a blue jumper; there were traces of paint on it, on his large square hands, on his square, serious face.
"We're going to begin now!—thank Heaven. So if you'll be kind enough to help move forward the ceiling canvas—"
O'Hara glanced up carelessly at the swathed and motionless figure above, then calmly spat upon his hands and laid hold of one side of the huge canvas indicated. The painter took the other side.
"Now, O'Hara, careful! Back off a little!—don't let it sway! There—that's where I want it. Get a ladder and clamp the tops. Pitch it a little forward—more!—stop! Fix those pully ropes; I'll make things snug below."
For ten minutes they worked deftly, rapidly, making fast the great blank canvas which had been squared and set with an enormous oval in heavy outline.
From her lofty eyrie she looked down at them as in a dream while they shifted other enormous framed canvases and settled the oval one into place. Everything below seemed to be on rubber wheels or casters, easels, stepladders, colour cabinets, even the great base where the oval set canvas rested.
She looked up at the blue sky. Sparrows dropped out of the brilliant void into unseen canons far below from whence came the softened roar of traffic. Northward the city spread away between its rivers, glittering under the early April sun; the Park lay like a grey and green map set with, the irregular silver of water; beyond, the huge unfinished cathedral loomed dark against the big white hospital of St. Luke; farther still a lilac-tinted haze hung along the edges of the Bronx.
"All right, O'Hara. Much obliged. I won't need you again."
"Very good, Sorr."
The short, broad Irishman went out with another incurious glance aloft, and closed the outer door.
High up on her perch she watched the man below. He calmly removed coat and waistcoat, pulled a painter's linen blouse over his curly head, lighted a cigarette, picked up his palette, fastened a tin cup to the edge, filled it from a bottle, took a handful of brushes and a bunch of cheese cloth, and began to climb up a stepladder opposite her, lugging his sketch in the other hand.
He fastened the little sketch to an upright and stood on the ladder halfway up, one leg higher than the other.
"Now, Miss West," he said decisively.
At the sound of his voice fear again leaped through her like a flame, burning her face as she let slip the white wool robe.
"All right," he said. "Don't move while I'm drawing unless you have to."
She could see him working. He seemed to be drawing with a brush, rapidly, and with, a kind of assurance that appeared almost careless.
At first she could make out little of the lines. They were all dark in tint, thin, tinged with plum colour. There seemed to be no curves in them—and at first she could not comprehend that he was drawing her figure. But after a little while curves appeared; long delicate outlines began to emerge as rounded surfaces in monochrome, casting definite shadows on other surfaces. She could recognise the shape of a human head; saw it gradually become a colourless drawing; saw shoulders, arms, a body emerging into shadowy shape; saw the long fine limbs appear, the slender indication of feet.
Then flat on the cheek lay a patch of brilliant colour, another on the mouth. A great swirl of cloud forms sprang into view high piled in a corner of the canvas.
And now he seemed to be eternally running up and down his ladder, shifting it here and there across the vast white background of canvas, drawing great meaningless lines in distant expanses of the texture, then, always consulting her with his keen, impersonal gaze, he pushed back his ladder, mounted, wiped the big brushes, selected others smaller and flatter, considering her in penetrating silence between every brush, stroke.
She saw a face and hair growing lovely under her eyes, bathed in an iris-tinted light; saw little exquisite flecks of colour set here and there on the white expanse; watched all so intently, so wonderingly, that the numbness of her body became a throbbing pain before she was aware that she was enduring torture.
She strove to move, gave a little gasp; and he was down from his ladder and up on hers before her half-paralysed body had swayed to the edge of danger.
"Why didn't you say so?" he asked, sharply. "I can't keep track of time when I'm working!"
With arms and fingers that scarcely obeyed her she contrived to gather the white wool covering around her shoulders and limbs and lay back.
"You know," he said, "that it's foolish to act this way. I don't want to kill you, Miss West."
She only lowered her head amid its lovely crown of hair.
"You know your own limits," he said, resentfully. He looked down at the big clock: "It's a full hour. You had only to speak. Why didn't you?"
"I—I didn't know what to say."
"Didn't know!" He paused, astonished. Then: "Well, you felt yourself getting numb, didn't you?"
"Y-yes. But I thought it was—to be expected"—she blushed vividly under his astonished gaze: "I think I had better tell you that—that this is—the first time."
"The first time!"
"Yes.... I ought to have told you. I was afraid you might not want me."
"Lord above!" he breathed. "You poor—poor little thing!"
She began to cry silently; he saw the drops fall shining on the white wool robe, and leaned one elbow on the ladder, watching them. After a while they ceased, but she still held her head low, and her face was bent in the warm shadow of her hair.
"How could I understand?" he asked very gently.
"I—should have told you. I was afraid."
He said: "I'm terribly sorry. It must have been perfect torture for you to undress—to come into the studio. If you'd only given me an idea of how matters stood I could have made it a little easier. I'm afraid I was brusque—taking it for granted that you were a model and knew your business.... I'm terribly sorry."
She lifted her head, looked at him, with the tears still clinging to her lashes.
"You have been very nice to me. It is all my own fault."
He smiled. "Then it's all right, now that we understand. Isn't it?"
"You make a stunning model," he said frankly.
"Do I? Then you will let me come again?"
"Let you!" He laughed; "I'll be more likely to beg you."
"Oh, you won't have to," she said; "I'll come as long as you want me."
"That is simply angelic of you. Tell me, do you wish to descend to terra firma?"
She glanced below, doubtfully:
"N-no, thank you. If I could only stretch my—legs—"
"Stretch away," he said, much amused, "but don't tumble off and break into pieces. I like you better as you are than as an antique and limbless Venus."
She cautiously and daintily extended first one leg then the other under the wool robe, then eased the cramped muscles of her back, straightening her body and flexing her arms with a little sigh of relief. As her shy sidelong gaze reverted to him she saw to her relief that he was not noticing her. A slight sense of warmth, suffused her body, and she stretched herself again, more confidently, and ventured to glance around.
"Speaking of terms," he said in an absent way, apparently preoccupied with the palette which he was carefully scraping, "do you happen to know what is the usual recompense for a model's service?"
She said that she had heard, and added with quick diffidence that she could not expect so much, being only a beginner.
He polished the surface of the palette with a handful of cheese cloth:
"Don't you think that you are worth it?"
"How can I be until I know how to pose for you?"
"You will never have to learn how to pose, Miss West."
"I don't know exactly what you mean."
"I mean that some models never learn. Some know how already—you, for example."
She flushed slightly: "Do you really mean that?"
"Oh, I wouldn't say so if I didn't. It's merely necessary for you to accustom yourself to holding a pose; the rest you already know instinctively."
"What is the rest?" she ventured to ask. "I don't quite understand what you see in me—"
"Well," he said placidly, "you are beautifully made. That is nine-tenths of the matter. Your head is set logically on your neck, and your neck is correctly placed on your spine, and your legs and arms are properly attached to your torso—your entire body, anatomically speaking, is hinged, hung, supported, developed as the ideal body should be. It's undeformed, unmarred, unspoiled, and that's partly luck, partly inheritance, and mostly decent habits and digestion."
She was listening intently, interested, surprised, her pink lips slightly parted.
"Another point," he continued; "you seem unable to move or rest ungracefully. Few women are so built that an ungraceful motion is impossible for them. You are one of the few. It's all a matter of anatomy."
She remained silent, watching him curiously.
He said: "But the final clincher to your qualifications is that you are intelligent. I have known pretty women," he added with, sarcasm, "who were not what learned men would call precisely intelligent. But you are. I showed you my sketch, indicated in a general way what I wanted, and instinctively and intelligently you assumed the proper attitude. I didn't have to take you by the chin and twist your head as though you were a lay figure; I didn't have to pull you about and flex and bend and twist you. You knew that I wanted you to look like some sort of an ethereal immortality, deliciously relaxed, adrift in sunset clouds. And you were it—somehow or other."
She looked down, thoughtfully, nestling to the chin in the white wool folds. A smile, almost imperceptible, curved her lips.
"You are making it very easy for me," she said.
"You make it easy for yourself."
"I was horribly afraid," she said thoughtfully.
"I have no doubt of it."
"Oh, you don't know—nobody can know—no man can understand the terror of—of the first time—"
"It must be a ghastly experience."
"It is!—I don't mean that you have not done everything to make it easier—but—there in the little room—my courage left me—I almost died. I'd have run away only—I was afraid you wouldn't let me—"
He began to laugh; she tried to, but the terror of it all was as yet too recent.
"At first," she said, "I was afraid I wouldn't do for a model—not exactly afraid of my—my appearance, but because I was a novice; and I imagined that one had to know exactly how to pose—"
"I think," he interrupted smilingly, "that you might take the pose again if you are rested. Go on talking; I don't mind it."
She sat erect, loosened the white wool robe and dropped it from her with less consciousness and effort than before. Very carefully she set her feet on the blocks, fitting the shapely heels to the chalked outlines; found the mark for her elbow, adjusted her slim, smooth body and looked at him, flushing.
"All right," he said briefly; "go ahead and talk to me."
"Do you wish me to?"
"Yes; I'd rather."
"I don't know exactly what to say."
"Say anything," he returned absently, selecting a flat brush with a very long handle.
She thought a moment, then, lifting her eyes:
"I might ask you your name."
"What? Don't you know it? Oh, Lord! Oh, Vanity! I thought you'd heard of me."
She blushed, confused by her ignorance and what she feared was annoyance on his part; then perceived that he was merely amused; and her face cleared.
"We folk who create concrete amusement for the public always imagine ourselves much better known to that public than we are, Miss West. It's our little vanity—rather harmless after all. We're a pretty decent lot, sometimes absurd, especially in our tragic moments; sometimes emotional, usually illogical, often impulsive, frequently tender-hearted as well as supersensitive.
"Now it was a pleasant little vanity for me to take it for granted that somehow you had heard of me and had climbed twelve flights of stairs for the privilege of sitting for me."
He laughed so frankly that the shy, responsive smile made her face enchanting; and he coolly took advantage of it, and while exciting and stimulating it, affixed it immortally on the exquisite creature he was painting.
"So you didn't climb those twelve flights solely for the privilege of having me paint you?"
"No," she admitted, laughingly, "I was merely going to begin at the top and apply for work all the way down until somebody took me—or nobody took me."
"But why begin at the top?"
"It is easier to bear disappointment going down," she said, seriously; "if two or three artists had refused me on the first and second floors, my legs would not have carried me up very far."
"Bad logic," he commented. "We mount by experience, using our wrecked hopes as footholds."
"You don't know how much a girl can endure. There comes a time-after years of steady descent—when misfortune and disappointment become endurable; when hope deferred no longer sickens. It is in rising toward better things that disappointments hurt most cruelly."
He turned his head in surprise; then went on painting:
"Your philosophy is the philosophy of submission."
"Do you call a struggle of years, submission?"
"But it was giving up after all—acquiescence, despondency, a laissez faire policy."
"One may tire of fighting."
"One may. Another may not."
"I think you have never had to fight very hard."
He turned his head abruptly; after a moment's silent survey of her, he resumed his painting with a sharp, impersonal glance before every swift and decisive brush stroke:
"No; I have never had to fight, Miss West.... It was keen of you to recognise it. I have never had to fight at all. Things come easily to me—things have a habit of coming my way.... I suppose I'm not exactly the man to lecture anybody on the art of fighting fortune. She's always been decent to me.... Sometimes I'm afraid—I have an instinct that she's too friendly.... And it troubles me. Do you understand what I mean?"
He looked up at her: "Are you sure?"
"I think so. I have been watching you painting. I never imagined anybody could draw so swiftly, so easily—paint so surely, so accurately—that every brush stroke could be so—so significant, so decisive.... Is it not unusual? And is not that what is called facility?"
"Lord in Heaven!" he said; "what kind of a girl am I dealing with?—or what kind of a girl is dealing so unmercifully with me?"
"I—I didn't mean—"
"Yes, you did. Those very lovely and wonderfully shaped eyes of yours are not entirely for ornament. Inside that pretty head there's an apparatus designed for thinking; and it isn't idle."
He laughed gaily, a trifle defiantly:
"You've said it. You've found the fly in the amber. I'm cursed with facility. Worse still it gives me keenest pleasure to employ it. It does scare me occasionally—has for years—makes me miserable at intervals—fills me full of all kinds of fears and doubts."
He turned toward her, standing on his ladder, the big palette curving up over his left shoulder, a wet brush extended in his right hand:
"What shall I do!" he exclaimed so earnestly that she sat up straight, startled, forgetting her pose. "Ought I to stifle the vigour, the energy, the restless desire that drives me to express myself—that will not tolerate the inertia of calculation and ponderous reflection? Ought I to check myself, consider, worry, entangle myself in psychologies, seek for subtleties where none exist—split hairs, relapse into introspective philosophy when my fingers itch for a lump of charcoal and every colour on my set palette yells at me to be about my business?"
He passed the flat tip of his wet brush through the mass of rags in his left hand with a graceful motion like one unsheathing a sword:
"I tell you I do the things which I do, as easily, as naturally, as happily as any fool of a dicky-bird does his infernal twittering on an April morning. God knows whether there's anything in my work or in his twitter; but neither he nor I are likely to improve our output by pondering and cogitation.... Please resume the pose."
She did so, her dark young eyes on him; and he continued painting and talking in his clear, rapid, decisive manner:
"My name is Louis Neville. They call me Kelly—my friends do," he added, laughing. "Have you ever seen any of my work?"
He laughed again: "That's more soothing. However, I suppose you saw that big canvas of mine for the ceiling of the Metropolitan Museum's new northwest wing. The entire town saw it."
"Yes, I saw it."
"Did you care for it?"
She had cared for it too intensely to give him any adequate answer. Never before had her sense of colour and form and beauty been so exquisitely satisfied by the painted magic of any living painter. So this was the man who had enveloped her, swayed her senses, whirled her upward into his ocean of limpid light! This was the man who had done that miracle before which, all day long, crowds of the sober, decent, unimaginative—the solid, essentials of the nation—had lingered fascinated! This was the man—across there on a stepladder. And he was evidently not yet thirty; and his name was Neville and his friends called him Kelly.
"Yes," she said, diffidently, "I cared for it."
He caught her eye, laughed, and went on with his work.
"The critics were savage," he said. "Lord! It hurts, too. But I've simply got to be busy. What good would it do me to sit down and draw casts with a thin, needle-pointed stick of hard charcoal. Not that they say I can't draw. They admit that I can. They admit that I can paint, too."
He laughed, stretched his arms:
"Draw! A blank canvas sets me mad. When I look at one I feel like covering it with a thousand figures twisted into every intricacy and difficulty of foreshortening! I wish I were like that Hindu god with a dozen arms; and even then I couldn't paint fast enough to satisfy what my eyes and brain have already evoked upon an untouched canvas.... It's a sort of intoxication that gets hold of me; I'm perfectly cool, too, which seems a paradox but isn't. And all the while, inside me, is a constant, hushed kind of laughter, bubbling, which accompanies every brush stroke with an 'I told you so!'—if you know what I'm trying to say—do you?"
"N-not exactly. But I suppose you mean that you are self-confident."
"Lord! Listen to this girl say in a dozen words what I'm trying to say in a volume so that it won't scare me! Yes! That's it. I am confident. And it's that self-confidence which sometimes scares me half to death."
From his ladder he pointed with his brush to the preliminary sketch that faced her, touching figure after figure:
"I'm going to draw them in, now," he said; "first this one. Can you catch the pose? It's going to be hard; I'll block up your heels, later; that's it! Stand up straight, stretch as though the next moment you were going to rise on tiptoe and float upward without an effort—"
He was working like lightning in long, beautiful, clean outline strokes, brushed here and there with shadow shapes and masses. And time flew at first, then went slowly, more slowly, until it dragged at her delicate body and set every nerve aching.
"I—may I rest a moment?"
"Sure thing!" he said, cordially, laying aside palette and brushes. "Come on, Miss West, and we'll have luncheon."
She hastily swathed herself in the wool robe.
"Do you mean—here?"
"Yes. There's a dumb-waiter. I'll ring for the card."
"I'd like to," she said, "but do you think I had better?"
"You mean—take lunch with you?"
"Is it customary?"
"No, it isn't."
"Then I think I will go out to lunch somewhere—"
"I'm not going to let you get away," he said, laughing. "You're too good to be real; I'm worried half to death for fear that you'll vanish in a golden cloud, or something equally futile and inconsiderate. No, I want you to stay. You don't mind, do you?"
He was aiding her to descend from her eyrie, her little white hand balanced on his arm. When she set foot on the floor she looked up at him gravely:
"You wouldn't let me do anything that I ought not to, would you, Mr. Kelly—I mean Mr. Neville?" she added in confusion.
"No. Anyway I don't know what you ought or ought not to do. Luncheon is a simple matter of routine. It's sole significance is two empty stomachs. I suppose if you go out you will come back, but—I'd rather you'd remain."
"Well," he admitted with a laugh, "it's probably because I like to hear myself talk to you. Besides, I've always the hope that you'll suddenly become conversational, and that's a possibility exciting enough to give anybody an appetite."
"But I have conversed with you," she said.
"Only a little. What you said acted like a cocktail to inspire me for a desire for more."
"I am afraid that you were not named Kelly in vain."
"You mean blarney? No, it's merely frankness. Let me get you some bath-slippers—"
"Oh—but if I am to lunch here—I can't do it this way!" she exclaimed in flushed consternation.
"Indeed you must learn to do that without embarrassment, Miss West. Tie up your robe at the throat, tuck up your sleeves, slip your feet into a nice pair of brand-new bath-slippers, and I'll ring for luncheon."
"I—don't—want to—" she began; but he went away into the hall, rang, and presently she heard the ascending clatter of a dumb-waiter. From it he took the luncheon card and returned to where she was sitting at a rococo table. She blushed as he laid the card before her, and would have nothing to do with it. The result was that he did the ordering, sent the dumb-waiter down with his scribbled memorandum, and came wandering back with long, cool glances at his canvas and the work he had done on it.
"I mean to make a stunning thing of it," he remarked, eying the huge chassis critically. "All this—deviltry—whatever it is inside of me—must come out somehow. And that canvas is the place for it." He laughed and sat down opposite her:
"Man is born to folly, Miss West—born full of it. I get rid of mine on canvas. It's a safer outlet for original sin than some other ways."
She lay back in her antique gilded chair, hands extended along the arms, looking at him with a smile that was still shy.
"My idea of you—of an artist—was so different," she said.
"There are all kinds, mostly the seriously inspired and humourless variety who makes a mystic religion of a very respectable profession. This world is full of pale, enraptured artists; full of muscular, thumb-smearing artists; full of dreamy weavers of visions, usually deficient in spinal process; full of unwashed little inverts to whom the world really resembles a kaleidoscope full of things that wiggle—"
They began to laugh, he with a singular delight in her comprehension of his idle, irresponsible chatter, she from sheer pleasure in listening and looking at this man who was so different from anybody she had ever known—and, thank God!—so young.
And when the bell rang and the clatter announced the advent of luncheon, she settled in her chair with a little shiver of happiness, blushing at her capacity for it, and at her acquiescence in the strangest conditions in which she had ever found herself in all her life,—conditions so bizarre, so grotesque, so impossible that there was no use in trying to consider them—alas! no point in blushing now.
Mechanically she settled her little naked feet deep into the big bath-slippers, tucked up her white wool sleeves to the dimpled elbow, and surveyed the soup which he had placed before her to serve.
"I know perfectly well that this isn't right," she said, helping him and then herself. "But I am wondering what there is about it that isn't right."
"Isn't it demoralising!" he said, amused.
"I—wonder if it is?"
He laughed: "Such ideas are nonsense, Miss West. Listen to me: you and I—everybody except those with whom something is physically wrong—are born with a full and healthy capacity for demoralisation and mischief. Mischief is only one form of energy. If lightning flies about unguided it's likely to do somebody some damage; if it's conducted properly to a safe terminal there's no damage done and probably a little good."
"Your brushes are your lightning-rods?" she suggested, laughing.
"Certainly. I only demoralise canvas. What outlet have you for your perfectly normal deviltry?"
"I haven't any."
"You ought to have."
"Certainly. You are as full of restless energy as I am."
"Oh, I don't think I am."
"You are. Look at yourself! I never saw anybody so sound, so superbly healthy, so"—he laughed—"adapted to dynamics. You've got to have an outlet. Or there'll be the deuce to pay."
She looked at her fruit salad gravely, tasted it, and glanced up at him:
"I have never in all my life had any outlet—never even any outlook, Mr. Neville."
"You should have had both," he grumbled, annoyed at himself for the interest her words had for him; uneasy, now that she had responded, yet curious to learn something about this fair young girl, approximately his intellectual equal, who came to his door looking for work as a model. He thought to himself that probably it was some distressing tale which he couldn't help, and the recital of which would do neither of them any good. Of stories of models' lives he was tired, satiated. There was no use encouraging her to family revelations; an easy, pleasant footing was far more amusing to maintain. The other hinted of intimacy; and that he had never tolerated in his employees.
Yet, looking now across the table at her, a not unkind curiosity began to prod him. He could easily have left matters where they were, maintained the status quo indefinitely—or as long as he needed her services.
"Outlets are necessary," he said, cautiously. "Otherwise we go to the bow-wows."
She looked up without a trace of self-consciousness or the least hint of the dramatic:
"I would die unless I had an outlet. This is almost one. At least it gives me something to do with my life."
"I don't quite understand you."
"Why, I only mean that—the other"—she smiled—"what you call the bow-wows, would not have been an outlet for me.... I was a show-girl for two months last winter; I ought to know. And I'd rather have died than—"
"I see," he said; "that outlet was too stupid to have attracted you."
She nodded. "Besides, I have principles," she said, candidly.
"Which effectually blocked that outlet. They sometimes kill, too, as you say. Youth stifled too long means death—the death of youth at least. Outlets mean life. The idea is to find a safe one."
She flushed in quick, sensitive response:
"That is it; that is what I meant. Mr. Neville, I am twenty-one; and do you know I never had a childhood? And I am simply wild for it—for the girlhood and the playtime that I never had—"
She checked herself, looking across at him uncertainly.
"Go on," he nodded.
"That is all."
"No; tell me the rest."
She sat with head bent, slender fingers picking at her napkin; then, without raising her troubled eyes:
"Life has been—curious. My mother was bedridden. My childhood and girlhood were passed caring for her. That is all I ever did until—a year ago," she added, her voice falling so low he could scarcely hear her.
"She died, then?"
"A year ago last February."
"You went to school. You must have made friends there."
"I went to a public school for a year. After that mother taught me."
"She must have been extremely cultivated."
The girl nodded, looking absently at the cloth. Then, glancing up:
"I wonder whether you will understand me when I tell you why I decided to ask employment of artists."
"I'll try to," he said, smiling.
"It was an intense desire to be among cultivated people—if only for a few hours. Besides, I had read about artists; and their lives seemed so young, so gay, so worth living—please don't think me foolish and immature, Mr. Neville—but I was so stifled, so cut off from such people, so uninspired, so—so starved for a little gaiety—and I needed youthful companionship—surroundings where people of my own age and intelligence sometimes entered—and I had never had it—"
She looked at him with a strained, wistful expression as though begging him to understand her:
"I couldn't remain at the theatre," she said. "I had little talent—no chance except chances I would not tolerate; no companionship except what I was unfitted for by education and inclination.... The men were—impossible. There may have been girls I could have liked—but I did not meet them. So, as I had to do something—and my years of seclusion with mother had unfitted me for any business—for office work or shop work—I thought that artists might care to employ me—might give me—or let me see—be near—something of the gayer, brighter, more pleasant and youthful side of life—"
She ceased, bent her head thoughtfully.
"You want—friends? Young ones—with intellects? You want to combine these with a chance of making a decent living?"
"Yes." She looked up candidly: "I am simply starved for it. You must believe that when you see what I have submitted to—gone through with in your studio"—she blushed vividly—"in a—a desperate attempt to escape the—the loneliness, the silence and isolation"—she raised her dark eyes—"the isolation of the poor," she said. "You don't know what that means."
After a moment she added, level-eyed: "For which there is supposed to be but one outlet—if a girl is attractive."
He rose, walked to and fro for a few moments, then, halting:
"All memory of the initial terror and distress and uncertainty aside, have you not enjoyed this morning, Miss West?"
"Yes, I—have. I—you have no idea what it has meant to me."
"It has given you an outlook, anyway."
"Yes.... Only—I'm terrified at the idea of going through it again—with another man—"
He laughed, and she tried to, saying:
"But if all artists are as kind and considerate—"
"Plenty of 'em are more so. There are a few bounders, a moderate number of beasts. You'll find them everywhere in the world from the purlieus to the pulpit.... I'm going to make a contract with you. After that, regretfully, I'll see that you meet the men who will be valuable to you.... I wish there was some way I could box you up in a jeweller's case so that nobody else could have you and I could find you when I needed you!"
She laughed shyly, extended her slim white hand for him to support her while she mounted to her eyrie. Then, erect, delicately flushed, she let the robe fall from her and stood looking down at him in silence.
Spring came unusually early that year. By the first of the month a few willows and thorn bushes in the Park had turned green; then, in a single day, the entire Park became lovely with golden bell-flowers, and the first mowing machine clinked over the greenswards leaving a fragrance of clipped verdure in its wake.
Under a characteristic blue sky April unfolded its myriad leaves beneath which robins ran over shaven lawns and purple grackle bustled busily about, and the water fowl quacked and whistled and rushed through the water nipping and chasing one another or, sidling alongside, began that nodding, bowing, bobbing acquaintance preliminary to aquatic courtship.
Many of the wild birds had mated; many were mating; amorous caterwauling on back fences made night an inferno; pigeons cooed and bubbled and made endless nuisances of themselves all day long.
In lofts, offices, and shops youthful faces, whitened by the winter's pallour, appeared at open windows gazing into the blue above, or, with, pretty, inscrutable eyes, studied the passing throng till the lifted eyes of youth below completed the occult circuit with a smile.
And the spring sunshine grew hot, and sprinkling carts appeared, and the metropolis moulted its overcoats, and the derby became a burden, and the annual spring exhibition of the National Academy of Design remained uncrowded.
Neville, lunching at the Syrinx Club, carelessly caught the ball of conversation tossed toward him and contributed his final comment:
"Burleson—and you, Sam Ogilvy—and you, Annan, all say that the exhibition is rotten. You say so every year; so does the majority of people. And the majority will continue saying the same thing throughout the coming decades as long as there are any exhibitions to damn.
"It is the same thing in other countries. For a hundred years the majority has pronounced every Salon rotten. And it will so continue.
"But the facts are these: the average does not vary much. A mediocrity, not disagreeable, always rules; supremity has been, is, and always will be the stick in the riffle around which the little whirlpool will always centre. This year it happens to be Jose Querida who stems the sparkling mediocrity and sticks up from the bottom gravel making a fine little swirl. Next year—or next decade it may be anybody—you, Annan, or Sam—perhaps," he added with a slight smile, "it might be I. Quand meme. The exhibitions are no rottener than they have ever been; and it's up to us to go about our business. And I'm going. Good-bye."
He rose from the table, laid aside the remains of his cigar, nodded good-humouredly to the others, and went out with that quick, graceful, elastic step which was noticed by everybody and envied by many.
"Hell," observed John Burleson, hitching his broad shoulders forward and swallowing a goblet of claret at a single gulp, "it's all right for Kelly Neville to shed sweetness and light over a rotten exhibition where half the people are crowded around his own picture."
"What a success he's having," mused Ogilvy, looking sideways out of the window at a pretty girl across the street.
Annan nodded: "He works hard enough for it."
"He works all the time," grumbled Burleson, "but, does he work hard?"
"A cat scrambling in a molasses barrel works hard," observed Ogilvy—"if you see any merit in that, John."
Burleson reared his huge frame and his symmetrical features became more bovine than ever:
"What the devil has a cat in a molasses barrel to do with the subject?" he demanded.
Annan laughed: "Poor old honest, literal John," he said, lazily. "Listen; from my back window in the country, yesterday, I observed one of my hens scratching her ear with her foot. How would you like to be able to accomplish that, John?"
"I wouldn't like it at all!" roared Burleson in serious disapproval.
"That's because you're a sculptor and a Unitarian," said Annan, gravely.
"My God!" shouted Burleson, "what's that got to do with a hen scratching herself!"
Ogilvy was too weak with laughter to continue the favourite pastime of "touching up John"; and Burleson who, under provocation, never exhibited any emotion except impatient wonder at the foolishness of others, emptied his claret bottle with unruffled confidence in his own common-sense and the futility of his friends.
"Kelly, they say, is making a stunning lot of stuff for that Byzantine Theatre," he said in his honest, resonant voice. "I wish to Heaven I could paint like him."
Annan passed his delicate hand over his pale, handsome face: "Kelly Neville is, without exception, the most gifted man I ever knew."
"No, the most skilful," suggested Ogilvy. "I have known more gifted men who never became skilful."
"What hair is that you're splitting, Sam?" demanded Burleson. "Don't you like Kelly's work?"
"Sure I do."
"What's the matter with it, then?"
There was a silence. One or two men at neighbouring tables turned partly around to listen. There seemed to be something in the very simple and honest question of John Burleson that arrested the attention of every man at the Syrinx Club who had heard it. Because, for the first time, the question which every man there had silently, involuntarily asked himself had been uttered aloud at last by John Burleson—voiced in utter good faith and with all confidence that the answer could be only that there was nothing whatever the matter with Louis Neville's work. And his answer had been a universal silence.
Clive Gail, lately admitted to the Academy said: "I have never in my life seen or believed possible such facility as is Louis Neville's."
"Sure thing," grunted Burleson.
"His personal manner of doing his work—which the critics and public term 'tek—nee—ee—eek,'" laughed Annan, "is simply gloriously bewildering. There is a sweeping splendour to it—and what colour!"
There ensued murmured and emphatic approbation; and another silence.
Ogilvy's dark, pleasant face was troubled when he broke the quiet, and everybody turned toward him:
"Then," he said, slowly, "what is the matter with Neville?"
Somebody said: "He does convince you; it isn't that, is it?"
A voice replied: "Does he convince himself?"
"There is—there always has been something lacking in all that big, glorious, splendid work. It only needs that one thing—whatever it is," said Ogilvy, quietly. "Kelly is too sure, too powerfully perfect, too omniscient—"
"And we mortals can't stand that," commented Annan, laughing. "'Raus mit Neville!' He paints joy and sorrow as though he'd never known either—"
And his voice checked itself of its own instinct in the startled silence.
"That man, Neville, has never known the pain of work," said Gail, deliberately. "When he has passed through it and it has made his hand less steady, less omnipotent—"
"That's right. We can't love a man who has never endured what we have," said another. "No genius can hide his own immunity. That man paints with an unscarred soul. A little hell for his—and no living painter could stand beside him."
"Piffle," observed John Burleson.
Ogilvy said: "It is true, I think, that out of human suffering a quality is distilled which affects everything one does. Those who have known sorrow can best depict it—not perhaps most plausibly, but most convincingly—and with fewer accessories, more reticence, and—better taste."
"Why do you want to paint tragedies?" demanded Burleson.
"One need not paint them, John, but one needs to understand them to paint anything else—needs to have lived them, perhaps, to become a master of pictured happiness, physical or spiritual."
"That's piffle, too!" said Burleson in his rumbling bass—"like that damn hen you lugged in—"
A shout of laughter relieved everybody.
"Do you want a fellow to go and poke his head into trouble and get himself mixed up in a tragedy so that he can paint better?" insisted Burleson, scornfully.
"There's usually no necessity to hunt trouble," said Annan.
"But you say that Kelly never had any and that he'd paint better if he had."
"Trouble might be the making of Kelly Neville," mused Ogilvy, "and it might not. It depends, John, not on the amount and quality of the hell, but on the man who's frying on the gridiron."
Annan said: "Personally I don't see how Kelly could paint happiness or sorrow or wonder or fear into any of his creations any more convincingly than he does. And yet—and yet—sometimes we love men for their shortcomings—for the sincerity of their blunders—for the fallible humanity in them. That after all is where love starts. The rest—what Kelly shows us—evokes wonder, delight, awe, enthusiasm.... If he could only make us love him—"
"I love him!" said Burleson.
"We all are inclined to—if we could get near enough to him," said Annan with a faint smile.
"Him—or his work?"
"Both, John. There's a vast amount of nonsense talked about the necessity of separation between a man and his work—that the public has no business with the creator, only with his creations. It is partly true. Still, no man ever created anything in which he did not include a sample of himself—if not what he himself is, at least what he would like to be and what he likes and dislikes in others. No creator who shows his work can hope to remain entirely anonymous. And—I am not yet certain that the public has no right to make its comments on the man who did the work as well as on the work which it is asked to judge."
"The man is nothing; the work everything," quoted Burleson, heavily.
"So I've heard," observed Annan, blandly. "It's rather a precious thought, isn't it, John?"
"Do you consider that statement to be pure piffle?"
"Partly, dear friend. But I'm one of those nobodies who cherish a degenerate belief that man comes first, and then his works, and that the main idea is to get through life as happily as possible with the minimum of inconvenience to others. Human happiness is what I venture to consider more important than the gim-cracks created by those same humans. Man first, then man's work, that's the order of mundane importance to me. And if you've got to criticise the work, for God's sake do it with your hand on the man's shoulder."
"Our little socialist," said Ogilvy, patting Annan's blonde head. "He wants to love everybody and everybody to love him, especially when they're ornamental and feminine. Yes? No?" he asked, fondly coddling Annan, who submitted with a bored air and tried to kick his shins.
Later, standing in a chance group on the sidewalk before scattering to their several occupations, Burleson said:
"That's a winner of a model—that Miss West. I used her for the fountain I'm doing for Cardemon's sunken garden. I never saw a model put together as she is. And that's going some."
"She's a dream," said Ogilvy—"un pen sauvage—no inclination to socialism there, Annan. I know because I was considering the advisability of bestowing upon her one of those innocent, inadvertent, and fascinatingly chaste salutes—just to break the formality. She wouldn't have it. I'd taken her to the theatre, too. Girls are astonishing problems."
"You're a joyous beast, aren't you, Sam?" observed Burleson.
"I may be a trifle joyous. I tried to explain that to her, but she wouldn't listen. Heaven knows my intentions are child-like. I liked her because she's the sort of girl you can take anywhere and not queer yourself if you collide with your fiancee—visiting relative from 'Frisco, you know. She's equipped to impersonate anything from the younger set to the prune and pickle class."
"She certainly is a looker," nodded Annan.
"She can deliver the cultivated goods, too, and make a perfectly good play at the unsophisticated intellectual," said Ogilvy with conviction. "And it's a rare combination to find a dream that looks as real at the Opera as it does in a lobster palace. But she's no socialist, Harry—she'll ride in a taxi with you and sit up half the night with you, but it's nix for getting closer, and the frozen Fownes for the chaste embrace—that's all."
"She's a curious kind of girl," mused Burleson;—"seems perfectly willing to go about with you;—enjoys it like one of those bread-and-butter objects that the department shops call a 'Miss.'"
Annan said: "The girl is unusual, everyway. You don't know where to place her. She's a girl without a caste. I like her. I made some studies from her; Kelly let me."
"Does Kelly own her?" asked Burleson, puffing out his chest.
"He discovered her. He has first call."
Allaire, who had come up, caught the drift of the conversation.
"Oh, hell," he said, in his loud, careless voice, "anybody can take Valerie West to supper. The town's full of her kind."
"Have you taken her anywhere?" asked Annan, casually.
Allaire flushed up: "I haven't had time." He added something which changed the fixed smile on his symmetrical, highly coloured face into an expression not entirely agreeable.
"The girl's all right," said Burleson, reddening. "She's damn decent to everybody. What are you talking about, Allaire? Kelly will put a head on you!"
Allaire, careless and assertive, shrugged away the rebuke with a laugh:
"Neville is one of those professional virgins we read about in our neatly manicured fiction. He's what is known as the original mark. Jezebel and Potiphar's wife in combination with Salome and the daughters of Lot couldn't disturb his confidence in them or in himself. And—in my opinion—he paints that way, too." And he went away laughing and swinging his athletic shoulders and twirling his cane, his hat not mathematically straight on his handsome, curly head.
"There strides a joyous bounder," observed Ogilvy.
"Curious," mused Annan. "His family is oldest New York. You see 'em that way, at times."
Burleson, who came from New England, grunted his scorn for Manhattan, ancient or recent, and, nodding a brusque adieu, walked away with ponderous and powerful strides. And the others followed, presently, each in pursuit of his own vocation, Annan and Ogilvy remaining together as their common destination was the big new studio building which they as well as Neville inhabited.
Passing Neville's door they saw it still ajar, and heard laughter and a piano and gay voices.
"Hi!" exclaimed Ogilvy, softly, "let's assist at the festivities. Probably we're not wanted, but does that matter, Harry?"
"It merely adds piquancy to our indiscretion," said Annan, gravely, following him in unannounced—"Oh, hello, Miss West! Was that you playing? Hello, Rita"—greeting a handsome blonde young girl who stretched out a gloved hand to them both and nodded amiably. Then she glanced upward where, perched on his ladder, big palette curving over his left elbow, Neville stood undisturbed by the noise below, outlining great masses of clouds on a canvas where a celestial company, sketched in from models, soared, floated, or hung suspended, cradled in mid air with a vast confusion of wide wings spreading, fluttering, hovering, beating the vast ethereal void, all in pursuit of a single exquisite shape darting up into space.
"What's all that, Kelly? Leda chased by swans?" asked Ogilvy, with all the disrespect of cordial appreciation.
"It's the classic game of follow my Leda," observed Annan.
"Oh—oh!" exclaimed Valerie West, laughing; "such a wretched witticism, Mr. Annan!"
"Your composition is one magnificent vista of legs, Kelly," insisted Ogilvy. "Put pants on those swans."
Neville merely turned and threw an empty paint tube at him, and continued his cloud outlining with undisturbed composure.
"Where have you been, Rita?" asked Ogilvy, dropping into a chair. "Nobody sees you any more."
"That's because nobody went to the show, and that's why they took it off," said Rita Tevis, resentfully. "I had a perfectly good part which nobody crabbed because nobody wanted it, which suited me beautifully because I hate to have anything that others want. Now there's nothing doing in the millinery line and I'm ready for suggestions."
"Dinner with me," said Ogilvy, fondly. But she turned up her dainty nose:
"Have you anything more interesting to offer, Mr. Annan?"
"Only my heart, hand, and Ogilvy's fortune," said Annan, regretfully. "But I believe Archie Allaire was looking for a model of your type—"
"I don't want to pose for Mr. Allaire," said the girl, pouting and twirling the handle of her parasol.
But neither Annan nor Ogilvy could use her then; and Neville had just finished a solid week of her.
"What I'll do," she said with decision, "will be to telephone John Burleson. I never knew him to fail a girl in search of an engagement."
"Isn't he a dear," said Valerie, smiling. "I adore him."
She sat at the piano, running her fingers lightly over the keyboard, listening to what was being said, watching with happy interest everything that was going on around her, and casting an occasional glance over her shoulder and upward to where Neville stood at work.
"John Burleson," observed Rita, looking fixedly at Ogilvy, "is easily the nicest man I know."
"Help!" said Ogilvy, feebly.
Valerie glanced across the top of the piano, laughing, while her hands passed idly here and there over the keys:
"Sam can be very nice, Rita; but you've got to make him," she said.
"Did you ever know a really interesting man who didn't require watching?" inquired Annan, mildly.
Rita surveyed him with disdain: "Plenty."
"Don't believe it. No girl has any very enthusiastic use for a man in whom she has perfect confidence."
"Here's another profound observation," added Ogilvy; "when a woman loses confidence in a man she finds a brand-new interest in him. But when a man once really loses confidence in a woman, he never regains it, and it's the beginning of the end. What do you think about that, Miss West?"
Valerie, still smiling, struck a light chord or two, considering:
"I don't know how it would be," she said, "to lose confidence in a man you really care much about. I should think it would break a girl's heart."
"It doesn't," said Rita, with supreme contempt. "You become accustomed to it."
Valerie leaned forward against the keyboard, laughing:
"Oh, Rita!" she said, "what a confession!"
"You silly child," retorted Rita, "I'm twenty-two. Do you think I have the audacity to pretend I've never been in love?"
Ogilvy said with a grin: "How about you, Miss West?"—hoping to embarrass her; but she only smiled gaily and continued to play a light accompaniment to the fugitive air that was running through her head.
"Don't be selfish with your experiences," urged Ogilvy. "Come on, Miss West! 'Raus mit 'em!'"
"What do you wish me to say, Sam?"
"That you've been in love several times."
"But I haven't."
Her lowered face was still smiling, as her pliant fingers drifted into Grieg's "Spring Song."
"Not one pretty amourette to cheer those twenty-one years of yours?" insisted Ogilvy.
But his only answer was her lowered head and the faint smile edging her lips, and the "Spring Song," low, clear, exquisitely persistent in the hush.
When the last note died out in the stillness Rita emphasised the finish with the ferrule of her parasol and rose with decision:
"I require several new frocks," she said, "and how am I to acquire them unless I pose for somebody? Good-bye, Mr. Neville—bye-bye! Sam—good-bye, Mr. Annan—good-bye, dear,"—to Valerie—"if you've nothing better on hand drop in this evening. I've a duck of a new hat."
The girl nodded, and, as Rita Tevis walked out, turning up her nose at Ogilvy who opened the door for her, Valerie glanced up over her shoulder at Neville:
"I don't believe you are going to need me to-day after all, are you?" she asked.
"No," he said, absently. "I've a lot of things to do. You needn't stay, Miss West."
"Now will you be good!" said Annan, smiling at her with his humourous, bantering air. And to his surprise and discomfiture he saw the least trace of annoyance in her dark eyes.
"Come up to the studio and have a julep," he said with hasty cordiality. "And suppose we dine together at Arrowhead—if you've nothing else on hand—"
She shook her head—the movement was scarcely perceptible. The smile had returned to her lips.
"Won't you, Miss West?"
"Isn't it like you to ask me when you heard Rita's invitation? You're a fraud, Mr. Annan."
"Are you going to sit in that boarding-house parlour and examine Rita's new bonnet all this glorious evening?"
She laughed: "Is there any man on earth who can prophesy what any woman on earth is likely to do? If you can, please begin."
Ogilvy, hands clasped behind him, balancing alternately on heels and toes, stood regarding Neville's work. Annan looked up, too, watching Neville where he stood on the scaffolding, busy as always, with the only recreation he cared anything for—work.
"I wish to Heaven I were infected with the bacillus of industry," broke out Ogilvy. "I never come into this place but I see Kelly busily doing something."
"You're an inhuman sort of brute, Kelly!" added Annan. "What do you work that way for—money? If I had my way I'd spend three quarters of my time shooting and fishing and one quarter painting—and I'm as devotedly stuck on art as any healthy man ought to be."
"Art's a bum mistress if she makes you hustle like that!" commented Ogilvy. "Shake her, Kelly. She's a wampire mit a sarpint's tongue!"
"The worst of Kelly is that he'd rather paint," said Annan, hopelessly. "It's sufficient to sicken the proverbial cat."
"Get a machine and take us all out to Woodmanston?" suggested Ogilvy. "It's a bee—u—tiful day, dearie!"
"Get out of here!" retorted Neville, painting composedly.
"Your industry saddens us," insisted Annan. "It's only in mediocrity that you encounter industry. Genius frivols; talent takes numerous vacations on itself—"
"And at its own expense," added Valerie, demurely. "I knew a man who couldn't finish his 'Spring Academy' in time: and he had all winter to finish it. But he didn't. Did you ever hear about that man, Sam?"
"Me," said Ogilvy, bowing with hand on heart. "And with that cruel jab from you—false fair one—I'll continue heavenward in the elevator. Come on, Harry."
Annan took an elaborate farewell of Valerie which she met in the same mock-serious manner; then she waved a gay and dainty adieu to Ogilvy, and reseated herself after their departure. But this time she settled down into a great armchair facing Neville and his canvas, and lay back extending her arms and resting the back of her head on the cushions.
Whether or not Neville was conscious of her presence below she could not determine, so preoccupied did he appear to be with the work in hand. She lay there in the pleasant, mellow light of the great windows, watching him, at first intently, then, soothed by the soft spring wind that fitfully stirred the hair at her temples, she relaxed her attention, idly contented, happy without any particular reason.
Now and then a pigeon flashed by the windows, sheering away high above the sunlit city. Once, wind-caught, or wandering into unaccustomed heights, high in the blue a white butterfly glimmered, still mounting to infinite altitudes, fluttering, breeze-blown, a silvery speck adrift.
"Like a poor soul aspiring," she thought listlessly, watching with dark eyes over which the lids dropped lazily at moments, only to lift again as her gaze reverted to the man above.
She thought about him, too; she usually did—about his niceness to her, his never-to-be-forgotten kindness; her own gratitude to him for her never-to-be-forgotten initiation.
It seemed scarcely possible that two months had passed since her novitiate—that two months ago she still knew nothing of the people, the friendships, the interest, the surcease from loneliness and hopeless apathy, that these new conditions had brought to her.
Had she known Louis Neville only two months? Did all this new buoyancy date from two short months' experience—this quickened interest in life, this happy development of intelligence so long starved, this unfolding of youth in the atmosphere of youth? She found it difficult to realise, lying there so contentedly, so happily, following, with an interest and appreciation always developing, the progress of the work.
Already, to herself, she could interpret much that she saw in this new world. Cant phrases, bits of studio lore, artists' patter, their ways of looking at things, their manners of expression, their mannerisms, their little vanities, their ideas, ideals, aspirations, were fast becoming familiar to her. Also she was beginning to notice and secretly to reflect on their generic characteristics—their profoundly serious convictions concerning themselves and their art modified by surface individualities; their composite lack of humour—exceptions like Ogilvy and Annan, and even Neville only proving the rule; their simplicity, running the entire gamut from candour to stupidity; their patience which was half courage, half a capacity for suffering; and, in the latter, more woman-like than like a man.
Simplicity, courage, lack of humour—those appeared to be the fundamentals characterising the ensemble—supplemented by the extremes of restless intelligence and grim conservatism.
And the whole fabric seemed to be founded not on industry but on impulse born of sentiment. In this new, busy, inspiring, delightful world logic became a synthesis erected upon some inceptive absurdity, carried solemnly to a picturesque and erroneous conclusion.
She had been aware, in stage folk, of the tendency to sentimental impulse; and she again discovered it in this new world, in a form slightly modified by the higher average of reasoning power. In both professions the heart played the dominant part in creator and creation. The exceptions to the rule were the few in either profession who might be called distinguished.
Neville had once said to her: "Nothing that amounts to anything in art is ever done accidentally or merely because the person who creates it loves to do it."
She was thinking of this, now, as she lay there watching him.
He had added: "Enthusiasm is excellent while you're dressing for breakfast; but good pictures are painted in cold blood. Go out into the back yard and yell your appreciation of the universe if you want to; but the studio is a silent place; and a blank canvas a mathematical proposition."
Could this be true? Was all the beauty, all the joyous charm, all the splendour of shape and colour the result of working out a mathematical proposition? Was this exquisite surety of touch and handling, of mass and line composition, all these lovely depths and vast ethereal spaces superbly peopled, merely the logical result of solving that problem? Was it all clear, limpid, steady, nerveless intelligence; and was nothing due to the chance and hazard of inspiration?
Gladys, the cat, walked in, gently flourishing her tail, hesitated, looked around with narrowing green-jewelled eyes, and, ignoring the whispered invitation and the outstretched hand, leaped lightly to a chair and settled down on a silken cushion, paws and tail folded under her jet-black body.
Valerie reproached her in a whisper, reminding her of past caresses and attentions, but the cat only blinked at her pleasantly.
On a low revolving stand at Valerie's elbow lay a large lump of green modelling wax. This wax Neville sometimes used to fashion, with his facile hands, little figures sketched from his models. These he arranged in groups as though to verify the composition on the canvas before him, and this work and the pliant material which he employed had for her a particular and never-flagging interest. And now, without thinking, purely instinctively, she leaned forward and laid her hand caressingly on the lump of wax. There was something about the yielding, velvety texture that fascinated her, as though in her slim fingers some delicate nerves were responding to the pleasure of contact.
For a while she moulded little cubes and pyramids, pinched out bread-crumb chickens and pigs and cats.
"What do you think of this little wax kitten, Gladys?" she whispered, holding it up for the cat's inspection. Gladys regarded it without interest and resumed her pleasant contemplation of space.
Valerie, elbows on knees, seated at the revolving stool with all the naive absorption of a child constructing mud pies, began to make out of the fascinating green wax an image of Gladys dozing.
Time fled away in the studio; intent, absorbed, she pinched little morsels of wax from the lump and pushed them into place with a snowy, pink-tipped thumb, or with the delicate nail of her forefinger removed superfluous material.
Stepping noiselessly so not to disturb Neville she made frequent journeys around to the other side of the cat, sometimes passing sensitive fingers over silky feline contours, which, research inspired a loud purring.
As she worked sometimes she talked under her breath to herself, to Gladys, to Neville:
"I am making a perfectly good cat, Valerie," she whispered. "Gladys, aren't you a little bit flattered? I suppose you think it's honour enough to belong to that man up there on the scaffolding. I imagine it is; he is a very wonderful man, Gladys, very high above us in intellect as he is in body. He doesn't pay very much attention to you and me down here on the floor; he's just satisfied to own us and be amiable to us when he thinks about us.
"I don't mean that in any critical or reproachful sense, Gladys. Don't you dare think I do—not for one moment! Do you hear me? Well then! If you are stupid enough to misunderstand me I'll put a perfectly horrid pair of ears on you!... I've made a very dainty pair of ears for you, dear; I only said that to frighten you. You and I like that man up there—tremendously, don't we? And we're very grateful to him for—for a great many happy moments—and for his unfailing kindness and consideration.... You don't mind posing for me; you wear fur. But I didn't wear anything, dear, when I first sat to him as a novice; and, kitty, I was a fortunate girl in my choice of the man before whom I was to make a debut. And I—"
The rattle of brushes and the creak of the scaffolding arrested her: Neville was coming down for a view of his work.
"Hello," he said, pleasantly, noticing for the first time that she was still in the studio.
"Have I disturbed you, Mr. Neville?"
"Not a bit. You never do any more than does Gladys." He glanced absently at the cat, then, facing his canvas, backed away from it, palette in hand.
For ten minutes he examined his work, shifting his position from minute to minute, until the change of positions brought him backed up beside Valerie, and his thigh brushing her arm made him aware of her. Glancing down with smiling apology his eye fell on the wax, and was arrested. Then he bent over the work she had done, examining it, twirled the top of the stool, and inspected it carefully from every side.
"Have you ever studied modelling, Miss West?"
"No," she said, blushing, "you must know that I haven't." And looked up expecting to see laughter in his eyes; and saw only the curiosity of interest.
"How did you know how to start this?"
"I have often watched you."
"Is that all the instruction you've ever had in modelling?"
She could not quite bring herself to believe in his pleasant seriousness:
"Y-yes," she admitted, "except when I have watched John Burleson. But—this is simply rotten—childish—isn't it?"
"No," he said in a matter of fact tone, "it's interesting."
"Do you really think—mean—"
He looked down at her, considering her while the smile that she knew and liked best and thought best suited to his face, began to glimmer; that amused, boyish, bantering smile hinting of experience and wisdom delightfully beyond her.
"I really think that you're a very unusual girl," he said. "I don't want to spoil you by telling you so every minute."
"You don't spoil me by telling me so. Sometimes I think you may spoil me by not telling me so."
"Miss West! You're spoiled already! I'm throwing bouquets at you every minute! You're about the only girl who ever sat for me with whom I talk unreservedly and incessantly."
"Really, Mr. Neville?"
"Yes—really, Mr. Neville," he repeated, laughing—"you bad, spoiled little beauty! You know devilish well that if there's any intellectual space between you and me it's purely a matter of circumstance and opportunity."
"Do you think me silly enough to believe that!"
"I think you clever enough to know it without my telling you."
"I wish you wouldn't say that."
She was still smiling but in the depths of her eyes he felt that the smile was not genuine.
"See here," he said, "I don't want you to think that I don't mean what I say. I do. You're as intelligent a woman as I ever knew. I've known girls more cultivated in general and in particular, but, I say again, that is the hazard of circumstance. Is all clear between us now, Miss West?"
He held out his hand; she glanced up, smiled, and laid her own in it. And they shook hands heartily.
"Good business," he said with satisfaction. "Don't ever let anything threaten our very charming accord. The moment you don't approve of anything I say or do come straight to me and complain—and don't let me divine it in your eyes, Miss West."
"Certainly I did. Your lips were smiling but in your eyes was something that did not corroborate your lips."
"Yes.... But how could you see it?"
"After all," he said, "it's part of my business to notice such things." He seated himself on the arm of her chair and bent over the wax model, his shoulder against hers. And the chance contact meant nothing to either: but what he said about men and things in the world was inevitably arousing the intelligence in her to a gratitude, a happiness, at first timid, then stirring subtly, tremulously, toward passionate response.
No man can do that to a girl and leave the higher side of her indifferent or unresponsive. What he had aroused—what he was awakening every day in her was what he must some day reckon with. Loyalty is born of the spirit, devotion of the mind; and spiritual intelligence arouses fiercer passions than the sensuous emotions born of the flesh.