BY BEATRICE FORBES-ROBERTSON HALE
AUTHOR OF "WHAT WOMEN WANT"
WITH A FRONTISPIECE BY J. HENRY
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Outbound from Liverpool, the Lusitania bucked down the Irish Sea against a September gale. Aft in her second-class quarters each shouldering from the waves brought a sickening vibration as one or another of the ship's great propellers raced out of water. The gong had sounded for the second sitting, and trails of hungry and weary travelers, trooping down the companionway, met files of still more uneasy diners emerging from the saloon. The grinding jar of the vessel, the heavy smell of food, and the pound of ragtime combined to produce an effect as of some sordid and demoniac orgy—an effect derided by the smug respectability of the saloon's furnishings.
Stefan Byrd, taking in the scene as he balanced a precarious way to his seat, felt every hypercritical sense rising in revolt. Even the prosaic but admirably efficient table utensils repelled him. "They are so useful, so abominably enduring," he thought. The mahogany trimmings of doors and columns seemed to announce from every overpolished surface a pompous self-sufficiency. Each table proclaimed the aesthetic level of the second class through the lifeless leaves of a rubber plant and two imitation cut-glass dishes of tough fruit. The stewards, casually hovering, lacked the democracy which might have humanized the steerage as much as the civility which would have oiled the workings of the first cabin. Byrd resented their ministrations as he did the heavy English dishes of the bill of fare. There were no Continental passengers near him. He had left the dear French tongue behind, and his ears, homesick already, shrank equally from the see-saw Lancashire of the stewards and the monotonous rasp of returning Americans.
Byrd's left hand neighbor, a clergyman of uncertain denomination, had tried vainly for several minutes to attract his attention by clearing his throat, passing the salt, and making measured requests for water, bread, and the like.
"I presume, sir," he at last inquired loudly, "that you are an American, and as glad as I am to be returning to our country?"
"No, sir," retorted Byrd, favoring his questioner with a withering stare, "I am a Bohemian, and damnably sorry that I ever have to see America again."
The man of God turned away, pale to the temples with offense—a high- bosomed matron opposite emitted a shocked "Oh!"—the faces of the surrounding listeners assumed expressions either dismayed or deprecating. Budding conversationalists were temporarily frost-bitten, and the watery helpings of fish were eaten in a constrained silence. But with the inevitable roast beef a Scot of unshakeable manner, decorated with a yellow forehead-lock as erect as a striking cobra, turned to follow up what he apparently conceived to be an opportunity for discussion.
"I'm not so strongly partial to the States mysel', ye ken, but I'll confess it's a grand place to mak' money. Ye would be going there, perhaps, to improve your fortunes?"
Byrd was silent.
"Also," continued the Scot, quite unrebuffed, "it would be interesting to know what exactly ye mean when ye call yoursel' a Bohemian. Would ye be referring to your tastes, now, or to your nationality?"
His hand trembling with nervous temper, Byrd laid down his napkin, and rose with an attempt at dignity somewhat marred by the viselike clutch of the swivel chair upon his emerging legs.
"My mother was a Bohemian, my father an American. Neither, happily, was Scotch," said he, almost stammering in his attempt to control his extreme distaste of his surroundings—and hurried out of the saloon, leaving a table of dropped jaws behind him.
"The young man is nairvous," contentedly boomed the Scot. "I'm thinking he'll be feeling the sea already. What kind of a place would Bohemia, be, d'ye think, to have a mother from?" turning to the clergyman.
"A place of evil life, seemingly," answered that worthy in his high- pitched, carrying voice. "I shall certainly ask to have my seat changed. I cannot subject myself for the voyage to the neighborhood of a man of profane speech."
The table nodded approval.
"A traitor to his country, too," said a pursy little man opposite, snapping his jaws shut like a turtle.
A bony New England spinster turned deprecating eyes to him. "My," she whispered shrilly, "he was just terrible, wasn't he? But so handsome! I can't help but think it was more seasickness with him than an evil nature."
Meanwhile the subject of discussion, who would have writhed far more at the spinster's palliation of his offense than at the men's disdain, lay in his tiny cabin, a prey to an attack of that nervous misery which overtakes an artist out of his element as surely and speedily as air suffocates a fish.
Stefan Byrd's table companions were guilty in his eyes of the one unforgivable sin—they were ugly. Ugly alike in feature, dress, and bearing, they had for him absolutely no excuse for existence. He felt no bond of common humanity with them. In his lexicon what was not beautiful was not human, and he recognized no more obligation of good fellowship toward them than he would have done toward a company of ground-hogs. He lay back, one fine and nervous hand across his eyes, trying to obliterate the image of the saloon and all its inmates by conjuring up a vision of the world he had left, the winsome young cosmopolitan Paris of the art student. The streets, the cafes, the studios; his few men, his many women, friends—Adolph Jensen, the kindly Swede who loved him; Louise, Nanette, the little Polish Yanina, who had said they loved him; the slanting-glanced Turkish students, the grave Syrians, the democratic un-British Londoners—the smell, the glamour of Paris, returned to him with the nostalgia of despair.
These he had left. To what did he go?
In his shivering, creaking little cabin, suspended, as it were, by the uncertain waters between two lives, Byrd forced himself to remember the America he had known before his Paris days. He recalled his birthplace —a village in upper Michigan—and his mental eyes bored across the pictures that came with the running speed of a cinematograph to his memory.
The place was a village, but it called itself a city. The last he had seen of it was the "depot," a wooden shed surrounded by a waste of rutted snow, and backed by grimy coal yards. He could see the broken shades of the town's one hotel, which faced the tracks, drooping across their dirty windows, and the lopsided sign which proclaimed from the porch roof in faded gilt on black the name of "C. E. Trench, Prop." He could see the swing-doors of the bar, and hear the click of balls from the poolroom advertising the second of the town's distractions. He could smell the composite odor of varnish, stale air, and boots, which made the overheated station waiting-room hideous. Heavy farmers in ear-mitts, peaked caps, and fur collars spat upon the hissing stove round which their great hide boots sprawled. They were his last memory of his fellow citizens.
Looking farther back Stefan saw the town in summer. There were trees in the street where he lived, but they were all upon the sidewalk-public property. In their yards (the word garden, he recalled, was never used) the neighbors kept, with unanimity, in the back, washing, and in the front, a porch. Over these porches parched vines crept—the town's enthusiasm for horticulture went as far as that—and upon them concentrated the feminine social life of the place. Of this intercourse the high tones seemed to be giggles, and the bass the wooden thuds of rockers. Street after street he could recall, from the square about the "depot" to the outskirts, and through them all the dusty heat, the rockers, gigglers, the rustle of a shirt-sleeved father's newspaper, and the shrill coo-ees of the younger children. Finally, the piano—for he looked back farther than the all-conquering phonograph. He heard "Nita, Juanita;" he heard "Sweet Genevieve."
Beyond the village lay the open country, level, blindingly hot, half- cultivated, with the scorched foliage of young trees showing in the ruins of what had been forest land. Across it the roads ran straight as rulers. In the winter wolves were not unknown there; in the summer there were tramps of many strange nationalities, farm hands and men bound for the copper mines. For the most part they walked the railroad ties, or rode the freight cars; winter or summer, the roads were never wholly safe, and children played only in the town.
There, on the outskirts, was a shallow, stony river, but deep enough at one point for gingerly swimming. Stefan seemed never to have been cool through the summer except when he was squatting or paddling in this hole. He remembered only indistinctly the boys with whom he bathed; he had no friends among them. But there had been a little girl with starched white skirts, huge blue bows over blue eyes, and yellow hair, whom he had admired to adoration. She wanted desperately to bathe in the hole, and he demanded of her mother that this be permitted. Stefan smiled grimly as he recalled the horror of that lady, who had boxed his ears for trying to lead her girl into ungodliness, and to scandalize the neighbors. The friendship had been kept up surreptitiously after this, with interchange of pencils and candy, until the little girl—he had forgotten her name —put her tongue out at him over a matter of chewing-gum which he had insisted she should not use. Revolted, he played alone again.
The Presbyterian Church Stefan remembered as a whitewashed praying box, resounding to his father's high-pitched voice. It was filled with heat and flies from without in summer, and heat and steam from within in winter. The school, whitewashed again, he recalled as a succession of banging desks, flying paper pellets, and the drone of undigested lessons. Here the water bucket loomed as the alleviation in summer, or the red hot oblong of the open stove in winter time. Through all these scenes, by an egotistical trick of the brain, he saw himself moving, a small brown- haired boy, with olive skin and queer, greenish eyes, entirely alien, absolutely lonely, completely critical. He saw himself in too large, ill-chosen clothes, the butt of his playfellows. He saw the sidelong, interested glances of little girls change to curled lips and tossed heads at the grinning nudge of their boy companions. He saw the harassed eyes of an anaemic teacher stare uncomprehendingly at him over the pages of an exercise book filled with colored drawings of George III and the British flag, instead of a description of the battle of Bunker Hill. He remembered the hatred he had felt even then for the narrowness of the local patriotism which had prompted him to this revenge. As a result, he saw himself backed against the schoolhouse wall, facing with contempt a yelling, jumping tangle of boys who, from a safe distance, called upon the "traitor" and the "Dago" to come and be licked. He felt the rage mount in his head like a burning wave, saw a change in the eyes and faces of his foes, felt himself spring with a catlike leap, his lips tight above his teeth and his arms moving like clawed wheels, saw boys run yelling and himself darting between them down the road, to fall at last, a trembling, sobbing bundle of reaction, into the grassy ditch.
In memory Stefan followed himself home. The word was used to denote the house in which he and his father lived. A portrait of his mother hung over the parlor stove. It was a chalk drawing from a photograph, crudely done, but beautiful by reason of the subject. The face was young and very round, the forehead beautifully low and broad under black waves of hair. The nose was short and proud, the chin small but square, the mouth gaily curving around little, even teeth. But the eyes were deep and somber; there was passion in them, and romance. Stefan had not seen that face for years, he barely remembered the original, but he could have drawn it now in every detail. If the house in which it hung could be called home at all, it was by virtue of that picture, the only thing of beauty in it.
Behind the portrait lay a few memories of joy and heartache, and one final one of horror. Stefan probed them, still with his nervous hand across his eyes. He listened while his mother sang gay or mournful little songs with haunting tunes in a tongue only a word or two of which he understood. He watched while she drew from her bureau drawer a box of paints and some paper. She painted for long hours, day after day through the winter, while he played beside her with longing eyes on her brushes. She painted always one thing—flowers—using no pencil, drawing their shapes with the brush. Her flowers were of many kinds, nearly all strange to him, but most were roses—pink, yellow, crimson, almost black. Sometimes their petals flared like wings; sometimes they were close- furled. Of these paintings he remembered much, but of her speech little, for she was silent as she worked.
One day his mother put a brush into his hand. The rapture of it was as sharp and near as to-day's misery. He sat beside her after that for many days and painted. First he tried to paint a rose, but he had never seen such roses as her brush drew, and he tired quickly. Then he drew a bird. His mother nodded and smiled—it was good. After that his memory showed him the two sitting side by side for weeks, or was it months?—while the snow lay piled beyond the window—she with her flowers, he with his birds.
First he drew birds singly, hopping on a branch, or simply standing, claws and beaks defined. Then he began to make them fly, alone, and again in groups. Their wings spread across the paper, wider and more sweepingly. They pointed upward sharply, or lay flat across the page. Flights of tiny birds careened from corner to corner. They were blue, gold, scarlet, and white. He left off drawing birds on branches and drew them only in flight, smudging in a blue background for the sky.
One day by accident he made a dark smudge in the lower left-hand corner of his page.
"What is that?" asked his mother.
The little boy looked at it doubtfully for a moment, unwilling to admit it a blot. Then he laughed.
"Mother, Mother, that is America." (Stefan heard himself.) "Look!" And rapidly he drew a bird flying high above the blot, with its head pointed to the right, away from it.
His mother laughed and hugged him quickly. "Yes, eastward," she said.
After that all his birds flew one way, and in the left-hand lower corner there was usually a blob of dark brown or black. Once it was a square, red, white, and blue.
On her table his mother had a little globe which revolved above a brass base. Because of this he knew the relative position of two places —America and Bohemia. Of this country he thought his mother was unwilling to speak, but its name fell from her lips with sighs, with—as it now seemed to him—a wild longing. Knowing nothing of it, he had pictured it a paradise, a land of roses. He seemed to have no knowledge of why she had left it; but years later his father spoke of finding her in Boston in the days when he preached there, penniless, searching for work as a teacher of singing. How she became jettisoned in that—to her—cold and inhospitable port, Stefan did not know, nor how soon after their marriage the two moved to the still more alien peninsula of Michigan.
Into his memories of the room where they painted a shadow constantly intruded, chilling them, such a shadow, deep and cold, as is cast by an iceberg. The door would open, and his father's face, high and white with ice-blue eyes, would hang above them. Instantly, the man remembered, the boy would cower like a fledgling beneath the sparrow-hawk, but with as much distaste as fear in his cringing. The words that followed always seemed the same—he could reconstruct the scene clearly, but whether it had occurred once or many times he could not tell. His father's voice would snap across the silence like a high, tight-drawn string—
"Still wasting time? Have you nothing better to do? Where is your sewing? And the boy—why is he not outside playing?"
"This helps me, Henry," his mother answered, hesitating and low. "Surely it does no harm. I cannot sew all the time."
"It is a childish and vain occupation, however, and I disapprove of the boy being encouraged in it. This of course you know perfectly well. Under ordinary circumstances I should absolutely forbid it; as it is, I condemn it."
"Henry," his mother's voice trembled, "don't ask me to give up his companionship. It is too cold for me to be outdoors, and perhaps after the spring I might not be with him."
This sentence terrified Stefan, who did not know the meaning of it. He was glad, for once, of his father's ridicule.
"That is perfectly absurd, the shallow excuse women always make their husbands for self-indulgence," said the man, turning to go. "You are a healthy woman, and would be more so but for idleness."
His wife called him back, pleadingly. "Please don't be angry with me, I'm doing the best I can, Henry—the very best I can." There was a sweet foreign blur in her speech, Stefan remembered.
His father paused at the door. "I have shown you your duty, my dear. I am a minister, and you cannot expect me to condone in my wife habits of frivolity and idleness which I should be the first to reprimand in my flock. I expect you to set an example."
"Oh," the woman wailed, "when you married me you loved me as I was—"
With a look of controlled annoyance her husband closed the door. Whether the memory of his father's words was exact or not, Stefan knew their effect by heart. The door shut, his mother would begin to cry, quietly at first, then with deep, catching sobs that seemed to stifle her, so that she rose and paced the room breathlessly. Then she would hold the boy to her breast, and slowly the storm would change again to gentle tears. That day there would be no more painting.
These, his earliest memories, culminated in tragedy. A spring day of driving rain witnessed the arrival of a gray, plain-faced woman, who mounted to his mother's room. The house seemed full of mysterious bustle. Presently he heard moans, and rushed upstairs thinking his mother was crying and needed him. The gray-haired woman thrust him from the bedroom door, but he returned again and again, calling his mother, until his father emerged from the study downstairs, and, seizing him in his cold grip, pushed him into the sanctum and turned the key upon him.
Much later, a man whom Stefan knew as their doctor entered the room with his father. A strange new word passed between them, and, in his high- strung state, impressed the boy's memory. It was "chloroform." The doctor used the word several times, and his father shook his head.
"No, doctor," he heard him saying, "we neither of us approve of it. It is contrary to the intention of God. Besides, you say the case is normal."
The doctor seemed to be repeating something about nerves and hysteria. "Exactly," his father replied, "and for that, self-control is needed, and not a drug that reverses the dispensation of the Almighty."
Both men left the room. Presently the boy heard shrieks. Lying, a grown man, in his berth, Stefan trembled at the memory of them. He fled in spirit as he had fled then—out of the window, down the roaring, swimming street, where he knew not, pursued by a writhing horror. Hours later, as it seemed, he returned. The shades were pulled down across the windows of his house. His mother was dead.
Looking back, the man hardly knew how the conviction had come to the child that his father had killed his mother. A vague comprehension perhaps of the doctor's urgings and his father's denials—a head-shaking mutter from the nurse—the memory of all his mother's tears. He was hardly more than a baby, but he had always feared and disliked his father—now he hated him, blindly and intensely. He saw him as the cause not only of his mother's tears and death, but of all the ugliness in the life about him. "Bohemia," he thought, would have been theirs but for this man. He even blamed him, in a sullen way, for the presence in their house of a tiny little red and wizened object, singularly ugly, which the gray-haired woman referred to as his "brother." Obviously, the thing was not a brother, and his father must be at the bottom of a conspiracy to deceive him. The creature made a great deal of noise, and when, by and by, it went away, and they told him his brother too was dead, he felt nothing but relief.
So darkened the one bright room in his childhood's mansion. Obscured, it left the other chambers dingier than before, and filled with the ache of loss. Slowly he forgot his mother's companionship, but not her beauty, nor her roses, nor "Bohemia," nor his hatred of the "America" which was his father's. To get away from his native town, to leave America, became the steadfast purpose of his otherwise unstable nature.
The man watched himself through high school. He saw himself still hating his surroundings and ignoring his schoolfellows—save for an occasional girl whose face or hair showed beauty. At this time the first step in his plan of escape shaped itself—he must work hard enough to get to college, to Ann Arbor, where he had heard there was an art course. For the boy painted now, in all his spare time, not merely birds, but dogs and horses, boys and girls, all creatures that had speed, that he could draw in action, leaping, flying, or running against the wind. Even now Stefan could warm to the triumph he felt the day he discovered the old barn where he could summon these shapes undetected. His triumph was over the arch-enemy, his father—who had forbidden him paint and brushes and confiscated the poor little fragments of his mother's work that he had hoarded. His father destined him for a "fitting" profession—the man smiled to remember it—and with an impressive air of generosity gave him the choice of three—the Church, the Law, or Medicine. Hate had given him too keen a comprehension of his father to permit him the mistake of argument. He temporized. Let him be sent to college, and there he would discover where his aptitude lay.
So at last it was decided. A trunk was found, a moth-eaten bag. His cheap, ill-cut clothes were packed. On a day of late summer he stepped for the first time upon a train—beautiful to him because it moved—and was borne southward.
At Ann Arbor he found many new things, rules, and people, but he brushed them aside like flies, hardly perceiving them; for there, for the first time, he saw photographs and casts of the world's great art. The first sight, even in a poor copy, of the two Discoboli—Diana with her swinging knee-high tunic—the winged Victory of Samothrace—to see them first at seventeen, without warning, without a glimmering knowledge of their existence! And the pictures! Portfolios of Angelo, of the voluptuous Titian, of the swaying forms of Botticelli's maidens—trite enough now —but then!
How long he could have deceived his father as to the real nature of his interests he did not know. Already there had been complaints of cut lectures, reprimands, and letters from home. Evading mathematics, science, and divinity, he read only the English and classic subjects —because they contained beauty—and drew, copying and creating, in every odd moment. The storm began to threaten, but it never broke; for in his second year in college the unbelievable, the miracle, happened—his father died. They said he had died of pneumonia, contracted while visiting the sick in the winter blizzards, and they praised him; but Stefan hardly listened.
One fact alone stood out amid the ugly affairs of death, so that he regarded and remembered nothing else. He was free—and he had wings! His father left insurance, and a couple of savings-bank accounts, but through some fissure of vanity or carelessness in the granite of his propriety, he left no will. The sums, amounting in all to something over three thousand dollars, came to Stefan without conditions, guardians, or other hindrances. The rapture of that discovery, he thought, almost wiped out his father's debt to him.
He knew now that not Bohemia, but Paris, was his El Dorado. In wild haste he made ready for his journey, leaving the rigid trappings of his home to be sold after him. But his dead father was to give him one more pang—the scales were to swing uneven at the last. For when he would have packed the only possession, other than a few necessities, he planned to carry with him, he found his mother's picture gone. Dying, his father, it appeared, had wandered from his bed, detached the portrait, and with his own hands burnt it in the stove. The motive of the act Stefan could not comprehend. He only knew that this man had robbed him of his mother twice. All that remained of her was her wedding ring, which, drawn from his father's cash-box, he wore on his little finger. With bitterness amid his joy he took the train once more, and saw the lights of the town's shabby inn blink good-bye behind its frazzled shades.
Byrd had lived for seven years in Paris, wandering on foot in summer through much of France and Italy. His little patrimony, stretched to the last sou, and supplemented in later years by the occasional sale of his work to small dealers, had sufficed him so long. His headquarters were in a high windowed attic facing north along the rue des Quatre Ermites. His work had been much admired in the ateliers, but his personal unpopularity with, the majority of the students had prevented their admiration changing to a friendship whose demands would have drained his small resources. "Ninety-nine per cent of the Quarter dislikes Stefan Byrd," an Englishman had said, "but one per cent adores him." Repeated to Byrd, this utterance was accepted by him with much complacence, for, even more than the average man, he prided himself upon his faults of character. His adoration of Paris had not prevented him from criticizing its denizens; the habits of mental withdrawal and reservation developed in his boyhood did not desert him in the city of friendship, but he became more deeply aware of the loneliness which they involved. He searched eagerly for the few whose qualities of mind or person lifted them beyond reach of his demon of disparagement, and he found them, especially among women.
To a minority of that sex he was unusually attractive, and he became a lover of women, but as subjects for enthusiasm rather than desire. In passion he was curious but capricious, seldom rapidly roused, nor long held. In his relations with women emotion came second to mental stimulation, so that he never sought one whose mere sex was her main attraction. This saved him from much—he was experienced, but not degraded. Of love, however, in the fused sense of body, mind, and spirit, he knew nothing. Perhaps his work claimed too much from him; at any rate he was too egotistical, too critical and self-sufficient to give easily. Whether he had received such love he did not ask himself—it is probable that he had, without knowing it, or understanding that he had not himself given full measure in return. The heart of France is practical; with all her ardor Paris had given Byrd desire and friendship, but not romance.
In his last year, with only a few francs of his inheritance remaining, Stefan had three pictures in the Beaux Arts. One of these was sold, but the other two importuned vainly from their hanging places. Enormous numbers of pictures had been exhibited that year. Every gallery, public and private, was crowded; Paris was glutted with works of art. Stefan faced the prospect of speedy starvation if he could not dispose of another canvas. He had enough for a summer in Brittany, after which, if the dealers could do nothing for him, he was stranded. Nevertheless, he enjoyed his holiday light-heartedly, confident that his two large pictures could not long fail to be appreciated. Returning to Paris in September, however, he was dismayed to find his favorite dealers uninterested in his canvases, and disinclined to harbor them longer. Portraits and landscapes, they told him, were in much demand, but fantasies, no. His sweeping groups of running, flying figures against stormy skies, or shoals of mermaids hurrying down lanes of the deep sea, did not appeal to the fashionable taste of the year. Something more languorous, more subdued, or, on the other hand, more "chic," was demanded.
In a high rage of disgust, Stefan hired a fiacre, and bore his children defiantly home to their birthplace. Sitting in his studio like a ruffled bird upon a spoiled hatching, he reviewed the fact that he had 325 francs in the world, that the rent of his attic was overdue, and that his pictures had never been so unmarketable as now.
At this point his one intimate man friend, Adolph Jensen, a Swede, appeared as the deus ex machine. He had, he declared, an elder brother in New York, an art dealer. This brother had just written him, describing the millionaires who bought his pictures and bric-a-brac. His shop was crowded with them. Adolph's brother was shrewd and hard to please, but let his cher Stefan go himself to New York with his canvases, impress the brother with his brilliance and the beauty of his work, and, undoubtedly, his fortune would at once be made. The season in New York was in the winter. Let Stefan go at once, by the fastest boat, and be first in the field—he, Adolph, who had a little laid by, would lend him the necessary money, and would write his brother in advance of the great opportunity he was sending him.
Ultimately, with a very ill grace on Stefan's part—who could hardly be persuaded that even a temporary return to America was preferable to starvation—it was so arranged. The second-class passage money was 250 francs; for this and incidentals, he had enough, and Adolph lent him another 250 to tide him over his arrival. He felt unable to afford adequate crating, so his canvases were unstretched and made into a roll which he determined should never leave his hands. His clothing was packed in two bags, one contributed by Adolph. Armed with his roll, and followed by his enthusiastic friend carrying the bags, Stefan departed from the Gare Saint-Lazare for Dieppe, Liverpool, and the Lusitania.
Reacting to his friend's optimism, Stefan had felt confident enough on leaving Paris, but the discomforts of the journey had soon flattened his spirits, and now, limp in his berth, he saw the whole adventure mistaken, unreal, and menacing. In leaving the country of his adoption for that of his birth, he now felt that he had put himself again in the clutches of a chimera which had power to wither with its breath all that was rare and beautiful in his life. Nursing a grievance against himself and fate, he at last fell asleep, clothed as he was, and forgot himself for a time in such uneasy slumber as the storm allowed.
The second-class deck was rapidly filling. Chairs, running in a double row about the deck-house were receiving bundles of women, rugs, and babies. Energetic youths, in surprising ulsters and sweaters, tramped in broken file between these chairs and the bulwarks. Older men, in woolen waistcoats and checked caps, or in the aging black of the small clergy and professional class, obstructed, with a rooted constancy, the few clear corners of the deck. Elderly women, with the parchment skin and dun tailored suit of the "personally conducted" tourist, tied their heads in veils and ventured into sheltered corners. On the boat-deck a game of shuffleboard was in progress. Above the main companion-way the ship's bands condescended to a little dance music on behalf of the second class. The Scotchman, clad in inch-thick heather mixture, was already discussing with all whom he could buttonhole the possibilities of a ship's concert. In a word, it was the third day out, the storm was over, and the passengers were cognizant of life, and of each other.
The Scot had gravitated to a group of men near the smoking-room door, and having received from his turtle-jawed neighbor of the dinner table, who was among them, the gift of a cigar, interrogated him as to musical gifts. "I shall recite mesel'," he explained complacently, sucking in his smoke. "Might we hope for a song, now, from you? I've asked yon artist chap, but he says he doesna' sing."
His neighbor also disclaimed talents. "Sorry I can't oblige you. Who wants to hear a man sing, anyway? Where are your girls?"
"There seems to be a singular absence of bonny girrls on board," replied the Scot, twisting his erect forelock reflectively.
"Have you asked the English girl?" suggested a tall, rawboned New Englander.
"Which English girrl?" demanded the Scot.
"Listen to him—which! Why, that one over there, you owl."
The Scotchman's eyes followed the gesture toward a group of children surrounding a tall girl who stood by the rail on the leeward side. She was facing into the wind toward the smoking-room door.
"Eh, mon," said the Scot, "till now I'd only seen the back of yon young woman," and he promptly strode down the deck to ask, and receive, the promise of a song.
Stefan Byrd, after a silent breakfast eaten late to avoid his table companions, had just come on deck. It had been misty earlier, but now the sun was beginning to break through in sudden glints of brightness. The deck was still damp, however, and the whole prospect seemed to the emerging Stefan cheerless in the extreme. His eyes swept the gray, huddled shapes upon the chairs, the knots of gossiping men, the clumsy, tramping youths, with the same loathing that the whole voyage had hitherto inspired in him. The forelocked Scot, tweed cap in hand, was crossing the deck. "There goes the brute, busy with his infernal concert," he thought, watching balefully. Then he actually seemed to point, like a dog, limbs fixed, eyes set, his face, with its salient nose, thrust forward.
The Scot was speaking to a tall, bareheaded girl, about whom half a dozen nondescript children crowded. She was holding herself against the wind, and from her long, clean limbs her woolen dress was whipped, rippling. The sun had gleamed suddenly, and under the shaft of brightness her hair shone back a golden answer. Her eyes, hardly raised to those of the tall Scotchman, were wide, gray, and level—the eyes of Pallas Athene; her features, too, were goddess-like. One hand upon the bulwarks, she seemed, even as she listened, to be poised for flight, balancing to the sway of the ship.
Stefan exhaled a great breath of joy. There was something beautiful upon the ship, after all. He found and lit a cigarette, and squaring his shoulders to the deckhouse wall, leaned back the more comfortably to indulge what he took to be his chief mission—the art of perceiving beauty.
The girl listened in silence till the Scotchman had finished speaking, and replied briefly and quietly, inclining her head. The Scot, jotting something in a pocket notebook, left her with an air of elation, and she turned again to the children. One, a toddler, was picking at her skirt. She bent toward him a smile which gave Stefan almost a stab of satisfaction, it was so gravely sweet, so fitted to her person. She stooped lower to speak to the baby, and the artist saw the free, rhythmic motion which meant developed, and untrammeled muscles. Presently the children, wriggling with joy, squatted in a circle, and the girl sank to the deck in their midst with one quick and easy movement, curling her feet under her. There proceeded an absurd game, involving a slipper and much squealing, whose intricacies she directed with unruffled ease.
Suddenly the wind puffed the hat of one of the small boys from his head, carrying it high above their reach. In an instant the girl was up, springing to her feet unaided by hand or knee. Reaching out, she caught the hat as it descended slantingly over the bulwarks, and was down again before the child's clutching hands had left his head.
A mother, none other than the prominently busted lady of Stefan's table, blew forward with admiring cries of gratitude. Other matrons, vocative, surrounded the circle, momentarily cutting off his view. He changed his position to the bulwarks beside the group. There, a yard or two from the gleaming head, he perched on the rail, feet laced into its supports, and continued his concentrated observation.
"See yon chap," remarked the Scot from the smoking-room door to which his talent-seeking round of the deck had again brought him. "He's fair staring the eyes oot o'his head!"
"Exceedingly annoying to the young lady, I should imagine," returned his table neighbor, the prim minister, who had joined the group.
"Hoots, she willna' mind the likes of him," scoffed the other, with his booming laugh.
And indeed she did not. Oblivious equally of Byrd and of her more distant watchers, the English girl passed from "Hunt the Slipper" to "A Cold and Frosty Morning," and from that to story-telling, as absorbed as her small companions, or as her watcher-in-chief.
Gradually the sun broke out, the water danced, huddled shapes began to rise in their chairs, disclosing unexpected spots of color—a bright tie or a patterned blouse—animation increased on all sides, and the ring about the storyteller became three deep.
After a time a couple of perky young stewards appeared with huge iron trays, containing thick white cups half full of chicken broth, and piles of biscuits. Upon this, the pouter-pigeon lady bore off her small son to be fed, other mothers did the same, and the remaining children, at the lure of food, sidled off of their own accord, or sped wildly, whooping out promises to return. For the moment, the story-teller was alone. Stefan, seeing the Scot bearing down upon her with two cups of broth in his hand and purpose in his eye, wakened to the danger just in time. Throwing his cigarette overboard, he sprang lightly between her and the approaching menace.
"Won't you be perfectly kind, and come for a walk?" he asked, stooping to where she sat. The girl looked up into a pair of green-gold eyes set in a brown, eager face. The face was lighted with a smile of dazzling friendliness, and surmounted by an uncovered head of thick, brown-black hair. Slowly her own eyes showed an answering smile.
"Thank you, I should love to," she said, and rising, swung off beside him, just in time—as Stefan maneuvered it—to avoid seeing the Scot and his carefully balanced offering. Discomfited, that individual consoled himself with both cups of broth, and bided his time.
"My name is Stefan Byrd. I am a painter, going to America to sell some pictures. I'm twenty-six. What is your name?" said Stefan, who never wasted time in preliminaries and abhorred small talk—turning his brilliant happy smile upon her.
"To answer by the book," she replied, smiling too, "my name is Mary Elliston. I'm twenty-five. I do odd jobs, and am going to America to try to find one to live on."
"What fun!" cried Stefan, with a faunlike skip of pleasure, as they turned onto the emptier windward deck. "Then we're both seeking our fortunes."
"Living, rather than fortune, in my case, I'm afraid."
"Well, of course you don't need a fortune, you carry so much gold with you," and he glanced at her shining hair.
"Not negotiable, unluckily," she replied, taking his compliment as he had paid it, without a trace of self-consciousness.
"Like the sunlight," he answered. "In fact,"—confidentially—"I'm afraid you're a thief; you've imprisoned a piece of the sun, which should belong to us all. However, I'm not going to complain to the authorities, I like the result too much. You don't mind my saying that, do you?" he continued, sure that she did not. "You see, I'm a painter. Color means everything to me—that and form."
"One never minds hearing nice things, I think," she replied, with a frank smile. They were swinging up and down the windward deck, and as he talked he was acutely aware of her free movements beside him, and of the blow of her skirts to leeward. Her hair, too closely pinned to fly loose, yet seemed to spring from her forehead with the urge of pinioned wings. Life radiated from her, he thought, with a steady, upward flame—not fitfully, as with most people.
"And one doesn't mind questions, does one—from real people?" he continued. "I'm going to ask you lots more, and you may ask me as many as you like. I never talk to people unless they are worth talking to, and then I talk hard. Will you begin, or shall I? I have at least two hundred things to ask."
"It is my turn, though, I think." She accepted him on his own ground, with an open and natural friendliness.
"I have only one at the moment, which is, 'Why haven't we talked before?'" and she glanced with a quiet humorousness at the few unpromising samples of the second cabin who obstructed the windward deck.
"Oh, good for you!" he applauded, "aren't they loathly!"
"Oh, no, all right, only not stimulating—"
"And we are," he finished for her, "so that, obviously, your question has only one answer. We haven't talked before because I haven't seen you before, and I haven't seen you because I have been growling in my cabin —voila tout!"
"Oh, never growl—it's such a waste of time," she answered. "You'll see, the second cabin isn't bad."
"It certainly isn't, now," rejoiced Stefan. "My turn for a question. Have you relatives, or are you, like myself, alone in the world?"
"Quite alone," said Mary, "except for a married sister, who hardly counts, as she's years older than I, and fearfully preoccupied with husband, houses, and things." She paused, then added, "She hasn't any babies, or I might have stayed to look after them, but she has lots of money and 'position to keep up,' and so forth."
"I see her," said Stefan. "Obviously, she takes after the other parent. You are alone then. Next question—"
"Oh, isn't it my turn again?" Mary interposed, smilingly.
"It is, but I ask you to waive it. You see, questions about me are so comparatively trivial. What sort of work do you do?"
"Well, I write a little," she replied, "and I've been a governess and a companion. But I'm really a victim of the English method of educating girls. That's my chief profession—being a monument to its inefficiency," and she laughed, low and bell-like.
"Tell me about that—I've never lived in England," he questioned, with eager interest. ("And oh, Pan and Apollo, her voice!" he thought.)
"Well," she continued, "they bring us up so nicely that we can't do anything—except be nice. I was brought up in a cathedral town, right in the Close, and my dear old Dad, who was a doctor, attended the Bishop, the Dean, and all the Chapter. Mother would not let us go to boarding-school, for fear of 'influences'—so we had governesses at home, who taught us nothing we didn't choose to learn. My sister Isobel married 'well,' as they say, while I was still in the schoolroom. Her husband belongs to the county—"
"What's that?" interrupted Stefan.
"Don't you know what the county is? How delightful! The 'county' is the county families—landed gentry—very ancient and swagger and all that —much more so than the titled people often. It was very great promotion for the daughter of one of the town to marry into the county—or would have been except that Mother was county also." She spoke with mock solemnity.
"How delightfully picturesque and medieval!" exclaimed Stefan. "The Guelphs and Ghibellines, eh?"
"Yes," Mary replied, "only there is no feud, and it doesn't seem so romantic when you're in it. The man my sister married I thought was frightfully boring except for his family place, and being in the army, which is rather decent. He talks," she smiled, "like a phonograph with only one set of records."
"Wondrous Being—Winged Goddess—" chanted Stefan, stopping before her and apostrophizing the sky or the boat-deck—"a goddess with a sense of humor!" And he positively glowed upon her.
"About the first point I know nothing," she laughed, walking on again beside him, "but for the second," and her face became a little grave, "you have to have some humor if you are a girl in Lindum, or you go under."
"Tell me, tell me all about it," he urged. "I've never met an English girl before, nor a goddess, and I'm so interested!"
They rested for a time against the bulwarks. The wind was dropping, and the spume seethed against the black side of the ship without force from the waves to throw it up to them in spray. They looked down into deep blue and green water glassing a sky warm now, and friendly, in which high white cumuli sailed slowly, like full-rigged ships all but becalmed.
"It is a very commonplace story with us," Mary began. "Mother died a little time after Isobel married, and Dad kept my governess on. I begged to go to Girton, or any other college he liked, but he wouldn't hear of it. Said he wanted a womanly daughter." She smiled rather ruefully. "Dad was doing well with his practice, for a small-town doctor, and had a good deal saved, and a little of mother's money. He wanted to have more, so he put it all into rubber. You've heard about rubber, haven't you?" she asked, turning to Stefan.
"Not a thing," he smiled.
"Well, every one in England was putting money into rubber last year, and lots of people did well, but lots—didn't. Poor old Dad didn't—he lost everything. It wouldn't have really mattered—he had his profession—but the shock killed him, I think; that and being lonely without Mother." She paused a moment, looking into the water. "Anyhow, he died, and there was nothing for me to do except to begin earning my living without any of the necessary equipment."
"What about the brother-in-law?" asked Stefan.
"Oh, yes, I could have gone to them—I wasn't in danger of starvation. But," she shook her head emphatically, "a poor relation! I couldn't have stood that."
"Well," he turned squarely toward her, his elbow on the rail, "I can't help asking this, you know; where were the bachelors of Lindum?"
She smiled, still in her friendly, unembarrassed way.
"I know what you mean, of course. The older men say it quite openly in England.—'Why don't a nice gel like you get married?'—It's rather a long story." ("Has she been in love?" Stefan wondered.) "First of all, there are very few young men of one's own sort in Lindum; most of them are in the Colonies. Those there are—one or two lawyers, doctors, and squires' sons—are frightfully sought after." She made a wry face. "Too much competition for them, altogether, and—" she seemed to take a plunge before adding—"I've never been successful at bargain counters."
He turned that over for a moment. "I see," he said. "At least I should do, if it weren't for it being you. Look here, Miss Elliston, honestly now, fair and square—" he smiled confidingly at her—"you're not asking me to believe that the competition in your ease didn't appear in the other sex?"
"Mr. Byrd," she answered straightly, "in my world girls have to have more than a good appearance." She shrugged her shoulders rather disdainfully. "I had no money, and I had opinions."
("She's been in love—slightly," he decided.) "Opinions," he echoed, "what kind? Mustn't one have any in Lindum?"
"Young girls mustn't—only those they are taught," she replied. "I read a good deal, I sympathized with the Liberals. I was even—" her voice dropped to mock horror—"a Suffragist!"
"I've heard about that," he interposed eagerly, "though the French women don't seem to care much. You wanted to vote? Well, why ever not?"
She gave him the brightest smile he had yet received.
"Oh, how nice of you!" she cried. "You really mean that?"
"Couldn't see it any other way. I've always liked and believed in women more than men. I learnt that in childhood," he added, frowning.
"Splendid! I'm so glad," she responded. "You see, with our men it's usually the other way round. My ideas were a great handicap at home."
"So you decided to leave?"
"Yes; I went to London and got a job teaching some children sums and history—two hours every morning. In the afternoons I worked at stories for the magazines, and placed a few, but they pay an unknown writer horribly badly. I lived with an old lady as companion for two months, but that was being a poor relation minus the relationship—I couldn't stand it. I joined the Suffragists in London—not the Militants—I don't quite see their point of view—and marched in a parade. Brother-in-law heard of it, and wrote me I could not expect anything from them unless I stopped it." She laughed quietly.
Stefan flushed. He pronounced something—conclusively—in French. Then —"Don't ask me to apologize, Miss Elliston."
"I won't," reassuringly. "I felt rather like that, too. I wrote that I didn't expect anything as it was. Then I sat down and thought about the whole question of women in England and their chances. I had a hundred pounds and a few ornaments of Mother's. I love children, but I didn't want to be a governess. I wanted to stand alone in some place where my head wouldn't be pushed down every time I tried to raise it. I believed in America people wouldn't say so often, 'Why doesn't a nice girl like you get married?' so I came, and here I am. That's the whole story—a very humdrum one."
"Yes, here you are, thank God!" proclaimed Stefan devoutly. "What magnificent pluck, and how divine of you to tell me it all! You've saved me from suicide, almost. These people immolate me."
"How delightfully he exaggerates!" she thought.
"What thousands of things we can talk about," he went on in a burst of enthusiasm. "What a perfectly splendid time we are going to have!" He all but warbled.
"I hope so," she answered, smilingly, "but there goes the gong, and I'm ravenous."
"Dinner!" he cried scornfully; "suet pudding, all those horrible people —you want to leave this—?" He swept his arm over the glittering water.
"I don't, but I want my dinner," she maintained.
This checked his spirits for a moment; then enlightenment seemed to burst upon him.
"Glorious creature!" he apostrophized her. "She must be fed, or she would not glow with such divine health! That gong was for the first table, and I'm not in the least hungry. Nevertheless, we will eat, here and now."
She demurred, but he would have his way, demanding it in celebration of their meeting. He found the deck steward, tipped him, and exacted the immediate production of two dinners. He ensconced Miss Elliston in some one else's chair, conveniently placed, settled her with some one else's cushions, which he chose from the whole deck for their color—a clean blue—and covered her feet with the best rug he could find. She accepted his booty with only slight remonstrance, being too frankly engaged by his spirits to attempt the role of extinguisher. He settled himself beside her, and they lunched delightedly, like children, on chops and a rice pudding.
It is not too easy to appropriate a pretty girl on board ship. There are always young men who expect the voyage to offer a flirtation, and who spend much ingenuity in heading each other off from the companionship of the most attractive damsels. But the "English girl" was not in the "pretty" class. She was a beauty, of the grave and pure type which implies character. All the children knew her; all the women and men watched her; but few of the latter had ventured to speak to her, even before Stefan claimed her as his monopoly. For this he did, from the moment of their first encounter. To him nobody on the ship existed but her, and he assumed the right to show it.
He had trouble from only two people. One was the Scotchman, McEwan, whose hide seemed impervious to rebuffs, and who would charge into a conversation with the weight of a battering ram, planting himself implacably in a chair beside Miss Elliston, and occasionally reducing even Stefan to silence. The other was Miss Elliston herself. She was kind, she was friendly, she was boyishly frank. But occasionally she would withdraw into herself, and sometimes would disappear altogether into her cabin, to be found again, after long search, telling stories to some of the children. On such occasions Stefan roamed the decks and saloons very like a hungry wolf, snapping with intolerable rudeness at any one who spoke to him. This, however, few troubled to do, for he was cordially disliked, both for his own sake and because of his success with Miss Elliston. That success the ship could not doubt. Though she was invariably polite to every one, she walked and talked only with him or the children. She was, of course, above the social level of the second- class; but this the English did not resent, because they understood it, nor the Americans, because they were unaware of it. On the other hand, English and Americans alike resented Byrd, whom they could neither place nor understand. These two became the most conspicuous people in the cabin, and their every movement was eagerly watched and discussed, though both remained entirely oblivious to it. Stefan was absorbed in the girl, that was clear; but how far she might be in him the cabin could not be sure. She brightened when he appeared. She liked him, smiled at him, and listened to him. She allowed him to monopolize her. But she never sought him out, never snubbed McEwan for his intrusions into their tete-a-tetes, seemed not to be "managing" the affair in any way. Used to more obvious methods, most of the company were puzzled. They did not understand that they were watching the romance of a woman who added perfect breeding to her racial self-control. Mary Elliston would never wear her feelings nakedly, nor allow them to ride her out of hand.
Not so Stefan, who was, as yet unknowingly, experiencing romantic love for the first time. This girl was the most glorious creature he had ever known, and the most womanly. Her sex was the very essence of her; she had no need to wear it like a furbelow. She was utterly different from the feminine, adroit women he had known; there was something cool and deep about her like a pool, and withal winged, like the birds that fly over it. She was marvelous—marvelous! he thought. What a find!
His spirit flung itself, kneeling, to drink at the pool—his imagination reached out to touch the wings. For the first time in his life he was too deeply enthralled to question himself or her. He gloried in her openly, conspicuously.
On the morning of the fifth day they had their first dispute. They were sitting on the boat deck, aft, watching the wake of the ship as it twisted like an uncertain white serpent. Stefan was sketching her, as he had done already several times when he could get her apart from hovering children—he could not endure being overlooked as he worked. "They chew gum in my ear, and breathe down my neck," he would explain.
He had almost completed an impression of her head against the sky, with a flying veil lifting above it, when a shadow fell across the canvas, and the voice of McEwan blared out a pleased greeting.
"Weel, here ye are!" exclaimed that mountain of tweed, lowering himself onto a huge iron cleat between which and the bulwarks the two were sitting cross-legged. "I was speerin' where ye'd both be."
"Good Lord, McEwan, can't you speak English?" exclaimed Byrd, with quick exasperation.
"I hae to speak the New York lingo when I get back there, ye ken," replied the Scot with imperturbable good humor, "so I like to use a wee bit o' the guid Scotch while I hae the chance."
"A wee bit!" snorted Stefan, and "Good morning, Mr. McEwan, isn't it beautiful up here?" interposed Miss Elliston, pleasantly.
"It's grand," replied the Scotchman, "and ye look bonnie i' the sun," he added simply.
"So Mr. Byrd thinks. You see he has just been painting me," she answered smilingly, indicating, with a touch of mischief, the drawing that Stefan had hastily slipped between them.
The Scotchman stooped, and, before Stefan could stop him, had the sketch in his hand.
"It's a guid likeness," he pronounced, "though I dinna care mesel' for yon new-fangled way o' slappin' on the color. I'll mak'ye a suggestion—" But he got no further, for Stefan, incoherent with irritation, snatched the sketch from his hands and broke out at him in a stammering torrent of French of the Quarter, which neither of his listeners, he was aware, could understand. Having safely consigned all the McEwans of the universe to pig-sties and perdition, he walked off to cool himself, the sketch under his arm, leaving both his hearers incontinently dumb.
McEwan recovered first. "The puir young mon suffers wi' his temper, there's nae dooting," said he, addressing himself to the task of entertaining his rather absent-minded companion.
His advantage lasted but a few moments, however. Byrd, repenting his strategic error, returned, and in despair of other methods succeeded in summoning a candid smile.
"Look here, McEwan," said he, with the charm of manner he knew so well how to assume, "don't mind my irritability; I'm always like that when I'm painting and any one interrupts—it sends me crazy. The light's just right, and it won't be for long. I can't possibly paint with anybody round. Won't you, like a good fellow, get out and let me finish?"
His frankness was wonderfully disarming, but in any case, the Scot was always good nature's self.
"Aye, I ken your nairves trouble ye," he replied, lumbering to his feet, "and I'll no disobleege ye, if the leddy will excuse me?" turning to her.
Miss Elliston, who had not looked at Stefan since his outburst, murmured her consent, and the Scot departed.
Stefan exploded into a sigh of relief. "Thank heaven! Isn't he maddening?" he exclaimed, reassembling his brushes. "Isn't he the most fatuous idiot that ever escaped from his native menagerie? Did you hear him commence to criticize my work? The oaf! I'm afraid—" glancing at her face—"that I swore at him, but he deserved it for butting in like that, and he couldn't understand what I said." His tone was slightly, very slightly, apologetic.
"I don't think that's the point, is it?" asked the girl, in a very cool voice. She was experiencing her first shock of disappointment in him, and felt unhappy; but she only appeared critical.
"What do you mean?" he asked, dashed.
"Whether he understood or not." She was still looking away from him. "It was so unkind and unnecessary to break out at the poor man like that —and," her voice dropped, "so horribly rude."
"Well," Stefan answered uncomfortably, "I can't be polite to people like that. I don't even try."
"No, I know you don't. That's what I don't like," Mary replied, even more coldly. She meant that it hurt her, obscured the ideal she was constructing of him, but she could not have expressed that.
He painted for a few minutes in a silence that grew more and more constrained. Then he threw down his brush. "Well, I can't paint," he exclaimed in an aggrieved tone, "I'm absolutely out of tune. You'll have to realize I'm made like that. I can't change, can't hide my real self." As she still did not speak, he added, with an edge to his voice, "I may as well go away; there's nothing I can do here." He stood up.
"Perhaps you had better," she replied, very quietly. Her throat was aching with hurt, so that she could hardly speak, but to him she appeared indifferent.
"Good-bye," he exclaimed shortly, and strode off.
For some time she remained where he had left her, motionless. She felt very tired, without knowing why. Presently she went to her cabin and lay down.
Mary did not see Stefan again until after the midday meal, though by the time she appeared on deck he had been waiting and searching for her for an hour. When he found her it was in an alcove of the lounge, screened from the observation of the greater part of the room. She was reading, but as he came toward her she looked up and closed her book. Before he spoke both knew that their relation to each other had subtly changed. They were self-conscious; the hearts of both beat. In a word, their quarrel had taught them their need of each other.
He took her hand and spoke rather breathlessly.
"I've been looking for you for hours. Thank God you're here. I was abominable to you this morning. Can you possibly forgive me? I'm so horribly lonely without you." He was extraordinarily handsome as he stood before her, looking distressed, but with his eyes shining.
"Of course I can," she murmured, while a weight seemed to roll off her heart—and she blushed, a wonderful pink, up to the eyes.
He sat beside her, still holding her hand. "I must say it. You are the most beautiful thing in the world. The—most—beautiful!" They looked at each other.
"Oh!" he exclaimed with a long breath, jumping up again and half pulling her after him in a revulsion of relief, "come on deck and let's walk—and talk—or," he laughed excitedly, "I don't know what I shall do next!"
She obeyed, and they almost sped round the deck, he looking spiritually intoxicated, and she, calm by contrast, but with an inward glow as though behind her face a rose was on fire. The deck watched them and nodded its head. There was no doubt about it now, every one agreed. Bets began to circulate on the engagement. A fat salesman offered two to one it was declared before they picked up the Nantucket light. The pursy little passenger snapped an acceptance. "I'll take you. Here's a dollar says the lady is too particular." The high-bosomed matron confided her fears for the happiness of the girl, "who has been real kind to Johnnie," to the spinster who had admired Stefan the first day out. Gossip was universal, but through it all the two moved radiant and oblivious.
McEwan had succeeded in his fell design of getting up a concert, and the event was to take place that night. Miss Elliston, who had promised to sing, went below a little earlier than usual to dress for dinner. Byrd had tried to dissuade her from taking part, but she was firm.
"It's a frightful bother," she said, "but I can't get out of it. I promised Mr. McEwan, you know."
"I won't say any further what I think of McEwan," replied Stefan, laughing. "Instead, I'll heap coals of fire on him by not trying any longer to persuade you to turn him down."
As she left, Stefan waved her a gay "Grand succes!" but he was already prey to an agony of nervousness. Suppose she didn't make a success, or —worse still—suppose she did make a success—by singing bad music! Suppose she lacked art in what she did! She was perfection; he was terrified lest her singing should not be. His fastidious brain tortured him, for it told him he would love her less completely if she failed.
Like most artists, Stefan adored music, and, more than most, understood it. Suppose—just suppose—she were to sing Tosti's "Good-bye!" He shuddered. Yet, if she did not sing something of that sort, it would fall flat, and she would be disappointed. So he tortured himself all through dinner, at which he did not see her, for he had been unable to get his place changed to the first sitting with hers. He longed to keep away from the concert, yet knew that he could not. At last, leaving his dessert untouched, he sought refuge in his cabin.
The interval that must be dragged through while the stewards cleared the saloon Stefan occupied in routing from Adolph's huge old Gladstone his one evening suit. He had not at first dreamed of dressing, but many of the other men had done so, and he determined that for her sake he must play the game at least to that extent. Byrd added the scorn of the artist to the constitutional dislike of the average American for conventional evening dress. His, however, was as little conventional as possible, and while he nervously adjusted it he could not help recognizing that it was exceedingly becoming. He tore a tie and destroyed two collars, however, before the result satisfied him, and his nerves were at leaping pitch when staccato chords upon the piano announced that the concert had begun. He found a seat in the farthest corner of the saloon, and waited, penciling feverish circles upon the green-topped table to keep his hands steady.
Mary Elliston's name was fourth on the program, and came immediately after McEwan's, who was down for a "recitation." Stefan managed to sit through the piano-solo and a song by a seedy little English baritone about "the rolling deep." But when the Scot began to blare out, with tremendous vehemence, what purported to be a poem by Sir Walter Scott, Stefan, his forehead and hands damp with horror, could endure no more, and fled, pushing his way through the crowd at the door. He climbed to the deck and waited there, listening apprehensively. When the scattered applause warned him that the time for Mary's song had come, he found himself utterly unable to face the saloon again. Fortunately the main companionway gave on a well opening directly over the saloon; and it was from the railing of this well that Stefan saw Mary, just as the piano sounded the opening bars.
She stood full under the brilliant lights in a gown of white chiffon, low in the neck, which drooped and swayed about her in flowing lines of grace. Her hair gleamed; her arms showed slim, white, but strong. And "Oh, my golden girl!" his heart cried to her, leaping. Her lips parted, and quite easily, in full, clear tones that struck the very center of the notes, she began to sing. "Good girl, good girl!" he thought. For what she sang was neither sophisticated nor obvious—was indeed the only thing that could at once have satisfied him and pleased her audience. "Under the greenwood tree—" the notes came gay and sweet. Then, "Fear no more the heat o' the sun—" and the tones darkened. Again, "Oh, mistress mine—" they pulsed with happy love. Three times Mary sang—the immortal ballads of Shakespeare—simply, but with sure art and feeling. As the last notes ceased, "Love's a stuff will not endure," and the applause broke out, absolute peace flooded Stefan's heart.
In a dream he waited for her at the saloon door, held her coat, and mounted beside her to the boat deck. Not until they stood side by side at the rail, and she turned questioningly toward him, did he speak.
"You were perfect, without flaw. I can't tell you—" he broke off, wordless.
"I'm so glad—glad that you were pleased," she whispered.
They leant side by side over the bulwarks. They were quite alone, and the moon was rising. There are always liberating moments at sea when the spirit seems to grow—to expand to the limits of sky and water, to become one with them. Such a moment was theirs, the perfect hour of moonrise on a calm and empty sea. The horizon was undefined. They seemed suspended in limitless ether, which the riding moon pierced with a swale of living brightness, like quicksilver. They heard nothing save the hidden throb and creak of the ship, mysterious yet familiar, as the night itself. It was the perfect time. Stefan turned to her. Her face and hair shone silver, glorified. They looked at each other, their eyes strange in the moonlight. They seemed to melt together. His arms were round her, and they kissed.
A little later he began to talk, and it was of his young mother, dead years ago in Michigan, that he spoke. "You are the only woman who has ever reminded me of her, Mary. The only one whose beauty has been so divinely kind. All my life has been lonely between losing her and finding you."
This thrilled her with an ache of mother-pity. She saw him misunderstood, unhappy, and instantly her heart wrapped him about with protection. In that moment his faults were all condoned—she saw them only as the fruits of his loneliness.
Later, "Mary," he said, "yours is the most beautiful of all names. Poets and painters have glorified it in every age, but none as I shall do"; and he kissed her adoringly.
Again, he held his cheek to hers. "Beloved," he whispered, "when we are married" (even as he spoke he marveled at himself that the word should come so naturally) "I want to paint you as you really are—a goddess of beauty and love."
She thrilled in response to him, half fearful, yet exalted. She was his, utterly.
As they clung together he saw her winged, a white flame of love, a goddess elusive even in yielding. He aspired, and saw her, Cytheria-like, shining above yet toward him. But her vision, leaning on his heart, was of those two still and close together, nestling beneath Love's protecting wings, while between their hands she felt the fingers of a little child.
That night Mary and Stefan spoke only of love, but the morning brought plans. Before breakfast they were together, pacing the sun-swept deck.
Mary took it for granted that their engagement would continue till Stefan's pictures were sold, till they had found work, till their future was in some way arranged. Stefan, who was enormously under her influence, and a trifle, in spite of his rapture, in awe of her sweet reasonableness, listened at first without demur. After breakfast, however, which they ate together, he occupying the place of a late comer at her table after negotiation with the steward, his impatient temperament asserted itself in a burst.
"Dearest one," he cried, when they were comfortably settled in their favorite corner of the boat deck, "listen! I'm sure we're all wrong. I know we are. Why should you and I—" and he took her hand—"wait and plan and sour ourselves as little people do? We've both got to live, haven't we? And we are going to live; you don't expect we shall starve, do you?"
She shook her head, smiling.
"Well, then," triumphantly, "why shouldn't we live together? Why, it would be absurd not to, even from the base and practical point of view. Think of the saving! One rent instead of two—one everything instead of two!" His arm gave her a quick pressure.
"Yes, but—" she demurred.
He turned on her suddenly. "You don't want to wait for trimmings —clothes, orange blossoms, all that stuff—do you?" he expostulated.
"No, of course not, foolish one," she laughed.
"Well, then, where's the difficulty?" exultingly.
She could not answer—could hardly formulate the answer to herself. Deep in her being she seemed to feel an urge toward waiting, toward preparation, toward the collection of she knew not what small household gods. It was as if she wished to make fair a place to receive her sacrament of love. But this she could not express, could not speak to him of the vision of the tiny hand.
"You're brave, Mary. Your courage was one of the things I most loved in you. Let's be brave together!" His smile was irresistibly happy.
She could not bear that he should doubt her courage, and she wanted passionately not to take that smile from his face. She began to weaken.
"Mary," he cried, fired by the instinct to make the courage of their mating artistically perfect. "I've told you about my pictures. I know they are good—I know I can sell them in New York. But let's not wait for that. Let's bind ourselves together before we put our fortunes to the touch! Then we shall be one, whatever happens. We shall have that." He kissed her, seeing her half won.
"You've got five hundred dollars, I've only got fifty, but the pictures are worth thousands," he went on rapidly. "We can have a wonderful week in the country somewhere, and have plenty left to live on while I'm negotiating the sale. Even at the worst," he exulted, "I'm strong. I can work at anything—with you! I don't mind asking you to spend your money, sweetheart, because I know my things are worth it five times over."
She was rather breathless by this time. He pressed his advantage, holding her close.
"Beloved, I've found you. Suppose I lost you! Suppose, when you were somewhere in the city without me, you got run over or something." Even as she was, strained to him, she saw the horror that the thought conjured in his eyes, and touched his cheek with her hand, protectingly.
"No," he pleaded, "don't let us run any risks with our wonderful happiness, don't let us ever leave each other!" He looked imploringly at her.
She saw that for Stefan what he urged was right. Her love drew her to him, and upon its altar she laid her own retarding instinct in happy sacrifice. She drew his head to hers, and holding his face in the cup of her hands, kissed him with an almost solemn tenderness. This was her surrender. She took upon herself the burden of his happiness, even as she yielded to her own. It was a sacrament. He saw it only as a response.
Later in the day Stefan sought out the New England spinster, Miss Mason, who sat opposite to him at table. He had entirely ignored her hitherto, but he remembered hearing her talk familiarly about New York, and his male instinct told him that in her he would find a ready confidante. Such she proved, and a most flattered and delighted one. Moreover she proffered all the information and assistance he desired. She had moved from Boston five years ago, she said, and shared a flat with a widowed sister uptown. If they docked that night Miss Elliston could spend it with them. The best and cheapest places to go to near the city, she assured him, were on Long Island. She mentioned one where she had spent a month, a tiny village of summer bungalows on the Sound, with one small but comfortable inn. Questioned further, she was sure this inn would be nearly empty, but not closed, now in mid-September. She was evidently practical, and pathetically eager to help.
Unwilling to stay his plans, however, on such a feeble prop, Byrd hunted up the minister, whom he took to be a trifle less plebeian than most of the men, and obtained from him an endorsement of Miss Mason's views. The man of God, though stiff, was too conscientious to be unforgiving, and on receiving Stefan's explanation congratulated him sincerely, if with restraint. He did not know Shadeham personally, he explained, but he knew similar places, and doubted if Byrd could do better.
Mary, all enthusiasm now that her mind was made up, was enchanted at the prospect of a tiny seaside village for their honeymoon. In gratitude she made herself charming to Miss Mason until Stefan, impatient every moment that he was not with her, bore her away.
They docked at eight o'clock that night. Stefan saw Mary and Miss Mason to the door of their flat, and would have lingered with them, but they were both tired with the long process of customs inspection. Moreover, Mary said that she wanted to sleep well so as to look "very nice" for him to-morrow.
"Imperturbable divinity!" admired Stefan, in mock amazement. "I shall not sleep at all. I am far too happy; but to you, what is a mere marriage?"
The jest hurt her a little, and seeing it, he was quick with loverlike recompense. They parted on a note of deep tenderness. He lay sleepless, as he had prophesied, at the nearest cheap hotel, companioned by visions at once eagerly masculine and poetically exalted. Mary slept fitfully, but sweetly.
The next morning they were married. Stefan's first idea had been the City Hall, as offering the most expeditious method, but Mary had been firm for a church. A sight of the municipal authorities from whom they obtained their license made of Stefan an enthusiastic convert to her view. "All the ugliness and none of the dignity of democracy," he snorted as they left the building. They found a not unlovely church, half stifled between tall buildings, and were married by a curate whose reading of the service was sufficiently reverent. For a wedding ring Mary had that of Stefan's mother, drawn from his little finger.
By late afternoon they were in Shadeham, ensconced in a small wooden hotel facing a silent beach and low cliffs shaded with scrub-oak. The house was clean, and empty of other guests, and they were given a pleasant room overlooking the water. From its windows they watched the moon rise over the sea as they had watched her two nights before on deck. She was the silver witness to their nuptials.
Mary found Stefan an ideal lover. Their marriage, entered into with such, headlong adventurousness, seemed to unfold daily into more perfect bloom. The difficulties of his temperament, which had been thrown into sharp relief by the crowded life of shipboard, smoothed themselves away at the touch of happiness and peace. No woman, Mary realized, could wish for a fuller cup of joy than Stefan offered her in these first days of their mating. She was amazed at herself, at the suddenness with which love had transmuted her, at the ease with which she adjusted herself to this new world. She found it difficult to remember what kind of life she had led before her marriage—hardly could she believe that she had ever lived at all.
As for Stefan, he wasted no moments in backward glances. He neither remembered the past nor questioned the future, but immersed himself utterly in his present joy with an abandonment he had never experienced save in painting. Questioned, he would have scoffed at the idea that life for him could ever hold more than his work, and Mary.
Thus absorbed, Stefan would have allowed the days to slip into weeks uncounted. But on the ninth day Mary, incapable of a wholly carefree attitude, reminded him that they had planned only a week of holiday.
"Let's stay a month," he replied promptly.
But Mary had been questioning her landlord about New York.
"It appears," she explained, "that every one moves on the first of October, and that if one hasn't found a studio by then, it is almost impossible to get one. He says he has heard all the artists live round about Washington Square, but that even there rents are fearfully high. It's at the foot of Fifth Avenue, he says, which sounds very fashionable to me, but he explains it is too far 'down town.'"
"Yes, Fifth Avenue is the great street, I understand," said Stefan, "and my dealer's address is on Fourth, so he's in a very good neighborhood. I don't know that I should like Washington Square—it sounds so patriotic."
"Fanatic!" laughed Mary. "Well, whether we go there or not, it's evident we must get back before October the first, and it's now September the twenty-fourth."
"Angel, don't let's be mathematical," he replied, pinching the lobe of her ear, which he had proclaimed to be entrancingly pretty. "I can't add; tell me the day we have to leave, and on that day we will go."
"Three days from now, then," and she sighed.
"Oh, no! Not only three more days of heaven, Mary?"
"It will hurt dreadfully to leave," she agreed, "but," and she nestled to him, "it won't be any less heaven there, will it, dearest?"
This spurred him to reassurance. "Of course not," he responded, quickly summoning new possibilities of delight. "Imagine it, you haven't even seen my pictures yet." They had left them, rolled, at Miss Mason's. "And I want to paint you—really paint you—not just silly little sketches and heads, but a big thing that I can only do in a studio. Oh, darling, think of a studio with you to sit to me! How I shall work!" His imagination was fired; instantly he was ready to pack and leave.
But they had their three days more, in the golden light of the Indian summer. Three more swims, in which Stefan could barely join for joy of watching her long lines cutting the water in her close English bathing dress. Three more evening walks along the shimmering sands. Three more nights in their moon-haunted room within sound of the slow splash of the waves. And, poignant with the sadness of a nearing change, these days were to Mary the most exquisite of all.
Their journey to the city, on the little, gritty, perpetually stopping train was made jocund by the lively anticipations of Stefan, who was in a mood of high confidence.
They had decided from the first to try their fortunes in New York that winter; not to return to Paris till they had established a sure market for Stefan's work. He had halcyon plans. Masterpieces were to be painted under the inspiration of Mary's presence. His success in the Beaux Arts would be an Open Sesame to the dealers, and they would at once become prosperous,—for he had the exaggerated continental idea of American prices. In the spring they would return to Paris, so that Mary should see it first at its most beautiful. There they would have a studio, making it their center, but they would also travel.
"Spain, Italy, Greece, Mary—we will see all the world's masterpieces together," he jubilated. "You shall be my wander-bride." And he sang her little snatches of gay song, in French and Italian, thrumming an imaginary guitar or making castanets of his fingers.
"I will paint you on the Acropolis, Mary, a new Pallas to guard the Parthenon." His imagination leapt from vista to vista of the future, each opening to new delights. Mary's followed, lured, dazzled, a little hesitant. Her own visions, unformulated though they were, seemed of somewhat different stuff, but she saw he could not conceive them other than his, and yielded her doubts happily.
At the Pennsylvania Station they took a taxicab, telling the driver they wanted a hotel near Washington Square. The amount registered on the meter gave Mary an apprehensive chill, but Stefan paid it carelessly. A moment later he was in raptures, for, quite unexpectedly, they found themselves in a French hotel.
"What wonderful luck—what a good omen!" he cried. "Mary, it's almost like Paris!" and he broke into rapid gesticulating talk with the desk clerk. Soon they were installed in a bright little room with French prints on the walls, a gay old-fashioned wall paper and patterned curtains. Stefan assured her it was extraordinarily cheap for New York. While she freshened her face and hair he dashed downstairs, ignoring the elevator—which seemed to exist there only as an American afterthought —in search of a packet of French cigarettes. Finding them, he was completely in his element, and leant over the desk puffing luxuriously, to engage the clerk in further talk. From him he obtained advice as to the possibilities of the neighborhood in respect of studios, and armed with this, bounded up the stairs again to Mary. Presently, fortified by a pot of tea and delicious French rolls, they sallied out on their quest.
That afternoon they discovered two vacant studios. One was on a top floor on Washington Square South, a big room with bathroom and kitchenette attached and a small bedroom opening into it. The other was an attic just off the Square. It had water, but no bathroom, was heated only by an open fire, and consisted of one large room with sufficient light, and a large closet in which was a single pane of glass high up. The studio contained an abandoned model throne, the closet a gas ring and a sink. The rent of the first apartment was sixty dollars a month; of the second, twenty- five. Both were approached by a dark staircase, but in one case there was a carpet, in the other the stairs were bare, dirty, and creaking, while from depths below was wafted an unmistakable odor of onions and cats.
Mary, whose father's rambling sunny house in Lindum with its Elizabethan paneling and carvings had been considered dear at ninety pounds a year, was staggered at the price of these mean garrets, the better of which she felt to be quite beyond their reach. Even Stefan was a little dashed, but was confident that after his interview with Adolph's brother sixty dollars would appear less formidable.
"You should have seen my attic in Paris, Mary—absolutely falling to pieces—but then I didn't mind, not having a goddess to house," and he pressed her arm. "For you there should be something spacious and bright enough to be a fitting background." He glanced up a little ruefully at the squalid house they had just left.
But she was quick to reassure him, her courage mounting to sustain his. "We could manage perfectly well in the smaller place for a time, dearest, and how lucky we don't have to take a lease, as we should in England." Her mind jumped to perceive any practical advantage. Already, mentally, she was arranging furniture in the cheaper place, planning for a screen, a tin tub, painting the dingy woodwork. They asked for the refusal of both studios till the next day, and for that evening left matters suspended.
In the morning, Stefan, retrieving his canvases from Miss Mason's flat, sought out the dealer, Jensen. Walking from Fifth Avenue, he was surprised at the cheap appearance of the houses on Fourth, only one block away. He had expected to find Adolph's brother in such a great stone building as those he had just passed, with their show windows empty save for one piece of tapestry or sculpture, or a fine painting brilliant against its background of dull velvet. Instead, the number on Fourth Avenue proved a tumbledown house of two stories, with tattered awnings flapping above its shop-window, which was almost too grimy to disclose the wares within. These were a jumble of bric-a-brac, old furniture of doubtful value, stained prints, and one or two blackened oil paintings in tarnished frames. With ominous misgivings, Stefan entered the half-opened door. The place was a confused medley of the flotsam and jetsam of dwelling houses, and appeared to him much more like a pawnbroker's than the business place of an art dealer. From its dusty shadows a stooped figure emerged, gray-haired and spectacled, which waited for Stefan to speak with an air of patient humbleness.
"This isn't Mr. Jensen's, is it?" Stefan asked, feeling he had mistaken the number.
"My name is Jensen. What can I do for you?" replied the man in a toneless voice.
"You are Adolph's brother?" incredulously.
At the name the gray face flushed pathetically. Jensen came forward, pressing his hands together, and peered into Stefan's face.
"Yes, I am," he answered, "and you are Mr. Byrd that he wrote to me about. I'd hoped you weren't coming, after all. Well," and he waved his hand, "you see how it is."
Stefan was completely dismayed. "Why," he stammered, "I thought you were so successful—"
"I'm sorry." Jensen dropped his eyes, picking nervously at his coat. "You see, I am the eldest brother; a man does not like to admit failure. I may be sold up any time now. I wanted Adolph not to guess, so I—wrote—him —differently." He flushed painfully again. Stefan was silent, too taken aback for speech.
"I tell you, Mr. Byrd," Jensen stammered on, striking his hands together impotently, "for all its wealth, this is a city of dead hopes. It's been a long fight, but it's over now.... Yes, you are Adolph's friend, and I can't so much as buy a sketch from you. It's quite, quite over." And suddenly he sank his head in his hands, while Stefan stood, infinitely embarrassed, clutching his roll of canvases. After a moment Jensen, mastering himself, lifted his head. His lined, prematurely old face showed an expression at once pleading and dignified.
"I didn't dream what I wrote would do any harm, Mr. Byrd, but now of course you will have to explain to Adolph—?"
Stefan, moved to sympathy, held out his hand.
"Look here, Jensen, you've put me in an awful hole, worse than you know. But why should I say anything? Let Adolph think we're both millionaires," and he grinned ruefully.
Jensen straightened and took the proffered hand in one that trembled. "Thank you," he said, and his eyes glistened. "I'm grateful. If there were only something I could do—"
"Well, give me the names of some dealers," said Stefan, to whom scenes were exquisitely embarrassing, anxious to be gone.
Jensen wrote several names on a smudged half sheet of paper. "These are the best. Try them. My introduction wouldn't help, I'm afraid," bitterly.
On that Stefan left him, hurrying with relief from the musty atmosphere of failure into the busy street. Though half dazed by the sudden subsidence of his plans, unable to face as yet the possible consequences, he had his pictures, and the names of the real dealers; confidence still buoyed him.
Three hours later Mary, anxiously waiting, heard Stefan's step approach their bedroom door. Instantly her heart dropped like lead. She did not need his voice to tell her what those dragging feet announced. She sprang to the door and had her arms round his neck before he could speak. She took the heavy roll of canvases from him and half pushed him into the room's one comfortable arm-chair. Kneeling beside him, she pressed her cheek to his, stroking back his heat-damped hair. "Darling," she said, "you are tired to death. Don't tell me about your day till you've rested a little."
He closed his eyes, leaning back. He looked exhausted; every line of his face drooped. In spite of his tan, it was pale, with hollows under the eyes. It was extraordinary that a few hours should make such a change, she thought, and held him close, comfortingly.
He did not speak for a long time, but at last, "Mary," he said, in a flat voice, "I've had a complete failure. Nobody wants my things. This is what I've let you in for." His tone had the indifferent quality of extreme fatigue, but Mary was not deceived. She knew that his whole being craved reassurance, rehabilitation in its own eyes.
"Why, you old foolish darling, you're too tired to know what you're talking about," she cried, kissing him. "Wait till you've had something to eat." She rang the bell—four times for the waiter, as the card over it instructed her. "Failure indeed!" she went on, clearing a small table, "there's no such word! One doesn't grow rich in a day, you know." She moved silently and quickly about, hung up his hat, stood the canvases in a corner, ordered coffee, rolls and eggs, and finally unlaced Stefan's shoes in spite of his rather horrified if feeble protest.
Not until she had watched him drink two cups of coffee and devour the food—she guessed he had had no lunch—did she allow him to talk, first lighting his cigarette and finding a place for herself on the arm of his chair. By this time Stefan's extreme lassitude, and with it his despair, had vanished. He brightened perceptibly. "You wonder," he exclaimed, catching her hand and kissing it, "now I can tell you about it." With his arm about her he described all his experiences, the fiasco of the Jensen affair and his subsequent interviews with Fifth Avenue dealers. "They are all Jews, Mary. Some are decent enough fellows, I suppose, though I hate the Israelites!" ("Silly boy!" she interposed.) "Others are horrors. None of them want the work of an American. Old masters, or well known foreigners, they say. I explained my success at the Beaux Arts. Two of them had seen my name in the Paris papers, but said it would mean nothing to their clients. Hopeless Philistines, all of them! I do believe I should have had a better chance if I'd called myself Austrian, instead of American, and I only revived my American citizenship because I thought it would be an asset!" He laughed, ironically. "They advised me to have a one-man show, late in the winter, so as to get publicity."
"So we will then," interposed Mary confidently.
"Good Lord, child," he exclaimed, half irritably, "you don't suppose I could have a gallery for nothing, do you? God knows what it would cost. Besides, I haven't enough pictures—and think of the frames!" He sat up, fretfully.
She saw his nerves were on edge, and quickly offered a diversion. "Stefan," she cried, jumping to her feet and throwing her arms back with a gesture the grace of which did not escape him even in his impatient mood, "I haven't even seen the pictures yet, you know, and can't wait any longer. Let me look at them now, and then I'll tell you just how idiotic those dealers were!" and she gave her bell-like laugh. "I'll undo them." Her fingers were busy at the knots.
"I hate the sight of that roll," said Stefan, frowning. "Still—" and he jumped up, "I do immensely want you to see them. I know you'll understand them." Suddenly he was all eagerness again. He took the canvases from her, undid them and, casting aside the smaller ones, spread the two largest against the wall, propping their corners adroitly with chairs, an umbrella, and a walking stick. "Don't look yet," he called meanwhile. "Close your eyes." He moved with agile speed, instinctively finding the best light and thrusting back the furniture to secure a clearer view. "There!" he cried. "Wait a minute—stand here. Now look!" triumphantly.
Mary opened her eyes. "Why, Stefan, they're wonderful!" she exclaimed. But even as she spoke, and amidst her sincere admiration, her heart, very slightly, sank. She knew enough of painting to see that here was genius. The two fantasies, one representing the spirits of a wind-storm, the other a mermaid fleeing a merman's grasp, were brilliant in color, line and conception. They were things of beauty, but it was a beauty strange, menacing, subhuman. The figures that tore through the clouds urged on the storm with a wicked and abandoned glee. The face of the merman almost frightened her; it was repellent in its likeness at once to a fish and a man. The mermaid's face was less inhuman, but it was stricken with a horrid terror. She was swimming straight out of the picture as if to fling herself, shrieking, into the safety of the spectator's arms. The pictures were imaginative, powerful, arresting, but they were not pleasing. Few people, she felt, would care to live with them. After a long scrutiny she turned to her husband, at once glorying in the strength of his talent and troubled by its quality.
"You are a genius, Stefan," she said.
"You really like them?" he asked eagerly.
"I think they are wonderful!" He was satisfied, for it was her heart, not her voice, that held a reservation.
Stefan showed her the smaller canvases, some unfinished. Most were of nymphs and winged elves, but there were three landscapes. One of these, a stream reflecting a high spring sky between banks of young meadow grass, showed a little faun skipping merrily in the distance. The atmosphere was indescribably light-hearted. Mary smiled as she looked at it. The other two were empty of figures; they were delicately graceful and alluring, but there was something lacking in them—-what, she could not tell. She liked best a sketch of a baby boy, lost amid trees, behind which wood- nymphs and fauns peeped at him, roguish and inquisitive. The boy was seated on the ground, fat and solemn, with round, tear-wet eyes. He was so lonely that Mary wanted to hug him; instead, she kissed Stefan.
"What a duck of a baby, dearest!" she exclaimed.
"Yes, he was a nice kid—belonged to my concierge," he answered carelessly. "The picture is sentimental, though. This is better," and he pointed to another mermaid study.
"Yes, it's splendid," she answered, instinctively suppressing a sigh. She began to realize a little what a strange being she had married. With an impulsive need of protection she held him close, hiding her face in his neck. The reality of his arms reassured her.
That day they decided, at Mary's urging, to take the smaller studio at once, abandoning the extravagance of hotel life. In practical manners she was already assuming a leadership which he was glad to follow. She suggested that in the morning he should take his smaller canvases, and try some of the less important dealers, while she made an expedition in search of necessary furniture. To this he eagerly agreed.
"It seems horrible to let you do it alone, but it would be sacrilegious to discuss the price of saucepans with a goddess," he explained. "Are you sure you can face the tedium?"
"Why, I shall love it!" she cried, astonished at such an expression.
He regarded her whimsically. "Genius of efficiency, then I shall leave it to you. Such things appal me. In Paris, my garret was furnished only with pictures. I inherited the bed from the last occupant, and I think Adolph insisted on finding a pillow and a frying-pan. He used to come up and cook for us both sometimes, when he thought I had been eating too often at restaurants. He approved of economy, did Adolph." Stefan was lounging on the bed, with his perpetual cigarette.
"He must be a dear," said Mary. She had begun to make a shopping list. "Tell me, absurd creature, what you really need in the studio. There is a model throne, you will remember."
"Oh, I'll get my own easel and stool," he replied quickly. "There's nothing else, except of course a table for my paints. A good solid one," he added with emphasis. "I'll tell you what," and he sat up. "I go out early to-morrow on my dealer hunt. I force myself to stay out until late afternoon. When I return, behold! The goddess has waved her hand, and invisible minions—" he circled the air with his cigarette—"have transported her temple across the square. There she sits enthroned, waiting for her acolyte. How will that do?" He turned his radiant smile on her.
"Splendid," she answered, amused. "I only hope the goddess won't get chipped in the passage."
She thought of the dusty studio, of brooms and scrubbing brushes, but she was already wise enough in wife-lore not to mention them. Mary came of a race whose women had always served their men. It did not seem strange to her, as it might have to an American, that the whole labor of their installation should devolve on her.
With her back turned to him, she counted over their resources, calculating what would be available when their hotel bill was paid. Except for a dollar or two, Stefan had turned his small hoard over to her. "It's all yours anyway, dearest," he had said, "and I don't want to spend a cent till I have made something." They had spent very little so far; she was relieved to realize that the five hundred dollars remained almost intact. While Stefan continued to smoke luxuriously on the bed, she jotted down figures, apportioning one hundred and fifty dollars for six months' rent, and trying to calculate a weekly basis for their living expenses. She knew that they were both equally ignorant of prices in New York, and determined to call in the assistance of Miss Mason.