The web of our life is a mingled yarn, good and ill together. All's Well That Ends Well; iv—3
To those who would be Pagans, did any such organization exist, I take pleasure in offering this attempt to picture a phase of life which they know.
She answered, "cast thy rosary on the ground; bind on thy shoulder the thread of paganism; throw stones at the glass of piety; and quaff from a full goblet." Persian Religious Hymn.
I. SOME SPEECH OF MARRIAGE II. THE HEAVY MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT III. THE SHOT OF ACCIDENT IV. AFTER SUCH A PAGAN CUT V. THE BITTER PAST VI. A BOND OF AIR VII. IN WAY OF TASTE VIII. THE INLY TOUCH OF LOVE IX. VOLUBLE AND SHARP DISCOURSE X. O, WICKED WIT AND GIFT XI. WHOM THE FATES HAVE MARKED XII. WHAT TIME SHE CHANTED XIII. THE ASSAY OF ART XIV. THIS IS NOT A BOON XV. 'TWAS WONDROUS PITIFUL XVI. CRUEL PROOF OF THIS MAN'S STRENGTH XVII. THIS "WOULD" CHANGES XVIII. BEDECKING ORNAMENTS OF PRAISE XIX. NOW HE IS FOR THE NUMBERS XX. THE WORLD IS STILL DECEIVED XXI. HIS PURE HEART'S TRUTH XXII. UPON A CHURCH-BENCH XXIII. HEART-SICK WITH THOUGHT, XXIV. IN PLACE AND IN ACCOUNT NOTHING, XXV. THIS DEED UNSHAPES ME, XXVI. THERE BEGINS CONFUSION, XXVII. WEIGHING DELIGHT AND DOLE, XXVIII. LIKE COVERED FIRE, XXIX. A NECESSARY EVIL, XXX. HOW CHANCES MOCK, XXXI. HE SPEAKS THE MERE CONTRARY, XXXII. A SYMPATHY OF WOE, XXXIII. A MINT OF PHRASES IN HIS BRAIN, XXXIV. HEART-BURNING HEAT OF DUTY, XXXV. PARTED OUR FELLOWSHIP, XXXVI. AS FALSE AS STAIRS OF SAND, XXXVII. FAREWELL AT ONCE, FOR ONCE, FOR ALL AND EVER.
SOME SPEECH OF MARRIAGE. Measure for Measure, v—i.
A fine, drizzling rain was striking against the windows of a cosy third floor sitting-room, obscuring what in pleasant weather was a fine distant view of the Charles river. The apartment was evidently that of a woman, as numerous details of arrangement and articles of feminine use suggested; and quite as evidently it was the home of a person of taste and refinement, and of one, too, who had traveled.
Arthur Fenton, a slender young artist, with elegant figure and deep set eyes, was lounging in an easy chair in an attitude well calculated to show to advantage his graceful outlines. For occupation he was turning over a portfolio of sketches, whose authorship was indicated by the attitude of the lady seated near by.
She was a woman of commanding presence, with full lips, whose expression was contradicted by the almost haughty carriage of her fine head and the keen glance of her eye, which indicated too much character for the mere pleasure-seeker. Her hair was of a rich chestnut, and she wore a dress of steel gray cashmere, relieved at the throat by a knot of pale orange, which harmonized admirably with her clear complexion. She watched her companion as if secretly anxious for his good opinion of her drawings, yet too proud to betray any feeling in the matter. He, for his part, turned them over with seeming listlessness, breaking out now and then with some abrupt remark.
"Yes," he said suddenly, after a ten minutes' silence, "I'm going to be married at once. It will be 'a marriage in the bush,' as the Suabians call an impecunious match, since neither of us has any money; and I, at least, haven't so great a superfluity of brains that in this intelligent age of the world I am ever likely to make much by selling myself; and that is the only way any body gets any money nowadays."
"I hardly think you'd be willing to sell," his companion answered, "no matter how good the market."
"There's where you are wrong," he answered, looking up with a sudden frown, "the worst thing about me is that with sufficient inducement—or even merely from the temptation of an especially good opportunity—I should sell myself body and soul to the Philistines."
"One would hardly fancy it, from the way you talk of Peter Calvin and his followers."
"Oh, as to that," retorted the artist, "don't you see that judicious opposition increases my market value when I am ready to sell? If I could only be sufficiently prominent in my antagonism, I might absolutely fix my own price."
The lady made no answer, but regarded him more intently than ever.
"That's a good thing," he broke out again, holding up a drawing. "Why don't you do that in marble, or better still, in bronze?"
"I am putting it up in clay," she answered. "I thought I had shown it to you. It is to be fired as my first experiment in a big piece of terra-cotta. That is the first sketch; I think I have improved upon it."
It was the study for a bas-relief representing the months, twelve characteristic figures running forward with the utmost speed. Gifts dropped from their hands as they ran; from the fingers of June fell flowers, from those of August and September ripened fruits, upon which November and December trampled ruthlessly. January, in his haste, overturned an altar against which February stumbles.
"It is melancholy enough," Fenton observed, regarding it closely. "How melancholy every thing is now-a-days?"
"To a man about to be married?" she asked, with a fine smile.
"Oh, always to me. The fact that I am going to be married does not prevent my still being myself."
"Unfortunately not," she returned, with a faint suspicion of sarcasm in her tone. "You pique yourself upon being somber."
"I dare say," answered he, a trifle petulantly. "Pain has become a habit with me; discontent is about the only luxury I can afford, heaven knows!"
"Unless it is gorgeous cravats."
"Oh, that," Fenton said, putting his hand to the blue and gold tie at his throat. "I'm trying to furbish up my old body and decrepit heart against my nuptials, so I invested fifty cents in this tie."
"You couldn't have done it cheaper," remarked she; "though, perhaps," she added dryly, "it is all the rejuvenation is worth."
Fenton smiled grimly and again applied himself to the examination of the drawings, while the other looked out at the rain.
"Boston has more climate, and that far worse," she remarked, "than any other known locality."
"Does that mean that you are going to Herman's this afternoon?" asked Fenton.
"I should have gone this morning if you had not insisted upon my wasting my time simply because you had determined to waste yours."
"You are frank to a guest," he said. "I wished to be congratulated on my marriage."
"I shall not congratulate you," she answered. "You are spoiled. The women have petted you too much."
"According to the old fairy tale all goes well with the man of whom the women are fond."
"I remember," she said. "I always pitied their wives."
"I shall treat Edith well."
"You are too good-natured not to, I suppose; especially when you look forward to your marriage with such rapture."
"But, Helen, have I ever pretended to believe in marriage? Marriage is a crime! Think of the wretched folly of those who talk of the holiness of love's being protected by the sanctities of marriage. If love is holy, let it have way; if it is not, all the sacraments priests can devise cannot sanctify it."
"Then why, Arthur, do you marry at all?"
"Because marriage is a necessary evil as society is at present constituted."
"But," Helen said slowly, "you who pretend to have so little regard for society—"
"Ah, there it is," he interrupted. "Man is gregarious by instinct; he must do as his fellows do. He must submit to the most absurd convenances of his fellowmen, as one sheep jumps where another did though the bar be taken away. If he were strong enough to stand alone he might take conventions by the throat and be a god!"
His outburst was too vehement and sudden not to come from some underlying current of deep feeling, rather than from the present conversation. He had risen while speaking, his head thrown back, his eyes sparkling. His companion regarded him with admiration, not unmixed, however, with amusement.
"And you," she said, "choose to call yourself a man without enthusiasms."
"Yes," replied he, smiling and regaining his seat, "I am a man without enthusiasms."
"That is the cleverest thing you ever said," Helen continued, musingly. "And so we understand you intend to be ruled by conventionality and marry?"
"Precisely; it would be unjust to Edith to even talk to her of my views."
"I should hope so!" exclaimed his hostess. "But you will at least have her to yourself, and that pays for every thing."
"Oh, peutetre!" Fenton returned dubiously, perfectly well aware that the remark had been made to elicit comment, yet too fond of talking to resist temptation and leave it unanswered, "peutetre, though I never believed in the desert-island theory. It is more in your line; you still have faith in it."
"Oh, I do," she rejoined quickly; "and so would you if you were in love. You'd be content to be on a rock in the mid ocean if she were there."
"Love on a desert island," returned the young man, smiling significantly; "Oh, le premier jour, c'est bon; le deuxieme jour, ce n'est pas si bon; le troisieme jour—mon Dieu, mais comment on s'ennuie!"
"No, no, no," Helen broke in impetuously. "Good, always! Always, always, or never!"
Fenton threw back his head and burst into a shout of laughter.
"'Twere errant folly to presume, Love's flame could burn and not consume,"
he sang, going off again into peals of laughter. "Good by, mon amie; oh, mais comment on s'en—"
"Stop," interrupted she. "I'll have no more blasphemy."
"Good-by, then," he said, picking up his hat.
"You may as well stay to lunch," his hostess said rising.
"No," returned he. "I must go and write to Edith."
And off he went, humming:
"'Twere errant folly to presume Love's flame could burn and not consume."
THE HEAVY MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT. Measure for Measure; iv—i.
As many of the Boston clocks as ever permitted themselves so far to break through their constitutional reserve as to speak above a whisper, had announced in varying tones that it was midnight, yet the group of men seated in easy attitudes before the fire in one of the sitting-rooms of the St. Filipe Club showed no signs of breaking up. Indeed, the room was so pleasant and warm, with its artistically combined colors, its good pictures and glowing grates, and the storm outside raged so savagely, beating its wind and sleet against the windows, that a reluctance to issue from the clubhouse door was only natural, and there would be little room for surprise should the men conclude to remain where they were until daylight.
The conversation, carried on amid clouds of fragrant tobacco smoke and with potations, not excessive but comfortably frequent, was quiet and unflagging, possessing, for the most part, that mellow quality which is seldom attained before the small hours and the third cigar.
"Yes, virtue has to be its own reward," Tom Bently was saying lightly, "for, don't you see, the people who practice it are too narrow-minded to appreciate any thing else."
"And that makes it the most poorly paid of all the professions," was the retort of Fred Rangely, who was lounging in a big easy chair; "except literature, that is. Even sin is said to get death for its wage, and that is something."
"Virtue may be an inestimable prize for any thing you newspaper men can tell. It is not a commodity you are used to handling."
"Literature has little to do with virtue, it is true," was the response. "Who would read a novel about virtuous people, for instance? I'd as soon study the catechism."
"How art has to occupy itself with iniquity," Fenton observed with a philosophical puff of his cigar. "Or what people call iniquity; though a truer definition would be nature."
"Painting occupies itself with iniquity in its models," Rangely said lazily. "I heard to-day—"
"No scandals," interrupted Grant Herman, good humoredly. "You are going to tell the story about Flackerman, I know."
The speaker was the most noticeable man in the group. Tom Bently, an artist, was a tall, swarthy fellow with thin black beard, stubble-like hair, and a gypsyish look. Next came Fred Rangely, an author of some reputation, of whom his friends expected great things, rather short in stature, thick-set, and with a good-tempered, intelligent face. Fenton's appearance has already been touched upon; he was of elegant figure, with a face intellectual, high-bred, but marred by a suspicion of superciliousness. Amid these friends, Herman gained something by contrast with each and naturally became the center of the group. This prominence was partly due to his figure, of large mold, finely formed and firmly knit, carrying always an air of restful strength and composure which made itself felt in whatever company he found himself. His head, although not out of proportion with his fine shoulders and trunk, was somewhat massive, a fact which was emphasized a little by the profusion of his locks, now plentifully sprinkled with gray. His face was indicative of much character, the lips firm and full, the eyes large and dark, now serious under their heavy brows and now twinkling with contagious merriment.
"It isn't every model you can talk scandal about," chuckled Bently, in reply to Herman's remark. "We had a devilishly pretty fuss in Nick Featherstone's studio the other day. Nick found his match in the new model."
"What new model?" inquired Fenton, arranging himself into an effective pose before the fire.
"Do you remember the picture of an Italian girl that Tom Demming sent to the Academy exhibition two years ago? A homely face with lots of character in it, and a splendid pose?"
"You mean the one he called Marietta? It was well done, if I remember."
"Oh, stunningly. That's the girl. She's just landed, and Demming gave her letters to me. She's a staving good model!"
"But she isn't pretty."
"No; but she is suggestive. She has one of those faces that you can make all sorts of things out of. Rollins made a sketch of her head that is stunning; a lovely thing; and it looked like her too. Then her figure is perfect, and what is more, she knows how to pose. She meets an idea half way, you know, and hits the expression wonderfully. She has given me points for my picture every time she has been at the studio."
"Is her name Ninitta?" Grant Herman asked.
"Yes; do you know any thing about her?"
"I think I've seen her in Rome. But what is she doing on this side of the water?"
To Arthur Fenton's keen perception there seemed more feeling in the tone than an inquiry into the affairs of a stranger would be likely to evoke, but he gave the matter no especial thought.
"Yes," he echoed lightly, "what is she here for? There is no art in this country. New York is the home of barbarism and Boston of Philistinism; while Cincinnati is a chromo imitation of both. She'd better have staid abroad."
"Your remark is true, Arthur," Bently laughed, "if it isn't very relevant. What people in this country want isn't art at all, but what some Great Panjandrum or other abroad has labeled art. They don't know what is good."
"That is so true," was the retort, "that I almost wonder they don't buy your pictures, Tom."
"But why does the girl come to America?" persisted Herman, with a faint trace of irritation in his tone. "She could do far better at home."
"Oh, Demming wrote that she was bound to come. You can never tell what ails a woman anyhow. Probably she has a lover over here somewhere."
Herman made no reply save by an involuntary lowering of his heavy brows, and Rangely brought the conversation back to its starting-point by asking:
"But what about Nick Featherstone?"
"Oh, Nick? Well, Nick tried to kiss her yesterday, and she offered to stab him with some sort of a devilish dagger arrangement she carries about like an opera heroine."
"Featherstone is always a strong temptation to an honest man's boot," growled Herman out of his beard, as he sat with his head sunk upon his breast, staring into the fire.
"They had a scene that wouldn't have done discredit to a first-class opera-bouffe company," Bently went on, laughing at the remembrance.
"Nick was fool enough to hollo to somebody in the next room, and the result was that we all came trooping in like a chorus. It was absurd enough."
And he laughed afresh.
"But the girl?" persisted Grant Herman, not removing his gaze from the fire. "How did she take it?"
"Oh, she was as calm and cold as you please. She gathered herself together and went off without any fuss."
"I wish when you are done with her, you'd send her round to me," Herman rejoined. "I want a model for a figure, and if I remember her, she'll do capitally."
He rose as he spoke, with the air of a man who intends going home.
"By the way," Fenton said to him, "isn't the Pagan night next week? Don't you have it this month?"
"Yes; you'll get your invitations sometime or other. Good night all."
"Oh, don't break good company," Rangely remonstrated. "I have half a bottle here, and I do hate an alcoholic soliloquy."
But the movement for departure was general, and in a few moments more the members of the company were wending their individual ways homeward through the pelting rain.
THE SHOT OF ACCIDENT. Othello; iv.—i.
The sun shone brightly in at the windows of a little bare studio next morning, as if to atone for the gloom of the darkness and storm of the night. The Midas touch of its rays fell upon the hair of Helen Greyson, turning its wavy locks into gold as she softly sang over her modeling.
She seemed to find in her work a joy which accorded well with the bright day. Pinned to the wall was an improved sketch of the bas-relief whose design had attracted Fenton's notice in her portfolio, while before the artist stood a copy in clay, upon which she was working with those mysterious touches which to the uninitiated are mere meaningless dabs, yet under which the figures were growing into sightliness and beauty.
Suddenly her song was interrupted by the sound of footsteps without, followed by a tap upon her door.
"Come," she called; and Grant Herman entered in response to the invitation.
He carried in his arms a large vase, about whose sides green and golden dragons coiled themselves in fantastic relief.
"Your vase came from the kiln," he said, "and I knew you would want to see it at once. It is the most successful firing they have done here."
"Oh, I am so glad," she returned, laying down her modeling tools, and approaching him eagerly. "I was sure there wouldn't be a head or a tail left by the time the poor monsters came out of the fiery furnace. What a splendid color that back is! And that golden fin is gorgeous."
"Yes, Mrs. Greyson," Herman said, "you have produced a veritable dragon's brood this time. I can almost hear them hiss."
"Do you know," she responded, smoothing the glittering shapes with half chary touches. "I should not be wholly willing to have the vase in my room at night. They might, you know, come to life and go gliding about in a ghastly way."
"I always wondered," the sculptor observed, "that Eve had the courage to talk with the serpent. Do you suppose she squealed when she saw him?"
"Oh, no, she probably divined that mischief was brewing, and that contented her."
Herman had set the vase where all its gorgeous hues were brought out by the sun, which sparkled and danced upon every spine and scale of the writhing monsters. He walked away from it to observe the effect at a greater distance.
"There is no pleasure like that of creating," he said. "Man is a god when he can look on his work and pronounce it good."
"Which is seldom," she returned, "unless in the one instant after its completion when we still see what we intended rather than what we have made."
"It is fortunate our work cannot rise up to reproach us for the wide difference between our intents and our performances. Fancy one of my statues taking me to task because it hasn't the glory it had in my brain."
"It is on that account," Mrs. Greyson said smiling, "that I fancy Galatea must have been most uncomfortable to live with. Whenever Pygmalion found fault, she had always the retort ready: 'At least I am exactly what you chose to make me.' Poor Pygmalion!"
"It was no more true than in the case of every man that marries; we all bow down to ideals, I suppose. Except," he added with a little hesitation, "myself, of course."
The words were somewhat awkward in the hesitating accent which gave them a suggestiveness at which the faintest of flushes mounted to her cheek. She bent her observations more closely on the vase.
"It is fired so much better than the last miserable failure," observed she, going to a shelf and reaching after a dusty vase, massive and fantastic, which had been ruined in the kiln.
"Let me help you," Herman said.
But she had already loosened the vase, which proved heavier than she expected, and it was only by darting forward, and throwing his arms about her, that the sculptor was enabled to save her from a severe blow. The vase fell crashing to the floor, breaking into heavy shards, rattling the windows and the casts upon the wall by the concussion.
An exclamation escaped him. He had drawn Mrs. Greyson backward, and for a brief instant, held her in his strong clasp. It was an accident which to mere acquaintances might mean nothing; to lovers, every thing. Herman was for a moment pale with the fear that Helen might be injured; then the hot blood surged into his cheeks as he released his hold and stepped back, He bent over the fragments of the vase that she might not see his face, and by so doing, as he reflected afterward, he failed to perceive what was her expression. He straightened himself with an impetuous movement, and came a step nearer.
"How can you be so careless?" he demanded, almost with irritation. "It might have killed you."
"I did not remember that it was so heavy," she returned, a little pale and panting. "Do you think I was trying to pull it on my head? I am very much obliged, though. You have saved me a heavy blow at least. There is not much left of that unlucky vase. It was always ill-starred."
"All's well that ends well," returned the sculptor, sufficiently recovering his self-control to speak lightly; "only don't run such a risk another time."
"Oh, I assure you," she replied, "I do not make my vases either to break my head or to be broken themselves. I shall take better care of this one, you may be confident."
"I was more concerned for yourself than for the vase."
"For myself it really does not so much matter."
"It is scarcely kind to your friends to say so."
Over her face came an inexplicable expression, which might be gloom or exultation, and the tone in which she spoke was equally difficult of interpretation. She seemed determined, however, to fall into no snares of speech; she smiled upon the sculptor with a glance at once radiant and perplexing.
She turned towards the new vase and began slowly to whirl the modeling-stand upon which Herman had placed it. A thousand reflections danced and flickered about the little room as it revolved in the sunlight, glowing and glittering like the sparkles from a carcanet of jewels. The fiery monsters seemed to twine and coil in living motion as the light shone upon their emerald and golden scales and bristling spines.
"I wonder if Eve's serpent was so splendid," Mrs. Greyson laughed, twirling the stand yet faster upon its pivot. "Would I do for Mother Eve, do you think?"
"If the power to tempt a man be the test," he retorted with an odd brusqueness quite disproportionate to the apparent lightness of the occasion, the dark blood mantling his face, "there can be no doubt of it."
A swift change came over her at his words. She left the vase and stand abruptly. She flushed crimson then grew pale and looked about her with a half frightened glance, as if uncertain which way to turn. The movement touched her companion as no words could have done.
"I beg your pardon," he muttered.
And with a still deeper flush on his swarthy cheek he turned abruptly and quitted the room.
AFTER SUCH A PAGAN CUT. Henry VIII.; i.—3.
"In the first place," said Edith Caldwell brightly, "you know, Arthur, that I ought not to be in Boston at all, when I have so much to see to at home; and in the second place Aunt Calvin is shocked at the unconventionality of my being seen any where in public after the wedding cards are out; but I was determined to see this picture. I saw it when he had just begun it in Paris, you know, three years ago."
"As for being seen," Arthur Fenton returned, "we certainly shall never be seen here. The Art Museum is the most solitary place in the city; and as for conventionalities, why, the wedding is so quiet and so far off that I think nobody here even realizes that the stupendous event is imminent at all."
"Oh, but I do," Edith said, laughing and clasping her hands with a pretty gesture of mock despair. "I feel that the day of my bondage is advancing with unfaltering tread, like the day of doom."
"Then you should do as I do by the day of doom, disbelieve in it altogether until it comes."
"It is of no use. Even disbelief will not alter the almanac, as you'll find when the day of doom swoops down on you."
They were sitting upon one of the hard benches in the picture-gallery of the Art Museum before an important work just sent over from Europe by its American purchaser. The afternoon light was beginning to be a little dim, and Edith was troubled with the consciousness that the errands which had brought her for the day to Boston were far from being accomplished. It was pleasant to linger, however, especially as this might be the last tranquil day she should pass with Arthur before their marriage.
She rose from her seat and crossed to the picture of Millet representing a peasant girl with a distaff of flax in her hand. Fenton sat a moment looking after his betrothed, critically though fondly, then with a deliberate movement he left his seat and followed her.
"Think of the distance between this country and that picture," he remarked, regarding the beautiful canvas. "Art in America is simply an irreclaimable mendicant that stands on the street corners and holds out the catch-penny hand of a beggar."
"Oh, no," Miss Caldwell replied, turning her clear glance to his, "that is only an impostor that pretends to be art. The real goddess has her temples here."
"Yes," returned he, with a laugh that covered a sneer, "but not in the way you mean."
A shadow passed over her face; she turned a wistful glance towards him.
"I cannot understand, Arthur," she said, "why you speak so bitterly about art here. Of course, all great men are apt to be misunderstood at first, but you—"
"I am over estimated," he interrupted, inly vexed at having given the conversation this turn. "It is only for the sake of talking, ma petite. Don't mind it."
"But, Arthur," she persisted, "I want to say something. Uncle Peter talks as if you sided with the artists here who—who—"
She was wholly at a loss to phrase what she wished to say, both because her ideas were rather vague and because she feared lest she might offend her lover by talking upon a subject which he had markedly avoided. He made now a fresh effort to divert the talk into a new channel.
"Never mind the artists," he said, "we really must go. Besides, you are only in town for a day and it is no use to attempt the discussion of questions which involve the entire order of the universe. I promised Mrs. Calvin I'd bring you back in half-an-hour, and we've been here twice that time already."
He ran on brightly and rapidly, leading the way out of the gallery and down the stairs, and she followed with a suspicion of shadow upon her face as if the subject of which she had spoken was one of real importance to her.
"Come in and see the jolly old Pasht," Arthur suggested, as they descended the wide staircase.
She acquiesced by turning with him into the room devoted to the Way collection of Egyptian antiquities, in the center of which stands a somewhat mutilated granite statue of the goddess Pasht, the cat-headed deity, referred to the time of Amenophis III, about 1500 B.C. Calm, impassive and saturnine the goddess sits, holding the sign of life with lifeless fingers in as unconscious mockery now as when the symbol was placed within the stony grasp by some unrecorded sculptor dead more than thirty centuries ago. All that it has looked upon, all the shifting scenes and varied lands upon which have gazed those sightless eyes, have left no record on that emotionless face, whose lips still keep unchanged their faint smile beneath which lurks a sneer.
Arthur and Edith stood before it, as a pair of Egyptian lovers may have stood long ago, and for a time regarded it in silence, each moved in a way, though very differently, as their temperaments differed.
"It is the patron saint of our Pagans," the artist said at length. "How much the old creature knows, if she only chose to tell. She could give us more genuine wisdom than we shall hear in our whole lives, if she would but condescend to speak."
"Wisdom always knows the value of silence," Edith returned smiling.
"But Pasht belies her sex by not being a communicative party," was her companion's reply; "although communicativeness was never a characteristic of the gods."
"No irreverence, sir," Edith said with an air of mock authority, "even for these dethroned deities. What were the attributes of your cat-headed goddess?"
"Oh, various things. Pasht means, I believe, the devouring one, and she has another name signifying 'she who kindles a fire.' She was the goddess of war and of libraries, and the 'mistress of thought.' A sort of Egyptian Minerva, I suppose."
"Violence and wisdom always seemed to me a strange combination," Edith said thoughtfully, regarding the stone image intently, as if to drag from its cold lips a solution of the difficulty.
"You overlook the destructive power of words; besides, the sword or the tongue, what does it matter? Life is always a conflict, and it is of minor importance what the weapons are. It is appropriate enough for this dilapidated, but eminently respectable female to be the figure-head of a society like the Pagans where we fight with words but may come to blows any time."
He spoke gayly, pleased with having put entirely out of the conversation the unpleasant subject of his relations to her uncle, Mr. Peter Calvin, upon which Edith had touched. But he who talks with a woman must expect the unexpected, and as they turned away from the statue of Pasht, and walked towards the street where the carriage was waiting, Miss Caldwell abruptly brought the matter up again by asking:
"But why are you artists opposed to Uncle Peter, Arthur? What is the—"
"The Pagans, ma belle" he interrupted coolly, quite as if he were answering her question, although in reality nothing was further from his intention, "isn't really a society at all. It is only the name by which we've taken to calling a knot of fellows who meet once a month in each other's studios. We are all St. Filipe men, but we've no organization as a club." "Well?" Edith asked, as he paused; evidently puzzled to discover any connection between her question and his reply.
"And you," her betrothed responded, tucking her into the carriage and surreptitiously kissing her hand, "are the loveliest of your sex. I'll come to take you to the depot at six, you know. Good-by."
He closed the carriage door, watched her drive off, and then went his own way.
THE BITTER PAST. All's Well that Ends Well; v.—3.
"The Pagans: Friday, Jan. 17. Pipes, pictures and punch. GRANT HERMAN."
Such was the invitation received one day by each of the Pagans, under a seal bearing the impress of the goddess Pasht.
There is little that need be added to Fenton's account of the Pagans. The society had no organization beyond a rule to meet each month and to limit its membership to seven; no especial principles beyond an unformulated although by no means unexpressed antagonism against Philistinism. Fenton had suggested Pasht as a sort of dea mater, and had furnished the seal bearing the image of that goddess which it was customary to use upon the notifications of meetings; and for the rest there was nothing definite to distinguish this group of earnest and sometimes fiery young men from any other. They doubtless said a great many foolish things, but they did so many wise ones that it seemed but reasonable to assume that there must be some grains of wisdom mingled with whatever dross was to be found in their speech.
Their views were extreme enough. Fenton was fond of maintaining astounding propositions, using the club much as Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes once privately said Wendell Phillips does the community, "to try the strength of extravagant theories;" and none of the Pagans were restrained by any conventionality from a free expression of opinion.
It was on the afternoon of the day fixed for the Pagan meeting when Helen Greyson took her way across the Common and through the business portion of the city to the building down by the wharves where were the studios of Herman and his pupils. It was feebly raining, the weather having been decidedly whimsical all that week, and the clouds rolled in ragged, sullen masses overhead. Helen felt the gloom of the day as a vague depression which she endeavored in vain to shake off, and hastened towards her studio, hoping to be able to lose herself in her work.
Picking her steps among the piles of fire-brick and terra-cotta which lumbered the yard and the long shed skirting the building, which was a terra-cotta manufactory, she let herself in at a side door and went directly to her studio.
Removing the wet cloths from her bas-relief, she stood for a moment studying it, and then investing herself in a great apron, set busily to work upon one of the fleeting figures in the composition.
She had scarcely begun when as often before a heavy step was heard upon the stair without, a tap sounded lightly upon her door, and, in answer to her invitation, Grant Herman entered.
He, too, had evidently been working in clay, of which his loose blouse bore abundant marks. A paper cap, not unlike that of a pastry-cook in an English picture, was stuck a little aslant over his iron gray locks, giving him a certain roguish air, with which the occasional twinkle in his eye harmonized well.
"Good morning, Mrs. Greyson," he said in his hearty voice, and then stood for a moment looking over her shoulder at her work in silence.
"Do you think the movement of that figure too violent?" his pupil asked, turning to look up at him, and noticing for the first time that despite the saucy pose of his cap, the sculptor was evidently not in the best of spirits.
"No," returned he, rather absently. "But you must have less agitation in the robe; it is merely hurried now, not swift. Lengthen and simplify those folds—so."
As he indicated the desired curves with his nervous fingers, Mrs. Greyson's quick eye caught sight of a striking ring upon his hand, and without thought she said, involuntarily:
"You have a new ring!"
"Yes," returned Herman, flushing; "or rather a very old one. It is an intaglio that the artist Hoffmeir—I have told you of our friendship in Rome—gave me one Christmas. I returned it to him when I left Rome, and at his death he in turn sent it back to me."
"But Hoffmeir has been dead several years."
"More than six; but the ring has just come into my hands."
The intaglio was a dark sard beautifully cut with the head of Minerva, and Mrs. Greyson's artistic instincts were keenly alive to the exquisite delicacy of its workmanship. She inquired something of its origin and probable age, and then dropped it from her attention, save that, being a woman, she wondered a little what was the personal bearing of this token, and whether the sculptor's sadness arose from the awakening of memories connected with it.
"It must seem like a token from the grave," she said, "coming as it does, so long after Hoffmeir's death."
"It does," the other replied, soberly; "but it brought a message with it. Oh, the wretchedness of hearing a voice from the dead, to whom you can send no answer!"
The burst of emotion with which he said this was very unusual, and Mrs. Greyson regarded him with perhaps as much surprise as sympathy, having never before seen him so deeply moved.
"I am afraid," she ventured, hesitatingly, "that what I said seemed intrusive, though of course it was not meant to be."
"It did not seem so; but I am out of sorts this afternoon. I have sent my model away because I am too much unstrung to work."
"I hope nothing bad has happened," said Helen, quickly.
"No, nothing; it's only this message from dear old Hoffmeir."
He walked away and pulled aside the curtain which screened the lower half of the window overlooking the water, and stood gazing out at a vessel lying beside the wharf beneath. Mrs. Greyson laid down her modeling tools, disturbed by the other's disquiet, and wondering how best to distract his attention from himself. Her glance roved inquiringly about the little room, noting every cast upon the dingy walls, bits of sculptured foliage, architectural forms, and portions of the human figure. Then her gaze rested an instant upon her own work, and from that turned toward the robust form by the window.
"Come, Mr. Herman," she said at length, in a tone half jesting, "I never saw you so somber."
"It is not that Hoffmeir is dead, poor fellow!" Herman replied, answering her unspoken question. "I'd made up my mind to endure that, and any man with his over-sensitive temperament is better off on the other side of the grass than this any day. I may as well tell you, Mrs. Greyson, though as a rule I do not find much comfort in blurting out things. The fact is that Hoffmeir and I quarreled over a girl. We were both in love with her, like two young fools as we were; but she'd promised to marry me, and—it was a deal better that she didn't, too. I thought he tried to take her from me. Now I know I was wrong, and that Fritz was as high-souled as a god in the matter; but then I sent him back his ring, and broke off with him and her too. I was a fiery young fool in those days," he added, with a sad and bitter smile, "a young fool."
"And was it never explained?"
"Never until to-day. He was far too proud a man to call me back."
"But the girl?" queried Helen, with increasing eagerness. "What did she do?"
"Oh, the girl," he repeated, turning away again and directing his gaze out of the window; "what would you expect her to do? She was only a peasant; and though I was honest enough then, I outgrew that fever centuries ago."
"Yes, you did," returned Helen, with gentle persistence, "but what did she do?"
"What do women usually do when they break with one lover? Get another, I suppose!"
The words were so hard and coarse to come from a man like Grant Herman that she involuntarily looked up quickly at him, and perhaps he noticed the action.
It was evident that some deep pain had provoked the expression, yet had found no relief in the rough words. The sculptor turned toward his companion as if to speak. Then slowly his eyes fell, and he said firmly, if a little stiffly:
"I believe I do her injustice. If she ever loved a man she was one who would love him always."
He left the little room without more words, his firm, even tread sounding down the uncarpeted stairs until the door of his own studio was heard to close after him. Mrs. Greyson stood before her clay wondering, and then, sinking into a chair, sat so long absorbed in thought that the short daylight faded about her and she was forced to give up further work that day. Replacing the wet cloth with which her bas-relief had been covered, she prepared to return home. As she passed the door of Herman's studio the sculptor opened it.
"I do not know," he said, extending his hand, "what made me so rude this afternoon. I am a bear of a fellow, but I had meant to treat you well."
He had fully recovered his composure, but his evident desire to efface the impression he had made naturally rendered it more lasting in Helen's mind.
A BOND OF AIR. Troilus and Cressida; i.—3.
Had Helen been present at the scene which took place in Herman's studio earlier in the afternoon, she would perhaps have wondered less at his disturbance.
In response to the sculptor's request made at the Club when Ninitta's name was first mentioned, Bently, when the girl finished posing for him, sent her to the sculptor's studio.
She came a day or two later than Bently had directed her, not hastening, although for six years she had shaped her entire life to the end of meeting Grant Herman. She came into the studio as calmly and as quietly as if it were some familiar place which she had left but yesterday, and she greeted the sculptor with as even and musical tone as in the old Roman days when as yet nothing had occurred to stir her peaceful bosom.
For his part the man stood and looked at her in silence. Even when a ghost from the past has appeared at his especial summons, one seldom sees it unmoved, and Herman was conscious that his heart beat more quickly, that he breathed more heavily as Ninitta let fall behind her the rug portiere and came towards him through the studio.
She had a dark, homely face, only redeemed from positive ugliness by her deep, expressive eyes. Her figure was superb; rather slender, lithe and sinewy, but without an angle or thin curve. Like Diana, she was long limbed, so that she seemed taller than she really was. The sweep of neck and shoulder was exquisite, and her simple dress was admirably adapted to display the lines of her supple form. As she walked down the studio, setting her feet firmly and carrying her head with fine poise, Grant Herman felt the ghost of an old passion stir in his heart.
"How do you do?" he composedly answered her greeting. "You have improved since I saw you last."
"Thank you," she said, in a rich voice with strong but pleasant accent. "I have had time."
"But improvement is not always a question of time," returned he. "Look at me."
"You have grown old," Ninitta commented, regarding him keenly. "You are gray now."
"Yes," retorted the other lightly, "I am an old man." It is really a very long time since you posed for me in my little den at Rome."
"You remember those days perhaps, sometimes?" she said, dropping the long lashes over her eyes.
A shadow passed over Herman's high brow.
"Is one likely to forget such days?" he demanded. "Is one likely to forget how love may be turned to treachery and—"
"Pardon," the woman interrupted with dignity. "I did not come to be reproached, eccelenza. You have not forgotten Signor Hoffmeir?"
"No," he answered, with a deepening frown. "I have not forgotten the man who pretended to be my friend and proved it by stealing my betrothed."
"It is well that you have not forgotten," Ninitta went on calmly, but earnestly, "for I have a message from him. He charged me when he was dying," she added, crossing herself, "to give it to you with my own hands. I have been waiting for all these years, but now I am free of my promise."
Herman took the packet she extended toward him, and turned abruptly away. Ninitta seated herself in one of the tall easy chairs, removed her hat, and began a leisurely survey of the place. The sounds from the wharf outside, the cries of the sailors, the creaking of the cordage and the ships came softened and mellowed like the daylight into the wide, dim studio, giving a certain sense of remoteness by the contrast they suggested between the silence within and the stir of the world without. For all her outward calm, Ninitta's heart was beating hotly, and she longed with a great yearning for a touch from the hand of the silent man before her; for a word of kindness from his lips. She watched him furtively, under cover of looking at a cast of Celini's Perseus upon a bracket above his head, as he stood reading the letter from Hoffmeir.
"Why did you not bring this to me before?" the sculptor asked at length, turning towards her. "It is six years now."
"Have I been able to shape my life?" returned Ninitta. "I have followed you to Florence, to Paris; you came to America. I followed you to New York; you were here. I have never ceased trying to reach you. It was not easy for me to cross half the world alone and without help; with no friends, no money; with nothing."
"But you have been in Boston a couple of months."
"Yes," she said quietly, looking up into his face. "But you knew it. I waited for you to send for me."
"I have only known it a week," was the sculptor's reply. "Do you know what was in Hoffmeir's letter?"
"His ring; the one you wore in Rome."
"But do you know what he wrote?"
"No," she answered. "How should I?"
Her questioner looked at her a moment in silence. She put up her head proudly with an involuntary response to the questioning which his silence implied, and met his eyes unflinchingly. Yet he put his thought into words.
"It is seven years since I saw you," he said at length.
"It is seven years," she echoed.
"In seven years a great deal may happen," continued he, still regarding her closely.
"Much, much has happened," she returned, still meeting his gaze without shrinking.
"Are you married?" he asked, with a certain abruptness which to a careful observer might have indicated that the question cost him an effort.
"No," Ninitta returned simply; "how could I be when I was betrothed to you?"
"But that was broken off—"
The sentence stuck in his throat; and he wondered that he could have begun it. He wondered, too, how he could even have doubted the faith of the woman before him; and most of all he wondered if he had ever really loved her. He had an irritating consciousness that something was expected of him which he was unwilling to give; some sign of tenderness, some caress such as befitted the reconciliation of lovers long separated by misunderstanding and blinding jealousy. He felt as if he were falling below the demands of the occasion, most annoying of sensations to the masculine mind. But an important interview can with difficulty be changed from the key in which it is begun, and even had his feelings prompted a display of tenderness, he felt that it would seem abrupt and forced. He waited for Ninitta to speak.
"Yes," she said, after a moment, as he did not continue, "it was broken off, but Signor Hoffmeir said that was because you did not understand, and that everything would be as it had been when you got his letter."
A sad hopelessness began to appear in her eyes; she had of old been too accustomed to submit to her lover's will to assume the initiative now, despite the development and strength which time had given to her character. The sculptor did not dream how her heart throbbed beneath her quiet demeanor, but he was too sensitive not to be touched by the unconscious appeal of her voice and look.
Seven years before, an enthusiastic student in Rome, he had loved or believed he loved, the peasant girl Ninitta, whom he had found in an excursion to Capri and induced to come to the Eternal City as a model.
Too honorable to betray her, he had meant to make the model his wife, and was betrothed to her with a solemnity of which he was keenly reminded to-day by the ring which she still wore upon her finger. Circumstances had convinced him, however, that Ninitta was deceiving him, and that she preferred the artist Hoffmeir, his best friend. To break off both engagement and friendship without listening to a word of explanation, to leave Rome and Italy, were comparatively easy for a passionate man stung to the quick by a double treachery. To forget was more difficult, and although a thousand times had Herman assured himself that he had extinguished the last spark of emotion concerning this episode, the faintest breath of an old memory was still sufficient to rekindle some seemingly dead ember. To-day, holding in his hand the letter from his lost friend which removed all his doubts, he saw that instead of being injured he had himself been cruel and unjust; he felt the full anguish of having committed an irreparable fault. We may outlive our past; its sorrows we may forget, its wrongs we may forgive, we may even smile at its crushed hopes, ambitions and loves with scarcely a tinge of bitterness; but that which we have been stings us ever with the burning pain of an undying remorse. It is not what we have done which awakens our deepest self-scorn; it is the fact that we were this which made it possible for us to do it. To feel that he had been capable of the cruelty of abandoning his betrothed and of wounding his closest friend, merely from a groundless suspicion, was to Grant Herman a pain never to be wholly outlived.
Nor was he without a teasing pain, through a less noble trait in his nature, from the consciousness that he had loved Ninitta. Once the fires of love have burned out, any mortal is apt to be lost in amazed wonderment how they were ever kindled; and that it was hard for Grant Herman, at thirty-five, to understand how Grant Herman, at twenty-seven, could have adored an Italian peasant model is not so without precedent as to be wholly incomprehensible.
Ninitta had been a good girl, his thoughts ran, was doubtless so still; her figure was enchanting, he would have been no sculptor had he failed to appreciate that; he had been a boy, a foolish youngster to be dizzied by a rushing of the blood to his head; but to make her his wife now——
"Ninitta," he said, suddenly, breaking off from his thoughts into words, "I am not well to-day: come to-morrow. Are you comfortably settled in town? Do you need money?"
"No," she answered, rising, "I do not want money."
She went slowly down the studio without further word, only turning back as she passed Bently's picture for which she had posed, and which had been brought for the meeting of the Pagans.
"You have seen," she said, "I am able to earn. I have learned much while I was bringing you that letter. Across the world is a long way. No; I have no need of money."
IN WAY OF TASTE. Troilus and Cressida; iii.—3.
Grant Herman's studio, in which the Pagans met that night, was in its way no less unique than the company there gathered. It was a great, misshapen place, narrow, half a hundred feet long, and disproportionately high, with undressed brick walls and cement floor. The upper half of one of the end walls was taken up with large windows, before which were drawn dingy curtains. Here and there about the place were scattered modeling stands, water tanks mounted upon rude tripods, casts, and the usual lumber of a sculptor's studio; while upon the walls were stuck pictures, sketches, and reproductions in all sorts of capricious groupings.
In one corner a flight of stairs led to a gallery high up against the wall, over the rude railing of which looked the heads of a couple of legless statues. From this gallery the stairs continued to ascend until a door near the roof was reached, leading to unknown regions well up in the building behind which the studio had been built as an afterthought. On shelves were confusedly disposed dusty bits of bronze, plaster, coarse pottery and rare glass; things valueless and things beyond price standing in careless fellowship. A canvas of Corot looked down upon a grotesque, grimacing Japanese idol, a beautiful bronze reproduction of a vase by Michael Angelo stood shoulder to shoulder with a bean-pot full of tobacco; a crumpled cravat was thrown carelessly over the arm of a dancing faun, while a cluster of Barye's matchless animals were apparently making their way with great difficulty through a collection of pipes, broken modeling tools, faded flowers and loose papers. Every where it was evident that the studio of Herman differed from heaven in at least its first law.
Quite in keeping with the picturesque, richly stored room, was the group of men walking about the place or seated near the rough table upon which refreshments were placed. On this table were a couple of splendid punch-bowls of antique cut glass, which, if not full now, had unmistakable marks of having been so earlier in the evening. A coarse dish of yellow earthen ware beside them held an ample supply of biscuits, and was in turn flanked by a couple of plates of cheese. Fruit, beer, and tobacco in various forms, with abundant glasses and pipes, completed the furnishing of the board, upon which a newspaper supplied the place of a cloth.
Tom Bently's long, shapely limbs were disposed in a big easy-chair by the table, his tongue being just now employed in one of his not infrequent harangues upon art, his remarks being plentifully spiced with profanity.
"Whatever crazy ideas on art," Bently was saying, "aren't good for any thing else have to be put into a book. The surest recommendation in art circles is getting out a book or giving a rubbishy lecture. Every woman who has painted a few bunches of flowers or daubed a little pottery, writes a book to tell how she did it; as if it were the most astonishing thing in the world."
"Women are very like hens," interpolated Fenton; "they always cackle most over the smallest egg."
"If any one of the crew," continued Bently, "could appreciate a fiftieth part of the suggestions in a single sketch of an old master, she might have something to write about."
"But then she would know enough to keep still," said Rangely.
"Oh, a woman never knows enough to keep still," Bently retorted. "It is damned amusing to hear the average American——"
A chorus of protestations arose.
"We'll have nothing about the 'Average American,' Bently!"
"Start somebody else on his hobby," suggested Ainsworth; "that's the only way to choke Bently off. Where's Fenton? I never knew him quiet for so long in my life."
Arthur had been watching his companions and smoking in silence. He smiled brilliantly at Ainsworth's challenge.
"I'm overwhelmed by Bently's oaths," he said. "He outdoes himself to-night."
"When it comes time for Tom's epitaph," observed Rangely, "I shall suggest that it be a dash."
"Why do you swear so?" inquired Ainsworth. "Don't you think it in execrable taste?"
"Taste?" laughed Bently. "Yes; it's so far above all taste as to be a— sight higher and bigger."
"I make a distinction," Herman put in good naturedly, "between swearing and blasphemy; and Tom never blasphemes. His cursing is all in the interest of the highest virtues."
"Profanity is like smoking," added Tom. "Every thing depends upon how you do it. The English, for instance, smoke for the brutality of the thing; they never have any of the French finesse, and their smoking is nothing less than a crime. But as the Arabs smoke it is one of the loftiest virtues; there's something godlike about it.
"It is from smoking," Fenton chimed in, "that the Orientals learned how to treat women; for a woman is like tobacco, the aroma should be enjoyed and the ashes thrown away."
"By George!" exclaimed one of the Pagans, moved by some rare compunction to remember that he had a wife at home, "that's infamous, Arthur."
"It is my belief," observed Ainsworth deliberately, "that Fenton lies awake nights to invent beastly things to say about women, and when he gets something that he thinks is smart he throws it into the conversation any where, without the slightest regard to whether it fits or not."
"What makes you so bitter against women?" asked Bently.
"Yes," added Rangely, with mock deprecation. "Why do you want to annihilate the sex? What harm have women ever done to you?"
"Oh," retorted the artist, "it is on theoretical principles, purely. I adore that masculine ideal which man calls woman, but only finds in his brain. The highest on earth is reached only by the absolute elimination of the feminine. Ah! man is at his best in war," he went on, his attitude becoming less studied and more forcible, as he allowed his intellectual interest to overpower his vanity; "there he is all masculine; man without the limitations that the presence of woman imposes upon him. There woman is ignored, and even if she has been the cause of the war—and to be the cause of war is woman's noblest prerogative!—she is for the time being as completely forgotten as if she had never existed. She slips into oblivion as does the horn of grog which gives his courage."
Fenton was in a mood when he fancied he was talking well, a conviction which was not always an accurate measure of the real worth of his remarks. He delighted in presenting half truths in forcible phraseology, relishing the taste of an epigram quite without reference to its verity. He amused himself and his friends with talk more or less brilliant, of which no one knew better than himself the fallacy, but whose cleverness atoned with him for all defects. The intellectual excitement of giving free rein to his fancy and his tongue was dangerously pleasant to Arthur, who often more than half convinced himself of the verity of his extravagant theories, and oftener still involved himself in their defense by yielding to the mere whim of phrasing them effectively.
"You are on your high horse to-night, Fenton," cried Rangely, "you make no more of a metaphor than a racer of a hurdle."
"Don't stop him," Ainsworth said. "Let him run the course out now he's on the track."
"When man comes into his kingdom," Fenton broke out again, too fully aroused to mind the banter, yet with a sort of double consciousness enjoying the absurdity of the whole conversation, "when man comes into his kingdom, when we get to the perfection of the race, there will be no women. The ultimate man will be masculine—men, only men; gloriously and eternally masculine!" "But how will the race perpetuate itself?" asked Tom in as matter of fact a tone as he might have inquired the time of day.
"Perpetuate itself!" blazed the other. "The race will not need to perpetuate itself. The world will be peopled with gods! When once women are gone the race will have become immortal!"
A shout of mingled applause and derision greeted this outburst, amid which Fenton threw himself back in a lounging chair and lighted a fresh cigar. He was intoxicated with himself, and few draughts are more dangerous.
"Take to the lecture platform, Fenton," jeered Ainsworth. "You'll make your mark in the world yet."
"I wonder you stopped at immortality," remarked Fred Rangely. "You usually go on to dispose of the future state."
"Impossible," retorted the artist, "for you never heard me say I believed in one."
"That's a fact," confessed the other, "but you insist so emphatically that women have no moral sense that your philosophy certainly would dispose of them if it allow any future state."
"For my part," declared Herman, "I've heard Fenton talk nonsense as long as I want to; let's look at the pictures."
An informal exhibition had been arranged, consisting of pictures loaned by friends, and including several by members of the club. The most important of the latter was a gypsy which Bently had just completed, and which exhibited that artist's defects and excellences in the emphatic manner usual with his productions. The motif was better than the technique, but Bently's splendid feeling for color somehow carried him through, and made the picture not only striking but rich and suggestive.
"If you could learn to draw, Tom," Fenton said, as they stood looking at it, "you'd be the biggest man in America."
"Is that the new model you were talking about?" asked Rangely.
"Yes," Bently answered. "Isn't she a stunner?"
"I thought that shoulder was something new," put in Fenton. "The girl poses well; trust a woman with shoulders like that to know how to display them."
"Good heavens!" exclaimed Grant Herman in sudden and rare irritation, "can you never have done slurring at women? Didn't you have a mother? In heaven's name let some woman escape your tongue for her sake!"
Such an outburst from their host produced a profound sensation upon the Pagans. The most tolerant of men, he was accustomed to listen to their wholesale denunciations of all things with a good natured smile, contenting himself with a calm contradiction now and then. Proverbial for his patience and good temper, he produced the greater sensation now when he gave vent to his anger upon a subject which not only Fenton but every guest present usually considered fair game.
"I'm sorry I vexed you, Herman," Fenton said, turning to him after a moment's silence, "but however much I've abused women, you never heard me blackguard a woman in your life."
"You are right," the sculptor replied, catching the other's slender hand in his stalwart grasp. "I beg your pardon. I'm out of sorts, I suppose, or I shouldn't be quarreling like a Christian. Let's brew a new bowl and drink to Pagan harmony."
THE INLY TOUCH OF LOVE. Two Gentlemen of Verona; ii.—7.
After the Pagans had separated that night Fred Rangely lingered in Herman's studio.
The sculptor somehow found it possible to be more frank with Rangely than with any other of his companions, and although there was a difference of some half a dozen in the count of their years, and perhaps more in their ages as measured by experiences, Herman's strong but naturally stormy nature found much pleasure in the calm philosophy of his friend.
Scarcely were the two men alone, when Rangely turned to his host and demanded abruptly:
"Now, I want to know, Grant, what in the devil is the matter with you to-night? What set you out to pitch into Fenton so?"
Herman poured out a glass of wine and swallowed it before replying.
"Because I am a damned idiot!" he retorted savagely. "I'm all shaken up, Fred; and the worst of it is that I don't see any way out of the snare I'm in."
"It isn't real trouble, I hope."
"Isn't it! By Jove!" cried the sculptor, "the more honest a man is in this world the worse off he is. If I hadn't had a conscience when I was a young fellow, I should be all right now. Who is it—Fenton?—that is always saying that he asks forgiveness for his virtues and thanks the gods for every vice he can cultivate?"
"Well," Rangely remarked, filling a pipe, and curiously surveying his companion, who was raging up and down the studio, "you don't seem to be in an especially cheerful and enlivening frame of mind; that's a fact. If a fellow can be of any help, call on; if not, at least try to take it a little more gently for the sake of your friends."
"Do any thing?" retorted the other. "No; there's nothing to be done. I'm a fool."
"Even that disease has been remedied before now," Rangely said coolly;" though usually experience and time are necessary to the cure."
"I'll tell you the whole story," Herman exclaimed, flinging himself into a chair. "It is all simple enough. It is always simple enough to tangle things up so that Lucifer himself cannot unsnarl them. When I was in Rome I was in love—crazily, gushingly in love, you understand, like a big schoolboy—with a girl I found in Capri. She was a good little thing, with a figure like Helen's; that's what did the business for me. I coaxed her to Rome to be my model, and then that infernal conscience of mine made me ask her to marry me. I could have done any thing I liked with her; I knew that; she had nobody to look after her but a half sister who paid about as much attention to her as if she had been a grasshopper. But the infernal New England Puritanism in my blood wouldn't let me hurt her."
"And somebody else wasn't so scrupulous?" asked the listener as his friend paused in his story.
"You think so?" returned Herman eagerly. "Then I wasn't so unutterably a scoundrel for thinking so, too, was I? I did doubt her; I had reason to. She posed for a friend of mine, a painter; you know, of course— Hang it! What's the use of going into all the details. I was poor as a church mouse or she shouldn't have done it at all, even for him. The gist of the story is that I was jealous and flew out at both of them, and left Rome in a rage!"
The two men sat in silence for some moments. Rangely puffed vigorously at his pipe, while his companion stared savagely into the shadows in the further end of the studio. Neither looked at the other; the hearer appreciated too well the shame-facedness by which these unusual confidences must be accompanied. From some distant steeple a clock was faintly heard striking two.
"And to-day," Herman at length began again in an altered voice, "to-day she came here. She has followed me all these years, going through heaven knows what experiences and hardships, to bring me the proof that I was a madman blinded by groundless jealousy, and that instead of being wronged I cursedly abused both her and poor dead old Hoffmeir."
Again there came an interval of silence. A lamp flickered and went out with a muffled sound. The thoughts of both men were of that formless character scarcely to be distinguished from emotions; on the one hand sad and remorseful, on the other sympathetic and pitiful.
"Well?" Rangely ventured after a time.
"But what shall I do?" demanded Herman. "I cannot marry her."
"No, of course not. She cannot expect it after banging about the world."
"Oh, it isn't that," the other said hastily. "She is as good and as pure as when I left her; at least I believe so. And she does expect it."
"She does expect it!" echoed his friend. "Ah!"
The reception of a confidence is a most delicate ordeal through which few people come unscathed. Rare individuals are born with the ready sympathies, quick apprehension, and exquisite tact needful; but the vast majority are sure to wound their friends if the latter ever venture to approach with their armor of reticence laid wholly aside.
Although perhaps not the ideal confidant, Rangely was sympathetic and possessed of at least sufficient discretion to avoid comment until he knew the whole situation and was sure that his opinion was desired. He was still unable fully to understand his friend's agitation, the task of disposing of an old sweetheart in so inferior a position not appearing to his easy-going nature a matter sufficiently difficult to warrant so deep disquiet.
Precisely the clew that he needed the sculptor had not given, but he was endeavoring to overcome his repugnance to disclosing his most secret feelings. Every word cost him an effort, but he went on with a savage sense of doing penance by the self-inflicted torture.
"Yes," he repeated, "she expects it. Why shouldn't she, poor thing? She has not changed, and she does not understand that I may have altered."
"And you have?"
Grant Herman looked up and down the great studio, now growing dusky from the burning out of candles here and there. An antique lamp which was lighted only on special occasions stood where the breeze came to it from the high window, and the flame, wind-swept, smoked and flared. Through the silence the listener's ear could detect a faint sound of the tide washing against the piles of the wharf outside.
The sculptor started up suddenly and stood firmly, throwing back his splendid head and shoulders, and looking straight into the eyes of his friend.
"Yes," he said in a clear, low voice. "I have changed. I—-There is some one else."
"Life," remarked Rangely, with seeming irrelevancy, "life is a fallacy."
"I'd like to be honorable," Herman continued, "but how can I? It is impossible to be honest to both her and myself. If I hadn't had any scruples, then—-Bah! What a beast I am! Poor Ninitta."
Still Rangely smoked in silence, and the sculptor went on again.
"It has always been my creed that when a man has allowed a woman to love him—much more, made her love him, as I did—he is a black-hearted knave to let a change in himself wreck her happiness. Now I am put to the test."
"And the other one?" asked Rangely. "Does she know that you care for her?"
"I have never said so to her. Heaven only knows how much she feels by intuition. A man always fancies that the woman he loves can tell."
"That may depend something on how often you see her." "I see her nearly every day. She is my pupil."
"Yes," Herman said, a little defiantly, as if now the secret was told he challenged the right of another man to share it.
"Is she a widow?"
"Yes," the other answered, with no perceptible pause, and yet between the question and his reply had come to him the swift remembrance that he really knew nothing of his pupil's life or history, and had simply taken it for granted that her husband was not living. "Arthur Fenton brought her here," he added, rather thinking aloud than answering any point of Rangely's query. "He was an old friend of her husband."
"But what will you do with the other?"
Instead of replying Herman got up from the seat into which he had flung himself, and went about the studio putting out the lights.
"Go home," he said with a whimsical smile. "I'm sure I don't know what we are talking about at this time of the morning. As for what I shall do—Well, time will show; I am as ignorant as yourself on the subject."
VOLUBLE AND SHARP DISCOURSE. Comedy of Errors; ii.—i.
It suited Fenton's whim next morning to dine with Mrs. Greyson. He had established the habit of dropping in when he chose, always sure of a welcome, and always sure, too, of a listener to the tirades in which he was fond of indulging. If Helen did not always accord him agreement, she at least gave attention, and he cared rather to talk than to convince.
His aesthetic taste, moreover, was gratified by the pretty breakfast table; and he was not without a subtle sense of pleasure in the beauty and harmonious dress of his hostess, who possessed the rare charm of contriving to be always well attired. This morning she wore a gown of russet cashmere with here and there knots of dull gold ribbon, which tint formed a pleasing link between the stuff and the color of her clear skin.
"It is good of you to come," she said, as she poured his coffee. "There are so few days left before you will have married a wife and cannot come. I shall miss you very much."
"Why do you persist in talking in that way?"
Fenton returned. "I'm not going out of the country or out of the world. You could not take a more absolute farewell if I were about to be cremated."
"You do not know," replied she, smiling. "However, I am glad you are to be married. It will do you good. You need a wife, if you do dread matrimony so much."
"It is abominable," he observed deliberately, "to talk as I do. Of course I do not mind what you choose to think of me; or rather I am sure you will not misunderstand."
"I do not," Mrs. Greyson interpolated significantly.
"But it seems a reflection upon Miss Caldwell," he continued, answering her interruption only by a grimace, "for me to discourse of marriage just as I do. It isn't because I'm not fond of her. It is my protest against the absurd and false way in which society regards marriage; in a word against marriage itself."
Mrs. Greyson understood Arthur Fenton as well as any woman can understand a man who is her friend. Her friendship softened the harshness of her judgments, but she could not be blind to his vanity, his constant efforts at self-deception, and so far as she was in possession of the facts, she reasoned correctly in regard to his approaching marriage.
"No," she said calmly, "it isn't even that. You talk partly for the sake of saying things that sound effective, and partly because you are morbid from over introspection. If you were vicious, I should say you did it as an atonement. Many people would not understand you, but as I do, it is harmless for you to talk to me."
"Introspective? Of course. Can any body help being that in this age? And as for being morbid—it all depends upon definitions. I try to be honest with myself."
"The subtlest form of hypocrisy," she answered, "often consists in what we call being honest with ourselves. I gave that up long ago. You are not honest with yourself about this marriage. If you don't wish to marry Miss Caldwell, who forces you to do so?"
"Forces me to? Good heavens! I do wish to marry her. Of course I don't ever expect to be perfectly happy. In this inexplicable world natures that demand that every thing shall be explained must necessarily remain unsatisfied. Still, I'd take a little more coffee as a palliation of my lot, if you please."
"It is well you are to marry," observed Helen, refilling his cup. "You've concentrated your attention upon yourself too long."
"But I am afraid of poverty. If I find some old Boston duffer with a lot of money, and can fool him into admiring the frame of one of my pictures, he may buy it, and I can pay the butcher, the baker and the gas man for a week. If I can't, I must daub the canvas a little higher and try the same game in New York, and—"
"Rubbish!" she interrupted. "The difficulty is, you are too self-indulgent. You are too much afraid of the little discomforts."
"No," he answered; "men—at least sensitive men—do not suffer so much from the discomforts of poverty as from its indignities."
"If—" began Helen; but without finishing, she rose from the table, went to the window and stood looking out.
Fenton watched her idly, knowing perfectly that the woman before him was capable of sacrificing for him all the little income which was her's; and he wondered, as men will, how deep her feeling for him had really become, and whether it had ever passed that mysterious and undefinable line which separates love from friendship.
Helen had often endeavored to assist the artist out of some financial difficulty by buying one of his unsellable pictures, a pretext which he had the grace to put aside by refusing to sell, sometimes sending her as a gift precisely the work for which he could most easily find a purchaser. There was continually a silent struggle, more or less consciously carried on between the two, although seldom appearing upon the surface. Too much Fenton's friend not to be pained by his weaknesses, Helen was stung to the quick by a certain insincerity which she often detected alike beneath his raillery and his cynicism. Too noble to yield to any belief in a friend's unworthiness without resistance, she suffered anew whenever his words seemed to ring false, and now there were tears in her eyes as she looked out into the sunny street. She pressed them firmly back, however, and turned a calm face towards her guest, who sat playing with his spoon and watching her with a half troubled, half amused expression.
"I've composed my epitaph," he said irrelevantly. "Will you please compose my monument."
"Oh, willingly. But it will be necessary to know the epitaph, so that the monument may express the same sentiment."
"I shall have no name," Arthur returned. "Only— L'homme est mort. Soit. How does that strike you?"
"Ah," she cried impulsively, "how does any thing strike me? You play at being wretched as sentimental school girls do, when in their case it is slate pencils and pickled limes and in your case it is vanity. If you were half as miserable as you pretend, you'd have blown your brains out long ago, or deemed yourself the veriest craven alive. I've no patience with such attitudinizing."
"You are partly right," he admitted, "but do any of us find the savor of life so sweet as to make it worth while?"
Something in his voice, a ring of what might be pity in his tone, humiliated Helen. She suspected that he thought her outburst arose from a too great fondness for himself, for grief at parting and at giving him up to another. She struggled to regain her calmness; she felt the impossibility of contradicting the belief which she was sure existed in his mind; she was conscious that to say, "I do not love you," would appear to him proof incontrovertible that the reverse was true. Her throat contracted painfully and she cast down her eyes lest the tears in them should be seen.
"The Caffres," Fenton continued, after an instant's pause, "are said to be so fond of sugar that they will eat a handful of sand rather than lose a grain or two that has fallen to the ground; it seems to me life is the sand and joy in the proportion of the sugar. I'm not willing to take the sand, and I protest against it. There is no morality in it."
"There is no morality in any thing but death," Helen returned drearily.
"Death!" echoed Fenton. "Do you call that moral! Death that crushes the emotions, that kills the passions, that pollutes the flesh; the monster which debauches all that is sacred in the physical, that degrades to the level of the lowest all that is high in the intellectual—is this your idea of the moral? The coarsest rioting of sensual life is sacred beside it. Death moral? Mon Dieu, Helen, how you do abuse terms!"
Fenton was continually treading upon the dangerous edge between pathos and bathos, between impressiveness and absurdity. Had he not possessed extremely sensitive perceptions which enabled him to judge swiftly and exactly of the effect of his declamations, and the keenest sense of the ludicrous that helped him to turn into ridicule whatever could not be made to pass for earnest, much of his extravagant talk would have excited amusement and, not impossibly, contempt, instead of producing the half serious effect he desired. He could impart a vast air of sincerity to his speech, moreover, and could even for the moment be sincere. In the present case his earnest and real feeling saved this outburst from the somewhat theatrical air which the words might easily have had if spoken at all artificially.
"The history of mankind," went on the artist, in a sort of two-fold consciousness, deeply feeling on the one hand what he was saying, but on the other endeavoring to direct the conversation to generalities in which would be lost the dangerous personal remarks which threatened, "the whole history of mankind is a protest against death as an insult, an outrage. All religions are only mankind's defiance of death more or less largely phrased."
"No," Helen said. "Not our defiance; our confession of a craven fear. I am afraid of death. I don't dare take my life."
"We are talking," responded her companion, in his turn leaving the table and approaching the window, "like a couple of unmitigated ghouls. I acknowledge your right to put aside your life if it bores you; man has at least that one inalienable right. But why should you? Art is left still."
"Art," she repeated with profound sadness; "yes, but a woman is never content with abstractions. She demands something more definite. And, by the way, Will came to see me yesterday."
"Yes! What did he want?"
"He said he only came to see how I was. I think he recognizes that now he has come from Europe our secret is sure to leak out soon, and is looking the ground over to see how it is best to behave. He was very entertaining; I never enjoyed him more thoroughly."
"He's a model husband," Fenton observed thoughtfully. "As well as you like each other, I'll be hanged if I can see why you don't live like other people."
"It is precisely because we don't live like other people," was the reply, "that we do like each other so well. We are the best of friends; we were the worst possible husband and wife. I hated him officially, and—-There! Why must you bring all that up again? Let the dead past bury its dead."
"But the past won't bury its dead. It sits over their corpses like a persistent resurrectionist, in a fashion which is irresistibly disheartening. Did it never strike you, by the way, what a droll caricature might be made on that line? Time as a decrepit old sexton, you know."
"So few people can joke on those subjects that it would appeal to a very limited audience, I'm afraid."
"Oh, that's true of every thing that is good for any thing."
"Unfortunately the converse is not true, for every thing appealing to a small audience is by no means good."
"Not even marriage?"
"Still harping on matrimony," said Helen, laughing. "What will you do after the knot is really tied? You speak in the mournful tone of one who reads 'Lasciate ogni speranza' upon his wedding horseshoe."
"Oh, not quite," he laughed back, "for after marriage a man can always amuse himself, you know, by looking at any woman he may meet and fancying how much worse off he might be if he had married her instead of his wife."
"Well," Helen remarked, turning, "your conversation is amusing and doubtless deeply instructive, but I must go to the studio. My bas-relief will hardly complete itself, I suppose, and I've a splendid offer for it, to decorate a house in Milton. It is to be paneled into the side of an oak stairway at the back of the main hall. Isn't that fine?"
O, WICKED WIT AND GIFT. Hamlet; i.—5.
Anomalies are doubtless as truly the product of law as results whose logic is evident, and the strange relations between Mrs. Greyson and her husband were therefore to be considered the outcome of fixed causes from which no other result was possible.
Married when scarcely more than a girl, shy, undeveloped and ignorant of the world, Helen came from a secluded life, which had been pretty equally divided between the library of her dead father and the woods surrounding the country village where she lived. She had never even fancied that she loved Dr. Ashton; but she had married him as she would have obeyed any other command of the stern aunt who had presided severely over her orphaned childhood. He, half-a-dozen years her senior, had been enamored of her wonderful beauty and modest intellectuality; and, being accustomed always to gratify the impulse of the moment, he had married her with a precipitancy as characteristic as it was reckless. It was owing to a certain mutual scorn of conventionalities that Helen and her husband at length decided to separate. Without the aid of the law and without scandal, they settled back into single liberty, the wife taking again her father's name. They had spent their married life abroad, where Dr. Ashton had remained until a short time previous to the opening of our story, and as neither husband nor wife had been in their single life known in Boston, and as Helen was chary of new acquaintances, their relations had thus far remained undiscovered. Helen, at least, recognized how improbable it was that this secrecy would long remain inviolate, but she went quietly on her way, letting events take their own course.
Arthur Fenton was an old friend of her husband whom Helen had met in Europe, but had known intimately only during her Boston life. She had found him sympathetic, responsive and entertaining, and as any lonely woman clings to the companionship of an appreciative man, she had clung to the friendship and comradeship of the artist.
Going across the Common towards the studio on this sunny morning, when the air was brisk and bracing, the naked trees clearly and delicately defined against the sky, Helen's thoughts went back to her past; to her shy, secluded girlhood, to the years of her married life, and to the way in which she had been living since she and her husband parted. She reflected with a smile, half pity, half contempt, of the proud, reticent girl who had pored over books and drawings in the musty, deserted library at home, almost wondering if she were the same being. She looked from the Joy Street mall across the hollow which holds the Frog Pond, the most charming view on the Common, yet not even the golden sparkle of the water or the beautiful line of the slope beyond could chase from her mind the picture of the high, dim old room, lined to the ceiling with book-shelves, dingy and dusty from neglect. She seemed to hear still the weird tapping of the beech-tree boughs against the tall narrow windows, and still to smell odor of old leather; she remembered vividly the dull dizziness that came from stooping too long over some volume too heavy to hold, above which, half lying upon the carpetless floor, she had bent with drooping golden curls. She remembered, too, the remoteness of the real world from the ideal sphere in which her fancy placed her; how unimportant and unsubstantial to her had appeared the events of daily life as compared with the incidents of the world the old books in the musty library opened to her. The life of these magic tomes was the real, and that humdrum state through which her visible pathway lay was the dream. To the imaginative girl, half child, half poet, her marriage had prospectively seemed merely an accident of the trivial outside existence which surrounded without penetrating her true being; and the sharpness of the rude awakening from this childish misconception still pierced the woman's proud soul.