Illustrated by Howard Chandler Christy
TO MARY BALDWIN
If I should lose from my life that part of it of which you are a part, there would be but a skeleton left. Yet if you had played a larger part in my life I should have been so spoiled that there would be no living with me. And I'm spoiled enough, God knows!
In the Iliad you wrote for me, and I "drawed" for us both, 'twas Hector fixed Achilles. When I sat at your right hand and your sharp, swift knife went into the turkey, 'twas I that got the tit-bits and the oyster. And all was right with the world then, I can tell you!
We have ridden together over old battlefields, and I have worn the epaulettes and the swords in the attic, and listened to tales of the great brother who died of the war, and whose bull-terrier Jerry chased the cannon-balls at Gettysburg. Oh, the cutlass captured from the Confederate ram, and the wooden canteen, and the Confederate money (in a frame)! I was the hunter that used to handle the Colt (with the ships engraved on the cylinder) that shot the buffalo from the rear platform of the train, and was stolen by a genuine thief. Is Jeff Davis's bible that he gave to the brother who with Major R. caused game chickens to fight for the edification of his captivity still in your upper bureau drawer?
Are the photographs that General Gilmore had taken of Charleston siege still in the bookcase with the glass doors? Or have they vanished like the child's footprint that I made for you when we were planting the—the "plant," and I was going away?
Time has passed. Grand nephews are as young and hopeful as nephews used to be. I have written innumerable miserable grovelling tales. I dedicate this one to you; despairing at last of writing that masterpiece which should have been worthy of you.
But tell me this: Is there still a little corner of your heart that I may call mine? a corner into which no one else is allowed to put—yes—to put foot? Oh, but I should be glad to know that!
BEDFORD, February, 1913.
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
"Are you in love with me now?" he asked wistfully (Frontispiece).
She wished that she might die, or, infinitely better, that she had 4 never been born.
She had on her work-apron, but she was not working.
He praised, blamed, patronized, puffed his pipe, and dwelt with superiority on topics which are best left alone.
She took some coins from her purse and dropped them into the tin cup.
The young man knelt at the door by which he had entered and began to remove its ancient lock.
Harry, the workman, ... rose to his feet, and turned to Barbara with a certain quiet eagerness.
But Barbara and Wilmot Allen, well used to even larger and more stately rooms, chatted ... as two children.
She faced him, still scornful, but white now, and biting her lips.
In a few minutes Bubbles returned. "He's just sitting there with a hell of a face on him," he said, "and she's working like a dynamo".
Dr. Ferris frowned. "I'm not trying to interfere," he said. "You're old enough to know what's best for you".
"Some unknown person," said Barbara, "has formed the habit of sending me flowers".
In the dim light she looked wonderfully young and beautiful.
He turned with one foot on the sidewalk, and one in the cab.... "Here I wishes you salutations".
Wilmot Allen took her in to dinner, and looked much love at her, and talked much nonsense.
He saw her with the vase of jonquils in her hand ... and his stout heart failed him a little.
When Bubbles had trotted off, she dropped into her chair and cried.
The door opened, and Rose staggered into the room.
And in his soul the legless man was playing only for Barbara.
"'D afternoon, Mr. Lichtenstein," said Bubbles.
"I want me thumb bandaged".
She said in a small; surprised voice, "Why, it's finished".
In that instant the legless man overreached himself and fell heavily.
Barbara ... dashed into her dressing-room and locked the door behind her.
They passed out of the house and by marble steps into the first and most formal of their many gardens.
"What is Wilmot doing with himself these days?" "He went away," said Barbara, her eyes troubled.
He caught her by the wrist, drew her to her feet, and into the room.
"I twisted the truth out of him, and then flung him over a cliff".
"Climb out of that chair, and let me out of this house".
"I've seen that man. I was writing notes in the summer house when he came".
"Read that, father".
The engineer made generous terms across the dinner-table.
"You will," said Barbara, "when the things dry".
They were much amused with Bubbles, who came out to them for Christmas vacation.
"And when you think," said she, "that some women spend the best years of their lives making statues!"
The number of love affairs which intervened between Barbara Ferris's first one, when she was eleven, and her twenty-second birthday could not have been counted on the fingers of her two hands. Many boys, many men, had seemed wonderfully attractive to her. She did not know why. She knew only that the attraction seemed strong and eternal while it lasted, and that it never lasted long. She was sixteen before she began to consider herself a heartless, flirtatious, unstable, jilting sort of a girl. When she made this discovery, she was terribly ashamed, and for one long depressing year fell in love with nobody, became very shy, and hated herself. It was during this year that she had her first, last, and only touch of mania. It lasted only a little while and was not acute. She got the idea that she was being watched, spied on, and followed. But she was too strong in body and mind to give in for long to so silly an hallucination. And when she had dismissed the second man and her maid, who had particularly excited her suspicions, the mania left her, as a dream leaves at waking.
In her seventeenth year she was presented to society, and became an immense favorite. There were excellent reasons for this: she was lovely to look at, she would inherit a great deal of money, she had charming natural manners, and she was sweet-tempered.
During her second season she had an unpleasant experience. She had almost reached an understanding with a certain young man with whom she fancied herself in love. They were spending a Saturday to Monday at a great place on Long Island. On Sunday night, her host, a man old enough to be her father, invited her to see his rose garden by moonlight. She accepted this invitation as a matter of course. Pacing down a path between tall privet hedges, her host, who for some minutes seemed to have lost the use of his tongue, made her a sudden impassioned declaration of love, seized her in his arms, and kissed her wherever he could with a kind of dreadful fury. For half a minute she stood still as a statue. Then, crimson with shame and anger, she wrenched free, and struck him heavy blows on the face and head with her strong young fists. She beat him, not indeed to insensibility, but to his senses. They returned to the house after a time, and entered the drawing-room talking in lazy, natural voices and praising the beauty of the night and of the garden. Not even Barbara's lover suspected that anything out of the common had happened.
Barbara, having played half a dozen rubbers of bridge with the great skill and sweet temper which were natural to her, excused herself, went to her room, and cried half the night. It was not the shame of having been forcibly kissed that sickened her of herself, but the unforgettable, unforgivable fact that toward the last of that furious kissing she had found a certain low feline pleasure in the kisses. She wished that she might die, or, infinitely better, that she had never been born.
It seemed terrible to her that she could at once be in love with one man and enjoy the kisses of another. She had heard of girls who were thus, and had for them the contempt which they deserved. And yet it seemed that she was one of them; neither better nor worse. What Barbara did not realize was, that in the first place she was not really in love with anybody and never had been, and that it was not she herself who enjoyed being kissed by a man to whom she was indifferent, neither liking nor loathing, but nature, which for reasons, or perhaps only whims, of its own, tempts the cell to divide and the flower to go to seed.
Through the tangle of her love affairs Wilmot Allen threaded a path of hope, despair, and cynicism. There were times when she seemed to have a return of her childhood infatuation for him; there were times when he feared that in one of her moments of impressionable enthusiasm she would marry some other man in haste, and repent at leisure. And there were the cynical intervals, when it seemed to him that he could do without her, and that nothing was worth while but enjoyment, both base and innocent, and pleasure.
During Wilmot's junior year at New Haven, his father's sensational, dissipated, and stock-gambling career came to a sudden end. There was even a shadow on the name. He had done something really discreditable, something of course to do with money; since a man who is merely a gambler, a drunkard, and a Don Juan may with ease keep upon good terms with society.
Wilmot Allen failed, at least without honor, filled himself full of brandy, cocked a forty-five-calibre revolver, put the muzzle in his mouth, pulled the trigger, blew off the back of his head, and was "accidentally shot while cleaning the weapon."
The real tragedy was that so good a career as the son's should have come to so untimely an end in so good a collegiate world as Yale. He stood well in his class, he had played right tackle for two seasons and was heir apparent to the captaincy; he was well beloved and would have received an election to a senior society in the spring. But the solid ground being withdrawn from under his feet—in other words, his allowance from his father—he left amid universal regret, and found himself a very small person in a very great city; worse, a youth who had always had everything, loved pleasure, lights, games, and color, and who now had no visible means of support.
Friends found him a position in Wall Street. Being young, attractive, a good "mixer," not in the least shy, he was given a handsome "entertaining" allowance and told to bring in business. So he foregathered with out-of-town magnates, made the city a pleasant, familiar place to them, and brought much of their money into the firm's office. When Barbara was kind he despised his anomalous position and strove to free himself from it; but even the best man has to live.
And during those intervals when he thought he could do without her, Wilmot sank deeper and deeper into methods of self-advancement which, if not actually base and culpable, at least smirched the finer qualities of his nature, and hardened his heart.
If the father's heritage, drink and women, were spared him, or at least that part of him which was really noble, a love of cleanness, clear-mindedness, and purity, died hard. But gambling was second nature to him. He could not enjoy a game unless he had something on it; and all book-makers and proprietors of gambling-houses were friends of his and called him by his first name. Sometimes through a series of lucky turns he rose to heights of picturesque affluence; more often he was stone-broke; but so much money passed through his hands in the course of a year that it was always possible for him to borrow and live well enough on credit. Money became his passion, not for its own sake, not for the sake of what it could buy, but because it was a game upon which the best wits of the world have been engaged for ages and ages—and because you have to have it, or be able to owe so much that it amounts to the same thing.
At first when he got in a hole, owed money which he saw no way of raising, Wilmot suffered all the anguish and remorse of the trustee who has speculated with orphans' funds (for the first time) and lost them. Gradually he became hardened. And those who knew him best could never tell whether he was worth fifty thousand or had just lost that much. He drew upon a stock of courage and cheerfulness worthy of even the noblest cause, until the term "self-respect" dropped automatically from his inner vocabulary and his moral sense became a rotten, rusty buckler through which the spear of temptation or necessity passed like a pin through a sheet of tissue-paper.
He put himself under obligation—in moments of supreme need—to dangerous persons, and suffered from the familiarity and perhaps the contempt of some who were his inferiors in breeding, in heart, and in soul.
One day, being at his wit's end, he walked rapidly, seeking light, through a quarter of the city which was not familiar to him. He was in that mood when a man does not wish to be at the trouble of nodding or exchanging a word even with his best friend. A voice hailed him, "Mr. Allen."
He stopped and saw that the voice came from a legless man who sat in the sun by a hand-organ on which were displayed for sale a few pairs of shoe-laces and, to excite charity, a battered (and empty) tin cup.
"Have you forgotten me?"
The light of recognition had twinkled instantly in Wilmot's eyes, for he was wonderful at remembering faces. And he smiled and said:
"Of course not. How are you?"
"Pretty well," said the beggar. "And you?"
Wilmot's giving hand had slipped automatically into his trousers pocket. Then, for once in his charitable life, he hesitated, since the pocket contained nothing but a ten-dollar bill, and that was all the money he had in the world with which to meet a pressing note of ten thousand. His hesitation lasted only a moment. He laughed and stuffed the ten-dollar bill into the cup, and said:
"For old acquaintance' sake."
The beggar studied the young man's face. Then he said: "Mr. Allen, I once had the honor to warn you against three things."
"Your face is innocent of wine and women. How about the gambling?"
"My friend," said Wilmot, "you read me like a book. The gambling is all to the bad. I have just given you all the money I had in the world."
"A few dollars are of no use to me," said the beggar.
"Nor to me. Don't worry."
"I am not worrying. I'm thinking that you and I have something in common. And for that reason I am tempted to ask if a few thousand would be of any use to you?"
Wilmot smiled with engaging candor. "Fifteen thousand would."
"You shall have them," said the beggar shortly. He pointed to a glazed door across which was printed in gilt letters:
"That," said the beggar, "is my name, and that is my place of business. Come in."
Wilmot followed the beggar through the glass door, which at opening and closing caused a bell to clang. The front of the establishment was occupied by a dust-ridden salesroom, and an office with yellow-pine partitions. As he followed the beggar into this, Wilmot caught a glimpse in the distance of fifteen or twenty young girls who sat at a long table industriously plaiting straw hats. He lifted his own hat a little mechanically, and thought that he had never seen so many pretty girls at one time under one roof.
Wilmot buttoned his coat over fifteen one-thousand-dollar bills. Only supreme necessity could have persuaded him to take them, since, although he had not put his name to a paper of any kind, he felt a little as if he had sold himself to the devil. But Blizzard had shown him no deviltry; only kindness and a certain whimsicality of speech and a point of view that was engaging.
The transaction finished, Wilmot was for leaving, but being under obligation to the legless man was at pains not to be abrupt. He lingered then a little, and they talked.
"The first time we met," said the beggar, "you were roller-skating with a pretty child. She was so pretty that I asked you her name. And I have never forgotten it."
He did not add that he had watched that pretty child's goings and comings for many years; that he had lain in wait to see her pass; that he had bribed servants in her father's house to give him news of her: and that the day approached when, fearing neither man nor God, he proposed that she should disappear from the world that knew her, and go down into the infamous depths of that vengeance which had been the key-note of his life. Nor did he add that there were but two contingencies which he felt might thwart his plans: her marriage to Wilmot Allen, or his own untimely death. And he feared the latter but little. The former, however, had at times seemed imminent to those who spied upon the daily life of the heiress for him, and in lending money to Wilmot he was taking a first step toward making it impossible. For Barbara herself Blizzard had at this time no more feeling than for a pawn upon a chess-board. It pleased his sense of fitness to know she was beautiful; and to be told that she was like sunshine in her father's house.
"What has become of her?" he said.
"Of Miss Ferris?" Wilmot did not care to discuss her with a stranger. But unfortunately there were fifteen thousand dollars of the stranger's money in his inside pocket. "She became a great favorite in society," he said, "and then dropped out to study art."
"Painting?" The legless man knew perfectly well, but it suited him to make inquiries. "Music?"
"Sculpture," said Wilmot shortly.
"Is she succeeding?"
"She works very hard, and she has talent."
"That is not enthusiastic."
"You mustn't ask me; I'm not an art critic."
"What a pity."
"A pity that I'm not an art critic?"
"No. A pity for a beautiful girl to do anything but exist."
Wilmot's eyebrows went up a little. The beggar's speech surprised him, and pleased him, since it expressed a favorite thought of his own.
"Is any of her work on exhibition? Having seen her once, one takes an interest, you know."
"I think there is nothing that can be seen," said Wilmot coolly, "except upon special invitation. And I think she is very shy of showing anything that she has done."
"True artists," said Blizzard, who criminally was an artist himself and knew what he was talking about, "live in the future."
Again Wilmot's eyebrows went up a little. Why should a legless beggar be able to make loans of fifteen thousand dollars, and why should he be able to talk like a gentleman?
"I am interested in art," continued Blizzard; "sometimes I have earned a few dollars by sitting for my portrait."
He did not add that he continually put himself in the way of artists in the hope that his fame as a model would reach Barbara, and touch her imagination. He did not add that he haunted Washington Square and McBurney Place, where her studio was, in the hope that his face, which he knew to be different and more terrible than other faces, might kindle a fire of inspiration in her. He believed rightly that if a woman once looked him in the eyes she would never forget him. But hitherto Barbara had not so much as glanced at him, since she carried her lovely head very high, and looked straight before her as she went. While, as for him, he stood upon the stumps of his legs, a gigantic sort of dwarf, beneath the notice of the proud-eyed and the tall.
Wilmot passed out of the place in deep thought; not even the pretty girls plaiting straw won a glance from him. Coupled with the relief of being out of present difficulties was a disagreeable sense of foreboding. Suppose the legless man were to ask favors of him before the money could be repaid? Suppose they were favors which a gentleman could not grant? And he determined to find out, from the police if necessary, just what sort of a man it was with whom he had had dealings.
It seemed to Wilmot that he had not seen Barbara for an age. And indeed a week had passed without their meeting. Therefore, although he had often been forbidden to call during working hours, he had himself driven to 17 McBurney Place and climbed the two flights of stairs to her studio.
It was a disconsolate Barbara who received him. She had on her work-apron, but she was not working. She sat in a deep chair, and presented the soles of her small shoes to an open fire. Wilmot, expecting to be scolded for disobeying orders, was relieved at being received with visible signs of pleasure.
"You're just the person I wanted to see," she said, "just the one and only Wilmot in the world."
"Are you dying?" he asked.
She laughed. "I'm discouraged. I've come to one of those times when you just want to chuck everything. And there's a man at the bottom of it."
"Tell me," said Wilmot, "in words of two syllables."
"Well," said Barbara, "I woke up in the middle of the night out of a dream. I dreamed I'd made a statue of Satan after the fall from heaven, and that everybody said: 'Well done, Barbs, bully for you,' 'Got Rodin skinned a mile'—it was you said that—and so forth and so on. I rose, swollen with conceit, and made a sketch of the head I'd dreamed about, so's not to forget the pose, and then I went to sleep again. Next day, early, a man stopped me in Washington Square and begged for a dime. I looked at him, and he had just the expression of the fallen Satan I'd dreamed about—a beast of a face, but all filled with a sort of hopeless longing to 'get back,' and remorse. I invited him to pose for me—not for a dime—but for real money. Well, he fell for it. And for all that morning he looked just the way I wanted him to look. But the next morning, having had the spending of certain moneys, he looked too tidy and well fed for Satan. And this morning he was hopeless. He looked smug and fatuous and disgustingly self-satisfied. So I gave him quite a lot of money, not wishing to hurt the creature's feelings, and told him to go away." She looked up, laughing at herself. "Do you know, I really believed I'd dreamed out a golden inspiration, and then to strike just the face I wanted—and then to have everything foozle out!"
Wilmot walked over to the modelling-table on which, strongly modelled in wet clay but quite meaningless, was the bust of a man.
"I think." said Barbara, "it would look better if you snubbed his nose for him."
Wilmot snubbed the long nose heavenward, and the effect was such as to make them laugh. Barbara recovered all her usual good humor.
"Get some forms out of the kitchen," she said, "and we'll turn him into mud pies."
For half an hour they diverted themselves, displaying a tremendous rivalry and enthusiasm. And then Barbara announced that there had been enough foolishness, and that if Wilmot would put fuel on the fire, he might talk with her till lunch-time and then take her out to lunch.
"Always provided," she said, "that you are not broke at the moment. In which case Barbara will pay and tip."
"I've had a funny adventure," said Wilmot. "I was dreadfully broke. A man I hadn't seen for years and years—and only the once at that—stopped me in the street, told me I was broke, and offered to lend me money. Wilmot accepted, and is now plenty flush enough to blow to lunch, thank you!"
Barbara, reseated herself in the deep chair, and once more presented the soles of her shoes to the flames. "Look here," she said, "aren't you, just among old friends, rather flitting your life away? I don't think it's very pretty to borrow money from strangers, and to be always just getting into difficulties or just getting out of them. Do you?"
"Well, you know," said Wilmot earnestly, "I don't. When I don't hate myself, I don't like myself any too well. But there's something wrong with me. Maybe I'm just lazy. Maybe I lack an impulse. Maybe I'd do better if any single solitary person in this world really gave a damn about me."
His cheerful boyish face assumed a proper solemnity of expression, and a certain nobility. At the moment he really thought that nobody in the world cared what became of him.
"Nobody," said Barbara, "likes to back a flighty pony. You yourself, for instance, are always putting money, your own or some one else's, on horses that always run somewhere near form. Of course you have excuses for yourself."
"Oh, yes, you have. You were brought up to be rich, and you were left poor, and a man has to live and even secure for himself the luxuries to which he has been accustomed. Haven't you ever excused yourself to yourself something like that?"
Wilmot admitted that he had, and went further. "You can't knock livings out of a tree with a stick like ripe apples," he said. "You've either got to use your wits or begin at the bottom and work up. And it seems to me that I'd rather be a little bit tarnished than toil away the best years of my life the way some men I know are doing."
"Yes," said Barbara, "but why not go somewhere where the world is younger, and there are real chances to be a man, and real opportunities to make money in real ways? I don't blame you for living on your wits. I blame you for gambling and never getting anywhere and not caring."
"Not caring? And this from you?"
She changed color under his steady eyes.
"You just give me a certain promise, Barbs, and I give you my word of honor I'll settle to something above-board and make it hum. Look here now! How about it? Who's been so faithful to the one girl for so long? Who understands her so well? Who'd enjoy dying for her so much?"
"Good old Wilmot," she said gently and gave him her hand. He kissed it and would have liked to go on holding it forever, but she took it away from him, and after a silence said, with some bitterness: "I mustn't ever marry anybody. I've learned to know myself too well. And I've no constancy, and I don't trust myself."
"That," said Wilmot with the faith of a fanatic in his god, "is because you've never really cared."
"And besides," she said, "I have what I am pleased to call my career. And 'Down to Gehenna and up to the throne he travels fastest who travels alone.'"
"True," said Wilmot, "he arrives soonest, but all tired out, and the house is empty, and there are no children in it, and only paid servants. And it may be very showy to live for fame, but it isn't good enough. When we turned that bust you began into mud pies, we did a wise thing. We amused ourselves, and we said the last word on art as opposed to life. The best thing in this world is to be children and to have children—and the next best thing is nowhere."
"Would you," said Barbara, and her eyes twinkled a little, "really rather be a parent than a Praxiteles?"
"It looks to me," said Wilmot sadly, "sometimes—in moments of despondency—as if the honorable gentleman was never going to be either. But then again," and he spoke in a strong voice, "I believe in my heart that after you've done handling the book of life and admiring the binding, you'll open it at chapter one, and read, 'Young Wilmot Allen—'"
"Lunch-time," said Barbara, and she rose from the comfortable chair with sharp decision. "I vote for a thick steak, being famished. Is my hair all mussy?"
"No," said Wilmot dejectedly. "I wish it was. And I wish it was my fault—and yours."
"I've done enough for you more than once," said the legless man; "you're big enough and strong enough to work, but you're a born loafer."
"I had a job." The speaker, a shabby, unshaven man with a beastly face, whined dolefully. "And I done right; but I got the sack."
"What was the job and why were you sacked?"
"I got a job as a artist's model. I sits in a chair while the lady makes a statue out of my face, and then she gives me money, and I goes and spends it. The third day she gives me more money, and tells me I looks too well fed and happy to suit her, and sends me away."
The legless man was astonished to learn that his heart was beating with unaccustomed force and rapidity. "Who was the artist?"
"She's a lady name o' Ferris."
The legless man steeled his face to express nothing. "Ferris," he commented briefly.
"Say," said the unshaven man, "what's all that about the devil falling out of heaven and fetching up in hell?"
"That's how she says I looks. And she wants to make a statue of him, just when he comes to and sits up, and looks up and sees how far he's fell. She says my face has all the sorrers and horrors of the world in it."
"And then, you fool," said the legless man, "you spoiled her game by high living. You ate and you drank till you looked like a paranoiac bulldog asleep in the sun. Where was the lady's studio?"
"Seventeen McBurney Place."
"And she wants to do a Satan, does she?"
The unshaven man drew back from the expression of the legless man, in whose face it was as if all the fires of hell had suddenly burst into flame. The unshaven man covered the breast of his threadbare coat with outstretched hands as if to shield himself from some suddenly bared weapon. His eyes blinked, but did not falter.
"Say," he said presently, after drawing a deep breath, "if she could see you once."
"If I don't know," said the legless man, "how Satan felt after the fall, nobody does. The things I've been—the things I've seen—back there—down here—the things I've lost—the things I've found! Hell's Bell's, Johnson! what is it you want—food?—drink?—a woman?"
The unshaven man's eyes shone with an unholy light.
"What would you do for twenty-five dollars?"
The unshaven man said nothing. He looked everything.
"Do you know the McIver woman?"
The legless man granted. "Yes. Fanny. She'll look at you if you've got money."
"She'd crawl through a sewer to find a dime."
"Quite so," the legless man commented dryly. "Well, it wouldn't matter to me if she went on a tear and was found dead in her bed."
"It's worth fifty." Something in the unshaven man's voice suggested that he had once been remotely connected with some sort of a business.
The legless man shook his head. "Judas Iscariot," he said, "betrayed the Lord God for thirty. Fanny McIver's scalp isn't worth a cent over twenty-five. You're just a broken-down drunk. It takes a bigger bluffer than you to make me put an insult on Christendom. Fifteen down. Ten when Fanny's had her last hang-over."
"Why don't you do some of your dirty work yourself?"
"I do all I can," said the legless man simply; "I can't find time for everything."
The unshaven man shifted uneasily on his shabby feet. In his stomach the flames which only alcohol can quench were burning with a steady gnawing fury. "How about a little drink?" he said.
"Fifteen down," said the legless man; "ten when the job's done, and a ticket to Chicago."
"With a reservation? I'll feel like the devil; I couldn't sit up all night."
"I'll throw in an upper," said the legless man.
Still the unshaven man resisted. "What's Fanny done to you?"
"None of your business."
As if that settled the matter, and removed all obstacles and moral scruples, the unshaven man sighed, and held out his hand for the money which was to bind the contract.
Twelve hours later, Fanny McIver's death was being attributed by the authorities to the insane, jealous rage of a lover. But as she had lately changed her name and address, she lay for a while in the morgue awaiting identification. It was the legless beggar who performed that last solemn rite. He was quite unmoved. Her death mattered no more in his scheme of life than the death of a fly.
But as he held up his hand and swore that the identity of the corpse was such and such, he remembered how graceful she had been at sixteen, how affectionate, how ready to forgive. He remembered with a certain admiration that during the heyday of her earning powers she had always trusted to his generosity, and had never tried to hold any of her earnings back. Prison and drink had destroyed all that was honest in her, all that was womanly. So a drop of acid will eat out the heart of the freshest and loveliest rose. She became a very evil thing—full of evil knowledge. There was even a certain danger in her—not much—nothing definite—but enough. She was better dead.
He turned and swung out of the morgue into the sunlight. And he wondered whatever had become of the child that she had borne him.
It would have been easier for Wilmot Allen if he could have come into Barbara's life for the first time. She was too used to him to appreciate such of his qualities as were fine and noble at their true value. And contrarily it was the same familiarity which limned his faults so clearly and perhaps exaggerated them. She often thought that if she could see him for the first time she would fall head over ears in love with him, and be married to him out of hand. Was it not better therefore, since the man's character had its disillusionments, that their life-long friendship precluded the idea of marrying in haste and repenting at leisure? "It's almost," she said to herself, "as if I had married him long ago and found out that I had made a mistake."
But she hated to hurt him in any way. And it caused her a genuine sorrow sometimes to say no to him. He had proposed to her many times a year for many, many years, and always with a passion and sincerity that made it appear as if he was proposing for the first time in his life. Twice, the strength and devotion of his physical presence had seemed to remove every doubt of him from her mind, and she had said that she would marry him, and had been ecstatically happy while he kissed her and held her in his arms. And each time better knowledge of herself, a sleepless night, and the unsparing light of morning had filled her with shame and remorse, and made it quite clear that she had made one more mistake, and must tell him so, and eat humble pie. And exact a promise that he would never make love to her again. But she could never get him to promise that. And she could never keep him from kissing things that belonged to her when she was looking, and when she wasn't. And if, as he sometimes threatened in moments of disappointed and injured feelings, he had gone far away, so that he could never cross her path again, she would have missed him so much that it would almost have killed her. And so it is with all human beings—they care little enough about their dearest possessions until the fire by night consumes them, or the thief walks off with them. Then the silver and the jewels, and this thing and that, assume a sort of humanity—and are as if they had been dear friends and unutterably necessary companions in joy and sorrow.
To Wilmot a little encouragement was a great thing, a foundation upon which to undertake pyramids. Having intruded upon Barbara's working hours without being scolded, Wilmot began to picture for himself a delightful life of intruding upon them every day. He hoped that if she was really working, she would not actually send him away, but let him sit in the deep chair by the fire and wait till she was through, and ready for talk and play. As much almost as he loved her, he hated her ambitions, if only because they interfered with him, and because he found it impossible to take them seriously. Her work seemed surprisingly good to him—not surprisingly good for a genuine sculptor who exhibited in salons, but for a girl of his own class whom he had always known. In this estimate he did not do Barbara justice. She had a fine natural talent and she had been well trained. People who knew what they were talking about, shock-headed young fellows with neighboring studios, prophesied great things for her, partly because she was beautiful, and partly because her work, as far as she had gone in it, was really good. What she lacked, they said, was inspiration, experience, and knowledge of life. When these things came to her in due time, her technique would be quite equal to expressing them.
Wilmot's dream of being much in Barbara's studio proved negotiable only as a dream. Barbara began a fountain for her father's garden at Clovelly, and during the modelling of the central figure the studio was no place for a modest young man. He had one glimpse through the half-open door of a girl with very red hair and very white skin, and he turned and beat a decided retreat, blushing furiously. He did not repeat his visit to her studio until Barbara assured him that the nymph had put on her clothes and gone away. Then, much to his disgust, he found there a young fellow named Scupper, who smoked a vile pipe and had dirty finger-nails and was allowed to make himself at home because he had recently exhibited a portrait bust that everybody was praising (even Wilmot) and because he had volunteered during a delightful contemplation of Barbara's face to do her portrait and tell her all that he had learned from his great master, Rodin.
The little beast had the assurance of the devil. He praised, blamed, patronized, puffed his pipe, and dwelt with superiority on topics which are best left alone, until Wilmot wanted to kick him downstairs. Scupper, aware of Wilmot's dislike for him, and thoroughly cognizant of its causes, did his best to goad the "young prude" (as he chose to consider him) into open hostility. He strutted, boasted, puffed, and talked loosely without avail. Wilmot maintained a beautiful calm, and the more he raged internally the more Chesterfieldian and gorgeously at ease his manners became. Barbara enjoyed the contest between the terrier and the Newfoundland hugely. Personally she disliked Scupper almost as much as she liked Wilmot, but artistically she admired him tremendously and felt that his judgments and criticisms were the most valuable things to be had in the whole city.
Wilmot not only kept his temper, but outstayed his antagonist. The latter gone, he turned upon Barbara, and she in mock terror held up her hands for mercy; but Wilmot was not in a merciful mood.
"When you imagine that you are uplifting the cause of art, Barbs, are you sure that you aren't debasing it? You won't marry a man who has always loved you. Art. You put marble and bronze higher than little children. Art. You allow disreputable, unwashed men to talk in your presence as that man talked. Art. You hire people of bad character to sit for you, and people of no character. All art. You treat them in a spirit of friendliness and camaraderie. You affect to place art above all considerations; above character, above morals; worse, you place it above cleanliness.
"A man—yes, take him for all and all, a man—eats out his heart for you; desires only to live for you, only to die for you, only to lie at your feet afterward—that is nothing to you. You do not even care to listen. You would rather hear through a braggart, indecent mouth that ought to be sewed up what Rodin said about Phidias. It seems finer to you to be an artist than a woman, and you so beautiful and so dear!"
Barbara made no answer. She looked a little hurt, possibly a little sullen. She had a way of looking a little sullen (it did not happen often) when she could not hit upon just the words she wanted to express her thoughts. She felt that her attitude toward life was almost entirely right, almost entirely justifiable, and she wanted to explain exactly why this was thus, and couldn't. So after a silence she said:
"Oh, I'm just a little pig. Why bother about me? And besides, it's no use."
"Don't say that, Barbara. There must be use in it. Don't you know in your heart that some day you are going to marry me?"
"No," she said. "Sometimes I've thought so, but I don't know it." She selected an arrow from her quiver, touched the point with venom, and because she had not enjoyed being scolded shot it into him. "And at the moment I don't think so."
Wilmot spoke on patiently. "Every true lover, Barbs," he said, "comes in time to the end of his patience and the end of his endurance."
"And then he ceases from loving—and troubling."
"He does not. When he knows as I know what is best for her happiness and for his, and when he finds that humbleness, and begging, and gentleness, and persuasion are of no avail—why, then if he's a man he makes her love him, makes her marry him."
"I hope, my dear Wilmot," she said, "that you are speaking from a very limited experience."
"From the experience of ten million years. I have only one life to live. Somehow I will make you love me, make you belong to me. Just because I eat with a fork, do you think my heart is really any different from that of the cave-man from whom it descended to me, or that your heart is any different from that of the girl he wanted, who kept him guessing and guessing until he couldn't stand it, and then turned and ran and ran through the woods, and swam rivers and climbed trees and jumped down precipices until he caught her?"
There was something in Wilmot's lowered brows, a certain jerking, broken quality in his utterance, that was new to Barbara—that at once frightened her a little, and caused her heart to beat with a sort of wild triumph. But she did not guess that the old cave-man was at that moment actually looking out through her old friend's eye-places, and that ten thousand years of civilization are but a thin varnish over the rough and splendid masterpiece that God made in his image.
There was a knock at the door. It was Scupper returning. He had left his beloved pipe (on purpose). His shrewd, bloodshot little eyes took in the situation at a glance. In two beats his little heart was wild with jealousy.
"I beg everybody's pardon," he said. "I didn't know, I—er—wouldn't have knocked—I—er—mean I would have knocked just the same."
Wilmot took one slow step toward the famous sculptor, then smiled, picked up the fellow's pipe, and returned it to him. "I saw you put it down just before you left," he said. "I think there is nothing else you have forgotten, is there? If there is I think it will be best not to come back for it until I have gone. Meanwhile you will have time to shave and bathe and make yourself presentable."
Scupper, sure that he was not actually going to be hit, escaped with an ease and jauntiness which he was far from feeling. And Barbara, the high tension relieved, burst out laughing.
It was Wilmot's turn to look sullen. He had felt that the sheer animal force of his love was holding and even moulding Barbara to his will, as no tenderness and delicacy had ever done. But at the sculptor's entrance, the honest if brutal cave-man had fled, like some noble savage before a talking-machine, and left in a state of civilized helplessness a young gentleman who could not find anything to say for himself.
As for Barbara, she had never seen Wilmot look as he had looked, or heard those quivering, broken tones in his voice. The savage in her had gone out to him with open arms and, behold, the primal force which, standing like an island of refuge in a sea of doubt, she had been about to clasp was but an empty shadow. That Wilmot had not done very nobly with his talents, that there were weaknesses in his character and record, things even that needed explaining, had not at the moment of his mastery mattered to her a jot. But now such thoughts flocked to her like birds to a tree; and she was glad that she had escaped from a situation that had so nearly overwhelmed her reason and drowned her common sense in the heavenly sweetness of surrender.
Wilmot could find nothing to say. It was no mere gust of passion that had swept over him, but a storm. He was physically tired, as if he had rowed a long race. He no longer wished to play the master. He would rather a thousand times have rested his hot forehead on Barbara's cool hand, and fallen quietly asleep like a little child come in at last to his mother after too much play in the hot sun.
"Life," he said at last, "is a nuisance, Barbs. Isn't it? Would you, honestly, be happier if I disappeared, and never bothered you again? Sometimes I feel that I ought to."
She shook her head. "If you like people," she said, "you like them, faults and all. I'm dependent on you in a hundred ways. You're the oldest and best friend I've got. If you disappeared I'd curl up and die. But now that we are talking personalities, you very nearly forgot yourself a few minutes ago. Well, I forgive. But it mustn't happen again."
He bowed his head very humbly. "I will go back to patience and gentleness," he said, "and give them another trial."
"I wish," she said, "that you would go back and begin your life over again—stop drifting and sail for some definite harbor."
"I will," he said, "on condition—"
"No—no—no," she said hurriedly, "no condition. I am in no position to make conditions, if that's what you mean. I don't understand myself. I don't trust myself. I will not undertake to bind myself to you or any one until I know that I can trust myself. It would be very jolly for you if I married you and then we found that I really loved the other fellow. I'm like that—selfish, unstable, susceptible—and very much ashamed of myself. I wouldn't talk myself down so if you didn't know these things as well as I do. Why you go on caring for me is a mystery. I'm no good. And I'm not even sorry enough to cry about it—ever. I've actually thought that I was in love—oh, ever so many times: sometimes with you. What's the use? The only things I've ever been faithful to are the dressmaker, dancing, and what in moments of supreme egoism I am pleased to call my art."
"Barbs," he said, "you're an old silly billy, and I love you with all my heart and soul. That's that. Don't forget it. Take pen and ink if necessary and write it down. I'll try a little more patience, and then, my blessing, if there's no good in that, I shall perpetrate marriage by capture."
They both laughed, the girl with much sweetness. And she said:
"If you and I ever do marry, it will be with great suddenness." Her eyes danced, and she added: "There are moments!"
"Thank you," he said gravely, and then with a kind of wistful gallantry: "Could I kiss the dear for luck?"
She turned her cheek to him bravely and frankly like a child. His lips touched it lightly, making no sound.
Far off in the native jungle the cave-man moaned, and shut his eyes and turned his face to the wall of his cave. The medicine-man came, examined him, and said that he was about to die of a new disease. He looked very wise and called it "predatory inanition."
As for the cave-girl, having run and run and run, she pulled up in a flowery glade, looked behind, listened, saw nothing, heard no sound of painfully pursuing feet, and called herself a fool and a silly for having run. She wanted to explain that she hadn't meant to run away, that girls never really meant what they said, and would the cave-man please recover at once from his predatory inanition and take notice of her again?
"Come," said Barbara, after quite a long silence, "let's go forth and collar a taxi. Anywhere I can take you? I can't ask you to lunch, because I am having seven maidens, and afterward Victor Polideon to teach us to turkey-trot."
"I wouldn't be afraid of seven devils," Wilmot urged in his own behalf, "if you were present."
"There are only two," she said practically, "and they are very little devils. But I won't let you come, because you would have much too good a time." Then she relented. "Come later, about three, and teach me to turkey-trot. You do it better than Polideon. And I hate to have him touch me."
"That's something," he exclaimed triumphantly.
"That you don't hate for me to touch you."
She laughed and tapped his shoulder in rag-time. Also she whistled, and did a quiet suspicion of a turkey-trot with her feet.
One bright morning in May, divinely early, two persons of very different appearance and nature came out of two houses of very different appearance and nature at precisely the same moment, and started to move toward each other by methods of locomotion no less different than were the appearances of the respective persons or the respective houses from which they emerged.
The house from which the one issued was of speckless white marble, and looked from the advantageous corner of Sixty-something Street and Fifth Avenue upon the purple and white lilacs and the engaging spring greens of Central Park.
The other came out of a dark house at the angle of a narrow street in the shadow of Brooklyn Bridge, whose door, crossed by dingy gilt lettering, violently clanged a bell at opening and closing. The first person stepped with the long clean strides of youth and liberty. The second person cannot be said to have stepped at all. The first person, meeting a policeman, smiled and said: "Good morning, Kelly." The second, similarly meeting with an officer of the law, scowled upward, and said: "Do it again, and I'll break you." The first person came out of the uptown palace like a fairy from a grotto; the second emerged from the downtown rookery like some prehistoric monster from a cave.
At a distance you might have mistaken him for an electrician or a sewer-expert coming into view through one of those round holes in the sidewalk by which access is provided to the subterranean apparatus of cities. But, drawing nearer, you perceived that he was but half a man, who stood upon the six-inch stubs of what had once been a pair of legs. But what nature could do for what was left of him nature had done. He had the neck, the arms, and the torso of a Hercules. His coat, black, threadbare, shining, and unpleasantly spotted, seemed on the point of giving way here and there to a system of restless and enormous muscles. But that these should serve no better purpose than ceaselessly to turn the handle of an unusually diminutive and tuneless street-organ might have roused in the observer's mind doubts as to the wisdom and vigilance of that divine providence which is so much better understood and trusted by the healthy and fortunate than by the wretched, the maimed, and the diseased.
For the most part the legless man went about the business of begging among the business men of the city, since from the congested slum into which he disappeared at night it was no great feat for a man of his power to reach the more northern streets of that circle in whose midst the finances of the nation by turns simmer, boil, and boil over. It was not unusual, during the noon-time rush of self-centred individuals, for the legless man to get himself stridden into and bowled clean over upon his face or back, since nothing is more loosening to purse-strings than the average man's horror at having injured some creature already maimed; nor was it unusual for him at such times to scramble up smiling with a kind of invincible cheerfulness that more potently stirred the generosity of the man who had knocked him down than ever groans and complaints could have done.
If the weather was fine and conducive to bodily comfort, the beggar sometimes turned north and worked his way to Washington Square or the lower blocks of Fifth Avenue. Sometimes, having agreed to pose for the head and trunk to some young art student, he left his hand-organ behind, and permitted himself the extravagance of riding in a surface car. His boarding of a street-car was a feat of pure gymnastics, swift and virile; so, too, was his ascending or descending of a flight of steps, or the high platform on which he was to pose. Incessant practice, added to natural skill and balance, enabled him to accomplish, without legs, feats which might have balked a man with a capable and energetic pair of them. He could travel upon his crutches for the length of a city block almost as fast as the average man can run, and if it came to climbing a rope or a rain-duct he was more ape than human. In his own dwelling he had for his own use, instead of the laborious stairs needed by its other inmates, a system of knotted ropes by which he could ascend from cellar to attic, and polished poles by whose aid he could accomplish the most lightning-like descending slides.
Marrow Lane, shaped like a dog's hind leg, is one of those crooked and narrow thoroughfares which the approaches and anchorings of the Brooklyn Bridge have cast into gloom and darkness. There are spots upon which the sun will not shine again until the great bridge has perished; there are corners in which drafts strong as a heaven-born wind whistle from one year's end to the other. There are thousands of children in the region, and in the more purely tenement settlements to the north, who have yet to see a green field or to handle a flower.
At the very crook of the dog's leg, on the north side of Marrow Lane, a narrow door, half glazed and sometimes burnished by the sun, has printed across it in dingy gilt letters:
Once the door with the faded gilt letters had closed, with him inside, the legless man, who was none other than Blizzard, the manufacturer of hats, put off those airs of helplessness and humility by which so many coins were attracted into the little tin cup upon the top of his hand-organ, and assumed the attitude of one accustomed to command and to be served, to reward and to punish. He was no longer a beggar, but a magnate. He swelled with power, and twenty girls of almost as many nationalities, plaiting straw hats by the gas-light, cringed in their hearts, and redoubled the speed of their hands. About the twenty girls who slaved for Blizzard there were two peculiarities which at once distinguished them from any other collection of female factory-hands on the East Side. They were all strong and healthy looking, and they were all pretty. He had collected them much as rich men in a higher station of life collect paintings or pearls. If some of them bore the marks of blows and pinchings, it was not upon any part of them which showed. If some of them suffered from the fear of torture or even sudden death, it did not prevent them from showing the master rows of even white teeth between ingratiatingly parted lips whenever he deigned to speak to them. If any girl among them thought to escape him, to find work elsewhere, to betray what she knew of him, even, and vanish into the slums of some far city, she was deterred by the memory of certain anecdotes constantly related by her companions. The most terrible of these anecdotes was that related of a certain Florence Magrue. She had fled with her story to the nearest policeman, who had quietly returned her to the shop, reluctantly, it was admitted, but with the determination of a man whose very existence depends upon the favor of another. The master had welcomed her and smiled upon her as upon an erring child. He had sent her upon an errand into the cellar under the shop, himself unlocking the door. And that was the last that any one had ever seen of Florence Magrue.
In addition to fear, the master supplied certain creature comforts, not lightly to be thrown away. If a girl could make up her mind to accept shame, bodily injury if she displeased, and a life of toil, she fared better under Blizzard's direction than her sister who worked for Ecbaum, let us say, the lacemaker, or Laskar, or any of a thousand East Side employers of labor. The man could be kind upon impulse, and generous. He paid the highest wages. He supplied nourishing food at noon, and a complete hour in which to discuss it. Furthermore, if a girl pleased him, the work of her hands was subjected to less critical inspection, and if she had any music in her, he invited her upstairs sometimes to work the pedals of his grand piano, while his own powerful, hairy hands rippled and thundered upon the keys. He was of a Godlike kindness when his mind inclined to music, and the pedalling was skilful and sure. But let the unfortunate crouched under the key-board, her trembling hands taking the place of those feet which the master had lost, respond stupidly to the signals conveyed to her shoulder by graduated pressures from the stump of his right leg, and punishment of blows, pinchings, and sarcasms was swift and sure.
The legless man was very much at home in his own house. He had inhabited it for many years, and its arrangements were the expression of a creature immensely able and ingenious, but maimed both in body and soul.
The whole building, four stories tall, had once been a manufactory, but Blizzard had subdivided its original lofts into pens, dens, passageways, and rooms according to an elaborate plan of his own. And it was evident to the most casual glance that expediency alone, untrammelled by any consideration of purse, had been followed. Those walls, floors, and ceilings, for instance, through which no sound of human origin, unaided by mechanical device, could penetrate, must have cost a mint of money. Nor could any man who depended for a living upon occasional pennies dropped into a tin cup have got together so extensive a collection of books upon scientific subjects, many of them handsomely bound and printed in foreign countries. Works upon explosives, tunnelling, electricity, and music were especially abundant, not only in English, but in German. And there were books upon the organization of armies, and upon the chemistry of precious stones. A cursory examination of his books would have found the master of the house to be interested also in obstetrics, in poisons, and in anesthesia; but of romance, humanity, or poetry his library had but a single example, the "Monte Cristo" of the elder Dumas.
Had all the doors and windows of the house been thrown open, and all its inhabitants expelled, so that you could have free ingress with a companion or two, and time and the mood to explore the whole of its ramifications and arrangements, you must have concluded that the designer of so much that was hideously obvious and so much that was mysteriously obscure was a most extraordinary example of viciousness, ability, purpose, and musicianship. You must have been staggered at passing from a room containing a grand piano and a bust of Beethoven to find yourself in a little operating-theatre such as any eminent surgeon might wish to be at work in, to find beyond this a small but excellently appointed gymnasium; above this, to be reached only by climbing a knotted rope, a long room, lighted from above, containing drawing-tables, many cases of drawing-instruments, and a host of workman-like designs and specifications. Thence you might pass, still wondering, into an apartment of soft divans, thick rags, and open fireplace, a smell of incense, double windows and double doors.
Or you might descend by stairs or polished poles to the cellar under the hat factory, and find yourself, prying into the most obscure corner and lighting matches for guidance, confronted by the door of a mightily strong safety vault, the knobs of the combination lock bright and easily turned. And you might say: "Well, it's either the house of a man whose scheme of life is utterly beyond my comprehension, or of a madman."
Of the two persons who left their homes this morning, the legless beggar, owing to having ridden part of the way in a street-car, was the first to reach the northeast corner of Fifth Avenue and Washington Square, whence the last rear-guard of fashion in old New York retreats before the advance-pickets of the encroaching slums, like a stag before a pack of hounds. Here he ensconced himself, placed his tin cup on the top of his organ, together with the few pairs of shoe-laces which proclaimed him a merchant within rather than a beggar without the law, and proceeded to enliven the still quiet neighborhood with the dreadfully strained measure of Verdi's "Miserere." He turned the handles of the little organ fitfully, so that now the strains of sorrow arose at such long intervals as hardly to be connected with one another, and now all huddled and jumbled like notes in a barbaric quickstep, and as he played he addressed his instrument in a quiet, cruel voice.
A house-maid opened a window in the servants' wing of No. 1 Fifth Avenue. Blizzard turned his head slowly at the sound, and looked up at her with agate eyes, coldly interrogative. There was no one else at the moment within earshot.
Nevertheless before speaking the house-maid looked nervously into the house behind her; then up the avenue, and down into Washington Square. She was a girl of some beauty, but her face was most engaging from a kind of waggish intelligence that it had.
"Tst!" she said.
The organ squeaked and rattled. It was manoeuvring for a position from which to attack the "Danse Macabre." Blizzard indicated by a lift of heavy eyebrows that he was all attention.
"You can trust Blake," she said.
Blizzard grunted. "Send him to me at six."
He nodded, and turned from her with an air of finality. The house-maid hesitated, drew a long breath, pulled in her head, and closed the window.
A loose-jointed man in clerical garb came hurrying down the avenue. He made longer swings with his right arm and longer strides with his right leg than with his left. He had a white, thin face, and a look of worry and anxiety. He was perhaps distressed to think that the world contained many souls to whose salvation he would never be able to attend. Perceiving the legless beggar, he stopped hurrying, sought in his pocket, and found a few pennies. These he dropped into the tin cup.
"God bless you, reverend sir," said the beggar in a voice of deep irony.
"Don't," said the clergyman. He managed to look the beggar in the eyes. "How many hats have we?" he asked in a quick whisper.
"We're on our fourth thousand."
The clergyman was visibly upset, "Six thousand to go," he muttered. "I shall be caught."
The beggar smiled. "Come to me at six-thirty," he said.
The man of God's eyes brightened. "You'll help me again?"
"Tst," said the beggar. "Move on. Here's a plain-clothes man."
The shepherd moved on as if he had been pricked by an awl; since it was not among the police that he felt called upon to separate the black sheep from the white.
The plain-clothes man approached loitering. He might have been a citizen in good standing and with nothing better to do than hobnob with whatever persons interested him upon his idle saunterings.
"How many pairs of laces have you sold this morning?" he asked.
"Nary a pair, charitable sir," returned the beggar.
"Speaking of shoe-laces," said the plain-clothes man, "what is your opinion of head-gear?"
"Bullish," said the beggar. "Straw hats will be worn next winter."
The eyes of both men sparkled with a curious exhilaration. The plain-clothes man drew a deep and sudden breath, and appeared to shiver. So a soldier may breathe at the command to charge; so a thoroughbred shivers when the barrier is about to fall.
"There will be nice pickings," said the beggar; "there will be enough geese to feed ten thousand."
The plain-clothes man dropped a penny into the tin cup. "By the way," he asked professionally, "where can I lay hands on Red Monday?"
The beggar shook his strong head curtly. "Hands off," he said.
"When did he join the church?"
"Last night, with tears and confession. A strong man Red, now that he has seen the light."
The plain-clothes man laughed and passed on, still loitering.
The "Danse Macabre" had come to a timely end, if that which is without tempo may be said to have any relation with time, and the trio of Chopin's "Funeral March" was already in uneven progress. The legless man sat on the bare pavement, his back against the handsome area railing of No. 1 Fifth Avenue, and steadily revolved the mechanism of the organ with his hairy, powerful hand.
Passers were now more frequent. Some looked at him and continued to look after they had passed, others turned their eyes steadfastly away. Some pitied him because he was a cripple; others, upon suddenly discovering that he had no legs, were shocked with a sudden indecent hatred of him. A lassie of the Salvation Army invited him to rise up and follow Christ; he retorted by urging her to lie down and take a rest. Then, as if premonition had laid strong hands upon him and twisted him about, he turned, and looked upward into the fresh, rosy face of Barbara Ferris.
Their eyes met. Always the child of impulse, and careless of appearance and opinion, she felt her thoughts, none too cheerful or optimistic that morning during her long walk down the avenue, drawn by the expression upon the legless man's face to a sudden focus of triumph and solution. She struck the palm of one small workman-like hand with the back of the other, and exclaimed: "By George!"
The face that was upturned to hers was no longer the insolent, heavy face of success which we have attempted to describe, but one in which the sudden leaping into evidence of a soul dismissed facts of color, contour, and line as matters of no importance. If there was wickedness in his glance, there were also awe and wonder. He had a tortured look, the look of a man who has fallen from unknowable heights—from an Elysium which he regrets and desires with all a strong man's strength, but to which the way back is irrevocably barred by the degradation and the sin of the descent—and who, all but overwhelmed by the knowledge that he can never return whence he came, yet bears his eternal loss with an iron courage that has about it a kind of splendor.
Barbara Ferris felt that she was looking upon Satan in that moment when he first realized that his fall from heaven was for eternity and that, against every torturing passion of conviction, he must turn his talents and his fearful courage to the needs of hell.
In that first moment of their meeting, she realized nothing about the man but the terribly moving expression of his face. Nothing else mattered. If her plastic training was equal to catching and fixing that expression in clay or marble, she would be made according to the mould of her ambition. The flame of art burned white and clear in the inmost shrine of her being. She saw before her, and beneath her, not a human being, but an inspiration. And since inspiration is a thing swift, electric, and trebly enticing from the fact that it presents itself shorn of all those difficulties which afterward, during execution, so terribly appear and multiply, her heart beat already with the exquisite bliss of an immortal achievement. In her vocabulary at that instant it would have been impossible to discover under B the aggressive But, or under I the faltering If. She was inspired. It was enough.
Then she, in whose mind strong wings had suddenly sprouted, perceived that the person directly responsible had not even a pair of legs, and felt throughout her whole being a cold gushing of horror and revolt.
This was not lost upon Blizzard. It was an ordinary enough human sensation, whose reflections had often enough given the iron that was in his soul another twist and refreshed in him vengefulness and hatred. Yet on the present occasion the knowledge that he was physically loathed roused in the man a feeling rather of that despair which may be experienced by the drowning at that precise moment when the straw so eagerly clutched has proved itself a straw, and he winced as beneath a shocking blow between the eyes.
On discovering that the creature was maimed it had been Barbara's first impulse to pass swiftly on. But another glance at the face which had arrested her held her. She took some coins from her purse and dropped them into the tin cup which the beggar held out to her. And he looked upward into her face.
"Did you ever pose for any one?" she asked.
"I should like to make a bust of you. I'll see that it pays you better than—better than earning a living this way."
For the first time Blizzard smiled. "Do you want me to come now?" he asked.
"Yes," she said. "My studio is in No. 17 McBurney Place." Here she stopped upon a somewhat embarrassing thought. But the legless man read what was in her mind.
"Two flights up?" he queried. "Three? I can climb. Don't trouble about that."
"You will come as soon as you can?"
"I have to meet a man here in half an hour. Then I'll come."
"Please," she said, "ask for Miss Ferris."
At the name a tremor went through the legless man from head to stump. He blanched, and for the thousandth part of a second all that was devil in him rushed with smouldering lights to his eyes. But of this Barbara perceived nothing; her repugnance mastered, she had already brightly smiled, nodded, and was walking swiftly away, her head high, spring air in her lungs and inspiration in her heart.
The beggar's eyes playing upon her, she passed through the peaceful warm sunshine of the quiet old square, and vanished at last into the still brighter sunshine and still older quiet of McBurney Place.
To work with her own hands, at least until she had made something beautiful, seemed to her a better aim than any other which the world offers. She had at first been the victim of private lessons, amusedly approved by her father, and only intermittently attended by herself, since it is not in a day that a fashionable idler is turned into a steadily toiling aspirant for eternal honors. Just so long as she remained an amateur and occasional potterer in her father's house she was applauded by him and assumed by the world in general to be a very talented young lady; but when, her artistic impulses—if not her technique—having strengthened amazingly, she insisted upon the steadier routine of an art school, she met with an opposition as narrow, it seemed to her, as it was firm. Her own will in the matter, however, proved the stronger. And having passed with excellent rapidity through those grades of the school in which the student is taught to make cubes and spheres, she modelled from the antique, and at last, upon a day almost sacred in her memory, was promoted to the life class.
And here, one morning, Dr. Ferris, interested in spite of himself in her swift progress, found her, with a number of other young ladies and gentlemen, earnestly at work making, from different angles of vision, greenish clay statuettes of a handsome young Italian laborer who had upon his person no clothes whatever. That fastidious surgeon, to whom naked bodies, and indeed naked hearts, could have been nothing new, was shocked almost out of his wits. He had left only the good sense and the good manners not to make a scene. He beat instead a quiet, if substantial, retreat, and put off the hour of reckoning. His daughter was soiled in his eyes, and when she explained to him that a naked man was not a naked man to her, but a "stunning" assemblage of planes, angles, curves, lights, and shadows, he could not understand. And they quarrelled as furiously as it is possible for well-bred persons to quarrel. He commanded. She denied his right to command. He threatened. She denied his right first to create a life, and then to spoil it. He advanced the duty of children to parents, and she the duty of parents to children. Finally Barbara, thoroughly incensed at having her mind and her ambition held so cheap, flung out with: "Have you never made a mistake of judgment?" And was astounded to see her father wither, you may say, and all in an instant show the first tremors she had ever seen in him of age and a life of immense strain and responsibility. From that moment the activity of his opposition waned. She knew that her will had conquered, and the knowledge distressed her so that she burst into tears.
"My dear," said her father, "I once made a very terrible mistake of judgment. There isn't a day of my life altogether free from remorse and regret. I have given you money and position. It isn't enough, it seems. My dear, take the benefit of the doubt into the bargain. If I am making another terrible mistake, you must bear at least a portion of the responsibility."
It is curious, or perhaps only natural, that Barbara was at the moment more interested to know what her father's great mistake of judgment had been than in the fact that her ambition had won his tolerance and consent, if not his approval and support. If she had asked him then and there, for he was still greatly moved, he might have told her, but reticence caught the question by the wings, and the moment passed.
And they resumed together their life of punctilious thoughtfulness and good manners. Dr. Ferris continued to cut up famous bodies for famous fees, while Barbara continued to do what she could to reproduce the bodies of more humble persons, for no reward greater than the voice of her teacher with his variously intonated; "Go to eet, Mees Barbara! go to eet."
It was a discouraged but resolute Barbara who stepped forth from her father's house that bright morning in May and passed rather than walked down the quiet upper stretches of Fifth Avenue. That she might fail in art, and make a mess of her life generally, sometimes occurred to her. And it was a thought which immeasurably distressed her. It would be too dreadful a humiliation to crawl back into the place which she had so confidently quitted for a better; to be pointed out as a distinguished amateur who had not succeeded as a professional; and to take up once more the rounds of dinners, dances, and sports which serve so well to keep the purposeless young and ignorant.
To society the tragedy of Barbara's back-sliding into art was very real. Dozens of men said very frankly that they missed her like the very devil. "There is nobody else," they said, "quite so straightforward, or quite so good-looking."
Hers was a face not less vivid than a light. It seemed that in her, the greatest artist of all, abandoning the accepted conventions of beauty, had created an original masterpiece. If she had been too thin, her eyes, tranquil, sea-blue, and shining, must have been too large. Her nose was Phidian Greek; her chin, but for an added youthful tenderness, was almost a replica of Madame Duse's; a long round throat carried nobly a gallant round head, upon which the hair was of three distinct colors. The brown in the Master's workshop had not, it seemed, held out; she had been finished with tones of amber and deep red. The brown was straight, the red waved, the amber rioted in curls and tendrils. Below this exquisite massing of line and color, against a low broad forehead, were set, crookedly, short narrow eyebrows of an intense black; her eyelashes were of the same divine inkiness, very warm and long; a mouth level to the world, resolute, at the corners a little smiling, was scarlet against a smooth field of golden-brown.
If she had a certain admiration of her own beauty it was the admiration of an artist for the beauty of a stranger. Since she had had neither hand nor say in her own making, the results were neither to her credit nor against it. For success in her chosen line she would have exchanged her beauty very willingly for a plain mask, her glorious youth for a sedate middle age. She would have given perhaps an eye, an ear, or so at least she thought in this ardent and generous period of early beginnings and insatiable ambition. In her thoughts nothing seemed to matter to her but art.
There was no sustaining pleasure in the fact that her father had given in to her. Opposition—unspoken, it is true, but not to be mistaken—remained in his attitude toward her. He found indirect means for conveying his idea and that of her friends that she was wasting herself upon a folly, and was destined, if she persisted in it, to only the most mediocre success. An exhibition of her works, undertaken with the avowed wish to know "just where she stood," had been discouraging in its results. The art critics either refused to take her seriously or expressed the opinion that there were already in the world too many sculptors of distinguished technique and no imagination whatsoever. Her friends told her that she was a "wonder." And there were little incidents of the farce which caused her to bite her lips in humiliation.
That the critics should be at the pains of telling her that she was without imagination angered her, since it was a fact already better known to herself. And in one moment she would determine at all costs to prove herself an imaginative artist, and in the next "to chuck the whole business." But she could not make up her mind whether it is worse for a captain to wait for actual defeat or, having perceived its inevitability, to surrender. To go down with colors flying appeals perhaps to noble sides of man; but it is a waste of ships, lives, and treasure.
Passing swiftly down the avenue, she did not know whether, upon arriving at her studio in McBurney Place, she should get into her working-apron or make an end, once and for all, of artistic pursuits. But with the lifting of the legless beggar's face to hers, all doubts vanished from her mind like smoke from a room when the windows and doors are opened. Whatever his face might have revealed to another, to her it was Satan's, newly fallen, and she read into it a whole wonder of sin, tragedy, desolation, and courage; and knew well that if she could reproduce what she seemed to see, the world would be grateful to her. She would give it a face which it would never make an end of discussing, which should be in sculpture what the face of Mona Lisa is in painting. It would be the face of a man whom one jury would hang upon the merest suspicion; for whom another would return a verdict of "not guilty" no matter what the nature of his proved crimes; and whether the face was beautiful or hideous would be a matter of dispute for the ages.
Upon arriving at No. 17 McBurney Place, and having climbed two flights of stairs, the door of her studio was opened before she could lay hand to the knob, and a very small boy with very big eyes, and no more flesh upon his bones than served to distinguish him from a living skeleton, appeared on the threshold, smiling, you may say, from head to foot. He was dressed in a blue suit with bobbed tails and a double row of bright brass buttons down the front, and when she had gathered him from the gutter in which he had reached to his present stunted stature, a child half gone in pneumonia, he had told her that his name, his whole name, was "Bubbles" and nothing but "Bubbles."
"Good morning, Miss Barbara," he said; "the plumber's bin and gone, and the feller from the hardware store has swore hell be around before noon to fix the new knobs in the doors."
"Good!" said Barbara. "Well done, Bubbles."
And she passed into the studio, wondering why a little face all knotting with smiles, affection, and the pleasure of commands lovingly received and well obeyed, should remind her of that other face, massive, sardonic, lost, satanic, which had looked up into hers across the battered tin cup on the top of a battered street-organ. She turned to a little clay head that she had made recently and for which Bubbles had sat; touched it here and there, stepped back from it, turned her own head to the left, to the right, and even, such was the concentration of her mood, showed between her red lips the tip of a still redder tongue. But no matter what she did to test and undo her first impression there persisted between the two faces a certain likeness, though in just what this resemblance consisted she was unable to say.
"Bubbles," she said, "you were telling me about beggars the other day and how much they make, and how rich some of them are. Did you ever run across one that sells shoe-laces, plays a hand-organ, and hasn't got any legs?"
"Sure," said he; "there's half a dozen in the city." And he named them. "Burbage: he's the real thing, got his legs took off by a cannon-ball in the wars. Prior: he ain't no 'count. Drunk and fell under a elevated train. He ain't saved nothing neither. He drinks his. Echmeyer: he's some Jew; worth every cent of fifty thousand dollars. They calls him congeneyetul, 'cause he was born with his legs lef off him. Fun Barnheim: he's German, went asleep in the shade of a steam-roller, and never woke up till his legs was rolled out flat as a pair of pants that's just bin ironed. Then o' course there's Blizzard."
Barbara was smiling. "What became of his legs, Bubbles?"
"God knows," returned the boy. "Blizzard don't boast about it like the others. But he ain't no common beggar. He's a man."
"A good man?"
"Good? He ain't got a kinder thought in his block than settin' fire to houses and killin' people. But when he says 'step,' it steps."
"The East Side, Miss Barbara. He's the whole show."
"What does he look like?"
The boy at first thought in vain for a simile, and then, having found one to his liking, emitted with great earnestness that the beggar, Blizzard, looked exactly like "the wrath of God." Whatever the boy's simile may convey to the reader, to Barbara, fresh from seeing the man himself, it had a wonderful aptness.
"That's my man," she exclaimed. "Blizzard! He's got a wonderful face, Bubbles, and you said just what it looks like. I'm going to make a bust of him."
"He's coming here?"
"Yes. Why not?"
The boy was troubled. "Miss Barbara," he said earnestly, "I wouldn't go for to touch that man with a ten-foot pole."
"I shan't touch him, except with compasses to take measurements. He's civil-spoken enough."
"He's bad," said Bubbles, "bad. And when I say bad, I mean millions of things that you never heard tell of, and never will. If he comes in here—and, and raises hell, don't blame me."
Barbara laughed. "He will come here, and sit perfectly still," she said, "until he wishes he was dead. And then he will receive money, and an invitation to come to-morrow. And then he will go away."
Bubbles looked unnaturally solemn and dejected.
"Besides," said Barbara, "I have you to protect me."
Though Bubbles made no boast, a world of resolution swept into his great eyes, and you knew by the simultaneous rising toward his chin of all the buttons upon the front of his jacket that he had drawn the long breath of courage, and stiffened the articulations of his spine.
Barbara's studio was a large, high-ceilinged room, whose north wall was almost entirely composed of glass. It was singularly bare of those hangings, lanterns, antique cabinets, carved chairs, scraps of brocade, brass candle-sticks six or seven, feet high, samovars, pewter porringers, spinning-wheels, etc., etc., upon which so many artists appear to depend for comfort and inspiration. Nor were there any notable collections of dust, or fragments of meals, or dirty plates. There was neither a Winged Victory, a Venus de Milo, nor a Hermes after Praxiteles. And except for the bust of Bubbles there was no example of Barbara's own work by which to fish for stray compliments from the casual visitor. Of the amenities the studio had but a thick carpet, an open fireplace, and a pair of plain but easy chairs. Upon a strong tremorless table placed near the one great window, a huge lump of clay, swathed in damp cloths, alone served to denote the occupant's avocation.
Off the studio, however, Barbara had a pleasantly furnished room in which she might loaf, make tea, or serve a meal, and this in turn was separated from the tiny room in which Bubbles slept, by a small but practical kitchen.
Barbara having withdrawn to roll up her sleeves and put on her work-apron, the legless beggar arrived in silence at the outer door of the studio, and having drawn a long breath, knocked, and Bubbles, not without an uncomfortable fluttering of the heart, pulled it open. The boy and the beggar, being about the same height, looked each other in the face with level eyes.
"So," said Blizzard, "this is what has become of you. You were reported dead."
"No, sir," said Bubbles, "I wasn't dead, only sick. She brought me here, and had her own father and a nurse to take care of me. And now I'm Buttons." And he went on glibly: "Come right in; Miss Ferris is expecting you. I guess she wants you to sit on the platform over in the window."
Blizzard, having unslung his hand-organ and slid it with a show of petulance into a corner, crossed the room, swinging strongly and easily between his crutches, like a fine piece of machinery, climbed upon the model's platform, and seated himself in the plain deal chair which already occupied it. From this point of vantage he turned and looked down at the boy.
"So," he said, "her father is Dr. Ferris."
"He's the Dr. Ferris," Bubbles returned loyally.
"So—so—so," said the legless one slowly, and he closed his eyes for a moment as if he was tired. Then, opening them, and in abrupt tones: "Pay you well?"
"Many people come here?"
Bubbles, who had gone to school—not in the schools, but in the city of New York itself—could lie without the least tremor or change of feature, and with remarkable suddenness. "Lots and lots of 'em," he said. "She's well known."
Blizzard merely grunted. "Tell her I've come."
But it was not necessary for Bubbles to give the message at the door of the inner room, since at that moment Barbara entered, her round arms bare to the elbow and her street dress completely hidden by a sort of blue gingham overall. Bubbles, whose presence was not required during working hours, at once withdrew to his bedroom.
Here he changed his tunic of brass buttons for a plain gray jacket, snatched his cap from its hook, gained the street by a back stair, and set off at the tireless street-boy trot that eats up the blocks. Half an hour later he returned, his face no longer wearing a look of anxiety, changed back into his many-buttoned jacket of dependence, and sitting upon his bed, his back against the pillows, proceeded with astonishing deftness and precision to figure with the stump of a pencil, upon the leaves of a small dog-eared note-book. Then, appearing to have achieved a satisfactory solution of whatever problem he had had occasion to attack, he began to go through a series of restless fidgetings, which ended with a sigh of relief and a guilty look, and producing from a hiding-place a cigarette, he smoked it out of the window, so that his room might not carry forward the faintest trace of its telltale odor.
When Barbara at length told the legless man that he might rest, he appeared to think that she had invited him to converse. He leaned back as far as he could in the deal chair. His expression was no longer that which had struck Barbara so hard in the imagination, but one of easy and alert affability. He looked at her when he spoke, or when she spoke, but casually and without offence. Whatever feelings surged in him were for the moment carefully controlled and put aside. In his manner was neither obtrusiveness nor servility, only a kind of well-schooled ease and directness. In short, he behaved and spoke like a gentleman.
"You're the first person I ever sat for," he said, "who hasn't asked me how I lost my legs."
Barbara, regarding the rough blocking of his head which she had made, smiled amiably. That first impression of him, still vivid and lucid in her mind, appeared already, almost of its own accord, to have registered itself in the lump of clay. And she could not but feel that she had laid the groundwork of a masterpiece. If the beggar wished to converse, she would converse—anything to keep him in the mood for returning to pose as often as she should have need of him. And so, though entirely absorbed by the face which she had found, and at the moment almost uncharitably indifferent to the legs which he had lost, she raised her eyes to him, still smiling, and said:
"It wasn't from want of interest, I assure you. I'm sorry you lost them, and I should like to know how it happened."
"Bravely spoken," said the beggar.
"I have been told," said Barbara, "that you are a great power in the East Side, a sort of overlord."
"Even a beggar has flatterers. They overrate me." The accompanying shrug of his great shoulders had an affectation of humility. "Now, if I had a pair of legs—but I haven't. And if I had I shouldn't be an East-Sider. For the maimed, the crippled, the diseased, it is pleasantest to be in residence on the East Side. You have company. You may forget your own misfortunes in contemplating the greater misfortunes of others."
"Do you mind telling me," she asked, "where you learned your English?"
"My father," Blizzard explained, "was rather a distinguished man—Massachusetts Institute of Technology man, University of Berlin, degree from Harvard and Oxford. He had a prim way of putting things. I suppose I caught it."
The usual whine about better days was missing from the beggar's voice. If he seemed a little proud of his high beginnings, he did not seem in the least perturbed by the contemplation of his fallen estate. Barbara was by now frankly interested, and proceeded with characteristic directness to ask questions.
"Is your father living?"
"No. But it would hardly matter. We became thoroughly incompatible after my accident. He had very high ambitions for me, and a chronic disgust for anything abnormal—such as little boys who had had their legs snipped off. I didn't like it either. I suspect it made an unusually vicious child of me, a wicked, vengeful child."
Blizzard's candid expression implied that he had, however, soon seen the evil of his youthful ways, and turned over a whole volume of new leaves.
"What happened?" Barbara asked.
Blizzard laughed. "I cannot be said to have run away," he answered, "but I got away as best I could, and stayed away. My father settled money upon me. And that was the end of our relations."