The Hermit And The Wild Woman
Part 3 out of 4
is--yes, I'm willing to put it so!--how much safer to leave
everything undisturbed . . . just as . . . as it has grown of itself
. . . without trying to say: 'It's this or that' . . . ? It's what
we each choose to call it to ourselves, after all, isn't it? Don't
let us try to find a name that . . . that we should both agree upon
. . . we probably shouldn't succeed." She laughed abruptly. "And
ghosts vanish when one names them!" she ended with a break in her
When she ceased her heart was beating so violently that there was a
rush in her ears like the noise of the river after rain, and she did
not immediately make out what he was answering. But as she recovered
her lucidity she said to herself that, whatever he was saying, she
must not hear it; and she began to speak again, half playfully, half
appealingly, with an eloquence of entreaty, an ingenuity in
argument, of which she had never dreamed herself capable. And then,
suddenly, strangling hands seemed to reach up from her heart to her
throat, and she had to stop.
Her companion remained motionless. He had not tried to regain her
hand, and his eyes were away from her, on the river. But his
nearness had become something formidable and exquisite--something
she had never before imagined. A flush of guilt swept over
her--vague reminiscences of French novels and of opera plots. This
was what such women felt, then . . . this was "shame." . . . Phrases
of the newspaper and the pulpit danced before her. . . . She dared
not speak, and his silence began to frighten her. Had ever a heart
beat so wildly before in Wentworth?
He turned at last, and taking her two hands, quite simply, kissed
them one after the other.
"I shall never forget--" he said in a confused voice, unlike his
A return of strength enabled her to rise, and even to let her eyes
meet his for a moment.
"Thank you," she said, simply also.
She turned away from the bench, regaining the path that led back to
the college buildings, and he walked beside her in silence. When
they reached the elm walk it was dotted with dispersing groups. The
"speaking" was over, and Hamblin Hall had poured its audience out
into the moonlight. Margaret felt a rush of relief, followed by a
receding wave of regret. She had the distinct sensation that her
hour--her one hour--was over.
One of the groups just ahead broke up as they approached, and
projected Ransom's solid bulk against the moonlight.
"My husband," she said, hastening forward; and she never afterward
forgot the look of his back--heavy, round-shouldered, yet a little
pompous--in a badly fitting overcoat that stood out at the neck and
hid his collar. She had never before noticed how he dressed.
THEY met again, inevitably, before Dawnish left; but the thing she
feared did not happen--he did not try to see her alone.
It even became clear to her, in looking back, that he had
deliberately avoided doing so; and this seemed merely an added proof
of his "understanding," of that deep undefinable communion that set
them alone in an empty world, as if on a peak above the clouds.
The five days passed in a flash; and when the last one came, it
brought to Margaret Ransom an hour of weakness, of profound
disorganization, when old barriers fell, old convictions faded--when
to be alone with him for a moment became, after all, the one craving
of her heart. She knew he was coming that afternoon to say
"good-by"--and she knew also that Ransom was to be away at South
Wentworth. She waited alone in her pale little drawing- room, with
its scant kakemonos, its one or two chilly reproductions from the
antique, its slippery Chippendale chairs. At length the bell rang,
and her world became a rosy blur--through which she presently
discerned the austere form of Mrs. Sperry, wife of the Professor of
palaeontology, who had come to talk over with her the next winter's
programme for the Higher Thought Club. They debated the question for
an hour, and when Mrs. Sperry departed Margaret had a confused
impression that the course was to deal with the influence of the
First Crusade on the development of European architecture--but the
sentient part of her knew only that Dawnish had not come.
He "bobbed in," as he would have put it, after dinner--having, it
appeared, run across Ransom early in the day, and learned that the
latter would be absent till evening. Margaret was in the study with
her husband when the door opened and Dawnish stood there.
Ransom--who had not had time to dress--was seated at his desk, a
pile of shabby law books at his elbow, the light from a hanging lamp
falling on his grayish stubble of hair, his sallow forehead and
spectacled eyes. Dawnish, towering higher than usual against the
shadows of the room, and refined by his unusual pallor, hung a
moment on the threshold, then came in, explaining himself
profusely--laughing, accepting a cigar, letting Ransom push an
arm-chair forward--a Dawnish she had never seen, ill at ease,
ejaculatory, yet somehow more mature, more obscurely in command of
Margaret drew back, seating herself in the shade, in such a way that
she saw her husband's head first, and beyond it their visitor's,
relieved against the dusk of the book shelves. Her heart was
still--she felt no throbbing in her throat or temples: all her life
seemed concentrated in the hand that lay on her knee, the hand he
would touch when they said good-by.
Afterward her heart rang all the changes, and there was a mood in
which she reproached herself for cowardice--for having deliberately
missed her one moment with him, the moment in which she might have
sounded the depths of life, for joy or anguish. But that mood was
fleeting and infrequent. In quieter hours she blushed for it--she
even trembled to think that he might have guessed such a regret in
her. It seemed to convict her of a lack of fineness that he should
have had, in his youth and his power, a tenderer, surer sense of the
peril of a rash touch--should have handled the case so much more
At first her days were fire and the nights long solemn vigils. Her
thoughts were no longer vulgarized and defaced by any notion of
"guilt," of mental disloyalty. She was ashamed now of her shame.
What had happened was as much outside the sphere of her marriage as
some transaction in a star. It had simply given her a secret life of
incommunicable joys, as if all the wasted springs of her youth had
been stored in some hidden pool, and she could return there now to
bathe in them.
After that there came a phase of loneliness, through which the life
about her loomed phantasmal and remote. She thought the dead must
feel thus, repeating the vain gestures of the living beside some
Stygian shore. She wondered if any other woman had lived to whom
_nothing had ever happened?_ And then his first letter came. . . .
It was a charming letter--a perfect letter. The little touch of
awkwardness and constraint under its boyish spontaneity told her
more than whole pages of eloquence. He spoke of their friendship--of
their good days together. . . . Ransom, chancing to come in while
she read, noticed the foreign stamps; and she was able to hand him
the letter, saying gaily: "There's a message for you," and knowing
all the while that _her_ message was safe in her heart.
On the days when the letters came the outlines of things grew
indistinct, and she could never afterward remember what she had done
or how the business of life had been carried on. It was always a
surprise when she found dinner on the table as usual, and Ransom
seated opposite to her, running over the evening paper.
But though Dawnish continued to write, with all the English loyalty
to the outward observances of friendship, his communications came
only at intervals of several weeks, and between them she had time to
repossess herself, to regain some sort of normal contact with life.
And the customary, the recurring, gradually reclaimed her, the net
of habit tightened again--her daily life became real, and her one
momentary escape from it an exquisite illusion. Not that she ceased
to believe in the miracle that had befallen her: she still treasured
the reality of her one moment beside the river. What reason was
there for doubting it? She could hear the ring of truth in young
Dawnish's voice: "It's not my fault if you've made me feel that you
would understand everything. . . ." No! she believed in her miracle,
and the belief sweetened and illumined her life; but she came to see
that what was for her the transformation of her whole being might
well have been, for her companion, a mere passing explosion of
gratitude, of boyish good-fellowship touched with the pang of
leave-taking. She even reached the point of telling herself that it
was "better so": this view of the episode so defended it from the
alternating extremes of self-reproach and derision, so enshrined it
in a pale immortality to which she could make her secret pilgrimages
For a long time she had not been able to pass by the bench under the
willows--she even avoided the elm walk till autumn had stripped its
branches. But every day, now, she noted a step toward recovery; and
at last a day came when, walking along the river, she said to
herself, as she approached the bench: "I used not to be able to pass
here without thinking of him; _and now I am not thinking of him at
This seemed such convincing proof of her recovery that she began, as
spring returned, to permit herself, now and then, a quiet session on
the bench--a dedicated hour from which she went back fortified to
She had not heard from her friend for six weeks or more--the
intervals between his letters were growing longer. But that was
"best" too, and she was not anxious, for she knew he had obtained
the post he had been preparing for, and that his active life in
London had begun. The thought reminded her, one mild March day, that
in leaving the house she had thrust in her reticule a letter from a
Wentworth friend who was abroad on a holiday. The envelope bore the
London post mark, a fact showing that the lady's face was turned
toward home. Margaret seated herself on her bench, and drawing out
the letter began to read it.
The London described was that of shops and museums--as remote as
possible from the setting of Guy Dawnish's existence. But suddenly
Margaret's eye fell on his name, and the page began to tremble in
"I heard such a funny thing yesterday about your friend Mr. Dawnish.
We went to a tea at Professor Bunce's (I do wish you knew the
Bunces--their atmosphere is so _uplifting_), and there I met that
Miss Bruce-Pringle who came out last year to take a course in
histology at the Annex. Of course she asked about you and Mr.
Ransom, and then she told me she had just seen Mr. Dawnish's
aunt--the clever one he was always talking about, Lady Caroline
something--and that they were all in a dreadful state about him. I
wonder if you knew he was engaged when he went to America? He never
mentioned it to _us_. She said it was not a positive engagement, but
an understanding with a girl he has always been devoted to, who
lives near their place in Wiltshire; and both families expected the
marriage to take place as soon as he got back. It seems the girl is
an heiress (you know _how low_ the English ideals are compared with
ours), and Miss Bruce-Pringle said his relations were perfectly
delighted at his 'being provided for,' as she called it. Well, when
he got back he asked the girl to release him; and she and her family
were furious, and so were his people; but he holds out, and won't
marry her, and won't give a reason, except that he has 'formed an
unfortunate attachment.' Did you ever hear anything so peculiar? His
aunt, who is quite wild about it, says it must have happened at
Wentworth, because he didn't go anywhere else in America. Do you
suppose it _could_ have been the Brant girl? But why 'unfortunate'
when everybody knows she would have jumped at him?"
Margaret folded the letter and looked out across the river. It was
not the same river, but a mystic current shot with moonlight. The
bare willows wove a leafy veil above her head, and beside her she
felt the nearness of youth and tempestuous tenderness. It had all
happened just here, on this very seat by the river--it had come to
her, and passed her by, and she had not held out a hand to detain
it. . . .
Well! Was it not, by that very abstention, made more deeply and
ineffaceably hers? She could argue thus while she had thought the
episode, on his side, a mere transient effect of propinquity; but
now that she knew it had altered the whole course of his life, now
that it took on substance and reality, asserted a separate existence
outside of her own troubled consciousness--now it seemed almost
cowardly to have missed her share in it.
She walked home in a dream. Now and then, when she passed an
acquaintance, she wondered if the pain and glory were written on her
face. But Mrs. Sperry, who stopped her at the corner of Maverick
Street to say a word about the next meeting of the Higher Thought
Club, seemed to remark no change in her.
When she reached home Ransom had not yet returned from the office,
and she went straight to the library to tidy his writing-table. It
was part of her daily duty to bring order out of the chaos of his
papers, and of late she had fastened on such small recurring tasks
as some one falling over a precipice might snatch at the weak bushes
in its clefts.
When she had sorted the letters she took up some pamphlets and
newspapers, glancing over them to see if they were to be kept. Among
the papers was a page torn from a London _Times_ of the previous
month. Her eye ran down its columns and suddenly a paragraph flamed
"We are requested to state that the marriage arranged between Mr.
Guy Dawnish, son of the late Colonel the Hon. Roderick Dawnish, of
Malby, Wilts, and Gwendolen, daughter of Samuel Matcher, Esq. of
Armingham Towers, Wilts, will not take place."
Margaret dropped the paper and sat down, hiding her face against the
stained baize of the desk. She remembered the photograph of the
tennis-court at Guise--she remembered the handsome girl at whom Guy
Dawnish looked up, laughing. A gust of tears shook her, loosening
the dry surface of conventional feeling, welling up from unsuspected
depths. She was sorry--very sorry, yet so glad--so ineffably,
THERE came a reaction in which she decided to write to him. She even
sketched out a letter of sisterly, almost motherly, remonstrance, in
which she reminded him that he "still had all his life before him."
But she reflected that so, after all, had she; and that seemed to
weaken the argument.
In the end she decided not to send the letter. He had never spoken
to her of his engagement to Gwendolen Matcher, and his letters had
contained no allusion to any sentimental disturbance in his life.
She had only his few broken words, that night by the river, on which
to build her theory of the case. But illuminated by the phrase "an
unfortunate attachment" the theory towered up, distinct and
immovable, like some high landmark by which travellers shape their
course. She had been loved--extraordinarily loved. But he had chosen
that she should know of it by his silence rather than by his speech.
He had understood that only on those terms could their transcendant
communion continue--that he must lose her to keep her. To break that
silence would be like spilling a cup of water in a waste of sand.
There would be nothing left for her thirst.
Her life, thenceforward, was bathed in a tranquil beauty. The days
flowed by like a river beneath the moon--each ripple caught the
brightness and passed it on. She began to take a renewed interest in
her familiar round of duties. The tasks which had once seemed
colourless and irksome had now a kind of sacrificial sweetness, a
symbolic meaning into which she alone was initiated. She had been
restless--had longed to travel; now she felt that she should never
again care to leave Wentworth. But if her desire to wander had
ceased, she travelled in spirit, performing invisible pilgrimages in
the footsteps of her friend. She regretted that her one short visit
to England had taken her so little out of London--that her
acquaintance with the landscape had been formed chiefly through the
windows of a railway carriage. She threw herself into the
architectural studies of the Higher Thought Club, and distinguished
herself, at the spring meetings, by her fluency, her competence, her
inexhaustible curiosity on the subject of the growth of English
Gothic. She ransacked the shelves of the college library, she
borrowed photographs of the cathedrals, she pored over the folio
pages of "The Seats of Noblemen and Gentlemen." She was like some
banished princess who learns that she has inherited a domain in her
own country, who knows that she will never see it, yet feels,
wherever she walks, its soil beneath her feet.
May was half over, and the Higher Thought Club was to hold its last
meeting, previous to the college festivities which, in early June,
agreeably disorganized the social routine of Wentworth. The meeting
was to take place in Margaret Ransom's drawing-room, and on the day
before she sat upstairs preparing for her dual duties as hostess and
orator--for she had been invited to read the final paper of the
course. In order to sum up with precision her conclusions on the
subject of English Gothic she had been rereading an analysis of the
structural features of the principal English cathedrals; and she was
murmuring over to herself the phrase: "The longitudinal arches of
Lincoln have an approximately elliptical form," when there came a
knock on the door, and Maria's voice announced: "There's a lady down
in the parlour."
Margaret's soul dropped from the heights of the shadowy vaulting to
the dead level of an afternoon call at Wentworth.
"A lady? Did she give no name?"
Maria became confused. "She only said she was a lady--" and in reply
to her mistress's look of mild surprise: "Well, ma'am, she told me
so three or four times over."
Margaret laid her book down, leaving it open at the description of
Lincoln, and slowly descended the stairs. As she did so, she
repeated to herself: "The longitudinal arches are elliptical."
On the threshold below, she had the odd impression that her bare and
inanimate drawing-room was brimming with life and noise--an
impression produced, as she presently perceived, by the resolute
forward dash--it was almost a pounce--of the one small figure
restlessly measuring its length.
The dash checked itself within a yard of Margaret, and the lady--a
stranger--held back long enough to stamp on her hostess a sharp
impression of sallowness, leanness, keenness, before she said, in a
voice that might have been addressing an unruly committee meeting:
"I am Lady Caroline Duckett--a fact I found it impossible to make
clear to the young woman who let me in."
A warm wave rushed up from Margaret's heart to her throat and
forehead. She held out both hands impulsively. "Oh, I'm so glad--I'd
Her voice sank under her visitor's impartial scrutiny.
"I don't wonder," said the latter drily. "I suppose she didn't
mention, either, that my object in calling here was to see Mrs.
"Oh, yes--won't you sit down?" Margaret pushed a chair forward. She
seated herself at a little distance, brain and heart humming with a
confused interchange of signals. This dark sharp woman was his
aunt--the "clever aunt" who had had such a hard life, but had always
managed to keep her head above water. Margaret remembered that Guy
had spoken of her kindness--perhaps she would seem kinder when they
had talked together a little. Meanwhile the first impression she
produced was of an amplitude out of all proportion to her somewhat
scant exterior. With her small flat figure, her shabby heterogeneous
dress, she was as dowdy as any Professor's wife at Wentworth; but
her dowdiness (Margaret borrowed a literary analogy to define it),
her dowdiness was somehow "of the centre." Like the insignificant
emissary of a great power, she was to be judged rather by her
passports than her person.
While Margaret was receiving these impressions, Lady Caroline, with
quick bird-like twists of her head, was gathering others from the
pale void spaces of the drawing-room. Her eyes, divided by a sharp
nose like a bill, seemed to be set far enough apart to see at
separate angles; but suddenly she bent both of them on Margaret.
"This _is_ Mrs. Ransom's house?" she asked, with an emphasis on the
verb that gave a distinct hint of unfulfilled expectations.
"Because your American houses, especially in the provincial towns,
all look so remarkably alike, that I thought I might have been
mistaken; and as my time is extremely limited--in fact I'm sailing
She paused long enough to let Margaret say: "I had no idea you were
in this country."
Lady Caroline made no attempt to take this up. "And so much of it,"
she carried on her sentence, "has been wasted in talking to people I
really hadn't the slightest desire to see, that you must excuse me
if I go straight to the point."
Margaret felt a sudden tension of the heart. "Of course," she said
while a voice within her cried: "He is dead--he has left me a
There was another pause; then Lady Caroline went on, with increasing
asperity: "So that--in short--if I _could_ see Mrs. Ransom at
Margaret looked up in surprise. "I am Mrs. Ransom," she said.
The other stared a moment, with much the same look of cautious
incredulity that had marked her inspection of the drawing-room. Then
light came to her.
"Oh, I beg your pardon. I should have said that I wished to see Mrs.
_Robert_ Ransom, not Mrs. Ransom. But I understood that in the
States you don't make those distinctions." She paused a moment, and
then went on, before Margaret could answer: "Perhaps, after all,
it's as well that I should see you instead, since you're evidently
one of the household--your son and his wife live with you, I
suppose? Yes, on the whole, then, it's better--I shall be able to
talk so much more frankly." She spoke as if, as a rule,
circumstances prevented her giving rein to this propensity. "And
frankness, of course, is the only way out of this--this extremely
tiresome complication. You know, I suppose, that my nephew thinks
he's in love with your daughter-in-law?"
Margaret made a slight movement, but her visitor pressed on without
heeding it. "Oh, don't fancy, please, that I'm pretending to take a
high moral ground--though his mother does, poor dear! I can
perfectly imagine that in a place like this--I've just been driving
about it for two hours--a young man of Guy's age would _have_ to
provide himself with some sort of distraction, and he's not the kind
to go in for anything objectionable. Oh, we quite allow for that--we
should allow for the whole affair, if it hadn't so preposterously
ended in his throwing over the girl he was engaged to, and upsetting
an arrangement that affected a number of people besides himself. I
understand that in the States it's different--the young people have
only themselves to consider. In England--in our class, I mean--a
great deal may depend on a young man's making a good match; and in
Guy's case I may say that his mother and sisters (I won't include
myself, though I might) have been simply stranded--thrown
overboard--by his freak. You can understand how serious it is when I
tell you that it's that and nothing else that has brought me all the
way to America. And my first idea was to go straight to your
daughter-in-law, since her influence is the only thing we can count
on now, and put it to her fairly, as I'm putting it to you. But, on
the whole, I dare say it's better to see you first--you might give
me an idea of the line to take with her. I'm prepared to throw
myself on her mercy!"
Margaret rose from her chair, outwardly rigid in proportion to her
"You don't understand--" she began.
Lady Caroline brushed the interruption aside. "Oh, but I
do--completely! I cast no reflection on your daughter-in-law. Guy
has made it quite clear to us that his attachment is--has, in short,
not been rewarded. But don't you see that that's the worst part of
it? There'd be much more hope of his recovering if Mrs. Robert
Margaret's voice broke from her in a cry. "I am Mrs. Robert Ransom,"
If Lady Caroline Duckett had hitherto given her hostess the
impression of a person not easily silenced, this fact added sensibly
to the effect produced by the intense stillness which now fell on
She sat quite motionless, her large bangled hands clasped about the
meagre fur boa she had unwound from her neck on entering, her rusty
black veil pushed up to the edge of a "fringe" of doubtful
authenticity, her thin lips parted on a gasp that seemed to sharpen
itself on the edges of her teeth. So overwhelming and helpless was
her silence that Margaret began to feel a motion of pity beneath her
indignation--a desire at least to facilitate the excuses which must
terminate their disastrous colloquy. But when Lady Caroline found
voice she did not use it to excuse herself.
"You _can't_ be," she said, quite simply.
"Can't be?" Margaret stammered, with a flushing cheek.
"I mean, it's some mistake. Are there _two_ Mrs. Robert Ransoms in
the same town? Your family arrangements are so extremely puzzling."
She had a farther rush of enlightenment. "Oh, I _see!_ I ought of
course to have asked for Mrs. Robert Ransom 'Junior'!"
The idea sent her to her feet with a haste which showed her
impatience to make up for lost time.
"There is no other Mrs. Robert Ransom at Wentworth," said Margaret.
"No other--no 'Junior'? Are you _sure?_" Lady Caroline fell back
into her seat again. "Then I simply don't see," she murmured
Margaret's blush had fixed itself on her throbbing forehead. She
remained standing, while her strange visitor continued to gaze at
her with a perturbation in which the consciousness of indiscretion
had evidently as yet no part.
"I simply don't see," she repeated.
Suddenly she sprang up, and advancing to Margaret laid an inspired
hand on her arm. "But, my dear woman, you can help us out all the
same; you can help us to find out _who it is_--and you will, won't
you? Because, as it's not you, you can't in the least mind what I've
Margaret, freeing her arm from her visitor's hold, drew back a step;
but Lady Caroline instantly rejoined her.
"Of course, I can see that if it _had_ been, you might have been
annoyed: I dare say I put the case stupidly--but I'm so bewildered
by this new development--by his using you all this time as a
pretext--that I really don't know where to turn for light on the
She had Margaret in her imperious grasp again, but the latter broke
from her with a more resolute gesture.
"I'm afraid I have no light to give you," she began; but once more
Lady Caroline caught her up.
"Oh, but do please understand me! I condemn Guy most strongly for
using your name--when we all know you'd been so amazingly kind to
him! I haven't a word to say in his defence--but of course the
important thing now is: _who is the woman, since you're not?_"
The question rang out loudly, as if all the pale puritan corners of
the room flung it back with a shudder at the speaker. In the silence
that ensued Margaret felt the blood ebbing back to her heart; then
she said, in a distinct and level voice: "I know nothing of the
history of Mr. Dawnish."
Lady Caroline gave a stare and a gasp. Her distracted hand groped
for her boa and she began to wind it mechanically about her long
"It would really be an enormous help to us--and to poor Gwendolen
Matcher," she persisted pleadingly. "And you'd be doing Guy himself
a good turn."
Margaret remained silent and motionless while her visitor drew on
one of the worn gloves she had pulled off to adjust her veil. Lady
Caroline gave the veil a final twitch.
"I've come a tremendously long way," she said, "and, since it isn't
you, I can't think why you won't help me. . . ."
When the door had closed on her visitor Margaret Ransom went slowly
up the stairs to her room. As she dragged her feet from one step to
another, she remembered how she had sprung up the same steep flight
after that visit of Guy Dawnish's when she had looked in the glass
and seen on her face the blush of youth.
When she reached her room she bolted the door as she had done that
day, and again looked at herself in the narrow mirror above her
dressing-table. It was just a year since then--the elms were budding
again, the willows hanging their green veil above the bench by the
river. But there was no trace of youth left in her face--she saw it
now as others had doubtless always seen it. If it seemed as it did
to Lady Caroline Duckett, what look must it have worn to the fresh
gaze of young Guy Dawnish?
A pretext--she had been a pretext. He had used her name to screen
some one else--or perhaps merely to escape from a situation of which
he was weary. She did not care to conjecture what his motive had
been--everything connected with him had grown so remote and alien.
She felt no anger--only an unspeakable sadness, a sadness which she
knew would never be appeased.
She looked at herself long and steadily; she wished to clear her
eyes of all illusions. Then she turned away and took her usual seat
beside her work-table. From where she sat she could look down the
empty elm-shaded street, up which, at this hour every day, she was
sure to see her husband's figure advancing. She would see it
presently--she would see it for many years to come. She had a sudden
aching sense of the length of the years that stretched before her.
Strange that one who was not young should still, in all likelihood,
have so long to live!
Nothing was changed in the setting of her life, perhaps nothing
would ever change in it. She would certainly live and die in
Wentworth. And meanwhile the days would go on as usual, bringing the
usual obligations. As the word flitted through her brain she
remembered that she had still to put the finishing touches to the
paper she was to read the next afternoon at the meeting of the
Higher Thought Club.
The book she had been reading lay face downward beside her, where
she had left it an hour ago. She took it up, and slowly and
painfully, like a child laboriously spelling out the syllables, she
went on with the rest of the sentence:
--"and they spring from a level not much above that of the springing
of the transverse and diagonal ribs, which are so arranged as to
give a convex curve to the surface of the vaulting conoid."
I HAD always thought Jack Gisburn rather a cheap genius--though a
good fellow enough--so it was no great surprise to me to hear that,
in the height of his glory, he had dropped his painting, married a
rich widow, and established himself in a villa on the Riviera.
(Though I rather thought it would have been Rome or Florence.)
"The height of his glory"--that was what the women called it. I can
hear Mrs. Gideon Thwing--his last Chicago sitter--deploring his
unaccountable abdication. "Of course it's going to send the value of
my picture 'way up; but I don't think of that, Mr. Rickham--the loss
to Arrt is all I think of." The word, on Mrs. Thwing's lips,
multiplied its _rs_ as though they were reflected in an endless
vista of mirrors. And it was not only the Mrs. Thwings who mourned.
Had not the exquisite Hermia Croft, at the last Grafton Gallery
show, stopped me before Gisburn's "Moon-dancers" to say, with tears
in her eyes: "We shall not look upon its like again"?
Well!--even through the prism of Hermia's tears I felt able to face
the fact with equanimity. Poor Jack Gisburn! The women had made
him--it was fitting that they should mourn him. Among his own sex
fewer regrets were heard, and in his own trade hardly a murmur.
Professional jealousy? Perhaps. If it were, the honour of the craft
was vindicated by little Claude Nutley, who, in all good faith,
brought out in the Burlington a very handsome "obituary" on
Jack--one of those showy articles stocked with random technicalities
that I have heard (I won't say by whom) compared to Gisburn's
painting. And so--his resolve being apparently irrevocable--the
discussion gradually died out, and, as Mrs. Thwing had predicted,
the price of "Gisburns" went up.
It was not till three years later that, in the course of a few
weeks' idling on the Riviera, it suddenly occurred to me to wonder
why Gisburn had given up his painting. On reflection, it really was
a tempting problem. To accuse his wife would have been too easy--his
fair sitters had been denied the solace of saying that Mrs. Gisburn
had "dragged him down." For Mrs. Gisburn--as such--had not existed
till nearly a year after Jack's resolve had been taken. It might be
that he had married her--since he liked his ease--because he didn't
want to go on painting; but it would have been hard to prove that he
had given up his painting because he had married her.
Of course, if she had not dragged him down, she had equally, as Miss
Croft contended, failed to "lift him up"--she had not led him back
to the easel. To put the brush into his hand again--what a vocation
for a wife! But Mrs. Gisburn appeared to have disdained it--and I
felt it might be interesting to find out why.
The desultory life of the Riviera lends itself to such purely
academic speculations; and having, on my way to Monte Carlo, caught
a glimpse of Jack's balustraded terraces between the pines, I had
myself borne thither the next day.
I found the couple at tea beneath their palm-trees; and Mrs.
Gisburn's welcome was so genial that, in the ensuing weeks, I
claimed it frequently. It was not that my hostess was "interesting":
on that point I could have given Miss Croft the fullest reassurance.
It was just because she was _not_ interesting--if I may be pardoned
the bull--that I found her so. For Jack, all his life, had been
surrounded by interesting women: they had fostered his art, it had
been reared in the hot-house of their adulation. And it was
therefore instructive to note what effect the "deadening atmosphere
of mediocrity" (I quote Miss Croft) was having on him.
I have mentioned that Mrs. Gisburn was rich; and it was immediately
perceptible that her husband was extracting from this circumstance a
delicate but substantial satisfaction. It is, as a rule, the people
who scorn money who get most out of it; and Jack's elegant disdain
of his wife's big balance enabled him, with an appearance of perfect
good-breeding, to transmute it into objects of art and luxury. To
the latter, I must add, he remained relatively indifferent; but he
was buying Renaissance bronzes and eighteenth-century pictures with
a discrimination that bespoke the amplest resources.
"Money's only excuse is to put beauty into circulation," was one of
the axioms he laid down across the Sevres and silver of an
exquisitely appointed luncheon-table, when, on a later day, I had
again run over from Monte Carlo; and Mrs. Gisburn, beaming on him,
added for my enlightenment: "Jack is so morbidly sensitive to every
form of beauty."
Poor Jack! It had always been his fate to have women say such things
of him: the fact should be set down in extenuation. What struck me
now was that, for the first time, he resented the tone. I had seen
him, so often, basking under similar tributes--was it the conjugal
note that robbed them of their savour? No--for, oddly enough, it
became apparent that he was fond of Mrs. Gisburn--fond enough not to
see her absurdity. It was his own absurdity he seemed to be wincing
under--his own attitude as an object for garlands and incense.
"My dear, since I've chucked painting people don't say that stuff
about me--they say it about Victor Grindle," was his only protest,
as he rose from the table and strolled out onto the sunlit terrace.
I glanced after him, struck by his last word. Victor Grindle was, in
fact, becoming the man of the moment--as Jack himself, one might put
it, had been the man of the hour. The younger artist was said to
have formed himself at my friend's feet, and I wondered if a tinge
of jealousy underlay the latter's mysterious abdication. But no--for
it was not till after that event that the _rose Dubarry_
drawing-rooms had begun to display their "Grindles."
I turned to Mrs. Gisburn, who had lingered to give a lump of sugar
to her spaniel in the dining-room.
"Why _has_ he chucked painting?" I asked abruptly.
She raised her eyebrows with a hint of good-humoured surprise.
"Oh, he doesn't _have_ to now, you know; and I want him to enjoy
himself," she said quite simply.
I looked about the spacious white-panelled room, with its
_famille-verte_ vases repeating the tones of the pale damask
curtains, and its eighteenth-century pastels in delicate faded
"Has he chucked his pictures too? I haven't seen a single one in the
A slight shade of constraint crossed Mrs. Gisburn's open
countenance. "It's his ridiculous modesty, you know. He says they're
not fit to have about; he's sent them all away except one--my
portrait--and that I have to keep upstairs."
His ridiculous modesty--Jack's modesty about his pictures? My
curiosity was growing like the bean-stalk. I said persuasively to my
hostess: "I must really see your portrait, you know."
She glanced out almost timorously at the terrace where her husband,
lounging in a hooded chair, had lit a cigar and drawn the Russian
deerhound's head between his knees.
"Well, come while he's not looking," she said, with a laugh that
tried to hide her nervousness; and I followed her between the marble
Emperors of the hall, and up the wide stairs with terra-cotta nymphs
poised among flowers at each landing.
In the dimmest corner of her boudoir, amid a profusion of delicate
and distinguished objects, hung one of the familiar oval canvases,
in the inevitable garlanded frame. The mere outline of the frame
called up all Gisburn's past!
Mrs. Gisburn drew back the window-curtains, moved aside a
_jardiniere_ full of pink azaleas, pushed an arm-chair away, and
said: "If you stand here you can just manage to see it. I had it
over the mantel-piece, but he wouldn't let it stay."
Yes--I could just manage to see it--the first portrait of Jack's I
had ever had to strain my eyes over! Usually they had the place of
honour--say the central panel in a pale yellow or _rose Dubarry_
drawing-room, or a monumental easel placed so that it took the light
through curtains of old Venetian point. The more modest place became
the picture better; yet, as my eyes grew accustomed to the
half-light, all the characteristic qualities came out--all the
hesitations disguised as audacities, the tricks of prestidigitation
by which, with such consummate skill, he managed to divert attention
from the real business of the picture to some pretty irrelevance of
detail. Mrs. Gisburn, presenting a neutral surface to work
on--forming, as it were, so inevitably the background of her own
picture--had lent herself in an unusual degree to the display of
this false virtuosity. The picture was one of Jack's "strongest," as
his admirers would have put it--it represented, on his part, a
swelling of muscles, a congesting of veins, a balancing, straddling
and straining, that reminded one of the circus-clown's ironic
efforts to lift a feather. It met, in short, at every point the
demand of lovely woman to be painted "strongly" because she was
tired of being painted "sweetly"--and yet not to lose an atom of the
"It's the last he painted, you know," Mrs. Gisburn said with
pardonable pride. "The last but one," she corrected herself--"but
the other doesn't count, because he destroyed it."
"Destroyed it?" I was about to follow up this clue when I heard a
footstep and saw Jack himself on the threshold.
As he stood there, his hands in the pockets of his velveteen coat,
the thin brown waves of hair pushed back from his white forehead,
his lean sunburnt cheeks furrowed by a smile that lifted the tips of
a self-confident moustache, I felt to what a degree he had the same
quality as his pictures--the quality of looking cleverer than he
His wife glanced at him deprecatingly, but his eyes travelled past
her to the portrait.
"Mr. Rickham wanted to see it," she began, as if excusing herself.
He shrugged his shoulders, still smiling.
"Oh, Rickham found me out long ago," he said lightly; then, passing
his arm through mine: "Come and see the rest of the house."
He showed it to me with a kind of naive suburban pride: the
bath-rooms, the speaking-tubes, the dress-closets, the
trouser-presses--all the complex simplifications of the
millionaire's domestic economy. And whenever my wonder paid the
expected tribute he said, throwing out his chest a little: "Yes, I
really don't see how people manage to live without that."
Well--it was just the end one might have foreseen for him. Only he
was, through it all and in spite of it all--as he had been through,
and in spite of, his pictures--so handsome, so charming, so
disarming, that one longed to cry out: "Be dissatisfied with your
leisure!" as once one had longed to say: "Be dissatisfied with your
But, with the cry on my lips, my diagnosis suffered an unexpected
"This is my own lair," he said, leading me into a dark plain room at
the end of the florid vista. It was square and brown and leathery:
no "effects"; no bric-a-brac, none of the air of posing for
reproduction in a picture weekly--above all, no least sign of ever
having been used as a studio.
The fact brought home to me the absolute finality of Jack's break
with his old life.
"Don't you ever dabble with paint any more?" I asked, still looking
about for a trace of such activity.
"Never," he said briefly.
"Or water-colour--or etching?"
His confident eyes grew dim, and his cheeks paled a little under
their handsome sunburn.
"Never think of it, my dear fellow--any more than if I'd never
touched a brush."
And his tone told me in a flash that he never thought of anything
I moved away, instinctively embarrassed by my unexpected discovery;
and as I turned, my eye fell on a small picture above the
mantel-piece--the only object breaking the plain oak panelling of
"Oh, by Jove!" I said.
It was a sketch of a donkey--an old tired donkey, standing in the
rain under a wall.
"By Jove--a Stroud!" I cried.
He was silent; but I felt him close behind me, breathing a little
"What a wonder! Made with a dozen lines--but on everlasting
foundations. You lucky chap, where did you get it?"
He answered slowly: "Mrs. Stroud gave it to me."
"Ah--I didn't know you even knew the Strouds. He was such an
"I didn't--till after. . . . She sent for me to paint him when he
"When he was dead? You?"
I must have let a little too much amazement escape through my
surprise, for he answered with a deprecating laugh: "Yes--she's an
awful simpleton, you know, Mrs. Stroud. Her only idea was to have
him done by a fashionable painter--ah, poor Stroud! She thought it
the surest way of proclaiming his greatness--of forcing it on a
purblind public. And at the moment I was _the_ fashionable painter."
"Ah, poor Stroud--as you say. Was _that_ his history?"
"That was his history. She believed in him, gloried in him--or
thought she did. But she couldn't bear not to have all the
drawing-rooms with her. She couldn't bear the fact that, on
varnishing days, one could always get near enough to see his
pictures. Poor woman! She's just a fragment groping for other
fragments. Stroud is the only whole I ever knew."
"You ever knew? But you just said--"
Gisburn had a curious smile in his eyes.
"Oh, I knew him, and he knew me--only it happened after he was
I dropped my voice instinctively. "When she sent for you?"
"Yes--quite insensible to the irony. She wanted him vindicated--and
He laughed again, and threw back his head to look up at the sketch
of the donkey. "There were days when I couldn't look at that
thing--couldn't face it. But I forced myself to put it here; and now
it's cured me--cured me. That's the reason why I don't dabble any
more, my dear Rickham; or rather Stroud himself is the reason."
For the first time my idle curiosity about my companion turned into
a serious desire to understand him better.
"I wish you'd tell me how it happened," I said.
He stood looking up at the sketch, and twirling between his fingers
a cigarette he had forgotten to light. Suddenly he turned toward me.
"I'd rather like to tell you--because I've always suspected you of
loathing my work."
I made a deprecating gesture, which he negatived with a
"Oh, I didn't care a straw when I believed in myself--and now it's
an added tie between us!"
He laughed slightly, without bitterness, and pushed one of the deep
arm-chairs forward. "There: make yourself comfortable--and here are
the cigars you like."
He placed them at my elbow and continued to wander up and down the
room, stopping now and then beneath the picture.
"How it happened? I can tell you in five minutes--and it didn't take
much longer to happen. . . . I can remember now how surprised and
pleased I was when I got Mrs. Stroud's note. Of course, deep down, I
had always _felt_ there was no one like him--only I had gone with
the stream, echoed the usual platitudes about him, till I half got
to think he was a failure, one of the kind that are left behind. By
Jove, and he _was_ left behind--because he had come to stay! The
rest of us had to let ourselves be swept along or go under, but he
was high above the current--on everlasting foundations, as you say.
"Well, I went off to the house in my most egregious mood--rather
moved, Lord forgive me, at the pathos of poor Stroud's career of
failure being crowned by the glory of my painting him! Of course I
meant to do the picture for nothing--I told Mrs. Stroud so when she
began to stammer something about her poverty. I remember getting off
a prodigious phrase about the honour being _mine_--oh, I was
princely, my dear Rickham! I was posing to myself like one of my own
"Then I was taken up and left alone with him. I had sent all my
traps in advance, and I had only to set up the easel and get to
work. He had been dead only twenty-four hours, and he died suddenly,
of heart disease, so that there had been no preliminary work of
destruction--his face was clear and untouched. I had met him once or
twice, years before, and thought him insignificant and dingy. Now I
saw that he was superb.
"I was glad at first, with a merely aesthetic satisfaction: glad to
have my hand on such a 'subject.' Then his strange life-likeness
began to affect me queerly--as I blocked the head in I felt as if he
were watching me do it. The sensation was followed by the thought:
if he _were_ watching me, what would he say to my way of working? My
strokes began to go a little wild--I felt nervous and uncertain.
"Once, when I looked up, I seemed to see a smile behind his close
grayish beard--as if he had the secret, and were amusing himself by
holding it back from me. That exasperated me still more. The secret?
Why, I had a secret worth twenty of his! I dashed at the canvas
furiously, and tried some of my bravura tricks. But they failed me,
they crumbled. I saw that he wasn't watching the showy bits--I
couldn't distract his attention; he just kept his eyes on the hard
passages between. Those were the ones I had always shirked, or
covered up with some lying paint. And how he saw through my lies!
"I looked up again, and caught sight of that sketch of the donkey
hanging on the wall near his bed. His wife told me afterward it was
the last thing he had done--just a note taken with a shaking hand,
when he was down in Devonshire recovering from a previous heart
attack. Just a note! But it tells his whole history. There are years
of patient scornful persistence in every line. A man who had swum
with the current could never have learned that mighty up-stream
stroke. . . .
"I turned back to my work, and went on groping and muddling; then I
looked at the donkey again. I saw that, when Stroud laid in the
first stroke, he knew just what the end would be. He had possessed
his subject, absorbed it, recreated it. When had I done that with
any of my things? They hadn't been born of me--I had just adopted
them. . . .
"Hang it, Rickham, with that face watching me I couldn't do another
stroke. The plain truth was, I didn't know where to put it--_I had
never known_. Only, with my sitters and my public, a showy splash of
colour covered up the fact--I just threw paint into their faces. . .
. Well, paint was the one medium those dead eyes could see
through--see straight to the tottering foundations underneath. Don't
you know how, in talking a foreign language, even fluently, one says
half the time not what one wants to but what one can? Well--that was
the way I painted; and as he lay there and watched me, the thing
they called my 'technique' collapsed like a house of cards. He
didn't sneer, you understand, poor Stroud--he just lay there quietly
watching, and on his lips, through the gray beard, I seemed to hear
the question: 'Are you sure you know where you're coming out?'
"If I could have painted that face, with that question on it, I
should have done a great thing. The next greatest thing was to see
that I couldn't--and that grace was given me. But, oh, at that
minute, Rickham, was there anything on earth I wouldn't have given
to have Stroud alive before me, and to hear him say: 'It's not too
late--I'll show you how'?
"It _was_ too late--it would have been, even if he'd been alive. I
packed up my traps, and went down and told Mrs. Stroud. Of course I
didn't tell her _that_--it would have been Greek to her. I simply
said I couldn't paint him, that I was too moved. She rather liked
the idea--she's so romantic! It was that that made her give me the
donkey. But she was terribly upset at not getting the portrait--she
did so want him 'done' by some one showy! At first I was afraid she
wouldn't let me off--and at my wits' end I suggested Grindle. Yes,
it was I who started Grindle: I told Mrs. Stroud he was the 'coming'
man, and she told somebody else, and so it got to be true. . . . And
he painted Stroud without wincing; and she hung the picture among
her husband's things. . . ."
He flung himself down in the arm-chair near mine, laid back his
head, and clasping his arms beneath it, looked up at the picture
above the chimney-piece.
"I like to fancy that Stroud himself would have given it to me, if
he'd been able to say what he thought that day."
And, in answer to a question I put half-mechanically--"Begin again?"
he flashed out. "When the one thing that brings me anywhere near him
is that I knew enough to leave off?"
He stood up and laid his hand on my shoulder with a laugh. "Only the
irony of it is that I _am_ still painting--since Grindle's doing it
for me! The Strouds stand alone, and happen once--but there's no
exterminating our kind of art."
The studio faced north, looking out over a dismal reach of roofs and
chimneys, and rusty fire-escapes hung with heterogeneous garments. A
crust of dirty snow covered the level surfaces, and a December sky
with more snow in it lowered over them.
The room was bare and gaunt, with blotched walls and a stained
uneven floor. On a divan lay a pile of "properties"--limp draperies,
an Algerian scarf, a moth-eaten fan of peacock feathers. The janitor
had forgotten to fill the coal-scuttle over-night, and the cast-iron
stove projected its cold flanks into the room like a black iceberg.
Ned Stanwell, who had just added his hat and great-coat to the
miscellaneous heap on the divan, turned from the empty stove with a
"By Jove, this is a little too much like the last act of _Boheme_,"
he said, slipping into his coat again after a vain glance at the
coal-scuttle. Much solitude, and a lively habit of mind, had bred in
him the habit of audible soliloquy, and having flung a shout for the
janitor down the seven flights dividing the studio from the
basement, he turned back, picking up the thread of his monologue.
"Exactly like _Boheme_, really--that crack in the wall is much more
like a stage-crack than a real one--just the sort of crack Mungold
would paint if he were doing a Humble Interior."
Mungold, the fashionable portrait-painter of the hour, was the
favourite object of the younger men's irony.
"It only needs Kate Arran to be borne in dying," Stanwell continued
with a laugh. "Much more likely to be poor little Caspar, though,"
His neighbour across the landing--the little sculptor, Caspar Arran,
humorously called "Gasper" on account of his bronchial asthma--had
lately been joined by a sister, Kate Arran, a strapping girl, fresh
from the country, who had installed herself in the little room off
her brother's studio, keeping house for him with a chafing-dish and
a coffee-machine, to the mirth and envy of the other young men in
Poor little Gasper had been very bad all the autumn, and it was
surmised that his sister's presence, which he spoke of growlingly,
as a troublesome necessity devolved on him by the inopportune death
of an aunt, was really an indication of his failing ability to take
care of himself. Kate Arran took his complaints with unfailing
good-humour, darned his socks, brushed his clothes, fed him with
steaming broths and foaming milk-punches, and listened with
reverential assent to his interminable disquisitions on art. Every
one in the house was sorry for little Gasper, and the other fellows
liked him all the more because it was so impossible to like his
sculpture; but his talk was a bore, and when his colleagues ran in
to see him they were apt to keep a hand on the door-knob and to
plead a pressing engagement. At least they had been till Kate came;
but now they began to show a disposition to enter and sit down.
Caspar, who was no fool, perceived the change, and perhaps detected
its cause; at any rate, he showed no special gratification at the
increased cordiality of his friends, and Kate, who followed him in
everything, took this as a sign that guests were to be discouraged.
There was one exception, however: Ned Stanwell, who was deplorably
good-natured, had always lent a patient ear to Caspar, and he now
reaped his reward by being taken into Kate's favour. Before she had
been a month in the building they were on confidential terms as to
Caspar's health, and lately Stanwell had penetrated farther, even to
the inmost recesses of her anxiety about her brother's career.
Caspar had recently had a bad blow in the refusal of his _magnum
opus_--a vast allegorical group--by the Commissioners of the
Minneapolis Exhibition. He took the rejection with Promethean irony,
proclaimed it as the clinching proof of his ability, and abounded in
reasons why, even in an age of such crass artistic ignorance, a
refusal so egregious must react to the advantage of its object. But
his sister's indignation, if as glowing, was a shade less hopeful.
Of course Caspar was going to succeed--she knew it was only a
question of time--but she paled at the word and turned imploring
eyes on Stanwell. _Was there time enough?_ It was the one element in
the combination that she could not count on; and Stanwell, reddening
under her look of interrogation, and cursing his own glaring
robustness, would affirm that of course, of course, of course, by
everything that was holy there was time enough--with the mental
reservation that there wouldn't be, even if poor Caspar lived to be
"Vos that you yelling for the shanitor, Mr. Sdanwell?" inquired an
affable voice through the doorway; and Stanwell, turning with a
laugh, confronted the squat figure of a middle-aged man in an
expensive fur coat, who looked as if his face secreted the oil which
he used on his hair.
"Hullo, Shepson--I should say I was yelling. Did you ever feel such
an atmosphere? That fool has forgotten to light the stove. Come in,
but for heaven's sake don't take off your coat."
Mr. Shepson glanced about the studio with a look which seemed to say
that, where so much else was lacking, the absence of a fire hardly
added to the general sense of destitution.
"Vell, you ain't as vell fixed as Mr. Mungold--ever been to his
studio, Mr. Sdanwell? De most ex_ quis_ite blush hangings, and a
gas-fire, choost as natural--"
"Oh, hang it, Shepson, do you call _that_ a studio? It's like a
manicure's parlour--or a beauty-doctor's. By George," broke off
Stanwell, "and that's just what he is!"
"Yes--oh, well, you wouldn't see," murmured Stanwell, mentally
storing his epigram for more appreciative ears. "But you didn't come
just to make me envious of Mungold's studio, did you?" And he pushed
forward a chair for his visitor.
The latter, however, declined it with an affable motion. "Of gourse
not, of gourse not--but Mr. Mungold is a sensible man. He makes a
lot of money, you know."
"Is that what you came to tell me?" said Stanwell, still humorously.
"My gootness, no--I was downstairs looking at Holbrook's sdained
class, and I shoost thought I'd sdep up a minute and take a beep at
"Much obliged, I'm sure--especially as I assume that you don't want
any of it." Try as he would, Stanwell could not keep a note of
eagerness from his voice. Mr. Shepson caught the note, and eyed him
shrewdly through gold-rimmed glasses.
"Vell, vell, vell--I'm not prepared to commit myself. Shoost let me
take a look round, vill you?"
"With the greatest pleasure--and I'll give another shout for the
Stanwell went out on the landing, and Mr. Shepson, left to himself,
began a meditative progress about the room. On an easel facing the
improvised dais stood a canvas on which a young woman's head had
been blocked in. It was just in that happy state of semi-evocation
when a picture seems to detach itself from the grossness of its
medium and live a wondrous moment in the actual; and the quality of
the head in question--a vigorous dusky youthfulness, a kind of
virgin majesty--lent itself to this illusion of vitality. Stanwell,
who had re-entered the studio, could not help drawing a sharp breath
as he saw the picture-dealer pausing with tilted head before this
portrait: it seemed, at one moment, so impossible that he should not
be struck with it, at the next so incredible that he should be.
Shepson cocked his parrot-eye at the canvas with a desultory "Vat's
dat?" which sent a twinge through the young man.
"That? Oh--a sketch of a young lady," stammered Stanwell, flushing
at the imbecility of his reply. "It's Miss Arran, you know," he
added, "the sister of my neighbour here, the sculptor."
"Sgulpture? There's no market for modern sgulpture except
tombstones," said Shepson disparagingly, passing on as if he
included the sister's portrait in his condemnation of her brother's
Stanwell smiled, but more at himself than Shepson. How could he ever
have supposed that the gross fool would see anything in his sketch
of Kate Arran? He stood aside, straining after detachment, while the
dealer continued his round of exploration, waddling up to the
canvases on the walls, prodding with his stick at those stacked in
corners, prying and peering sideways like a great bird rummaging for
seed. He seemed to find little nutriment in the course of his
search, for the sounds he emitted expressed a weary distaste for
misdirected effort, and he completed his round without having
thought it worth while to draw a single canvas from its obscurity.
As his visits always had the same result, Stanwell was reduced to
wondering why he had come again; but Shepson was not the man to
indulge in vague roamings through the field of art, and it was safe
to conclude that his purpose would in due course reveal itself. His
tour brought him at length face to face with the painter, where he
paused, clasping his plump gloved hands behind his back, and shaking
an admonitory head.
"Gleffer--very gleffer, of course--I suppose you'll let me know when
you want to sell anything?"
"Let you know?" gasped Stanwell, to whom the room grew so glowingly
hot that he thought for a moment the janitor must have made up the
Shepson gave a dry laugh. "Vell, it doesn't sdrike me that you want
to now--doing this kind of thing, you know!" And he swept a
comprehensive hand about the studio.
"Ah," said Stanwell, who could not keep a note of flatness out of
"See here, Mr. Sdanwell, vot do you do it for? If you do it for
yourself and the other fellows, vell and good--only don't ask me
round. I sell pictures, I don't theorize about them. Ven you vant to
sell, gome to me with what my gustomers vant. You can do it--you're
smart enough. You can do most anything. Vere's dat bortrait of
Gladys Glyde dat you showed at the Fake Club last autumn? Dat little
thing in de Romney sdyle? Dat vas a little shem, now," exclaimed Mr.
Shepson, whose pronunciation became increasingly Semitic in moments
Stanwell stared. Called upon a few months previously to contribute
to an exhibition of skits on well-known artists, he had used the
photograph of a favourite music-hall "star" as the basis of a
picture in the pseudo-historical style affected by the popular
portrait-painters of the day.
"That thing?" he said contemptuously. "How on earth did you happen
to see it?"
"I see everything," returned the dealer with an oracular smile. "If
you've got it here let me look at it, please."
It cost Stanwell a few minutes' search to unearth his skit--a clever
blending of dash and sentimentality, in just the right proportion to
create the impression of a powerful brush subdued to mildness by the
charms of the sitter. Stanwell had thrown it off in a burst of
imitative frenzy, beginning for the mere joy of the satire, but
gradually fascinated by the problem of producing the requisite
mingling of attributes. He was surprised now to see how well he had
caught the note, and Shepson's face reflected his approval.
"By George! Dat's something like," the dealer ejaculated.
"Like what? Like Mungold?" Stanwell laughed.
"Like business! Like a big order for a bortrait, Mr. Sdanwell--dat's
what it's like!" cried Shepson, swinging round on him.
Stanwell's stare widened. "An order for me?"
"Vy not? Accidents _vill_ happen," said Shepson jocosely. "De fact
is, Mrs. Archer Millington wants to be bainted--you know her sdyle?
Well, she prides herself on her likeness to little Gladys. And so
ven she saw dat bicture of yours at de Fake Show she made a note of
your name, and de udder day she sent for me and she says: 'Mr.
Shepson, I'm tired of Mungold--all my friends are done by Mungold. I
vant to break away and be orishinal--I vant to be done by the
bainter that did Gladys Glyde."
Shepson waited to observe the result of this overwhelming
announcement, and Stanwell, after a momentary halt of surprise,
brought out laughingly: "But this _is_ a Mungold. Is this what she
calls being original?"
"Shoost exactly," said Shepson, with unexpected acuteness. "That's
vat dey all want--something different from what all deir friends
have got, but shoost like it all de same. Dat's de public all over!
Mrs. Millington don't want a Mungold, because everybody's got a
Mungold, but she wants a picture that's in the same sdyle, because
dat's _de_ sdyle, and she's afraid of any oder!"
Stanwell was listening with real enjoyment. "Ah, you know your
public," he murmured.
"Vell, you do, too, or you couldn't have painted dat," the dealer
retorted. "And I don't say dey're wrong--mind dat. I like a bretty
picture myself. And I understand the way dey feel. Dey're villing to
let Sargent take liberties vid them, because it's like being punched
in de ribs by a King; but if anybody else baints them, they vant to
look as sweet as an obituary." He turned earnestly to Stanwell. "The
thing is to attract their notice. Vonce you got it they von't gif
you dime to sleep. And dat's why I'm here to-day--you've attracted
Mrs. Millington's notice, and vonce you're hung in dat new
ball-room--dat's vere she vants you, in a big gold panel--vonce
you're dere, vy, you'll be like the Pianola--no home gompleat
without you. And I ain't going to charge you any commission on the
He stood before the painter, exuding a mixture of deference and
patronage in which either element might predominate as events
developed; but Stanwell could see in the incident only the stuff for
a good story.
"My dear Shepson," he said, "what are you talking about? This is no
picture of mine. Why don't you ask me to do you a Corot at once? I
hear there's a great demand for them still in the West. Or an Arthur
Schracker--I can do Schracker as well as Mungold," he added, turning
around a small canvas at which a paint-pot seemed to have been
hurled with violence from a considerable distance.
Shepson ignored the allusion to Corot, but screwed his eyes at the
picture. "Ah, Schracker--vell, the Schracker sdyle would take first
rate if you were a foreigner--but, for goodness sake, don't try it
on Mrs. Millington!"
Stanwell pushed the two skits aside. "Oh, you can trust me," he
cried humorously. "The pearls and the eyes very large--the
extremities very small. Isn't that about the size of it?"
Dat's it--dat's it. And the cheque as big as you vant to make it!
Mrs. Millington vants the picture finished in time for her first
barty in the new ball-room, and if you rush the job she won't
sdickle at an extra thousand. Vill you come along with me now and
arrange for your first sitting?"
He stood before the young man, urgent, paternal, and so imbued with
the importance of his mission that his face stretched to a ludicrous
length of dismay when Stanwell, administering a good-humoured push
to his shoulder, cried gaily: "My dear fellow, it will make my price
rise still higher when the lady hears I'm too busy to take any
orders at present--and that I'm actually obliged to turn you out now
because I'm expecting a sitter!"
It was part of Shepson's business to have a quick ear for the note
of finality, and he offered no resistance to Stanwell's friendly
impulsion; but on the threshold he paused to murmur, with a
regretful glance at the denuded studio: "You could haf done it, Mr.
Sdanwell--you could haf done it!"
KATE ARRAN was Stanwell's sitter; but the janitor had hardly filled
the stove when she came in to say that she could not sit. Caspar had
had a bad night: he was depressed and feverish, and in spite of his
protests she had resolved to fetch the doctor. Care sat on her
usually tranquil features, and Stanwell, as he offered to go for the
doctor, wished he could have caught in his picture the wide gloom of
her brow. There was always a kind of Biblical breadth in the
expression of her emotions, and today she suggested a text from
"But you're not busy?" she hesitated; in the full voice which seemed
tuned to a solemn rhetoric.
"I meant to be--with you. But since that's off I'm quite
She smiled interrogatively. "I thought perhaps you had an order. I
met Mr. Shepson rubbing his hands on the landing."
"Was he rubbing his hands? Well, it was not over me. He says that
from the style of my pictures he doesn't suppose I want to sell."
She looked at him superbly. "Well, do you?"
He embraced his bleak walls in a circular gesture. "Judge for
"Ah, but it's splendidly furnished!"
"With rejected pictures, you mean?"
"With ideals!" she exclaimed in a tone caught from her brother, and
which would have been irritating to Stanwell if it had not been
He gave a slight shrug and took up his hat; but she interposed to
say that if it didn't make any difference she would prefer to have
him go and sit with poor Caspar, while she ran for the doctor and
did some household errands by the way. Stanwell divined in her
request the need for a brief respite from Caspar, and though he
shivered at the thought of her facing the cold in the scant jacket
which had been her only wear since he had known her, he let her go
without a protest, and betook himself to Arran's studio.
He found the little sculptor dressed and roaming fretfully about the
melancholy room in which he and his plastic off-spring lodged
together. In one corner, where Kate's chair and work-table stood, a
scrupulous order prevailed; but the rest of the apartment had the
dreary untidiness, the damp grey look, which the worker in clay
usually creates about him. In the centre of this desert stood the
shrouded image of Caspar's disappointment: the colossal rejected
group as to which his friends could seldom remember whether it
represented Jove hurling a Titan from Olympus or Science Subjugating
Religion. Caspar was the sworn foe of religion, which he appeared to
regard as indirectly connected with his inability to sell his
The sculptor was too ill to work, and Stanwell's appearance loosed
the pent-up springs of his talk.
"Hullo! What are you doing here? I thought Kate had gone over to sit
to you. She wanted a little fresh air? I should say enough of it
came in through these windows. How like a woman, when she's agreed
to do a certain thing, to make up her mind at once that she's got to
do another! They don't call it caprice--it's always duty: that's the
humour of it. I'll be bound Kate alleged a pressing engagement.
Sorry she should waste your time so, my dear fellow. Here am I with
plenty of it to burn--look at my hand shake; I can't do a thing!
Well, luckily nobody wants me to--posterity may suffer, but the
present generation isn't worrying. The present generation wants to
be carved in sugar-candy, or painted in maple syrup. It doesn't want
to be told the truth about itself or about anything in the universe.
The prophets have always lived in a garret, my dear fellow--only the
ravens don't always find out their address! Speaking of ravens,
though, Kate told me she saw old Shepson coming out of your place--I
say, old man, you're not meditating an apostasy? You're not doing
the kind of thing that Shepson would look at?"
Stanwell laughed. "Oh, he looked at them--but only to confirm his
reasons for rejecting them."
"Ha! ha! That's right--he wanted to refresh his memory with their
badness. But how on earth did he happen to have any doubts on the
subject? I should as soon have thought of his coming in here!"
Stanwell winced at the analogy, but replied in Caspar's key: "Oh,
he's not as sure of any of us as he is of you!"
The sculptor received this tribute with a joyous expletive. "By God,
no, he's sure of me, as you say! He and his tribe know that I'll
starve in my tracks sooner than make a concession--a single
concession. A fellow came after me once to do an angel on a
tombstone--an angel leaning against a broken column, and looking as
if it was waiting for the elevator and wondering why in hell it
didn't come. He said he wanted me to show that the deceased was
pining to get to heaven. As she was his wife I didn't dispute the
proposition, but when I asked him what he understood by _heaven_ he
grabbed his hat and walked out of the studio. _He_ didn't wait for
Stanwell listened with a practised smile. The story of the man who
had come to order the angel was so familiar to Arran's friends that
its only interest consisted in waiting to see what variation he
would give to the retort which had put the mourner to flight. It was
generally supposed that this visit represented the sculptor's
nearest approach to an order, and one of his fellow-craftsmen had
been heard to remark that if Caspar _had_ made the tombstone, the
lady under it would have tried harder than ever to get to heaven. To
Stanwell's present mood, however, there was something more than
usually irritating in the gratuitous assumption that Arran had only
to derogate from his altitude to have a press of purchasers at his
"Well--what did you gain by kicking your widower out?" he objected.
"Why can't a man do two kinds of work--one to please himself and the
other to boil the pot?"
Caspar stopped in his jerky walk--the stride of a tall man attempted
with short legs (it sometimes appeared to Stanwell to symbolize his
"Why can't a man--why can't he? You ask me that, Stanwell?" he
"Yes; and what's more, I'll answer you: it isn't everybody who can
adapt his art as he wants to!"
Caspar stood before him, gasping with incredulous scorn. "Adapt his
art? As he wants to? Unhappy wretch, what lingo are you talking? If
you mean that it isn't every honest man who can be a renegade--"
"That's just what I do mean: he can't unless he's clever enough to
see the other side."
The deep groan with which Caspar met this casuistry was cut short by
a knock at the studio door, which thereupon opened to admit a small
dapperly-dressed man with a silky moustache and mildly-bulging eyes.
"Ah, Mungold," exclaimed Stanwell, to cover the gloomy silence with
which Arran received the new-comer; whereat the latter, with the air
of a man who does not easily believe himself unwelcome, bestowed a
sympathetic pressure on the sculptor's hand.
"My dear chap, I've just met Miss Arran, and she told me you were
laid up with a bad cold, so I thought I'd pop in and cheer you up a
He looked about him with a smile evidently intended as the first act
in his beneficent programme.
Mr. Mungold, freshly soaped and scented, with a neat glaze of
gentility extending from his varnished boot-tips to his glossy hat,
looked like the "flattered" portrait of a common man--just such an
idealized presentment as his own brush might have produced. As a
rule, however, he devoted himself to the portrayal of the other sex,
painting ladies in syrup, as Arran said, with marsh-mallow children
leaning against their knees. He was as quick as a dressmaker at
catching new ideas, and the style of his pictures changed as rapidly
as that of the fashion-plates. One year all his sitters were done on
oval canvases, with gauzy draperies and a background of clouds; the
next they were seated under an immemorial elm, caressing enormous
dogs obviously constructed out of door-mats. Whatever their
occupation they always looked straight out of the canvas, giving the
impression that their eyes were fixed on an invisible camera. This
gave rise to the rumour that Mungold "did" his portraits from
photographs; it was even said that he had invented a way of
transferring an enlarged photograph to the canvas, so that all that
remained was to fill in the colours. If he heard of this charge he
took it calmly, but probably it had not reached the high spheres in
which he moved, and in which he was esteemed for painting pearls
better, and making unsuggestive children look lovelier, than any of
his fellow-craftsmen. Mr. Mungold, in fact, deemed it a part of his
professional duty to study his sitters in their home-life; and as
this life was chiefly led in the homes of others, he was too busy
dining out and going to the opera to mingle much with his
colleagues. But as no one is wholly consistent, Mr. Mungold had
lately belied his ambitions by falling in love with Kate Arran; and
with that gentle persistency which made him so wonderful in managing
obstreperous infantile sitters, he had contrived to establish a
precarious footing in her brother's studio.
Part of his success was due to the fact that he could not easily
think himself the object of a rebuff. If it seemed to hit him he
regarded it as deflected from its aim, and brushed it aside with a
discreet gesture. A touch of comedy was lent to the situation by the
fact that, till Kate Arran's coming, Mungold had always served as
her brother's Awful Example. It was a mark of Arran's lack of humour
that he persisted in regarding the little man as a conscious
apostate, instead of perceiving that he painted as he could, in a
world which really looked to him like a vast confectioner's window.
Stanwell had never quite divined how Mungold had won over the
sister, to whom her brother's prejudices were a religion; but he
suspected the painter of having united a deep belief in Caspar's
gifts with the occasional offer of opportune delicacies--the
port-wine or game which Kate had no other means of procuring for her
Stanwell, persuaded that Mungold would stick to his post till Miss
Arran's return, felt himself freed from his promise to the latter
and left the incongruous pair to themselves. There had been a time
when it amused him to see Caspar submerge the painter in a torrent
of turbid eloquence, and to watch poor Mungold sputtering under the
rush of denunciation, yet emitting little bland phrases of assent,
like a gentleman drowning correctly, in gloves and eye-glasses. But
Stanwell was beginning to find less food for gaiety than for envy in
the contemplation of his colleague. After all, Mungold held his
ground, he did not go under. Spite of his manifest absurdity he had
succeeded in propitiating the sister, in making himself tolerated by
the brother; and the fact that his success was due to the ability to
purchase port-wine and game was not in this case a mitigating
circumstance. Stanwell knew that the Arrans really preferred him to
Mungold, but the knowledge only sharpened his envy of the latter,
whose friendship could command visible tokens of expression, while
poor Stanwell's remained gloomily inarticulate. As he returned to
his over-populated studio and surveyed anew the pictures of which
Shepson had not offered to relieve him, he found himself wishing,
not for Mungold's lack of scruples, for he believed him to be the
most scrupulous of men, but for that happy mean of talent which so
completely satisfied the artistic requirements of the inartistic.
Mungold was not to be despised as an apostate--he was to be
congratulated as a man whose aptitudes were exactly in line with the
taste of the persons he liked to dine with.
At this point in his meditations, Stanwell's eye fell on the
portrait of Miss Gladys Glyde. It was really, as Shepson said, as
good as a Mungold; yet it could never be made to serve the same
purpose, because it was the work of a man who knew it was bad art.
That at least would have been Caspar Arran's contention--poor
Caspar, who produced as bad art in the service of the loftiest
convictions! The distinction began to look like mere casuistry to
Stanwell. He had never been very proud of his own adaptability. It
had seemed to him to indicate the lack of an individual stand-point,
and he had tried to counteract it by the cultivation of an
aggressively personal style. But the cursed knack was in his
fingers--he was always at the mercy of some other man's sensations,
and there were moments when he blushed to remember that his
grandfather had spent a laborious life-time in Rome, copying the Old
Masters for a generation which lacked the facile resource of the
camera. Now, however, it struck him that the ancestral versatility
might be a useful inheritance. In art, after all, the greatest of
them did what they could; and if a man could do several things
instead of one, why should he not profit by the multiplicity of his
gifts? If one had two talents why not serve two masters?
STANWELL, while seeing Caspar through the attack which had been the
cause of his sister's arrival, had struck up a friendship with the
young doctor who climbed the patient's seven flights with
unremitting fidelity. The two, since then, had continued to exchange
confidences regarding the sculptor's health, and Stanwell, anxious
to waylay the doctor after his visit, left the studio door ajar, and
went out when he heard a sound of leave-taking across the landing.
But it appeared that the doctor had just come, and that it was
Mungold who was making his adieux.
The latter at once assumed that Stanwell had been on the alert for
him, and met the supposed advance by affably inviting himself into
"May I come and take a look around, my dear fellow? I have been
meaning to drop in for an age--" Mungold always spoke with a girlish
emphasis and effusiveness--"but I have been so busy getting up Mrs.
Van Orley's tableaux--English eighteenth century portraits, you
know--that really, what with that and my sittings, I've hardly had
time to think. And then you know you owe me about a dozen visits!
But you're a savage--you don't pay visits. You stay here and
_piocher_--which is wiser, as the results prove. Ah, you're very
strong--immensely strong!" He paused in the middle of the studio,
glancing about a little apprehensively, as though he thought the
stored energy of the pictures might result in an explosion. "Very
original--very striking--ah, Miss Arran! A powerful head;
but--excuse the suggestion--isn't there just the least little lack
of sweetness? You don't think she has the sweet type? Perhaps
not--but could she be so lovely if she were not intensely feminine?
Just at present, though, she is not looking her best--she is
horribly tired. I am afraid there is very little money left--and
poor dear Caspar is so impossible: he won't hear of a loan.
Otherwise I should be most happy--. But I came just now to propose a
piece of work--in fact to give him an order. Mrs. Archer Millington
has built a new ball-room, as I daresay you may have seen in the
papers, and she has been kind enough to ask me for some hints--oh,
merely as a friend: I don't presume to do more than advise. But her
decorator wants to do something with Cupids--something light and
playful, you understand. And so I ventured to say that I knew a very
clever sculptor--well, I _do_ believe Caspar has talent--latent
talent, you know--and at any rate a job of that sort would be a big
lift for him. At least I thought he would regard it so; but you
should have heard him when I showed him the decorator's sketch. He
asked me what the Cupids were to be done in--lard? And if I thought
he had had his training at a confectioner's? And I don't know what
more besides--but he worked himself up to such a degree that he
brought on a frightful fit of coughing, and Miss Arran, I'm afraid,
was rather annoyed with me when she came in, though I'm sure an
order from Mrs. Archer Millington is not a thing that would annoy
Mr. Mungold paused, breathless with the rehearsal of his wrongs, and
Stanwell said with a smile: "You know poor Caspar is terribly stiff
on the purity of the artist's aim."
"The artist's aim?" Mr. Mungold stared. "What is the artist's aim
but to please--isn't that the purpose of all true art? But his
theories are so extravagant. I really don't know what I shall say to
Mrs. Millington--she is not used to being refused. I suppose I had
better put it on the ground of ill-health." The artist glanced at
his handsome repeater. "Dear me, I promised to be at Mrs. Van
Orley's before twelve o'clock. We are to settle about the curtain
before luncheon. My dear fellow, it has been a privilege to see your
work. By the way, you have never done any modelling, I suppose?
You're so extraordinarily versatile--I didn't know whether you might
care to undertake the Cupids yourself."
Stanwell had to wait a long time for the doctor; and when the latter
came out he looked grave. Worse? No, he couldn't say that Caspar was
worse--but then he wasn't any better. There was nothing mortal the
matter, but the question was how long he could hold out. It was the
kind of case where there is no use in drugs--he had just scribbled a
prescription to quiet Miss Arran.
"It's the cold, I suppose," Stanwell groaned. "He ought to be
shipped off to Florida."
The doctor made a negative gesture. "Florida be hanged! What he
wants is to sell his group. That would set him up quicker than
sitting on the equator."
"Sell his group?" Stanwell echoed. "But he's so indifferent to
recognition--he believes in himself so thoroughly. I thought at
first he would be hard hit when the Exhibition Committee refused it,
but he seems to regard that as another proof of its superiority."
His visitor turned on him the penetrating eye of the confessor.
"Indifferent to recognition? He's eating his heart out for it. Can't
you see that all that talk is just so much whistling to keep his
courage up? The name of his disease is failure--and I can't write
the prescription that will cure that complaint. But if somebody
would come along and take a fancy to those two naked parties who are
breaking each other's heads, we'd have Mr. Caspar putting on a pound
The truth of this diagnosis became suddenly vivid to Stanwell. How
dull of him not to have seen before that it was not cold or
privation which was killing Caspar--not anxiety for his sister's
future, nor the ache of watching her daily struggle--but simply the
cankering thought that he might die before he had made himself
known! It was his vanity that was starving to death, and all
Mungold's hampers could not appease that hunger. Stanwell was not
shocked by the discovery--he was only the more sorry for the little
man, who was, after all, denied that solace of self-sufficiency
which his talk so noisily pro- claimed. His lot seemed hard enough
when Stanwell had pictured him as buoyed up by the scorn of public
opinion--it became tragic if he was denied that support. The artist
wondered if Kate had guessed her brother's secret, or if she were
still the dupe of his stoicism. Stanwell was sure that the sculptor
would take no one into his confidence, and least of all his sister,
whose faith in his artistic independence was the chief prop of that
tottering pose. Kate's penetration was not great, and Stanwell
recalled the incredulous smile with which she had heard him defend
poor Mungold's "sincerity" against Caspar's assaults; but she had
the insight of the heart, and where her brother's happiness was
concerned she might have seen deeper than any of them. It was this
last consideration which took the strongest hold on Stanwell--he
felt Caspar's sufferings chiefly through the thought of his sister's
WITHIN three months two events had set the studio building talking.
Stanwell had painted a full-length portrait of Mrs. Archer
Millington, and Caspar Arran had received an order to execute his
group in marble.
The name of the sculptor's patron had not been divulged. The order
came through Shepson, who explained that an American customer living
abroad, having seen a photograph of the group in one of the papers,
had at once cabled home to secure it. He intended to bestow it on a
public building in America, and not wishing to advertise his
munificence, had preferred that even the sculptor should remain
ignorant of his name. The group bought by an enlightened compatriot
for the adornment of a civic building in his native land! There
could hardly be a more complete vindication of unappreciated genius,
and Caspar made the most of the argument. He was not exultant, he
was sublimely magnanimous. He had always said that he could afford
to await the Verdict of Posterity, and his unknown patron's act
clearly shadowed forth that impressive decision. Happily it also
found expression in a cheque which it would have taken more
philosophy to await. The group was paid for in advance, and Kate's
joy in her brother's recognition was deliciously mingled with the
thrill of ordering him some new clothes, and coaxing him out to dine
succulently at a neighbouring restaurant. Caspar flourished
insufferably on this regime: he began to strike the attitude of the
recognized Great Master, who gives advice and encouragement to the
struggling neophyte. He held himself up as an example of the reward
of disinterestedness, of the triumph of the artist who clings
obstinately to his convictions.
"A man must believe in his star--look at Napoleon! It's the dogged
trust in one's convictions that tells--it always ends by forcing the
public into line. Only be sure you make no concessions--don't give
in to any of their humbug! An artist who lis- tens to the critics is
ruined--they never have any use for the poor devils who do what they
tell them to. Run after fame and she'll keep you running, but stay
in your own corner and do your own work, and by George, sir, she'll
come crawling up to you and ask to have her likeness done!"
These exhortations were chiefly directed to Stanwell, partly because
the inmates of the other studios were apt to elude them, partly also
because the rumours concerning Stanwell's portrait of Mrs.
Millington had begun to disquiet the sculptor. At first he had taken
a condescending interest in the fact of his friend's receiving an
order, and had admonished him not to lose the chance of "showing up"
his sitter and her environment. It was a splendid opportunity for a
fellow with a "message" to be introduced into the tents of the
Philistine, and Stanwell was charged to drive a long sharp nail into
the enemy's skull. But presently Arran began to suspect that the
portrait was not as comminatory as he could have wished. Mungold,
the most kindly of rivals, let drop a word of injudicious praise:
the picture, he said, promised to be delightfully "in keeping" with
the decorations of the ball-room, and the lady's gown harmonized
exquisitely with the window-curtains. Stanwell, called to account by
his monitor, reminded the latter that he himself had been selected
by Mungold to do the Cupids for Mrs. Millington's ball-room, and
that the friendly artist's praise could, therefore, not be taken as
positive evidence of incapacity.
"Ah, but I didn't do them--I kicked him out!" Caspar rejoined; and
Stanwell could only plead that, even in the cause of art, one could
hardly kick a lady.
"Ah, that's the worst of it. If the women get at you you're lost.
You're young, you're impressionable, you won't mind my saying that
you're not built for a stoic, and hang it, they'll coddle you,
they'll enervate you, they'll sentimentalize you, they'll make a
Mungold of you!"
"Ah, poor Mungold," Stanwell laughed. "If he lived the life of an
anchorite he couldn't help painting pictures that would please Mrs.
"Whereas you could," Kate interjected, raising her head from the
ironing-board where, Sphinx-like, magnificent, she swung a splendid
arm above her brother's shirts.
"Oh, well, perhaps I shan't please her; perhaps I shall elevate her
Caspar directed a groan to his sister. "That's what they all think
at first--Childe Roland to the Dark Tower came. But inside the Dark
Tower there's the Venusberg. Oh, I don't mean that you'll be taken
with truffles and plush footmen, like Mungold. But praise, my poor
Ned--praise is a deadly drug! It's the absinthe of the artist--and
they'll stupefy you with it. You'll wallow in the mire of success."
Stanwell raised a protesting hand. "Really, for one order, you're a
"One? Haven't you already had a dozen others?"
"Only one other, so far--and I'm not sure I shall do that."
"Not sure--wavering already! That's the way the mischief begins. If
the women get a fad for you they'll work you like a galley-slave.
You'll have to do your round of 'copy' every morning. What becomes
of inspiration then? How are you going to loaf and invite the soul?
Don't barter your birthright for a mess of pottage! Oh, I understand
the temptation--I know the taste of money and success. But look at
me, Stanwell. You know how long I had to wait for recognition. Well,
now it's come to me I don't mean to let it knock me off my feet. I
don't mean to let myself be overworked; I have already made it known
that I will not be bullied into taking more orders than I can do
full justice to. And my sister is with me, God bless her; Kate would
rather go on ironing my shirts in a garret than see me prostitute my
Kate's glance radiantly confirmed this declaration of independence,
and Stanwell, with his evasive laugh, asked her if, meanwhile, she
should object to his investing a part of his ill-gotten gains in
theatre tickets for the party that evening.
It appeared that Stanwell had also been paid in advance, and well
paid; for he began to permit himself various mild distractions, in
which he generally contrived to have the Arrans share. It seemed
perfectly natural to Kate that Caspar's friends should spend their
money for his recreation, and by one of the most touching
sophistries of her sex she thus reconciled herself to the anomaly of
taking a little pleasure on her own account. Mungold was less often
in the way, for she had never been able to forgive him for proposing
that Caspar should do Mrs. Millington's Cupids; and for a few
radiant weeks Stanwell had the undisputed enjoyment of her pride in
her brother's achievement.
Stanwell had "rushed through" Mrs. Millington's portrait in time for
the opening of her new ball-room; and it was perhaps in return for
this favour that she consented to let the picture be exhibited at a
big Portrait Show which was held in April for the benefit of a
In Mrs. Millington's ball-room the picture had been seen and
approved only by the distinguished few who had access to that social
sanctuary; but on the walls of the exhibition it became a centre of
comment and discussion. One of the immediate results of this
publicity was a visit from Shepson, with two or three orders in his
pocket, as he put it. He surveyed the studio with fresh disgust,
asked Stanwell why he did not move, and was impressed rather than
downcast on learning that the painter had not decided whether he
would take any more orders that spring.
"You might haf a studio at Newport," he suggested. "It would be
rather new to do your sitters out of doors, with the sea behind
them--showing they had a blace on the gliffs!"
The picture produced a different and less flattering effect on the
critics. They gave it, indeed, more space than they had ever before
accorded to the artist's efforts, but their estimate seemed to
confirm Caspar Arran's forebodings, and Stanwell had perhaps never
despised them so little as when he read their comments on his work.
On the whole, however, neither praise nor blame disquieted him
greatly. He was engrossed in the contemplation of Kate Arran's
happiness, and basking in the refracted warmth it shed about her.
The doctor's prognostications had come true. Caspar was putting on a
pound a week, and had plunged into a fresh "creation" more symbolic
and encumbering than the monument of which he had been so
opportunely relieved. If there was any cloud on Stanwell's enjoyment
of life, it was caused by the discovery that success had quadrupled
Caspar's artistic energies. Meanwhile it was delightful to see
Kate's joy in her brother's recovered capacity for work, and to
listen to the axioms which, for Stanwell's guidance, she deduced
from the example of Caspar's heroic pursuit of the ideal. There was
nothing repellent in Kate's borrowed didacticism, and if it
sometimes bored Stanwell to hear her quote her brother, he was sure
it would never bore him to be quoted by her himself; and there were
moments when he felt he had nearly achieved that distinction.
Caspar was not addicted to the visiting of art exhibitions. He took
little interest in any productions save his own, and was moreover
disposed to believe that good pictures, like clever criminals, are
apt to go unhung. Stanwell therefore thought it unlikely that his
portrait of Mrs. Millington would be seen by Kate, who was not given
to independent explorations in the field of art; but one day, on
entering the exhibition--which he had hitherto rather nervously
shunned--he saw the Arrans at the end of the gallery in which the
portrait hung. They were not looking at it, they were moving away
from it, and to Stanwell's quickened perceptions their attitude
seemed almost that of flight. For a moment he thought of flying too;
then a desperate resolve nerved him to meet them, and stemming the
crowd, he made a circuit which brought him face to face with their
The room in which they met was momentarily empty, and there was
nothing to intervene between the shock of their inter-changed
glances. Caspar was flushed and bristling: his little body quivered
like a machine from which the steam has just been turned off. Kate
lifted a stricken glance. Stanwell read in it the reflexion of her
brother's tirade, but she held out her hand in silence.
For a moment Caspar was silent too; then, with a terrible smile: "My
dear fellow, I congratulate you; Mungold will have to look to his
laurels," he said.
The shot delivered, he stalked away with his seven-league stride,
and Kate moved tragically through the room in his wake.
SHEPSON took up his hat with a despairing gesture.
"Vell, I gif you up--I gif you up!" he said.
"Don't--yet," protested Stanwell from the divan.
It was winter again, and though the janitor had not forgotten the
fire, the studio gave no other evidence of its master's increasing
prosperity. If Stanwell spent his money it was not upon himself.
He leaned back against the wall, his hands in his pockets, a
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