It was Saturday night when Cornelia arrived, and she spent Sunday writing home a full account of her adventures to her mother, whom she asked to give Mrs. Barton the note she enclosed, and in looking over her drawings, and trying to decide which she should take to the Synthesis with her. She had a good deal of tacit argument about them with Mr. Ludlow, who persisted in her thoughts after several definitive dismissals; and Monday morning she presented herself with some drawings she had chosen as less ridiculous than some of the others, and hovered with a haughty humility at the door of the little office till the janitor asked her if she would not come in and sit down. He had apparently had official experience of cases like hers; he refused without surprise the drawings which she offered him as her credentials, and said the secretary would be in directly. He did not go so far as to declare his own quality, but he hospitably did what he could to make her feel at home.
Numbers of young people began to appear, singly and in twos and threes, and then go out again, and go on up the stairs which led crookedly to and from the corner the office was cramped into. Some of them went up stairs after merely glancing into the office, others found letters there, and staid chatting awhile. They looked at Cornelia with merely an identifying eye, at first, as if they perceived that she was a new girl, but as if new girls were such an old story that they could not linger long over one girl of the kind. Certain of the young ladies after they went up stairs came down in long, dismal calico aprons that covered them to the throat, and with an air of being so much absorbed in their work that they did not know what they had on. They looked at Cornelia again, those who had seen her before, and those who had not, made up for it by looking at her twice, and Cornelia began to wonder if there was anything peculiar about her, as she sat upright, stiffening with resentment and faintly flushing under their scrutiny. She wore her best dress, which was a street dress, as the best dress of a village girl usually is; her mother had fitted it, and they had made it themselves, and agreed that it was very becoming; Mrs. Burton had said so, too. The fashion of her hat she was not so sure about, but it was a pretty hat, and unless she had got it on skewy, and she did not believe she had, there was nothing about it to make people stare so. There was one of these girls, whom Cornelia felt to be as tall as herself, and of much her figure; she was as dark as Cornelia, but of a different darkness. Instead of the red that always lurked under the dusk in Cornelia's cheeks, and that now burned richly through it, her face was of one olive pallor, except her crimson lips; her long eyes were black, with level brows, and with a heavy fringe of lucent black hair cut straight above them; her nose was straight, at first glance, but showed a slight arch in profile; her mouth was a little too full, and her chin slightly retreated. She came in late, and stopped at the door of the office, and bent upon Cornelia a look at once prehistoric and fin de siecle, which lighted up with astonishment, interest and sympathy, successively; then she went trailing herself on up stairs with her strange Sphinx-face over her shoulder, and turned upon Cornelia as long as she could see her.
At last a gentleman came in and sat down behind the table in the corner, and Cornelia found a hoarse voice to ask him if he was the secretary. He answered in the friendly way that she afterwards found went all through the Synthesis, that he was, and she said, with her country bluntness, that she wished to study at the Synthesis, and she had brought some of her drawings with her, if he wanted to look at them. He took them, but either he did not want to look at them, or else it was not his affair to do so. He said she would have to fill out a form, and he gave her a blank which asked her in print a number of questions she had not thought of asking herself till then. It obliged her to confess that she had never studied under any one before, and to say which master in the Synthesis she would like to study under, now. She had to choose between life, and still-life, and the antique, and she chose the antique. She was not governed by any knowledge or desire in her choice more definite than such as come from her having read somewhere that the instructor in the antique was the severest of all the Synthesis instructors, and the most dreaded in his criticisms by the students. She did not forget, even in the presence of the secretary, and with that bewildering blank before her, that she wished to be treated with severity, and that the criticism she needed was the criticism that every one dreaded.
When the secretary fastened her application to her drawings, she asked if she should wait to learn whether it was accepted or not; but he said that he would send her application to the Members' Room, and the instructor would see it there in the morning. She would have liked to ask him if she should come back there to find out, but she was afraid to do it; he might say no, and then she should not know what to do. She determined to come without his leave, and the next morning she found that the master whom they had been submitted to had so far approved her drawings as to have scrawled upon her application, "Recommended to the Preparatory." The secretary said the instructor in the Preparatory would tell her which grade to enter there.
Cornelia's heart danced, but she governed herself outwardly, and asked through her set teeth, "Can I begin at once?" She had lost one day already, and she was not going to lose another if she could help it.
The secretary smiled. "If the instructor in the Preparatory will place you."
Before noon she had passed the criticism needed for this, and was in the lowest grade of the Preparatory. But she was a student at the Synthesis, and she was there to work in the way that those who knew best bade her. She wished to endure hardness, and the more hardness the better.
Cornelia found herself in the last of a long line of sections or stalls which flanked a narrow corridor dividing the girl students from the young men, who were often indeed hardly more than boys. There was a table stretching from this corridor to a window looking down on the roofs of some carpenter shops and stables; on the board before her lay the elementary shape of a hand in plaster, which she was trying to draw. At her side that odd-looking girl, who had stared so at her on the stairs the day before, was working at a block foot, and not getting it very well. She had in fact given it up for the present and was watching Cornelia's work and watching her face, and talking to her.
"What is your name?" she broke off to ask, in the midst of a monologue upon the social customs and characteristics of the Synthesis.
Cornelia always frowned, and drew her breath in long sibilations, when she was trying hard to get a thing right. She now turned a knotted forehead on her companion, but stopped her hissing to ask, "What?" Then she came to herself and said, "Oh! Saunders."
"I don't mean your last name," said the other, "I mean your first name."
"Cornelia," said the owner of it, as briefly as before.
"I should have thought it would have been Gladys," the other suggested.
Cornelia looked up in astonishment and some resentment. "Why in the world should my name be Gladys?" she demanded.
"I don't know," the other explained. "But the first moment I saw you in the office, I said to myself, 'Of course her name is Gladys.' Mine is Charmian."
"Is it?" said Cornelia, not so much with preoccupation, perhaps, as with indifference. She thought it rather a nice name, but she did not know what she had to do with it.
"Yes," the other said, as if she had somehow expected to be doubted. "My last name's Maybough." Cornelia kept on at her work without remark, and Miss Maybough pursued, as if it were a branch of autobiography, "I'm going to have lunch; aren't you?"
Cornelia sighed dreamily, as she drew back for an effect of her drawing, which she held up on the table before her, "Is it time?"
"Do you suppose they would be letting me talk so to you if it weren't? The monitor would have been down on me long ago."
Cornelia had noticed a girl who seemed to be in authority, and who sat where she could oversee and overhear all that went on.
"Is she one of the students?" she asked.
Miss Maybough nodded. "Elected every month. She's awful. You can't do anything with her when she's on duty, but she's a little dear when she isn't. You'll like her." Miss Maybough leaned toward her, and joined Cornelia in a study of her drawing. "How splendidly you're getting it. It's very chic. Oh, anybody can see that you've got genius!"
Her admiration made no visible impression upon Cornelia, and for a moment she looked a little disappointed; then she took a basket from under the table, and drew from it a bottle of some yellowish liquid, an orange and a bit of sponge cake. "Are you going to have yours here?" she asked, as Cornelia opened a paper with the modest sandwich in it which she had made at breakfast, and fetched from her boarding-house. "Oh, I'm so glad you haven't brought anything to drink with you! I felt almost sure you hadn't, and now you've got to share mine." She took a cup from her basket, and in spite of Cornelia's protest that she never drank anything but water at dinner, she poured it full of tea for her. "I'll drink out of the bottle," she said. "I like to. Some of the girls bring chocolate, but I think there's nothing like cold tea for the brain. Chocolate's so clogging; so's milk; but sometimes I bring that; it's glorious, drinking it out of the can." She tilted the bottle to her lips, and half drained it at a draught. "I always feel that I'm working with inspiration after I've had my cold tea. Of course they won't let you stay here long," she added.
"Why?" Cornelia fluttered back in alarm.
"When they see your work they'll see that you're fit for still-life, at least."
"Oh!" said Cornelia, vexed at having been scared for nothing. "I guess they won't be in any great hurry about it."
"How magnificent!" said Miss Maybough. "Of course, with that calm of yours, you can wait, as if you had eternity before you. Do you know that you are terribly calm?"
Cornelia turned and gave her a long stare. Miss Maybough broke her bit of cake in two, and offered her half, and Cornelia took it mechanically, but ate her sandwich. "I feel as if I had eternity behind me, I've been in the Preparatory so long."
On the common footing this drop to the solid ground gave, Cornelia asked her how long.
"Well, it's the beginning of my second year, now. If they don't let me go to round hands pretty soon, I shall have to see if I can't get the form by modelling. That's the best way. I suppose it's my imagination; it carries me away so, and I don't see the thing as it is before me; that's what they say. But with the clay, I'll have to, don't you know. Well, you know some of the French painters model their whole picture in clay and paint it, before they touch the canvas, any way. I shall try it here awhile longer, and then if I can't get to the round in any other way, I'll take to the clay. If sculpture concentrates you more, perhaps I may stick to it altogether. Art is one, anyhow, and the great thing is to live it. Don't you think so?"
"I don't know," said Cornelia. "I'm not certain I know what you mean."
"You will," said Miss Maybough, "after you've been here awhile, and get used to the atmosphere. I don't believe I really knew what life meant before I came to the Synthesis. When you get to realizing the standards of the Synthesis, then you begin to breathe freely for the first time. I expect to pass the rest of my days here. I shouldn't care if I stayed till I was thirty. How old are you?"
"I'm going on twenty," said Cornelia. "Why?"
"Oh, nothing. You can't begin too young; though some people think you oughtn't to come before you're eighteen. I look upon my days before I came here as simply wasted. Don't you want to go out and sit on the stairs awhile?"
"I don't believe I do," said Cornelia, taking up her drawing again, as if she were going on with it.
"Horrors!" Miss Maybough put her hand out over the sketch. "You don't mean that you're going to carry it any farther?"
"Why, it isn't finished yet," Cornelia began.
"Of course it isn't, and it never ought to be! I hope you're not going to turn out a niggler! Please don't! I couldn't bear to have you. Nobody will respect you if you finish. Don't! If you won't come out with me and get a breath of fresh air, do start a new drawing! I want them to see this in the rough. It's so bold."
Miss Maybough had left her own drawing in the rough, but it could not be called bold; though if she had seen the block hand with a faltering eye, she seemed to have had a fearless vision of many other things, and she had covered her paper with a fantastic medley of grotesque shapes, out of that imagination which she had given Cornelia to know was so fatally mischievous to her in its uninvited activities. "Don't look at them!" she pleaded, when Cornelia involuntarily glanced at her study. "My only hope is to hate them. I almost pray to be delivered from them. Let's talk of something else." She turned the sheet over. "Do you mind my having said that about your drawing?"
"No!" said Cornelia, provoked to laughter by the solemnity of the demand. "Why should I?"
"Oh, I don't know. Do you think you shall like me? I mean, do you care if I like you—very, very much?"
"I don't suppose I could stop it if I did, could I?" asked Cornelia.
The Sphinx seemed to find heart to smile. "Of course, I'm ridiculous. But I do hope we're going to be friends. Tell me about yourself. Or, have some more tea!"
"I don't want any more tea, thank you," said Cornelia, "and there isn't anything to tell."
"There must be!" the other girl insisted, clinging to her bottle with tragic intensity. "Any one can see that you've lived. What part of the country did you come from?"
"Ohio," said Cornelia, as the best way to be done with it.
"And have you ever been in Santa Fe?"
"Goodness, no! Why, it's in New Mexico!"
"Yes; I was born there. Then my father went to Colorado. He isn't living, now. Are your father and mother living?"
"My mother is," said Cornelia; the words brought up a vision of her mother, as she must be sitting that moment in the little front-room, and a mist came suddenly before her eyes; she shut her lips hard to keep them from trembling.
"I see, you worship her," said Miss Maybough fervidly, keeping her gaze fixed upon Cornelia. "You are homesick!"
"I'm not homesick!" said Cornelia, angry that she should be so and that she should be denying it.
"Mine," said the other, "died while I was a baby. She had Indian blood," she added in the same way in which she had said her name was Charmian.
"Did she?" Cornelia asked.
"That is the legend," said Miss Maybough solemnly. "Her grandmother was a Zuni princess." She turned her profile. "See?"
"It does look a little Indian," said Cornelia.
"Some people think it's Egyptian," Miss Maybough suggested, as if she had been leading up to the notion, and were anxious not to have it ignored.
Cornelia examined the profile steadily presented, more carefully: "It's a good deal more Egyptian."
Miss Maybough relieved her profile from duty, and continued, "We've been everywhere. Paris two years. That's where I took up art in dead earnest; Julian, you know. Mamma didn't want me to; she wanted me to go into society there; and she does here; but I hate it. Don't you think society is very frivolous, or, any way, very stupid?"
"I don't know much about it. I never went out, much," said Cornelia.
"Well, I hope you're not conventional! Nobody's conventional here."
"I don't believe I'm conventional enough to hurt," said Cornelia.
"You have humor, too," said Miss Maybough, thoughtfully, as if she had been mentally cataloguing her characteristics. "You'll be popular."
Cornelia stared at her and turned to her drawing.
"But you're proud," said the other, "I can see that. I adore pride. It must have been your pride that fascinated me at the first glance. Do you mind my being fascinated with you?"
Cornelia wanted to laugh; at the same time she wondered what new kind of crazy person she had got with; this was hardly one of the art-students that went wild from overwork. Miss Maybough kept on without waiting to be answered: "I haven't got a bit of pride, myself. I could just let you walk over me. How does it feel to be proud? What are you proud for?"
Cornelia quieted a first impulse to resent this pursuit. "I don't think I'm very proud. I used to be proud when I was little;—I guess you ought to have asked me then."
"Oh, yes! Tell me about yourself!" Miss Maybough implored again, but she went on as before without giving Cornelia any chance to reply. "Of course, when I say mamma, I mean my step-mother. She's very good to me, but she doesn't understand me. You'll like her. I'll tell you what sort of a person she is." She did so at such length that the lunch hour passed before she finished, and a hush fell upon all the babbling voices about, as the monitor came back to her place.
Toward the end of the afternoon the monitor's vigilance relaxed again, and Miss Maybough began to talk again. "If you want to be anything by the Synthesis standards," she said, "you've got to keep this up a whole year, you know." It was now four o'clock, and Cornelia had been working steadily since eleven, except for the half-hour at lunch-time. "They'll see how well you draw; you needn't be afraid of their not doing that; and they'll let you go on to the round at once, perhaps. But if you're truly Synthetic in spirit, you won't want to. You'll want to get all you can out of the block; and it'll take you a year to do that; then another year for the full length, you know. At first we only had the block here, and a good many people think now that the full length Preparatory encroaches on the Antique. Sometimes they even let you put in backgrounds here, but it don't matter much: when the instructor in the Antique gets hold of you he makes you unlearn everything you've learnt in the full-length. He's grand."
A girl who was working at the other end of the table said with a careless air, "They told me I might go up to the Antique to-day."
"Lida!" Miss Maybough protested, in a voice hoarse with admiration.
"Yes; but I'm not going."
"Why not? I should think you would be so proud. How did they come to tell you?"
"Oh, they just said I might. But I'm not going. They're so severe in the Antique. They just discourage you."
"Yes, that is so," said Miss Maybough, with a sigh of solemn joy. "They make you feel as if you couldn't draw at all."
"Yes," said the other girl. "They act as if you didn't know a thing."
"I wouldn't go," said Miss Maybough.
"I don't know. Perhaps I may." The girl went on drawing, and Miss Maybough turned to Cornelia again.
"Towards the end of your third year—or perhaps you don't like to have your future all mapped out. Does it scare you?"
"I guess if it does I shall live through it," said Cornelia steadily; her heart was beginning to quake somewhat, but she was all the more determined not to show it.
"Well, the third year you may get to painting still-life, while you keep up your drawing afternoons here. The next year you'll go into the antique class, if they'll let you, and draw heads, and keep up your still-life mornings. When they think you're fit for it, they'll let you do an arm, maybe, and work along that way to the full figure; and that takes another whole winter. Then you go into the life class, one of them, all the morning, and keep drawing from the antique in the afternoons, or else do heads from the model. You do a head every day, and then paint it out, and begin another the next day. You learn to sacrifice self to art. It's grand! Well, then, the next winter you keep on just the same, and as many winters after that as you please. You know what one instructor said to a girl that asked him what she should do after she had been five years in the Synthesis?"
"No, I don't," answered Cornelia anxiously.
"Stay five years more!"
Miss Maybough did not give this time to sink very deep into Cornelia's spirit. "Will you let me call you by your first name?"
"Why, I've hardly ever been called by any other," said Cornelia simply.
"And will you call me Charmian?"
"I had just as lief." Cornelia laughed; she could not help it; that girl seemed so odd; she did not know whether she liked her or not.
"What poise you have got!" sighed Charmian. "May I come to see you? Not a ceremonious call. In your own room; where we can talk."
Cornelia thought that if they went on as they had that day, they should probably talk quite enough at the Synthesis; but she said, "Why, yes, I should like to have you, if you won't care for my sitting on the trunk. There's only one chair."
"Let me have the trunk! Promise me you'll let me sit on the trunk. It's divine! Is it in a Salvation Hotel?"
"What do you mean?" asked Cornelia.
"Why, that's what they call the places that the Young Women's Christian Association keep."
"No, it isn't. It's just a boarding-house." Cornelia wrote her address on a piece of paper, and Charmian received it with solemn rapture. She caught Cornelia in a sudden embrace and kissed her, before Cornelia could help herself. "Oh, I adore you!" she cried.
They parted at the head of the stairs, where they found themselves among groups of students arriving from all parts of the place, and pausing for Synthesis gossip, which Cornelia could not have entered into yet if she had wished. She escaped, and walked home to her boarding-house with rather a languid pace, and climbed to her little room on the fifth story, and lay down on her bed. It was harder work than teaching, and her back ached, and her heart was heavy with the thought of five years in the Synthesis, when she barely had money enough for one winter. She was not afraid of the work; she liked that; she would be glad to spend her whole life at it; but she could not give five years to it, and perhaps ten. She was ashamed now to think she had once dreamed of somehow slipping through in a year, and getting the good of it without working for it. She tried to plan how she could go home and teach a year, and then come back and study a year, and so on; but by the end of the twenty years that it would take for ten years' study at this rate, she would be an old woman of forty, ready to drop into the grave. She was determined not to give up, and if she did not give up, there was no other end to it; or so it seemed at the close of her first day in the Synthesis.
She was very homesick, and she would have liked to give up altogether and go home. But she thought of what people would say; of how her mother, who would be so glad to see her, would feel. She would not be a baby, and she turned her face over in the pillow and sobbed.
Cornelia thought that perhaps Mr. Ludlow would feel it due to Mrs. Burton to come and ask how she was getting on; but if she did not wish him to come she had reason to be glad, for the whole week passed, and she did not see him, or hear anything from him. She did not blame him, for she had been very uncouth, and no doubt he had done his whole duty in meeting her at the depot, and seeing her safely housed the first night. She wished to appreciate his kindness, and when she found herself wondering a little at his not caring to know anything more about her, she made much of it. If it was not all that she could have imagined from his offer to be of use to her in any way he could, she reminded herself that he had made that offer a very long time ago, and that she never meant to use him. Beside, she was proud of having made her start alone, and she knew which way she wished to go, though the way seemed so hard and long at times. She was not sure that all the students at the Synthesis were so clear as to their direction, but they all had the same faith in the Synthesis and its methods. They hardly ever talked to her of anything else, and first and last they talked a good deal to her. It was against the rules to loiter and talk in the corridors, as much against the rules as smoking; but every now and then you came upon a young man with a cigarette, and he was nearly always talking with a group of girls. At lunch-time the steps and window-seats were full, and the passages were no longer thoroughfares. After the first day Cornelia came out with the rest; Charmian Maybough said that one could not get into the spirit of the Synthesis unless one did; and in fact those who wished to work and those who would rather have played, as it seemed to her, met there in the same aesthetic equality. She found herself acquainted with a great many girls whose names she did not know, in the fervor of the common interest, the perpetual glow of enthusiasm which crowned the severest ordeals of the Synthesis with the halo of happy martyrdom if not the wreath of victory.
They talked about the different instructors, how awful they were, and how they made you cry sometimes, they were so hard on your work; but if you amounted to anything, you did not mind it when you got to feel what they meant; then you wanted them to be harsh. They said of one, "My! You ought to see him! He can spoil your drawing for you! He just takes your charcoal, and puts thick black lines all over everything. It don't do to finish much for him." They celebrated another for sitting down in front of your work, and drooping in silent despair before it for awhile, and then looking up at you in cold disgust, and asking, "What made you draw it that way?" as if it were inconceivable anybody should have been willing to do it so. There were other instructors who were known to have the idea of getting at the best in you by a sympathetic interest in what you had tried for, and looking for some good in it. The girls dramatized their manner of doing this; they did not hold them in greater regard than the harder masters, but they did not hold them in less, and some of them seemed to value an instructor as much for the way he squinted his eyes at your drawing as for what he said of it.
The young men did not talk so much of the instructors; they were more reticent about everything. But some had formed themselves upon them, and you could tell which each of these was studying under; or this was what Charmian Maybough said.
She led Cornelia all about through the quaint old rookery, with its wandering corridors, and its clusters of rooms distributed at random in the upper stories of several buildings which the Synthesis had gathered to itself as if by a sort of affinity, and she lectured upon every one and everything.
It was against usage for students in the lower grades to visit the upper classes when they were at work; but Charmian contrived stolen glimpses of the still-life rooms and the rooms where they were working from the draped models. For the first time Cornelia saw the irregular hemicycle of students silently intent upon the silent forms and faces of those strange creatures who sat tranced in a lifeless immobility, as if the long practice of their trade had resolved them into something as impersonal as the innumerable pictures studied from them. She even penetrated with Charmian to the women's life-room, where you really could not go while the model was posing, and where they had to time their visit at the moment when the girls had left off for lunch, and were chattering over their chocolate. They had set it out on the vacant model-stand, and they invited their visitors to break bread with them: the bread they had brought to rub out their drawings with. They made Cornelia feel as much at home with them on the summit they had reached, as she felt with the timidest beginners in the Preparatory. Charmian had reported everywhere that she had genius, and in the absence of proofs to the contrary the life-class accepted her as if she had. Their talk was not very different from the talk of the students in the lower grades. They spoke of the Synthesis, and asked her how she liked it, but they did not wait for her to say. They began to descant upon their instructors, and the pictures their instructors had last exhibited at the Academy or the American Artists; and the things that the old Synthesis pupils had there. Cornelia learned here that even actual Synthetics had things in the exhibitions, and that in the last Academy a Preparatory girl had sold a picture; she determined that before the winter was over she would at least give the Academy a chance to refuse the picture of another Preparatory girl.
She got Charmian to point out the girl who had sold the picture; she was a little, quiet-looking thing; Cornelia saw some of her work in round hands and she did not think it was better than she could do herself. She took courage and dreamed of trying not to disappoint the hopes of immediate performance, which she knew her mother would be having in spite of her pretending the contrary. Her mother had written that she must not work herself down, trying to learn too fast, but must take the whole winter for it. Cornelia wondered what she would think if she knew how little a person could be expected to do in one winter, in the regular Synthesis way.
She was happier at the end of the first week than she had been at the end of the first day, though she was very tired, and was glad to stop at the earlier hour when most of the students left their work on Saturday afternoon. She had begun to feel the charm of the Synthesis, which every one said she would feel. She was already a citizen of the little republic where the heaviest drudgery was sweet with a vague, high faith and hope. It was all a strange happiness to her, and yet not strange. It was like a heritage of her own that she had come into; something she was born to, a right, a natural condition.
She did not formulate this, or anything; she did not ask herself why the frivolities and affectations which disgusted her in the beginning no longer offended her so much; she only saw that some of the most frivolous and affected of her fellow-citizens were the cleverest; and that the worst of them were better than they might have been where the ideal was less generous. She did not know then or afterwards just why some of them were there, and they did not seem to know themselves. There were some who could reasonably expect to live by their art; there were more who could hope to live by teaching it. But there were others who had no definite aim or purpose, and seemed to think their study would shape them to some design. They were trying it, they did not know clearly why, or at least were not able to say clearly why. There were several rich girls, and they worked from the love of it, as hard as the poorest. There were some through whom she realized what Ludlow meant when he spoke to her mother of the want that often went hand in hand with art; there were others even more pitiful, who struggled with the bare sufficiency of gift to keep within the Synthesis. But even among the girls who were so poor that they had to stint themselves of food and fire, for art's sake, there were the bravest and gayest spirits; and some of these who could never have learned to draw well if they had spent their lives in the Synthesis, and were only waiting till their instructor should find the heart to forbid them further endeavor, were so sweet and good that Cornelia's heart ached for them.
At first she was overawed by all the students, simply because they were all older students at the Synthesis than she was. Then she included them without distinction in the slight that she felt for the chatter and the airs of some. After that she made her exceptions among them; she begun to see how every one honored and admired the hard workers. She could not revert to her awe of them, even of the hardest workers; but she became more tolerant of the idlest and vaguest. She compared herself with the clever ones, and owned herself less clever, not without bitterness, but certainly with sincerity, and with a final humility that enabled her to tolerate those who were least clever.
When she got home from the Synthesis the first Saturday afternoon, Cornelia climbed up the four flights of stairs that led to her little room, and lay down to rest, as she promised Mrs. Burton she would do every day; some days she did not. She had to lie on her bed, which filled two-thirds of the room. There was a bureau with a glass, which she could not see the bottom of her skirt in without jumping up; and a wash-stand with a shut-down lid, where she wrote her letters and drew; a chair stood between that and her trunk, which was next the door, and let the door open part way.
It seemed very cramped at first, but she soon got used to it, and then she did not think about it; but accepted it as she did everything else in the life that was all so strange to her. She had never been in a boarding-house before, and she did not know whether it was New York usage or not, that her trunk, which the expressman had managed to leave in the lower hall, should be left standing there for twenty-four hours after his escape, and that then she should be asked to take some things out of it so that it should not be too heavy for the serving-maids to carry up to her room. There was no man-servant in the place; but the landlady said that they expected to have a furnace-man as soon as it came cold weather.
The landlady was such an indistinct quality, that it could seldom be known whether she was at home or not, and when she was identifiably present, whether she had promised or had not promised to do this or that. People were always trying to see her for some reason or no reason, and it was said that the best time to find her was at table. This was not so easy; the meals had a certain range in time, and the landlady was nominally at the head of the table; but those who came early to find her made the mistake of not having come late, and if you came late you just missed her. Yet she was sometimes actually to be encountered at the head of the stairs from the kitchen, or evanescing from the parlor; and somehow the house was operated; the meals came and went, and the smell of their coming and going filled the hall-way from the ground floor to the attic. Some people complained of the meals, but Cornelia's traditions were so simple that she thought them a constant succession of prodigies, with never less than steak, fish and hash for breakfast, and always turkey and cranberry sauce for dinner, and often ice-cream; sometimes the things were rather burnt, but she did not see that there was much to find fault with. She celebrated the luxury in her letters home, and she said that she liked the landlady, too, and that they had got to be great friends; in fact the landlady reminded the girl of her own mother in the sort of springless effectiveness with which she brought things to pass, when you would never have expected any result whatever; and she was gentle like her mother, and simple-hearted, with all her elusiveness. But she was not neat, like Mrs. Saunders; the house went at loose ends. Cornelia found fluff under her bed that must have been there a long time. The parlor and the dining-room were kept darkened, and no one could have told what mysteries their corners and set pieces of furniture harbored. The carpets, where the subdued light struck them, betrayed places worn down to the warp. Mrs. Montgomery herself had a like effect of unsparing use; her personal upholstery showed frayed edges and broken woofs, which did not seriously discord with her nerveless gentility.
The parlor was very long and rather narrow, and it was crossed at the rear by the dining-room which showed the table in stages of preparation or dismantling through sliding-doors never quite shut. At intervals along the parlor walls were set sofas in linen brocade and yellow jute; and various easy and uneasy chairs in green plush stood about in no definite relation to the black-walnut, marble-topped centre-table. A scarf, knotted and held by a spelter vase to one of the marble mantles, for there were two, recorded a moment of the aesthetic craze which had ceased before it got farther amidst the earlier and honester ugliness of the room. The gas-fixtures were of the vine-leaf and grape-cluster bronze-age; some of the garlands which ought to have been attached to the burners, hung loose from the parent stem, without the effort on the part of any witness to complete the artistic intention. In the evening, the lady-boarders received their gentlemen-callers in the parlor; their lady-callers were liable at all times to be asked if they would not like to go to the boarders' rooms, and whether they expressed this preference or not, they were directed where to find them by the maid, who then rapidly disappeared down the kitchen stairs.
In fact, the door-service at Mrs. Montgomery's was something she would probably have deprecated if any one had asked her to do so. It was the charge of a large, raw-boned Irish girl, who made up by her athletic physique and her bass voice for the want of a man-servant on the premises. She brow-beat visitors into acceptance of the theory that the persons they came to see were not at home, especially if they showed signs of intending to wait in the parlor while she went upstairs to find out. Those who suffered from her were of the sex least fitted to combat her. The gentlemen boarders seldom had callers; when they had, their callers did not ask whether their friends were in or not; they went and saw for themselves.
The gentlemen at Mrs. Montgomery's were fewer than the ladies, and they were for several reasons in greater favor. For one thing they gave less trouble: they had a less lively fear of mice, and they were not so apt to be out of health and to want their meals sent up; they ate more, but they did not waste so much, and they never did any sort of washing in their rooms. Cornelia did not know who or what some of them were; but she made sure of a theatrical manager; two or three gentlemen in different branches of commerce; a newspaper writer of some sort, and an oldish gentleman who had been with Mrs. Montgomery a great while, and did not seem to be anything but a gentleman boarder, pure and simple. They were all very civil and quiet, and they bore with the amiable American fortitude the hardships of the common lot at Mrs. Montgomery's, which Cornelia underwent ignorantly as necessary incidents of life in New York.
She now fell asleep where she lay, and she was startled from her nap, but hardly surprised, to hear her name spoken in the hall far below, as if it were a theme of contention between the bass-voiced Irish girl and some one at the street door, who supported the other side of the question in low, indistinct, lady-like murmurs.
"No, she don't be in," said the Irish girl bluntly. The polite murmur insisted, and the Irish girl said, with finality, "Well, then, yous can go up yourselves and see; the room is right over the dure, four flights up."
Cornelia jumped up and tried to pull her hair into a knot before the glass. There came a tap at her door and the voice of Charmian Maybough asked, "May I come in, Miss Saunders,—Cornelia?"
"Yes," said Cornelia, and she opened the door as far as her trunk would let her.
Charmian pushed impetuously in. She took Cornelia in her arms and kissed her, as if they had not met for a long time.
"Oh," she said, whirling about, so as to sweep the whole room with her glance, before sinking down on Cornelia's trunk, "why can't I have something like this? Well, I shall have, I hope, before I die, yet. What made her say you weren't in? I knew you were." She rose and flew about the room, and examined it in detail. She was very beautifully dressed, in a street costume of immediate fashion, without a suggestion of the aestheticism of the picturesque gown she wore at the Synthesis; that had originality, but Cornelia perceived with the eye trained to see such differences, that this had authority. Charmian could not help holding and carrying herself differently in it, too. She was exquisitely gloved, and Cornelia instinctively felt that her hat was from Paris, though till then she had never seen a Paris hat to know it. She might have been a little overawed by it, if the wearer had not abruptly asked her what she thought of it.
"Well," said Cornelia, with her country directness, which was so different from the other's abruptness, "I think it's about the most perfect thing I ever saw."
Charmian sighed. "I saw you looking at it. Yes, it is a dream. But it's a badge of slavery. So's the whole costume. Look how I'm laced!" She flung open the jacket and revealed a waist certainly much smaller than she had earlier in the day. "That's the way it goes through my whole life. Mamma is dead set against the artistic, and I'm dead set against the fashionable. As long as I'm at the Synthesis, I do as the Synthetics do. I dress like the Synthesis, and I think like it, and I act like it. As soon as I get home in the afternoon, I have to be of the world worldly. I put on a Worth frock, and mamma would make me put on a Worth spirit, if she could. I do my best to conform, because it's the bargain, and I'll keep my word if it kills me. Now you see what a double life I lead! If I could only be steeped in hopeless poverty to the lips! If I could have a room like this, even! Sometimes I'm so bewildered by the twofold existence I'm leading, I don't really know what I'm saying. Those your things, of course?" She sprang from Cornelia's trunk, which she had sank down upon again, and swiftly traversed the sketches Cornelia had pinned about the wall. "What touch! Yes, you merely have to live on, to be anything you like. It'll do itself for you. Well, I suppose you'll have to see her." She turned about to Cornelia with an air of deprecation. "Mamma, you know. She's down stairs waiting for us. She thinks it right to come with me always. I dare say it is. She isn't so very bad, you know. Only she insists upon knowing all the girls I take a fancy to, herself. You needn't be afraid of her."
"I don't know why I should be afraid of anybody," said Cornelia.
The darker corner of the long parlor was occupied by a young couple in the earnest inquiry into each other's psychological peculiarities which marks a stage of the passion of love. It obliged them to get very close together, where they sat, she on a lounge and he in the chair, which he kept pulling nearer and nearer; they fulfilled these conditions and exchanged their observations with a freedom that ignored the presence of the lady sitting somewhat severely upright between the two long, front windows, exactly midway of the dingy lace curtains, trained fan-wise on the carpet. They were not disturbed when Cornelia and Charmian appeared; the young lady continued to dangle the tassel of a cushion through her fingers, and the young man leaned toward her with his face in his hand, and his elbow sunk in the arm of the lounge; but the other lady rose at once and came quickly forward, as if escaping from them. Beside the tall girls she looked rather little, and she was decidedly blonde against their brunette color. She wore a veil that came just between her upper and her lower lip, and that stirred lightly when she spoke. She was dressed with the same authoritative fashion as Charmian, but not so simply.
She did not wait for her daughter to speak, but took Cornelia's hand, and said in a soft voice, "Miss Saunders? I am very glad we found you at home. My daughter has been speaking to me about you, and we hoped to have come sooner, but we couldn't manage together before."
"Won't you sit down?" asked Cornelia.
"No, I thank you," Mrs. Maybough returned, with a velvety tenderness of tone that seemed to convey assent. "We shall be rather late, as it is. I hope you're comfortably situated here."
"Oh, very," said Cornelia. "I've never been away from home before, and of course it isn't like home."
"Yes," said Mrs. Maybough, "one misses the refinements of home in such places." She turned and swept the appointments of the room, including the students of psychology, with a critical eye.
"I wish I could come here," sighed the daughter. "If I could have a room like Cornelia's, mamma! I wish you could see it."
"I'm glad you're pleasantly placed, Miss Saunders. I hope you're not working too hard at the Synthesis. I understand the young ladies there are so enthusiastic."
"Oh, no," Cornelia protested.
"Of course she is!" said Charmian. "Everybody works too hard at the Synthesis. It's the ideal of the place. We woke her out of a nap, and I know she was tired to death."
Cornelia could not deny it, and so she said nothing.
"Oh!" said Mrs. Maybough, non-committally; "that won't do." She paused, without intermitting the scrutiny which Cornelia felt she had been subjecting her to from the first moment through her veil. "You mustn't wear yourself out." She paused again, and then while Charmian turned away with an effect of impatience, she asked, "Do you ever go out on Sundays?"
"Why, I don't know," Cornelia began, not certain whether Mrs. Maybough meant walking out or driving out; young people did both in Pymantoning.
Mrs. Maybough pursued: "We receive on Thursdays, but we have a few friends coming in to-morrow afternoon, and we should be very glad to see you, if you have nothing better."
The invitation was so tentatively, so gingerly offered in manner, if not in words, that Cornelia was not quite sure it had been given. She involuntarily searched her memory for something better before she spoke; for the first time in her life she was about to invent a previous engagement, when Charmian suddenly turned and laid her arms about her neck.
"You'll come, of course!"
"Charmian!" said Mrs. Maybough. It would have been hard to tell whether she was reproving the action or the urgence. "Then we shall hope to see you?"
"Yes, thank you," said Cornelia.
"Do come!" said Charmian, as if she had not yet accepted. "I can't let it be a whole day and two nights before I see you again!" She put her arm round Cornelia's waist, as the girl went with them to the outer door, to open it for them, in her village fashion. In the hall, Charmian whispered passionately, "Don't you envy them? Oh, if I could live in such a house with you, and with people like that just to look at!"
"My dear!" said Mrs. Maybough.
"They seem to be engaged," said Cornelia placidly, without sense of anything wrong in the appearance of the fact.
"Evidently," said Mrs. Maybough.
"I shouldn't care for the engagement," said Charmian. "That would be rather horrid. But if you were in love, to feel that you needn't hide it or pretend not to be! That is life! I'm coming here, mamma!"
Mrs. Maybough had an apartment in the Mandan Flats, and her windows looked out over miles of the tinted foliage of the Park, and down across the avenue into one of the pretty pools which light up its woodland reaches. The position was superb, and the Mandan was in some sort worthy of it. The architect had done his best to give unity and character to its tremendous mass, and he had failed in much less measure than the architects of such buildings usually do. Cornelia dismounted into the dirty street in front of it from a shabby horse-car, and penetrated its dimmed splendors of mosaic pavement and polished granite pillars and frescoed vaults, with a heart fluttered by a hall-boy all over buttons, and a janitor in blue and silver livery, and an elevator-man in like keeping with American ideals. She was disgusted with herself that she should be so scared, and she was ashamed of the relief she felt when a servant in plain clothes opened Mrs. Maybough's door to her; she knew he must be a servant because he had on a dress-coat and a white tie, and she had heard the Burtons joke about how they were always taking the waiters for clergymen at first in Europe, He answered her with subdued respectfulness when she asked for the ladies, and then he went forward and for the first time in her life she heard her name called into a drawing-room, as she had read it was done in England, but never could imagine it. The man held aside the portiere for her to pass, but before she could pass there came a kind of joyous whoop from within, a swishing of skirts toward her, and she was caught in the arms of Charmian, who kissed her again and again, and cried out over her goodness in coming.
"Why, didn't you expect me?" Cornelia asked bluntly.
"Yes, but I was just pretending you wouldn't come, or something had happened to keep you, so that I could have the good of the revulsion when you did come, and feel that it was worth all I had suffered. Don't you like to do that?"
"I don't believe I ever did it," said Cornelia.
"That's what makes you so glorious," Charmian exulted. "You don't need to do such things. You're equal to life as it comes. But I have to prepare myself for it every way I can. Don't you see?"
She led her, all embraced, into the drawing-room, where she released her to the smooth welcome of Mrs. Maybough. There was no one else in the vast, high room which was lit with long windows and darkened again with long, thick curtains, but was still light enough to let Cornelia see the elaborate richness of Mrs. Maybough's dress and the simple richness of Charmian's. She herself wore her street-dress and she did not know whether she ought to keep her hat on or not; but Charmian said she must pour tea with her, and she danced Cornelia down the splendid length of the three great salons opening into each other along the front of the apartment, toward her own room where she said she must leave it. The drawing-room was a harmony of pictures so rich and soft, and rugs so rich and soft, that the colors seemed to play from wall to floor and back again in the same mellow note; the dimness of the dining-room was starred with the glimmer of silver and cut-glass and the fainter reflected light of polished mahogany; the library was a luxury of low leather chairs and lounges, lurking window-seats, curtained in warm colors, and shelves full of even ranks of books in French bindings of blue and green leather. There was a great carved library table in front of the hearth where a soft-coal fire flickered with a point or two of flame; on the mantel a French clock of classic architecture caught the eye with the gleam of its pendulum as it vibrated inaudibly. It was all extremely well done, infinitely better done than Cornelia could have known. It was tasteful and refined, with the taste and refinement of the decorator who had wished to produce the effect of long establishment and well-bred permanency; the Mandan Flats were really not two years old, and Mrs. Maybough had taken her apartment in the spring and had been in it only a few weeks.
"Now all this is mamma," Charmian said, suffering Cornelia to pause for a backward glance at the rooms as she pushed open a door at the side of the library. "I simply endure it because it's in the bargain. But it's no more me than my gown is. This is where I stay, when I'm with mamma, but I'm going to show you where I live, where I dream." She glided down the electric-lighted corridor where they found themselves, and apologized over her shoulder to Cornelia behind her: "Of course, you can't have an attic in a flat; and anything like rain on the roof is practically impossible; but I've come as near to it as I could. Be careful! Here are the stairs." She mounted eight or ten steps that crooked upward, and flung wide a door at the top of the landing. It gave into a large room fronting northward and lighted with one wide window; the ceiling sloped and narrowed down to this from the quadrangular vault, and the cool gray walls rose not much above Cornelia's head where they met the roof. They were all stuck about with sketches in oil and charcoal. An easel with a canvas on it stood convenient to the light; a flesh-tinted lay-figure in tumbled drapery drooped limply in a corner; a table littered with palettes and brushes and battered tubes of color was carelessly pushed against the window; there were some lustrous rugs hung up beside the door; the floor was bare except for a great tiger-skin, with the head on, that sprawled in front of the fire-place. This was very simple, with rough iron fire-dogs; the low mantel was scattered with cigarettes, cigars in Chinese bronze vases at either end, and midway a medley of pipes, long-stemmed in clay and stubbed in briar-wood.
"Good gracious!" said Cornelia. "Do you smoke?"
"Not yet," Charmian answered gravely, "but I'm going to learn: Bernhardt does. These are just some pipes that I got the men at the Synthesis to give me; pipes are so full of character. And isn't this something like?" She invited Cornelia to a study of the place by turning about and looking at it herself. "It seemed as if it never would come together, at one time. Everything was in it, just as it should be; and then I found it was the ridiculous ceiling that was the trouble. It came to me like a flash, what to do, and I got this canvas painted the color of the walls, and sloped so as to cut off half the height of the room; and now it's a perfect symphony. You wouldn't have thought it wasn't a real ceiling?"
"No, I shouldn't," said Cornelia, as much surprised as Charmian could have wished.
"You can imagine what a relief it is to steal away here from all that unreality of mamma's, down there, and give yourself up to the truth of art; I just draw a long breath when I get in here, and leave the world behind me. Why, when I get off here alone, for a minute, I unlace!"
Cornelia went about looking at the sketches on the walls; they were all that mixture of bad drawing and fantastic thinking which she was used to in the things Charmian scribbled over her paper at the Synthesis. She glanced toward the easel, but Charmian said, "Don't look at it! There's nothing there; I haven't decided what I shall do yet. I did think I should paint this tiger skin, but I don't feel easy painting the skin of a tiger I haven't killed myself. If I could get mamma to take me out to India and let me shoot one! But don't you think the whole place is perfect? I've tried to make it just what a studio ought to be, and yet keep it free from pose, don't you know?"
"Yes," said Cornelia. "I've never seen a studio, before."
"You poor thing, you don't mean it!" cried Charmian in deep pity. Cornelia said nothing, and Charmian went on with an air of candor, "Well, I haven't seen a great many myself—only two or three—but I know how they are, and it's easy enough to realize one. What I want is to have the atmosphere of art about me, all the time. I'm like a fish out of water when I'm out of the atmosphere of art. I intend to spend my whole time here when I'm not at the Synthesis."
"I should think it would be a good place to work," Cornelia conceded.
"Yes, and I am going to work here," said Charmian. "The great trouble with me is that I have so many things in my mind I don't know which to begin on first. That's why the Synthesis is so good for me; it concentrates me, if it is on a block hand. You're concentrated by nature, and so you can't feel what a glorious pang it is to be fixed to one spot like a butterfly with a pin through you. I don't see how I ever lived without the Synthesis. I'm going to have a wolf-hound—as soon as I can get a good-tempered one that the man can lead out in the Park for exercise—to curl up here in front of the fire; and I'm going to have foils and masks over the chimney. As soon as I'm a member of the Synthesis I'm going to get them to let me be one of the monitors: that'll concentrate me, if anything will, keeping the rest in order, and I can get a lot of ideas from posing the model; don't you think so? But you've got all the ideas you want, already. Aren't you going to join the sketch class?"
"I don't know but I am," said Cornelia. "I haven't got quite turned round yet."
"Well, you must do it. I'm going to have the class here, some day, as soon as I get the place in perfect order. I must have a suit of Japanese armor for that corner, over there; and then two or three of those queer-looking, old, long, faded trunks, you know, with eastern stuffs gaping out of them, to set along the wall. I should be ashamed to have anybody see it now; but you have an eye, you can supply every thing with a glance. I'm going to have a bed made up in the alcove, over there, and sleep here, sometimes: just that broad lounge, you know, with some rugs on it—I've got the cushions, you see, already—and mice running over you, for the crumbs you've left when you've got hungry sitting up late. Are you afraid of mice?"
"Well, I shouldn't care to have them run over me, much," said Cornelia.
"Well, I shouldn't either," said Charmian, "but if you sleep in your studio, sometime you have to. They all do. Just put your hat in here," and she glided before Cornelia through the studio door into one that opened beside it. The room was a dim and silent bedchamber, appointed with the faultless luxury that characterized the rest of the apartment. Cornelia had never dreamt of anything like it, but "Don't look at it!" Charmian pleaded. "I hate it, and I'm going to get into the studio to sleep as soon as I've thought out the kind of hangings. Well, we shall have to hurry back now," but she kept Cornelia while she critically rearranged a ribbon on her, and studied the effect of it over her shoulder in the glass. "Yes," she said, with a deep sigh of satisfaction, "perfectly Roman! Gladys wouldn't have done for you. Cornelia was a step in the right direction; but it ought to have been Fulvia.
"'I should have clung to Fulvia's waist and thrust The dagger through her side,'"
she chanted tragically; and she flung her arms about Cornelia for illustration. "Dream of Fair Women, you know. What part are you going to play, today?"
"What part?" Cornelia demanded, freeing herself, with her darkest frown of perplexity. "You're not going to have theatricals, I hope." She thought it was going pretty far to receive company Sunday afternoon, and if there was to be anything more she was ready to take her stand now.
Charmian gave a shout of laughter. "I wish we were. Then I could be natural. But I mean, what are you going to be: very gentle and mild and sweet and shrinking; or very philosophical and thoughtful; or very stately and cold and remote? You know you have to be something. Don't you always plan out the character you want them to think you?"
"No," said Cornelia, driven to her bluntest by the discomfort she felt at such a question, and the doubt it cast her into.
Charmian looked at her gloomily. "You strange creature!" she murmured. "But I love you," she added aloud. "I simply idolize you!"
Cornelia said, half-laughing, "Don't be ridiculous," and pulled herself out of the embrace which her devotee had thrown about her. But she could not help liking Charmian for seeming to like her so much.
They still had some time with Mrs. Maybough, when they went back to her before any one else came; Cornelia could see that her features were rather small and regular, and that her hair was that sort of elderly blond in color which makes people look younger than they are after they have passed a certain age. She was really well on in the thirties when she went out to Leadville to take charge of Charmian Maybough's education from the New England town where she had always lived, and ended by marrying Charmian's father. At that time Andrew Maybough had already made and lost several fortunes without great depravation from the immoralities of the process; he remained, as he had always been, a large, loosely good-natured, casual kind of creature, of whom it was a question whether he would not be buried by public subscription, in the end; but he died so opportunely that he left the widow of his second marriage with the income from a million dollars, which she was to share during her lifetime with the child of his first. Mrs. Maybough went abroad with her step-daughter, and most of the girl's life had been spent in Europe.
There was a good deal of Dresden in their sojourn, something of Florence, necessarily a little of Paris; it was not altogether wanting in London, where Mrs. Maybough was presented at court. But so far as definitively materialized society was concerned, Europe could not be said to have availed. When she came back to her own country, it was without more than the hope that some society people, whom she had met abroad, might remember her.
"You'll see the greatest lot of frumps, if they ever do come," Charmian said to Cornelia, after her stepmother had made her excuses to Cornelia for her friends being rather late, "and I don't think they're half as uncertain to come as mamma does. Anyway, they're certain to stay, after they get here, till you want to rise up and howl."
"My dear!" said Mrs. Maybough.
"Oh, I don't suppose I ever shall howl. I'm too thoroughly subdued; and with Cornelia here to-day I shall be able to hold in. You're the first Synthesis girl," she frankly explained to Cornelia, "that mamma's ever let me have. She thinks they spend all their time drawing the nude."
Mrs. Maybough looked at Cornelia for the effect of this boldness upon her, and the girl frowned to keep herself from laughing, and then gave way. Mrs. Maybough smiled with a ladylike decorum which redeemed the excess from impropriety. Charmian seemed to know the bounds of her license, and as if Mrs. Maybough's smile had marked them, she went no farther, and her mother began softly to question Cornelia about herself. The girl perceived that Charmian had not told her anything quite right concerning her, but had got everything dramatically and picturesquely awry. She tried to keep Cornelia from setting the facts straight, because it took all the romance out of them, and she said she should always believe them as she had reported them. Cornelia knew from novels that they were very humble facts, but she was prepared to abide by them whatever a great society woman like Mrs. Maybough should think of them. Mrs. Maybough seemed to think none the worse of them in the simple angularity which Cornelia gave them.
Her friends began to come in at last, and Cornelia found herself, for the first time, in a company of those modern nomads whom prosperity and the various forms of indigestion have multiplied among us. They were mostly people whom Mrs. Maybough had met in Europe, drinking different waters and sampling divers climates, and they had lately arrived home, or were just going abroad, or to Florida, or Colorado, or California. The men were not so sick as the women, but they were prosperous, and that was as good or as bad a reason for their homelessness. They gradually withdrew from the ladies, and stirred their tea in groups of their own sex, and talked investments; sometimes they spoke of their diseases, or their hotels and steamers; and they took advice of each other about places to go to if they went in this direction or that, but said that, when it came to it they supposed they should go where their wives decided. The ladies spoke of where they had met last, and of some who had died since, or had got their daughters married; they professed a generous envy of Mrs. Maybough for being so nicely settled, and said that now they supposed she would always live in New York, unless, one of them archly suggested, her daughter should be carried off somewhere; if one had such a lovely daughter it was what one might expect to happen, any day.
The part that Charmian had chosen to represent must have been that of an Egyptian slave. She served her mother's guests with the tea that Cornelia poured, in attitudes of the eldest sculptures and mural paintings, and received their thanks and compliments with the passive impersonality of one whose hope in life had been taken away some time in the reign of Thotmes II. She did not at once relent from her self-sacrificial conception of herself, even under the flatteries of the nice little fellow who had decorated the apartment for Mrs. Maybough, and had come to drink a cup of tea in the environment of his own taste. Perhaps this was because he had been one of the first to note the peculiar type of Charmian's style and beauty, and she wished to keep him in mind of it. He did duty as youth and gayety beside the young ladies at their tea-urn, and when he learned that Cornelia was studying at the Synthesis, he professed a vivid interest and a great pleasure.
"I want Huntley to paint Miss Maybough," he said. "Don't you think he would do it tremendously well, Miss Saunders?"
"Miss Saunders is going to paint me," said Charmian, mystically.
"As soon as I get to the round," said Cornelia to Charmian; she was rather afraid to speak to the decorator. "I suppose you wouldn't want to be painted with block hands."
The decorator laughed, and Charmian asked, "Isn't she nice not to say anything about a block head? Very few Synthesis girls could have helped it; it's one of the oldest Synthesis jokes."
The young man smiled sympathetically, and said he was sure they would not keep Miss Saunders long at the block. "There's a friend of mine I should like to bring here, some day."
"Mamma would be glad to see him," said Charmian. "Who is it?"
Somebody began to sing: a full-bodiced lady, in a bonnet, and with an over-arching bust distended with chest-notes, which swelled and sank tumultuously to her music; her little tightly-gloved hands seemed of an earlier period. Cornelia lost the name which Mr. Plaisdell gave, in the first outburst, and caught nothing more of the talk which Charmian dropped, and then caught up again when the hand-clapping began.
Some of the people went, and others came, with brief devoirs to Mrs. Maybough in the crepuscular corner where she sat. The tea circulated more and more; the babble rose and fell; it was all very curious to Cornelia, who had never seen anything like it before, and quite lost the sense of the day being Sunday. The stout lady's song had been serious, if not precisely devotional in character; but Cornelia could not have profited by the fact, for she did not know German. Mr. Plaisdell kept up his talk with Charmian, and she caught some words now and then that showed he was still speaking of his friend, or had recurred to him. "I'm rather dangerous when I get started on him. He's working out of his mannerisms into himself. He's a great fellow. I'm going to ask Mrs. Maybough." But he did not go at once. He drew nearer Cornelia, and tried to include her in the talk, but she was ashamed to find that she was difficult to get on common ground. She would not keep on talking Synthesis, as if that were the only thing she knew, but in fact she did not know much else in New York, even about art.
"Ah!" he broke off to Charmian, with a lift of his head. "That's too bad! There he comes now, with Wetmore!"
Cornelia looked toward Mrs. Maybough with him. One gentleman was presenting another to Mrs. Maybough. They got through with her as quickly as most people did, and then they made their way toward Cornelia's table. She had just time to govern her head and hand into stony rigidity, when Wetmore came up with Ludlow, whom he introduced to Charmian. She was going to extend the acquaintance to Cornelia, but had no chance before Ludlow took Cornelia's petrified fingers and bowed over them. The men suppressed their surprise, if they had any, at this meeting as of old friends, but Charmian felt no obligation to silence.
"Where in the world have you met before? Why, Cornelia Saunders, why didn't you say you knew Mr. Ludlow?"
"I'm afraid I didn't give her time," Ludlow answered.
"Yes, but we were just speaking of you—Mr. Plaisdell was!" said Charmian, with the injury still in her voice.
"I didn't hear you speak of him," Cornelia said, with a vague flutter of her hands toward the teacups.
The action seemed to justify Wetmore to himself in saying, "Yes, thank you, I will have some tea, Miss Saunders, and then I'll get some one to introduce me to you. You haven't seen me before, and I can't stand these airs of Ludlow's." He made them laugh, and Charmian introduced them, and Cornelia gave him his tea; then Charmian returned to her grievance and complained to Cornelia: "I thought you didn't know anybody in New York."
"Well, it seems you were not far wrong," Wetmore interposed. "I don't call Ludlow much of anybody."
"You don't often come down to anything as crude as that, Wetmore," Ludlow said.
"Not if I can help it. But I was driven to it, this time; the provocation was great."
"I had the pleasure of meeting Miss Saunders at home, several years ago," Ludlow said in obedience to Charmian. "We had some very delightful friends in common, there—old friends of mine—at Pymantoning."
"What a pretty name," said Mr. Plaisdell. "What a pity that none of our great cities happen to have those musical Indian names."
"Chicago," Wetmore suggested.
"Yes, Chicago is big, and the name is Indian; but is it pretty?"
"You can't have everything. I don't suppose it is very decorative."
"Pymantoning is as pretty as its name," said Ludlow. "It has the loveliness of a level, to begin with; we're so besotted with mountains in the East that we don't know how lovely a level is."
"The sea," Wetmore suggested again.
"Well, yes, that's occasionally level," Ludlow admitted. "But it hasn't got white houses with green blinds behind black ranks of maples in the moonlight."
"If 'good taste' could have had its way, the white house with green blinds would have been a thing of the past." said the decorator. "And they were a genuine instinct, an inspiration, with our people. The white paint is always beautiful,—as marble is. People tried to replace it with mud-color—the color of the ground the house was built on! I congratulate Miss Saunders on the conservatism of Py—?"
"Pymantoning," said Cornelia, eager to contribute something to the talk, and then vexed to have it made much of by Mr. Plaisdell.
Wetmore was looking away. He floated lightly off, with the buoyancy which is sometimes the property of people of his bulk, and Ludlow remained talking with Charmian. Then, with what was like the insensible transition of dreams to her, he was talking with Cornelia. He said he had been meaning to come and see her all the week past, but he had been out of town, and very busy, and he supposed she was occupied with looking about and getting settled. He did not make out a very clear case, she chose to think, and she was not sure but he was treating her still as a child, and she tried to think how she could make him realize that she was not. He seemed quite surprised to hear that she had been at work in the Synthesis ever since Tuesday. He complimented her energy, and asked, not how she was getting on there, but how she liked it; she answered stiffly, and she knew that he was ignoring her blunt behavior as something she could not help, and that vexed her the more; she wished to resist his friendliness because she did not deserve it. She kept seeing how handsome he was, with his brilliant brown beard, and his hazel eyes. There were points of sunny light in his eyes, when he smiled, and then his teeth shone very white. He did not smile very much; she liked his being serious and not making speeches; she wished she could do something to make him think her less of an auk, but when she tried, it was only worse. He did not say anything to let her think he had changed his mind as to the wisdom of her coming to study art in New York; and she liked that; she should have hated him if he had.
"Have you got that little Manet, yet?" Mr. Plaisdell broke in upon them. "I was telling Miss Maybough about it."
"Yes," said Ludlow. "It's at my place. Why won't Miss Maybough and Miss Saunders come and see it? You'll come, won't you, Miss Maybough?"
"If mamma will let me," said Charmian, meekly.
"Of course! Suppose we go ask her?"
The friends of Mrs. Maybough had now reduced themselves to Wetmore, who sat beside her, looking over at the little tea-table group. Ludlow led the rest toward her.
"What an imprudence," he called out, "when I'd just been booming you! Now you come up in person to spoil everything."
Ludlow presented his petition, and Mrs. Maybough received it with her provisional anxiety till he named the day for the visit. She said she had an engagement for Saturday afternoon, and Ludlow ventured, "Then perhaps you'd let the young ladies come with a friend of mine: Mrs. Westley. She'll be glad to call for them, I'm sure."
"Mrs. General Westley?"
"We met them in Rome," said Mrs. Maybough. "I shall be very happy, indeed, for my daughter. But you know Miss Saunders—is not staying with us?"
"Miss Saunders will be very happy for herself," said Charmian.
The men took their leave, and Charmian seized the first moment to breathe in Cornelia's ear: "Oh, what luck! I didn't suppose he would do it, when I got Mr. Plaisdell to hint about that Manet. And it's all for you. Now come into my room and tell me everything about it. You have got to stay for dinner."
"No, no; I can't," Cornelia gasped. "And I'm not going to his studio. He asked me because he had to."
"I should think he did have to. He talked to you as if there was no one else here. How did you meet him before? When did you?" She could not wait for Cornelia to say, but broke out with fresh astonishment. "Why, Walter Ludlow! Do you know who Walter Ludlow is? He's one of the greatest painters in New York. He's the greatest!"
"Who is Mr. Wetmore?" Cornelia asked evasively.
"Don't name him in the same century! He's grand, too! Does those little Meissonier things. He's going to paint mamma. She's one of his types. He must have brought Mr. Ludlow to see me. But he didn't. He saw nobody but you! Oh Cornelia!" She caught Cornelia in her arms.
"Don't be a goose!" said Cornelia, struggling to get away.
"Will you tell me all about it, then?"
"Yes. But it isn't anything."
At the end of the story Charmian sighed, "How romantic! Of course, he's simply in a frenzy till he sees you again. I don't believe he can live through the week."
"He'll have to live through several," said Cornelia; "You can excuse me when you go. He's very conceited, and he talks to you as if he were a thousand years old. I think Mr. Plaisdell is a great deal nicer. He doesn't treat you as if you were—I don't know what!"
The next day Cornelia found herself the object of rumors that filled the Synthesis. She knew that they all came from Charmian, and that she could not hope to overtake them with denial. The ridiculous romances multiplied themselves, and those who did not understand that Cornelia and Ludlow had grown up together in the same place, or were first cousins, had been encouraged to believe that they were old lovers, who had quarrelled, and never spoken till they happened to meet at Mrs. Maybough's. Ludlow was noted for a certain reticence and austerity with women, which might well have come from an unhappy love-affair; once when he took one of the instructor's classes at the Synthesis temporarily, his forbidding urbanity was so glacial, that the girls scarcely dared to breathe in his presence, and left it half-frozen. The severest of the masters, with all his sarcasm, was simply nothing to him.
Cornelia liked to hear that. She should have despised Ludlow if she had heard he was silly with girls, and she did not wish to despise him, though she knew that he despised her; she could bear that. The Synthesis praises made her the more determined, however, to judge his recent work when she came to see it, just as she would judge any one's work. But first of all she meant not to see it.
She seemed to have more trouble in bringing herself back to this point than in keeping Charmian to it. Charmian came to believe her at last, after declaring it the rudest thing she ever heard of, and asking Cornelia what she expected to say to Mrs. Westley when she came for her. Cornelia could never quite believe it herself, though she strengthened her purpose with repeated affirmation, tacit and explicit, and said it would be very easy to tell Mrs. Westley she was not going, if she ever did come for her. She could not keep Charmian from referring the case to every one on the steps and window-sills in the Synthesis, and at the sketch-class, where Charmian published it the first time Cornelia came, and wove a romance from it which involved herself as the close friend and witness of so strange a being.
Cornelia tried not to let all this interfere with her work, but it did, and at the sketch-class where she might have shown some rebound from the servile work of the Preparatory, and some originality, she disappointed those whom Charmian had taught to expect anything of her. They took her rustic hauteur and her professed indifference to the distinction of Ludlow's invitation, as her pose. She went home from the class vexed to tears by her failure, and puzzled to know what she really should say to that Mrs. Westley when she came; it wouldn't be so easy to tell her she was not going, after all. Cornelia hated her, and wished she would not come; she had let the whole week go by, now, till Thursday, and perhaps she really would not come. The girl knew so little of the rigidity of city dates that she thought very likely Mrs. Westley had decided to put it off till another week.
She let herself into her boarding-house with her latch-key and stood confronted in the hall with Ludlow, who was giving some charge to the maid. "Oh, Miss Saunders," he said, and he put the card he held into his pocket, "I'm so glad not to miss you; I was just leaving a written message, but now I can tell you."
He hesitated, and Cornelia did not know what to do. But she said, "Won't you come in?" with a vague movement toward the parlor.
"Why, yes, thank you, for a moment," he said; and he went back with her.
"I hope I haven't kept you waiting," she said, with a severity which was for her own awkwardness.
He did not take it for himself. "Oh, no! I've just come from Mrs. Westley's, and she's charged me with a message for you." He handed Cornelia a note. "She will call for you and Miss Maybough at the Synthesis rather earlier than you usually leave work, I believe, but I want you to have some daylight on my Manet. I hope half-past two won't be too early?"
"Oh, no," said Cornelia, and while she wondered how she could make this opening of assent turn to refusal in the end, Ludlow went on:
"There's something of my own, that I'd like to have you look at. Of course, you won't get away with the Manet, alone; I don't suppose you expected that. I've an idea you can tell me where I've gone wrong, if I have; it's all a great while ago. Have you ever been at the County Fair at Pymantoning since——"
He stopped, and Cornelia perceived that it was with doubt whether it might not still be a tender point with her.
"Oh, yes, I've forgiven the Fair long ago." She laughed, and he laughed with her.
"It's best not to keep a grudge against a defeat, I suppose. If we do, it won't help us. I've had my quarrel with the Pymantoning County Fair, too; but it wasn't with the Fine Arts Committee."
"No, I didn't suppose you wanted to exhibit anything there," said Cornelia.
"Why, I don't know. It might be a very good thing for me. Why not? I'd like to exhibit this very picture there. It's an impression—not just what I'd do, now—of the trotting-match I saw there that day."
"Yes," said Cornelia, letting her eyes fall, "Mrs. Burton said you had painted it, or you were going to."
"Well, I did," said Ludlow, "and nobody seemed to know what I was after. I wonder if they would in Pymantoning! But what I wanted to ask was that you would try to look at it from the Pymantoning point of view. I hope you haven't lost that yet?"
"Well, I haven't been away such a great while," said Cornelia, smiling.
"No; but still, one sophisticates in New York very soon. I'll tell you what I've got a notion of! Well, it's all very much in the air, yet, but so far as I've thought it out, it's the relation of our art to our life. It sounds rather boring, I know, and I suppose I'm a bit of a theorist; I always was. It's easy enough to prove to the few that our life is full of poetry and picturesqueness; but can I prove it to the many? Can the people themselves be made to see it and feel it? That's the question. Can they be interested in a picture—a real work of art that asserts itself in a good way? Can they be taught to care for my impression of the trotting-match at the Pymantoning County Fair, as much as they would for a chromo of the same thing, and be made to feel that there was something more in it perhaps?"
He sat fronting her, with his head down over the hat he held between his hands; now he lifted his face and looked into hers. She smiled at his earnestness, and for a little instant felt herself older and wiser in her practicality.
"You might send it out to the next County Fair, and see."
"Why, that's just what I thought of!" he said, and he laughed. "Do you suppose they would let me exhibit it in the Fine Arts Department?"
"I don't believe they would give you the first premium," said Cornelia.
"Well, well, then I should have to put up with the second! I should like to get the first, I confess," Ludlow went on seriously. "The premium would mean something to me—not so much, of course, as a popular recognition. What do you think the chance of that would be?"
"Well, I haven't seen the picture yet," Cornelia suggested.
"Ah, that's true! I forgot that," he said, and they both laughed. "But what do you think of my theory? It seems to me," and now he leaned back in his chair, and smiled upon her with that bright earnestness which women always found charming in him, "it seems to me that the worst effect of an artist's life is to wrap him up in himself, and separate him from his kind. Even if he goes in for what they call popular subjects, he takes from the many and gives to the few; he ought to give something back to the crowd—he ought to give everything back. But the terrible question is whether they'll have it; and he has no means of finding out."
"And you've come to one of the crowd to inquire?" Cornelia asked. Up to that moment she had been flattered, too, by his serious appeal to her, and generously pleased. But the chance offered, and she perversely seized it.
He protested with a simple "Ah!" and she was ashamed.
"I don't know," she hurried on to say. "I never thought about it in that way."
"Well, it isn't so simple any more, after you once begin. I don't suppose I shall be at peace quite till I try what I can do; and seeing you Sunday brought Pymantoning all so freshly back, that I've been wondering, from time to time, ever since, whether you could possibly help me."
"I will try, as the good little boy said," Cornelia assented.
"It makes me feel like a good little boy to have asked it." Ludlow did not profit by the chance which the conclusion of their agreement offered him, to go. He stayed and talked on, and from time to time he recurred to what he had asked, and said he was afraid she would think he was using her, and tried to explain that he really was not, but was approaching her most humbly for her opinion. He could not make it out, but they got better and better acquainted in the fun they had with his failures. It went on till Cornelia said, "Now, really, if you keep it up, I shall have to stand you in the corner, with your face to the wall."