"But I do mean it," returned Fenton, becoming more animated from the pleasure of defending an extravagant position. "What is the object of art but to perpetuate and idealize the emotions of the race; and how does it touch men, except by flattering their vanity with the assumption that they individually share the grand passions of mankind."
A chorus of protests arose; but Arthur went on, laughingly over-riding it.
"Really," he said, "we all care for the Apollo Belvidere and the Venus of Milo because it tickles our vanity to view the physical perfection of the race to which we belong; it is our own possibilities of anguish that we pity in the Laocoon and the Niobe; it is"—
"Oh, come, Fenton," interrupted Rangely; "we all know that you can be more deliciously wrongheaded than any other live man, but you can't expect us to sit quietly by while you abuse art."
"That is more absolute Philistinism," put in Hubbard, "than anything I have heard from Mr. Irons even."
"Oh; Philistinism," was Fenton's rejoinder, "is not nearly so bad as the inanities that are talked about it."
"That sounds like a personal thrust at Mr. Hubbard," Kent observed; and as Arthur disclaimed any intention of making it so, Mrs. Fenton gave the signal for rising.
O, WICKED WIT AND GIFT. Hamlet; i.—5.
It was fortunate for Fenton's plans that most of his guests had early engagements that evening, and by nine o'clock he was able to leave the house with Rangely to take his way to the meeting of the Club. As they came out of the house, Thayer Kent was just saying good-by to Miss Mott after putting her into her carriage. Fenton's fear lest he should be too late for the business meeting had made him follow rather closely in the steps of his departing guests, and he and Rangely were just in time to hear Ethel say,—
"But I am going that way and I will drop you at the club."
Kent hesitated an instant, and then followed her into the carriage. Fenton laughed as they drove away.
"With Ethel Mott," he said, "that is equivalent to announcing an engagement."
"Nonsense!" protested Fred, incredulously.
Fenton laughed again, a little maliciously.
"Oh, I've been looking for it all winter," he said. "Ever since you devoted yourself to Mrs. Staggchase, and gave Thayer his innings. Well, since you didn't want her, I don't know that she could have done better."
Fenton pretty well understood the truth of the matter in regard to Rangely's relations to Ethel, and this little thrust was simply an instalment toward the paying of sundry old scores. He had never forgiven Fred for having taunted him, long ago, with going over to Philistinism; especially, as he inwardly assured himself, that the difference between their cases was that he had had the frankness openly to renounce Paganism, while his companion would not acknowledge his apostasy even to himself. In Fenton's creed, self-deception was put down as the greatest of crimes, and he had fallen into the way of half unconsciously regarding his inner frankness as a sort of expiation for whatever faults he might commit.
He chuckled inwardly at the discomfort which he knew his remark brought to Fred, humorously acknowledging himself to be a brute for thus taking advantage of circumstances with a man who had just eaten his salt. The excitement of the thing he was about to do had mounted into his head like wine, and he hastened toward the club with a feeling of buoyancy and exhilaration such as he had not known for months. He laughed and joked, ignoring Rangely's unresponsiveness; and when he entered the club parlors his cheeks were flushed and his eyes shone as in the old Pagan days.
He was just in season. The monthly business meeting was about being completed, and Fenton had scarcely time to recover his breath before the President said,—
"If there is no other business to come before this meeting we will now adjourn."
Then Fenton stepped forward.
"Mr. President," he said, in his smooth, clear voice, only a trifle heightened in pitch by excitement.
The President put up his eyeglasses and recognized him.
There was an instant hush in the room. Every member of the club knew of the vote of censure, which had excited much talk, and of which the propriety had been violently discussed. A few were aware that the censure had been withdrawn, and all were sufficiently well acquainted with Fenton's high-spirited temperament to feel that something exciting was coming.
Fenton was too keenly alive to what he would have called the stage effect to fail of appreciating to the utmost the striking situation. He threw up his head with a delicious sense of excitement, the pleasing consciousness of a vain man who is producing a strong and satisfactory impression, and who feels in himself the ability to carry through the thing he has undertaken. With a sort of tingling double consciousness he felt at once the enthusiasm of injured virtue at last triumphant, and the mocking scorn of a Mephistopheles who bejuggles dupes too dull to withstand him. He looked around the meeting, and in a swift instant noted who of friends or foes were present; and even tried to calculate in that brief instant what would be the effect upon one and another of what he was going to say.
"Mr. President," he began, deliberately, "if I may be pardoned a word of personal explanation, I wish to say that the motion I am about to make is not presented from personal motives. I might make this motion as one who has the right, having suffered; but I do make it as one who believes in justice so strongly that I should still speak had my own case been that of my worst enemy. I move you, sir, that the St. Filipe Club pass a vote of unqualified censure upon its Executive Committee for admitting in the investigation of an alleged violation of its rules the testimony of a servant, thereby assuming that the word of a gentleman could not be taken in answer to any question the committee had a right to ask."
He had grown pale with excitement as he went on, and his voice gained in force until the last words were clear and ringing to the farthest corners of the room.
A universal stir succeeded the silence with which he had been heard. Half a dozen men were on their feet at once amid a babble of comment, protestation, and approval. The Secretary managed to get the floor.
"Mr. President," he said, his round face flushed with anger, and his fat hands so shaking with excitement that the papers on the table before him rustled audibly, "since it must be evident that the gentleman's remarks are instigated by anger at the committee's treatment of himself, it is only justice to the committee to state what many of the members may not know, that a letter of ample apology has been sent by them to Mr. Fenton."
The men who had been eager to speak paused at this, and everybody looked at the artist.
"Mr. President," he said, with a delightful sense of having himself perfectly in hand, and of being in an unassailable position, "I have been insulted by the committee under cover of a charge which they now acknowledge to be false; and, contrary to the usage of the club, a printed notice of this has been sent to every member. I have received a note of apology from the Secretary."
He paused just long enough to let those who were taking sides against him emphasize their satisfaction at this acknowledgment by half- suppressed exclamations; then, in a voice of cutting smoothness, he continued,—
"At the head of that note was the word 'confidential,' which forbade me, as a gentleman, to show it. This was evidently the committee's idea of reparation for the outrage of that printed circular."
He paused again, and the impression that he was making was evident from the fact that nobody attempted to deprive him of the floor; then he went on again,—
"I have already said that my motion was not a personal matter; if my case serves as an illustration, so much the better, as long as the principle is enforced."
"The motion," interposed the President, gathering his wits together, "has not been seconded, and is therefore not debatable."
"I second it," roared Tom Bently in his big voice, adding sotto voce: "We won't let the fun be spoiled for a little thing like that."
The half laugh that followed this sally seemed to recall men from the state of astonishment into which they had been thrown by the audacity of Fenton's attack. There were plenty of men to speak now;—men who thought Fenton's position absurd;—men who believed in upholding the dignity of the Executive Committee;—men, more revolutionary, who were always pleased to see the existing order of things attacked;—men who wanted explanations, and men who offered them;—men who rose to points of order, and men who proposed amendments; with the inevitable men who are always in a state of oratorical effervescence and who speak upon every occasion, quite without reference to having anything to say.
Fenton was keenly alive to everything that was said, and in his excitement fell into the mood not uncommon with people of his temperament of regarding the whole debate from an almost impersonal standpoint. His sense of humor was constantly appealed to, and he laughed softly to himself with a feeling of amusement scarcely tinged by concern for the result of the contest when Mr. Ranger, stately and ponderous, got upon his feet. He could have told with reasonable precision the inconsequent remarks which were to come; and the interruption which they made appealed to his sense of the ludicrous as strongly as it irritated many impatient members.
"I am confident," began Mr. Ranger with dignified deliberation, "that all the excitement which seems to be manifest in many of the remarks that have been made is wholly uncalled for. I am sure no member of this club can suppose for an instant that its Executive Committee can have intentionally been guilty of any discourtesy, and far less of any wrong to a member. And we all have too much confidence in their ability to suppose that they could fall into error in so important a thing as a matter of discipline. And I need not add," he went on, not even the real respect in which he was held being able wholly to suppress the movement of impatience with which he was heard, "that we all must hold Mr. Fenton not only as blameless but as painfully aggrieved."
"Mr. Facing-both-ways," said Fenton to himself as the speaker paused, apparently to consider what could be added to his lucid exposition of the situation.
One or two men had the hardihood to rise, but the President had too much respect for Mr. Ranger's hoary locks to deprive him of the floor.
"It seems to me," the speaker continued, placidly, "that this is a matter which is better adjusted in private. The discipline of the club must be maintained, and individual feeling should be respected; but where we all have the welfare of the club at heart, it seems to me that members would find no difficulty in amicably adjusting their differences with the club officials in private conference."
He gazed earnestly at the opposite wall a moment, as if seeking for further inspiration. Then as no handwriting appeared thereon, he resumed his seat with the same deliberate dignity that had marked his rising.
Mr. Staggchase, alert and business-like as usual, next obtained the floor.
"As chairman of the Executive Committee," he said, "perhaps I am too much in the position of a prisoner at the bar for it to be in good taste for me to speak on this motion. Naturally I do know something, however, about the circumstances of this case, and I am willing to say frankly that I cannot blame Mr. Fenton for feeling aggrieved at the painful position in which he has been placed entirely without fault on his part. It is only just to the committee, however, to state that the charge as presented to them in the first place was supported by evidence which appeared to them convincing; that Mr. Fenton never denied it; and that I and, I presume, every member of the committee supposed until this evening that the letter of apology sent him had been ample and satisfactory. That it was marked 'confidential' was certainly not the fault of the committee, who now learn this fact for the first time."
This statement evidently produced a strong impression. Fenton felt that it told against him, yet he was more irritated at what he considered the stupidity of the members in not seeing that Mr. Staggchase had not touched upon the point at issue at all, than he was by the injury done to his cause. In the midst of the excitement raging about him he sat, outwardly perfectly calm and collected. He refused to admit to himself that after all there was little probability of his motion's being carried; although in truth at the outset he had intended nothing more than to take this striking method of stating his grievance against the committee. He was amused and delighted at the commotion he had caused. He likened himself to the man who had sown the dragon's teeth, and while listening keenly to what was being said, he rummaged about in his memory for the name of that doughty classic hero.
It was with a shock that it came upon him all at once that the tide was turning against him. There had been warm expressions of sympathy with himself and of disapprobation at the course of the committee; and Grant Herman had announced his intention of offering another motion, when this should have been disposed of, to the effect that a printed notice of the removal of the vote of censure be sent to each member of the club; but it was evident that there was a general feeling that Fenton's attitude was too extreme. The club was evidently willing to exonerate him and to offer such reparation as lay in its power, but it was not prepared formally to rebuke its committee. The debate had continued nearly an hour, and speakers were beginning to say the same things over and over. At the farther end of the room some men began to call "question." The word brought Fenton to his feet like the lash of a whip; he put his hands upon his chest as if he were panting for breath, his eyes were fairly blazing with excitement, and when he spoke his voice shook with the intensity of his emotion.
"Mr. President," he began, "it seems to me that the honor of this club is in question. It had not occurred to me to regard this so much a personal affront as an insult to the club which has elected me to its membership. It is forced upon me by the remarks that have been made to look at the personal side of the matter. Gentlemen have been insisting that I am seeking reparation for an insult which they acknowledge has been offered me; which they acknowledge has been gratuitous, and to which all the publicity has been given which lay within the power of the officers of this club. Very well, then, far as it was from my original intention, I present my personal grievance and I claim redress. The vote of censure which the committee has passed upon me I regard as merely a stupid and offensive blunder; the implication conveyed by listening to a servant in relation to a charge against a member is an insult to him as a gentleman, which, to me personally, seems too intolerable to be endured. I came into this club as to a body of gentlemen, and I have a right to claim at your hands that I shall be treated as such by its officers."
Fenton had many enemies in the St. Filipe, but the splendid dash and audacity of his manner, even more than his words, produced a tremendous effect. There was an instant's hush as he ended, and then the voice of Tom Bently, big and vibrating, rang through the room in defiance of all rules of order and of all the proprieties as well.
"By God! He is right!" said Tom, and a burst of applause answered him.
The day was won, and although there were a few protests, they were silenced by cries of "Question! Question!" and the motion was carried by a majority which, if not overwhelming, was large enough to be without question.
"The motion is carried," announced the president.
Fenton rose to his feet again.
"Gentlemen," he said, "I cannot resist the temptation personally to thank you. Mr. President, I have now the honor to tender you my resignation from the St. Filipe Club."
He bowed and turned to walk from the room. He was full of a wild exultation over his success, and he reasoned quickly with himself that even if his resignation were accepted, he retired in good order. He had, too, a half-defined feeling that in thus tempting fate still further, he made a sort of expiatory offering for his actual guilt. He said to himself, with that lightning-like quickness which thought possesses in a crisis, that since the principle for which he contended stood above the question of his individual transgression, it was but just that the motion should have been carried, and that now he was ready to take his punishment by losing his membership in the St. Filipe.
But before he had gone half a dozen steps, two or three men had called out impulsively,—
"Mr. President! I move this resignation be not accepted."
There were plenty of men there who would gladly have seen Fenton leave the club; the members of the Executive Committee were smarting under the rebuke he had brought upon them; but the excitement of the moment, the admiration which courage and dash always excite, carried all before them. The motion was voted with noise enough to make it at least seem hearty, and with no outspoken negatives to prevent its appearing unanimous. His friends dragged him back and insisted upon drinking with him, the formalities of adjournment being swallowed up in the uproar. His triumph could not have been more complete, and its celebration, with much discussion, much congratulation and not a little wine, lasted until midnight.
And all the while, as he talked and jested and argued and laughed and drank, his brain was playing with the question of right and wrong as a child with a shuttlecock. Without a hearty conviction of the absolute justice of the principle for which he contended, it is doubtful if Fenton could have acted the lie of assumed innocence. He had entangled the question of his guilt with that of the propriety of the action of the committee so inextricably that one could scarcely be taken up without the other. He admired himself as an actor, he approved of himself as a logician, and he despised himself—without any heart- burning bitterness—as a liar. He was too clear-headed to be able to bejuggle himself with the reasoning that he had not been guilty of falsehood because he had never specifically and in word denied the charge of the committee. Yet with all his pride in his self- comprehension, he really deceived himself. He supposed himself to have been animated by the desire to establish a principle in which he really believed, to conquer and humiliate the Secretary, and to please himself by acting an amusing role; while in truth he had been instigated by his dominant selfish instinct of self-preservation. But he thoroughly enjoyed his triumph, and by the time he left the house he seemed to have established himself on quite a new footing of friendship with even the members of the Executive Committee.
As he went down the steps of the club, starting for home, Chauncy Wilson said to him, with his usual rough jocularity,—
"I'll bet you a quarter, Fenton, you did bring Snaffle in that night, after all. By the way, did you know that Princeton Platinum had gone all to flinders?"
UPON A CHURCH BENCH. Much Ado about Nothing; iii.—3.
When Fenton went to the club that night he left Helen Greyson and Mr. Candish, both of whom were sufficiently familiar to excuse the informality. The combination of the clergyman and the sculptor might seem likely to be incongruous, but the two had much more in common than at first sight appeared. Fenton had been right in declaring that Helen was by instinct a Puritan. It was true that she had shaken herself free from all the fetters of old creeds and that her religious beliefs were of the most liberal. The essence of Puritanism, however, was not its dogmas, but its strenuous earnestness, its exaltation of self-denial, and its distrust of the guidance of the senses.
The original Puritans made their religion satisfy their aesthetic sense, even while they were insisting upon the virtue of starving that part of their nature. To believe literally and with a realizing sense of its meaning the creed of Calvin, would have been impossible without madness to any nature short of the incarnate inhumanity of a Jonathan Edwards. The aesthetic sense of humanity demands that the imagination shall be nourished; and the imagination is fed by receiving things as only ideally true. The Puritans were right in declaring that art was hostile to religion as they conceived it; but they failed to perceive that this hostility arose from the fact that the acceptance of their theology was only possible in virtue of the very faculties to which art appealed. They were obliged to deprive the imagination of its natural food, in order that it should be forced to feed upon that the assimilation of which they conceived to be a moral obligation. It may, at first sight, seem a bold assertion that our Puritan ancestors believed their creed, however unconsciously, simply in the sense in which we believe in the bravery of the heroes of Homer or in the loves and sorrows of the heroines of Shakespeare. It is to be reflected, however, that those unhappy creatures who attempted to receive Calvinism literally and absolutely paid for their mistake with madness; and that it did not enter into the minds of generations of Puritans, who lived and died in the error that they believed with their understanding what they really received only with the imagination, to take this view, in no way affects its truth.
Helen's position differed from that of her Puritan grandmothers from the fact of her having turned her imagination back to art; but she shared with them the temperament which made Puritanism possible. The aesthetic sense, which is as universal in mankind as the passions, clung in her case to sensuous beauty, while that of Mr. Candish clung to what he considered beauty moral and spiritual; but the controlling force in the life of both was the stinging inspiration of a fixed idea of duty. They were thus able, although rather as a matter of unconscious sympathy than of deliberate understanding, to comprehend each other; and if Helen had the broader sight, Mr. Candish possessed the greater power of ignoring self.
Edith stood on a middle ground between the two. At the time of her marriage she had been much nearer to the position occupied by the clergyman; and she would have been startled and shocked had she realized how much her views had been modified during the six years of her life with Fenton. She had certainly been led into no toleration of moral laxity, and indeed the effect of her husband's cynical Paganism had been to make her dread more acutely any infringement upon moral laws. She had been constantly learning, however, the enjoyment and appreciation of beauty, not merely in a conventional and Philistine sense, but as a pure Pagan aestheticism. The change showed itself chiefly in her increased tolerance of views less rigid than her own, which made possible the perfecting of the intimacy with Helen, which had begun simply from her sense of pity for the sadness of the other's life.
"Isn't it charming," Edith said to-night, as the three sat before the fire after Arthur had gone out, "to see Mr. and Mrs. Hubbard together. It's not only that they are so fond of each other, but they are so perfectly in accord. It seems to me an ideal marriage."
Helen looked at her with an inward sigh.
"It is much the fashion, nowadays," she said, "to insist that the ideal marriage is no marriage at all."
Mr. Candish looked at her inquiringly.
"Or, in other words," she explained, with a passing thought of his want of quickness of apprehension, "that no marriage can be ideal."
"Or anything else, for that matter," put in Edith quickly. "The iconoclasts of this generation will spare absolutely nothing."
"These objectors don't take into account," observed Mr. Candish, "that if we once begin to give up things because their possibilities are not realized, we shall soon end by having nothing left. Plenty of people do not live up to the possibilities of marriage, but the fact is that the trouble is with themselves. The blame that they lay on the institution really belongs on their own shoulders."
"Yes," agreed Edith; "like everything else it comes back to a question of egotism." "And egotism," added Helen, smiling, yet wistfully, "is the supreme evil."
Mr. Candish nodded approvingly.
"I don't know," he said, "that a bachelor like myself has any right to discuss marriage, except on general principles; but certainly, even without taking the religious view of it, one can see that the very objections brought against wedlock are reasons in its favor."
"Yes," Edith returned, but she moved uneasily in her chair, and Helen divined that the subject was painful to her.
"The difficulty is," she said, with an air of dismissing the whole subject, "that most people marry for the honeymoon and very few for the whole life."
She fell to thinking in an absorbed mood which was not wholly free from irritation, how constantly this question of marriage met one at every turn, as if the whole fabric of life, social and ethical, depended entirely upon this institution. She sighed a little impatiently, looking into the fire with mournful eyes. She thought of the marriages with which her destiny had been most intimately connected, her own ill- starred mating, the union of Herman and Ninitta, that of Fenton and Edith. She had long ago settled in her own mind that wedlock was not only the mainstay of society, but that it was largely a concession to the weakness of her sex; and yet instinctively she protested; that revolt against being a woman which few of her sex have failed at one time or another to experience taking the form of a revolt against matrimony.
"Indeed," she broke out, half humorously and half pathetically, "the most joyful promise for the Christians hereafter is that they shall neither marry nor be given in marriage."
Mr. Candish looked a little shocked; but Edith said softly,—
"That is only possible when they become as the Sons of God."
Helen spread out her hands in a deprecatory gesture.
"Come, Edith," she said, "that isn't fair, to take the discussion into regions where I can't follow you."
Edith smiled, but made no rejoinder in words. Turning to Mr. Candish she remarked, with an abrupt change of subject,—
"When may I tell Melissa Blake about the Knitting School?"
"I see no reason," he answered, "why she shouldn't know at once. We shall be ready to begin operations in a month at most, and ought to know her decision."
"Isn't it capital?" Edith explained, turning toward Helen. "The Knitting School is really to be started. Mrs. Bodewin Ranger guarantees the funds for a year, and we have contracts for work to be delivered in the fall that will keep from a dozen to twenty girls busy all summer; while the matron's salary will put Melissa Blake on her feet very nicely. It's such a relief to have some of those girls provided for."
"That's the Melissa Blake, isn't it," Helen asked, "that Mr. Hubbard spoke of at dinner?"
"Yes," answered Edith, "but it is impossible that he should be right."
Helen replied only by that look of general sympathy which does duty as an answer when one has no possible interest in the subject under discussion, but Mr. Candish, who knew Melissa, shook his head with an air of conviction.
"No," he observed, "Miss Blake has too much principle to be guilty of a breach of confidence. I am sure Mr. Hubbard must be mistaken."
"And yet," commented Helen, "there is such a general feeling that if one keeps the letter of his word he may do as he pleases about the spirit, that she may have contrived to give her lover a hint without actually breaking her promise as she would understand it."
"I don't know," Edith returned earnestly, "that we have any right to judge other people more harshly than we should ourselves. If one of our friends had betrayed Mr. Hubbard's plans we should say he was a rascal because we should assume that he knew what he was doing; and we wouldn't believe such a charge unless we knew he was really bad."
"But," persisted Helen, with an unconscious irony which Fenton would have keenly appreciated had he but been there to hear, "in our class of course it's different. A nice sense of honor is after all very much a social matter nowadays. That may sound a bit snobbish, but don't you think it is true?"
"It is and it isn't," was Mr. Candish's reply. "It would undoubtedly be true if religious principle did not come into the matter; but religious principle is stronger in what we call the middle classes than among their social superiors."
Mrs. Greyson was not sufficiently interested to continue the discussion, and she let the matter drop, while Edith contented herself with reiterating her conviction in Melissa's perfect trustworthiness.
They chatted upon indifferent subjects for a little while, and then Mr. Candish went to keep an appointment at the bedside of a sick parishioner; so that Helen and Edith were left alone.
They sat together a little longer, and then Helen asked casually,—
"By the way, Edith, how long has Arthur been painting Ninitta?"
"Painting Ninitta?" echoed Edith.
She remembered the wrap she had seen in the studio, with the wavering evasion of her husband's eyes when her glance had sought his in question, and painful forebodings against which she had striven, lest they should become suspicions, were awakened by Helen's words.
"Yes," the other went on. "Fred Rangely told me at dinner to-night that he couldn't get into the studio this morning because Arthur was painting Mrs. Herman."
"What did you say to him?" asked Edith.
"I said," her companion returned, looking up in surprise at her tone, "that I fancied the picture must be intended as a surprise for Mr. Herman and he'd better not speak of it."
"But," Edith objected, "if Arthur told him she was there"—
"He didn't," interrupted Helen; "a man outside the door said he had seen her go in."
Edith grew pale as ashes. She evidently made a strong effort at self- control; and then, burying her face in her hands, she burst into violent weeping. Helen bent forward and put her arms about her. She drew the quivering form close, resting Edith's beautiful head upon her bosom. She did not speak, but with soft, caressing touch she smoothed the other's hair. She remembered vividly the time, six years before, when Edith, who had left her at night in indignation and disapproval, had come to her on the morning after her husband's death. She could almost have said to this weeping woman, the words with which she remembered the other had then greeted her,—"You must feel so lonely."
She dared not speak now. She feared to ask the cause of this outburst, both lest Edith might be led to say what she would afterward wish unspoken, and because she dreaded to hear unpleasant truths in regard to Arthur.
"Oh, Helen," Edith sobbed. "Life is too hard! Life is too hard!"
Still Helen did not answer, save by the caress of her fingers. The tears were in her own eyes. One woman instinctively appreciates the tragedy of another's life, and her unspoken sympathy was balm to Edith's soul.
"Come," she said, patting Edith's shoulder as one might soothe a weeping child, "you're all tired out. I can't take the responsibility of letting you have hysterics; Arthur would never leave you alone with me again."
She spoke with as much lightness of tone as she could command, while her embrace and her caresses conveyed the sympathy she would not put into words.
Presently Mrs. Fenton disengaged herself from her companion's arms and sat up, wiping away her tears.
"I must be tired," she said, "or I shouldn't be so foolish."
"You do too much," Helen returned. Then, with the design of giving her friend a chance to retreat from their dangerous nearness to confidences, she added,—
"Now tell me what you've done to-day."
"I have done a good deal," the other replied, smiling faintly and showing the recovery of her self-possession by sundry little touches to the crushed roses in her gown. "At nine o'clock I went to the Saturday Morning Club, to hear Mr. Jefferson's paper on 'The Over-Soul in Buddhism'; then, at eleven, I went to Mrs. Gore's to see an example of the way they teach deaf and dumb children to read lip language; then Arthur and I went to luncheon at Christopher Plant's, and at half past three was the meeting of the committee on the Knitting School; then there was the reception at Uncle Peter's, and the tea at Mrs. West's, before I came home to dress for dinner."
Helen leaned back in her chair and laughed musically. She felt, with mingled relief and a faint sense of disappointment, that her effort to avoid a confidence had been successful.
"I should think," she said, "that you Boston women would be worn to shreds, and I don't wonder that you have a leaning toward hysterics. Did you carry a clear idea of the Buddhistic over-soul through all the things that came after it in the day?"
She rose as she spoke, with the desire to hasten away. She had little mind to know more than she must of the causes of Edith's unhappiness. She was glad to help her friend, but she felt that she could do so no better from knowing anything Edith could tell her; and she was, moreover, sure that Mrs. Fenton's loyal soul would bitterly regret it if she were by the emotion of the minute betrayed into revelations that involved her husband.
"No," Edith answered, rising in her turn; "I am not even sure whether the Buddhists believe themselves to have an over-soul. But why must you go? Wait, and let Arthur walk home with you."
"Oh, I shall take a car," Helen said. "I don't in the least mind going alone; and it's time both of us were in bed. Good-night, dear; do try and get rested."
BEDECKING ORNAMENTS OF PRAISE. Love's Labor's Lost; ii.—1.
Edith Fenton did not, however, follow Helen's advice and go to bed. She went to her room and exchanged her dinner gown for a wrapper, and then sat down before the wood fire in her chamber to wait for Arthur's return.
It is a dismal vigil when a wife watches for her husband and questions herself of the love between them. It was Edith's conviction that it is a wife's duty to love her husband till death; not alone to fulfil her wifely obligations, to preserve an outward semblance of affection, but to love him in her heart according to the vows she has taken at the altar. Had one told her that the limit of human power lay at self- deception, and that, while it was possible to cheat one's self into the belief of loving, affection could not be constrained, she would with perfect honesty have replied as she had answered Helen in her allusion to St. Theresa. She said to herself to-night, with unshaken conviction and the concentration of all her will, that she would not cease to love Arthur; but she could not wholly ignore the difference between the unquestioning affection she had once given him and this love whose force lay in her will.
A picture of Caldwell, painted a year ago just before his long hair had been sacrificed at his boyish entreaties, hung over her mantel. She looked up at it while her lip quivered and her eyes filled with tears. The keenly sensitive soul instead of becoming hardened to suffering feels it more and more sharply. The powers of endurance become worn out, and to the pain is added a sense of injustice. Since it suffered yesterday the heart claims the right to be happy to-day, and feels wronged that this is denied it. With all her endurance, and with all her faith, Edith could scarcely repress the feeling of passionate protest which rose in her bosom. She said to herself that she had done all, and been all, that lay in her power; that there was no sacrifice in life she was not ready to make to preserve her husband's love; and the most cruel pang of all she felt in thinking of her boy. For herself, it seemed to her, she could have borne anything; but that the atmosphere of the home in which her son was reared should fall short in anything of the utmost ideal possibilities caused her intolerable anguish. It seemed to her a cruel wrong to Caldwell that the love and confidence between his parents should not be perfect. It is probable that more of her personal pain was covered by this pity for her son than she was aware; but as she looked up at his picture she felt almost as if he were half-orphaned by this estrangement between herself and Arthur, which it were vain for her to attempt to ignore.
It was after midnight when she heard the street door open and close; and a moment later came her husband's tap.
"I saw the light in your room, as I came down street," he said. "What on earth kept you up so late?"
"I was waiting," Edith replied, "to talk with you."
He came across the chamber, and regarded her a moment curiously; then he turned away with a slight shrug of the shoulders.
"You will perhaps excuse me," he said, "if I make myself comfortable. I am pretty tired."
He went to his dressing-room, coming back a moment later in smoking jacket and slippers, cutting a cigar as he walked. The reaction from the excitement of the evening already showed itself in the darkened circles beneath his eyes, and the pallor of his lips.
"Do you mind my smoking?" he asked, carelessly. "We've been having the deuce of a time at the club, and my nerves have all gone to pieces. I tell you, Edith," he went on, a sudden spark of excitement showing in his eyes, "I've had a tremendous row, but I've beaten. I made them pass a vote of censure on the Executive Committee, and then Herman got them to instruct the Secretary to send out a printed notice taking back that vote of theirs; and then I offered my resignation, and they voted unanimously not to accept it."
"I am so glad!" Edith responded warmly. "That censure was so outrageous. Tell me all about it."
She was so pleased to find herself talking cordially and intimately with her husband that she forgot for the moment what she had meant to say to him. She listened with eager interest while he gave her a picturesque version of the exciting scene at the club. Edith hardly realized how little of the old familiarity there was now between herself and Arthur. It was his nature to be communicative. He enjoyed talking, partly from his pleasure in words and the delight he found in effective and picturesque phrasing, and partly because it pleased his vanity to excite attention and to produce striking effects. He had an inveterate habit of telling his most intimate and inner experiences in some sort of fantastic disguise. The very vain man is apt to be either extremely reticent or very communicative. The only secrets which Fenton kept well were those which his vanity guarded. As desire for admiration and attention provoked him to continual revelations, so the fear that the disclosure of a secret would react to his disadvantage could cause him to be silent.
From the feeling that his wife disapproved of much that he told her had grown up in Fenton's mind, at first, an irritated desire to shock and startle her as much as possible. As there came into his life, however, things which he knew she would view not only with disapproval but with abhorrence, and especially since his entanglement with Ninitta, he had grown constantly more guarded in his speech. Edith felt keenly the loss of the old familiar talks, though, womanlike, she invented a thousand excuses to prevent herself from believing in the growing estrangement of her husband. To-night she yielded herself to the pleasure of the moment, and she had almost forgotten both the sad thoughts of her vigil and the fear that troubled her, as she listened to Arthur's animated words. It was not until he rose as if to say good-night, that her mind came back suddenly to the matter of which she wished to speak.
It was in a very different mood, however, from that in which she would have spoken half an hour before, that she now brought up the thing that had been troubling her. She hesitated a little how to question her husband without seeming to jar upon the friendly tone in which they had been talking. He was watching her keenly, wondering why she had waited for his coming, and speculating whether it were possible that she might altogether have forgotten what she meant to say. He thought she was about to speak, and anticipated her by saying,—
"Really, Edith, it would be hard to find, even in Boston, a more incongruous company than we gathered together at dinner to-night."
"There was a good deal of variety," she returned; adding defensively, "but then they fitted together pretty well."
"What a funny old party Miss Penwick is," Arthur went on, inwardly gathering himself up for a rapid retreat. "Almost as soon as she had said, 'how do you do' she asked me what I thought the object of life was."
"How very like her; what did you tell her?"
"Oh, I said I supposed the object of life is to transform the crude animal and vegetable substances of our food into passions and petty sentiments."
Edith laughed absently, her thoughts elsewhere.
"And she looked dreadfully puzzled," Fenton continued, "as to whether she ought to be shocked or not. But bless me, how late it is! Good- night, my dear."
He stretched up his arms in a yawn. Edith turned quickly toward him.
"Arthur," she said abruptly, but with the kindness of her softened mood, "are you painting Ninitta?"
He gave her a startled glance and sat down again in his chair. There ran through his mind a sudden pang of fear, but he said to himself instantly that Edith was not one to suspect evil, and she could not possibly know the truth.
"Painting Ninitta?" he returned. "Why do you ask that?"
"Because Fred Rangely told Helen at dinner to-night that you were."
"Where did he get his information?" asked Fenton, with a feeling of tightness in his throat as he remembered how Rangely had knocked at his door that morning.
"He said," was Edith's answer, "that a carpenter told him Mrs. Herman was in the studio to-day; and I remembered seeing her wrap there last week."
Fenton felt the insecurity of a man about whom all things totter in the shock of an earthquake, but he refused to yield to fear. He wondered how much was to be inferred from the fact that an unknown mechanic was aware of Mrs. Herman's visits. He had an overwhelming sense of being trapped, and he inwardly gnashed his teeth with rage against Ninitta and against fate.
But he felt the supreme importance of self-control, and he was outwardly collected as he asked,—
"What did Helen say to him?"
"She said," answered Edith, with an exquisite note of sadness in her voice, "that you must be making a portrait for a surprise to her husband."
The artist's heart gave a bound and he caught eagerly at this suggestion, which afforded him a means of escape.
"Helen is too shrewd by half," he said, with a smile. "It is for Grant's birthday and nobody was to know. As a matter of fact," he added, his invention quickly leaping to the refinements of details in his falsehood, "I fancy Ninitta really wants it for the bambino, as she calls him."
He smiled with relief as he went on, and rose again to his feet.
"Deception," he observed, with his natural lightness of manner, "is the bane of married life, but marital felicity is impossible without discreet reserves. It wasn't my secret, you see, so I didn't feel at liberty to tell you."
"You were perfectly right," she answered. "The truth is," she continued, hesitatingly, "I was afraid you had persuaded Ninitta to sit for the Fatima, you know you said once that she was the only model in Boston who was what you wanted."
"Did I say that? What a dreadful memory you have. I should expect Grant to make a burnt sacrifice of me if I had beguiled her into such an indiscretion. He won't even have her sit to himself since she was married."
"Of course not," rejoined Edith, emphatically. "Poor Grant! He can't be very happy with Ninitta. She never can get the taint of Bohemia out of her blood."
Arthur laughed and flung his cigar end into the fire.
"You speak," he said, "as if that were a hopeless poison."
He stood smiling to himself an instant. He had pushed off one slipper and was endeavoring to pick it up, using his foot like a hand. He was in that state of high excitement when he would have found relief in the wildest and most boisterous actions; and it pleased him to be able still to retain the appearance of his ordinary calm.
"Modern civilization," he observed, "consists largely in learning to live without the use of either truth or the toes. Good-night, my dear. I want to get a nap before the church bells begin to ring."
He stooped and kissed her, and went to his chamber. He closed the door and began to recite with exaggerated gestures a fragment from Macbeth. The varied emotions of the evening had set every nerve quivering. He was so excited that he was not even despondent over the collapse of Princeton Platinum stock, although this meant to him desperate financial straits. He knew that he was in no condition to consider anything calmly; but half the remainder of the night he tossed upon a sleepless bed, reacting the scene at the club, reflecting upon his narrow escape from the discovery of his relations with Ninitta, resolving to begin her portrait at once, and thinking a thousand confused things which made his brain seem to him filled with whirling masses of fiery thought-clouds.
It was really only just before the church bells began to ring that he fell asleep at last, to dreams hardly less vivid than his waking reflections.
CRUEL PROOF OF THIS MAN'S STRENGTH. As You Like It; i.—2.
Orin Stanton had been tolerably sure of getting the commission for the America, and had been busily at work preparing his model for the figure. By the time the decision of the committee was reached, his study was practically complete, and only a day or two after he had been officially notified that the choice had fallen upon him the public were invited to his studio to view the statue.
Whatever else Orin might or might not be, he was undeniably energetic. He missed no opportunities through neglect, and he never left undone anything which was likely to tell for his own advantage. He had once before called upon the world to admire his work on the completion of his masterpiece, a figure called Hop Scotch, representing according to Bently "a tenement-house girl having a fit on the sidewalk." He therefore understood well enough the usual methods of managing these affairs, and as the ladies who had taken him up felt bound to make a point of patronizing the exhibition, the affair succeeded capitally.
Stanton had no regular studio in Boston, and had for this work secured a room on the ground floor of a business building. The light, to be sure, was not all that might have been desired, but it was abundant, window screens were cheap and the sculptor not over sensitive to subtile gradations of values. He made no attempt to decorate the room for his exhibition, partly from a certain indifference to its bareness, and partly from a native shrewdness which enabled him to feel both the difficulty of doing this adequately, and the fact that the statue appeared better as things were. There were a few benches, scantily cushioned, two or three chairs, not all in perfect repair, with the paraphernalia essential to his work. A few sketches in crayon and pencil were pinned to the wall, and among them the artist had had the fatuity to pin up a photograph of that most beautiful figure, the Winged Victory of Paionios.
The study for America, which was of colossal size, represented a woman seated, leaning her left hand upon a rock. The right hand held slightly uplifted a bunch of maize and tobacco plant; her head wore a crown in which the architectural embattlements not uncommon in classic headdresses had been curiously and wonderfully transformed into the likeness of the domed capitol at Washington. The figure was completely draped, only the head, the left hand and the right arm to the elbow emerging from the voluminous folds in which it was wrapped, save that the tip of one sandalled foot was visible, resting upon a ballot box. Half covered by the hem of the robe were seen a tomahawk, an axe, a printer's stick, a calumet, and various other emblems of American life, civilized and barbarous.
A secret which Stanton did not impart to the public and which, with a boldness allied to impudence, he trusted to their never discovering, was the fact that his figure had been stolen bodily from an antique. There exists in the museum of the Vatican a statuette representing a work by Eutychides of Sikyon. Bas-reliefs of the same figure exist also on certain coins of Antioch still extant. The figure represented the city goddess Tyche resting her foot upon the shoulder of the river god Orontes, who seems to swim from beneath the rock upon which she is seated. Stanton had a sketch of the statuette which he had made in Rome, and from this he had modelled his America, replacing the god Orontes by a ballot-box, changing the accessories and adding as many symbolical articles as he could crowd around the feet. He was not wholly untroubled by an inward dread lest the source of his inspiration should be discovered; but when he had been complimented by Peter Calvin upon the marked originality of the design, he threw his fear to the winds and delivered himself up to the enjoyment of receiving the praises of his visitors.
There was a strange mixture of people present. Stanton had invited the artists, members of the press, and all the people that he knew, whether they knew him or not. Mrs. Frostwinch was there, Mrs. Staggchase, Elsie Dimmont, and Ethel Mott; and although Mrs. Bodewin Ranger was not actually present, she in a manner lent her countenance by sending her carriage to the door to call for one of her friends. Fred Rangely was present, talking in a satirical undertone to Miss Merrivale and viewing the statue with a wicked look in his eye which boded little good to the sculptor. Melissa Blake was there, rather overpowered by the crowd and clinging tightly to the arm of her companion, a girl whose acquaintance she had made in her boarding-house, and who was much given to an affectation of profound culture as represented by attendance upon stereopticon lectures and the exhibitions of the local art clubs.
"Oh, I should think," this young lady said to Melissa, in a simpering rapture, "you'd be just too proud for anything, to know Mr. Stanton. It must be too lovely to know a real sculptor."
"I don't know him so very well," returned the conscientious Melissa.
"But you really know him," persisted the other, "and he's been to call on you. Isn't it funny how some men can make things just out of their heads without anything to go by?"
Rangely, who was standing close by, caught the remark and secretly made a grimace for the benefit of Miss Merrivale.
"That," said he in her ear, "is genuine Boston culture."
She laughed softly, not in the least knowing what to say. The statue meant nothing whatever to her, and had the original of Eutychides been placed by its side she would have been unable to understand that in copying it Stanton had transformed its dignity into clumsiness, its grace into vulgarity. Had she been at home in New York, she would have said frankly that she neither knew nor cared anything about the America; being in Boston, she had a superstitious feeling that such frankness would be ill-judged, and she therefore contented herself with non-committal laughter.
"How do you do, Miss Merrivale?" at this moment said a cheery voice close by her.
She looked up to see the merry eyes and corn-colored beard of Chauncy Wilson.
"I say, Fred," went on the doctor, confidentially, "don't you think this thing is beastly rubbish? It looks like an old grandmother wrapped up in her bedclothes. And what has she got that toy village on her head for?"
"Oh, Doctor Wilson!" exclaimed Miss Merrivale, in a manner that might mean reproval or amusement.
Miss Frances was having a very good time. Although Mrs. Staggchase had been throwing her guest and Rangely together for motives of her own, the result to Miss Merrivale had been as pleasing as if her hostess had been purely disinterested. It is true, the time for her return to New York drew near, but visions of the pleasure of imparting to her family and friends the news of her engagement to the brilliant young novelist did much to alleviate her regret at departing from Boston. She had a pleasant consciousness that afternoon, of sharing in the attention which Rangely received in public nowadays, especially since his novel had been violently attacked in the London Spectator and defended in the Saturday Review. She noted the glances that were cast at him, receiving their homage with a certain secret feeling of having a share in it.
But bliss in this world is always transient, and at her happiest moment Miss Merrivale looked up to perceive Mrs. Amanda Welsh Sampson bearing down upon her. Mrs. Sampson was accompanied by the Hon. Tom Greenfield, who both felt and looked utterly out of place; and who was dragged along in the wake of his companion quite as much by his unwillingness to be left to his own devices in a crowd of strangers, as by any particular desire to follow her.
"My dear Frances," the widow said effusively, kissing Miss Merrivale on both cheeks. "I am so glad to see you. Really it is perfectly cruel that you haven't been to see me. But then, I know," she ran on without giving the other time to speak, "how busy you've been. I've seen your name in the Gossip, and you've been everywhere."
"Yes, I have," returned Miss Merrivale, catching rather awkwardly at the excuse supplied to her.
Chauncy Wilson laughed significantly. He never felt it necessary to treat the widow with any especial respect.
"Mrs. Sampson passes the whole of Sunday forenoon committing the society columns of the Gossip to memory, and wishing her name was there," he chuckled, with a jocoseness which seemed to that lady extremely ill-timed.
But she kept her temper beautifully, long years of social struggle having taught her at least this art of self-restraint.
"Dr. Wilson is nothing if not satirical," she returned, with a conventional smile.
It would not have been displeasing to Miss Merrivale had the floor at that particular instant opened and engulfed her former hostess. It needs unusual breadth of mind to forgive those toward whom we have been discourteous. On the other side of the statue, Frances saw Mrs. Staggchase watching the encounter with a sort of quiet amusement. It flashed across her mind that if she were to become Mrs. Rangely, and live in Boston, it would be necessary to drop Mrs. Sampson from her calling list, and the reflection instantly followed that the sooner the process of breaking the acquaintance were begun the better. Her face insensibly, hardened a little.
"Of course," she said, "one can't help being put into the Gossip, but I should never think of reading it."
Mrs. Sampson understood that this was a snub, and her cheek flushed. Wilson laughed maliciously.
"Oh, everybody reads the Gossip," Rangely interposed, good-naturedly coming to the rescue; "although it's to the credit of humanity that everybody has the grace to be ashamed of it."
There was a bustle and stir in the crowd as Tom Bently pushed his way up to the group.
"By Jove, Rangely," he said, "have you got on to that statue? Do you know what it's cribbed from?"
"No," returned Fred; "is it from anything in particular? I supposed it was just a general steal from the antique, and Stanton appropriates only to destroy."
"I don't know what it is," was Bently's reply, "but I know there's a cut of it in a book I've got at the studio."
Rangely's eyes flashed.
"Good," said he, "I'll come round to-night and we'll look it up. I'm going to do a notice of the America for the Observer."
The two exchanged significant glances, laughing inwardly at the discomfiture of the unfortunate sculptor.
"But don't you admire the figure?" asked Mrs. Sampson, eagerly seizing an opportunity to get into the conversation.
"It's the kind of thing I should have liked when I was young," Bently returned. "I was taught to like that sort of thing; but all the preliminary rubbish that was plastered on to me when I was a youngster, I have shed as a snake sheds its skin."
The movement in the crowd gave Miss Merrivale an excuse for changing her position; and she improved the opportunity to turn away from the widow until the latter could see little except her back. Mrs. Sampson flushed angrily, but she covered her discomfiture, as well as she was able, by turning her attention to the statue, and descanting upon its beauties to Greenfield.
"How exquisitely dignified the drapery is," she remarked, "and so beautifully modest."
"Big thing, ain't it," said the strident voice of Irons, close to her ear. "I think we've hit something good this time. I'm really obliged to you, Greenfield, for putting me up to vote for Stanton. I like a statue with some meaning to it. Now just look at the significance of all those emblems of American progress."
"Yes, it is very fine," admitted Greenfield, with a helpless air. "I'll work it into a speech, sometime," he added, his face brightening with the relief of having an idea; "there's the ballot-box at the bottom as a foundation, and you work up through all the industries till you get to the capitol, the centre of government, at the top."
"Hear! hear!" exclaimed the widow, clapping her hands very softly and prettily; "really you must speak at the unveiling of the statue."
"Capital idea," exclaimed Irons, to whose gratitude for Greenfield's aid in the railroad matter was added the politic forecast that he might some time need his help again; "there's Hubbard over there now; I'll go and ask him whether our committee chooses the orator."
He started to make his way through the crowd, followed by the admiring looks of various young women who had been frankly listening to the conversation, although they were strangers.
"Oh, isn't the statue just too lovely for anything," gushingly remarked one of them, with startling originality; "it's so noble and—. And, oh," she broke off suddenly, the light of a new discovery shining in her face, "just see, girls, that's corn in her hand."
"Oh, yes, and cotton," responded her companion. "See, it really is cotton, and something else."
"Yes, that must be maize," returned the other, oracularly; "it's all so beautifully American."
The crowd moved and swayed and changed, until Ethel Mott stood close to the America, with her back turned squarely upon the figure. She evidently found more pleasure in looking at her companion than in studying the work of the sculptor, which she had nominally come to see.
"I think it will be too cold, Thayer, to go out in the dog-cart," she said, with one of those glances whose meaning not even a poet could put into words.
"Oh, no," Kent answered. "I have a tremendously heavy rug, and you can wrap up."
"Well," was her answer, "if it's pleasant, and the sun shines, and I don't change my mind, and I feel like it, perhaps I'll go. At any rate you may come round about ten o'clock."
Rangely was too far away to catch, amid the babble of the crowd, a single word of this conversation, but he noted the looks which the pair exchanged.
"Oh, do come along," a corpulent lady in the crowd observed to her companion. "We've seen everybody here that we know, and I want to go down to Winter Street and get some buttons for my grey dress. Miranda wanted me to have them covered with the cloth, but I think steel ones would be prettier."
"Yes, they say steel's going to be awfully fashionable this spring. Are they going to put that statue up just as it is?"
"Oh, they bake it or paint it or something," was the lucid answer, as the corpulent lady threw herself against Mr. Hubbard, nearly annihilating him in her effort to clear a path through the crowd.
"I think, my dear," Hubbard observed to his wife, "unless you've designs on my life insurance, you'd better take me out of this crowd."
"But we haven't seen the statue," she returned.
"I have," he retorted grimly, "and I assure you you haven't lost anything. You'll see it enough when it's set up, and you'll go about perjuring your soul by denying that I was ever on the committee."
"Hush," she said, "do be quiet; people will think you're cross because you were overruled."
On the other side of the statue the sculptor had been receiving congratulations all the afternoon, and now Mr. Calvin and Mrs. Frostwinch chanced to approach him at the same time to take their leave.
"I am so glad to have seen the statue," was the latter's form of adieu, "it is distinctly inspiring. Thank you so much."
He bowed awkwardly enough, stammering some unintelligible reply, and the lady moved away with Mr. Calvin, who observed as the pair emerged into the open air:
"It is such a relief to me that this statue has turned out so well. There has really been a good deal of feeling and wire-pulling, and some New York friends of mine will never forgive me that the commission was not given to one of their men. I really feel as if the thing had been made almost a personal matter."
"It must be a great satisfaction to you," his companion returned, "that he has succeeded."
"It is," was Calvin's reply. "I meant to see Mr. Rangley and ask him to say a good word in the Observer, but everybody is so much pleased that I think he may be trusted to be."
"Oh, he must be," she answered.
And as she spoke Tom Bently passed by, quietly smiling to himself.
THE WORLD IS STILL DECEIVED. Merchant of Venice; iii.—2.
On the evening following his reception, Orin Stanton presented himself at the rooms of Melissa. He was fairly beaming with self-complacency and gratification. He had been awarded the commission, the exhibition of his model had been attended, as he assured Melissa, "by no end of swells," and five thousand dollars had been paid over to him as an advance upon which to begin his work. He felt as if the world were under his feet and he spoke to Melissa with an air of lofty condescension which should have amused her, but which she received with the utmost humility.
"Well," he said, "what do you think of that for a crowd? Wasn't that a swell mob? Didn't you notice what a lot of bang-up people there were at the studio this afternoon?"
"Of course I didn't know many of them," Melissa returned humbly; "but I could see that there were a lot of people that everybody seemed to know. I'm glad that you were pleased."
Orin pulled out a big cigar and bit the end off it excitedly.
"Pleased!" he echoed. "I was more than pleased—I was delighted. All the committee were there, of course, and half the fashionable women of Boston."
"I heard a lady telling another who the artists were," Milly observed, glad to find a subject upon which she could talk to Orin easily.
"O yes, there were a lot of artists there, but they don't count for much in getting a fellow commissions."
Stanton had evidently no intention of being satirical, but spoke with straightforward plainness what he would have regarded, had he given the matter any thought at all, as being a truth too obvious to need any disguises. His Philistinism was of the perfectly ingrained, inborn sort, which never having appreciated that it is naked has never felt the need of being ashamed; and he let it be seen on any occasion with a frankness which arose from the fact that it had never occurred to him that there was any reason why he should conceal it. He was one of those artists who never would be able wholly to separate his idea of the muse from that of a serving-maid; and he viewed art from the strictly utilitarian standpoint which considers it a means toward the payment of butcher and baker and candlestick maker. He was not indifferent to the opinion of his fellow sculptors; but the criticism of Alfred Irons, which he knew to be backed by a substantial bank account, would have outweighed in his mind the judgment of Michael Angelo or Phidias.
Milly, of course, had no ideas about art beyond a faint sentimental tendency to regard it as a mysterious and glorious thing which one could not wholly escape in Boston; while her thrifty New England nurture enabled her to appreciate perfectly the force of the considerations Orin brought forward.
"I am glad you are getting commissions," she said, "but it must be nice to have the artists like your work, for after all, don't you think rich people depend a good deal upon what the artists say?"
"Oh yes, they do, some," admitted the sculptor.
He puffed his cigar, and with the aid of a penknife performed upon his nails certain operations of the toilet which are more usually attended to in private. Milly sat nervously trying to think of something to say, and wondering what had brought the sculptor to visit her. She was too kindly to suspect that possibly he had come because in her company he could enjoy the pleasure of giving free rein to his self-conceit. The words of her companion of the afternoon had given her a new sense of the honor of a visit from her prospective brother-in-law, although this increased her diffidence rather than her pleasure.
"Was Mr. Fenton there this afternoon?" she asked, at length, simply for the sake of saying something.
The face of her companion darkened.
"Damn Fenton!" he returned, with coarse brutality. "He's a cad and a snob; he says Herman ought to have made the America, and he abuses my model without ever having seen it."
The remark of Fenton's which had given offence to Stanton had been made at the club in comment upon a photograph of the model which somebody was showing.
"The only capitol thing about it," Fenton had said, "is the headgear."
The remark was severe rather than witty, and it was its severity which had given it wings to bear it to the sculptor's ears.
"I don't like Mr. Fenton very well," Milly admitted, "but Mrs. Fenton is perfectly lovely; she's been awfully good to me."
By way of reply the sculptor, with a somewhat ponderous air, unbuttoned his coat and produced a red leather pocket-book. This he opened, took out a handful of bills, and proceeded to count them with great deliberation. Melissa watched while he counted out a sum which seemed to have been fixed in his mind. He smoothed the package of bills in his hand, then he glanced up at her furtively as if to ascertain whether she knew how much he had laid out. She involuntarily averted her glance. Instantly Orin gathered up several of the bills quickly, conveying them out of sight with a guilty air as if he were purloining them. Then he held the remainder toward his companion.
"There," he said, "I should have kept my promise if you hadn't hinted by speaking of Fenton. Of course you understand that I can't give you anything very tremendous, but there's a hundred and fifty dollars."
Melissa flushed and drew back.
"I had no idea of hinting," was her reply. "Of course I thank you very much, but you ought to give the money to John, not to me."
"No," Orin insisted, "you helped me with Mrs. Fenton, and John might as well know that I wouldn't put this money into a hole just to please him. I know John. He'll set more by you if the money comes through you."
"But I don't believe," protested she, "that what I said to Mrs. Fenton really made any difference."
But in Orin's abounding good nature her disclaimer passed unheeded. He pressed the money upon her, and went away full of the consciousness of having exercised a noble philanthropy.
It is possible that had he waited to read Fred Rangely's criticism upon his America which appeared in the Daily Observer next morning he might never have made this contribution toward paying his father's debts. With Bently's help Rangely had discovered the original of the statue, and had then written a careful comparison between the work of Eutychides and that of Stanton. It hardly need be added that the result was not at all flattering to the latter. Rangely possessed a very pretty gift of sarcasm, and it was his humor to consider that in attacking the sculptor he was to a certain degree settling scores with Mrs. Staggchase for her change in attitude toward him after Miss Merrivale came. He served up the unlucky statue and its more unlucky maker with a piquancy and a zest which made his article town talk for a month. The sculptor sheltered himself, so far as he could, by keeping out of sight, while Peter Calvin, unable to endure the jibes and laughter which everywhere met him, abandoned the cause of his protege and the town together, by starting two months earlier than he had intended on a trip to Europe.
Rangely was angry with himself for having been persuaded by Mrs. Staggchase to write an article sustaining Stanton's claims in the first place, and not having signed it, he endeavored to give to this criticism a tone which should indicate, without its being specifically stated, that he had not written the former paper. He understood perfectly well that Mrs. Staggchase would regard his position as a declaration of independence, and indeed when the lady read the Observer that morning she smiled with an air of comprehension.
"That's an end to that," she said to herself. "When you've known a man as long as I have Fred Rangely, he's like a book that's been read; you've got all the good there is in him. There are other men in the world."
When Orin had gone, Milly stood turning over and over in her hand the roll of bills he had given her. Then she spread them out upon the table, counting them and gloating over them, with a delight which arose quite as largely from her foretaste of John's pleasure and the joy of having helped to cause it, as it did from mere love of money. She had just taken the precious roll to put it away, when her lover himself appeared.
John Stanton was really of more kindly disposition than might have been inferred from his misunderstanding with his betrothed. He had been half a dozen weeks coming to his right mind, but whatever he did he did thoroughly, and in the end he had reached a point where he was willing to acknowledge himself wrong, and to make whatever amends lay in his power. He came in to-night with the determined air of one who has made up his mind to get through a disagreeable duty as speedily as possible.
Milly opened the door for him, and stood back to let him pass; she had learned in these weeks of their estrangement to restrain the manifestation of her joy at his coming. It was with so great a rush of blissful surprise that she now found herself suddenly caught up into his arms, that she clung closely to his neck for one joyful instant, and then burst into a passion of weeping.
"There, there," her lover said, caressing her; "don't cry, Milly. I've been a brute, and I know it; but if you'll forgive me this time I'll see that you never need to again."
He moved toward a chair as he spoke, half carrying her in his arms. In her excitement she loosened her hold upon the roll of money, which was still in her hand, and the bills were scattered on the floor behind him as he walked. He sat down and took her in his lap, stroking her hair and soothing her as well as he was able. By a strong effort she controlled herself, dried her tears, and sat up, half laughing.
"I'm getting to be dreadful teary," she said. "I"—
"What in the world," he interrupted her in amazement, "is that on the floor?"
She turned and saw the money, and burst into a peal of laughter. Springing down from his knee, she ran and gathered up the bills in her two hands; then, dancing up to him, half wild with delight, her cheeks flushed, her eyes shining, she scattered the precious bits of green paper fantastically over his head and shoulders.
"'Take, oh take, the rosy, rosy crown!'"
She sang, in the very abandonment of gayety.
"Are you gone crazy?" he demanded, clutching the floating bills, and then catching her about the waist. "You act like a witch! Where did all this money come from? The savings-bank?"
"No," she returned, becoming quiet, and nestling close to him. "The Lord sent it by the hand of your brother Orin."
It was some time before John could be made to understand the whole story; and when it had been told, he instantly leaped to the conclusion that the whole credit of Orin's getting the commission belonged of right to Milly, a conviction in which he remained steadfast despite all her disclaimers.
At last she gave up protesting, and shut his mouth with a kiss. Since John, as well as Orin, thought so, she felt that her part must have been more important than she had realized; but she was too modest to bear so much praise.
"John," she said at length, "I have something awful to confess. I've been keeping a secret from you."
"I'm afraid I've been too much of a bear for it to have been safe to tell me," returned her lover, smiling.
His own heart was filled with the double joy of reconciliation, and of having brought it about himself by a manly confession of his fault.
"It wasn't that at all," she protested. "It was because I wasn't sure about it; and then I wanted to surprise you if I got it."
"Got what? You speak as if it was the smallpox. Is it anything catching?"
"Oh, no," answered Milly, laughing gleefully at his sally, which to her present mood seemed the most exquisite wit. "You needn't be afraid; it's only the matronship of the new Knitting School, thank you, with a salary of five hundred dollars a year."
"Really, John; and don't you think"—
She had made up her mind to say it even before this blessed agreement had come about, but now that the moment came, the habits and trammels of generations held her back.
"Why," she stammered, blushing and hesitating, "don't you think,— wouldn't it seem more appropriate if a matron was"—Her voice failed utterly. She flung her arms convulsively about her lover's neck, and drew his ear close to her lips. "Surely, now, John, dear," she whispered, "we could afford to"—
She finished with a kiss.
"If you can put up with me, darling," he answered her, with a mighty hug; "we'll be married in a week, or, better still, in a day."
"I think in a month will do," responded Mistress Milly, demurely, sitting up to blush with decorum.
PARTED OUR FELLOWSHIP. Othello; ii.—1.
The news of the collapse of Princeton Platinum stock, which Dr. Wilson had given Arthur on Saturday night, proved to be somewhat premature. On Sunday it was decided at the club, where the matter was discussed in a cold-blooded and leisurely fashion, that the whole scheme had gone to pieces; and of course this decision was accompanied by the statement, in various forms, that everybody knew that there was nothing substantial behind the certificates. On Monday, however, the stock took an unexpected rise, and for two or three days held its own with a firmness which greatly encouraged its holders.
Fenton had bought the bulk of his shares at two and seven-eights, and still held them, notwithstanding the rumors of disaster in the air. With a folly that would be incredible were it not one of the most common things in amateur stock transactions, the artist had by this time put the bulk of his little fortune into this wild-cat stock, which he now held with a desperate determination not to sell below the figure at which he had purchased. He could so little afford the least loss, that, with the genuine instinct of the gambler, he trusted to luck, and ran the risk of utter ruin for the sake of the chance of making a brilliant stroke, or at least of coming out even. Having made up his mind to hold on, he clung to the position with his customary obstinacy, even dismissing the matter, as far as was possible, from his thoughts.
He was very busy preparing an exhibition of pictures at the St. Filipe club. The matter had been left in his hands by the other members of the Art Committee, of which he was chairman; but his attitude toward the club had prevented his taking any steps until after the meeting on Saturday night. Now, he was particularly anxious to make the exhibition a brilliant success, to give a signal instance of the value of his services.
He had gone to his studio on Sunday afternoon and sketched in a head of Ninitta, and upon this he worked, now and then, with a desperate energy born of the feeling that it substantiated his story to Edith. He had been seized with grave doubts as to the advisability of exhibiting the Fatima just now; but he did not see his way clear to spare so large and important a picture from the collection, and he comforted himself with the thought that the face was different, and that if the model were recognized he would be supposed to have worked up old sketches taken when Ninitta had posed for him before her marriage.
He worked with all his marvellous energy, collecting pictures, directing their hanging, soothing artists whose canvases were not placed to their liking, making out the catalogue, and arranging all the details which in such a connection are fatiguing and well-nigh innumerable.
The exhibition was opened on Wednesday evening with a reception to ladies, and by nine o'clock the gallery began to fill. Fenton had decorated the rooms a little, chiefly with live pampas grass and palms and India-rubber trees. It is difficult to see how mankind in the nineteenth century could exist without the India-rubber tree. If that plant were destroyed, civilization would be left gasping, helpless and crippled; and of late years, not content with making it serviceable in every department of practical life, men have brought the shrub into the domain of aesthetics by using it for decorative purposes.
The collection of paintings was an interesting one, made up of the work of the best artists in town. Fenton had spared no pains either in procuring what he wanted, or in arranging the gallery. The Fatima hung in a position of honor opposite the main entrance. The selection of so prominent a place for his own work offended Fenton's taste, and annoyed him with an uncomfortable sense of how strongly the picture was in evidence. The exigencies of hanging, and the fact that the canvas was the most important one in the room forced him to place it as he did; and Bently, whom he called to his assistance, laughed at his scruples. None of the artists had seen the picture, and Bently was quite carried away by his admiration of it.
"By Jove! Fenton," he said, "I didn't know you had it in you. It's perfectly stunning. But it's beastly wicked," he added. "Perhaps that's the reason it's so good."
"Come," Fenton said with a laugh, "that sounds quite like the old Pagan days."
"But how in the dickens," Tom went on, "did you get Mrs. Herman to pose for you?"
"Great Heavens!" ejaculated Fenton, "don't say that to anybody else. I had no end of studies of her, made long ago; but I didn't suppose I had followed them closely enough for it to be recognized."
"You don't mean," Tom returned, "that that side and arm are done from old studies!"
Fenton had a delicate dislike to literal falsehood. It was not a question of morality directly, but one of taste. Albeit, since taste is simply morality remote from the springs of action, it perhaps came to much the same thing in the end. He felt now, however, that the time for the selfish indulgence of his individual whims was past, and that he owed to Ninitta the grace of a downright and hearty falsehood.
"Why, of course," he said, "I had one or two models to help me out; but the inspiration came from the old studies."
"And she didn't pose for you?" Tom persisted incredulously.
"Pose for me?" echoed Fenton, impatiently. "Why, man alive, think what you're saying! Of course, she didn't pose for me. She never has posed for anybody since she was married."
"And a devilish shame it is, too," responded Tom.
This conversation, which took place Wednesday afternoon, made Fenton extremely uneasy. Fate seemed to have worked against him. He had painted the picture to go to the New York Exhibition, where he hoped it would be sold without ever coming under the eye of Herman at all. He reflected now that Ninitta had posed for Helen and for several of his brother painters, while it was scarcely credible that the likeness which Bently had perceived at a glance should escape the trained artist's eye of her husband; and it seemed to him now, little less than madness to have brought the picture here at all.
Upon second thought, however, he reflected that even were the picture recognized, no great harm would probably come of it. No one would be likely to speak on the subject to Herman, and, least of all, was there a probability that the latter would confess that he was aware of what his wife had done. Herman's condemnation, Fenton said to himself with a shrug, he must, if worst came to worst, endure; this was to be set down with other unpleasantnesses which belong to the unpleasant conditions of life as they exist in these days. As long as there was no open scandal, he could ignore whatever lay beneath the surface, and he assured himself that in any event it were wisest, as he had long ago learned, to carry things off with a high hand.
It was about half past nine when Fenton brought Edith into the gallery. The crowd had by this time become pretty dense, and just inside the door they halted, exchanging greeting with the acquaintances who appeared on every side. The St. Filipe was an old club, and for more than a quarter of a century had maintained the reputation of leading in matters of art and literature. Its influence had, on the whole, been remarkably even and intelligent; but of late it began to be felt, among those who were radical in their views, that the club was coming under Philistine influence. Half a dozen years before, when Fenton had proposed Peter Calvin for membership, even the social influence of the candidate did not save him from a rejection so marked that Arthur had threatened to resign his own membership. Now, however, Peter Calvin was not only a member of the St. Filipe, but he was on the Election Committee. The club was held in favor in the circles over which his influence extended, and although workers in all branches of art were still included among the members, they were pretty closely pushed by the more fashionable element of the town. Fenton was not far from right in asserting, as he did one day to Mrs. Greyson, after her return from Europe, that the change in his own attitude toward art was pretty exactly paralleled by the alteration which had taken place in that of Boston.
The character of the membership of the club was indicated to-night by the brilliancy of the company present. It was one of those occasions when everybody is there, and the scene, as the new-comers looked over the gallery, was most bright and animated. Although the ladies had evidently labored under the usual uncertainty in regard to the proper dress which seems inseparable from an art exhibition in Boston, and were in all varieties of costume from street attire to full evening toilette, there were enough handsome gowns to supply the necessary color. There was also abundance of pretty and of striking faces, and the crowd had that pleasant look of familiarity which one gets from recognizing acquaintances all through it.
One of the first persons the Fentons saw was Ethel Mott, who, under the chaperonage of Mrs. Frostwinch, was making the tour of the gallery with Kent, and paying far more attention to her companion than to the pictures.
"Oh, Arthur," Edith whispered, "I saw Mrs. Staggchase in the dressing- room, and she told me that Ethel's engagement is out to-day."
Arthur smiled, remembering his perspicacity when Ethel had driven away from his dinner with Kent in her carriage.
"Isn't the crowd dreadful?" the voice of Mrs. Bodewin Ranger said, at Edith's elbow. "I'm really getting too old to trust myself in such a crush."
While Edith chatted with her, the steward called Fenton away, in connection with some question about the catalogues, and when Mrs. Ranger moved on, Edith found herself for an instant alone. The mention of her husband's name behind her caught her ear and her attention.
"Fenton's cheeky enough for anything!" said an unknown voice. "But he makes a point of his good taste, and I think it's beastly poor form for him to show that picture here."
"Bently says," returned another voice, also strange to Edith, "that Fenton says she didn't pose for him, but that he worked it up from old studies."
"I don't care if he did," was the response. "All the fellows know it, and Herman must feel like the deuce."
"But you can't suppress every picture that has a study of her in it."
"Hush," said the other voice, "there comes Herman himself."
It seemed to Edith that this brief dialogue had been shouted out so that it could not be inaudible to any one in the room. She looked about for her husband. Her ears rang with the meaningless babble of voices, the jargon of human sounds conveying far less impression of intelligence than the noise of water on the shore, or the sound of the wind in the tree-tops. All about her were faces wreathed in conventional smiles, the inevitable laughter, the usual absence of earnestness, and in the midst of all, with a shock hardly less painful than that of the discovery she had just made, she heard the voice of Herman bidding her good evening.
She held out her hand to him with a hasty, excited gesture. She was painfully conscious that he had but to lift his eyes to see the Fatima hanging on the opposite wall of the gallery, and she instinctively felt that she must draw his attention away.