"If I know anything of heads," he said, "there's everything in that face but love. I shall have to put that in myself; and that chin and mouth won't be won for nothing. But she's right. She knows what she wants, and she's going to get it. What insolence! Me! Of all the people in the wide world, to use me! But then she's Maisie. There's no getting over that fact; and it's good to see her again. This business must have been simmering at the back of my head for years. . . . She'll use me as I used Binat at Port Said. She's quite right. It will hurt a little. I shall have to see her every Sunday,—like a young man courting a housemaid. She's sure to come around; and yet—that mouth isn't a yielding mouth. I shall be wanting to kiss her all the time, and I shall have to look at her pictures,—I don't even know what sort of work she does yet,—and I shall have to talk about Art,—Woman's Art! Therefore, particularly and perpetually, damn all varieties of Art. It did me a good turn once, and now it's in my way. I'll go home and do some Art."
Half-way to the studio, Dick was smitten with a terrible thought. The figure of a solitary woman in the fog suggested it.
"She's all alone in London, with a red-haired impressionist girl, who probably has the digestion of an ostrich. Most red-haired people have. Maisie's a bilious little body. They'll eat like lone women,—meals at all hours, and tea with all meals. I remember how the students in Paris used to pig along. She may fall ill at any minute, and I shan't be able to help. Whew! this is ten times worse than owning a wife."
Torpenhow entered the studio at dusk, and looked at Dick with eyes full of the austere love that springs up between men who have tugged at the same oar together and are yoked by custom and use and the intimacies of toil. This is a good love, and, since it allows, and even encourages, strife, recrimination, and brutal sincerity, does not die, but grows, and is proof against any absence and evil conduct.
Dick was silent after he handed Torpenhow the filled pipe of council. He thought of Maisie and her possible needs. It was a new thing to think of anybody but Torpenhow, who could think for himself. Here at last was an outlet for that cash balance. He could adorn Maisie barbarically with jewelry,—a thick gold necklace round that little neck, bracelets upon the rounded arms, and rings of price upon her hands,—the cool, temperate, ringless hands that he had taken between his own. It was an absurd thought, for Maisie would not even allow him to put one ring on one finger, and she would laugh at golden trappings. It would be better to sit with her quietly in the dusk, his arm around her neck and her face on his shoulder, as befitted husband and wife. Torpenhow's boots creaked that night, and his strong voice jarred. Dick's brows contracted and he murmured an evil word because he had taken all his success as a right and part payment for past discomfort, and now he was checked in his stride by a woman who admitted all the success and did not instantly care for him.
"I say, old man," said Torpenhow, who had made one or two vain attempts at conversation, "I haven't put your back up by anything I've said lately, have I?"
"You! No. How could you?"
"Liver out of order?"
"The truly healthy man doesn't know he has a liver. I'm only a bit worried about things in general. I suppose it's my soul."
"The truly healthy man doesn't know he has a soul. What business have you with luxuries of that kind?"
"It came of itself. Who's the man that says that we're all islands shouting lies to each other across seas of misunderstanding?"
"He's right, whoever he is,—except about the misunderstanding. I don't think we could misunderstand each other."
The blue smoke curled back from the ceiling in clouds. Then Torpenhow, insinuatingly—"Dick, is it a woman?"
"Be hanged if it's anything remotely resembling a woman; and if you begin to talk like that, I'll hire a red-brick studio with white paint trimmings, and begonias and petunias and blue Hungarias to play among three-and-sixpenny pot- palms, and I'll mount all my pics in aniline-dye plush plasters, and I'll invite every woman who maunders over what her guide-books tell her is Art, and you shall receive 'em, Torp,—in a snuff-brown velvet coat with yellow trousers and an orange tie. You'll like that?"
"Too thin, Dick. A better man than you once denied with cursing and swearing. You've overdone it, just as he did. It's no business of mine, of course, but it's comforting to think that somewhere under the stars there's saving up for you a tremendous thrashing. Whether it'll come from heaven or earth, I don't know, but it's bound to come and break you up a little. You want hammering."
Dick shivered. "All right," said he. "When this island is disintegrated, it will call for you."
"I shall come round the corner and help to disintegrate it some more. We're talking nonsense. Come along to a theatre."
"And you may lead a thousand men, Nor ever draw the rein, But ere ye lead the Faery Queen 'Twill burst your heart in twain."
He has slipped his foot from the stirrup-bar, The bridle from his hand, And he is bound by hand and foot To the Queen 'o Faery-land. ——Sir Hoggie and the Fairies.
Some weeks later, on a very foggy Sunday, Dick was returning across the Park to his studio. "This," he said, "is evidently the thrashing that Torp meant. It hurts more than I expected; but the Queen can do no wrong; and she certainly has some notion of drawing."
He had just finished a Sunday visit to Maisie,—always under the green eyes of the red-haired impressionist girl, whom he learned to hate at sight,—and was tingling with a keen sense of shame. Sunday after Sunday, putting on his best clothes, he had walked over to the untidy house north of the Park, first to see Maisie's pictures, and then to criticise and advise upon them as he realised that they were productions on which advice would not be wasted. Sunday after Sunday, and his love grew with each visit, he had been compelled to cram his heart back from between his lips when it prompted him to kiss Maisie several times and very much indeed. Sunday after Sunday, the head above the heart had warned him that Maisie was not yet attainable, and that it would be better to talk as connectedly as possible upon the mysteries of the craft that was all in all to her. Therefore it was his fate to endure weekly torture in the studio built out over the clammy back garden of a frail stuffy little villa where nothing was ever in its right place and nobody every called,—to endure and to watch Maisie moving to and fro with the teacups. He abhorred tea, but, since it gave him a little longer time in her presence, he drank it devoutly, and the red-haired girl sat in an untidy heap and eyed him without speaking. She was always watching him.
Once, and only once, when she had left the studio, Maisie showed him an album that held a few poor cuttings from provincial papers,—the briefest of hurried notes on some of her pictures sent to outlying exhibitions. Dick stooped and kissed the paint-smudged thumb on the open page. "Oh, my love, my love," he muttered, "do you value these things? Chuck 'em into the waste-paper basket!"
"Not till I get something better," said Maisie, shutting the book.
Then Dick, moved by no respect for his public and a very deep regard for the maiden, did deliberately propose, in order to secure more of these coveted cuttings, that he should paint a picture which Maisie should sign.
"That's childish," said Maisie, "and I didn't think it of you. It must be my work. Mine,—mine,—mine!"
"Go and design decorative medallions for rich brewers" houses. You are thoroughly good at that." Dick was sick and savage.
"Better things than medallions, Dick," was the answer, in tones that recalled a gray-eyed atom's fearless speech to Mrs. Jennett. Dick would have abased himself utterly, but that other girl trailed in.
Next Sunday he laid at Maisie's feet small gifts of pencils that could almost draw of themselves and colours in whose permanence he believed, and he was ostentatiously attentive to the work in hand. It demanded, among other things, an exposition of the faith that was in him.
Torpenhow's hair would have stood on end had he heard the fluency with which Dick preached his own gospel of Art.
A month before, Dick would have been equally astonished; but it was Maisie's will and pleasure, and he dragged his words together to make plain to her comprehension all that had been hidden to himself of the whys and wherefores of work. There is not the least difficulty in doing a thing if you only know how to do it; the trouble is to explain your method.
"I could put this right if I had a brush in my hand," said Dick, despairingly, over the modelling of a chin that Maisie complained would not "look flesh,"—it was the same chin that she had scraped out with the palette knife,—"but I find it almost impossible to teach you. There's a queer grim Dutch touch about your painting that I like; but I've a notion that you're weak in drawing. You foreshorten as though you never used the model, and you've caught Kami's pasty way of dealing with flesh in shadow. Then, again, though you don't know it yourself, you shirk hard work. Suppose you spend some of your time on line lone. Line doesn't allow of shirking. Oils do, and three square inches of flashy, tricky stuff in the corner of a pic sometimes carry a bad thing off,— as I know. That's immoral. Do line-work for a little while, and then I can tell more about your powers, as old Kami used to say."
Maisie protested; she did not care for the pure line.
"I know," said Dick. "You want to do your fancy heads with a bunch of flowers at the base of the neck to hide bad modelling." The red-haired girl laughed a little. "You want to do landscapes with cattle knee-deep in grass to hide bad drawing. You want to do a great deal more than you can do. You have sense of colour, but you want form. Colour's a gift,—put it aside and think no more about it,—but form you can be drilled into. Now, all your fancy heads—and some of them are very good—will keep you exactly where you are. With line you must go forward or backward, and it will show up all your weaknesses."
"But other people——" began Maisie.
"You mustn't mind what other people do. If their souls were your soul, it would be different. You stand and fall by your own work, remember, and it's waste of time to think of any one else in this battle."
Dick paused, and the longing that had been so resolutely put away came back into his eyes. He looked at Maisie, and the look asked as plainly as words, Was it not time to leave all this barren wilderness of canvas and counsel and join hands with Life and Love? Maisie assented to the new programme of schooling so adorably that Dick could hardly restrain himself from picking her up then and there and carrying her off to the nearest registrar's office. It was the implicit obedience to the spoken word and the blank indifference to the unspoken desire that baffled and buffeted his soul. He held authority in that house,—authority limited, indeed, to one-half of one afternoon in seven, but very real while it lasted. Maisie had learned to appeal to him on many subjects, from the proper packing of pictures to the condition of a smoky chimney. The red-haired girl never consulted him about anything.
On the other hand, she accepted his appearances without protest, and watched him always. He discovered that the meals of the establishment were irregular and fragmentary. They depended chiefly on tea, pickles, and biscuit, as he had suspected from the beginning. The girls were supposed to market week and week about, but they lived, with the help of a charwoman, as casually as the young ravens. Maisie spent most of her income on models, and the other girl revelled in apparatus as refined as her work was rough. Armed with knowledge, dear- bought from the Docks, Dick warned Maisie that the end of semi-starvation meant the crippling of power to work, which was considerably worse than death.
Maisie took the warning, and gave more thought to what she ate and drank. When his trouble returned upon him, as it generally did in the long winter twilights, the remembrance of that little act of domestic authority and his coercion with a hearth-brush of the smoky drawing-room chimney stung Dick like a whip-lash.
He conceived that this memory would be the extreme of his sufferings, till one Sunday, the red-haired girl announced that she would make a study of Dick's head, and that he would be good enough to sit still, and—quite as an afterthought—look at Maisie. He sat, because he could not well refuse, and for the space of half an hour he reflected on all the people in the past whom he had laid open for the purposes of his own craft. He remembered Binat most distinctly,—that Binat who had once been an artist and talked about degradation.
It was the merest monochrome roughing in of a head, but it presented the dumb waiting, the longing, and, above all, the hopeless enslavement of the man, in a spirit of bitter mockery.
"I'll buy it," said Dick, promptly, "at your own price."
"My price is too high, but I dare say you'll be as grateful if——" The wet sketch, fluttered from the girl's hand and fell into the ashes of the studio stove. When she picked it up it was hopelessly smudged.
"Oh, it's all spoiled!" said Maisie. "And I never saw it. Was it like?"
"Thank you," said Dick under his breath to the red-haired girl, and he removed himself swiftly.
"How that man hates me!" said the girl. "And how he loves you, Maisie!"
"What nonsense? I knew Dick's very fond of me, but he had his work to do, and I have mine."
"Yes, he is fond of you, and I think he knows there is something in impressionism, after all. Maisie, can't you see?"
"See? See what?"
"Nothing; only, I know that if I could get any man to look at me as that man looks at you, I'd—I don't know what I'd do. But he hates me. Oh, how he hates me!"
She was not altogether correct. Dick's hatred was tempered with gratitude for a few moments, and then he forgot the girl entirely. Only the sense of shame remained, and he was nursing it across the Park in the fog. "There'll be an explosion one of these days," he said wrathfully. "But it isn't Maisie's fault; she's right, quite right, as far as she knows, and I can't blame her. This business has been going on for three months nearly. Three months!—and it cost me ten years" knocking about to get at the notion, the merest raw notion, of my work. That's true; but then I didn't have pins, drawing-pins, and palette- knives, stuck into me every Sunday.
"Oh, my little darling, if ever I break you, somebody will have a very bad time of it. No, she won't. I"d be as big a fool about her as I am now. I'll poison that red-haired girl on my wedding-day,—she's unwholesome,—and now I'll pass on these present bad times to Torp."
Torpenhow had been moved to lecture Dick more than once lately on the sin of levity, and Dick and listened and replied not a word. In the weeks between the first few Sundays of his discipline he had flung himself savagely into his work, resolved that Maisie should at least know the full stretch of his powers. Then he had taught Maisie that she must not pay the least attention to any work outside her own, and Maisie had obeyed him all too well. She took his counsels, but was not interested in his pictures.
"Your things smell of tobacco and blood," she said once. "Can't you do anything except soldiers?"
"I could do a head of you that would startle you," thought Dick,—this was before the red-haired girl had brought him under the guillotine,—but he only said, "I am very sorry," and harrowed Torpenhow's soul that evening with blasphemies against Art. Later, insensibly and to a large extent against his own will, he ceased to interest himself in his own work.
For Maisie's sake, and to soothe the self-respect that it seemed to him he lost each Sunday, he would not consciously turn out bad stuff, but, since Maisie did not care even for his best, it were better not to do anything at all save wait and mark time between Sunday and Sunday. Torpenhow was disgusted as the weeks went by fruitless, and then attacked him one Sunday evening when Dick felt utterly exhausted after three hours' biting self-restraint in Maisie's presence. There was Language, and Torpenhow withdrew to consult the Nilghai, who had come it to talk continental politics.
"Bone-idle, is he? Careless, and touched in the temper?" said the Nilghai. "It isn't worth worrying over. Dick is probably playing the fool with a woman."
"Isn't that bad enough?"
"No. She may throw him out of gear and knock his work to pieces for a while. She may even turn up here some day and make a scene on the staircase: one never knows. But until Dick speaks of his own accord you had better not touch him. He is no easy-tempered man to handle."
"No; I wish he were. He is such an aggressive, cocksure, you-be-damned fellow."
"He'll get that knocked out of him in time. He must learn that he can't storm up and down the world with a box of moist tubes and a slick brush.
You're fond of him?"
"I'd take any punishment that's in store for him if I could; but the worst of it is, no man can save his brother."
"No, and the worser of it is, there is no discharge in this war. Dick must learn his lesson like the rest of us. Talking of war, there'll be trouble in the Balkans in the spring."
"That trouble is long coming. I wonder if we could drag Dick out there when it comes off?"
Dick entered the room soon afterwards, and the question was put to him.
"Not good enough," he said shortly. "I'm too comf'y where I am."
"Surely you aren't taking all the stuff in the papers seriously?" said the Nilghai. "Your vogue will be ended in less than six months,—the public will know your touch and go on to something new,—and where will you be then?"
"Here, in England."
"When you might be doing decent work among us out there? Nonsense! I shall go, the Keneu will be there, Torp will be there, Cassavetti will be there, and the whole lot of us will be there, and we shall have as much as ever we can do, with unlimited fighting and the chance for you of seeing things that would make the reputation of three Verestchagins."
"Um!" said Dick, pulling at his pipe.
"You prefer to stay here and imagine that all the world is gaping at your pictures? Just think how full an average man's life is of his own pursuits and pleasures. When twenty thousand of him find time to look up between mouthfuls and grunt something about something they aren't the least interested in, the net result is called fame, reputation, or notoriety, according to the taste and fancy of the speller my lord."
"I know that as well as you do. Give me credit for a little gumption."
"Be hanged if I do!"
"Be hanged, then; you probably will be,—for a spy, by excited Turks. Heigh-ho! I'm weary, dead weary, and virtue has gone out of me." Dick dropped into a chair, and was fast asleep in a minute.
"That's a bad sign," said the Nilghai, in an undertone.
Torpenhow picked the pipe from the waistcoat where it was beginning to burn, and put a pillow behind the head. "We can't help; we can't help," he said. "It's a good ugly sort of old cocoanut, and I'm fond of it. There's the scar of the wipe he got when he was cut over in the square."
"Shouldn't wonder if that has made him a trifle mad."
"I should. He's a most businesslike madman."
Then Dick began to snore furiously.
"Oh, here, no affection can stand this sort of thing. Wake up, Dick, and go and sleep somewhere else, if you intend to make a noise about it."
"When a cat has been out on the tiles all night," said the Nilghai, in his beard, "I notice that she usually sleeps all day. This is natural history."
Dick staggered away rubbing his eyes and yawning. In the night-watches he was overtaken with an idea, so simple and so luminous that he wondered he had never conceived it before. It was full of craft. He would seek Maisie on a week-day,- -would suggest an excursion, and would take her by train to Fort Keeling, over the very ground that they two had trodden together ten years ago.
"As a general rule," he explained to his chin-lathered reflection in the morning, "it isn't safe to cross an old trail twice. Things remind one of things, and a cold wind gets up, and you feel sad; but this is an exception to every rule that ever was. I'll go to Maisie at once."
Fortunately, the red-haired girl was out shopping when he arrived, and Maisie in a paint-spattered blouse was warring with her canvas. She was not pleased to see him; for week-day visits were a stretch of the bond; and it needed all his courage to explain his errand.
"I know you've been working too hard," he concluded, with an air of authority. "If you do that, you'll break down. You had much better come."
"Where?" said Maisie, wearily. She had been standing before her easel too long, and was very tired.
"Anywhere you please. We'll take a train tomorrow and see where it stops. We'll have lunch somewhere, and I'll bring you back in the evening."
"If there's a good working light tomorrow, I lose a day." Maisie balanced the heavy white chestnut palette irresolutely.
Dick bit back an oath that was hurrying to his lips. He had not yet learned patience with the maiden to whom her work was all in all.
"You'll lose ever so many more, dear, if you use every hour of working light. Overwork's only murderous idleness. Don't be unreasonable. I'll call for you tomorrow after breakfast early."
"But surely you are going to ask——"
"No, I am not. I want you and nobody else. Besides, she hates me as much as I hate her. She won't care to come. Tomorrow, then; and pray that we get sunshine."
Dick went away delighted, and by consequence did no work whatever.
He strangled a wild desire to order a special train, but bought a great gray kangaroo cloak lined with glossy black marten, and then retired into himself to consider things.
"I'm going out for the day tomorrow with Dick," said Maisie to the red-haired girl when the latter returned, tired, from marketing in the Edgware road.
"He deserves it. I shall have the studio floor thoroughly scrubbed while you're away. It's very dirty."
Maisie had enjoyed no sort of holiday for months and looked forward to the little excitement, but not without misgivings.
"There's nobody nicer than Dick when he talks sensibly, she thought, "but I'm sure he'll be silly and worry me, and I'm sure I can't tell him anything he'd like to hear. If he'd only be sensible, I should like him so much better."
Dick's eyes were full of joy when he made his appearance next morning and saw Maisie, gray-ulstered and black-velvet-hatted, standing in the hallway. Palaces of marble, and not sordid imitation of grained wood, were surely the fittest background for such a divinity. The red-haired girl drew her into the studio for a moment and kissed her hurriedly.
Maisie's eyebrows climbed to the top of her forehead; she was altogether unused to these demonstrations. "Mind my hat," she said, hurrying away, and ran down the steps to Dick waiting by the hansom.
"Are you quite warm enough! Are you sure you wouldn't like some more breakfast? Put the cloak over your knees."
"I'm quite comf'y, thanks. Where are we going, Dick? Oh, do stop singing like that. People will think we're mad."
"Let 'em think,—if the exertion doesn't kill them. They don't know who we are, and I'm sure I don't care who they are. My faith, Maisie, you're looking lovely!"
Maisie stared directly in front of her and did not reply. The wind of a keen clear winter morning had put colour into her cheeks. Overhead, the creamy- yellow smoke-clouds were thinning away one by one against a pale-blue sky, and the improvident sparrows broke off from water-spout committees and cab-rank cabals to clamour of the coming of spring.
"It will be lovely weather in the country," said Dick.
"But where are we going?"
"Wait and see."
The stopped at Victoria, and Dick sought tickets. For less than half the fraction of an instant it occurred to Maisie, comfortably settled by the waiting-room fire, that it was much more pleasant to send a man to the booking- office than to elbow one's own way through the crowd. Dick put her into a Pullman,—solely on account of the warmth there; and she regarded the extravagance with grave scandalised eyes as the train moved out into the country.
"I wish I knew where we are going," she repeated for the twentieth time.
The name of a well-remembered station flashed by, towards the end of the run, and Maisie was delighted.
"Oh, Dick, you villain!"
"Well, I thought you might like to see the place again. You haven't been here since the old times, have you?"
"No. I never cared to see Mrs. Jennett again; and she was all that was ever there."
"Not quite. Look out a minute. There's the windmill above the potato-fields; they haven't built villas there yet; d'you remember when I shut you up in it?"
"Yes. How she beat you for it! I never told it was you."
"She guessed. I jammed a stick under the door and told you that I was burying Amomma alive in the potatoes, and you believed me. You had a trusting nature in those days."
They laughed and leaned to look out, identifying ancient landmarks with many reminiscences. Dick fixed his weather eye on the curve of Maisie's cheek, very near his own, and watched the blood rise under the clear skin. He congratulated himself upon his cunning, and looked that the evening would bring him a great reward.
When the train stopped they went out to look at an old town with new eyes. First, but from a distance, they regarded the house of Mrs. Jennett.
"Suppose she should come out now, what would you do?" said Dick, with mock terror.
"I should make a face."
"Show, then," said Dick, dropping into the speech of childhood.
Maisie made that face in the direction of the mean little villa, and Dick laughed.
"'This is disgraceful,'" said Maisie, mimicking Mrs. Jennett's tone. "'Maisie, you run in at once, and learn the collect, gospel, and epistle for the next three Sundays. After all I've taught you, too, and three helps every Sunday at dinner! Dick's always leading you into mischief. If you aren't a gentleman, Dick, you might at least '"
The sentence ended abruptly. Maisie remembered when it had last been used.
"'Try to behave like one,'" said Dick, promptly. "Quite right. Now we'll get some lunch and go on to Fort Keeling,—unless you'd rather drive there?"
"We must walk, out of respect to the place. How little changed it all is!"
They turned in the direction of the sea through unaltered streets, and the influence of old things lay upon them. Presently they passed a confectioner's shop much considered in the days when their joint pocket-money amounted to a shilling a week.
"Dick, have you any pennies?" said Maisie, half to herself.
"Only three; and if you think you're going to have two of 'em to buy peppermints with, you're wrong. She says peppermints aren't ladylike."
Again they laughed, and again the colour came into Maisie's cheeks as the blood boiled through Dick's heart. After a large lunch they went down to the beach and to Fort Keeling across the waste, wind-bitten land that no builder had thought it worth his while to defile. The winter breeze came in from the sea and sang about their ears.
"Maisie," said Dick, "your nose is getting a crude Prussian blue at the tip. I'll race you as far as you please for as much as you please."
She looked round cautiously, and with a laugh set off, swiftly as the ulster allowed, till she was out of breath.
"We used to run miles," she panted. "It's absurd that we can't run now."
"Old age, dear. This it is to get fat and sleek in town. When I wished to pull your hair you generally ran for three miles, shrieking at the top of your voice. I ought to know, because those shrieks of yours were meant to call up Mrs. Jennett with a cane and——"
"Dick, I never got you a beating on purpose in my life."
"No, of course you never did. Good heavens! look at the sea."
"Why, it's the same as ever!" said Maisie.
Torpenhow had gathered from Mr. Beeton that Dick, properly dressed and shaved, had left the house at half-past eight in the morning with a travelling-rug over his arm. The Nilghai rolled in at mid-day for chess and polite conversation.
"It's worse than anything I imagined," said Torpenhow.
"Oh, the everlasting Dick, I suppose! You fuss over him like a hen with one chick. Let him run riot if he thinks it'll amuse him. You can whip a young pup off feather, but you can't whip a young man."
"It isn't a woman. It's one woman; and it's a girl."
"Where's your proof?"
"He got up and went out at eight this morning,—got up in the middle of the night, by Jove! a thing he never does except when he's on service. Even then, remember, we had to kick him out of his blankets before the fight began at El- Maghrib. It's disgusting."
"It looks odd; but maybe he's decided to buy a horse at last. He might get up for that, mightn't he?"
"Buy a blazing wheelbarrow! He'd have told us if there was a horse in the wind. It's a girl."
"Don't be certain. Perhaps it's only a married woman."
"Dick has some sense of humour, if you haven't. Who gets up in the gray dawn to call on another man's wife? It's a girl."
"Let it be a girl, then. She may teach him that there's somebody else in the world besides himself."
"She'll spoil his hand. She'll waste his time, and she'll marry him, and ruin his work for ever. He'll be a respectable married man before we can stop him, and—he'll ever go on the long trail again."
"All quite possible, but the earth won't spin the other way when that happens. . . . No! ho! I"d give something to see Dick 'go wooing with the boys.' Don't worry about it. These things be with Allah, and we can only look on. Get the chessmen."
The red-haired girl was lying down in her own room, staring at the ceiling. The footsteps of people on the pavement sounded, as they grew indistinct in the distance, like a many-times-repeated kiss that was all one long kiss. Her hands were by her side, and they opened and shut savagely from time to time.
The charwoman in charge of the scrubbing of the studio knocked at her door: "Beg y' pardon, miss, but in cleanin' of a floor there's two, not to say three, kind of soap, which is yaller, an' mottled, an' disinfectink. Now, jist before I took my pail into the passage I though it would be pre'aps jest as well if I was to come up 'ere an' ask you what sort of soap you was wishful that I should use on them boards. The yaller soap, miss——"
There was nothing in the speech to have caused the paroxysm of fury that drove the red-haired girl into the middle of the room, almost shouting—"Do you suppose I care what you use? Any kind will do!—any kind!"
The woman fled, and the red-haired girl looked at her own reflection in the glass for an instant and covered her face with her hands. It was as though she had shouted some shameless secret aloud.
Roses red and roses white Plucked I for my love's delight.
She would none of all my posies,— Bade me gather her blue roses.
Half the world I wandered through, Seeking where such flowers grew; Half the world unto my quest Answered but with laugh and jest.
It may be beyond the grave She shall find what she would have.
Mine was but an idle quest,— Roses white and red are best! ——Blue Roses
Indeed the sea had not changed. Its waters were low on the mud-banks, and the Marazion Bell-buoy clanked and swung in the tide-way. On the white beach-sand dried stumps of sea-poppy shivered and chattered.
"I don't see the old breakwater," said Maisie, under her breath.
"Let's be thankful that we have as much as we have. I don't believe they've mounted a single new gun on the fort since we were here. Come and look."
They came to the glacis of Fort Keeling, and sat down in a nook sheltered from the wind under the tarred throat of a forty-pounder cannon.
"Now, if Ammoma were only here!" said Maisie.
For a long time both were silent. Then Dick took Maisie's hand and called her by her name.
She shook her head and looked out to sea.
"Maisie, darling, doesn't it make any difference?"
"No!" between clenched teeth. "I'd—I'd tell you if it did; but it doesn't. Oh, Dick, please be sensible."
"Don't you think that it ever will?"
"No, I'm sure it won't."
Maisie rested her chin on her hand, and, still regarding the sea, spoke hurriedly—"I know what you want perfectly well, but I can't give it to you, Dick. It isn't my fault; indeed, it isn't. If I felt that I could care for any one——But I don't feel that I care. I simply don't understand what the feeling means."
"Is that true, dear?"
"You've been very good to me, Dickie; and the only way I can pay you back is by speaking the truth. I daren't tell a fib. I despise myself quite enough as it is."
"What in the world for?"
"Because—because I take everything that you give me and I give you nothing in return. It's mean and selfish of me, and whenever I think of it it worries me."
"Understand once for all, then, that I can manage my own affairs, and if I choose to do anything you aren't to blame. You haven't a single thing to reproach yourself with, darling."
"Yes, I have, and talking only makes it worse."
"Then don't talk about it."
"How can I help myself? If you find me alone for a minute you are always talking about it; and when you aren't you look it. You don't know how I despise myself sometimes."
"Great goodness!" said Dick, nearly jumping to his feet. "Speak the truth now, Maisie, if you never speak it again! Do I—does this worrying bore you?"
"No. It does not."
"You"d tell me if it did?"
"I should let you know, I think."
"Thank you. The other thing is fatal. But you must learn to forgive a man when he's in love. He's always a nuisance. You must have known that?"
Maisie did not consider the last question worth answering, and Dick was forced to repeat it.
"There were other men, of course. They always worried just when I was in the middle of my work, and wanted me to listen to them."
"Did you listen?"
"At first; and they couldn't understand why I didn't care. And they used to praise my pictures; and I thought they meant it. I used to be proud of the praise, and tell Kami, and—I shall never forget—once Kami laughed at me."
"You don't like being laughed at, Maisie, do you?"
"I hate it. I never laugh at other people unless—unless they do bad work. Dick, tell me honestly what you think of my pictures generally,—of everything of mine that you've seen."
"'Honest, honest, and honest over!'" quoted Dick from a catchword of long ago. "Tell me what Kami always says."
Maisie hesitated. "He—he says that there is feeling in them."
"How dare you tell me a fib like that? Remember, I was under Kami for two years. I know exactly what he says."
"It isn't a fib."
"It's worse; it's a half-truth. Kami says, when he puts his head on one side,— so, 'Il y a du sentiment, mais il n'y a pas de parti pris.'" He rolled the r threateningly, as Kami used to do.
"Yes, that is what he says; and I'm beginning to think that he is right."
"Certainly he is." Dick admitted that two people in the world could do and say no wrong. Kami was the man.
"And now you say the same thing. It's so disheartening."
"I'm sorry, but you asked me to speak the truth. Besides, I love you too much to pretend about your work. It's strong, it's patient sometimes,—not always,— and sometimes there's power in it, but there's no special reason why it should be done at all. At least, that's how it strikes me."
"There's no special reason why anything in the world should ever be done. You know that as well as I do. I only want success."
"You're going the wrong way to get it, then. Hasn't Kami ever told you so?"
"Don't quote Kami to me. I want to know what you think. My work's bad, to begin with."
"I didn't say that, and I don't think it."
"It's amateurish, then."
"That it most certainly is not. You're a work-woman, darling, to your boot- heels, and I respect you for that."
"You don't laugh at me behind my back?"
"No, dear. You see, you are more to me than any one else. Put this cloak thing round you, or you'll get chilled."
Maisie wrapped herself in the soft marten skins, turning the gray kangaroo fur to the outside. "This is delicious," she said, rubbing her chin thoughtfully along the fur.
"Well? Why am I wrong in trying to get a little success?"
"Just because you try. Don't you understand, darling? Good work has nothing to do with—doesn't belong to—the person who does it. It's put into him or her from outside."
"But how does that affect——"
"Wait a minute. All we can do is to learn how to do our work, to be masters of our materials instead of servants, and never to be afraid of anything."
"I understand that."
"Everything else comes from outside ourselves. Very good. If we sit down quietly to work out notions that are sent to us, we may or we may not do something that isn't bad. A great deal depends on being master of the bricks and mortar of the trade. But the instant we begin to think about success and the effect of our work—to play with one eye on the gallery—we lose power and touch and everything else. At least that's how I have found it. Instead of being quiet and giving every power you possess to your work, you're fretting over something which you can neither help no hinder by a minute. See?"
"It's so easy for you to talk in that way. People like what you do. Don't you ever think about the gallery?"
"Much too often; but I'm always punished for it by loss of power. It's as simple as the Rule of Three. If we make light of our work by using it for our own ends, our work will make light of us, and, as we're the weaker, we shall suffer."
"I don't treat my work lightly. You know that it's everything to me."
"Of course; but, whether you realise it or not, you give two strokes for yourself to one for your work. It isn't your fault, darling. I do exactly the same thing, and know that I'm doing it. Most of the French schools, and all the schools here, drive the students to work for their own credit, and for the sake of their pride. I was told that all the world was interested in my work, and everybody at Kami's talked turpentine, and I honestly believed that the world needed elevating and influencing, and all manner of impertinences, by my brushes. By Jove, I actually believed that! When my little head was bursting with a notion that I couldn't handle because I hadn't sufficient knowledge of my craft, I used to run about wondering at my own magnificence and getting ready to astonish the world."
"But surely one can do that sometimes?"
"Very seldom with malice aforethought, darling. And when it's done it's such a tiny thing, and the world's so big, and all but a millionth part of it doesn't care. Maisie, come with me and I'll show you something of the size of the world. One can no more avoid working than eating,—that goes on by itself,—but try to see what you are working for. I know such little heavens that I could take you to,—islands tucked away under the Line. You sight them after weeks of crashing through water as black as black marble because it's so deep, and you sit in the fore-chains day after day and see the sun rise almost afraid because the sea's so lonely."
"Who is afraid?—you, or the sun?"
"The sun, of course. And there are noises under the sea, and sounds overhead in a clear sky. Then you find your island alive with hot moist orchids that make mouths at you and can do everything except talk.
There's a waterfall in it three hundred feet high, just like a sliver of green jade laced with silver; and millions of wild bees live up in the rocks; and you can hear the fat cocoanuts falling from the palms; and you order an ivory-white servant to sling you a long yellow hammock with tassels on it like ripe maize, and you put up your feet and hear the bees hum and the water fall till you go to sleep."
"Can one work there?"
"Certainly. One must do something always. You hang your canvas up in a palm tree and let the parrots criticise. When the scuffle you heave a ripe custard- apple at them, and it bursts in a lather of cream. There are hundreds of places. Come and see them."
"I don't quite like that place. It sounds lazy. Tell me another."
"What do you think of a big, red, dead city built of red sandstone, with raw green aloes growing between the stones, lying out neglected on honey-coloured sands? There are forty dead kings there, Maisie, each in a gorgeous tomb finer than all the others. You look at the palaces and streets and shops and tanks, and think that men must live there, till you find a wee gray squirrel rubbing its nose all alone in the market-place, and a jewelled peacock struts out of a carved doorway and spreads its tail against a marble screen as fine pierced as point-lace. Then a monkey—a little black monkey—walks through the main square to get a drink from a tank forty feet deep. He slides down the creepers to the water's edge, and a friend holds him by the tail, in case he should fall in."
"Is that all true?"
"I have been there and seen. Then evening comes, and the lights change till it's just as though you stood in the heart of a king-opal. A little before sundown, as punctually as clockwork, a big bristly wild boar, with all his family following, trots through the city gate, churning the foam on his tusks. You climb on the shoulder of a blind black stone god and watch that pig choose himself a palace for the night and stump in wagging his tail. Then the night- wind gets up, and the sands move, and you hear the desert outside the city singing, 'Now I lay me down to sleep,' and everything is dark till the moon rises. Maisie, darling, come with me and see what the world is really like. It's very lovely, and it's very horrible,—but I won't let you see anything horrid,—and it doesn't care your life or mine for pictures or anything else except doing its own work and making love. Come, and I'll show you how to brew sangaree, and sling a hammock, and—oh, thousands of things, and you'll see for yourself what colour means, and we'll find out together what love means, and then, maybe, we shall be allowed to do some good work. Come away!"
"Why?" said Maisie.
"How can you do anything until you have seen everything, or as much as you can? And besides, darling, I love you. Come along with me. You have no business here; you don't belong to this place; you're half a gipsy,—your face tells that; and I—even the smell of open water makes me restless. Come across the sea and be happy!"
He had risen to his feet, and stood in the shadow of the gun, looking down at the girl. The very short winter afternoon had worn away, and, before they knew, the winter moon was walking the untroubled sea. Long ruled lines of silver showed where a ripple of the rising tide was turning over the mud-banks. The wind had dropped, and in the intense stillness they could hear a donkey cropping the frosty grass many yards away. A faint beating, like that of a muffled drum, came out of the moon-haze.
"What's that?" said Maisie, quickly. "It sounds like a heart beating. Where is it?"
Dick was so angry at this sudden wrench to his pleadings that he could not trust himself to speak, and in this silence caught the sound. Maisie from her seat under the gun watched him with a certain amount of fear.
She wished so much that he would be sensible and cease to worry her with over- sea emotion that she both could and could not understand. She was not prepared, however, for the change in his face as he listened.
"It's a steamer," he said,—"a twin-screw steamer, by the beat. I can't make her out, but she must be standing very close inshore. Ah!" as the red of a rocket streaked the haze, "she's standing in to signal before she clears the Channel."
"Is it a wreck?" said Maisie, to whom these words were as Greek.
Dick's eyes were turned to the sea. "Wreck! What nonsense! She"s only reporting herself. Red rocket forward—there's a green light aft now, and two red rockets from the bridge."
"What does that mean?"
"It's the signal of the Cross Keys Line running to Australia. I wonder which steamer it is." The note of his voice had changed; he seemed to be talking to himself, and Maisie did not approve of it. The moonlight broke the haze for a moment, touching the black sides of a long steamer working down Channel. "Four masts and three funnels—she's in deep draught, too. That must be the Barralong, or the Bhutia. No, the Bhutia has a clipper bow. It's the Barralong, to Australia. She'll lift the Southern Cross in a week,—lucky old tub!—oh, lucky old tub!"
He stared intently, and moved up the slope of the fort to get a better view, but the mist on the sea thickened again, and the beating of the screws grew fainter. Maisie called to him a little angrily, and he returned, still keeping his eyes to seaward. "Have you ever seen the Southern Cross blazing right over your head?" he asked. "It"s superb!"
"No," she said shortly, "and I don't want to. If you think it's so lovely, why don't you go and see it yourself?"
She raised her face from the soft blackness of the marten skins about her throat, and her eyes shone like diamonds. The moonlight on the gray kangaroo fur turned it to frosted silver of the coldest.
"By Jove, Maisie, you look like a little heathen idol tucked up there." The eyes showed that they did not appreciate the compliment. "I'm sorry," he continued. "The Southern Cross isn't worth looking at unless someone helps you to see. That steamer's out of hearing."
"Dick," she said quietly, "suppose I were to come to you now,—be quiet a minute,—just as I am, and caring for you just as much as I do."
"Not as a brother, though. You said you didn't—in the Park."
"I never had a brother. Suppose I said, 'Take me to those places, and in time, perhaps, I might really care for you,' what would you do?"
"Send you straight back to where you came from, in a cab. No, I wouldn't; I"d let you walk. But you couldn't do it, dear. And I wouldn't run the risk. You're worth waiting for till you can come without reservation."
"Do you honestly believe that?"
"I have a hazy sort of idea that I do. Has it never struck you in that light?"
"Ye—es. I feel so wicked about it."
"Wickeder than usual?"
"You don't know all I think. It's almost too awful to tell."
"Never mind. You promised to tell me the truth—at least."
"It's so ungrateful of me, but—but, though I know you care for me, and I like to have you with me, I'd—I"d even sacrifice you, if that would bring me what I want."
"My poor little darling! I know that state of mind. It doesn't lead to good work."
"You aren't angry? Remember, I do despise myself."
"I'm not exactly flattered,—I had guessed as much before,—but I'm not angry. I'm sorry for you. Surely you ought to have left a littleness like that behind you, years ago."
"You've no right to patronise me! I only want what I have worked for so long. It came to you without any trouble, and—and I don't think it"s fair."
"What can I do? I"d give ten years of my life to get you what you want. But I can't help you; even I can't help."
A murmur of dissent from Maisie. He went on—"And I know by what you have just said that you're on the wrong road to success. It isn't got at by sacrificing other people,—I've had that much knocked into me; you must sacrifice yourself, and live under orders, and never think for yourself, and never have real satisfaction in your work except just at the beginning, when you're reaching out after a notion."
"How can you believe all that?"
"There's no question of belief or disbelief. That's the law, and you take it or refuse it as you please. I try to obey, but I can't, and then my work turns bad on my hands. Under any circumstances, remember, four-fifths of everybody's work must be bad. But the remnant is worth the trouble for its own sake."
"Isn't it nice to get credit even for bad work?"
"It's much too nice. But——May I tell you something? It isn't a pretty tale, but you're so like a man that I forget when I'm talking to you."
"Once when I was out in the Soudan I went over some ground that we had been fighting on for three days. There were twelve hundred dead; and we hadn't time to bury them."
"I had been at work on a big double-sheet sketch, and I was wondering what people would think of it at home. The sight of that field taught me a good deal. It looked just like a bed of horrible toadstools in all colours, and—I'd never seen men in bulk go back to their beginnings before. So I began to understand that men and women were only material to work with, and that what they said or did was of no consequence. See? Strictly speaking, you might just as well put your ear down to the palette to catch what your colours are saying."
"Dick, that's disgraceful!"
"Wait a minute. I said, strictly speaking. Unfortunately, everybody must be either a man or a woman."
"I'm glad you allow that much."
"In your case I don't. You aren't a woman. But ordinary people, Maisie, must behave and work as such. That's what makes me so savage." He hurled a pebble towards the sea as he spoke. "I know that it is outside my business to care what people say; I can see that it spoils my output if I listen to 'em; and yet, confound it all,"—another pebble flew seaward,—"I can't help purring when I'm rubbed the right way. Even when I can see on a man's forehead that he is lying his way through a clump of pretty speeches, those lies make me happy and play the mischief with my hand."
"And when he doesn't say pretty things?"
"Then, belovedest,"—Dick grinned,—"I forget that I am the steward of these gifts, and I want to make that man love and appreciate my work with a thick stick. It's too humiliating altogether; but I suppose even if one were an angel and painted humans altogether from outside, one would lose in touch what one gained in grip."
Maisie laughed at the idea of Dick as an angel.
"But you seem to think," she said, "that everything nice spoils your hand."
"I don't think. It's the law,—just the same as it was at Mrs. Jennett's. Everything that is nice does spoil your hand. I'm glad you see so clearly."
"I don't like the view."
"Nor I. But—have got orders: what can do? Are you strong enough to face it alone?"
"I suppose I must."
"Let me help, darling. We can hold each other very tight and try to walk straight. We shall blunder horribly, but it will be better than stumbling apart. Maisie, can't you see reason?"
"I don't think we should get on together. We should be two of a trade, so we should never agree."
"How I should like to meet the man who made that proverb! He lived in a cave and ate raw bear, I fancy. I'd make him chew his own arrow-heads. Well?"
"I should be only half married to you. I should worry and fuss about my work, as I do now. Four days out of the seven I'm not fit to speak to."
"You talk as if no one else in the world had ever used a brush. D'you suppose that I don't know the feeling of worry and bother and can't-get-at-ness? You're lucky if you only have it four days out of the seven. What difference would that make?"
"A great deal—if you had it too."
"Yes, but I could respect it. Another man might not. He might laugh at you. But there's no use talking about it. If you can think in that way you can't care for me—yet."
The tide had nearly covered the mud-banks and twenty little ripples broke on the beach before Maisie chose to speak.
"Dick," she said slowly, "I believe very much that you are better than I am."
"This doesn't seem to bear on the argument—but in what way?"
"I don't quite know, but in what you said about work and things; and then you're so patient. Yes, you're better than I am."
Dick considered rapidly the murkiness of an average man's life. There was nothing in the review to fill him with a sense of virtue. He lifted the hem of the cloak to his lips.
"Why," said Maisie, making as though she had not noticed, "can you see things that I can't? I don't believe what you believe; but you're right, I believe."
"If I've seen anything, God knows I couldn't have seen it but for you, and I know that I couldn't have said it except to you. You seemed to make everything clear for a minute; but I don't practice what I preach. You would help me. . . There are only us two in the world for all purposes, and—and you like to have me with you?"
"Of course I do. I wonder if you can realise how utterly lonely I am!"
"Darling, I think I can."
"Two years ago, when I first took the little house, I used to walk up and down the back-garden trying to cry. I never can cry. Can you?"
"It's some time since I tried. What was the trouble? Overwork?"
"I don't know; but I used to dream that I had broken down, and had no money, and was starving in London. I thought about it all day, and it frightened me— oh, how it frightened me!"
"I know that fear. It's the most terrible of all. It wakes me up in the night sometimes. You oughtn't to know anything about it."
"How do you know?"
"Never mind. Is your three hundred a year safe?"
"It's in Consols."
"Very well. If any one comes to you and recommends a better investment,—even if I should come to you,—don't you listen. Never shift the money for a minute, and never lend a penny of it,—even to the red-haired girl."
"Don't scold me so! I'm not likely to be foolish."
"The earth is full of men who'd sell their souls for three hundred a year; and women come and talk, and borrow a five-pound note here and a ten-pound note there; and a woman has no conscience in a money debt. Stick to your money, Maisie, for there's nothing more ghastly in the world than poverty in London. It's scared me. By Jove, it put the fear into me! And one oughtn't to be afraid of anything."
To each man is appointed his particular dread,—the terror that, if he does not fight against it, must cow him even to the loss of his manhood. Dick"s experience of the sordid misery of want had entered into the deeps of him, and, lest he might find virtue too easy, that memory stood behind him, tempting to shame, when dealers came to buy his wares. As the Nilghai quaked against his will at the still green water of a lake or a mill-dam, as Torpenhow flinched before any white arm that could cut or stab and loathed himself for flinching, Dick feared the poverty he had once tasted half in jest. His burden was heavier than the burdens of his companions.
Maisie watched the face working in the moonlight.
"You've plenty of pennies now," she said soothingly.
"I shall never have enough," he began, with vicious emphasis. Then, laughing, "I shall always be three-pence short in my accounts."
"I carried a man's bag once from Liverpool Street Station to Blackfriar"s Bridge. It was a sixpenny job,—you needn't laugh; indeed it was,—and I wanted the money desperately. He only gave me threepence; and he hadn't even the decency to pay in silver. Whatever money I make, I shall never get that odd threepence out of the world."
This was not language befitting the man who had preached of the sanctity of work. It jarred on Maisie, who preferred her payment in applause, which, since all men desire it, must be of the right. She hunted for her little purse and gravely took out a threepenny bit.
"There it is," she said. "I'll pay you, Dickie; and don't worry any more; it isn't worth while. Are you paid?"
"I am," said the very human apostle of fair craft, taking the coin. "I'm paid a thousand times, and we'll close that account. It shall live on my watch-chain; and you're an angel, Maisie."
"I'm very cramped, and I'm feeling a little cold. Good gracious! the cloak is all white, and so is your moustache! I never knew it was so chilly."
A light frost lay white on the shoulder of Dick's ulster. He, too, had forgotten the state of the weather. They laughed together, and with that laugh ended all serious discourse.
They ran inland across the waste to warm themselves, then turned to look at the glory of the full tide under the moonlight and the intense black shadows of the furze bushes. It was an additional joy to Dick that Maisie could see colour even as he saw it,—could see the blue in the white of the mist, the violet that is in gray palings, and all things else as they are,—not of one hue, but a thousand. And the moonlight came into Maisie's soul, so that she, usually reserved, chattered of herself and of the things she took interest in,—of Kami, wisest of teachers, and of the girls in the studio,—of the Poles, who will kill themselves with overwork if they are not checked; of the French, who talk at great length of much more than they will ever accomplish; of the slovenly English, who toil hopelessly and cannot understand that inclination does not imply power; of the Americans, whose rasping voices in the hush of a hot afternoon strain tense-drawn nerves to breaking-point, and whose suppers lead to indigestion; of tempestuous Russians, neither to hold nor to bind, who tell the girls ghost-stories till the girls shriek; of stolid Germans, who come to learn one thing, and, having mastered that much, stolidly go away and copy pictures for evermore. Dick listened enraptured because it was Maisie who spoke. He knew the old life.
"It hasn't changed much," he said. "Do they still steal colours at lunch-time?"
"Not steal. Attract is the word. Of course they do. I'm good—I only attract ultramarine; but there are students who'd attract flake-white."
"I've done it myself. You can't help it when the palettes are hung up.
Every colour is common property once it runs down,—even though you do start it with a drop of oil. It teaches people not to waste their tubes."
"I should like to attract some of your colours, Dick. Perhaps I might catch your success with them."
"I mustn't say a bad word, but I should like to. What in the world, which you've just missed a lovely chance of seeing, does success or want of success, or a three-storied success, matter compared with——No, I won't open that question again. It's time to go back to town."
"I'm sorry, Dick, but——"
"You're much more interested in that than you are in me."
"I don't know, I don't think I am."
"What will you give me if I tell you a sure short-cut to everything you want,— the trouble and the fuss and the tangle and all the rest? Will you promise to obey me?"
"In the first place, you must never forget a meal because you happen to be at work. You forgot your lunch twice last week," said Dick, at a venture, for he knew with whom he was dealing.
"No, no,—only once, really."
"That's bad enough. And you mustn't take a cup of tea and a biscuit in place of a regular dinner, because dinner happens to be a trouble."
"You're making fun of me!"
"I never was more in earnest in my life. Oh, my love, my love, hasn't it dawned on you yet what you are to me? Here's the whole earth in a conspiracy to give you a chill, or run over you, or drench you to the skin, or cheat you out of your money, or let you die of overwork and underfeeding, and I haven't the mere right to look after you. Why, I don't even know if you have sense enough to put on warm things when the weather's cold."
"Dick, you're the most awful boy to talk to—really! How do you suppose I managed when you were away?"
"I wasn't here, and I didn't know. But now I'm back I'd give everything I have for the right of telling you to come in out of the rain."
"Your success too?"
This time it cost Dick a severe struggle to refrain from bad words.
"As Mrs. Jennett used to say, you're a trial, Maisie! You've been cooped up in the schools too long, and you think every one is looking at you. There aren't twelve hundred people in the world who understand pictures. The others pretend and don't care. Remember, I've seen twelve hundred men dead in toadstool-beds. It's only the voice of the tiniest little fraction of people that makes success. The real world doesn't care a tinker's—doesn't care a bit. For aught you or I know, every man in the world may be arguing with a Maisie of his own."
"Poor Dick, I think. Do you believe while he's fighting for what"s dearer than his life he wants to look at a picture? And even if he did, and if all the world did, and a thousand million people rose up and shouted hymns to my honour and glory, would that make up to me for the knowledge that you were out shopping in the Edgware Road on a rainy day without an umbrella? Now we'll go to the station."
"But you said on the beach——" persisted Maisie, with a certain fear.
Dick groaned aloud: "Yes, I know what I said. My work is everything I have, or am, or hope to be, to me, and I believe I've learnt the law that governs it; but I've some lingering sense of fun left,—though you've nearly knocked it out of me. I can just see that it isn't everything to all the world. Do what I say, and not what I do."
Maisie was careful not to reopen debatable matters, and they returned to London joyously. The terminus stopped Dick in the midst of an eloquent harangue on the beauties of exercise. He would buy Maisie a horse,—such a horse as never yet bowed head to bit,—would stable it, with a companion, some twenty miles from London, and Maisie, solely for her health's sake should ride with him twice or thrice a week.
"That's absurd," said she. "It wouldn't be proper."
"Now, who in all London tonight would have sufficient interest or audacity to call us two to account for anything we chose to do?"
Maisie looked at the lamps, the fog, and the hideous turmoil. Dick was right; but horseflesh did not make for Art as she understood it.
"You're very nice sometimes, but you're very foolish more times. I'm not going to let you give me horses, or take you out of your way tonight. I"ll go home by myself. Only I want you to promise me something. You won't think any more about that extra threepence, will you? Remember, you've been paid; and I won't allow you to be spiteful and do bad work for a little thing like that. You can be so big that you mustn't be tiny."
This was turning the tables with a vengeance. There remained only to put Maisie into her hansom.
"Goodbye," she said simply. "You'll come on Sunday. It has been a beautiful day, Dick. Why can't it be like this always?"
"Because love's like line-work: you must go forward or backward; you can't stand still. By the way, go on with your line-work. Good night, and, for my— for my sake, take care of yourself."
He turned to walk home, meditating. The day had brought him nothing that he hoped for, but—surely this was worth many days—it had brought him nearer to Maisie. The end was only a question of time now, and the prize well worth the waiting. By instinct, once more, he turned to the river.
"And she understood at once," he said, looking at the water. "She found out my pet besetting sin on the spot, and paid it off. My God, how she understood! And she said I was better than she was! Better than she was!" He laughed at the absurdity of the notion. "I wonder if girls guess at one-half a man's life. They can't, or—they wouldn't marry us." He took her gift out of his pocket, and considered it in the light of a miracle and a pledge of the comprehension that, one day, would lead to perfect happiness. Meantime, Maisie was alone in London, with none to save her from danger. And the packed wilderness was very full of danger.
Dick made his prayer to Fate disjointedly after the manner of the heathen as he threw the piece of silver into the river. If any evil were to befal, let him bear the burden and let Maisie go unscathed, since the threepenny piece was dearest to him of all his possessions. It was a small coin in itself, but Maisie had given it, and the Thames held it, and surely the Fates would be bribed for this once.
The drowning of the coin seemed to cut him free from thought of Maisie for the moment. He took himself off the bridge and went whistling to his chambers with a strong yearning for some man-talk and tobacco after his first experience of an entire day spent in the society of a woman. There was a stronger desire at his heart when there rose before him an unsolicited vision of the Barralong dipping deep and sailing free for the Southern Cross.
And these two, as I have told you, Were the friends of Hiawatha, Chibiabos, the musician, And the very strong man, Kwasind. —Hiawatha
Torpenhow was paging the last sheets of some manuscript, while the Nilghai, who had come for chess and remained to talk tactics, was reading through the first part, commenting scornfully the while.
"It's picturesque enough and it's sketchy," said he; "but as a serious consideration of affairs in Eastern Europe, it's not worth much."
"It's off my hands at any rate. . . . Thirty-seven, thirty-eight, thirty-nine slips altogether, aren't there? That should make between eleven and twelve pages of valuable misinformation. Heigh-ho!" Torpenhow shuffled the writing together and hummed—
'Young lambs to sell, young lambs to sell, If I'd as much money as I could tell, I never would cry, Young lambs to sell!'"
Dick entered, self-conscious and a little defiant, but in the best of tempers with all the world.
"Back at last?" said Torpenhow.
"More or less. What have you been doing?"
"Work. Dickie, you behave as though the Bank of England were behind you. Here's Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday gone and you haven't done a line. It's scandalous."
"The notions come and go, my children—they come and go like our 'baccy," he answered, filling his pipe. "Moreover," he stooped to thrust a spill into the grate, "Apollo does not always stretch his——Oh, confound your clumsy jests, Nilghai!"
"This is not the place to preach the theory of direct inspiration," said the Nilghai, returning Torpenhow's large and workmanlike bellows to their nail on the wall. "We believe in cobblers" wax. La!—where you sit down."
"If you weren't so big and fat," said Dick, looking round for a weapon, "I'd—- -"
"No skylarking in my rooms. You two smashed half my furniture last time you threw the cushions about. You might have the decency to say How d'you do? to Binkie. Look at him."
Binkie had jumped down from the sofa and was fawning round Dick's knee, and scratching at his boots.
"Dear man!" said Dick, snatching him up, and kissing him on the black patch above his right eye. "Did ums was, Binks? Did that ugly Nilghai turn you off the sofa? Bite him, Mr. Binkie." He pitched him on the Nilghai's stomach, as the big man lay at ease, and Binkie pretended to destroy the Nilghai inch by inch, till a sofa cushion extinguished him, and panting he stuck out his tongue at the company.
"The Binkie-boy went for a walk this morning before you were up, Torp. I saw him making love to the butcher at the corner when the shutters were being taken down—just as if he hadn't enough to eat in his own proper house," said Dick.
"Binks, is that a true bill?" said Torpenhow, severely. The little dog retreated under the sofa cushion, and showed by the fat white back of him that he really had no further interest in the discussion.
"Strikes me that another disreputable dog went for a walk, too," said the Nilghai. "What made you get up so early? Torp said you might be buying a horse."
"He knows it would need three of us for a serious business like that. No, I felt lonesome and unhappy, so I went out to look at the sea, and watch the pretty ships go by."
"Where did you go?"
"Somewhere on the Channel. Progly or Snigly, or some watering-place was its name; I've forgotten; but it was only two hours" run from London and the ships went by."
"Did you see anything you knew?"
"Only the Barralong outwards to Australia, and an Odessa grain-boat loaded down by the head. It was a thick day, but the sea smelt good."
"Wherefore put on one's best trousers to see the Barralong?" said Torpenhow, pointing.
"Because I've nothing except these things and my painting duds. Besides, I wanted to do honour to the sea."
"Did She make you feel restless?" asked the Nilghai, keenly.
"Crazy. Don't speak of it. I'm sorry I went."
Torpenhow and the Nilghai exchanged a look as Dick, stooping, busied himself among the former's boots and trees.
"These will do," he said at last; "I can't say I think much of your taste in slippers, but the fit's the thing." He slipped his feet into a pair of sock- like sambhur-skin foot coverings, found a long chair, and lay at length.
"They're my own pet pair," Torpenhow said. "I was just going to put them on myself."
"All your reprehensible selfishness. Just because you see me happy for a minute, you want to worry me and stir me up. Find another pair."
"Good for you that Dick can't wear your clothes, Torp. You two live communistically," said the Nilghai.
"Dick never has anything that I can wear. He's only useful to sponge upon."
"Confound you, have you been rummaging round among my clothes, then?" said Dick. "I put a sovereign in the tobacco-jar yesterday. How do you expect a man to keep his accounts properly if you——"
Here the Nilghai began to laugh, and Torpenhow joined him.
"Hid a sovereign yesterday! You're no sort of financier. You lent me a fiver about a month back. Do you remember?" Torpenhow said.
"Yes, of course."
"Do you remember that I paid it you ten days later, and you put it at the bottom of the tobacco?"
"By Jove, did I? I thought it was in one of my colour-boxes."
"You thought! About a week ago I went into your studio to get some 'baccy and found it."
"What did you do with it?"
"Took the Nilghai to a theatre and fed him."
"You couldn't feed the Nilghai under twice the money—not though you gave him Army beef. Well, I suppose I should have found it out sooner or later. What is there to laugh at?"
"You're a most amazing cuckoo in many directions," said the Nilghai, still chuckling over the thought of the dinner. "Never mind. We had both been working very hard, and it was your unearned increment we spent, and as you're only a loafer it didn't matter."
"That's pleasant—from the man who is bursting with my meat, too. I'll get that dinner back one of these days. Suppose we go to a theatre now."
"Put our boots on,—and dress,—and wash?" The Nilghai spoke very lazily.
"I withdraw the motion."
"Suppose, just for a change—as a startling variety, you know—we, that is to say we, get our charcoal and our canvas and go on with our work."
Torpenhow spoke pointedly, but Dick only wriggled his toes inside the soft leather moccasins.
"What a one-ideaed clucker that is! If I had any unfinished figures on hand, I haven't any model; if I had my model, I haven't any spray, and I never leave charcoal unfixed overnight; and if I had my spray and twenty photographs of backgrounds, I couldn't do anything tonight. I don't feel that way."
"Binkie-dog, he's a lazy hog, isn't he?" said the Nilghai.
"Very good, I will do some work," said Dick, rising swiftly. "I"ll fetch the Nungapunga Book, and we'll add another picture to the Nilghai Saga."
"Aren't you worrying him a little too much?" asked the Nilghai, when Dick had left the room.
"Perhaps, but I know what he can turn out if he likes. It makes me savage to hear him praised for past work when I know what he ought to do. You and I are arranged for——"
"By Kismet and our own powers, more's the pity. I have dreamed of a good deal."
"So have I, but we know our limitations now. I'm dashed if I know what Dick's may be when he gives himself to his work. That's what makes me so keen about him."
"And when all's said and done, you will be put aside—quite rightly—for a female girl."
"I wonder . . . Where do you think he has been today?"
"To the sea. Didn't you see the look in his eyes when he talked about her? He's as restless as a swallow in autumn."
"Yes; but did he go alone?"
"I don't know, and I don't care, but he has the beginnings of the go-fever upon him. He wants to up-stakes and move out. There's no mistaking the signs. Whatever he may have said before, he has the call upon him now."
"It might be his salvation," Torpenhow said.
"Perhaps—if you care to take the responsibility of being a saviour."
Dick returned with the big clasped sketch-book that the Nilghai knew well and did not love too much. In it Dick had drawn all manner of moving incidents, experienced by himself or related to him by the others, of all the four corners of the earth. But the wider range of the Nilghai's body and life attracted him most. When truth failed he fell back on fiction of the wildest, and represented incidents in the Nilghai's career that were unseemly,—his marriages with many African princesses, his shameless betrayal, for Arab wives, of an army corps to the Mahdi, his tattooment by skilled operators in Burmah, his interview (and his fears) with the yellow headsman in the blood-stained execution-ground of Canton, and finally, the passings of his spirit into the bodies of whales, elephants, and toucans. Torpenhow from time to time had added rhymed descriptions, and the whole was a curious piece of art, because Dick decided, having regard to the name of the book which being interpreted means "naked," that it would be wrong to draw the Nilghai with any clothes on, under any circumstances. Consequently the last sketch, representing that much-enduring man calling on the War Office to press his claims to the Egyptian medal, was hardly delicate. He settled himself comfortably on Torpenhow's table and turned over the pages.
"What a fortune you would have been to Blake, Nilghai!" he said. "There's a succulent pinkness about some of these sketches that's more than life-like. "The Nilghai surrounded while bathing by the Mahdieh"—that was founded on fact, eh?"
"It was very nearly my last bath, you irreverent dauber. Has Binkie come into the Saga yet?"
"No; the Binkie-boy hasn't done anything except eat and kill cats. Let's see. Here you are as a stained-glass saint in a church. Deuced decorative lines about your anatomy; you ought to be grateful for being handed down to posterity in this way. Fifty years hence you'll exist in rare and curious facsimiles at ten guineas each. What shall I try this time? The domestic life of the Nilghai?"
"Hasn't got any."
"The undomestic life of the Nilghai, then. Of course. Mass-meeting of his wives in Trafalgar Square. That's it. They came from the ends of the earth to attend Nilghai's wedding to an English bride. This shall be an epic. It's a sweet material to work with."
"It's a scandalous waste of time," said Torpenhow.
"Don't worry; it keeps one's hand in—specially when you begin without the pencil." He set to work rapidly. "That's Nelson's Column. Presently the Nilghai will appear shinning up it."
"Give him some clothes this time."
"Certainly—a veil and an orange-wreath, because he's been married."
"Gad, that's clever enough!" said Torpenhow over his shoulder, as Dick brought out of the paper with three twirls of the brush a very fat back and labouring shoulder pressed against stone.
"Just imagine," Dick continued, "if we could publish a few of these dear little things every time the Nilghai subsidises a man who can write, to give the public an honest opinion of my pictures."
"Well, you'll admit I always tell you when I have done anything of that kind. I know I can't hammer you as you ought to be hammered, so I give the job to another. Young Maclagan, for instance——"
"No-o—one half-minute, old man; stick your hand out against the dark of the wall-paper—you only burble and call me names. That left shoulder's out of drawing. I must literally throw a veil over that. Where's my pen-knife? Well, what about Maclagan?"
"I only gave him his riding-orders to—to lambast you on general principles for not producing work that will last."
"Whereupon that young fool,"—Dick threw back his head and shut one eye as he shifted the page under his hand,—"being left alone with an ink-pot and what he conceived were his own notions, went and spilt them both over me in the papers. You might have engaged a grown man for the business, Nilghai. How do you think the bridal veil looks now, Torp?"
"How the deuce do three dabs and two scratches make the stuff stand away from the body as it does?" said Torpenhow, to whom Dick"s methods were always new.
"It just depends on where you put 'em. If Maclagan had know that much about his business he might have done better."
"Why don't you put the damned dabs into something that will stay, then?" insisted the Nilghai, who had really taken considerable trouble in hiring for Dick's benefit the pen of a young gentleman who devoted most of his waking hours to an anxious consideration of the aims and ends of Art, which, he wrote, was one and indivisible.
"Wait a minute till I see how I am going to manage my procession of wives. You seem to have married extensively, and I must rough 'em in with the pencil— Medes, Parthians, Edomites. . . . Now, setting aside the weakness and the wickedness and—and the fat-headedness of deliberately trying to do work that will live, as they call it, I'm content with the knowledge that I've done my best up to date, and I shan't do anything like it again for some hours at least—probably years. Most probably never."
"What! any stuff you have in stock your best work?" said Torpenhow.
"Anything you've sold?" said the Nilghai.
"Oh no. It isn't here and it isn't sold. Better than that, it can't be sold, and I don't think any one knows where it is. I'm sure I don't. . . . And yet more and more wives, on the north side of the square. Observe the virtuous horror of the lions!"
"You may as well explain," said Torpenhow, and Dick lifted his head from the paper.
"The sea reminded me of it," he said slowly. "I wish it hadn't. It weighs some few thousand tons—unless you cut it out with a cold chisel."
"Don't be an idiot. You can't pose with us here," said the Nilghai.
"There's no pose in the matter at all. It's a fact. I was loafing from Lima to Auckland in a big, old, condemned passenger-ship turned into a cargo-boat and owned by a second-hand Italian firm. She was a crazy basket. We were cut down to fifteen ton of coal a day, and we thought ourselves lucky when we kicked seven knots an hour out of her. Then we used to stop and let the bearings cool down, and wonder whether the crack in the shaft was spreading."
"Were you a steward or a stoker in those days?"
"I was flush for the time being, so I was a passenger, or else I should have been a steward, I think," said Dick, with perfect gravity, returning to the procession of angry wives. "I was the only other passenger from Lima, and the ship was half empty, and full of rats and cockroaches and scorpions."
"But what has this to do with the picture?"
"Wait a minute. She had been in the China passenger trade and her lower decks had bunks for two thousand pigtails. Those were all taken down, and she was empty up to her nose, and the lights came through the port holes—most annoying lights to work in till you got used to them. I hadn't anything to do for weeks. The ship's charts were in pieces and our skipper daren't run south for fear of catching a storm. So he did his best to knock all the Society Islands out of the water one by one, and I went into the lower deck, and did my picture on the port side as far forward in her as I could go. There was some brown paint and some green paint that they used for the boats, and some black paint for ironwork, and that was all I had."
"The passengers must have thought you mad."
"There was only one, and it was a woman; but it gave me the notion of my picture."
"What was she like?" said Torpenhow.
"She was a sort of Negroid-Jewess-Cuban; with morals to match. She couldn't read or write, and she didn't want to, but she used to come down and watch me paint, and the skipper didn't like it, because he was paying her passage and had to be on the bridge occasionally."
"I see. That must have been cheerful."
"It was the best time I ever had. To begin with, we didn't know whether we should go up or go down any minute when there was a sea on; and when it was calm it was paradise; and the woman used to mix the paints and talk broken English, and the skipper used to steal down every few minutes to the lower deck, because he said he was afraid of fire. So, you see, we could never tell when we might be caught, and I had a splendid notion to work out in only three keys of colour."
"What was the notion?"
"Two lines in Poe—
'Neither the angels in Heaven above nor the demons down under the sea, Can ever dissever my soul from the soul of the beautiful Annabel Lee.'
It came out of the sea—all by itself. I drew that fight, fought out in green water over the naked, choking soul, and the woman served as the model for the devils and the angels both—sea-devils and sea-angels, and the soul half drowned between them. It doesn't sound much, but when there was a good light on the lower deck it looked very fine and creepy. It was seven by fourteen feet, all done in shifting light for shifting light."
"Did the woman inspire you much?" said Torpenhow.
"She and the sea between them—immensely. There was a heap of bad drawing in that picture. I remember I went out of my way to foreshorten for sheer delight of doing it, and I foreshortened damnably, but for all that it's the best thing I've ever done; and now I suppose the ship's broken up or gone down. Whew! What a time that was!"
"What happened after all?"
"It all ended. They were loading her with wool when I left the ship, but even the stevedores kept the picture clear to the last. The eyes of the demons scared them, I honestly believe."
"And the woman?"
"She was scared too when it was finished. She used to cross herself before she went down to look at it. Just three colours and no chance of getting any more, and the sea outside and unlimited love-making inside, and the fear of death atop of everything else, O Lord!" He had ceased to look at the sketch, but was staring straight in front of him across the room.
"Why don't you try something of the same kind now?" said the Nilghai.
"Because those things come not by fasting and prayer. When I find a cargo-boat and a Jewess-Cuban and another notion and the same old life, I may."
"You won't find them here," said the Nilghai.
"No, I shall not." Dick shut the sketch-book with a bang. "This room's as hot as an oven. Open the window, some one."
He leaned into the darkness, watching the greater darkness of London below him. The chambers stood much higher than the other houses, commanding a hundred chimneys—crooked cowls that looked like sitting cats as they swung round, and other uncouth brick and zinc mysteries supported by iron stanchions and clamped by 8-pieces. Northward the lights of Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square threw a copper-coloured glare above the black roofs, and southward by all the orderly lights of the Thames. A train rolled out across one of the railway bridges, and its thunder drowned for a minute the dull roar of the streets. The Nilghai looked at his watch and said shortly, "That's the Paris night-mail. You can book from here to St. Petersburg if you choose."
Dick crammed head and shoulders out of the window and looked across the river. Torpenhow came to his side, while the Nilghai passed over quietly to the piano and opened it. Binkie, making himself as large as possible, spread out upon the sofa with the air of one who is not to be lightly disturbed.
"Well," said the Nilghai to the two pairs of shoulders, "have you never seen this place before?"
A steam-tug on the river hooted as she towed her barges to wharf. Then the boom of the traffic came into the room. Torpenhow nudged Dick.
"Good place to bank in—bad place to bunk in, Dickie, isn't it?"
Dick's chin was in his hand as he answered, in the words of a general not without fame, still looking out on the darkness—"'My God, what a city to loot!'"
Binkie found the night air tickling his whiskers and sneezed plaintively.
"We shall give the Binkie-dog a cold," said Torpenhow. "Come in," and they withdrew their heads. "You'll be buried in Kensal Green, Dick, one of these days, if it isn't closed by the time you want to go there—buried within two feet of some one else, his wife and his family."
"Allah forbid! I shall get away before that time comes. Give a man room to stretch his legs, Mr. Binkie." Dick flung himself down on the sofa and tweaked Binkie's velvet ears, yawning heavily the while.
"You'll find that wardrobe-case very much out of tune," Torpenhow said to the Nilghai. "It's never touched except by you."
"A piece of gross extravagance," Dick grunted. "The Nilghai only comes when I'm out."
"That's because you're always out. Howl, Nilghai, and let him hear."
"The life of the Nilghai is fraud and slaughter, His writings are watered Dickens and water; But the voice of the Nilghai raised on high Makes even the Mahdieh glad to die!"
Dick quoted from Torpenhow's letterpress in the Nungapunga Book.
"How do they call moose in Canada, Nilghai?"
The man laughed. Singing was his one polite accomplishment, as many Press-tents in far-off lands had known.
"What shall I sing?" said he, turning in the chair.
""Moll Roe in the Morning,"" said Torpenhow, at a venture.
"No," said Dick, sharply, and the Nilghai opened his eyes. The old chanty whereof he, among a very few, possessed all the words was not a pretty one, but Dick had heard it many times before without wincing. Without prelude he launched into that stately tune that calls together and troubles the hearts of the gipsies of the sea—
"Farewell and adieu to you, Spanish ladies, Farewell and adieu to you, ladies of Spain."
Dick turned uneasily on the sofa, for he could hear the bows of the Barralong crashing into the green seas on her way to the Southern Cross.
Then came the chorus—
"We'll rant and we'll roar like true British sailors, We'll rant and we'll roar across the salt seas, Until we take soundings in the Channel of Old England From Ushant to Scilly 'tis forty-five leagues."
"Thirty-five-thirty-five," said Dick, petulantly. "Don't tamper with Holy Writ. Go on, Nilghai."
"The first land we made it was called the Deadman,"
and they sang to the end very vigourously.
"That would be a better song if her head were turned the other way—to the Ushant light, for instance," said the Nilghai.
"Flinging his arms about like a mad windmill," said Torpenhow. "Give us something else, Nilghai. You're in fine fog-horn form tonight."
"Give us the 'Ganges Pilot'; you sang that in the square the night before El- Maghrib. By the way, I wonder how many of the chorus are alive tonight," said Dick.
Torpenhow considered for a minute. "By Jove! I believe only you and I. Raynor, Vicery, and Deenes—all dead; Vincent caught smallpox in Cairo, carried it here and died of it. Yes, only you and I and the Nilghai."
"Umph! And yet the men here who've done their work in a well-warmed studio all their lives, with a policeman at each corner, say that I charge too much for my pictures."
"They are buying your work, not your insurance policies, dear child," said the Nilghai.
"I gambled with one to get at the other. Don't preach. Go on with the "Pilot." Where in the world did you get that song?"
"On a tombstone," said the Nilghai. "On a tombstone in a distant land. I made it an accompaniment with heaps of base chords."
"Oh, Vanity! Begin." And the Nilghai began—
"I have slipped my cable, messmates, I'm drifting down with the tide, I have my sailing orders, while yet at anchor ride. And never on fair June morning have I put out to sea With clearer conscience or better hope, or a heart more light and free.
"Shoulder to shoulder, Joe, my boy, into the crowd like a wedge Strike with the hangers, messmates, but do not cut with the edge. Cries Charnock, "Scatter the faggots, double that Brahmin in two, The tall pale widow for me, Joe, the little brown girl for you!"
"Young Joe (you're nearing sixty), why is your hide so dark? Katie has soft fair blue eyes, who blackened yours?—Why, hark!"
They were all singing now, Dick with the roar of the wind of the open sea about his ears as the deep bass voice let itself go.
"The morning gun—Ho, steady! the arquebuses to me! I ha' sounded the Dutch High Admiral's heart as my lead doth sound the sea.
"Sounding, sounding the Ganges, floating down with the tide, Moore me close to Charnock, next to my nut-brown bride. My blessing to Kate at Fairlight—Holwell, my thanks to you; Steady! We steer for heaven, through sand-drifts cold and blue."
"Now what is there in that nonsense to make a man restless?" said Dick, hauling Binkie from his feet to his chest.