A Question of
Art by Robert Herrick
John Clayton had pretty nearly run the gamut of the fine arts. As a boy
at college he had taken a dilettante interest in music, and having
shown some power of sketching the summer girl he had determined to
become an artist. His numerous friends had hoped such great things for
him that he had been encouraged to spend the rest of his little
patrimony in educating himself abroad. It took him nearly two years to
find out what being an artist meant, and the next three in thinking
what he wanted to do. In Paris and Munich and Rome, the wealth of the
possible had dazzled him and confused his aims; he was so skilful and
adaptable that in turn he had wooed almost all the arts, and had
accomplished enough trivial things to raise very pretty expectations of
his future powers. He had enjoyed an uncertain glory among the crowd of
American amateurs. When his purse had become empty he returned to
America to realize on his prospects.
On his arrival he had elaborately equipped a studio in Boston, but as
he found the atmosphere "too provincial" he removed to New York. There
he was much courted at a certain class of afternoon teas. He was in
full bloom of the "might do," but he had his suspicions that a fatally
limited term of years would translate the tense into "might have done."
He argued, however, that he had not yet found the right milieu; he
was fond of that word—conveniently comprehensive of all things that
might stimulate his will. He doubted if America ever could furnish him
a suitable milieu for the expression of his artistic instincts. But
in the meantime necessity for effort was becoming more urgent; he could
not live at afternoon teas.
Clayton was related widely to interesting and even influential people.
One woman, a distant cousin, had taken upon herself his affairs.
"I will give you another chance," she said, in a business-like tone,
after he had been languidly detailing his condition to her and
indicating politely that he was coming to extremities. "Visit me this
summer at Bar Harbor. You shall have the little lodge at the Point for
a studio, and you can take your meals at the hotel near by. In that way
you will be independent. Now, there are three ways, any one of which
will lead you out of your difficulties, and if you don't find one that
suits you before October, I shall leave you to your fate."
The young man appeared interested.
"You can model something—that's your line, isn't it?"
Clayton nodded meekly. He had resolved to become a sculptor during his
last six months in Italy.
"And so put you on your feet, professionally." Clayton sighed. "Or you
can find some rich patron or patroness who will send you over for a
couple of years more until your chef d' oeuvre makes its appearance."
Her pupil turned red, and began to murmur, but she kept on unperturbed.
"Or, best of all, you can marry a girl with some money and then do what
you like." At this Clayton rose abruptly.
"I haven't come to that," he growled.
"Don't be silly," she pursued. "You are really charming; good
character; exquisite manners; pleasant habits; success with women. You
needn't feel flattered, for this is your stock in trade. You are
decidedly interesting, and lots of those girls who are brought there
every year to get them in would be glad to make such an exchange. You
know everybody, and you could give any girl a good standing in Boston
or New York. Besides, there is your genius, which may develop. That
will be thrown in to boot; it may bear interest."
Clayton, who had begun by feeling how disagreeable his situation was
when it exposed him to this kind of hauling over, ended by bursting
into a cordial laugh at the frank materialism with which his cousin
presented his case. "Well," he exclaimed, "it's no go to talk to you
about the claims and ideals of art, Cousin Della, but I will accept
your offer, if only for the sake of modelling a bust of 'The Energetic
"Of course, I don't make much of ideals in art and all that," replied
his cousin, "but I will put this through for you, as Harry says. You
must promise me only one thing: no flirting with Harriet and Mary.
Henry has been foolish and lost money, as you know, and I cannot have
another beggar on my hands!"
By the end of July Clayton had found out two things definitely; he was
standing in his little workshop, pulling at his mustache and looking
sometimes at a half-completed sketch, and sometimes at the blue stretch
of water below the cliff. The conclusions were that he certainly should
not become interested in Harriet and Mary, and, secondly, that Mount
Desert made him paint rather than model.
"It's no place," he muttered, "except for color and for a poet. A man
would have to shut himself up in a cellar to escape those glorious
hills and the bay, if he wanted to work at that putty." He cast a
contemptuous glance at a rough bust of his Cousin Della, the only thing
he had attempted. As a solution of his hopeless problem he picked up a
pipe and was hunting for some tobacco, preparatory to a stroll up
Newport, when someone sounded timidly at the show knocker of the front
"Is that you, Miss Marston?" Clayton remarked, in a disappointed tone,
as a middle-aged woman entered.
"The servants were all away," she replied, "and Della thought you might
like some lunch to recuperate you from your labors." This was said a
little maliciously, as she looked about and found nothing noteworthy
"I was just thinking of knocking off for this morning and taking a
walk. Won't you come? It's such glorious weather and no fog," he added,
parenthetically, as if in justification of his idleness.
"Why do you happen to ask me?" Miss Marston exclaimed, impetuously.
"You have hitherto never paid any more attention to my existence than
if I had been Jane, the woman who usually brings your lunch." She
gasped at her own boldness. This was not coquettishness, and was
"Why! I really wish you would come," said the young man, helplessly.
"Then I'll have a chance to know you better."
"Well! I will." She seemed to have taken a desperate step. Miss Jane
Marston, Della's sister-in-law, had always been the superfluous member
of her family. Such unenviable tasks as amusing or teaching the younger
children, sewing, or making up whist sets, had, as is usual with the
odd members in a family, fallen to her share. All this Miss Marston
hated in a slow, rebellious manner. From always having just too little
money to live independently, she had been forced to accept invitations
for long visits in uninteresting places. As a girl and a young woman,
she had shown a delicate, retiring beauty that might have been made
much of, and in spite of gray hair, thirty-five years, and a somewhat
drawn look, arising from her discontent, one might discover sufficient
traces of this fading beauty to idealize her. All this summer she had
watched the wayward young artist with a keen interest in the fresh life
he brought among her flat surroundings. His buoyancy cheered her
habitual depression; his eagerness and love of life made her blood flow
more quickly, out of sympathy; and his intellectual alertness
bewildered and fascinated her. She was still shy at thirty-five, and
really very timid and apologetic for her commonplaceness; but at times
the rebellious bitterness at the bottom of her heart would leap forth
in a brusque or bold speech. She was still capable of affording
"Won't I spoil the inspiration?" she ventured, after a long silence.
"Bother the inspiration!" groaned Clayton. "I wish I were a blacksmith,
or a sailor, or something honest. I feel like a hypocrite. I have
started out at a pace that I can't keep up!"
Miss Marston felt complimented by this apparent confidence. If she had
had experience in that kind of nature, she would have understood how
indifferent Clayton was to her personally. He would have made the same
confession to the birds, if they had happened to produce the same
irritation in his mind.
"They all say your work is so brilliant," she said, soothingly.
"Thunder!" he commented. "I wish they would not say anything kind and
pleasant and cheap. At college they praised my verses, and the theatres
stole my music for the Pudding play, and the girls giggled over my
sketches. And now, at twenty-six, I don't know whether I want to
fiddle, or to write an epic, or to model, or to paint. I am a victim of
every artistic impulse."
"I know what you should do," she said, wisely, when they had reached a
shady spot and were cooling themselves.
"Smoke?" queried Clayton, quizzically.
"You ought to marry!"
"That's every woman's great solution, great panacea," he replied,
"It would steady you and make you work."
"No," he replied, thoughtfully, "not unless she were poor, and in that
case it would be from the frying-pan into the fire!"
"You should work," she went on, more courageously. "And a wife would
give you inspiration and sympathy."
"I have had too much of the last already," he sighed. "And it's better
not to have it all of one sort. After awhile a woman doesn't produce
pleasant or profitable reactions in my soul. Yes, I know," he added, as
he noticed her look of wonderment, "I am selfish and supremely
egotistical. Every artist is; his only lookout, however, should be that
his surroundings don't become stale. Or, if you prefer to put it more
humanely, an artist isn't fit to marry; it's criminal for him to marry
and break a woman's heart."
After this heroic confession he paused to smoke. "Besides, no woman
whom I ever knew really understands art and the ends which the artist
is after. She has the temperament, a superficial appreciation and
interest, but she hasn't the stimulus of insight. She's got the nerves,
but not the head."
"But you just said that you had had too much sympathy and
"Did I? Well, I was wrong. I need a lot, and I don't care how idiotic.
It makes me courageous to have even a child approve. I suppose that
shows how closely we human animals are linked together. We have got to
have the consent of the world, or at any rate a small part of it, to
believe ourselves sane. So I need the chorus of patrons, admiring
friends, kind women, etc., while I play the Protagonist, to tell me
that I am all right, to go ahead. Do you suppose any one woman would be
enough? What a great posture for an arm!" His sudden exclamation was
called out by the attitude that Miss Marston had unconsciously assumed
in the eagerness of her interest. She had thrown her hand over a ledge
above them, and was leaning lightly upon it. The loose muslin sleeve
had fallen back, revealing a pretty, delicately rounded arm, not to be
suspected from her slight figure. Clayton quickly squirmed a little
nearer, and touching the arm with an artist's instinct, brought out
still more the fresh white flesh and the delicate veining.
"Don't move. That would be superb in marble!" Miss Marston blushed
"How strange you are," she murmured, as she rose. "You just said that
you had given up modelling, or I would let you model my arm in order to
give you something to do. You should try to stick to something."
"Don't be trite," laughed Clayton, "and don't make me consistent. You
will keep yourself breathless if you try that!"
"I know what you need," she said, persistently unmindful of his
admonition. "You need the spur. It doesn't make so much difference
what you do—you're clever enough."
"'Truth from the mouths of babes——'"
"I am not a babe." She replied to his mocking, literally. "Even if I am
stupid and commonplace, I may have intuitions like other women."
"Which lead you to think that it's all chance whether Raphael paints or
plays on the piano. Well, I don't know that you are so absurd. That's
my theory: an artist is a fund of concentrated, undistributed energy
that has any number of possible outlets, but selects one. Most of us
are artists, but we take so many outlets that the hogshead becomes
empty by leaking. Which shall it be? Shall we toss up a penny?"
"Painting," said Miss Marston, decisively. "You must stick to that."
"How did you arrive at that conclusion—have you observed my work?"
"No! I'll let you know some time, but now you must go to work. Come!"
She rose, as if to go down to the lodge that instant. Clayton, without
feeling the absurdity of the comedy, rose docilely and followed her
down the path for some distance. He seemed completely dominated by the
sudden enthusiasm and will that chance had flung him.
"There's no such blessed hurry," he remarked at last, when the first
excitement had evanesced. "The light will be too bad for work by the
time we reach Bar Harbor. Let's rest here in this dark nook, and talk
it all over."
Clayton was always abnormally eager to talk over anything. Much of his
artistic energy had trickled away in elusive snatches of talk. "Come,"
he exclaimed, enthusiastically, "I have it. I will begin a great
work—a modern Magdalen or something of that sort. We can use you in
just that posture, kneeling before a rock with outstretched hands, and
head turned away. We will make everything of the hands and arms!"
Miss Marston blushed her slow, unaccustomed blush. At first sight it
pleased her to think that she had become so much a part of this
interesting young man's plans, but in a moment she laughed calmly at
the frank desire he expressed to leave out her face, and the
characteristic indifference he had shown in suggesting negligently such
"All right. I am willing to be of any service. But you will have to
make use of the early hours. I teach the children at nine."
"Splendid!" he replied, as the vista of a new era of righteousness
dawned upon him. "We shall have the fresh morning light, and the cool
and the beauty of the day. And I shall have plenty of time to loaf,
"No, you mustn't loaf. You will find me a hard task-mistress!"
True to her word, Miss Marston rapped at the door of the studio
promptly at six the next morning. She smiled fearfully, and finding no
response, tried stones at the windows above. She kept saying to
herself, to keep up her courage: "He won't think about me, and I am too
old to care, anyway." Soon a head appeared, and Clayton called out, in
a sleepy voice:
"I dreamt it was all a joke; but wait a bit, and we will talk it over."
Miss Marston entered the untidy studio, where the débris of a month's
fruitless efforts strewed the floor. Bits of clay and carving-tools,
canvases hurled face downward in disgust and covered with paint-rags,
lay scattered about. She tip-toed around, carefully raising her skirt,
and examined everything. Finally, discovering an alcohol-lamp and a
coffee-pot, she prepared some coffee, and when Clayton appeared—a
somewhat dishevelled god—he found her hunting for biscuit.
"You can't make an artist of me at six in the morning," he growled.
In sudden inspiration, Miss Marston threw open the upper half of the
door and admitted a straight pathway of warm sun that led across the
water just rippling at their feet. The hills behind the steep shore
were dark with a mysterious green and fresh with a heavy dew, and from
the nooks in the woods around them thrush was answering thrush. Miss
Marston gave a sigh of content. The warm, strong sunlight strengthened
her and filled her wan cheeks, as the sudden interest in the artist's
life seemed to have awakened once more the vigor of her feelings. She
clasped her thin hands and accepted both blessings. Clayton also
revived. At first he leant listlessly against the door-post, but as
minute by minute he drank in the air and the beauty and the hope, his
weary frame dilated with incoming sensations. "God, what beauty!" he
murmured, and he accepted unquestioningly the interference in his life
brought by this woman just as he accepted the gift of sunshine and
"Come to work," said Miss Marston, at last.
"That's no go," he replied, "that subject we selected."
"I dare say you won't do much with it, but it will do as well as any
other for experiment and practice."
"I see that you want those arms preserved."
The little woman shrank into her shell for a moment: her lazy artist
could scatter insults as negligently as epigrams. Then she blazed out.
"Mr. Clayton, I didn't come here to be insulted."
Clayton, utterly surprised, opened his sleepy eyes in real alarm.
"Bless you, my dear Miss Marston, I can't insult anybody. I never mean
"Perhaps that's the trouble," replied Miss Marston, somewhat mollified.
But the sitting was hardly a success. Clayton wasted almost all his
time in improvising an easel and in preparing his brushes. Miss Marston
had to leave him just as he was ready to throw himself into his work.
He was discontented, and, instead of improving the good light and the
long day, he took a pipe and went away into the hills. The next morning
he felt curiously ashamed when Miss Marston, after examining the rough
sketch on the easel, said:
"Is that all?"
And this day he painted, but in a fit of gloomy disgust destroyed
everything. So it went on for a few weeks. Miss Marston was more
regular than an alarm-clock; sometimes she brought some work, but
oftener she sat vacantly watching the young man at work. Her only
standard of accomplishment was quantity. One day, when Clayton had
industriously employed a rainy afternoon in putting in the drapery for
the figure, she was so much pleased by the quantity of the work
accomplished that she praised him gleefully. Clayton, who was, as
usual, in an ugly mood, cast an utterly contemptuous look at her and
then turned to his easel.
"You mustn't look at me like that," the woman said, almost frightened.
"Then don't jabber about my pictures."
Her lips quivered, but she was silent. She began to realize her
position of galley-slave, and welcomed with a dull joy the contempt and
insults to come.
One morning Clayton was not to be found. He did not appear during that
week, and at last Miss Marston determined to find him. She made an
excuse for a journey to Boston, and divining where Clayton could be
found, she sent him word at a certain favorite club that she wanted to
see him. He called at her modest hotel, dejected, listless, and
somewhat shamefaced; he found Miss Marston calm and commonplace as
usual. But it was the calm of a desperate resolve, won after painful
hours, that he little recognized. Her instinct to attach herself to
this strange, unaccountable creature, to make him effective to himself,
had triumphed over her prejudices. She humbled herself joyfully,
recognizing a mission.
"Della said that I might presume on your escort home," she remarked
dryly, trembling for fear that she had exposed herself to some
contemptuous retort. One great attraction, however, in Clayton was that
he never expected the conventional. It did not occur to him as
particularly absurd that this woman, ten years his senior, should hunt
him up in this fashion. He took such eccentricities as a matter of
course, and whatever the circumstances or the conversation, found it
all natural and reasonable. Women did not fear him, but talked
indiscreetly to him about all things.
"What's the use of keeping up this ridiculous farce about my work?" he
said, sadly. Then he sought for a conventional phrase. "Your unexpected
interest and enthusiasm in my poor attempts have been most kind, my
dear Miss Marston. But you must allow me to go to the dogs in my own
fashion; that's the inalienable right of every emancipated soul in
these days." The politeness and mockery of this little epigram stung
"Don't be brutal, as well as good for nothing," she said, bitterly.
"You're as low as if you took to drink or any other vice, and you know
it. I can't appreciate your fine ideas, perhaps, but I know you ought
to do something more than talk. You're terribly ambitious, but you're
too weak to do anything but talk. I don't care what you think about my
interference. I can make you work, and I will make you do something.
You know you need the whip, and if none of your pleasant friends will
give it to you, I can. Come!" she added, pleadingly.
"Jove!" exclaimed the young man, slowly, "I believe you're an awful
trump. I will go back."
On their return they scarcely spoke. Miss Marston divined that her
companion felt ashamed and awkward, and that his momentary enthusiasm
had evaporated under the influence of a long railroad ride. While they
were waiting for the steamer at the Mount Desert ferry, she said, as
negligently as she could, "I have telegraphed for a carriage, but you
had better walk up by yourself."
He nodded assent. "So you will supply the will for the machine, if I
will grind out the ideas. But it will never succeed," he added,
gloomily. "Of course I am greatly obliged and all that, and I will
stick to it until October for the sake of your interest." In answer she
smiled with an air of proprietorship.
One effect of this spree upon Clayton was that he took to landscape
during the hours that he had formerly loafed. He found some quiet bits
of dell with water, and planted his easel regularly every day.
Sometimes he sat dreaming or reading, but he felt an unaccustomed
responsibility if, when his mentor appeared with the children late in
the afternoon, he hadn't something to show for his day. She never
attempted to criticise except as to the amount performed, and she soon
learned enough not to measure this by the area of canvas. Although
Clayton had abandoned the Magdalen in utter disgust, Miss Marston
persisted in the early morning sittings. She made herself useful in
preparing his coffee and in getting his canvas ready. They rarely
talked. Sometimes Clayton, in a spirit of deviltry, would tease his
mentor about their peculiar relationship, about herself, or, worse than
all, would run himself and say very true things about his own
imperfections. Then, on detecting the tears that would rise in the
tired, faded eyes of the woman he tortured, he would throw himself into
So the summer wore away and the brilliant September came. The
unsanctified crowds flitted to the mountains or the town, and the
island and sea resumed the air of free-hearted peace which was theirs
by right. Clayton worked still more out of doors on marines, attempting
to grasp the perplexing brilliancy that flooded everything.
"It's no use," he said, sadly, as he packed up his kit one evening in
the last of September. "I really don't know the first thing about
color. I couldn't exhibit a single thing I have done this entire
"What's the real matter?" asked Miss Marston, with a desperate calm.
"Why, I have fooled about so much that I have lost a lot I learnt over
there in Paris."
"Why don't you get—get a teacher?"
Clayton laughed ironically. "I am pretty old to start in, especially as
I have just fifty dollars to my name, and a whole winter before me."
They returned silently. The next morning Miss Marston appeared at the
usual hour and made the coffee. After Clayton had finished his meagre
meal, she sat down shyly and looked at him.
"You've never interested yourself much in my plans, but I am going to
tell you some of them. I'm sick of living about like a neglected cat,
and I am going to New York to—to keep boarders." Her face grew very
red. "They will make a fuss, but I am ready to break with them all."
"So you, too, find dependence a burden?" commented Clayton,
"You haven't taken much pains to know me," she replied. "And if I were
a man," she went on, with great scorn, "I would die before I would be
"Talking about insults—but an artist isn't a man," remarked Clayton,
philosophically smoking his pipe.
"I hate you when you're like that," Miss Marston remarked, with intense
"Then you must hate me pretty often! But continue with your plans.
Don't let our little differences in temperament disturb us."
"Well," she continued, "I have written to some friends who spend the
winters in New York, and out of them I think I shall find enough
boarders—enough to keep me from starving. And the house has a large
upper story with a north light." She stopped and peeped at him
"Oh," said Clayton, coolly, "and you're thinking that I would make a
"Exactly," assented Miss Marston, uncomfortably.
"And who will put up the tin: for you don't suppose that I am low
enough to live off you?"
"No," replied the woman, quietly. "I shouldn't allow that, though I was
not quite sure you would be unwilling. But you can borrow two or three
hundred dollars from your brother, and by the time that's gone you
ought to be earning something. You could join a class; the house isn't
far from those studios."
Clayton impulsively seized her arms and looked into her face. She was
startled and almost frightened.
"I believe," he began, but the words faded away.
"No, don't say it. You believe that I am in love with you, and do this
to keep you near me. Don't be quite such a brute, for you are a
brute, a grasping, egotistical, intolerant brute." She smiled slightly.
"But don't think that I am such a fool as not to know how impossible
Clayton still held her in astonishment. "I think I was going to say
that I was in love with you."
"Oh, no," she laughed, sadly. "I am coffee and milk and bread and
butter, the 'stuff that dreams are made on.' You want some noble young
woman—a goddess, to make you over, to make you human. I only save you
from the poor-house."
There followed a bitter two years for this strange couple. Clayton
borrowed a thousand dollars—a more convenient number to remember, he
said, than three hundred dollars—and induced a prominent artist "who
happens to know something," to take him into his crowded classes for a
year. He began with true grit to learn again what he had forgotten and
some things that he had never known. At the end of the year he felt
that he could go alone, and the artist agreed, adding, nonchalantly:
"You may get there; God knows; but you need loads of work."
Domestically, the life was monotonous. Clayton had abandoned his old
habits, finding it difficult to harmonize his present existence with
his clubs and his fashionable friends. Besides, he hoarded every cent
and, with Miss Marston's aid, wrung the utmost of existence out of the
few dollars he had left. Miss Marston's modest house was patronized by
elderly single ladies. It was situated on one of those uninteresting
East Side streets where you can walk a mile without remembering an
individual stone. The table, in food and conversation, was monotonous.
In fact, Clayton could not dream of a more inferior milieu for the
birth of the great artist.
Miss Marston had fitted herself to suit his needs, and in submitting to
this difficult position felt that she was repaying a loan of a new
life. He was so curious, so free, so unusual, so fond of ideas, so
entertaining, even in his grim moods, that he made her stupid life
over. She could enjoy vicariously by feeling his intense interest in
all living things. In return, she learnt the exact time to bring him an
attractive lunch, and just where to place it so that it would catch his
eye without calling out a scowl of impatience. She made herself at home
in his premises, so that all friction was removed from the young
artist's life. He made no acknowledgment of her devotion, but he worked
grimly, doggedly, with a steadiness that he had never before known.
Once, early in the first winter, having to return to Boston on some
slight business, he permitted himself to be entrapped by old friends
and lazed away a fortnight. On his return Miss Marston noticed with a
pang that this outing had done him good; that he seemed to have more
spirit, more vivaciousness, more ideas, and more zest for his work. So,
in a methodical fashion, she thought out harmless dissipations for him.
She induced him to take her to the opera, even allowing him to think
that it was done from pure charity to her. Sunday walks in the
picturesque nooks of New York—they both shunned the Fifth Avenue
promenade for different reasons—church music, interesting novels, all
the "fuel," as Clayton remarked, that she could find she piled into his
furnace. She made herself acquainted with the peculiar literature that
seemed to stimulate his imagination, and sometimes she read him asleep
in the evenings to save his overworked eyes. Her devotion he took
serenely, as a rule. During the second winter, however, after a slight
illness brought on by over-application, he seemed to have a thought
upon his mind that troubled him. One day he impatiently threw down his
palette and put his hands upon her shoulders.
"Little woman, why do you persist in using up your life on me?"
"I am gambling," she replied, evasively.
"What do you expect to get if you win?"
"A few contemptuous thanks; perhaps free tickets when you exhibit, or a
line in your biography. But seriously, Jack, don't you know women well
enough to understand how they enjoy drudging for someone who is
"But even if I have any ability, which you can't tell, how do you enjoy
it? You can't appreciate a picture."
She smiled. "Don't bother yourself about me. I get my fun, as you say,
because you make me feel things I shouldn't otherwise. I suppose that's
the only pay you artists ever give those who slave for you?"
Such talks were rare. They experienced that physical and mental unity
in duality which comes to people who live and think and work together
for a common aim. They had not separated a day since that first visit
to Boston. The summer had been spent at a cheap boarding-house on Cape
Ann, in order that Clayton might sketch in company with the artist who
had been teaching him. Neither thought of conventionality; it was too
late for that.
As the second year came to an end, the pressure of poverty began to be
felt. Clayton refused to make any efforts to sell his pictures. He eked
out his capital and went on. The end of his thousand came; he took to
feeding himself in his rooms. He sold his clothes, his watch, his
books, and at last the truck he had accumulated abroad. "More fuel for
the fire," he said bitterly.
"I will lend you something," remarked Miss Marston.
"No, thanks," he said, shortly, and then added, with characteristic
brutality, "my body is worth a hundred. Stevens will give that for it,
which would cover the room-rent. And my brother will have to whistle
for his cash or take it out in paint and canvas."
She said nothing, for she had a scheme in reserve. She was content
meantime to see him pinched; it brought out the firmer qualities in the
man. Her own resources, moreover, were small, for the character of her
boarders had fallen. Unpleasant rumors had deprived her of the
unexceptionable set of middle-aged ladies with whom she had started,
but she had pursued her course unaltered. The reproach of her
relatives, who considered her disgraced, had been a sweet solace to her
The rough struggle had told on them both. He had forgotten his delicate
habits, his nicety of dress. A cheap suit once in six months was all
that he could afford. His mind had become stolidly fixed, so that he
did not notice the gradual change. It was a grim fight! The elements
were relentless; day by day the pounding was harder, and the end of his
resistance seemed nearer. Although he was deeply discontented with his
work, he did not dare to think of ultimate failure, for it unnerved him
for several days. Miss Marston's quiet assumption, however, that it was
only a question of months, irritated him.
"God must have put the idea into your head that I am a genius," he
would mutter fiercely at her. "I never did, nor work of mine. You don't
know good from bad, anyway, and we may both be crazy." He buried his
face in his hands, overcome by the awfulness of failure. She put her
arms about his head.
"Well, we can stand it a little longer, and then——"
"And then?" he asked, grimly.
"Then," she looked at him significantly. They both understood. "Lieber
Gott," he murmured, "thou hast a soul." And he kissed her gently, as in
momentary love. She did not resist, but both were indifferent to
passion, so much their end absorbed them.
At last she insisted upon trying to sell some marines at the art
stores. She brought him back twenty-five dollars, and he did not
suspect that she was the patron. He looked at the money wistfully.
"I thought we should have a spree on the first money I earned. But it's
all fuel now."
Her eyes filled with tears at this sign of humanity. "Next time,
"So you think that's the beginning of a fortune. I have failed—failed
if you get ten thousand dollars for every canvas in this shop. You will
never know why. Perhaps I don't myself." And then he went to work. Some
weeks later he came to her again. This time she tried to enlist the
sympathy of the one successful artist Clayton knew, and through his
influence she succeeded in selling a number of pictures and placed
others upon sale. She was so happy, so sure that the prophetic instinct
in her soul was justified, that she told Clayton of her previous fraud.
He listened carefully; his face twitched, as if his mind were adjusting
itself to new ideas. First he took twenty-five dollars from the money
she had just brought him and handed it to her. Then putting his arms
about her, he looked inquisitively down into her face, only a bit more
tenderly than he squinted at his canvases.
"Jane!" She allowed him to kiss her once or twice, and then she pushed
him away, making a pathetic bow.
"Thanks for your sense of gratitude. You're becoming more civilized.
Only I wish it had been something more than money you had been thankful
for. Is money the only sacrifice you understand?"
"You can take your dues in taunts if you like. I never pretended to be
anything but a huge, and possibly productive polypus. I am honest
enough, anyway, not to fool with lovers' wash. You ought to know how I
feel toward you—you're the best woman I ever knew."
"Kindest to you, you mean? No, Jack," she continued, tenderly; "you can
have me, body and soul. I am yours fast enough now, what there is left
of me. I have given you my reputation, and that sort of thing long
ago—no, you needn't protest. I know you despise people who talk like
that, and I don't reproach you. But don't deceive yourself. You feel a
little moved just now. If I had any charms, like a pretty model, you
might acquire some kind of attachment for me, but love—you never
dreamed of it. And," she continued, after a moment, "I begin to think,
after watching you these two years, never will. So I am safe in saying
that I am yours to do with what you will. I am fuel. Only, oh, Jack, if
you break my heart, your last fuel will be gone. You can't do without
It seemed very absurd to talk about breaking hearts—a tired, silent
man; a woman unlovely from sordid surroundings, from age, and from
care. Clayton pulled back the heavy curtain to admit the morning light,
for they had talked for hours before coming to the money question. The
terrible, passionate glare of a summer sun in the city burst in from
the neighboring housetops.
"Why don't you curse Him?" muttered Clayton.
"Because He gave you a heart to love, and made you lonely, and then
wasted your love!"
"Jack, the worst hasn't come. It's not all wasted."
Clayton gradually became conscious of a new feeling about his work. He
was master of his tools, for one thing, and he derived exquisite
pleasure from the exercise of execution. The surety of his touch, the
knowledge of the exact effect he was after, made his working hours an
absorbing pleasure rather than an exasperating penance. And through his
secluded life, with its singleness of purpose, its absence of the
social ambitions of his youth, and the complexity of life in the world,
the restlessness and agitation of his earlier devotion to his art
disappeared. He was content to forget the expression of himself—that
youthful longing—in contemplating and enjoying the created matter. In
other words, the art of creation was attended with less friction. He
worked unconsciously, and he did not, hen-like, call the attention of
the entire barnyard to each new-laid egg. He felt also that human,
comfortable weariness after labor when self sinks out of sight in the
universal wants of mankind—food and sleep. Perhaps the fact that he
could now earn enough to relieve him from actual want, that to some
extent he had wrestled with the world and wrung from it the conditions
of subsistence, relieved the strain under which he had been laboring.
He sold his pictures rarely, however, and only when absolutely
compelled to get money. Miss Marston could not comprehend his feeling
about the inadequacy of his work, and he gave up attempting to make her
understand where he failed.
The bond between them had become closer. This one woman filled many
human relationships for him—mother, sister, friend, lover, and wife in
one. The boarding-house had come to be an affair of transients and
young clerks, so that all her time that could be spared from the
drudgery of housekeeping was spent in the studio. Slowly he became
amenable to her ever-present devotion, and even, in his way, thoughtful
for her. And she was almost happy.
The end came in this way. One day Clayton was discovered on the street
by an intimate college friend. They had run upon each other abruptly,
and Clayton, finding that escape was decently impossible, submitted
without much urging to be taken to one of his old clubs for a quiet
luncheon. As a result he did not return that night, but sent a note to
Miss Marston saying that he had gone to Lenox with a college chum. That
note chilled her heart. She felt that this was the beginning of the
end, and the following week she spent in loneliness in the little
studio, sleeping upon the neglected lounge. And yet she divined that
the movement and stimulus of this vacation was what Clayton needed
most. She feared he was becoming stale, and she knew that in a week, or
a fortnight, or perhaps a month, he would return and plunge again into
He came back. He hardly spoke to her; he seemed absorbed in the
conception of a new work. And when she brought him his usual luncheon
she found the door locked, the first time in many months. She sat down
on the stairs and waited—how long she did not know—waited, staring
down the dreary hall and at the faded carpet and at herself, faded to
suit the surroundings. At length she knocked, and Clayton came, only to
take her lunch and say absently that he was much absorbed by a new
picture and should not be disturbed. Would she bring his meals? He
seemed to refuse tacitly an entrance to the studio. So a week passed,
and then one day Clayton disappeared again, saying that he was going
into the country for another rest. He went out as he had come in,
absorbed in some dream or plan of great work. Pride kept her from
entering his rooms during that week.
One day, however, he came back as before and plunged again into his
work. This time she found the door ajar and entered noiselessly, as she
had learned to move. He was hard at work; she admired his swift
movements that seemed premeditated, the ease with which the picture
before him was rowing. Surely he had a man's power, now, to execute
what his spirit conceived! And the mechanical effort gave him evidently
great pleasure. His complete absorption indicated the most intense
though unconscious pleasure.
The picture stunned her. She knew that she was totally ignorant of art,
but she knew that the picture before her was the greatest thing Clayton
had accomplished. It seemed to breathe power. And she saw without
surprise that the subject was a young woman. Clayton's form hid the
face, but she could see the outline of a woman beside a dory, on a
beach, in the early morning. So it had come.
When she was very close to Clayton, he felt her presence, and they both
stood still, looking at the picture. It was almost finished—all was
planned. Miss Marston saw only the woman. She was youthful, just
between girlhood and womanhood—unconscious, strong, and active as the
first; with the troubled mystery of the second. The artist had divined
an exquisite moment in life, and into the immature figure, the face of
perfect repose, the supple limbs, he had thrown the tender mystery that
met the morning light. It was the new birth—that ancient, solemn,
joyous beginning of things in woman and in day.
Clayton approached his picture as if lovingly to hide it. "Isn't it
immense?" he murmured. "It's come at last. I don't daub any more, but I
can see, I can paint! God, it's worth the hell I have been through—"
He paused, for he felt that his companion had left him.
"Jane," he said, curiously examining her face. "Jane, what's the
"Don't you know?" she replied, looking steadily at him. He looked first
at her and then at the picture, and then back again. Suddenly the facts
in the case seemed to get hold of him. "Jane," he cried, impetuously,
"it's all yours—you gave me the power, and made me human, too—or a
little more so than I was. But I am killing you by living in this
fashion. Why don't you end it?"
She smiled feebly at his earnestness. "There is only one end," she
whispered, and pointed to his picture. Clayton comprehended, and
seizing a paint-rag would have ruined it, but the woman caught his hand.
"Don't let us be melodramatic. Would you ruin what we have been living
for all these years? Don't be silly—you would always regret it."
"It's your life against a little fame."
"No, against your life." They stood, nervelessly eying the picture.
"Oh, Jack, Jack," she cried, at last, "why did God make men like you?
You take it all, everything that life gives, sunshine and love and hope
and opportunity. Your roots seem to suck out what you want from the
whole earth, and you leave the soil exhausted. My time has gone; I know
it, I know it, and I knew it would go. Now some other life will be
sacrificed. For you'll break her heart whether she's alive now or
you're dreaming of someone to come. You'll treat her as you have
everything. It isn't any fault—you don't understand." The words ended
with a moan. Clayton sat doggedly looking at his picture. But his heart
refused to be sad.
LITTLE CRANBERRY, ME.,