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Chapter 13

Cornelia found herself in the last of a long line of sections or stalls which flanked a narrow corridor dividing the girl students from the young men, who were often indeed hardly more than boys. There was a table stretching from this corridor to a window looking down on the roofs of some carpenter shops and stables; on the board before her lay the elementary shape of a hand in plaster, which she was trying to draw. At her side that odd-looking girl, who had stared so at her on the stairs the day before, was working at a block foot, and not getting it very well. She had in fact given it up for the present and was watching Cornelia's work and watching her face, and talking to her.

"What is your name?" she broke off to ask, in the midst of a monologue upon the social customs and characteristics of the Synthesis.

Cornelia always frowned, and drew her breath in long sibilations, when she was trying hard to get a thing right. She now turned a knotted forehead on her companion, but stopped her hissing to ask, "What?" Then she came to herself and said, "Oh! Saunders."

"I don't mean your last name," said the other, "I mean your first name."

"Cornelia," said the owner of it, as briefly as before.

"I should have thought it would have been Gladys," the other suggested.

Cornelia looked up in astonishment and some resentment. "Why in the world should my name be Gladys?" she demanded.

"I don't know," the other explained. "But the first moment I saw you in the office, I said to myself, 'Of course her name is Gladys.' Mine is Charmian."

"Is it?" said Cornelia, not so much with preoccupation, perhaps, as with indifference. She thought it rather a nice name, but she did not know what she had to do with it.

"Yes," the other said, as if she had somehow expected to be doubted. "My last name's Maybough." Cornelia kept on at her work without remark, and Miss Maybough pursued, as if it were a branch of autobiography, "I'm going to have lunch; aren't you?"

Cornelia sighed dreamily, as she drew back for an effect of her drawing, which she held up on the table before her, "Is it time?"

"Do you suppose they would be letting me talk so to you if it weren't? The monitor would have been down on me long ago."

Cornelia had noticed a girl who seemed to be in authority, and who sat where she could oversee and overhear all that went on.

"Is she one of the students?" she asked.

Miss Maybough nodded. "Elected every month. She's awful. You can't do anything with her when she's on duty, but she's a little dear when she isn't. You'll like her." Miss Maybough leaned toward her, and joined Cornelia in a study of her drawing. "How splendidly you're getting it. It's very chic. Oh, anybody can see that you've got genius!"

Her admiration made no visible impression upon Cornelia, and for a moment she looked a little disappointed; then she took a basket from under the table, and drew from it a bottle of some yellowish liquid, an orange and a bit of sponge cake. "Are you going to have yours here?" she asked, as Cornelia opened a paper with the modest sandwich in it which she had made at breakfast, and fetched from her boarding-house. "Oh, I'm so glad you haven't brought anything to drink with you! I felt almost sure you hadn't, and now you've got to share mine." She took a cup from her basket, and in spite of Cornelia's protest that she never drank anything but water at dinner, she poured it full of tea for her. "I'll drink out of the bottle," she said. "I like to. Some of the girls bring chocolate, but I think there's nothing like cold tea for the brain. Chocolate's so clogging; so's milk; but sometimes I bring that; it's glorious, drinking it out of the can." She tilted the bottle to her lips, and half drained it at a draught. "I always feel that I'm working with inspiration after I've had my cold tea. Of course they won't let you stay here long," she added.

"Why?" Cornelia fluttered back in alarm.

"When they see your work they'll see that you're fit for still-life, at least."

"Oh!" said Cornelia, vexed at having been scared for nothing. "I guess they won't be in any great hurry about it."

"How magnificent!" said Miss Maybough. "Of course, with that calm of yours, you can wait, as if you had eternity before you. Do you know that you are terribly calm?"

Cornelia turned and gave her a long stare. Miss Maybough broke her bit of cake in two, and offered her half, and Cornelia took it mechanically, but ate her sandwich. "I feel as if I had eternity behind me, I've been in the Preparatory so long."

On the common footing this drop to the solid ground gave, Cornelia asked her how long.

"Well, it's the beginning of my second year, now. If they don't let me go to round hands pretty soon, I shall have to see if I can't get the form by modelling. That's the best way. I suppose it's my imagination; it carries me away so, and I don't see the thing as it is before me; that's what they say. But with the clay, I'll have to, don't you know. Well, you know some of the French painters model their whole picture in clay and paint it, before they touch the canvas, any way. I shall try it here awhile longer, and then if I can't get to the round in any other way, I'll take to the clay. If sculpture concentrates you more, perhaps I may stick to it altogether. Art is one, anyhow, and the great thing is to live it. Don't you think so?"

"I don't know," said Cornelia. "I'm not certain I know what you mean."

"You will," said Miss Maybough, "after you've been here awhile, and get used to the atmosphere. I don't believe I really knew what life meant before I came to the Synthesis. When you get to realizing the standards of the Synthesis, then you begin to breathe freely for the first time. I expect to pass the rest of my days here. I shouldn't care if I stayed till I was thirty. How old are you?"

"I'm going on twenty," said Cornelia. "Why?"

"Oh, nothing. You can't begin too young; though some people think you oughtn't to come before you're eighteen. I look upon my days before I came here as simply wasted. Don't you want to go out and sit on the stairs awhile?"

"I don't believe I do," said Cornelia, taking up her drawing again, as if she were going on with it.

"Horrors!" Miss Maybough put her hand out over the sketch. "You don't mean that you're going to carry it any farther?"

"Why, it isn't finished yet," Cornelia began.

"Of course it isn't, and it never ought to be! I hope you're not going to turn out a niggler! Please don't! I couldn't bear to have you. Nobody will respect you if you finish. Don't! If you won't come out with me and get a breath of fresh air, do start a new drawing! I want them to see this in the rough. It's so bold."

Miss Maybough had left her own drawing in the rough, but it could not be called bold; though if she had seen the block hand with a faltering eye, she seemed to have had a fearless vision of many other things, and she had covered her paper with a fantastic medley of grotesque shapes, out of that imagination which she had given Cornelia to know was so fatally mischievous to her in its uninvited activities. "Don't look at them!" she pleaded, when Cornelia involuntarily glanced at her study. "My only hope is to hate them. I almost pray to be delivered from them. Let's talk of something else." She turned the sheet over. "Do you mind my having said that about your drawing?"

"No!" said Cornelia, provoked to laughter by the solemnity of the demand. "Why should I?"

"Oh, I don't know. Do you think you shall like me? I mean, do you care if I like you—very, very much?"

"I don't suppose I could stop it if I did, could I?" asked Cornelia.

The Sphinx seemed to find heart to smile. "Of course, I'm ridiculous. But I do hope we're going to be friends. Tell me about yourself. Or, have some more tea!"

William Dean Howells