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Chapter 14

"I don't want any more tea, thank you," said Cornelia, "and there isn't anything to tell."

"There must be!" the other girl insisted, clinging to her bottle with tragic intensity. "Any one can see that you've lived. What part of the country did you come from?"

"Ohio," said Cornelia, as the best way to be done with it.

"And have you ever been in Santa Fé?"

"Goodness, no! Why, it's in New Mexico!"

"Yes; I was born there. Then my father went to Colorado. He isn't living, now. Are your father and mother living?"

"My mother is," said Cornelia; the words brought up a vision of her mother, as she must be sitting that moment in the little front-room, and a mist came suddenly before her eyes; she shut her lips hard to keep them from trembling.

"I see, you worship her," said Miss Maybough fervidly, keeping her gaze fixed upon Cornelia. "You are homesick!"

"I'm not homesick!" said Cornelia, angry that she should be so and that she should be denying it.

"Mine," said the other, "died while I was a baby. She had Indian blood," she added in the same way in which she had said her name was Charmian.

"Did she?" Cornelia asked.

"That is the legend," said Miss Maybough solemnly. "Her grandmother was a Zuñi princess." She turned her profile. "See?"

"It does look a little Indian," said Cornelia.

"Some people think it's Egyptian," Miss Maybough suggested, as if she had been leading up to the notion, and were anxious not to have it ignored.

Cornelia examined the profile steadily presented, more carefully: "It's a good deal more Egyptian."

Miss Maybough relieved her profile from duty, and continued, "We've been everywhere. Paris two years. That's where I took up art in dead earnest; Julian, you know. Mamma didn't want me to; she wanted me to go into society there; and she does here; but I hate it. Don't you think society is very frivolous, or, any way, very stupid?"

"I don't know much about it. I never went out, much," said Cornelia.

"Well, I hope you're not conventional! Nobody's conventional here."

"I don't believe I'm conventional enough to hurt," said Cornelia.

"You have humor, too," said Miss Maybough, thoughtfully, as if she had been mentally cataloguing her characteristics. "You'll be popular."

Cornelia stared at her and turned to her drawing.

"But you're proud," said the other, "I can see that. I adore pride. It must have been your pride that fascinated me at the first glance. Do you mind my being fascinated with you?"

Cornelia wanted to laugh; at the same time she wondered what new kind of crazy person she had got with; this was hardly one of the art-students that went wild from overwork. Miss Maybough kept on without waiting to be answered: "I haven't got a bit of pride, myself. I could just let you walk over me. How does it feel to be proud? What are you proud for?"

Cornelia quieted a first impulse to resent this pursuit. "I don't think I'm very proud. I used to be proud when I was little;—I guess you ought to have asked me then."

"Oh, yes! Tell me about yourself!" Miss Maybough implored again, but she went on as before without giving Cornelia any chance to reply. "Of course, when I say mamma, I mean my step-mother. She's very good to me, but she doesn't understand me. You'll like her. I'll tell you what sort of a person she is." She did so at such length that the lunch hour passed before she finished, and a hush fell upon all the babbling voices about, as the monitor came back to her place.

Toward the end of the afternoon the monitor's vigilance relaxed again, and Miss Maybough began to talk again. "If you want to be anything by the Synthesis standards," she said, "you've got to keep this up a whole year, you know." It was now four o'clock, and Cornelia had been working steadily since eleven, except for the half-hour at lunch-time. "They'll see how well you draw; you needn't be afraid of their not doing that; and they'll let you go on to the round at once, perhaps. But if you're truly Synthetic in spirit, you won't want to. You'll want to get all you can out of the block; and it'll take you a year to do that; then another year for the full length, you know. At first we only had the block here, and a good many people think now that the full length Preparatory encroaches on the Antique. Sometimes they even let you put in backgrounds here, but it don't matter much: when the instructor in the Antique gets hold of you he makes you unlearn everything you've learnt in the full-length. He's grand."

A girl who was working at the other end of the table said with a careless air, "They told me I might go up to the Antique to-day."

"Lida!" Miss Maybough protested, in a voice hoarse with admiration.

"Yes; but I'm not going."

"Why not? I should think you would be so proud. How did they come to tell you?"

"Oh, they just said I might. But I'm not going. They're so severe in the Antique. They just discourage you."

"Yes, that is so," said Miss Maybough, with a sigh of solemn joy. "They make you feel as if you couldn't draw at all."

"Yes," said the other girl. "They act as if you didn't know a thing."

"I wouldn't go," said Miss Maybough.

"I don't know. Perhaps I may." The girl went on drawing, and Miss Maybough turned to Cornelia again.

"Towards the end of your third year—or perhaps you don't like to have your future all mapped out. Does it scare you?"

"I guess if it does I shall live through it," said Cornelia steadily; her heart was beginning to quake somewhat, but she was all the more determined not to show it.

"Well, the third year you may get to painting still-life, while you keep up your drawing afternoons here. The next year you'll go into the antique class, if they'll let you, and draw heads, and keep up your still-life mornings. When they think you're fit for it, they'll let you do an arm, maybe, and work along that way to the full figure; and that takes another whole winter. Then you go into the life class, one of them, all the morning, and keep drawing from the antique in the afternoons, or else do heads from the model. You do a head every day, and then paint it out, and begin another the next day. You learn to sacrifice self to art. It's grand! Well, then, the next winter you keep on just the same, and as many winters after that as you please. You know what one instructor said to a girl that asked him what she should do after she had been five years in the Synthesis?"

"No, I don't," answered Cornelia anxiously.

"Stay five years more!"

Miss Maybough did not give this time to sink very deep into Cornelia's spirit. "Will you let me call you by your first name?"

"Why, I've hardly ever been called by any other," said Cornelia simply.

"And will you call me Charmian?"

"I had just as lief." Cornelia laughed; she could not help it; that girl seemed so odd; she did not know whether she liked her or not.

"What poise you have got!" sighed Charmian. "May I come to see you? Not a ceremonious call. In your own room; where we can talk."

Cornelia thought that if they went on as they had that day, they should probably talk quite enough at the Synthesis; but she said, "Why, yes, I should like to have you, if you won't care for my sitting on the trunk. There's only one chair."

"Let me have the trunk! Promise me you'll let me sit on the trunk. It's divine! Is it in a Salvation Hotel?"

"What do you mean?" asked Cornelia.

"Why, that's what they call the places that the Young Women's Christian Association keep."

"No, it isn't. It's just a boarding-house." Cornelia wrote her address on a piece of paper, and Charmian received it with solemn rapture. She caught Cornelia in a sudden embrace and kissed her, before Cornelia could help herself. "Oh, I adore you!" she cried.

They parted at the head of the stairs, where they found themselves among groups of students arriving from all parts of the place, and pausing for Synthesis gossip, which Cornelia could not have entered into yet if she had wished. She escaped, and walked home to her boarding-house with rather a languid pace, and climbed to her little room on the fifth story, and lay down on her bed. It was harder work than teaching, and her back ached, and her heart was heavy with the thought of five years in the Synthesis, when she barely had money enough for one winter. She was not afraid of the work; she liked that; she would be glad to spend her whole life at it; but she could not give five years to it, and perhaps ten. She was ashamed now to think she had once dreamed of somehow slipping through in a year, and getting the good of it without working for it. She tried to plan how she could go home and teach a year, and then come back and study a year, and so on; but by the end of the twenty years that it would take for ten years' study at this rate, she would be an old woman of forty, ready to drop into the grave. She was determined not to give up, and if she did not give up, there was no other end to it; or so it seemed at the close of her first day in the Synthesis.

She was very homesick, and she would have liked to give up altogether and go home. But she thought of what people would say; of how her mother, who would be so glad to see her, would feel. She would not be a baby, and she turned her face over in the pillow and sobbed.

William Dean Howells