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Chapter 17

Mrs. Maybough had an apartment in the Mandan Flats, and her windows looked out over miles of the tinted foliage of the Park, and down across the avenue into one of the pretty pools which light up its woodland reaches. The position was superb, and the Mandan was in some sort worthy of it. The architect had done his best to give unity and character to its tremendous mass, and he had failed in much less measure than the architects of such buildings usually do. Cornelia dismounted into the dirty street in front of it from a shabby horse-car, and penetrated its dimmed splendors of mosaic pavement and polished granite pillars and frescoed vaults, with a heart fluttered by a hall-boy all over buttons, and a janitor in blue and silver livery, and an elevator-man in like keeping with American ideals. She was disgusted with herself that she should be so scared, and she was ashamed of the relief she felt when a servant in plain clothes opened Mrs. Maybough's door to her; she knew he must be a servant because he had on a dress-coat and a white tie, and she had heard the Burtons joke about how they were always taking the waiters for clergymen at first in Europe, He answered her with subdued respectfulness when she asked for the ladies, and then he went forward and for the first time in her life she heard her name called into a drawing-room, as she had read it was done in England, but never could imagine it. The man held aside the portière for her to pass, but before she could pass there came a kind of joyous whoop from within, a swishing of skirts toward her, and she was caught in the arms of Charmian, who kissed her again and again, and cried out over her goodness in coming.

"Why, didn't you expect me?" Cornelia asked bluntly.

"Yes, but I was just pretending you wouldn't come, or something had happened to keep you, so that I could have the good of the revulsion when you did come, and feel that it was worth all I had suffered. Don't you like to do that?"

"I don't believe I ever did it," said Cornelia.

"That's what makes you so glorious," Charmian exulted. "You don't need to do such things. You're equal to life as it comes. But I have to prepare myself for it every way I can. Don't you see?"

She led her, all embraced, into the drawing-room, where she released her to the smooth welcome of Mrs. Maybough. There was no one else in the vast, high room which was lit with long windows and darkened again with long, thick curtains, but was still light enough to let Cornelia see the elaborate richness of Mrs. Maybough's dress and the simple richness of Charmian's. She herself wore her street-dress and she did not know whether she ought to keep her hat on or not; but Charmian said she must pour tea with her, and she danced Cornelia down the splendid length of the three great salons opening into each other along the front of the apartment, toward her own room where she said she must leave it. The drawing-room was a harmony of pictures so rich and soft, and rugs so rich and soft, that the colors seemed to play from wall to floor and back again in the same mellow note; the dimness of the dining-room was starred with the glimmer of silver and cut-glass and the fainter reflected light of polished mahogany; the library was a luxury of low leather chairs and lounges, lurking window-seats, curtained in warm colors, and shelves full of even ranks of books in French bindings of blue and green leather. There was a great carved library table in front of the hearth where a soft-coal fire flickered with a point or two of flame; on the mantel a French clock of classic architecture caught the eye with the gleam of its pendulum as it vibrated inaudibly. It was all extremely well done, infinitely better done than Cornelia could have known. It was tasteful and refined, with the taste and refinement of the decorator who had wished to produce the effect of long establishment and well-bred permanency; the Mandan Flats were really not two years old, and Mrs. Maybough had taken her apartment in the spring and had been in it only a few weeks.

"Now all this is mamma," Charmian said, suffering Cornelia to pause for a backward glance at the rooms as she pushed open a door at the side of the library. "I simply endure it because it's in the bargain. But it's no more me than my gown is. This is where I stay, when I'm with mamma, but I'm going to show you where I live, where I dream." She glided down the electric-lighted corridor where they found themselves, and apologized over her shoulder to Cornelia behind her: "Of course, you can't have an attic in a flat; and anything like rain on the roof is practically impossible; but I've come as near to it as I could. Be careful! Here are the stairs." She mounted eight or ten steps that crooked upward, and flung wide a door at the top of the landing. It gave into a large room fronting northward and lighted with one wide window; the ceiling sloped and narrowed down to this from the quadrangular vault, and the cool gray walls rose not much above Cornelia's head where they met the roof. They were all stuck about with sketches in oil and charcoal. An easel with a canvas on it stood convenient to the light; a flesh-tinted lay-figure in tumbled drapery drooped limply in a corner; a table littered with palettes and brushes and battered tubes of color was carelessly pushed against the window; there were some lustrous rugs hung up beside the door; the floor was bare except for a great tiger-skin, with the head on, that sprawled in front of the fire-place. This was very simple, with rough iron fire-dogs; the low mantel was scattered with cigarettes, cigars in Chinese bronze vases at either end, and midway a medley of pipes, long-stemmed in clay and stubbed in briar-wood.

"Good gracious!" said Cornelia. "Do you smoke?"

"Not yet," Charmian answered gravely, "but I'm going to learn: Bernhardt does. These are just some pipes that I got the men at the Synthesis to give me; pipes are so full of character. And isn't this something like?" She invited Cornelia to a study of the place by turning about and looking at it herself. "It seemed as if it never would come together, at one time. Everything was in it, just as it should be; and then I found it was the ridiculous ceiling that was the trouble. It came to me like a flash, what to do, and I got this canvas painted the color of the walls, and sloped so as to cut off half the height of the room; and now it's a perfect symphony. You wouldn't have thought it wasn't a real ceiling?"

"No, I shouldn't," said Cornelia, as much surprised as Charmian could have wished.

"You can imagine what a relief it is to steal away here from all that unreality of mamma's, down there, and give yourself up to the truth of art; I just draw a long breath when I get in here, and leave the world behind me. Why, when I get off here alone, for a minute, I unlace!"

Cornelia went about looking at the sketches on the walls; they were all that mixture of bad drawing and fantastic thinking which she was used to in the things Charmian scribbled over her paper at the Synthesis. She glanced toward the easel, but Charmian said, "Don't look at it! There's nothing there; I haven't decided what I shall do yet. I did think I should paint this tiger skin, but I don't feel easy painting the skin of a tiger I haven't killed myself. If I could get mamma to take me out to India and let me shoot one! But don't you think the whole place is perfect? I've tried to make it just what a studio ought to be, and yet keep it free from pose, don't you know?"

"Yes," said Cornelia. "I've never seen a studio, before."

"You poor thing, you don't mean it!" cried Charmian in deep pity. Cornelia said nothing, and Charmian went on with an air of candor, "Well, I haven't seen a great many myself—only two or three—but I know how they are, and it's easy enough to realize one. What I want is to have the atmosphere of art about me, all the time. I'm like a fish out of water when I'm out of the atmosphere of art. I intend to spend my whole time here when I'm not at the Synthesis."

"I should think it would be a good place to work," Cornelia conceded.

"Yes, and I am going to work here," said Charmian. "The great trouble with me is that I have so many things in my mind I don't know which to begin on first. That's why the Synthesis is so good for me; it concentrates me, if it is on a block hand. You're concentrated by nature, and so you can't feel what a glorious pang it is to be fixed to one spot like a butterfly with a pin through you. I don't see how I ever lived without the Synthesis. I'm going to have a wolf-hound—as soon as I can get a good-tempered one that the man can lead out in the Park for exercise—to curl up here in front of the fire; and I'm going to have foils and masks over the chimney. As soon as I'm a member of the Synthesis I'm going to get them to let me be one of the monitors: that'll concentrate me, if anything will, keeping the rest in order, and I can get a lot of ideas from posing the model; don't you think so? But you've got all the ideas you want, already. Aren't you going to join the sketch class?"

"I don't know but I am," said Cornelia. "I haven't got quite turned round yet."

"Well, you must do it. I'm going to have the class here, some day, as soon as I get the place in perfect order. I must have a suit of Japanese armor for that corner, over there; and then two or three of those queer-looking, old, long, faded trunks, you know, with eastern stuffs gaping out of them, to set along the wall. I should be ashamed to have anybody see it now; but you have an eye, you can supply every thing with a glance. I'm going to have a bed made up in the alcove, over there, and sleep here, sometimes: just that broad lounge, you know, with some rugs on it—I've got the cushions, you see, already—and mice running over you, for the crumbs you've left when you've got hungry sitting up late. Are you afraid of mice?"

"Well, I shouldn't care to have them run over me, much," said Cornelia.

"Well, I shouldn't either," said Charmian, "but if you sleep in your studio, sometime you have to. They all do. Just put your hat in here," and she glided before Cornelia through the studio door into one that opened beside it. The room was a dim and silent bedchamber, appointed with the faultless luxury that characterized the rest of the apartment. Cornelia had never dreamt of anything like it, but "Don't look at it!" Charmian pleaded. "I hate it, and I'm going to get into the studio to sleep as soon as I've thought out the kind of hangings. Well, we shall have to hurry back now," but she kept Cornelia while she critically rearranged a ribbon on her, and studied the effect of it over her shoulder in the glass. "Yes," she said, with a deep sigh of satisfaction, "perfectly Roman! Gladys wouldn't have done for you. Cornelia was a step in the right direction; but it ought to have been Fulvia.

"'I should have clung to Fulvia's waist and thrust

The dagger through her side,'"

she chanted tragically; and she flung her arms about Cornelia for illustration. "Dream of Fair Women, you know. What part are you going to play, today?"

"What part?" Cornelia demanded, freeing herself, with her darkest frown of perplexity. "You're not going to have theatricals, I hope." She thought it was going pretty far to receive company Sunday afternoon, and if there was to be anything more she was ready to take her stand now.

Charmian gave a shout of laughter. "I wish we were. Then I could be natural. But I mean, what are you going to be: very gentle and mild and sweet and shrinking; or very philosophical and thoughtful; or very stately and cold and remote? You know you have to be something. Don't you always plan out the character you want them to think you?"

"No," said Cornelia, driven to her bluntest by the discomfort she felt at such a question, and the doubt it cast her into.

Charmian looked at her gloomily. "You strange creature!" she murmured. "But I love you," she added aloud. "I simply idolize you!"

Cornelia said, half-laughing, "Don't be ridiculous," and pulled herself out of the embrace which her devotee had thrown about her. But she could not help liking Charmian for seeming to like her so much.

William Dean Howells