Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 19

The part that Charmian had chosen to represent must have been that of an Egyptian slave. She served her mother's guests with the tea that Cornelia poured, in attitudes of the eldest sculptures and mural paintings, and received their thanks and compliments with the passive impersonality of one whose hope in life had been taken away some time in the reign of Thotmes II. She did not at once relent from her self-sacrificial conception of herself, even under the flatteries of the nice little fellow who had decorated the apartment for Mrs. Maybough, and had come to drink a cup of tea in the environment of his own taste. Perhaps this was because he had been one of the first to note the peculiar type of Charmian's style and beauty, and she wished to keep him in mind of it. He did duty as youth and gayety beside the young ladies at their tea-urn, and when he learned that Cornelia was studying at the Synthesis, he professed a vivid interest and a great pleasure.

"I want Huntley to paint Miss Maybough," he said. "Don't you think he would do it tremendously well, Miss Saunders?"

"Miss Saunders is going to paint me," said Charmian, mystically.

"As soon as I get to the round," said Cornelia to Charmian; she was rather afraid to speak to the decorator. "I suppose you wouldn't want to be painted with block hands."

The decorator laughed, and Charmian asked, "Isn't she nice not to say anything about a block head? Very few Synthesis girls could have helped it; it's one of the oldest Synthesis jokes."

The young man smiled sympathetically, and said he was sure they would not keep Miss Saunders long at the block. "There's a friend of mine I should like to bring here, some day."

"Mamma would be glad to see him," said Charmian. "Who is it?"

Somebody began to sing: a full-bodiced lady, in a bonnet, and with an over-arching bust distended with chest-notes, which swelled and sank tumultuously to her music; her little tightly-gloved hands seemed of an earlier period. Cornelia lost the name which Mr. Plaisdell gave, in the first outburst, and caught nothing more of the talk which Charmian dropped, and then caught up again when the hand-clapping began.

Some of the people went, and others came, with brief devoirs to Mrs. Maybough in the crepuscular corner where she sat. The tea circulated more and more; the babble rose and fell; it was all very curious to Cornelia, who had never seen anything like it before, and quite lost the sense of the day being Sunday. The stout lady's song had been serious, if not precisely devotional in character; but Cornelia could not have profited by the fact, for she did not know German. Mr. Plaisdell kept up his talk with Charmian, and she caught some words now and then that showed he was still speaking of his friend, or had recurred to him. "I'm rather dangerous when I get started on him. He's working out of his mannerisms into himself. He's a great fellow. I'm going to ask Mrs. Maybough." But he did not go at once. He drew nearer Cornelia, and tried to include her in the talk, but she was ashamed to find that she was difficult to get on common ground. She would not keep on talking Synthesis, as if that were the only thing she knew, but in fact she did not know much else in New York, even about art.

"Ah!" he broke off to Charmian, with a lift of his head. "That's too bad! There he comes now, with Wetmore!"

Cornelia looked toward Mrs. Maybough with him. One gentleman was presenting another to Mrs. Maybough. They got through with her as quickly as most people did, and then they made their way toward Cornelia's table. She had just time to govern her head and hand into stony rigidity, when Wetmore came up with Ludlow, whom he introduced to Charmian. She was going to extend the acquaintance to Cornelia, but had no chance before Ludlow took Cornelia's petrified fingers and bowed over them. The men suppressed their surprise, if they had any, at this meeting as of old friends, but Charmian felt no obligation to silence.

"Where in the world have you met before? Why, Cornelia Saunders, why didn't you say you knew Mr. Ludlow?"

"I'm afraid I didn't give her time," Ludlow answered.

"Yes, but we were just speaking of you—Mr. Plaisdell was!" said Charmian, with the injury still in her voice.

"I didn't hear you speak of him," Cornelia said, with a vague flutter of her hands toward the teacups.

The action seemed to justify Wetmore to himself in saying, "Yes, thank you, I will have some tea, Miss Saunders, and then I'll get some one to introduce me to you. You haven't seen me before, and I can't stand these airs of Ludlow's." He made them laugh, and Charmian introduced them, and Cornelia gave him his tea; then Charmian returned to her grievance and complained to Cornelia: "I thought you didn't know anybody in New York."

"Well, it seems you were not far wrong," Wetmore interposed. "I don't call Ludlow much of anybody."

"You don't often come down to anything as crude as that, Wetmore," Ludlow said.

"Not if I can help it. But I was driven to it, this time; the provocation was great."

"I had the pleasure of meeting Miss Saunders at home, several years ago," Ludlow said in obedience to Charmian. "We had some very delightful friends in common, there—old friends of mine—at Pymantoning."

"What a pretty name," said Mr. Plaisdell. "What a pity that none of our great cities happen to have those musical Indian names."

"Chicago," Wetmore suggested.

"Yes, Chicago is big, and the name is Indian; but is it pretty?"

"You can't have everything. I don't suppose it is very decorative."

"Pymantoning is as pretty as its name," said Ludlow. "It has the loveliness of a level, to begin with; we're so besotted with mountains in the East that we don't know how lovely a level is."

"The sea," Wetmore suggested again.

"Well, yes, that's occasionally level," Ludlow admitted. "But it hasn't got white houses with green blinds behind black ranks of maples in the moonlight."

"If 'good taste' could have had its way, the white house with green blinds would have been a thing of the past." said the decorator. "And they were a genuine instinct, an inspiration, with our people. The white paint is always beautiful,—as marble is. People tried to replace it with mud-color—the color of the ground the house was built on! I congratulate Miss Saunders on the conservatism of Py—?"

"Pymantoning," said Cornelia, eager to contribute something to the talk, and then vexed to have it made much of by Mr. Plaisdell.

Wetmore was looking away. He floated lightly off, with the buoyancy which is sometimes the property of people of his bulk, and Ludlow remained talking with Charmian. Then, with what was like the insensible transition of dreams to her, he was talking with Cornelia. He said he had been meaning to come and see her all the week past, but he had been out of town, and very busy, and he supposed she was occupied with looking about and getting settled. He did not make out a very clear case, she chose to think, and she was not sure but he was treating her still as a child, and she tried to think how she could make him realize that she was not. He seemed quite surprised to hear that she had been at work in the Synthesis ever since Tuesday. He complimented her energy, and asked, not how she was getting on there, but how she liked it; she answered stiffly, and she knew that he was ignoring her blunt behavior as something she could not help, and that vexed her the more; she wished to resist his friendliness because she did not deserve it. She kept seeing how handsome he was, with his brilliant brown beard, and his hazel eyes. There were points of sunny light in his eyes, when he smiled, and then his teeth shone very white. He did not smile very much; she liked his being serious and not making speeches; she wished she could do something to make him think her less of an auk, but when she tried, it was only worse. He did not say anything to let her think he had changed his mind as to the wisdom of her coming to study art in New York; and she liked that; she should have hated him if he had.

"Have you got that little Manet, yet?" Mr. Plaisdell broke in upon them. "I was telling Miss Maybough about it."

"Yes," said Ludlow. "It's at my place. Why won't Miss Maybough and Miss Saunders come and see it? You'll come, won't you, Miss Maybough?"

"If mamma will let me," said Charmian, meekly.

"Of course! Suppose we go ask her?"

The friends of Mrs. Maybough had now reduced themselves to Wetmore, who sat beside her, looking over at the little tea-table group. Ludlow led the rest toward her.

"What an imprudence," he called out, "when I'd just been booming you! Now you come up in person to spoil everything."

Ludlow presented his petition, and Mrs. Maybough received it with her provisional anxiety till he named the day for the visit. She said she had an engagement for Saturday afternoon, and Ludlow ventured, "Then perhaps you'd let the young ladies come with a friend of mine: Mrs. Westley. She'll be glad to call for them, I'm sure."

"Mrs. General Westley?"

"Yes."

"We met them in Rome," said Mrs. Maybough. "I shall be very happy, indeed, for my daughter. But you know Miss Saunders—is not staying with us?"

"Miss Saunders will be very happy for herself," said Charmian.

The men took their leave, and Charmian seized the first moment to breathe in Cornelia's ear: "Oh, what luck! I didn't suppose he would do it, when I got Mr. Plaisdell to hint about that Manet. And it's all for you. Now come into my room and tell me everything about it. You have got to stay for dinner."

"No, no; I can't," Cornelia gasped. "And I'm not going to his studio. He asked me because he had to."

"I should think he did have to. He talked to you as if there was no one else here. How did you meet him before? When did you?" She could not wait for Cornelia to say, but broke out with fresh astonishment. "Why, Walter Ludlow! Do you know who Walter Ludlow is? He's one of the greatest painters in New York. He's the greatest!"

"Who is Mr. Wetmore?" Cornelia asked evasively.

"Don't name him in the same century! He's grand, too! Does those little Meissonier things. He's going to paint mamma. She's one of his types. He must have brought Mr. Ludlow to see me. But he didn't. He saw nobody but you! Oh Cornelia!" She caught Cornelia in her arms.

"Don't be a goose!" said Cornelia, struggling to get away.

"Will you tell me all about it, then?"

"Yes. But it isn't anything."

At the end of the story Charmian sighed, "How romantic! Of course, he's simply in a frenzy till he sees you again. I don't believe he can live through the week."

"He'll have to live through several," said Cornelia; "You can excuse me when you go. He's very conceited, and he talks to you as if he were a thousand years old. I think Mr. Plaisdell is a great deal nicer. He doesn't treat you as if you were—I don't know what!"

William Dean Howells