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Chapter 21

Cornelia thought Mrs. Westley would come for Charmian and herself in her carriage; but when they went down to her in the Synthesis office, they found that she had planned to walk with them to Ludlow's studio. She said it was not a great way off; and she had got into the habit of walking there, when he was painting her; she supposed they would rather walk after their work. Cornelia said "Oh, yes," and Charmian asked, at her perfervidest, Had Mr. Ludlow painted her? and Mrs. Westley answered calmly. Yes; she believed he did not think it very successful; her husband liked it, though. Charmian said, Oh, how much she should like to see it, and Mrs. Westley said she must show it her some time. Cornelia thought Mrs. Westley very pretty, but she decided that she did not care to see Ludlow's picture of her.

His studio stood a little back from the sidewalk; it was approached by a broad sloping pavement, and had two wide valves for the doorway. He opened the door himself, at their ring, and they found themselves in a large, gray room which went to the roof, with its vaulted ceiling; this was pierced with a vast window, that descended half-way down the northward wall. "My studio started in life as a gentleman's stable; then it fell into the hands of a sculptor, and then it got as low as a painter." He said to Charmian, "Mr. Plaisdell has told me how ingeniously you treated one of your rooms that you took for a studio."

Charmian answered with dark humility, "But a studio without a painter in it!" and there were some offers and refusals of compliment between them, which ended in his saying that he would like to see her studio, and her saying that Mrs. Maybough would always be glad to see him. Then he talked with Mrs. Westley, who was very pleasant to Cornelia while the banter with Charmian went on, and proposed to show his pictures; he fancied that was what he had got them there, for; but he would make a decent pretence of the Manet, first.

The Manet was one of that painter's most excessive; it was almost insolent in its defiance of the old theory and method of art. "He had to go too far, in those days, or he wouldn't have arrived anywhere," Ludlow said, dreamily, as he stood looking with them at the picture. "He fell back to the point he had really meant to reach." He put the picture away amidst the sighs and murmurs of Mrs. Westley and Charmian, and the silence of Cornelia, which he did not try to break. He began to show his own pictures, taking them at random, as it seemed, from the ranks of canvasses faced against the wall. "You know we impressionists are nothing if not prolific," he said, and he kept turning the frame on his easel, now for a long picture, and now for a tall one. The praises of the others followed him, but Cornelia could not speak. Some of the pictures she did not like; some she thought were preposterous; but there were some that she found brilliantly successful, and a few that charmed her with their delicate and tender poetry. He said something about most of them, in apology or extenuation; Cornelia believed that she knew which he liked by his not saying anything of them.

Suddenly he set a large picture on the easel that quite filled the frame. "Trotting Match at the Pymantoning County Fair," he announced, and he turned away and began to make tea in a little battered copper kettle over a spirit-lamp, on a table strewn with color-tubes in the corner.

"Ah, yes," said Mrs. Westley. "I remember this at the American Artists; three or four years ago, wasn't it? But you've done something to it, haven't you?"

"Improved with age," said Ludlow, with his back toward them, bent above his tea-kettle. "That's all."

"It seems like painting a weed, though," said Charmian. "How can you care for such subjects?"

Ludlow came up to her with the first cup of tea. "It's no use to paint lilies, you know."

"Do you call that an answer?"

"A poor one."

He brought Mrs. Westley some tea, and then he came to Cornelia with a cup in each hand, one for her, and one for himself, and frankly put himself between her and the others. "Well, what do you think of it?" he asked, as if there were no one else but they two.

She felt a warm flush of pleasure in his boldness. "I don't know. It's like it; that's the way I've always seen it; and it's beautiful. But somehow——"

"What?"

"It looks as if it were somewhere else."

"You've hit it," said Ludlow. "It serves me right. You see I was so anxious to prove that an American subject was just as susceptible of impressionistic treatment as a French one, that I made this look as French as I could. I must do it again and more modestly; not be so patronizing. I should like to come out there next fall again, and see another trotting-match. I suppose they'll have one?"

"They always have them; it wouldn't be the Fair without them," said Cornelia.

"Well, I must come, and somehow do it on the spot; that's the only way." He pulled himself more directly in front of her and ignored the others, who talked about his picture with faded interest to each other, and then went about, and looked at the objects in the studio. "I don't think I made myself quite clear the other day, about what I wanted to do in this way." He plunged into the affair again, and if Cornelia did not understand it better, it was not for want of explanation. Perhaps she did not listen very closely. All the time she thought how brilliantly handsome he was, and how fine, by every worldly criterion. "Yes," he said, "that is something I have been thinking of ever since my picture failed with the public; it deserved to fail, and you've made it so clear why, that I can't refuse to know, or to keep myself in the dark about it any longer. I don't believe we can take much from the common stock of life in any way, and find the thing at all real in our hands, without intending to give something back. Do you?"

Cornelia had never thought about it before; she did not try to pretend that she had; it seemed a little fantastic to her, but it flattered her to have him talk to her about it, and she liked his seriousness. He did not keep up the kind of banter with her that he did with Charmian; he did not pay her compliments, and she hated compliments from men.

Ludlow went off to speak to Mrs. Westley of something he saw her looking at; Charmian edged nearer to Cornelia. "I would give the world to be in your place. I never saw anything like it. Keep on looking just as you are! It's magnificent. Such color, and that queenly pose of the head! It would kill those Synthesis girls if they knew how he had been talking to you. My, if I could get anybody to be serious with me! Talk! Say something! Do you think its going to rain before we get home? His eyes keep turning this way, all the time; you can't see them, but they do. I am glad I brought my umbrella. Have you got your waterproof? I'm going to make you tell me every word he said when he came to see you yesterday; it'll be mean if you don't. No, I think I shall go up by the elevated, and then take the surface-car across. It's the most romantic thing I ever heard of. No, I don't believe it will be dark. Speak! Say something! You mustn't let me do all the talking; he'll notice."

Cornelia began to laugh, and Charmian turned away and joined Mrs. Westley and Ludlow, who were tilting outward some of the canvasses faced against the wall, and talking them over. Cornelia followed her, and they all four loitered over the paintings, luxuriously giving a glance at each, and saying a word or two about it. "Yes," Ludlow said, "sometimes I used to do three or four of them a day. I work more slowly now; if you want to get any thinking in, you've got to take time to it."

It was growing dark; Ludlow proposed to see them all home one after another. Mrs. Westley said no, indeed; the Broadway car, at the end of the second block, would leave her within three minutes of her door.

"And nothing could happen in three minutes," said Ludlow. "That stands to reason."

"And my one luxury is going home alone," said Charmian. "Mamma doesn't allow it, except to and from the Synthesis. Then I'm an art student and perfectly safe. If I were a young lady my life wouldn't be worth anything."

"Yes," Ludlow assented, "the great thing is to have some sort of business to be where you are."

"I know a girl who's in some of the charities, and she goes about at all hours of the night, and nobody speaks to her," said Charmian.

"Well, then," said Ludlow, "I don't see that there's anything for me to do, unless we all go together with Mrs. Wesley to get her Broadway car, and then keep on to the Elevated with you, Miss Maybough. Miss Saunders may be frightened enough then to let me walk to her door with her. A man likes to be of some little use in the world."

They had some mild fun about the weakness of Cornelia in needing an escort. She found it best to own that she did not quite know her way home, and was afraid to ask if she got puzzled.

Ludlow put out his spirit-lamp, which had been burning blue all the time, and embittering the tea in the kettle over it, and then they carried out their plan. Cornelia went before with Mrs. Westley, who asked her to come to her on her day, whenever she could leave her work for such a reckless dissipation. At the foot of the Elevated station stairs, where Charmian inflexibly required that they should part with her, in the interest of the personal liberty which she prized above personal safety, she embraced Cornelia formally, and then added an embrace of a more specific character, and whispered to her ear, "You're glorious!" and fled up the station stairs.

Cornelia understood that she was glorious because Mr. Ludlow was walking home with her, and that Charmian was giving the fact a significance out of all reason. They talked rather soberly, as two people do when a gayer third has left them, and they had little silences. They spoke of Charmian, and Cornelia praised her beauty and her heart, and said how everybody liked her at the Synthesis.

"Do they laugh at her a little, too?" Ludlow asked.

"Why?"

"She's rather romantic."

"Oh, I thought all girls were romantic."

"Yes? You're not."

"What makes you think so?" asked the girl. "I'm a great deal more romantic than is good for me. Don't you like romantic people? I do!"

"I don't believe I do," said Ludlow. "They're rather apt to make trouble. I don't mean Miss Maybough. She'll probably take it out in madly impossible art. Can she draw?"

Cornelia did not like to say what she thought of Charmian's drawing, exactly. She said, "Well, I don't know."

Ludlow hastened to say, "I oughtn't to have asked that about your friend."

"We're both in the Preparatory, you know," Cornelia explained. "I think Charmian has a great deal of imagination."

"Well, that's a good thing, if it doesn't go too far. Fortunately it can't, in the Preparatory."

At her door Cornelia did not know whether to ask him in, as she would have done in Pymantoning; she ended by not even offering him her hand; but he took it all the same, as if he had expected her to offer it.

William Dean Howells