Cornelia did not go to pass that week in Lent with Mrs. Westley. When she went, rather tardily, to withdraw her promise, she said that the time was now growing so short she must give every moment to the Synthesis. Mrs. Westley tacitly arranged to cancel some little plans she had made for her, and in the pity a certain harassed air of the girl's moved in her, she accepted her excuses as valid, and said, "But I am afraid you are overworking at the Synthesis, Miss Saunders. Are you feeling quite well?"
"Oh, perfectly," Cornelia answered with a false buoyancy from which she visibly fell. She looked down, and said, "I wish the work was twice as hard!"
"Ah, you have come to that very soon," said Mrs. Westley; and then they were both silent, till she added, "How are you getting on with your picture of Miss Maybough?"
"Oh, I'm not doing anything with that," said Cornelia, and she stood up to go.
"But you are going to exhibit it?" Mrs. Westley persisted.
"No, T don't know as I am. I should have to offer it first."
"It would be sure to be accepted; Mr. Ludlow thinks it would."
"Oh, yes; I know," said Cornelia, feeling herself get very red. "But I guess I won't offer it. Goodbye."
Mrs. Westley kept the impression of something much more personal than artistic in Cornelia's reference to her picture, and when she met Ludlow a few days after, she asked him if he knew that Miss Saunders was not going to offer her picture to the Exhibition.
He said simply that he did not know it.
"Don't you think she ought? I don't think she's looking very well, of late; do you?"
"I don't know; isn't she? I haven't seen her——" He began carelessly; he added anxiously. "When did you see her?"
"A few days ago. She came to say she could not take the time from the Synthesis to pay me that little visit. I'm afraid she's working too hard. Of course, she's very ambitious; but I can't understand her not wanting to show her picture, there, and trying to sell it."
Ludlow stooped forward and pulled the long ears of Mrs. Westley's fashionable dog which lay on the rug at his feet.
"Have you any idea why she's changed her mind?"
"Yes," said Ludlow. "I think it's because I helped her with it."
"Is she so independent? Or perhaps I am not quite discreet——"
"Why not? You say she didn't look well?"
He asked, as if it immediately followed, "Mrs. Westley, should you mind giving me a little advice about a matter—a very serious matter?"
"If you won't follow it."
"Do we ever?"
"How much use can a man be to a girl when he knows that he can't be of the greatest?"
"None, if he is sure."
"He is perfectly sure."
"He had better let her alone, then. He had better not try."
"I am going to try. But I thank you for your advice more than if I were going to take it."
They parted laughing; and Mrs. Westley was contented to be left with the mystery which she believed was no mystery to her.
Ludlow went home and wrote to Cornelia:
"Dear Miss Saunders: I hear you are not going to try to get your picture into the Exhibition. I will not pretend not to understand why, and you would not wish me to; so I feel free to say that you are making a mistake. You ought to offer your picture; I think it would be accepted, and you have no right to forego the chance it would give you, for the only reason you can have. I know that Mr. Wetmore would be glad to advise you about it; and I am sure you will believe that I have not asked him to do so.
Cornelia turned this letter in many lights, and tried to take it in many ways; but in the end she could only take it in the right way, and she wrote back:
"Dear Mr. Ludlow: I thank you very much for your letter, and I am going to do what you say. Yours sincerely,
"P. S. I do appreciate your kindness very much."
She added this postscript after trying many times to write a reply that would seem less blunt and dry; but she could not write anything at all between a letter that she felt was gushing and this note which certainly could not be called so; she thought the postscript did not help it much, but she let it go.
As soon as she had done so, it seemed to her that she had no reason for having done so, and she did not see how she could justify it to Charmian, whom she had told that she should not offer her picture. She would have to say that she had changed her mind simply because Mr. Ludlow had bidden her, and she tried to think how she could make that appear sufficient. But Charmian was entirely satisfied. "Oh, yes," she said, "that was the least you could do, when he asked you. You certainly owed him that much. Now," she added mystically, "he never can say a thing."
They were in Charmian's studio, where Cornelia's sketch of her had been ever since she left working on it; and Charmian ran and got it, and set it where they could both see it in the light of the new event.
It's magnificent, Cornelia. There's no other word for it. Did you know he was going to give me his?"
"Yes, he told me he was going to," said Cornelia, looking at her sketch, with a dreamy suffusion of happiness in her face.
"It's glorious, but it doesn't come within a million miles of yours. Mr. Wetmore isn't on the Committee, this year, but he knows them all, and——"
Cornelia turned upon her. "Charmian Maybough, if you breathe, if you dream a word to him about it I will never speak to you. If my picture can't get into the Exhibition without the help of friends——"
"Oh, I shan't speak to him about it," Charmian hastened to assure her. In pursuance of her promise, she only spoke to Mrs. Wetmore, and at the right time Wetmore used his influence with the committee. Then, for the reason, or the no reason that governs such matters, or because Cornelia's picture was no better than too many others that were accepted, it was refused.
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