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Chapter 4

Ludlow descended from the high horse which he saw it was really useless for him to ride in that simple presence. "I didn't mean that I was a student of art in that sense, exactly. I suppose I'm a painter of some sort. I studied in Paris, and I'm working in New York—if that's what you mean."

"Yes," said the lady, as if she did not know quite what she meant.

Ludlow still remained in possession of the sketches, and he now looked at them with a new knot between his eyebrows. He had known at the first glance, with the perception of one who has done things in any art, that here was the possibility of things in his art, and he had spoken from a generous and compassionate impulse, from his recognition of the possibility, and from his sympathy with the girl in her defeat. Now his conscience began to prick him. He asked himself whether he had any right to encourage her, whether he ought not rather to warn her. He asked her mother: "Has she been doing this sort of thing long?"

"Ever since she was a little bit of a thing," said the mother. "You might say she's been doing it ever since she could do anything; and she ain't but about fifteen, now. Well, she's going on sixteen," the mother added, scrupulously. "She was born the third of July, and now it's the beginning of September. So she's just fifteen years and a little over two months. I suppose she's too young to commence taking lessons regularly?"

"No one would be too young for that," said Ludlow, austerely, with his eyes on the sketch. He lifted them, and bent them frankly and kindly on the mother's face. "And were you thinking of her going on?" The mother questioned him for his exact meaning with the sweet unwisdom of her smile. "Did you think of her becoming an artist, a painter?"

"Well," she returned, "I presume she would have as good a chance as anybody, if she had the talent for it."

"She has the talent for it," said Ludlow, "and she would have a better chance than most—that's very little to say—but it's a terribly rough road."

"Yes," the mother faltered, smiling.

"Yes. It's a hard road for a man, and it's doubly hard for a woman. It means work that breaks the back and wrings the brain. It means for a woman, tears, and hysterics, and nervous prostration, and insanity—some of them go wild over it. The conditions are bad air, and long hours, and pitiless criticism; and the rewards are slight and uncertain. One out of a hundred comes to anything at all; one out of a thousand to anything worth while. New York is swarming with girl art-students. They mostly live in poor boarding-houses, and some of them actually suffer from hunger and cold. For men the profession is hazardous, arduous; for women it's a slow anguish of endeavor and disappointment. Most shop-girls earn more than most fairly successful art-students for years; most servant-girls fare better. If you are rich, and your daughter wishes to amuse herself by studying art, it's all very well; but even then I wouldn't recommend it as an amusement. If you're poor——"

"I presume," the mother interrupted, "that she would be self-supporting by the time she had taken six months' lessons, and I guess she could get along till then."

Ludlow stared at the amiably smiling creature. From her unruffled composure his warning had apparently fallen like water from the back of a goose. He saw that it would be idle to go on, and he stopped short and waited for her to speak again.

"If she was to go to New York to take lessons, how do you think she'd better——" She seemed not to know enough of the situation to formulate her question farther. He had pity on her ignorance, though he doubted whether he ought to have.

"Oh, go into the Synthesis," he said briefly.

"The Synthesis?"

"Yes; the Synthesis of Art Studies; it's the only thing. The work is hard, but it's thorough; the training's excellent, if you live through it."

"Oh, I guess she'd live through it," said the mother with a laugh. She added, "I don't know as I know just what you mean by the Synthesis of Art Studies."

"It's a society that the art-students have formed. They have their own building, and casts, and models; the principal artists have classes among them. You submit a sketch, and if you get in you work away till you drop, if you're in earnest, or till you're bored, if you're amusing yourself."

"And should you think," said the mother gesturing toward him with the sketches in her hand, "that she could get in?"

"I think she could," said Ludlow, and he acted upon a sudden impulse. He took a card from his pocketbook, and gave it to the mother. "If you'll look me up when you come to New York, or let me know, I may be of use to you, and I shall be very glad to put you in the way of getting at the Synthesis."

"Thanks," the mother drawled with her eyes on the card. She probably had no clear sense of the favor done her. She lifted her eyes and smiled on Ludlow with another kind of intelligence. "You're visiting at Mrs. Burton's."

"Yes," said Ludlow, remembering after a moment of surprise how pervasive the fact of a stranger's presence in a village is. "Mr. Burton can tell you who I am," he added in some impatience with her renewed scrutiny of his card.

"Oh, it's all right," she said, and she put it in her pocket, and then she began to drift away a little. "Well, I'm sure I'm much obliged to you." She hesitated a moment, and then she said, "Well, good afternoon."

"Good-by," said Ludlow, and he lifted his hat and stood bowing her out of the Fine Arts Department, while she kept her eyes on him to the last with admiration and approval.

"Well, I declare, Cornelia," she burst out to her daughter, whom she found glowering at the agricultural implements, "that is about the nicest fellow! Do you know what he's done?" She stopped and began a search for her pocket, which ended successfully. "He's given me his name, and told me just what you're to do. And when you get to New York, if you ever do, you can go right straight to him."

She handed Ludlow's card to the girl, who instantly tore it to pieces without looking at it. "I'll never go to him—horrid, mean, cross old thing! And you go and talk about me to a perfect stranger as if I were a baby. And now he'll go and laugh at you with the Burtons, and they'll say it's just like you to say everything that comes into your head, that way, and think everybody's as nice as they seem. But he isn't nice! He's horrid, and conceited, and—and—hateful. And I shall never study art anywhere. And I'd die before I asked him to help me. He was just making fun of you all the time, and anybody but you would see it, mother! Comparing me to a hired girl!"

"No, I don't think he did that, Cornelia," said the mother with some misgiving. "I presume he may have been a little touched up by your pictures, and wanted to put me down about them——"

"Oh, mother, mother, mother!" The girl broke into tears over the agricultural implements. "They were the dust under his feet."

"Why, Cornelia, how you talk!"

"I wish you wouldn't talk, mother! I've asked you a thousand times, if I've asked you once, not to talk about me with anybody, and here you go and tell everything that you can think of to a person that you never saw before."

"What did I tell him about you?" asked her mother, with the uncertainty of ladies who say a great deal.

"You told him how old I was almost to a day!"

"Oh, well, that wasn't anything! I saw he'd got to know if he was to give any opinion about your going on that was worth having."

"It'll be all over town, to-morrow. Well, never mind! It's the last time you'll ever have a chance to do it. I'll never, never, never touch a pencil to draw with again! Never! You've done it now, mother! I don't care! I'll help you with your work, all you want, but don't ever ask me to draw a single thing after this. I guess he wouldn't have much to say about the style of a bonnet, or set of a dress, if it was wrong!"

The girl swept out of the building with tragedy-queen strides that refused to adjust themselves to the lazy, lounging pace of her mother, and carried her homeward so swiftly that she had time to bang the front gate and the front door, and her own room door and lock it, and be crying on the bed with her face in the pillow, long before her mother reached the house. The mother wore a face of unruffled serenity, and as there was no one near to see, she relaxed her vigilance, and smiled with luxurious indifference to the teeth she had lost.

William Dean Howells