“Does it take three or four years?” asked Mrs. Hudson, imploringly.
“That depends upon the artist’s aptitude. After twenty years a real artist is still studying.”
“Oh, my poor boy!” moaned Mrs. Hudson, finding the prospect, under every light, still terrible.
“Now this study of the living model,” Mr. Striker pursued. “Inform Mrs. Hudson about that.”
“Oh dear, no!” cried Mrs. Hudson, shrinkingly.
“That too,” said Rowland, “is one of the reasons for studying in Rome. It ‘s a handsome race, you know, and you find very well-made people.”
“I suppose they ‘re no better made than a good tough Yankee,” objected Mr. Striker, transposing his interminable legs. “The same God made us.”
“Surely,” sighed Mrs. Hudson, but with a questioning glance at her visitor which showed that she had already begun to concede much weight to his opinion. Rowland hastened to express his assent to Mr. Striker’s proposition.
Miss Garland looked up, and, after a moment’s hesitation: “Are the Roman women very beautiful?” she asked.
Rowland too, in answering, hesitated; he was looking straight at the young girl. “On the whole, I prefer ours,” he said.
She had dropped her work in her lap; her hands were crossed upon it, her head thrown a little back. She had evidently expected a more impersonal answer, and she was dissatisfied. For an instant she seemed inclined to make a rejoinder, but she slowly picked up her work in silence and drew her stitches again.
Rowland had for the second time the feeling that she judged him to be a person of a disagreeably sophisticated tone. He noticed too that the kitchen towel she was hemming was terribly coarse. And yet his answer had a resonant inward echo, and he repeated to himself, “Yes, on the whole, I prefer ours.”
“Well, these models,” began Mr. Striker. “You put them into an attitude, I suppose.”
“An attitude, exactly.”
“And then you sit down and look at them.”
“You must not sit too long. You must go at your clay and try to build up something that looks like them.”
“Well, there you are with your model in an attitude on one side, yourself, in an attitude too, I suppose, on the other, and your pile of clay in the middle, building up, as you say. So you pass the morning. After that I hope you go out and take a walk, and rest from your exertions.”
“Unquestionably. But to a sculptor who loves his work there is no time lost. Everything he looks at teaches or suggests something.”
“That ‘s a tempting doctrine to young men with a taste for sitting by the hour with the page unturned, watching the flies buzz, or the frost melt on the window-pane. Our young friend, in this way, must have laid up stores of information which I never suspected!”
“Very likely,” said Rowland, with an unresentful smile, “he will prove some day the completer artist for some of those lazy reveries.”
This theory was apparently very grateful to Mrs. Hudson, who had never had the case put for her son with such ingenious hopefulness, and found herself disrelishing the singular situation of seeming to side against her own flesh and blood with a lawyer whose conversational tone betrayed the habit of cross-questioning.
“My son, then,” she ventured to ask, “my son has great—what you would call great powers?”
“To my sense, very great powers.”
Poor Mrs. Hudson actually smiled, broadly, gleefully, and glanced at Miss Garland, as if to invite her to do likewise. But the young girl’s face remained serious, like the eastern sky when the opposite sunset is too feeble to make it glow. “Do you really know?” she asked, looking at Rowland.
“One cannot know in such a matter save after proof, and proof takes time. But one can believe.”
“And you believe?”
But even then Miss Garland vouchsafed no smile. Her face became graver than ever.
“Well, well,” said Mrs. Hudson, “we must hope that it is all for the best.”
Mr. Striker eyed his old friend for a moment with a look of some displeasure; he saw that this was but a cunning feminine imitation of resignation, and that, through some untraceable process of transition, she was now taking more comfort in the opinions of this insinuating stranger than in his own tough dogmas. He rose to his feet, without pulling down his waistcoat, but with a wrinkled grin at the inconsistency of women. “Well, sir, Mr. Roderick’s powers are nothing to me,” he said, “nor no use he makes of them. Good or bad, he ‘s no son of mine. But, in a friendly way, I ‘m glad to hear so fine an account of him. I ‘m glad, madam, you ‘re so satisfied with the prospect. Affection, sir, you see, must have its guarantees!” He paused a moment, stroking his beard, with his head inclined and one eye half-closed, looking at Rowland. The look was grotesque, but it was significant, and it puzzled Rowland more than it amused him. “I suppose you ‘re a very brilliant young man,” he went on, “very enlightened, very cultivated, quite up to the mark in the fine arts and all that sort of thing. I ‘m a plain, practical old boy, content to follow an honorable profession in a free country. I did n’t go off to the Old World to learn my business; no one took me by the hand; I had to grease my wheels myself, and, such as I am, I ‘m a self-made man, every inch of me! Well, if our young friend is booked for fame and fortune, I don’t suppose his going to Rome will stop him. But, mind you, it won’t help him such a long way, either. If you have undertaken to put him through, there ‘s a thing or two you ‘d better remember. The crop we gather depends upon the seed we sow. He may be the biggest genius of the age: his potatoes won’t come up without his hoeing them. If he takes things so almighty easy as—well, as one or two young fellows of genius I ‘ve had under my eye—his produce will never gain the prize. Take the word for it of a man who has made his way inch by inch, and does n’t believe that we ‘ll wake up to find our work done because we ‘ve lain all night a-dreaming of it; anything worth doing is devilish hard to do! If your young protajay finds things easy and has a good time and says he likes the life, it ‘s a sign that—as I may say—you had better step round to the office and look at the books. That ‘s all I desire to remark. No offense intended. I hope you ‘ll have a first-rate time.”
Rowland could honestly reply that this seemed pregnant sense, and he offered Mr. Striker a friendly hand-shake as the latter withdrew. But Mr. Striker’s rather grim view of matters cast a momentary shadow on his companions, and Mrs. Hudson seemed to feel that it necessitated between them some little friendly agreement not to be overawed.
Rowland sat for some time longer, partly because he wished to please the two women and partly because he was strangely pleased himself. There was something touching in their unworldly fears and diffident hopes, something almost terrible in the way poor little Mrs. Hudson seemed to flutter and quiver with intense maternal passion. She put forth one timid conversational venture after another, and asked Rowland a number of questions about himself, his age, his family, his occupations, his tastes, his religious opinions. Rowland had an odd feeling at last that she had begun to consider him very exemplary, and that she might make, later, some perturbing discovery. He tried, therefore, to invent something that would prepare her to find him fallible. But he could think of nothing. It only seemed to him that Miss Garland secretly mistrusted him, and that he must leave her to render him the service, after he had gone, of making him the object of a little firm derogation. Mrs. Hudson talked with low-voiced eagerness about her son.
“He ‘s very lovable, sir, I assure you. When you come to know him you ‘ll find him very lovable. He ‘s a little spoiled, of course; he has always done with me as he pleased; but he ‘s a good boy, I ‘m sure he ‘s a good boy. And every one thinks him very attractive: I ‘m sure he ‘d be noticed, anywhere. Don’t you think he ‘s very handsome, sir? He features his poor father. I had another—perhaps you ‘ve been told. He was killed.” And the poor little lady bravely smiled, for fear of doing worse. “He was a very fine boy, but very different from Roderick. Roderick is a little strange; he has never been an easy boy. Sometimes I feel like the goose—was n’t it a goose, dear?” and startled by the audacity of her comparison she appealed to Miss Garland—“the goose, or the hen, who hatched a swan’s egg. I have never been able to give him what he needs. I have always thought that in more—in more brilliant circumstances he might find his place and be happy. But at the same time I was afraid of the world for him; it was so large and dangerous and dreadful. No doubt I know very little about it. I never suspected, I confess, that it contained persons of such liberality as yours.”
Rowland replied that, evidently, she had done the world but scanty justice. “No,” objected Miss Garland, after a pause, “it is like something in a fairy tale.”
“Your coming here all unknown, so rich and so polite, and carrying off my cousin in a golden cloud.”
If this was badinage Miss Garland had the best of it, for Rowland almost fell a-musing silently over the question whether there was a possibility of irony in that transparent gaze. Before he withdrew, Mrs. Hudson made him tell her again that Roderick’s powers were extraordinary. He had inspired her with a clinging, caressing faith in his wisdom. “He will really do great things,” she asked, “the very greatest?”
“I see no reason in his talent itself why he should not.”
“Well, we ‘ll think of that as we sit here alone,” she rejoined. “Mary and I will sit here and talk about it. So I give him up,” she went on, as he was going. “I ‘m sure you ‘ll be the best of friends to him, but if you should ever forget him, or grow tired of him, or lose your interest in him, and he should come to any harm or any trouble, please, sir, remember”—And she paused, with a tremulous voice.
“Remember, my dear madam?”
“That he is all I have—that he is everything—and that it would be very terrible.”
“In so far as I can help him, he shall succeed,” was all Rowland could say. He turned to Miss Garland, to bid her good night, and she rose and put out her hand. She was very straightforward, but he could see that if she was too modest to be bold, she was much too simple to be shy. “Have you no charge to lay upon me?” he asked—to ask her something.
She looked at him a moment and then, although she was not shy, she blushed. “Make him do his best,” she said.
Rowland noted the soft intensity with which the words were uttered. “Do you take a great interest in him?” he demanded.
“Then, if he will not do his best for you, he will not do it for me.” She turned away with another blush, and Rowland took his leave.
He walked homeward, thinking of many things. The great Northampton elms interarched far above in the darkness, but the moon had risen and through scattered apertures was hanging the dusky vault with silver lamps. There seemed to Rowland something intensely serious in the scene in which he had just taken part. He had laughed and talked and braved it out in self-defense; but when he reflected that he was really meddling with the simple stillness of this little New England home, and that he had ventured to disturb so much living security in the interest of a far-away, fantastic hypothesis, he paused, amazed at his temerity. It was true, as Cecilia had said, that for an unofficious man it was a singular position. There stirred in his mind an odd feeling of annoyance with Roderick for having thus peremptorily enlisted his sympathies. As he looked up and down the long vista, and saw the clear white houses glancing here and there in the broken moonshine, he could almost have believed that the happiest lot for any man was to make the most of life in some such tranquil spot as that. Here were kindness, comfort, safety, the warning voice of duty, the perfect hush of temptation. And as Rowland looked along the arch of silvered shadow and out into the lucid air of the American night, which seemed so doubly vast, somehow, and strange and nocturnal, he felt like declaring that here was beauty too—beauty sufficient for an artist not to starve upon it. As he stood, lost in the darkness, he presently heard a rapid tread on the other side of the road, accompanied by a loud, jubilant whistle, and in a moment a figure emerged into an open gap of moonshine. He had no difficulty in recognizing Hudson, who was presumably returning from a visit to Cecilia. Roderick stopped suddenly and stared up at the moon, with his face vividly illumined. He broke out into a snatch of song:—
“The splendor falls on castle walls And snowy summits old in story!”
And with a great, musical roll of his voice he went swinging off into the darkness again, as if his thoughts had lent him wings. He was dreaming of the inspiration of foreign lands,—of castled crags and historic landscapes. What a pity, after all, thought Rowland, as he went his own way, that he should n’t have a taste of it!
It had been a very just remark of Cecilia’s that Roderick would change with a change in his circumstances. Rowland had telegraphed to New York for another berth on his steamer, and from the hour the answer came Hudson’s spirits rose to incalculable heights. He was radiant with good-humor, and his kindly jollity seemed the pledge of a brilliant future. He had forgiven his old enemies and forgotten his old grievances, and seemed every way reconciled to a world in which he was going to count as an active force. He was inexhaustibly loquacious and fantastic, and as Cecilia said, he had suddenly become so good that it was only to be feared he was going to start not for Europe but for heaven. He took long walks with Rowland, who felt more and more the fascination of what he would have called his giftedness. Rowland returned several times to Mrs. Hudson’s, and found the two ladies doing their best to be happy in their companion’s happiness. Miss Garland, he thought, was succeeding better than her demeanor on his first visit had promised. He tried to have some especial talk with her, but her extreme reserve forced him to content himself with such response to his rather urgent overtures as might be extracted from a keenly attentive smile. It must be confessed, however, that if the response was vague, the satisfaction was great, and that Rowland, after his second visit, kept seeing a lurking reflection of this smile in the most unexpected places. It seemed strange that she should please him so well at so slender a cost, but please him she did, prodigiously, and his pleasure had a quality altogether new to him. It made him restless, and a trifle melancholy; he walked about absently, wondering and wishing. He wondered, among other things, why fate should have condemned him to make the acquaintance of a girl whom he would make a sacrifice to know better, just as he was leaving the country for years. It seemed to him that he was turning his back on a chance of happiness—happiness of a sort of which the slenderest germ should be cultivated. He asked himself whether, feeling as he did, if he had only himself to please, he would give up his journey and—wait. He had Roderick to please now, for whom disappointment would be cruel; but he said to himself that certainly, if there were no Roderick in the case, the ship should sail without him. He asked Hudson several questions about his cousin, but Roderick, confidential on most points, seemed to have reasons of his own for being reticent on this one. His measured answers quickened Rowland’s curiosity, for Miss Garland, with her own irritating half-suggestions, had only to be a subject of guarded allusion in others to become intolerably interesting. He learned from Roderick that she was the daughter of a country minister, a far-away cousin of his mother, settled in another part of the State; that she was one of a half-a-dozen daughters, that the family was very poor, and that she had come a couple of months before to pay his mother a long visit. “It is to be a very long one now,” he said, “for it is settled that she is to remain while I am away.”