Chapter XXIV. The Artist and His Art
 

The private view of the paintings and drawings of the Brush and Pencil Club on the evening of the fifteenth was a great success. Society sent its fairest women in frocks that were pictures in themselves. Art sent its severest critics and its most ardent devotees. The Press sent reporters that the World might know what Art and Society were doing, and how they did it.

Before the canvases signed with Bertram Henshaw's name there was always to be found an admiring group representing both Art and Society with the Press on the outskirts to report. William Henshaw, coming unobserved upon one such group, paused a moment to smile at the various more or less disconnected comments.

"What a lovely blue!"

"Marvellous color sense!"

"Now those shadows are--"

"He gets his high lights so--"

"I declare, she looks just like Blanche Payton!"

"Every line there is full of meaning."

"I suppose it's very fine, but--"

"Now, I say, Henshaw is--"

"Is this by the man that's painting Margy Winthrop's portrait?"

"It's idealism, man, idealism!"

"I'm going to have a dress just that shade of blue."

"Isn't that just too sweet!"

"Now for realism, I consider Henshaw--"

"There aren't many with his sensitive, brilliant touch."

"Oh, what a pretty picture!"

William moved on then.

Billy was rapturously proud of Bertram that evening. He was, of course, the centre of congratulations and hearty praise. At his side, Billy, with sparkling eyes, welcomed each smiling congratulation and gloried in every commendatory word she heard.

"Oh, Bertram, isn't it splendid! I'm so proud of you," she whispered softly, when a moment's lull gave her opportunity.

"They're all words, words, idle words," he laughed; but his eyes shone.

"Just as if they weren't all true!" she bridled, turning to greet William, who came up at that moment. "Isn't it fine, Uncle William?" she beamed. "And aren't we proud of him?"

"We are, indeed," smiled the man. "But if you and Bertram want to get the real opinion of this crowd, you should go and stand near one of his pictures five minutes. As a sort of crazy-- quilt criticism it can't be beat."

"I know," laughed Bertram. "I've done it, in days long gone."

"Bertram, not really?" cried Billy.

"Sure! As if every young artist at the first didn't don goggles or a false mustache and study the pictures on either side of his own till he could paint them with his eyes shut!"

"And what did you hear?" demanded the girl.

"What didn't I hear?" laughed her lover. "But I didn't do it but once or twice. I lost my head one day and began to argue the question of perspective with a couple of old codgers who were criticizing a bit of foreshortening that was my special pet. I forgot my goggles and sailed in. The game was up then, of course; and I never put them on again. But it was worth a farm to see their faces when I stood `discovered' as the stage-folk say."

"Serves you right, sir--listening like that," scolded Billy.

Bertram laughed and shrugged his shoulders.

"Well, it cured me, anyhow. I haven't done it since," he declared.

It was some time later, on the way home, that Bertram said:

"It was gratifying, of course, Billy, and I liked it. It would be absurd to say I didn't like the many pleasant words of apparently sincere appreciation I heard to-night. But I couldn't help thinking of the next time--always the next time."

"The next time?" Billy's eyes were slightly puzzled.

"That I exhibit, I mean. The Bohemian Ten hold their exhibition next month, you know. I shall show just one picture--the portrait of Miss Winthrop."

"Oh, Bertram!"

"It'll be `Oh, Bertram!' then, dear, if it isn't a success," he sighed. "I don't believe you realize yet what that thing is going to mean for me."

"Well, I should think I might," retorted Billy, a little tremulously, "after all I've heard about it. I should think everybody knew you were doing it, Bertram. Actually, I'm not sure Marie's scrub-lady won't ask me some day how Mr. Bertram's picture is coming on!"

"That's the dickens of it, in a way," sighed Bertram, with a faint smile. "I am amazed-- and a little frightened, I'll admit--at the universality of the interest. You see, the Winthrops have been pleased to spread it, for one reason or another, and of course many already know of the failures of Anderson and Fullam. That's why, if I should fail--"

"But you aren't going to fail," interposed the girl, resolutely.

"No, I know I'm not. I only said `if,' " fenced the man, his voice not quite steady.

"There isn't going to be any `if,' " settled Billy. "Now tell me, when is the exhibition?"

"March twentieth--the private view. Mr. Winthrop is not only willing, but anxious, that I show it. I wasn't sure that he'd want me to-- in an exhibition. But it seems he does. His daughter says he has every confidence in the portrait and wants everybody to see it."

"That's where he shows his good sense," declared Billy. Then, with just a touch of constraint, she asked: "And how is the new, latest pose coming on?"

"Very well, I think," answered Bertram, a little hesitatingly. "We've had so many, many interruptions, though, that it is surprising how slow it is moving. In the first place, Miss Winthrop is gone more than half the time (she goes again to-morrow for a week!), and in this portrait I'm not painting a stroke without my model before me. I mean to take no chances, you see; and Miss Winthrop is perfectly willing to give me all the sittings I wish for. Of course, if she hadn't changed the pose and costume so many times, it would have been done long ago--and she knows it."

"Of course--she knows it," murmured Billy, a little faintly, but with a peculiar intonation in her voice.

"And so you see," sighed Bertram, "what the twentieth of March is going to mean for me."

"It's going to mean a splendid triumph!" asserted Billy; and this time her voice was not faint, and it carried only a ring of loyal confidence.

"You blessed comforter!" murmured Bertram, giving with his eyes the caress that his lips would so much have preferred to give--under more propitious circumstances.