Chapter XVI. The Flower-Girl.
 

Henry Bowen was a young artist of moderate talent, who had abandoned the farm, on which he had labored as a boy, for the sake of pursuing his favorite profession. He was not competent to achieve the highest success. The foremost rank in his profession was not for him. But he had good taste, a correct eye, and a skilful hand, and his productions were pleasing and popular. A few months before his introduction to the reader's notice, he had formed a connection with a publisher of prints and engravings, who had thrown considerable work in his way.

"Have you any new commission this morning?" inquired the young artist, on the day before Ida's discovery that she had been employed to pass off spurious coins.

"Yes," said the publisher, "I have thought of something which I think may prove attractive. Just at present, the public seem fond of pictures of children in different characters. I should like to have you supply me with a sketch of a flower-girl, with, say, a basket of flowers in her hand. The attitude and incidentals I will leave to your taste. The face must, of course, be as beautiful and expressive as you can make it, where regularity of features is not sufficient. Do you comprehend my idea?"

"I believe I do," said the young man, "and hope to be able to satisfy you."

The young artist went home, and at once set to work upon the task he had undertaken. He had conceived that it would be an easy one, but found himself mistaken. Whether because his fancy was not sufficiently lively, or his mind was not in tune, he was unable to produce the effect he desired. The faces which he successively outlined were all stiff, and though perhaps sufficiently regular in feature, lacked the great charm of being expressive and life-like.

"What is the matter with me?" he exclaimed, impatiently, throwing down his pencil. "Is it impossible for me to succeed? Well, I will be patient, and make one trial more."

He made another trial, that proved as unsatisfactory as those preceding.

"It is clear," he decided, "that I am not in the vein. I will go out and take a walk, and perhaps while I am in the street something will strike me."

He accordingly donned his coat and hat, and, descending, emerged into the great thoroughfare, where he was soon lost in the throng. It was only natural that, as he walked, with his task still in his thoughts, he should scrutinize carefully the faces of such young girls as he met.

"Perhaps," it occurred to him, "I may get a hint from some face I may see. That will be better than to depend upon my fancy. Nothing, after all, is equal to the masterpieces of Nature."

But the young artist was fastidious. "It is strange," he thought, "how few there are, even in the freshness of childhood, that can be called models of beauty. That child, for example, has beautiful eyes but a badly-cut mouth, Here is one that would be pretty, if the face was rounded out; and here is a child, Heaven help it! that was designed to be beautiful, but want and unfavorable circumstances have pinched and cramped it."

It was at this point in the artist's soliloquy that, in turning the corner of a street, he came upon Peg and Ida.

Henry Bowen looked earnestly at the child's face, and his own lighted up with pleasure, as one who stumbles upon success just as he has despaired of it.

"The very face I have been looking for!" he exclaimed to himself. "My flower-girl is found at last!"

He turned round, and followed Ida and her companion. Both stopped at a shop-window to examine some articles which were exhibited there. This afforded a fresh opportunity to examine Ida's face.

"It is precisely what I want," he murmured. "Now the question comes up, whether this woman, who, I suppose, is the girl's attendant, will permit me to copy her face."

The artist's inference that Peg was merely Ida's attendant, was natural, since the child was dressed in a style quite superior to her companion. Peg thought that in this way she should be more likely to escape suspicion when occupied in passing spurious coin.

The young man followed the strangely-assorted pair to the apartments which Peg occupied. From the conversation which he overheard he learned that he had been mistaken in his supposition as to the relation between the two, and that, singular as it seemed, Peg had the guardianship of the child. This made his course clearer. He mounted the stairs, and knocked at the door.

"What do you want?" said a sharp voice from within.

"I should like to see you a moment," was the reply.

Peg opened the door partially, and regarded the young man suspiciously.

"I don't know you," she said, shortly. "I never saw you before."

"I presume not," said the young man. "We have never met, I think. I am an artist."

"That is a business I don't know anything about," said Peg, abruptly. "You've come to the wrong place. I don't want to buy any pictures. I've got plenty of other ways to spend my money."

Certainly, Mrs. Hardwick, to give her the name she once claimed, did not look like a patron of the arts.

"You have a young girl, about eight or nine years old, living with you," said the artist.

"Who told you that?" queried Peg, her suspicions at once roused.

"No one told me. I saw her with you in the street."

Peg at once conceived the idea that her visitor was aware of the fact that that the child was stolen--possibly he might be acquainted with the Crumps, or might be their emissary. She therefore answered, shortly,--

"People that are seen walking together don't always live together."

"But I saw the child entering this house with you."

"What if you did?" demanded Peg, defiantly.

"I was about," said the artist, perceiving that he was misapprehended, and desiring to set matters right, "I was about to make a proposition which might prove advantageous to both of us."

"Eh!" said Peg, catching at the hint. "Tell me what it is, and perhaps we may come to terms."

"It is simply this," said Bowen, "I am, as I told you, an artist. Just now I am employed to sketch a flower-girl, and in seeking for a face such as I wished to sketch from, I was struck by that of your child."

"Of Ida?"

"Yes, if that is her name. I will pay you five dollars for the privilege of copying it."

Peg was fond of money, and the prospect of earning five dollars through Ida's instrumentality, so easily, blinded her to the possibility that this picture might prove a means of discovery to her friends.

"Well," said she, more graciously, "if that's all you want, I don't know as I have any objections. I suppose you can copy her face here as well as anywhere."

"I should prefer to have her come to my studio."

"I sha'n't let her come," said Peg, decidedly.

"Then I will consent to your terms, and come here."

"Do you want to begin now?"

"I should like to do so."

"Come in, then. Here, Ida, I want you."

"Yes, Peg."

"This young man wants to copy your face."

Ida looked surprised.

"I am an artist," said the young man, with a reassuring smile. "I will endeavor not to try your patience too much. Do you think you can stand still for half an hour, without much fatigue?"

Ida was easily won by kindness, while she had a spirit which was roused by harshness. She was prepossessed at once in favor of the young man, and readily assented.

He kept her in pleasant conversation while with a free, bold hand, he sketched the outlines of her face and figure.

"I shall want one more sitting," he said. "I will come to-morrow at this time."

"Stop a minute," said Peg. "I should like the money in advance. How do I know that you will come again?"

"Certainly, if you prefer it," said the young man, opening his pocket-book.

"What strange fortune," he thought, "can have brought these two together? Surely there can be no relationship."

The next day he returned and completed his sketch, which was at once placed in the hands of the publisher, eliciting his warm approval.