Chapter XIV
 

During those active weeks which followed the decision of the family to surrender their old home to business and to contrive another one in a new neighborhood towards the south, Jane had taken her full share in all the debates and consultations. Hers, indeed, was the personality which impressed itself most strongly upon the young architect whom Bingham brought forward to evolve the plans, elevations, and specifications upon which he himself was to work. In matters architectural Jane was a purist of the purists, a theorist of the theorists; she fought this young man steadily on points of style, and never abandoned her ground until the exigencies of practicalities, reinforced by the prejudices of her mother and the unillumined indifference of her father, proved too strong to be withstood. "Well," she would say, "if we have got to sacrifice Art to steam-heat and speaking-tubes...." The young man was both amazed and exasperated by her spirit and her pertinacity; he could only be kept in trim and in temper by Bingham's frequent assurances that she was a very clever girl--and a very well-meaning one, after all.

Jane saw the plans composed, discomposed, recomposed, and, finally, accepted as a working basis; then, in the interval between this and the actual commencement of construction, she turned back a diverted attention to her lunch-club.

This institution, at the start, had required her attendance and ministrations but once a week. At present she was on hand twice a week, and in the near future she was to be there still more frequently. Every kind of co-operative endeavor, whether it involves the politics of a ward, the finances of a bank, or the refreshment-table of a church social, falls in the end on the shoulders of two or three people, and Jane's undertaking was no exception. And as it became more a matter of personal endeavor, it became, at the same time, more a matter of personal pride. She frequently asked people to call and inspect it, and she was coming more and more to feel that if the line of natural evolution were followed out, then her own lunch-room for girls would be developed into a home for working-girls by her father.

"There, poppy," she said to him one evening, as she put several sheets of paper into his hands; "that's my notion of what could be done on a hundred-foot lot. I haven't drawn the front yet, but here's the plan for down-stairs, and another for one of the upper floors."

The germ of Jane's unexpected architectural facility was to be found, perhaps, in Susan Bates's table-cloth drawings; and it had developed during her long labors on those big brown sheets which Bingham's young man had brought so many times both to house and store.

"But if you really want some notion of the front," she went on, "I can give it to you fast enough." She turned over one of her sheets and began to draw on the back of it. "Pooh! architecture's easy enough! It'll be about five stories high." She sketched the five stories with five or six lines. "In red brick--Romanesque style like this." She gave a broad sweep with the pencil, grouping several rapidly evolved windows under a wide, round arch. "And the cornice will be brick and terra-cotta; no galvanized iron--that I will not have. And a good-sized terracotta panel here over the doorway, to tell who we are--like that."

She outlined a large oblong, and filled it with an indefinite jumble of curly-cues.

Her father looked at the drawing, and laid it back on the table with a wan and patient smile. "Some other time, Jennie; we'll think about it when we haven't got so many other things on hand. Isn't the new house enough for now?"

Jane studied her father's face for a moment, and then thrust the drawings aside with a sudden and remorseful sweep. For he looked tired and worn, and in the slight pallor of his face she noted the deepening of old wrinkles and the appearance of new ones. "You poor old pa!" she cried, "I didn't mean to worry you. It can wait, of course; and the more we learn about building in the meanwhile the better we shall be prepared for this when the time comes round."

She looked into his eyes; they seemed to her both haggard and appealing. "I declare, you look just dragged out. Poor pal--just bother, bother, bother. Something at the store?"

"There's always something at the store," he said, looking away. "I haven't been feeling very well all day. I guess I didn't get my full share of sleep last night."

Yes, there was always something at the store, and this time it was an affair between Belden and the South town assessor. Belden--largely on his own account, certainly without anything like a consultation--had undertaken to secure a revaluation of the warehouse property; and he had been so successful (through the use of arguments by which an assessor may be moved) as to get a figure even lower than that of the previous year, despite the increased value of the building. Unfortunately, he had selected the very time when the scandalous inequality in assessments was engaging the attention of an ambitious evening paper; and this paper had just printed a cut of the enlarged building in juxtaposition to some small retail grocery in a remote ward and precinct, which was assessed in a ratio ten times as great--a vivid illustration of the manner in which the rich were favored at the expense of the poor. Marshall felt himself put forward as a criminal--a malefactor; he was assured, furthermore, that a man who offered a bribe was worse than the man who accepted it.

He might have added too, that Belden was showing some disposition to divert the house from its old conservative paths into the wild courses of speculation. His dash and daring found an outlet in an endeavor to manipulate the tea market, with less eye, perhaps, to profit than to prestige--to primacy in the trade. The old man had given but a half-hearted assent; he felt the credit, if any were involved, would outrun the profit, and that the promise of profit was too little to justify all the worry and care.

Nor was Jane's own enterprise, meanwhile, wholly free from difficulties. There were distinctly days when the postponement of the millennium seemed indefinite--when there appeared to be enough human nature remaining in the world to secure the present state of things for many years to come.

"It's a good deal more complicated than I thought," she confessed to her aunt Lydia, upon calling, one day, to invite her to visit the institution and to inspect its workings. "Now, Miss Casey and Miss Erlanger, for example, get along together all right, because Miss Casey is the cashier in an insurance office, and Miss Erlanger is the stenographer for a railroad president. Both of them kind of edge off from some of the salesladies; and the salesladies are pretty nearly as bad among themselves. Miss Maddox, who sells gloves on the first floor of Bernstein's Bazaar, never quite wants to sit at the same table with Miss Slopinka, who sells bolts and padlocks in the basement. So we have to trim and fuss and compromise all the time; in fact, we've been obliged to take in another room or two. However, that makes all the more to see."

Jane then added a few words to cover what she conceived to be the etiquette of such a call. Aunt Lydia was not one of the kind to find any force in a delicate intimation; so Jane said what she had to say as plainly and pointedly as possible.

"Don't call during the rush; you'd only be in the way. And don't look at the girls as if they were natural history specimens in glass cases. And don't whatever else you do, be flip--"

"Flip? What a word! Where did you get it--there?"

--"and gushing, and effusive, and as condescending as if you had come down sixteen pairs of stairs. I lost three girls the day after Mrs. Bates brought Cecilia Ingles up. 'Why did you do it?' I asked her. 'I want her to see things,' she told me; 'I want to make a good earnest woman of her.' I hope she won't do it again. I sha'nt encourage many visitors after this. I don't think it helps a place like that to be made into a show."

"Well, I don't know," returned her aunt. "Wouldn't it be a good idea to have entertainments and things, to bring the different sections of society together? I should be very glad to help," she added, as she debated the probable participation of Susan Bates and Cecilia Ingles.

"No, I'm not going to have any picnic business," returned Jane. "That's all nonsense. I'm going to keep this thing within its own lines."

"I suppose I could bring Bertie with me," suggested the chastened Lydia. "She thinks you're a perfect little tin thing-a-ma-jig on wheels."

"Yes," said Jane, "she can come; only don't bring a whole raft with her."

"I won't," Mrs. Rhodes reassured her; "only one more besides. You wouldn't mind a third?"

"No, I shouldn't mind just one."

Then Lydia Rhodes made an immediate request of Truesdale to act as escort; he was her third. She took, in this malapropos manoeuvre, the same delight that a child experiences through the consciousness of being engaged in some mischievous wrong.

"Lunch with us at Fields," she directed him, "and then we shall get around in time to see Jane wiping off her tables and putting away her crockery. We go very simply--we wear sackcloth and ashes. As for the portrait--that can wait a day or two."

Then she told Bertie very solemnly that they were to begin a study of the philanthropies of a great city. But Bertie took her own view of the expedition; Truesdale's participation made it seem rather like an excursion into fairy-land. Now, more than ever, was she under the glamour of this young man's accomplishments; now, more than ever, did she feel the embellishing and decorative qualities of his presence. Not only had she heard the composer sing his own songs; she had lately seen him paint his own picture--and hers. "Why can't you do a little water-color or something of Bertie?" his aunt had suggested to him one day, upon encountering him in an attitude of graceful negligence before the exposition of his own pictures. "It would please her so much. Do you know"--lowering her voice as she looked towards the girl over her shoulder--"the dear child has been down here eight or ten times to see these things? Fancy how much it would please her to watch you actually at work--on a portrait of herself, too."

Truesdale glanced sidewise towards Bertie, who stood in painstaking scrutiny before one of the outlying pictures of his group. A pair of art students in their careless working clothes, stood a little apart with their eyes on the same work.

"Terrible knowing, ain't it?" remarked one.

"Yep," rejoined the other; "awful lot of snap."

"Just knocks it right out, doesn't it?"

"Fearfully up to date, ain't it? Doesn't need any '1893' on it!"

"Full of jump! Why can't we fellows here at home get more of that sort of thing?"

Bertie's heart swelled proudly as she heard this jargon. It was quite unintelligible to her, but she felt sure it conveyed extreme approval. She turned to look at Truesdale just as he turned to look at her.

He shook his head in burlesque deprecation of her too obvious appreciation, and then brought his attention back to his aunt.

"All right," he said; "I'll do it. I'll come down some day and paint her, or you, or the front doors, or anything else you say." He pondered for a moment, as he edged away a little from Bertie, and tried to carry his aunt with him. "I suppose I shall be expected to look the part?"

"Yes," she responded, sympathetically. "Bertie has never seen an artist, of course, but she has her ideas of how one would look. If it wouldn't be too much trouble for you to...."

"Oh, I don't mind the trouble so very much," replied Truesdale, magnanimously. "I hope I can put myself out a little. She might look for a loose red tie, perhaps, and a Tam O'Shanter, eh?"

"And a velvet coat," suggested his aunt, ardently.

"Oh, bother a velvet coat; that's going a little too far. She would be more likely to look for a palette and a maul-stick."

"Why, certainly."

"Yes, they use those things sometimes. I wonder if she would insist upon an easel?"

"I think I could arrange that," replied his aunt. She drew on an expression of decorous and pensive sadness, and Truesdale knew that she was mentally detaching her crayon of the dear departed from that elaborate white and gold apparatus in her parlor. "And if you should care for a few Persian rugs hung up around...."

"By all means!" cried Truesdale. "And a few Bedouin rifles; and a few bits of brasswork from Cairo; and a few scraps of drapery from Bombay or Trebizond; and one of those inlaid Turkish tables; and one or two stacks of old French armor. I think with all that help I could do a water-color or so."

"You're going to do her in oil," declared his aunt, stoutly.

"I am? Then I must have that table, sure. And a nargileh. And a dozen Japanese swords, if you happen to have them about the place. And what else?--oh yes; a small bit of canvas, now I think of it."

Bertie looked round once more, and divined herself under discussion. She sidled away, past a long row of landscapes and marines, and drifted out into the hall, where she leaned over the balustrade and studied the mosaics of the vestibule below.

"Good little subject," said one of the students, looking after her. He ran a sudden hand upward through his hair, which had lately fallen from its high estate and had come to look like the hair of anybody else. "Get that profile against a red plush curtain--"

"And drape her in a red silk kimono or something."

"And have a vase of Jacqueminots to one side--a study in reds, you know."

"Yes, I know, you know." He turned on his heel. "Well, this ain't work, or anything like it. Come along up-stairs."

And up-stairs they went--through the main hallway.

Lydia Rhodes followed her protegee with a fond eye. "You know, Truesdale, that she's just the sweetest little thing in the world."

"Oh, yes, I know."

"Why don't you go into the business?" asked his aunt, impulsively, as she placed a cajoling hand upon his arm.

"The business? So I might. Well, you may pay me a hundred dollars for this commission, if you like!"

"You know what I mean--your father's business. Now that they are making it all over, they might easily find a place for you."

"Um," observed Truesdale, falling into a gloomy and chilling reserve.

His aunt saw the necessity of abandoning this new ground at once. "You'll take pains, won't you?" she said, struggling back to her former position. "You'll make it as nice as you can?"

"Well, it will be a sort of sketch, of course," said Truesdale, still rather coldly.

"It won't, either," insisted his aunt; "it will be a real, regular picture."

"She'd get tired of it. Do you think it's any fun to pose?"

"Tired!" said his aunt, scornfully. She thrust the supposition into the outer darkness and slammed the door behind it. "How are you going to dress her?" she asked, passing on with a resolute swiftness to detail. "If you want anything of mine ... I've got a lovely breadth of old gold satin; and then there are those Roman pearls you brought me."

"Dress her? I sha'nt dress her at all. I don't believe I shall want any of your rugs, either. If they are on the floor, keep them there; that's where they belong. No; I shall just put her before a plain wall in her every-day clothes--the black hat and jacket she's wearing now. Won't that do well enough?"

"We--ell," said his aunt, doubtfully.

Truesdale had juggled enough in his time with draperies and accessories to know how to employ them here, if so minded; but he felt instinctively that any such manipulations would now be quite out of place. "She's a good, sincere, simple little thing," he said to himself, "and she will speak better for herself than all those things could speak for her. I shall make just a sketch--but a careful one. I shall do the best I can; I shall make a very lady-like thing of it." Suddenly he flushed. "I shall tear those old things up to-morrow--they've got to go sometime." He was thinking of certain studies at the back of one of his portfolios; they were not ladylike. "Those models!" he muttered, in a tone at once of objurgation and of self-reproach.

Truesdale came for the first sitting in a costume discreetly picturesque, and his aunt frisked through all the preliminary preparations in a state of great glee. Bertie surrendered herself to the process with an expression of wondering self-depreciation; her large dark eyes shone with a kind of surprised humility.

"If she wouldn't look quite so much like one of Murillo's Madonnas," thought Truesdale. "This isn't really the most important thing that has ever happened in the universe, after all." Then he sighed lightly. "Still, I suppose she is a good deal nearer to a Madonna than I am to a Murillo."

Mrs. Rhodes seemed to feel the necessity of upsetting the whole apartment. She had the inside man bring up the stepladder. "What's this for?" Truesdale asked.

"To fix the curtains right. I can have them taken down, if you say. How far up do you want the shades? Are those lambrequins in the way?"

"Good heavens!" cried Truesdale, "do you want to tear the house down? Do you think I am Raphael painting the Pope?" But all this was only his aunt's way of flattering him into a good-humor, and of making him share her sense of the importance of the occasion.

As the work went on, however, his aunt's song changed imperceptibly from allegretto to adagio, and from the major mode to the minor.

The change first appeared as she studied his charcoal outline. "Well," she observed, "I think you might have put Bertie somewhere near the middle of the picture, instead of away off to the left, like that."

"They put them in the middle sometimes--yes," admitted Truesdale, cheerily waving his aunt back. "I'm leaving the other side for you," he added, with a genial impudence.

"Oh, that's it, is it?" And she half believed it true.

On the day following she was distinctly mournful. "Do you mean to tell me that you can ever work over that mass of red and blue and yellow freckles into anything resembling Bertie's complexion?--such a beautiful one, too!" Bertie blushed. "There! look at it now!" cried his aunt, with a mounting enthusiasm; and Bertie blushed still more violently. Truesdale gave her a brief glance, which he at once transferred to his palette. This was the first time in his life that he had ever lowered his eyes from a woman's face, merely because there happened to be a blush upon it.

"Work it over?" he presently inquired, as he looked up to his aunt across his shoulder. "I never work anything over."

"Is it going to stay that way?" demanded his aunt, peremptorily. Bertie's own face was overcast, with an expression of plaintive distrust.

"Of course it is. I work in the primary colors. If you should prefer something a little less advanced...." He waved his maulstick vaguely, as if in reference to the professorial practice of Munich, or to the antediluvian school of England.

"Well, if that's the way it's going to stay...." commented his aunt, with her face close to the canvas.

"My dear aunt," protested Truesdale, "we don't look at a painting with our noses, but with our eyes. I decompose what is before me into the primary colors. Now the thing for you to do is to step back ten or twelve feet and recompose them. That armchair over there is just about your point of view precisely--and so inviting and comfortable! Try it."

His aunt removed herself to the point suggested. "Well, perhaps it does look a little better from here." And Bertie Patterson breathed a tiny sigh of relief; for the last thing in the world she wished to be was a witness to her young artist's failure.

"Of course," responded Truesdale. He gave an invocatory sweep with his brush, and the spirit of complete modernity descended and perched upon the top of his easel. "Just wait; it will be so naive; it will seem so improvised, so spontaneous--a regular little impromptu. Of course."

But the next day his aunt accompanied him to the front door when he took his leave. Her tone to-day was one of out-and-out protest.

"Now, Truesdale, this has gone far enough. You may muss up the house as much as you like, but I can't let you make a laughing-stock of Bertie. When it comes to streaks of green under her chin, and purple shadows under her hair, I--I don't think it is right. And she--she admires you so much." His aunt's voice broke, and she seemed at no great remove from tears.

"Dear Aunt Lyddy," returned Truesdale, with an unruffled imperturbability and an exhaustless and patronizing patience, "you have never learned to use your eyes; you don't know how to see. Did you ever try looking at things from under your elbow?" He raised his own, as he fastened the last button of his glove, and gave her a teasing glance from beneath his arm. "You are quite transfigured," he declared; "it makes all the difference in the world. Try it some time. Well, good-bye." He gave her his hand without lowering his elbow, and then sauntered complacently down the front steps.

Bertie watched him from behind the curtains of the front window. He wore a black cape-overcoat, which swung gracefully as he moved along, and a soft Fedora hat with a brave dent in the crown. "The most becoming thing he could possibly have picked out," she thought.

Mrs. Rhodes came back to take one more look at the canvas. "It's a perfect living picture of you, Bertie, except for the color. I can't get around that." She leaned forward and twisted her neck round and looked at Bertie from under her elbow, and then looked again at the canvas and shook her head. "And as for naivete from Truesdale...." she murmured. She would as soon have looked for sunbeams from cucumbers.

Bertie, intent upon the painting, saw nothing of these manoeuvres. "I guess it will come out all right," she said, with a reviving trust.