The Face of Clay
DURING the midsummer morning hours, the house, of white plaster, in the neo-Italian style, presented to the garden a sleepy exterior. The green blinds were slanted down over the windows, giving them the appearance of drowsy, heavy-lidded eyes, and making small shadow patches on the walls below. It was the southern exposure; the sunlight bathed the red-tiled roof and the garden, glistened on the fountain in the centre, and lulled the Buddha who looked forever down the box-bordered path. So it was every fair morning in June and July; and after Madelaine had cut her flowers and had made her daily search for rosebugs and had drawn off her gloves, she would sit on the stone seat near the Buddha, under the plum tree, and read or dream. Often she would follow the direction of his eyes and look across beyond the fountain, where the robins were flirting their wings, and beyond the roses and the foxgloves, where the bees were launching themselves from flower to flower. The Buddha had his eyes fixed on the red brick wall that bounded the garden on the farther side; it was high and partly overgrown with grapevines, and against it some prosperous young peach trees were planted. But the object on which, as it seemed to Madelaine, the Buddha concentrated his gaze, was not the grapevine or the peach trees or the slowly seasoning wall. It was the sculptured decoration of a fountain, which issued from a niche in the wall and was smaller than that in the middle of the garden; under the jet of water was the marble statue of a laughing, naked little boy. Gazing upward, he held the inverted goblet from which the shower poured over his shoulders and splashed into his basin. In the hot sunny mornings Madelaine’s first care was to turn on the water and regale him with this bath; his joyousness then seemed more reasonable and appealing.
She had, of late, got into the habit of sitting idly like the Buddha, and gazing like him across at the little laughing bather.
But on a certain July morning the boy of the fountain failed to attract Madelaine’s musing eyes. There was a new inhabitant of the garden this morning, a little girl in white marble, of about the age to have been the boy’s sister; she was poised on a pedestal at the end of the western path and had a flower basket on one arm and a small bare foot advanced; she was stepping forth with a face upturned as if to survey the morning; over her shoulder was draped her single, fanciful garment. She was a well modeled, graceful little girl; there was an infantile softness of arms and legs expressed in the marble, a beguiling, childish seriousness of face. Altogether this was a more winning bit of sculpture than the boy, whose vivacity — especially when the water was turned off — would have seemed to most persons, though, as it happened, never to Madelaine, a little tiresome. The newcomer in the garden stood where the terraces began; beside her were the wide stone steps which descended to the lake.
Madelaine regarded the bit of sculpture for a while with amused, approving eyes, and then for a while with eyes more wistful and quite as tender. She rose and walked towards the marble image, her slender figure moving along the grassy path with the noiselessness of light. Beside the figure of the little girl she stopped; she looked at it and smiled. “You are a dear little thing,” she said. “I’m surprised that a man could have made you.” The little girl looked up with her beguiling childish seriousness — as if she was surprised too and wondered about it all the time.
Madelaine stood off and viewed the statue, walked slowly round it, examining it; and in her eyes the approving light grew warm and on her lips the smile lingered wistfully.
The bees hummed and a yellowthroat sang in the plum tree. It was a fine, drowsy morning. One might sit down again under the plum tree and drowse; or one might be energetic and go after one’s knitting.
A rapid succession of dull throbs, as of a resonant oil-can being compressed between a resolute thumb and finger, broke the stillness. From the opposite shore a motor-boat was putting forth on the lake. Madelaine watched it until she was sure that it was making for the foot of her steps — not that she had, for even a moment, been in much doubt about that. Then she decided that whatever else she did, she must not appear to be watching and waiting. It would be better to be energetic and go after the knitting. And when Herbert entered the garden a few minutes later, she was seated under the plum tree, engaged in the manufacture of a red and brown waistcoat.
“Good-morning,” she said. “You’re not working to-day ? ”
“I am if you’ll let me. See, I’ve brought a sketch block.”
“To do what?”
“Oh, to make a few sketches. Besides I wanted to take another look at the little girl. Do you think she wears well ? ” He gazed down the path at the new marble statue.
“I think she’s lasted well over night,” replied Madelaine demurely. “Yes, really, I think she’s charming — nicer even than that engaging little boy.”
“He’s a trifle perky. Besides being in my earlier manner — which is n’t at all good. But you really like the girl ? ”
“Well enough to let her have a playmate — on the other side of the steps ? One is needed there, to balance —”
“That would be splendid. Only this one must be a commission — not a — not a gift.”
“Please! If you only knew what fun it is for me to do these little things! You would n’t deprive me of the pleasure of setting them up when they’re finished.”
“I don’t like to have quite such important contributions — the time as well as the expense — ”
“Well, if you insist on making it a sordid business transaction, you can. I want to do a figure — I have an idea in mind which I can’t tell you about, but I can get suggestions from you, if you ’ll let me. So just go on knitting and talking and let me draw. That will square the account.”
“If I could pay all my debts so easily! What sort of an idea is it ? ”
“A very nice one, I assure you. But you ’re to know nothing about it until the whole thing is finished.”
“Is it a big piece of work ? Will it take a long time ? ”
“Two or three months perhaps. It’s quite big — for me.”
He worked for a while in silence; she glanced at him with amusement, interest, and respect — the respect of one unable, as she would say, to draw a line. She studied the way he held his pencil and carefully imitated it with one of her knitting needles; the next time she got a pencil in her fingers she was going to see if there was any magic in that peculiar grip. But her interest was mainly human; she smiled in sympathy when he intently puckered his lips and when the serious frown came between his eyes. He saw her smile and said, “What are you laughing at ? ”
“I was just thinking,” she answered, “how funny that any one who looks so much like a stock-broker should really be an artist.”
“Why do I look like a stock-broker ? ” His tone was aggrieved.
“Dear me, I meant that as a compliment. Don’t you know how all the most attractive college boys, the ones with eager eyes and clean-cut chins, go into brokers’ officers, to lead useful and remunerative lives ? And they always wear such becoming, well-fitting clothes —just like you.”
“Is it one of them who is to be favored with that waistcoat ? ”
“Exactly — one of them. My brother.”
“I know a warm heart that would beat even more warmly if it were covered with such a piece of goods as that.”
“Dear me! Would you wear one really ? I was awfully dubious as to how it might strike the artistic eye. Well, you shall have one. And I can feel that I ’m really doing something then to pay for the statue! ”
“You’re paying for the statue all right. Little you know! ”
His blue eyes twinkled at her for a moment; then he became again absorbed in his work. His lips were parted in his earnestness, and somehow, glancing at him over her knitting, Madelaine again had to smile. He cocked his head at his sketch, and then at her.
“That will do temporarily for the front elevation,” he observed. “Now if you will allow me, I will cope with your Grecian profile.” He changed his seat.
“And I can’t look at you now at all ? ” she asked.
“Oh yes, once in a while you may have that privilege. Just keep on talking naturally — incessantly — ”
“Yes, and you may throw me a languishing glance now and then. There, don’t set your lips like that; that’s hopeless. Think of something pleasant. If you won’t look at me, look at that pretty little girl — there, kindly preserve that softened expression. But talk, please; you’re not a graven image—yet.”
“Good gracious, how can I talk when you keep nagging me so! ”
“Oh, just babble; what you say is unimportant. Give your opinion of the latest book, or of anything else that interests you. Just prattle along.”
“Indeed I shan’t be so fatuous. I am perfectly willing to engage in any serious important discussion with you — ”
“Aha, now you’ve done it! ” He laid down his pencil and his sketch block and regarded her with mingled satisfaction and reproach. “Now you’ve done it. The one impossible thing is to make love to you while I work — the one thing you clamor for — ”
“Of all the deliberate, willful, impertinent perversions — ”
“Come now, be honest; don’t dodge. You know that when you announce your anxiety to engage in serious important discussion with me, you compel me to hold forth on my one serious important topic. Very well, since you insist, let’s begin; my work must suffer.”
“You don’t deserve to be anything as nice as a stock-broker. You ought to be a lawyer. Such malicious ingenuity in misinterpreting and misrepresenting a person’s innocent remark — ”
“It was not innocent. It was premeditated.”
“You assume altogether too much. As far as that—that disagreeable subject is concerned, I’ve heard all that is necessary — and I’ve already said all that I have to say.”
“Of course you would begin by saying that, naturally. Now will you promise to be honest and frank ? ”
“ I don’t know. I shall very likely just be silent.”
“Well, we’ll see. You did in the beginning want me to make love to you, did n’t you? — You might as well say yes as be silent.”
“I object to the expression — ‘make love to you.’ It’s vulgar.”
“We won’t quibble about phrases. As I have reasoned the thing out, you liked me well enough to want me to make love to you. You thought that, if I did, it might kindle something responsive inside you. And if it should do that, you were not unwilling. So you built a big fire under me, and got me to boiling and jumping and crying out in the most satisfactory agitation — and you stood by, holding your pulse and watching to see what the effect on it might be. And by the most careful scientific count, you found that its beat was n’t quickened by one-sixtieth part of a second. Meanwhile the poor pot went on boiling and rattling its lid and getting its brains all addled; and having found the pulse test a failure you tried other scientific methods, — the blood count, the laboratory test, the capillary attraction test, the telepathic test, and I don’t know what else; and when they all failed, you went back again to holding the pulse.”
“You must think that I was extremely anxious to discover some symptoms.”
“I don’t know how anxious you were, but at least you were willing. For mind you — all this time you did n’t blow out the fire under the crackling pot.”
“I suppose I have been showing you a mistaken kindness — ”
“Now, now! Be frank, be honest! It was n’t kindness or thoughtfulness for me at all — you know that. It was just that you kept on hoping — on your own account! ”
“Of course after a certain age a girl begins to think about getting married — I don’t deny that.”
“Exactly. So you cast about, and I seemed on the whole worth encouraging — just as a possibility. For a while I think you thought I was indifferent — which piqued you — put you on your mettle. You don’t think that any longer, do you ? I have made you realize, have n’t I, how much I do care ? ”
“Yes,” she admitted. “I think — I’m afraid — you really care.”
“You’re afraid! ” he cried, wrinkling his brow dolorously. “That’s the aggravation of it. Here you’ve coaxed me along and got me into this condition — you never would have been satisfied until you had got me into it — and now you say in that contrite voice you ’re afraid I am exactly where you’ve arranged to have me! Well, I suppose it’s the sex.”
“I don’t know what I can say, except that I’m sorry.”
“Be truthful; we’re talking now as man to man. Don’t you honestly feel just a little glad ? ”
She hesitated, making geometrical figures on the bench with her knitting needle. “No,” she said at last. “I don’t believe I do. I believe I just feel worried.”
“And you don’t care for me any more than for any other of your men friends — any differently ? ”
Slowly she shook her head. “No; there are — well, there’s one other; it seems to me I like you both just the same.” Then in a sudden burst of confidence she cried, “Oh, I may as well tell you — I ’m a disappointment to myself. It’s a humiliating thing to confess to any man; I should like to love and be loved. And I can’t qualify for the first — I don’t believe I have it in me to love any one. I think I must be just a cold, unemotional person; I don’t believe I shall ever have the slightest feeling for any one outside of my own family.”
“I’m not afraid of that. You’ve emotion enough — why, don’t I see it in your eyes, hear it in your voice! But I suppose I have n’t waked you up emotionally — I’ve got to do it somehow.”
“How is a girl to know ? ” she asked piteously. “ I don’t know what it is to be in love. How am I ever to know ? ”
“Without pretending to any great experience,” he replied, “I have a few theories. It will be interesting to test their value. Personally I never could understand why or how any girl should fall in love with any man, — we are all so terribly unattractive. I should think a certain degree of possession was necessary before a man could ever convince a girl that she loved him.”
“I don’t see that this train of thought leads anywhere — except back to barbarism.”
“It would seem so,” he confessed. “Let’s try another. Why did you ever single me out for special encouragement ? You must have had a little different feeling for me than for your other friends.”
“I did n’t single you out — any more than I did — well, suppose we say for the sake of argument, one other. I just like you very much — I like you just as I do my best girl friends.”
“In just the same way ? ”
“Yes. I think so.”
“Well, that does seem pretty hopeless,” he conceded.
“What makes you think I have such a capacity for emotion ? ” she asked.
“I’ve told you one thing—your eyes — the curve of your lips. What’s the use of being a sculptor if you can’t get at the meaning of lines and curves ? Besides — your kindness; no really kind person ever lacked in feeling. The way you stood and talked the other day to the gardener’s little girl — while she stood off in the grass with her finger in her mouth and giggled in joy and fright — I saw the smile on your lips and the twinkle in your eyes and I thought you were the sweetest and most human creature I ever saw. I’ve thought that when I’ve seen you jolly your brother and put your arm round your mother. I thought it when I watched the look in your eyes as you stood by that little figure there at the steps — the same look that you have when you’re watching children playing. Really, Madelaine, I love you just because you ’re so loving — even though you don’t know it.”
She shook her head. “It would be nice to hear such things if only I could believe them. But I’m afraid you’re mistaken in me. I wonder what I ought to do; I wonder if I ought n’t to refuse to see you any more. It might be happier for you — ”
He laughed. “If you’d just keep conscience out of this! It’s the thing that keeps feeling the pulse. Some time there’s going to be an explosion and conscience is going right up through the ceiling.”
“If you mean I’d do anything that I thought was wrong — ”
“Of course you never would. And you ’ll never do anything that’s really right until you let yourself go and do it. See here, Madelaine, we ’re getting on in life — at least I am. Now a man can’t be eternally making sheep’s eyes at a woman and a woman can’t be eternally holding her pulse and wondering if she cares about the man. Did you ever read ‘The Statue and the Bust ’ ? Much better for us to take a chance and find we must throw the dishes at each other, than to prolong an existence of utter, fatuous futility. Take advantage of the first impulse — I mean, give me the benefit of it — make the jump. I’ll guarantee myself—why, I would n’t sell you a horse, would I, that I knew was n’t a good, safe horse ? Much less would I offer you myself if I did n’t think that whatever else I might be I was at least sound and kind. Come on; have n’t I waked you up a bit — not the least bit ? ”
“Please don’t!” she entreated. “It does n’t do the slightest good. It only worries me.”
“Oh, all right.” His tone became matter-of-fact and cheerful. “I guess I’ve wasted enough time this morning. Let’s have another whack at that profile.”
He took up his sketching implements.
“I make a solemn vow,” he declared, “I will not be cajoled, wheedled, led, prompted, or induced to make love to you again for the space of sixty days. You may as well give up all hope of it right now. And thereto I set my firm mouth and my clean-cut stock-broking chin.”
“I will try to bear up under the deprivation.”
He worked for a while in silence. Then he sighed; she said nothing, and after a while he sighed even more dolorously. “I’m sorry if it annoys you,” he said with resignation. “I shall have to do it every now and then.”
“I am glad to have you do anything that affords you the slightest relief.”
He finished the sketch. “Rather spiritless, I’m afraid. Oh, well.”
“If your heart had been really in your work — in the subject — ” she suggested.
He looked at her reprovingly. “ Temptress! Your machinations are vain. Goodby.”
He gave her a languid hand, and with his sketching materials under his arm walked in a wilted fashion down the garden path.
It was several days before he came again, and then he announced that he desired to make some more drawings. “ Details from a Grecian Head — the Escaping Ringlet — the Classic Nose — What! — no, must it be? — well, then, the Slightly Pouting Lip.”
“Such nonsense as you talk — ”
“You may well say that.”
He sighed deeply; he sighed at intervals in heavy gusts, and having finished his work and made a derogatory comment on it, he departed with an air of dejection.
Again he came, bringing an armful of roses for her to hold. “Please look at them as affectionately as possible — as if they meant something to you,” he urged; and then, when he saw the mischievous glance in her eyes, he exclaimed, “Don’t flatter yourself; I don’t mean at all what you think. I want you to put expression into your face for purely artistic reasons. Stand up, please, and hold the roses so — and now look down at them. Oh dear me, don’t look at them like that! You surely don’t want me to think that you ’re sentimental, — and now you’re even worse! Do mollify that face — I ask it for the roses, not for myself. There, that’s better. Oh, you could really be trained into a very good model; I’m getting on quite fast now with the statue.”
“I should n’t think you could do it entirely from sketches.”
The only answer this remark drew was a sigh.
“I shall have another little playmate for the garden soon,” he said.
“You ’re very industrious; but if you’d spend your time working on something that would give you a reputation — ”
“Ah, wait till you see the fruit of these labors.”
“Joe Morrison’s working very hard. Did you know he’d been made president of a bank ? ”
“Good for Joe.—Please look tenderly at those roses.”
“How soon may I sit down ? ”
“In just a moment. I’m just finishing. There. Thank you.”
She dropped into the seat under the plum tree, and picking out one of the roses swayed it musingly back and forth beneath her nose.
“I should think a bank would be a very heavy responsibility for a man as young as Joe,” she observed.
“Very. It would certainly be most unwise of him if he sought any additional responsibility.”
“But he’s a strong man; he carries responsibility lightly — don’t you think so ? ”
“Why should you question me about it? Joe Morrison is a perfectly good friend of mine, and I will not be goaded into aspersing his character or abilities. I bid you a dignified farewell.”
A week later he brought his contribution to the garden. He set it up on the pillar opposite that which supported the little girl. Then he went in search of Madelaine, but found only her mother. Madelaine had gone motoring with Joe Morrison, who was making them a visit. So, without mentioning the subject of his errand — for the garden after all was Madelaine’s, not her mother’s — Herbert returned across the lake. He felt rather dispirited; but he consoled himself by anticipating Madelaine’s glad cries through the telephone when she returned from her drive and made the discovery. In fact, the rest of that day he did not go to his studio, because it was too far from the telephone. But the day passed, and the evening, without his being called; consequently he went to bed sulky and despondent. It was possible, of course, that they had not got back from their motoring until after dark — still there was not much comfort to be derived from that thought.
The next day it rained — clearing late in the afternoon. Herbert loitered about the house until eleven o’clock, hoping for some slight word of gratitude. None came, and he repaired to his studio, thinking that in work he might forget his disappointment. But work interested him less than speculation; he would pause to debate with himself from what windows of Madelaine’s house the new statue could be seen, what were the chances that any one house-bound by the rain would be drawn to those windows, what were the probabilities that even on such a rainy day some one would not venture into the garden — and so on. Perhaps she did n’t telephone because of a mistaken idea that such informality of acknowledgment would seem unappreciative; perhaps she was even at that moment bending over her desk striving to express herself sweetly for his sake!
Charmed and convinced by this idea, he devoted an hour to enhancing the spirituality of a face of clay. It was not a portrait, this face; it was a thing that he could touch and re-touch, alter and remodel endlessly; he wondered if he would ever be satisfied with it. He wished to give the faintest suggestion of a personality— a suggestion so faint that it could never be apprehended by any eye, only by a sympathetic and understanding soul; and there was but one such — his own. To satisfy that with this ideal thing — he felt that he must do it some day, that the solution was just evading him, that he was pressing closer and closer in pursuit.
In the afternoon, when the rain had ceased, Henry Bronson came over and beguiled him into a game of tennis. But after that was ended and Henry had gone home in triumph, gloom enveloped Herbert once more. He had deluded himself with false hopes. If Madelaine had written to him, she would not have intrusted her note to the dilatory post; she would have, she ought to have sent it across the lake at once. Could it be that she did not like the statue and did not know what to say about it ? Or perhaps she had taken offense at the subject; if so, it was very silly of her; what else could she expect ? Or perhaps — and this was most dismal of all the suppositions — she had definitely made up her mind to shut him off, and so was choosing to be as rude and unlovely in her treatment of him as possible. That might be one of the consequences of Joe Morrison’s visit. She had spoken of “one other,” and Herbert knew well enough it was Joe. And bank presidents and business men were such forceful persons, always having things their own way.
When the next morning came and still no word, anxiety and gloom gave place to stern resentment. Very well; if she thought he would be Old Hog Tray, she would find herself mistaken. He would wait a little longer, and then perhaps he would write her a cutting note. It would be cold, polite, dignified. Dignity, that was it; because he was a sculptor, an artist, and not a bank president, she probably thought he had no dignity. Just because he had a sense of humor she felt free to expose him to levity and neglect. Yes, it was true that he had a sense of humor; that he would frankly acknowledge; perhaps it would startle her to find that he was master also of a blighting sarcasm. The Old Dog Tray! To think she had adopted that banal conception of the part to be taken by the artist as soon as the emotions of the massive bank president are touched!
At that moment the telephone bell rang, and Herbert sprang from his chair to answer it.
“Herbert!” There was a pleasing thrill of excitement in her gentle cry. “How long has that bewitching little creature been in my garden ? ”
He was not going to soften towards her at once — not he. So he said frigidly,
“Oh, three or four days.”
“Three or four nonsense! I discovered it only this moment. When did you put it there ? ”
So she had telephoned in the moment of discovery! How sweet of her! And there was no need of his being stern and resentful after all!
“Why,” he said in a most gracious voice, “it has n’t really been there long. Only since day before yesterday.”
“And I’ve only discovered it this moment! It’s perfectly dear! Do come over and see it and let me thank you! It would be so much more satisfactory to thank you with it right before our eyes! ”
“When shall I come ? ”
“Whenever you can.”
“This moment ? ”
“Oh, do! Joe Morrison will be so glad to see you! ”
Herbert jolted the receiver back upon the hook. That was so gratuitous!
However, Joe was not visible when he stepped out of his motor-boat, and Madelaine was. In fact she came tripping down the steps to meet him — bareheaded and with a bunch of sweet peas in her belt.
“Oh,” she said, “you don’t know what a surprise it gave me. I came out into the garden after breakfast, and at first I did n’t notice it, and then suddenly it seemed to jump at me. I stood for a moment, and then I ran to look at it; oh, I think it’s ever so much better than the little girl. It’s beautiful, it is really. And I thought you must have come over and put it up in the middle of the night.”
They climbed the steps and stood at the top beside the new statue, the little Cupid; he was drawing an arrow from his quiver and smiling as if at a destined victim. Yet there was nothing knowing in the smile; he was not a sophisticated young godlet, he was a plump and charming and happy little boy. Madelaine stood looking at him with soft eyes, and Herbert stood looking at Madelaine.
“You do make adorable children,” she said. “It’s queer you should, being a man.”
“In other words this should be women’s work ? ”
“I think usually it is — it seems more like a woman’s work.”
“There’s a slur in that. You think less well of me because I can do this sort of thing well ? ”
“Dear me, why do you want to pick a quarrel ? I think this is perfectly enchanting. And now that you’ve finished it, you must turn to and do something big — some subject that will show your vigor and your grasp and your — ”
“I see what you mean — something more virile. A bank president or a stockbroker. Well, I’m sorry you think my work is ladylike.”
He sulked quite openly, quite dejectedly. She smiled at him and her eyes twinkled.
“Let’s go and sit under the plum tree,” she suggested. “Joe will be out pretty soon — at least as soon as he’s finished writing a poem in the guestbook.”
“I guess that will hold him a while,” said Herbert with savage satisfaction. “So Joe is leaving to-day ? ”
“Yes. We did our best to get him to stay longer; we held you out as an inducement — he’s sorry to have seen nothing of you. But he has to go back to his old bank. He’s told me a lot about his new work; gracious! but he has a responsibility on his shoulders.”
Herbert gave a moody assent.
“Joe’s very good-looking,” she continued. “I was struck by it yesterday, and I thought, ‘What a fine subject for a sculptor.’ Notice his head especially and see if you don’t think it is quite magnificent. I’m sure that if you got him to sit for you, you’d find him a good subject for inspiring the — the big thing.”
“I should n’t wonder. He’s an able man certainly and a good fellow.”
Herbert strove to speak with enthusiasm, but there was a deadness in his voice. When he raised his eyes, Madelaine was looking down the path towards the new statue.
“It’s the oddest thing,” she said after a moment, “that I never noticed the Cupid when I sat out here yesterday afternoon.”
This remark aggravated his sense of injury. “If you sat out here, I don’t see how you could have helped seeing it,” he said.
“I was facing away from it — and Joe does n’t notice such things. Besides we got so interested talking — one does, sometimes. I’m afraid you thought me very rude not to have sent you some acknowledgment.”
“Oh, no. It was presented so casually that I expected the acknowledgment to be casual.”
He spoke stiffly; the thought of that engrossing conversation with Joe Morrison filled him with questions that could not be asked and forebodings that were most disturbing. And just then Joe Morrison appeared. He was as goodlooking as Madelaine had said, and he came strolling down the garden path with what seemed to Herbert the unconscious grace of a triumphant bank president.
“Hello, Herbert; how are you, old man ? ” Joe’s greeting was cordial — tainted, however, Herbert thought, with a subtle hospitality. Business men had such a way of slipping comfortably into the most ecstatic human relations and taking them as a matter of course. “Been having a good summer ? — Quite a productive one, I see. Madelaine has had me dabbling in one of your kindred arts.”
“Then you’ve finished your poem?” said Madelaine. “Do recite it; I don’t want to run after the guest-book.”
“It’s very short — I guess I can remember it. Herbert, would n’t your heart bleed for one who is driven to this:
And the things urbane
That I would say
Ere I take the train
I find it hard,
Not being a bard,
To embody in verse for Madelaine.”
“That is merely dodging the issue,”said Madelaine.
“No, it’s coming up to the scratch,” said Herbert. “ So you ’re leaving soon ?”
“In about half-an hour.”
Thereupon Herbert bade him goodby. He certainly would not intrude upon their last half-hour. The cheerfulness, the masterfulness in Joe’s manner, the way in which Madelaine had harked back to Joe — it was all conclusive. “She ought to have told me there was definitely some one else,” he thought; and then he excused her; no doubt it had just happened —within a few days, a few hours.
At home Herbert sat in his studio and gazed at the figure on which he had been working so hopefully, so happily. The achievement to which his heart had been urging him had been so bound up with the attainment of his heart’s desire. He felt that he would never be able to go on with it now. He felt so about it for three days, and then he was seized with a determination to finish it and make it the best thing he had ever done — to finish it, not in the lyrical spirit in which he had begun it, but as a testimony to himself of his character.
“If I can put it through now — ” he muttered sometimes while he worked — “if I can put it through now—! ”
And so on this test for his own inward eye, heedless of the achievement as it might affect any one else, or as it might affect his own fortunes, he concentrated all his mind and heart. And he soon knew that he was making a thing better than he had dreamed of making.
And all this time he did not once see Madelaine. She telephoned to him on a Sunday that Joe Morrison bad come down for the week-end, and invited him to dinner; but he made an excuse. One afternoon he stood off to look at his work. It was finished.
It was the figure beautiful, ideal — the complete expression of his thought, the utmost creation of his hands and brain; his vision stood there at last all realized before him.
Madelaine came over to see the statue.
“I hope you’ll like it,” said Herbert. “You remember speaking of ‘the big thing’ that I ought to do? This is it — as nearly as I can come to it.”
“Then I’m sure I shall like it.”
She walked with him up through the pergola, which was overhung with clematis in bloom.
“I think I’ll tell you before rather than after,” he said. “I want to prejudice you in its favor all I can. Harrison was down the other day and saw it; he wants to buy it for the museum.”
“Splendid! That’s a tremendous honor, is n’t it ? ”
“Pretty good for me.”
They passed through the garden brilliant with white phlox and white hollyhocks, and then through an orchard of apple trees. Beyond that appeared the studio, a square white building, with rosebushes planted along the wall. Herbert unlocked the door.
Madelaine entered; before her was the clay image of a young woman holding a baby in her arms; the baby gazed upward, wide-eyed and smiling, and the young woman smiled down at him as if wondering what the baby saw and what thought was pleasant in his brain. But there was more than an amused sympathy declared; there was a joyous isolation and detachment — an unconscious happiness in the fact that there within her arms she held her entire world.
Herbert had been watching Madelaine’s face. He saw the look of expectancy lighten into surprised pleasure — and then, after a moment, darken into doubt. In sudden alarm he looked from Madelaine to the statue.
In that glance the truth stabbed him. Only the faintest suggestion of a personality— and yet — and yet too much! With sickness and sorrow in his heart he turned again to Madelaine; her cheeks were aflame.
He stepped over to the statue, caught up a mallet, and dashed it into the happy, smiling face; and where before had been the joy and pride of motherhood was now merely a blot of clay.
The girl uttered the involuntary cry, made the involuntary step forward; her face was now white. Before she could draw back Herbert caught both her wrists and held them in tight, trembling hands.
“Madelaine,” he said, and his voice trembled like his hands, “I did n’t know — till you stood here I did n’t realize — I’m sure nobody but you and me could ever have seen — and I did n’t — believe me, I did n’t, till just now! I’m sorry to have hurt you; it’s the last thing I could ever have wanted to do! ”
“I’m sorry — I’m so sorry!” Madelaine’s voice was piteously appealing, as if she herself had been in some way to blame. “To have to spoil anything that must have cost you so — so much labor — ”
“So much love! I never thought — I was possessed with my idea — my ideal, Madelaine.” His voice choked for a moment; then he went on. “I thought I knew you better than you knew yourself —I’d seen so much in your eyes, I’d watched you so when you looked at those little children that I’d done — I thought I could prove something to you with this. I was doing it all for you, Madelaine.”
“What can I say? Oh, I’m sorry, Herbert.” And then, as he still held her wrists, she said, “Please, Herbert — please let me go.”
He obeyed at once. “I beg your pardon.” He recovered something of his old light manner. “I was n’t aware of what I was doing — just as in the other thing. I hope I did n’t hurt you ? ”
“No, it was n’t that — only I must go.” But she lingered in the doorway; the light fell on her dark hair and soft eyes, her lips were parted uncertainly — as if she had not said all that in her sympathy she would like to say.
He startled her by stepping forward and exclaiming in a sudden, authoritative voice, “You can’t go yet. Give me your hands again.” He took them; in her bewilderment she did not resist. “ Now then, look at me. Do you remember my saying that I did n’t see how any girl ever could love any man until after she had somehow belonged to him ? That ruin there — you know now that somehow you belong to me. Madelaine,” — he drew her hands closer to him and his eyes shone with a humor that was nearly all tenderness, — “I dare you to look me in the eyes; I dare you, Madelaine.”
She did not respond; her hands were trembling now. “Come,” he urged; there was gentle, coaxing laughter in his voice. “I never knew you when you lacked courage, Madelaine. I dare you to look me in the eyes.”
Then she met his challenge — with a faint smile on her lips and with eyes that were steady and brave.
“And don’t flinch. For you do love me, Madelaine, you do, you do, you know you do! ” He bent and kissed her and drew her close, and then held her, murmuring, “Oh, my dear, my dear!”
“Oh Herbert!” She looked up at him with radiant wet eyes. Her lips were trembling; she put one hand on his shoulder and said, “Herbert, I believe — I believe I do; ” and gently she drew his face down to hers.