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The Best Works of James Lane Allen A Cathedral SingerA Kentucky CardinalAftermathSister Dolorosa and Posthumous FameThe Bride of the MistletoeThe Choir InvisibleThe Doctor's Christmas EveThe Last Christmas TreeThe Mettle of the PastureThe Reign Of Law
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The Best Collection of James Lane Allen
A Cathedral Singer
A Kentucky Cardinal
Sister Dolorosa and Posthumous Fame
The Bride of the Mistletoe
The Choir Invisible
The Doctor's Christmas Eve
The Last Christmas Tree
The Mettle of the Pasture
The Reign Of Law
A Cathedral Singer, by James Lane Allen
TO PITY AND TO FAITH
A Cathedral Singer
Slowly on Morningside Heights rises the Cathedral of St. John the Divine: standing on a high rock under the Northern sky above the long wash of the untroubled sea, above the wash of the troubled waves of men.
It has fit neighbors. Across the street to the north looms the many-towered gray-walled Hospital of St. Luke--cathedral of our ruins, of our sufferings and our dust, near the cathedral of our souls.
Across the block to the south is situated a shed-like two-story building with dormer-windows and a crumpled three-sided roof, the studios of the National Academy of Design; and under that low brittle skylight youth toils over the shapes and colors of the visible vanishing paradise of the earth in the shadow of the cathedral which promises an unseen, an eternal one.
At the rear of the cathedral, across the roadway, stands a low stone wall. Just over the wall the earth sinks like a precipice to a green valley bottom far below. Out here is a rugged slope of rock and verdure and forest growth which brings into the city an ancient presence, nature--nature, the Elysian Fields of the art school, the potter's field of the hospital, the harvest field of the church.
This strip of nature fronts the dawn and is called Morningside Park. Past the foot of it a thoroughfare stretches northward and southward, level and wide and smooth. Over this thoroughfare the two opposite-moving streams of the city's traffic and travel rush headlong. Beyond the thoroughfare an embankment of houses shoves its mass before the eyes, and beyond the embankment the city spreads out over flats where human beings are as thick as river reeds.
Thus within small compass humanity is here: the cathedral, the hospital, the art school, and a strip of nature, and a broad highway along which, with their hearth-fires flickering fitfully under their tents of stone, are encamped life's restless, light-hearted, heavy-hearted Gipsies.
* * * * *
It was Monday morning and it was nine o'clock. Over at the National Academy of Design, in an upper room, the members of one of the women's portrait classes were assembled, ready to begin work. Easels had been drawn into position; a clear light from the blue sky of the last of April fell through the opened roof upon new canvases fastened to the frames. And it poured down bountifully upon intelligent young faces. The scene was a beautiful one, and it was complete except in one particular: the teacher of the class was missing--the teacher and a model.
Minutes passed without his coming, and when at last he did enter the room, he advanced two or three steps and paused as though he meant presently to go out again. After his usual quiet good-morning with his sober smile, he gave his alert listeners the clue to an unusual situation:
"I told the class that to-day we should begin a fresh study. I had not myself decided what this should be. Several models were in reserve, any one of whom could have been used to advantage at this closing stage of the year's course. Then the unexpected happened: on Saturday a stranger, a woman, came to see me and asked to be engaged. It is this model that I have been waiting for down-stairs."
Their thoughts instantly passed to the model: his impressive manner, his respectful words, invested her with mystery, with fascination. His countenance lighted up with wonderful interest as he went on:
"She is not a professional; she has never posed. In asking me to engage her she proffered barely the explanation which she seemed to feel due herself. I turn this explanation over to you because she wished, I think, that you also should not misunderstand her. It is the fee, then, that is needed, the model's wage; she has felt the common lash of the poor. Plainly here is some one who has stepped down from her place in life, who has descended far below her inclinations, to raise a small sum of money. Why she does so is of course her own sacred and delicate affair. But the spirit in which she does this becomes our affair, because it becomes a matter of expression with her. This self-sacrifice, this ordeal which she voluntarily undergoes to gain her end, shows in her face; and if while she poses, you should be fortunate enough to see this look along with other fine things, great things, it will be your aim to transfer them all to your canvases--if you can."
He smiled at them with a kind of fostering challenge to their over-confident impulses and immature art. But he had not yet fully brought out what he had in mind about the mysterious stranger and he continued:
"We teachers of art schools in engaging models have to take from human material as we find it. The best we find is seldom or never what we would prefer. If I, for instance, could have my choice, my students would never be allowed to work from a model who repelled the student or left the student indifferent. No students of mine, if I could have my way, should ever paint from a model that failed to call forth the finest feelings. Otherwise, how can your best emotions have full play in your work; and unless your best emotions enter into your work, what will your work be worth? For if you have never before understood the truth, try to realize it now: that you will succeed in painting only through the best that is in you; just as only the best in you will ever carry you triumphantly to the end of any practical human road that is worth the travel; just as you will reach all life's best goals only through your best. And in painting remember that the best is never in the eye, for the eye can only perceive, the eye can only direct; and the best is never in the hand, for the hand can only measure, the hand can only move. In painting the best comes from emotion. A human being may lack eyes and be none the poorer in character; a human being may lack hands and be none the poorer in character; but whenever in life a person lacks any great emotion, that person is the poorer in everything. And so in painting you can fail after the eye has gained all necessary knowledge, you can fail after your hand has received all necessary training, either because nature has denied you the foundations of great feeling, or because, having these foundations, you have failed to make them the foundations of your work.
"But among a hundred models there might not be one to arouse such emotion. Actually in the world, among the thousands of people we know, how few stir in us our best, force us to our best! It is the rarest experience of our lifetimes that we meet a man or a woman who literally drives us to the realization of what we really are and can really do when we do our best. What we all most need in our careers is the one who can liberate within us that lifelong prisoner whose doom it is to remain a captive until another sets it free--our best. For we can never set our best free by our own hands; that must always be done by another."
They were listening to him with a startled recognition of their inmost selves. He went on to drive home his point about the stranger:
"I am going to introduce to you, then, a model who beyond all the others you have worked with will liberate in you your finer selves. It is a rare opportunity. Do not thank me. I did not find her. Life's storms have blown her violently against the walls of the art school; we must see to it at least that she be not further bruised while it becomes her shelter, her refuge. Who she is, what her life has been, where she comes from, how she happens to arrive here--these are privacies into which of course we do not intrude. Immediately behind herself she drops a curtain of silence which shuts away every such sign of her past. But there are other signs of that past which she cannot hide and which it is our privilege, our duty, the province of our art, to read. They are written on her face, on her hands, on her bearing; they are written all over her--the bruises of life's rudenesses, the lingering shadows of dark days, the unwounded pride once and the wounded pride now, the unconquerable will, a soaring spirit whose wings were meant for the upper air but which are broken and beat the dust. All these are sublime things to paint in any human countenance; they are the footprints of destiny on our faces. The greatest masters of the brush that the world has ever known could not have asked for anything greater. When you behold her, perhaps some of you may think of certain brief but eternal words of Pascal: 'Man is a reed that bends but does not break.' Such is your model, then, a woman with a great countenance; the fighting face of a woman at peace. Now out upon the darkened battle-field of this woman's face shines one serene sun, and it is that sun that brings out upon it its marvelous human radiance, its supreme expression: the love of the mother. Your model is the beauty of motherhood, the sacredness of motherhood, the glory of motherhood: that is to be the portrait of her that you are to paint."
He stopped. Their faces glowed; their eyes disclosed depths in their natures never stirred before; from out those depths youthful, tender creative forces came forth, eager to serve, to obey. He added a few particulars:
"For a while after she is posed you will no doubt see many different expressions pass rapidly over her face. This will be a new and painful experience to which she will not be able to adapt herself at once. She will be uncomfortable, she will be awkward, she will be embarrassed, she will be without her full value. But I think from what I discovered while talking with her that she will soon grow oblivious to her surroundings. They will not overwhelm her; she will finally overwhelm them. She will soon forget you and me and the studio; the one ruling passion of her life will sweep back into consciousness; and then out upon her features will come again that marvelous look which has almost remodeled them to itself alone."
He added, "I will go for her. By this time she must be waiting down-stairs."
As he turned he glanced at the screens placed at that end of the room; behind these the models made their preparations to pose.
"I have arranged," he said significantly, "that she shall leave her things down-stairs."
It seemed long before they heard him on the way back. He came slowly, as though concerned not to hurry his model, as though to save her from the disrespect of urgency. Even the natural noise of his feet on the bare hallway was restrained. They listened for the sounds of her footsteps. In the tense silence of the studio a pin-drop might have been noticeable, a breath would have been audible; but they could not hear her footsteps. He might have been followed by a spirit. Those feet of hers must be very light feet, very quiet feet, the feet of the well-bred.
He entered and advanced a few paces and turned as though to make way for some one of far more importance than himself; and there walked forward and stopped at a delicate distance from them all a woman, bareheaded, ungloved, slender, straight, of middle height, and in life's middle years--Rachel Truesdale.
She did not look at him or at them; she did not look at anything. It was not her role to notice. She merely waited, perfectly composed, to be told what to do. Her thoughts and emotions did not enter into the scene at all; she was there solely as having been hired for work.
One privilege she had exercised unsparingly--not to offer herself for this employment as becomingly dressed for it. She submitted herself to be painted in austerest fidelity to nature, plainly dressed, her hair parted and brushed severely back. Women, sometimes great women, have in history, at the hour of their supreme tragedies, thus demeaned themselves--for the hospital, for baptism, for the guillotine, for the stake, for the cross.
But because she made herself poor in apparel, she became most rich in her humanity. There was nothing for the eye to rest upon but her bare self. And thus the contours of the head, the beauty of the hair, the line of it along the forehead and temples, the curvature of the brows, the chiseling of the proud nostrils and the high bridge of the nose, the molding of the mouth, the modeling of the throat, the shaping of the shoulders, the grace of the arms and the hands--all became conspicuous, absorbing. The slightest elements of physique and of personality came into view powerful, unforgetable.
She stood, not noticing anything, waiting for instructions. With the courtesy which was the soul of him and the secret of his genius for inspiring others to do their utmost, the master of the class glanced at her and glanced at the members of the class, and tried to draw them together with a mere smile of sympathetic introduction. It was an attempt to break the ice. For them it did break the ice; all responded with a smile for her or with other play of the features that meant gracious recognition. With her the ice remained unbroken; she withheld all response to their courteous overtures. Either she may not have trusted herself to respond; or waiting there merely as a model, she declined to establish any other understanding with them whatsoever. So that he went further in the kindness of his intention and said:
"Madam, this is my class of eager, warm, generous young natures who are to have the opportunity of trying to paint you. They are mere beginners; their art is still unformed. But you may believe that they will put their best into what they are about to undertake; the loyalty of the hand, the respect of the eye, the tenderness of their memories, consecration to their art, their dreams and hopes of future success. Now if you will be good enough to sit here, I will pose you."
He stepped toward a circular revolving-platform placed at the focus of the massed easels: it was the model's rack of patience, the mount of humiliation, the scaffold of exposure.
She had perhaps not understood that this would be required of her, this indignity, that she must climb upon a block like an old-time slave at an auction. For one instant her fighting look came back and her eyes, though they rested on vacancy, blazed on vacancy and an ugly red rushed over her face which had been whiter than colorless. Then as though she had become disciplined through years of necessity to do the unworthy things that must be done, she stepped resolutely though unsteadily upon the platform. A long procession of men and women had climbed thither from many a motive on life's upward or downward road.
He had specially chosen a chair for a three-quarter portrait, stately, richly carved; about it hung an atmosphere of high-born things.
Now, the body has definite memories as the mind has definite memories, and scarcely had she seated herself before the recollections of former years revived in her and she yielded herself to the chair as though she had risen from it a moment before. He did not have to pose her; she had posed herself by grace of bygone luxurious ways. A few changes in the arrangement of the hands he did make. There was required some separation of the fingers; excitement caused her to hold them too closely together. And he drew the entire hands into notice; he specially wished them to be appreciated in the portrait. They were wonderful hands: they looked eloquent with the histories of generations; their youthfulness seemed centuries old. Yet all over them, barely to be seen, were the marks of life's experience, the delicate but dread sculpture of adversity.
For a while it was as he had foreseen. She was aware only of the brutality of her position; and her face, by its confused expressions and quick changes of color, showed what painful thoughts surged. Afterward a change came gradually. As though she could endure the ordeal only by forgetting it and could forget it only by looking ahead into the happiness for which it was endured, slowly there began to shine out upon her face its ruling passion--the acceptance of life and the love of the mother glinting as from a cloud-hidden sun across the world's storm. When this expression had come out, it stayed there. She had forgotten her surroundings, she had forgotten herself. Poor indeed must have been the soul that would not have been touched by the spectacle of her, thrilled by her as by a great vision.
There was silence in the room of young workers. Before them, on the face of the unknown, was the only look that the whole world knows--the love and self-sacrifice of the mother; perhaps the only element of our better humanity that never once in the history of mankind has been misunderstood and ridiculed or envied and reviled.
Some of them worked with faces brightened by thoughts of devoted mothers at home; the eyes of a few were shadowed by memories of mothers alienated or dead.
That morning on the ledge of rock at the rear of the cathedral Nature hinted to passers what they would more abundantly see if fortunate enough to be with her where she was entirely at home--out in the country.
The young grass along the foot of this slope was thick and green; imagination missed from the picture rural sheep, their fleeces wet with April rain. Along the summit of the slope trees of oak and ash and maple and chestnut and poplar lifted against the sky their united forest strength. Between the trees above and the grass below, the embankment spread before the eye the enchantment of a spring landscape, with late bare boughs and early green boughs and other boughs in blossom.
The earliest blossoms on our part of the earth's surface are nearly always white. They have forced their way to the sun along a frozen path and look akin to the perils of their road: the snow-threatened lily of the valley, the chill snowdrop, the frosty snowball, the bleak hawtree, the wintry wild cherry, the wintry dogwood. As the eye swept the park expanse this morning, here and there some of these were as the last tokens of winter's mantle instead of the first tokens of summer's.
There were flushes of color also, as where in deep soil, on a projection of rock, a pink hawthorn stood studded to the tips of its branches with leaf and flower. But such flushes of color were as false notes of the earth, as harmonies of summer thrust into the wrong places and become discords. The time for them was not yet. The hour called for hardy adventurous things, awakened out of their cold sleep on the rocks. The blue of the firmament was not dark summer blue but seemed the sky's first pale response to the sun. The sun was not rich summer gold but flashed silver rays. The ground scattered no odors; all was the budding youth of Nature on the rocks.
Paths wind hither and thither over this park hillside. Benches are placed at different levels along the way. If you are going up, you may rest; if you are coming down, you may linger; if neither going up nor coming down, you may with a book seek out some retreat of shade and coolness and keep at a distance the millions that rush and crush around the park as waters roar against some lone mid-ocean island.
About eleven o'clock that morning, on one of these benches placed where rock is steepest and forest trees stand close together and vines are rank with shade, a sociable-looking little fellow of some ten hardy well-buffeted years had sat down for the moment without a companion. He had thrown upon the bench beside him his sun-faded, rain-faded, shapeless cap, uncovering much bronzed hair; and as though by this simple act he had cleared the way for business, he thrust one capable-looking hand deep into one of his pockets. The fingers closed upon what they found there, like the meshes of a deep-sea net filled with its catch, and were slowly drawn to the surface. The catch consisted of one-cent and five-cent pieces, representing the sales of his morning papers. He counted the coins one by one over into the palm of the other hand, which then closed upon the total like another net, and dropped the treasure back into the deep sea of the other pocket.
His absorption in this process had been intense; his satisfaction with the result was complete. Perhaps after every act of successful banking there takes place in the mind of man, spendthrift and miser, a momentary lull of energy, a kind of brief Pax vobiscum my soul and stomach, my twin masters of need and greed! And possibly, as the lad deposited his earnings, he was old enough to enter a little way into this adult and despicable joy. Be this as it may, he was not the next instant up again and busy. He caught up his cap, dropped it not on his head but on one of his ragged knees; planted a sturdy hand on it and the other sturdy hand on the other knee; and with his sturdy legs swinging under the bench, toe kicking heel and heel kicking toe, he rested briefly from life's battle.
The signs of battle were thick on him, unmistakable. The palpable sign, the conqueror's sign, was the profits won in the struggle of the streets. The other signs may be set down as loss--dirt and raggedness and disorder. His hair might never have been straightened out with a comb; his hands were not politely mentionable; his coarse shoes, which seemed to have been bought with the agreement that they were never to wear out, were ill-conditioned with general dust and the special grime of melted pitch from the typical contractor's cheapened asphalt; one of his stockings had a fresh rent and old rents enlarged their grievances.
A single sign of victory was better even than the money in the pocket--the whole lad himself. He was strongly built, frankly fashioned, with happy grayish eyes, which had in them some of the cold warrior blue of the sky that day; and they were set wide apart in a compact round head, which somehow suggested a bronze sphere on a column of triumph. Altogether he belonged to that hillside of nature, himself a human growth budding out of wintry fortunes into life's April, opening on the rocks hardy and all white.
But to sit there swinging his legs--this did not suffice to satisfy his heart, did not enable him to celebrate his instincts; and suddenly from his thicket of forest trees and greening bushes he began to pour forth a thrilling little tide of song, with the native sweetness of some human linnet unaware of its transcendent gift.
Up the steep hill a man not yet of middle age had mounted from the flats. He was on his way toward the parapet above. He came on slowly, hat in hand, perspiration on his forehead; that climb from base to summit stretches a healthy walker and does him good. At a turn of the road under the forest trees with shrubbery alongside he stopped suddenly, as a naturalist might pause with half-lifted foot beside a dense copse in which some unknown species of bird sang--a young bird just finding its notes.
It was his vocation to discover and to train voices. His definite work in music was to help perpetually to rebuild for the world that ever-sinking bridge of sound over which Faith aids itself in walking-toward the eternal. This bridge of falling notes is as Nature's bridge of falling drops: individual drops appear for an instant in the rainbow, then disappear, but century after century the great arch stands there on the sky unshaken. So throughout the ages the bridge of sacred music, in which individual voices are heard a little while and then are heard no longer, remains for man as one same structure of rock by which he passes over from the mortal to the immortal.
Such was his life-work. As he now paused and listened, you might have interpreted his demeanor as that of a professional musician whose ears brought tidings that greatly astonished him. The thought had at once come to him of how the New York papers once in a while print a story of the accidental finding in it of a wonderful voice--in New York, where you can find everything that is human. He recalled throughout the history of music instances in which some one of the world's famous singers had been picked up on life's road where it was roughest. Was anything like this now to become his own experience? Falling on his ear was an unmistakable gift of song, a wandering, haunting, unidentified note under that early April blue. He had never heard anything like it. It was a singing soul.
Voice alone did not suffice for his purpose; the singer's face, personality, manners, some unfortunate strain in the blood, might debar the voice, block its acceptance, ruin everything. He almost dreaded to walk on, to explore what was ahead. But his road led that way, and three steps brought him around the woody bend of it.
There he stopped again. In an embrasure of rock on which vines were turning green, a little fellow, seasoned by wind and sun, with a countenance open and friendly, like the sky, was pouring out his full heart.
The instant the man came into view, the song was broken off. The sturdy figure started up and sprang forward with the instinct of business. When any one paused and looked questioningly at him, as this man now did, it meant papers and pennies. His inquiry was quite breathless:
"Do you want a paper, Mister? What paper do you want? I can get you one on the avenue in a minute."
He stood looking up at the man, alert, capable, fearless, ingratiating. The man had instantly taken note of the speaking voice, which is often a safer first criterion to go by than the singing voice itself. He pronounced it sincere, robust, true, sweet, victorious. And very quickly also he made up his mind that conditions must have been rare and fortunate with the lad at his birth: blood will tell, and blood told now even in this dirt and in these rags.
His reply bore testimony to how appreciative he felt of all that faced him there so humanly on the rock.
"Thank you," he said, "I have read the papers."
Having thus disposed of some of the lad's words, he addressed a pointed question to the rest:
"But how did you happen to call me mister? I thought boss was what you little New-Yorkers generally said."
"I'm not a New-Yorker," announced the lad, with ready courtesy and good nature. "I don't say boss. We are Southerners. I say mister."
He gave the man an unfavorable look as though of a mind to take his true measure; also as being of a mind to let the man know that he had not taken the boy's measure.
The man smiled at being corrected to such good purpose; but before he could speak again, the lad went on to clinch his correction:
"And I only say mister when I am selling papers and am not at home."
"What do you say when not selling papers and when you are at home?" asked the man, forced to a smile.
"I say 'sir,' if I say anything," retorted the lad, flaring up, but still polite.
The man looked at him with increasing interest. Another word in the lad's speech had caught his attention--Southerner.
That word had been with him a good deal in recent years; he had not quite seemed able to get away from it. Nearly all classes of people in New York who were not Southerners had been increasingly reminded that the Southerners were upon them. He had satirically worked it out in his own mind that if he were ever pushed out of his own position, it would be some Southerner who pushed him. He sometimes thought of the whole New York professional situation as a public wonderful awful dinner at which almost nothing was served that did not have a Southern flavor as from a kind of pepper. The guests were bound to have administered to them their shares of this pepper; there was no getting away from the table and no getting the pepper out of the dinner. There was the intrusion of the South into every delicacy.
"We are Southerners," the lad had announced decisively; and there the flavor was again, though this time as from a mere pepper-box in a school basket. Thus his next remark was addressed to his own thoughts as well as to the lad:
"And so you are a Southerner!" he reflected audibly, looking down at the Southern plague in small form.
"Why, yes, Mister, we are Southerners," replied the lad, with a gay and careless patriotism; and as giving the handy pepper-box a shake, he began to dust the air with its contents: "I was born on an old Southern battle-field. When Granny was born there, it had hardly stopped smoking; it was still piled with wounded and dead Northerners. Why, one of the worst batteries was planted in our front porch."
This enthusiasm as to the front porch was assumed to be acceptable to the listener. The battery might have been a Cherokee rose.
The man had listened with a quizzical light in his eyes.
"In what direction did you say that battery was pointed?"
"I didn't say; but it was pointed up this way, of course."
The man laughed outright.
"And so you followed in the direction of the deadly Southern shell and came north--as a small grape-shot!"
"But, Mister, that was long ago. They had their quarrel out long ago. That's the way we boys do: fight it out and make friends again. Don't you do that way?"
"It's a very good way to do," said the man. "And so you sell papers?"
"I sell papers to people in the park, Mister, and back up on the avenue. Granny is particular. I'm not a regular newsboy."
"I heard you singing. Does anybody teach you?"
"And so your grandmother is your music teacher?"
It was the lad's turn to laugh.
"Granny isn't my grandmother; Granny is my mother."
Toppling over in the dust of imagination went a gaunt granny image; in its place a much more vital being appeared just behind the form of the lad, guarding him even now while he spoke.
"And so your mother takes pupils?"
"Has any one heard you sing?"
It had become more and more the part of the man during this colloquy to smile; he felt repeatedly in the flank of his mind a jab of the comic spur. Now he laughed at the lad's deadly preparedness; business competition in New York had taught him that he who hesitates a moment is lost. The boy seemed ready with his answers before he heard the man's questions.
"Do you mind telling me your name?"
"My name is Ashby. Ashby Truesdale. We come from an old English family. What is your name, and what kind of family do you come from, Mister?"
"And where do you live?"
The lad wheeled, and strode to the edge of the rock,--the path along there is blasted out of solid rock,--and looking downward, he pointed to the first row of buildings in the distant flats.
"We live down there. You see that house in the middle of the block, the little old one between the two big ones?"
The man did not feel sure.
"Well, Mister, you see the statue of Washington and Lafayette?"
The man was certain he saw Washington and Lafayette.
"Well, from there you follow my finger along the row of houses till you come to the littlest, oldest, dingiest one. You see it now, don't you? We live up under the roof."
"What is the number?"
"It isn't any number. It's half a number. We live in the half that isn't numbered; the other half gets the number."
"And you take your music lessons in one half?"
"Why, yes, Mister. Why not?"
"On a piano?"
"Why, yes, Mister; on my piano."
"Oh, you have a piano, have you?"
"There isn't any sound in about half the keys. Granny says the time has come to rent a better one. She has gone over to the art school to-day to pose to get the money."
A chill of silence fell between the talkers, the one looking up and the other looking down. The man's next question was put in a more guarded tone:
"Does your mother pose as a model?"
"No, Mister, she doesn't pose as a model. She's posing as herself. She said I must have a teacher. Mister, were you ever poor?"
The man looked the boy over from head to foot.
"Do you think you are poor?" he asked.
The good-natured reply came back in a droll tone:
"Well, Mister, we certainly aren't rich."
"Let us see," objected the man, as though this were a point which had better not be yielded, and he began with a voice of one reckoning up items: "Two feet, each cheap at, say, five millions. Two hands--five millions apiece for hands.At least ten millions for each eye.About the same for the ears.Certainly twenty millions for your teeth.Forty millions for your stomach. On the whole, at a rough estimate you must easily be worth over one hundred millions. There are quite a number of old gentlemen in New York, and a good many young ones, who would gladly pay that amount for your investments, for your securities."
The lad with eager upturned countenance did not conceal his amusement while the man drew this picture of him as a living ragged gold-mine, as actually put together and made up of pieces of fabulous treasure. A child's notion of wealth is the power to pay for what it has not. The wealth that childhood is, escapes childhood; it does not escape the old. What most concerned the lad as to these priceless feet and hands and eyes and ears was the hard-knocked-in fact that many a time he ached throughout this reputed treasury of his being for a five-cent piece, and these reputed millionaires, acting together and doing their level best, could not produce one.
Nevertheless, this fresh and never-before-imagined image of his self-riches amused him. It somehow put him over into the class of enormously opulent things; and finding himself a little lonely on that new landscape, he cast about for some object of comparison. Thus his mind was led to the richest of all near-by objects.
"If I were worth a hundred million," he said, with a satisfied twinkle in his eyes, "I would be as rich as the cathedral."
A significant silence followed. The man broke it with a grave surprised inquiry:
"How did you happen to think of the cathedral?"
"I didn't happen to think of it; I couldn't help thinking of it."
"Have you ever been in the cathedral?" inquired the man more gravely still.
"Been in it! We go there all the time. It's our church. Why, good Lord! Mister, we are descended from a bishop!"
The man laughed outright long and heartily.
"Thank you for telling me," he said as one who suddenly feels himself to have become a very small object through being in the neighborhood of such hereditary beatitudes and ecclesiastical sanctities. "Are you, indeed? I am glad to know. Indeed, I am!"
"Why, Mister, we have been watching the cathedral from our windows for years. We can see the workmen away up in the air as they finish one part and then another part. I can count the Apostles on the roof. You begin with James the Less and keep straight on around until you come out at Simon. Big Jim and Pete are in the middle of the row." He laughed.
"Surely you are not going to speak of an apostle as Pete! Do you think that is showing proper respect to an apostle?"
"But he was Pete when he was little. He wasn't an apostle then and didn't have any respect."
"And you mustn't call an apostle Big Jim! It sounds dreadful!"
"Then why did he try to call himself James the Greater? That sounds dreadful too. As far as size is concerned he is no bigger than the others: they are all nine and a half feet. The Archangel Gabriel on the roof, he's nine and a half. Everybody standing around on the outside of the roof is nine and a half. If Gabriel had been turned a little to one side, he would blow his trumpet straight over our flat. He didn't blow anywhere one night, for a big wind came up behind him and blew him down and he blew his trumpet at the gutter. But he didn't stay down," boasted the lad.
Throughout his talk he was making it clear that the cathedral was a neighborhood affair; that its haps and mishaps possessed for him the flesh and blood interest of a living person. Love takes mental possession of its object and by virtue of his affection the cathedral had become his companion.
"You seem rather interested in the cathedral. Very much interested," remarked the man, strengthening his statement and with increased attention.
"Why, of course, Mister. I've been passing there nearly every day since I've been selling papers on the avenue. Sometimes I stop and watch the masons. When I went with Granny to the art school this morning, she told me to go home that way. I have just come from there. They are building another one of the chapels now, and the men are up on the scaffolding. They carried more rock up than they needed and they would walk to the edge and throw big pieces of it down with a smash. The old house they are using for the choir school is just under there. Sometimes when the class is practising, I listen from the outside. If they sing high, I sing high; if they sing low, I sing low. Why, Mister, I can sing up to--"
He broke off abruptly. He had been pouring-out all kinds of confidences to his new-found friend. Now he hesitated. The boldness of his nature deserted him. The deadly preparedness failed. A shy appealing look came into his eyes as he asked his next question--a grave question indeed:
"Mister, do you love music?"
"Do I love music?" echoed the startled musician, pierced by the spear-like sincerity of the question, which seemed to go clean through him and his knowledge and to point back to childhood's springs of feeling. "Do I love music? Yes, some music, I hope. Some kinds of music, I hope."
These moderate, chastened words restored the boy's confidence and completely captured his friendship. Now he felt sure of his comrade, and he put to him a more searching question:
"Do you know anything about the cathedral?"
The man smiled guiltily.
"A little. I know a little about the cathedral," he admitted.
There was a moment of tense, anxious silence. And now the whole secret came out:
"Do you know how boys get into the cathedral choir school?"
The man did not answer. He stood looking down at the lad, in whose eyes all at once a great baffled desire told its story. Then he pulled out his watch and merely said:
"I must be going. Good morning." He turned his way across the rock.
Disappointment darkened the lad's face when he saw that he was to receive no answer; withering blight dried up its joy. But he recovered himself quickly.
"Well, I must be going, too," he said bravely and sweetly. "Good morning." He turned his way across the rock. But he had had a good time talking with this stranger, and, after all, he was a Southerner; and so, as his head was about to disappear below the cliff, he called back in his frank human gallant way:
"I'm glad I met you, Mister."
The man went up and the boy went down.
The man, having climbed to the parapet, leaned over the stone wall. The tops of some of the tall poplar-trees, rooted far below, were on a level with his eyes. Often he stopped there to watch them swaying like upright plumes against the wind. They swayed now in the silvery April air with a ripple of silvery leaves. His eyes sought out intimately the barely swollen buds on the boughs of other forest trees yet far from leaf. They lingered on the white blossoms of the various shrubs. They found the pink hawthorn; in the boughs of one of those trees one night in England in mid-May he had heard the nightingale, master singer of the non-human world. Up to him rose the enchanting hillside picture of grass and moss and fern. It was all like a sheet of soft organ music to his nature-reading eyes.
While he gazed, he listened. Down past the shadows and the greenness, through the blossoms and the light, growing fainter and fainter, went a wandering little drift of melody, a haunting, unidentified sound under the blue cathedral dome of the sky. He reflected again that he had never heard anything like it. It was, in truth, a singing soul.
Then he saw the lad's sturdy figure bound across the valley to join friends in play on the thoroughfare that skirts the park alongside the row of houses.
He himself turned and went in the direction of the cathedral.
As he walked slowly along, one thing haunted him remorsefully--the upturned face of the lad and the look in his eyes as he asked the question which brought out the secret desire of a life: "Do you know how boys get into the cathedral choir school?" Then the blight of disappointment when there was no answer.
The man walked thoughtfully on, seemingly as one who was turning over and over in his mind some difficult, delicate matter, looking at it on all sides and in every light, as he must do.
Finally he quickened his pace as though having decided what ought to be done. He looked the happier for his decision.
That night in an attic-like room of an old building opposite Morningside Park a tiny supper-table for two stood ready in the middle of the floor; the supper itself, the entire meal, was spread. There is a victory which human nature in thousands of lives daily wins over want, that though it cannot drive poverty from the scene, it can hide its desolation by the genius of choice and of touch. A battle of that brave and desperate kind had been won in this garret. Lacking every luxury, it had the charm of tasteful bareness, of exquisite penury. The supper-table of cheap wood roughly carpentered was hidden under a piece of fine long-used table-linen; into the gleaming damask were wrought clusters of snowballs. The glare of a plain glass lamp was softened by a too costly silk shade. Over the rim of a common vase hung a few daffodils, too costly daffodils. The supper, frugal to a bargain, tempted the eye and the appetite by the good sense with which it had been chosen and prepared. Thus the whole scene betokened human nature at bay but victorious in the presence of that wolf, whose near-by howl startles the poor out of their sleep.
Into this empty room sounds penetrated through a door. They proceeded from piano-keys evidently so old that one wondered whether possibly they had not begun to be played on in the days of Beethoven, whether they were not such as were new on the clavichord of Bach. The fingers that pressed them were unmistakably those of a child. As the hands wandered up and down the keyboard, the ear now and then took notice of a broken string. There were many of these broken strings. The instrument plainly announced itself to be a remote, well-nigh mythical ancestor of the modern piano, preternaturally lingering on amid an innumerable deafening progeny. It suggested a superannuated human being whose loudest utterances have sunk to ghostly whispers in a corner.
Once the wandering hands stopped and a voice was heard. It sounded as though pitched to reach some one in an inner room farther away, possibly a person who might just have passed from a kitchen to a bedroom to make some change of dress. It was a very affectionate voice, very true and sweet, very tender, very endearing.
"Another string snapped to-day. There's another key silent. There won't be any but silent keys soon."
There must have been a reply. Responding to it, the voice at the piano sounded again, this time very loyal and devoted to an object closer at hand:
"But when we do get a better one, we won't kick the old one down-stairs. It has done its best."
Whereupon the musical ancestor was encouraged to speak up again while he had a chance, being a very honored ancestor and not by any means dead in some regions. Soon, however, the voice pleaded anew with a kind of patient impatience:
"I'm awfully hungry. Aren't you nearly ready?"
The reply could not be heard.
"Are you putting on the dress I like?"
The reply was not heard.
"Don't you want me to bring you a daffodil to wear at your throat?"
The reply was lost. For a few minutes the progenitor emptied his ancient lungs of some further moribund intimations of tone. Later came another protest, truly plaintive:
"You couldn't look any nicer! I'm awfully hungry!"
Then all at once there was a tremendous smash on the keys, a joyous smash, and a moment afterward the door was softly opened.
Mother and son entered the supper-room. One of his arms was around her waist, one of hers enfolded him about the neck and shoulders; they were laughing as they clung to one another.
The teacher of the portrait class and his pupils would hardly have recognized their model; the stranger on the hillside might not at once have identified the newsboy. For model and newsboy, having laid aside the masks of the day which so often in New York persons find it necessary to wear,--- the tragic mask, the comic mask, the callous, coarse, brutal mask, the mask of the human pack, the mask of the human sty,--model and newsboy reappeared at home with each other as nearly what in truth they were as the denials of life would allow.
There entered the room a woman of high breeding, with a certain Pallas-like purity and energy of face, clasping to her side her only child, a son whom she secretly believed to be destined to greatness. She was dressed not with the studied plainness and abnegation of the model in the studio, but out of regard for her true station and her motherly responsibilities. Her utmost wish was that in years to come, when he should look back upon his childhood, he would always remember with pride his evenings with his mother. During the day he must see her drudge, and many a picture of herself on a plane of life below her own she knew to be fastened to his growing brain; but as nearly as possible blotting these out, daily blotting them out one by one, must be the evening pictures when the day's work was done, its disguises dropped, its humiliations over, and she, a serving-woman of fate, reappeared before him in the lineaments of his mother, to remain with him throughout his life as the supreme woman of the human race, his idol until death, his mother.
She now looked worthy of such an ideal. But it was upon him that her heart lavished every possible extravagance when nightly he had laid aside the coarse half-ragged fighting clothes of the streets. In those after years when he was to gaze backward across a long distance, he must be made to realize that when he was a little fellow, it was his mother who first had seen his star while it was still low on the horizon; and that from the beginning she had so reared him that there would be stamped upon his attention the gentleness of his birth and a mother's resolve to rear him in keeping with this through the neediest hours.
While he was in his bath, she, as though she were his valet, had laid out trim house shoes and black stockings; and as the spring-night had a breath of summer warmth, of almost Southern summer warmth, she had put out also a suit of white linen knickerbockers. Under his broad sailor collar she herself had tied a big, soft, flowing black ribbon of the finest silk. Above this rose the solid head looking like a sphere on a column of triumph, with its lustrous bronzed hair, which, as she brushed it, she had tenderly stroked with her hands; often kissing the bronzed face ardent and friendly to the world and thinking to herself of the double blue in his eyes, the old Saxon blue of battle and the old Saxon blue of the minstrel, also.
It was the evening meal that always brought them together after the separation of the day, and he was at once curious to hear how everything had gone at the art school. With some unsold papers under his arm he had walked with her to the entrance, a new pang in his breast about her that he did not understand: for one thing she looked so plain, so common. At the door-step she had stopped and kissed him and bade him good-by. Her quiet quivering words were:
"Go home, dear, by way of the cathedral."
If he took the more convenient route, it would lead him into one of the city's main cross streets, beset with dangers. She would be able to sit more at peace through those hours of posing if she could know that he had gone across the cathedral grounds and then across the park as along a country road bordered with young grass and shrubs in bloom and forest trees in early leaf. She wished to keep all day before her eyes the picture of him as straying that April morning along such a country road--sometimes the road of faint far girlhood memories to her.
Then with a great incomprehensible look she had vanished from him. But before the doors closed, he, peering past her, had caught sight of the walls inside thickly hung with portraits of men and women in rich colors and in golden frames. Into this splendid world his mother had vanished, herself to be painted.
Now as he began ravenously to eat his supper he wished to hear all about it. She told him. Part of her experience she kept back, a true part; the other, no less true, she described. With deft fingers she went over the somberly woven web of the hours, and plucking here a bright thread and there a bright thread, rewove these into a smaller picture, on which fell the day's far-separated sunbeams; the rays were condensed now and made a solid brightness.
This is how she painted for him a bright picture out of things not many of which were bright. The teacher of the portrait class, to begin, had been very considerate. He had arranged that she should leave her things with the janitor's wife down-stairs, and not go up-stairs and take them off behind some screens in a corner of the room where the class was assembled. That would have been dreadful, to have to go behind the screens to take off her hat and gloves. Then instead of sending word for her to come up, he himself had come down. As he led the way past the confusing halls and studios, he had looked back over his shoulder just a little, to let her know that not for a moment did he lose thought of her. To have walked in front of her, looking straight ahead, might have meant that he esteemed her a person of no consequence. A master so walks before a servant, a superior before an inferior. Out of respect for her, he had even lessened the natural noisiness of his feet on the bare floor. If you put your feet down hard in the house, it means that you are thinking of yourself and not of other people. He had mounted the stairs slowly lest she get out of breath as she climbed. When he preceded her into the presence of the class, he had turned as though he introduced to them his own mother. In everything he did he was really a man; that is, a gentleman. For being a gentleman is being really a man; if you are really a man, you are a gentleman.
As for the members of the class, they had been beautiful in their treatment of her. Not a word had been exchanged with them, but she could feel their beautiful thoughts. Sometimes when she glanced at them, while they worked, such beautiful expressions rested on their faces. Unconsciously their natures had opened like young flowers, and as at the hearts of young flowers there is for each a clear drop of honey, so in each of their minds there must have been one same thought, the remembrance of their mothers. Altogether it was as though they were assembled there in honor of her, not to make use of her.
As to posing itself, one had not a thing to do but sit perfectly still! One got such a good rest from being too much on one's feet! And they had placed for her such a splendid carved-oak chair! When she took her seat, all at once she had felt as if at home again. There were immense windows; she had had all the fresh air she wished, and she did enjoy fresh air! The whole roof was a window, and she could look out at the sky: sometimes the loveliest clouds drifted over, and sometimes the dearest little bird flew past, no doubt on its way to the park. Last, but not least, she had not been crowded. In New York it was almost impossible to secure a good seat in a public place without being nudged or bumped or crowded. But that had actually happened to her. She had had a delightful chair in a public place, with plenty of room in every direction. How fortunate at last to remember that she might pose! It would fit in perfectly at times when she did not have to go out for needlework or for the other demands. Dollars would now soon begin to be brought in like their bits of coal, by the scuttleful! And then the piano! And then the teacher and the lessons! And then, and then--
Her happy story ended. She had watched the play of lights on his face as sometimes he, though hungry, with fork in the air paused to listen and to question. Now as she finished and looked across the table at the picture of him under the lamplight, she was rewarded, she was content; while he ate his plain food, out of her misfortunes she had beautifully nourished his mind. He did not know this; but she knew it, knew by his look and by his only comment:
"You had a perfectly splendid time, didn't you?"
She laughed to herself.
"Now, then," she said, coming to what had all along been most in her consciousness--"now, then, tell me about your day. Begin at the moment you left me."
He laid down his napkin,--he could eat no more, and there was nothing more to eat,--and he folded his hands quite like the head of the house at ease after a careless feast, and began his story.
Well, he had had a splendid day, too. After he had left her he had gone to the dealer's on the avenue with the unsold papers. Then he had crossed over to the cathedral, and for a while had watched the men at work up in the air. He had walked around to the choir school, but no one was there that morning, not a sound came from the inside. Then he had started down across the park. As he sat down to count his money, a man who had climbed up the hillside stopped and asked him a great many questions: who taught him music and whether any one had ever heard him sing. This stranger also liked music and he also went to the cathedral, so he claimed. From that point the story wound its way onward across the busy hours till nightfall.
It was a child's story, not an older person's. Therefore it did not draw the line between pleasant and unpleasant, fair and unfair, right and wrong, which make up for each of us the history of our checkered human day. It separated life as a swimmer separates the sea: there is one water which he parts by his passage. So the child, who is still wholly a child, divides the world.
But as she pondered, she discriminated. Out of the long, rambling narrative she laid hold of one overwhelming incident, forgetting the rest: a passing stranger, hearing a few notes of his voice, had stopped to question him about it. To her this was the first outside evidence that her faith in his musical gift was not groundless.
When he had ended his story she regarded him across the table with something new in her eyes--something of awe. She had never hinted to him what she believed he would some day be. She might be wrong, and thus might start him on the wrong course; or, being right, she might never have the chance to start him on the right one. In either case she might be bringing to him disappointment, perhaps the failure of his whole life.
Now she still hid the emotion his story caused. But the stranger of the park had kindled within her that night what she herself had long tended unlit--the alabaster flame of worship which the mother burns before the altar of a great son.
An hour later they were in another small attic-like space next to the supper-room. Here was always the best of their evening. No matter how poor the spot, if there reach it some solitary ray of the great light of the world, let it be called your drawing-room. Where civilization sends its beams through a roof, there be your drawing-room. This part of the garret was theirs.
In one corner stood a small table on which were some tantalizing books and the same lamp. Another corner was filled by the littlest, oldest imaginable of six-octave pianos, the mythical piano ancestor; on it were piled some yellowed folios, her music once. Thus two different rays of civilization entered their garret and fell upon the twin mountain-peaks of the night--books and music.
Toward these she wished regularly to lead him as darkness descended over the illimitable city and upon its weary grimy battle-fields. She liked him to fall asleep on one or the other of these mountain-tops. When he awoke, it would be as from a mountain that he would see the dawn. From there let him come down to the things that won the day; but at night back again to things that win life.
They were in their drawing-room, then, as she had taught him to call it, and she was reading to him. A knock interrupted her. She interrogated the knock doubtfully to herself for a moment.
"Ashby," she finally said, turning her eyes toward the door, as a request that he open it.
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