New York (O'Higgins)
The Youthful Artist Who Dreamed of It as Beautiful, Thought It Unfriendly, and Found It Warm-Hearted
HE dipped his spoon in his soup, raised it half-way to his lips, paused long enough to appreciate the significance of the moment—and then went on with his dinner. It was the beginning of his first real meal in New York City; he was settled in a boarding-house; his trunk was open in his room; and, after a long railroad journey from his home, followed by a busy day of sightseeing and of "prospecting" for a lodging in the wilderness of brick and stone, he had sat down to the table like a California Argonaut who had pitched his tent and lit his campfire. Here lie was! Here he was where he had worked so hard to be. Here he was in El Dorado, ready for his career, his golden future, and his fame.
It was a green-pea soup, thick and savory. (That fact, to any one who remembers Mrs. Scales's boarding-house, will indicate that it was Friday evening.) And with the first grateful taste on his palate, Walcott looked over his spoon to see the portly Mrs. Scales watching him from the foot of the table at which they were all seated; and his smile was intended as a silent compliment to her upon the dish.
"First visit to New York?" the man beside him asked.
While Walcott was trying to think of some reply more chatty than the bald affirmative, his lips answered: "Ye-e-es."
"What do you think of it?"
The question was sharp, pressing. Walcott put down his spoon and raised his limp table-napkin to his lips. "I don't know," he said, with a hesitating laugh, apologetically. "It isn't what I expected."
The man nodded—apparently without any civic resentment whatever—and turned to catch a remark that was addressed to him by his neighbor on his left. Walcott went back to his soup, relieved to have an interval in which to arrange his impressions of the day and make ready his opinion upon them.
It has not been what he had expected—New York—but then he had expected a strange thing. He had just ceased being an art student; he had formed his mental pictures of New York upon the illustrations of the monthly magazines, the supplements of the Sunday newspapers, the colored plates of impressionistic interpretations, the magnificences of poster art; and he had expected to find all that beauty in the streets, all that romantic haze in the vistas, all that personal pulchritude among the "smart set," and nothing but picturesqueness among the poor. With his inner eye full of one of Wenzell's pictures of "society" coming out from the opera, the dingy front of the Metropolitan at mid-day had given him a shock. Madison Square had proved only a drab, black-and-white reproduction of Shinn's pastels. He had hurried away from the water front after a single hasty glance at the bare skeleton of a misty Guerin. Nowhere on Wall Street or on Broadway had he found Gibson's young financier with the Grecian nose and the cleft chin. And the part of Fifth Avenue that he had seen had been not broad, not tree-lined, not park-like and magnificent, hut a crowded asphalt lane between narrow houses that were huddled together in a hodge-podge of incongruous architecture, dirty in the cold light of an October day. Beauty? Romance? Heavens, where were they?
The man beside him resumed: "Not what it's cracked up to be, eh?"
He was a mature young man, in commonplace, ready-made clothes; but he was simply characterized by his piercing eyeglasses, his pointed brown beard, his bristling and disorderly mustache. Walcott mentally dashed him off in a few swift scratches of pen and ink, and then caught—and stopped on—the mild gray kindliness of a reflective eye.
"It isn't exactly beautiful," Walcott said.
"No? that depends on what your idea of beauty is."
Walcott had expected to see it a city shining in a great plain, by the seashore, under a clean sky, with towers and marble church-spires, and all the majestic prospects of wealth and ease. He said: "It's too cramped."
The man replied enigmatically: "That sounds like the doctrine of conspicuous waste again. What is Beauty to you?" And Walcott was thankful for the intervention of a little woman across the table who put in: "What is it to you, Mr. Hecker?"
She was a Miss Dyckman, and to Walcott she was a caricature. For a woman so shrunken and faded, she was absurdly chirpy and round-eyed and determinedly bright. She shook her shabby curls with a nervous perking of the head, and the movement suggested to Walcott a "comic" of her pecking up her food with a horny nose that rapped on her plate like a hen's beak.
He was not so much interested in the discussion that followed as he was amused at the absurdity of any discussion of beauty by such people in such surroundings. (In the stuffy basement of a boarding-house!—with such damp-wilted paper on the walls, hung with such stained and rustled old steel engravings!—in the presence of a hideous marble mantel aged to the color of a soiled white soap!) And when an old gentleman named Mr. Vanhoesen—pronounced "Vannosen" by the boarders—joined in the argument, from the head of the table, Walcott had to take up his napkin to conceal the trembling of his lips. Vanhoesen had erysipelas in his nose; and it was impossible for anyone as young as Walcott not to grin at such a collocation of nose and Vannosen.
The whole scene seemed to him to be humorously in the "atmosphere" of the house—a frost-chipped and weather-crumbled old brown-stone "front" whose black walnut doors opened ponderously on a vestibule floor of blue and white marble squares that clicked, loose, under the heel—a hall that was narrow, top-lofty, pretentious, a sort of architectural burlesque of the mind of the man who had once tried, in the old days, in this house, to live up to the "obligations" of his wealth—a drawing-room as stiff as a chapel, with sepulchral mantelpieces, blurred mirrors as dull as old eyes, pontifical chandeliers, the moldings of a massive bad taste in ceilings, and all the other decorational relics of the days when every fashionable woman in New York aspired to live the formal life of salons and dressed herself from the portraits of the Empress Eugenie—and, over all this second-hand magnificence and decayed pomp, "the still, sad odor of humanity" and boarding-house cooking.
"What do you call a beautiful eye?" Hecker was arguing. "A large, peaceful, aristocratic orb, eh? Not the keen, little, wrinkled, black eye of the man who has had to make his way in the world. Not much! A beautiful face is smooth, unwrinkled, 'godlike,' placid, patrician. Certainly. Certainly. But why? Because that's the eye—that's the face—of the conquering race—of the people who have never had to worry and frown—who have had us to do that for them. Dainty white hands that have never had to work, eh? Petite, plump feet that have always had the carriage at the door, eh? A nigger in this country never says another nigger is better looking than he; when he means that, he says he's whiter. See? Well, you can think that way of beauty it' you like. I prefer something more than the mere earmarks of uselessness and the enviousness of the underdog in my conception of it. I wouldn't give any East Side mother's wrinkled face and hard hands for all the beauties on Fifth Avenue."
"But, my dear man," Mr. Vanhoesen said, "you'll admit that New York is ugly."
"I'll admit that it's ugly to you," he retorted. "It isn't 'classy,' as the Englishman says. That's what he means, half his time, when he says 'classic' It lacks repose—the aristocratic, parasitic repose."
"But it's dirty."
"So's Naples. You object to commercial dirt—that's all—the dirt of labor. The other sorts of dirt are picturesque."
Walcott was listening, absent-mindedly. Some such feeling as this that Hecker voiced had come to him in the wholesale district where the streets were choked with trucks and the sidewalks piled with bales and boxes. He had felt it as he stood gazing down at the men working their steam-drills in an excavation that was being made for a Broadway building. He had felt it when he stared up at the steel-workers plying their pneumatic riveters noisily among the beams and trusses of an unfinished "skyscraper."
"I quite appreciate your point of view," Mr. Vanhoesen said courteously, "but I don't agree with it."
"And you never will," Hecker replied, "until you're 'born again.'" And he helped himself to salt with an air of having finished his outburst.
They all laughed in a way that showed Hecker to be a privileged character. Miss Dyckman tried to stir him up again, but he said: "No. No use preaching to the congenitally deaf." The only person who did not smile was a young woman, down the table, whom Walcott had been watching.
There was on her thin face, in her tired eyes, an expression of intense interest that was almost painful. It was such a look as you see on the face of a person of feeble mind who is striving with a sort of yearning eagerness to understand. She was in black, with a ruching at the neck; and when Walcott learned later that she worked as a typist in a downtown office he understood her hands. She was not beautiful; a few moments earlier he would not have noticed her; but something in Hecker's argument—to which Walcott had been listening as he watched her—gave her not only a visible animation but an inward meaning to the artist. He could not have said what that meaning was. He perceived it in an emotion, not in a thought. At most he saw that if he could draw her with that light in her face she would mean something, she would be typical of something, she would suggest and include more than she was. But even while he was thinking so, the light faded, the meaning vanished, and she applied herself again to her food.
The dinner continued with a desultory conversation in which Walcott did not join; and when it was finished he went up to his hall bedroom—"top floor, rear"—and took his portfolio of drawings from his trunk, and sat down, with a lighted cigarette, to look them over. They were the usual crayon, charcoal, and wash drawings from the antique, from casts, from the nude, from the costumed model—the conventional academic studies with which every aspiring art student in New York hopes to impress art editors who have seen a million such schoolboy essays and seen no spark of originality in any of them. Walcott's handling of his mediums was perhaps more skilful than the ordinary; his washes were particularly crisp and unwoolly; one of his costume figures had even some semblance of action in it. But as he set them up, one by one. on a chair before him, and sat on his bed to judge them, he frowned, dissatisfied: and one by one he brushed them aside, impatiently, until the floor was strewn. There was in his mind some new thing that took life out of them. He did not set up his flaming allegory of "The City"—a sort of bacchanalian Sappho on a throne (of which the back suggested the Park Row Building) flourishing a hemispherical goblet that dripped teardrops—the whole interpreting a line of minor poetry about "the city's scarlet sins." At the first glance he twisted that up, and threw it in the corner. Then he sat down and smoked, gazing dreamily at the wall, until, with his eyes still fixed on nothing, his hand went out to reach one of the discarded studies, and he began to draw—on the back of it, looking up every now and then at the wall as if he had his model there—a pencil note of the girl who had listened to Hecker.
He was a gentle-looking, shy youth with a small dark face, with long lashes, with clear eyes that seemed to dilate and contract like a cat's—sudden, moody, observant, and yet visionary eyes. His hand faltered and shook as he worked, but there was no shaking in the line it produced. The girl's face came out in all its commonplaceness. Too commonplace. He tried it again, and made her merely pretty. Then he dropped that matter and proceeded with a caricature of Miss Dyckman pecking at her dish: and he was encouraged by his success with her to make a more elaborate one of Mr. Vanhoesen peering over his proboscis at "Beauty" in the shape of a small marble Venus. He marked these latter sketches. "N. D. S. L."— ""—after the manner of the sketching club at home—and having expressed and exhausted his mental unrest in them, he went thoughtfully to bed.
HE HAD learned at home to look upon himself as an important person, as an extremely clever youth, if not perhaps as a genius even. He had come from a town where the citizens were all neighborly, where he could meet friends at every step and feel himself known and honored for what he was and how he had succeeded. But now, in the days that followed his arrival in New York, when he walked in the crowd of lower Broadway, or when he was carried past miles of packed houses on the elevated road, or when he wandered in the tenement district where every block of houses sheltered the population of a village, his faith in the importance of his personality began to fail. He began to fear that no man could live undiscouraged in such multitudinous obscurity. And one evening, coming upon that rush of the crowds to Brooklyn Bridge at six o'clock, he stood watching it with melancholy eyes, at once fascinated and horrified, in an emotion that expressed itself later in an "N. D. S. L." which he marked: "The Nightmare."
New York was teaching him something: but he did not realize it. He realized only that the art editors, who ran through his portfolio of sketches and cheerfully took down his address—in books that were already crammed with addresses—were not overwhelmed by his ability; that the people who hurried by him on the street, without so much as a glance at him, were not aware of the aureola of artistry that had seemed to shine upon his path at home; that even his fellow boarders were not sufficiently impressed by him to be curious about who he was or what he did. The girl in black—her name proved to be Cooper—took a certain interest in him because he was as quiet land apparently unimportant as herself; but for a long time he did not respond to that interest; and, moreover, he saw that when Hecker spoke he got a rapt and admiring attention from her that was very different from the casual regard which she bestowed on himself.
Hecker bored him. The man's mind seemed stuffed with economic facts and statistics, with figures about tariffs and death-rates, rents and the comparative costs of living, wages, interest, the trusts, capitalism, and the rights and wrongs of the laboring man. Walcott, with the divine incuriosity of the artist for whatever does not obviously relate directly to his art, heard them impatiently. Mr. Vanhoesen seemed something of a charlatan; he used in conversation a very ornate and involved form of sentence—full of parentheses—and discoursed largely of travel abroad, rather pretentiously. Walcott, having drawn and redrawn him, listened to hm with an exhausted interest. He found Miss Dyckman even more unpleasantly "shabby genteel"; and he was somewhat contemptuous of Mrs. Scales when she asked him to put his board in an envelope and leave it with the maid, instead of giving it to her personally; and be did not try to conceal his amusement when the maid corrected him for referring to the "boarders" and said that Mrs. Scales called them her "guests."
He began (o feel indignant with these "guests"—who found it so easy to accept him and overlook him. He was bitter against the art editors, who could not remember him from one call to the next, but offered each time to take his address anew and write to him as soon as they had "something" for him. And as his little hoard of savings leaked away, be felt even a fierce resentment against the absorbed and busy indifference of the city that refused to notice him, much less employ and honor him.
It all drove him in upon himself and upon his work—as it has done so often for so much young self-importance. Hecker, noticing his gloom at the table, asked: "Well, how do you like New York?" And he replied: "It doesn't seem to like me."
"No?" Hecker looked at him keenly. "Were you ever hazed at college?"
Walcott shook his head.
"I'll do it for you," Hecker said—and went on with his dinner.
Walcott was too depressed to reply; he was too depressed to notice that Miss Cooper had been listening. And when he came upstairs, after dinner, and was waylaid by her at the parlor door as he passed, her kindly inquiries about his work took him altogether by surprise—the more so because she had obviously no idea of what his work was. He explained that he was an illustrator, or, at least, aspired to be one. (Two weeks earlier he would have said he was an artist.)
As the unexpected result of that meeting, a half-hour later they were sitting alone in the parlor, and he was making a study of her head while she sat chatting with him about New York and his impressions of it. But this time his sketch of her did not make her either commonplace or merely pretty; it was full of a sympathetic understanding and touched with the gentle charm that comes of sympathy—her lips parted, her eyes eagerly interested, as he had seen her listening to Hecker.
"But goodness!" she cried, when it was finished. "I'm not as good-looking as that!"
He held it off, his head cocked, smiling at it. "Don't you think so?" he said. "I don't think it's half bad. Let me try a profile."
While he was trying it, she talked of Hecker, who, it seemed, was editor of a "labor paper." She talked of Mrs. Scales, and he learned that she had kept a boarding-house since the days of Poe and Bryant—and had had them both in her house—to say nothing of General Grant. ("Really?" Walcott said. "Well, I'll be hanged!") Mr. Vanhoesen and Miss Dyckman, it appeared, had been with her for twenty years or more: and Miss Dyckman was a lady of straitened means but distinguished birth; and Vanhoesen—an eccentric philanthropist, of an old Knickerbocker family—had a millionaire's income from real estate, and spent most of it on his wife, who had an establishment in Paris, and on his daughter, who had married an Italian count in Rome.
"What!" Walcott cried. "That old guy!"
Miss Cooper was shocked. "He's a very sweet old gentleman," she said, with an emotion that showed she had cause to be grateful to Vanhoesen. "You mustn't—"
"Well," Walcott confessed, "this is a joke on me!" He put down his charcoal pencil. "Is he really a New York millionaire?"
She challenged him, spiritedly: "Why not?"
He did not know why not, except that he had expected a New York millionaire to be—
She interrupted: "You seem to have expected a good deal in New York that isn't here!"
"I certainly did." He looked around the room; and, in that glance, he reconsidered his whole impression of the boarding-house. "Well," he laughed, "I was a jay!"
She did not contradict him. She settled back in her pose, and he went on with his work humbly.
His humility showed in the drawing—in such a way that when she saw it she said deeply: "Now you're making fun of me."
"Why?" he cried, bewildered. "It's—"
"I don't do my hair that way."
"Well, what difference does that make? I did it to balance the rest of the head. It's all a little bit idealized."
"I should think it is. If you're going to see things in New York that way, I don't see how you can say it isn't beautiful."
He looked up at her quickly, remembering how New York had not seemed to "come up" to the pictures of it. "I wonder," he said, "if that's what—if that's why—"
She was not listening. She was smiling absent-mindedly at the sketch. "I suppose I'll have to live up to that now. Will you give me it?—to remind me of what I ought to be?"
He gave it to her gladly, and after they had parted, in a jocular spirit, at the head of the stairs—for she had the front room on his floor—he went to his portfolio, destroyed his caricatures of Miss Dyckman and Mr. Vanhoesen, and sat down to smoke before his portrait of Miss Cooper, smiling either in appreciation of his work or with a friendly sentiment for the original of it. He liked her.
BUT the illustrator, like the actor, can not prove what he can do until he has the opportunity to do it; and he finds it almost impossible to get the opportunity until he has given the proof. Walcott soon learned the uselessness of besieging art editors with his "studies"; and on Miss Cooper's advice he tried making sample illustrations for well-known scenes in "Tom Sawyer" and "Treasure Island" and "Robinson Crusoe" and such other favorites of his immature youth. Miss Cooper posed for them in the parlor, of an evening, when he needed her; but unfortunately there had been no female characters in the books that had impressed him, and he could not hire male models "on spec." and he had to fall back on imaginary scenes in which Miss Cooper could appear. His work looked stiff': his figures "posey." He began to be abjectly discouraged, though he tried to hide it from her.
He did not need to hide it from the other boarders. They paid him as little attention as he paid them; and though Hecker evidently noticed Miss Cooper's improved appearance, he did not attribute it to her intimacy with Walcott—of which he was ignorant. She had changed her way of doing her hair. She had bought a modish waist because Walcott needed a stylish young woman in one of his "illustrations." She came down to dinner one evening with a rose in her hair, having learned, from one of Walcott's pictures, that the touch of color was becoming: and when Hecker complimented her upon it, her smile was quite brilliantly animated. She even brightened up enough to join prettily in the table talk, and was encouraged by the new interest with which she was received. After all, she had a certain frail charm about her—and no one appreciated it more than Walcott. His gratitude became silently very tender and adoring: he outdid himself in pictures of her that flattered her and filled her with a sense of grace. She began to carry herself with a sort of presence, like a woman who is accustomed to being noticed: and a less and less wistful happiness day by day freshened her face.
"I had no idea you were so good-looking when I first saw you," Walcott confessed, over his drawing-board, one night.
"Do you think I have improved?" she cried.
He said: "Hecker certainly thinks so"—and glanced up to see how she had taken that rather sarcastic thrust.
He found her blushing, with evident pleasure, and smiling down at her hands.
He went on with his work. After all, if she admired Hecker more than she did him. it was not a thing to play the cad about. He would have apologized, but she had not noticed the offense. His eyes were aching; he was tired from a long day spoilt in discouraged rambling about the November streets. But he cherished his physical misery in silence, accusing her—in common with the rest of the household and the rest of the city—of being self-absorbed and cruel to him. To him who wanted nothing but a little kindness, a little sympathy, a little— Oh, just the littlest bit of encouragement!
"I think I'll stop," he said at last. "I feel too— I've caught a cold."
Her immediate alarm recalled him to a sense of his manliness, and he replied, to her anxious inquiries, that it was "nothing." that he would be all right in the morning, that he was just tired.
"You're not going to be ill!"
"Oh, I can't," he said. "I can't now. I can't afford to!"
She let him go, reluctantly, unable to persuade him to get himself some quinine; and he shut himself in his room with his loneliness.
The home he had left had not been one of luxury, but as he lay there that night, aching and shivering and feverish together and by turns, he thought of it as a dream of heaven. A horrible night!—such a night as so many other ambitious youths have known in New York, and so many more will know in good time. He sat up in bed. trying to wake himself from the nightmares that were half-delirium, and fell back on his pillow with the groan of bodily as well as mental anguish. "Oh, I'm sick," he told himself, despairingly. "What'll I do?" He could not afford to be sick. He had no money to be sick on. And to his fears of he did not know what mortal disease were added the apprehensions of he did not know what personal misfortune. He might die there. They might send him to a hospital. His father would come to New York and take him away. It was the end of his career.
By daybreak he was lying in a stupor of fever and pain, and when Miss Cooper—on her way to her work—knocked on his door to inquire how he was, he had scarcely strength enough to say: "I'm sick." He heard her going downstairs, and he thought she had not understood him; but when she returned, it was with a doctor from next door: and she stood in the hall until the physician had examined him and reported briefly: "Grip." Then she hurried below again to tell Mrs. Scales and have him cared for.
She must have told Mrs. Scales more about him than concerned his mere physical condition; for after he had been dosed according to the doctor's orders and made comfortable with a hot-water bottle and an extra pair of blankets, Mrs. Scales sat on the foot of his bed and said:
"Now, you mustn't worry about anything. You can be sick here as long as you please. I won't have you thinking of—of your board bill—or anything like that. You're just beginning in New York, you know, and of course it's always hard at first. I don't care how much anybody owes me. I only keep the house up for Mr. Vanhoesen. If he were to leave me, I'd stop to-morrow. I lose money every year, but not any more than it would cost me to live, any way, and I like the company I have, and I don't like living with relatives, and I've been here so long I suppose I'll go on till I drop dead." She laughed a stomachic chuckle. She was a motherly, fat old woman, white-haired. "You can stay here as long as I do, and pay when you like—just as it suits you—whatever you have to spare."
"Oh, dear," he said faintly. "I couldn't do that."
She immediately began to tuck him in anew. "We won't argue about it, but you'll do as I say. Mr. Vanhoesen likes you. He likes young people. He likes to see them at the table. Ssh!"
He had begun to protest that Mr. Vanhoesen could not possibly like him. because he had never—
"Go to sleep," she ordered. "You're not to talk—" and tiptoed heavily out of the room.
He was still pondering dizzily over that incredible lack of commercialism in a New York boarding-house keeper when Mr. Vanhoesen himself peeped in the doorway, and, seeing him awake, came in to condole with him upon his symptoms. (He knew what the grip was, he said; it always took him in the small of the back.) And after much genial commiseration of this experienced sort. he began suddenly a long apologetic preamble to something which he wished to say and hoped Walcott would not resent—which was this: that Walcolt was a young man, just beginning in the crowded field of art in New York, and though every one realized that he had extraordinary ability and would eventually have an extraordinary success, still at first he might find himself perhaps a little hampered for lack of capital and worried thereby, and though of course he was young enough to be sensitive in such matters and too proud to be anything but absolutely independent of every one, still he must remember that he, Mr. Vanhoesen, had a great deal more money than he was perhaps entitled to in the eyes of Mr. Hecker or anybody else who realized "the injustices of our present capitalistic conditions," and if he, Mr. Walcott, ever found himself in a position where he could make use of any of it without any loss of self-respect—
By this time Walcott had got through his bewildered brain what the voluble old gentleman was trying to say; and blushing with shame and gratitude he hastened to explain that he—that his family—
"Quite so. Quite so," Mr. Vanhoesen interrupted. "I understand that, of course, perfectly, and I merely wished to speak of it in case, at any time, you might find yourself in a position where embarrassments of that sort would be peculiarly humiliating, as they sometimes are, you know. You'll have to forgive me for so clumsily intruding upon a man with these ideas when he's sick in bed, but when I get a thing in my head nothing will do but I must blurt it out—warned, as I certainly was, that you were not to be annoyed or excited"—he was patting Walcott on the knees, smiling charmingly in spite of his atrocious nose—"and now that I've relieved my mind—"
He got himself out in a magnificently humble manner before Walcott, whose throat was choked, could find his voice: and the boy lay there, for a long time, blinking. New York! Why, what had he heard—what had he seen—of the absorbed and busy indifference of this monster of a town that ground up lives pitilessly and—Oh, dear, the pain in his neck!
It was impossible to think. He fell asleep in the mere weakness of exhaustion and the peace of a relieved heart.
He slept until Miss Cooper—returning from her office an hour earlier than usual, to ask whether her fear of pneumonia had been really unfounded—rustled in his door and waked him to the sight of her wind-blown complexion and her new hat. He felt very much better. He felt even able to voice to her the gratitude that had left him speechless before the others; and she came in and sat down on the side of his bed, smiling at his convalescent enthusiasm.
"You've all been so good," he ended, humbly. "You especially. I'm awfully—I don't know how—"
"Why, you dear boy," she said, reaching over to cover his shoulder and pat in the clothes under his chin. "Who could help being nice to you?"
"I'd like to do you in that new hat," he said, in the voice of sentiment.
"Cover up your arms," she replied, as he made a restless movement that freed his hand. It met her gloved one; and he said, fingering it shyly: "I'm not—a boy."
She cuddled his fingers. "You are," she laughed. "And a silly, sentimental one. That's because you're sick."
"No, it isn't." He blushed weakly. "The first night I was here I drew your picture—"
"You—you dear thing," she said. "If I wasn't afraid you'd misunderstand, I'd— You look like a girl with your big brown eyes, blushing there. Now you put that hand back under the covers and don't make love to every woman who is kind to you when you're ill, or the first thing you know you'll he married to a trained nurse."
She began to tuck him in, as Mrs. Scales had done, and only stopped when he said suddenly, in a jealous voice: "It's Hecker."
"What?" She stood looking down at him, between laughter and indignation and the confession of a reddening face. "You wretched—"
And before he could apologize or defend himself, she was out of the room.
She punished him by remaining away until after dinner—having agreed with Mrs. Scales that tea, toast, and a bowl of chicken soup with rice in it would be the best thing for him. She punished him further by coming after dinner to tell him that Mr. Hecker would he in to look at his pictures, and if he said anything nonsensical to Hecker—
"What does he want to see my pictures for?" he demanded sulkily.
"He knows an art editor—"
"Oh! ... I beg your pardon."
"You might well."
"Did you get him to come?"
"Certainly not," she replied, with a malicious sweetness. "We were going to a lecture at Cooper Union to-night, and he said he would wait here till I was ready, Good-by."
Hecker had the sort of masculine mind that is always gruff with any one who is sick—the gruffness being a disguise for tenderness, of course. And he went directly to Walcott's drawing-table and portfolio without more than an embarrassed growl of sympathy as he passed the bed. "I suppose you can draw all right," he conceded, after glancing over a few sketches. "The trouble with you fellows is you've learned too much about what you call art—when you mean esthetics!" And he began to pour out a steady stream of contemptuous comment upon esthetics—of which poor Walcott caught only such floating short sentences as: "Esthetics is to art what theology is to religion—the killing thing—the killing thing." Or: "Taste's about the same thing as table manners. Good taste! Bad taste! There's nothing good or bad in taste but thinking makes it so." And: "Never mind about taste, about beauty, about esthetics—all that dogmatic theology of art. Get to life. See anything with sympathy and you'll see it beautiful. Get next to people. Like them—understand them—learn what they have to say and say it for them."
Walcott lay there staring up at the ceiling, and tried not to hate the man who talked to him. It was this very point of view of Hecker's that was to make the boy what he afterward became as an artist; but he was so little grateful for it. and so far from understanding it now, that he let Hecker take away a dozen of his sketches without even thanking him, feeling nothing but relief when the man was gone—even though he went with Miss Cooper.
Miss Cooper! When she came home late that night, to see a dim lamp burning in his room, she whispered from the doorway: "Are you asleep?"
"No," he said, despondently.
"Well, shut your eyes and pretend that you are."
He did so. He heard her rustle to his bedside. Then she bent down and kissed him, affectionately, with lips that were cold from outdoors.
"Why do you do that?" he asked, feebly bitter.
"Because I'm happy," she said, "and I believe it's more than half due to you!"
THERE was happiness, for him, in his work thereafter—happiness on the streets—happiness in the faces of the people. New York, even in her miseries, smiled to him, bravely, ruefully, or with the grim smile of labor beating out the iron. He saw in her a beauty that was not the beauty of culture, of classic calm and the pose of aristocracy. He saw in her the friendliness, the camaraderie, that were hidden beneath the superficial cruelty of her terrible game of life. And having learned from her his insignificance among the millions, he began to apply his lessons with the technique that comes only from humble sincerity.
There was recently an exhibition of his studies of streets and city types in a Fifth Avenue gallery—many of them marked "N. D. S. L." They were the work, as one of the criticisms said, "of a man who knows and loves and understands his little old New York from the gutters up." Mrs. Hecker made a pilgrimage from her Harlem flat to see them, and stood a long time, with smiling tears in her eyes, looking at an indescribable pencil drawing of the battered front of Mrs. Scales's boarding-house—long since torn down. "They say," some one commented in the bated breath of art galleries, "that that is the house in which he was born. Couldn't you tell he loved it—that it was his home?" And at least it was, as Hecker would have said, the house in which he had been "born again."