To Study Art

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To Study Art  (1910) 
by Ethel Watts Mumford

Extracted from Ainslee's magazine, 1910 Sept, pp. 55–57. Title Illustration may be omitted.

To Study Art

By Ethel Watts Mumford

THE moment I laid eyes on Jack Evans' face I knew he was in trouble, as usual. I'd just cut him out of my will again, and I felt suddenly at a loss for further discipline to apply to the present case. He didn't give me long to think up anything. Catching sight of me as he came down the steps of the office building, where he hives with a myriad other lawyers, he fell upon me. That's one of the disconcerting things about my nephew; no matter how or when I cast him off, he falls back on me with the same affectionate enthusiasm.

“What's it now?” I demanded belligerently. “Another breach-of-promise suit?”

He blushed an unbecoming lavender shade that clashed with his red tie.

“Uncle Ned,” said he, “if ever you hope to 'go where the good darkies go,' you come with me now. I'll blow you to lunch, and I'll tell you all about it. I've been proposed to.”

“Why——” I began,

He misinterpreted me, and grinned ruefully.

“Because I'm the most ineligible young man the lady knows.”

I must have looked my bewilderment, for he laughed more cheerfully.

“Come on,” he commanded. “Not another word till we're settled at table.”

We made our way hurriedly to the subterranean restaurant we habitually frequent.

“Now,” said the Ineligible One, spreading his napkin, “listen to this, and don't interrupt; my mind isn't strong after this morning's shock, and if you begin bothering me it may give way altogether.” I attacked my oysters in silence. “I was up to my eyes in that Mullen brief, you know, when the office boy—that reminds me, I must discharge him—came and delivered himself of a wink and the information that a lady wanted to see me—Miss Thatcherly.

“'Show the ladies in,' said I, thinking, of course, if Marjie had come down it was with a chaperon. Johnny winked again, as if to call my bluff, and teetered out. Then Marjie arrived, alone, if you please——

“You don't mean that Marjie——” I interrupted, agitatedly squeezing lemon juice all over my new waistcoat.

My nephew glanced at me reproachfully.

“She sat down,” he continued, “saying she'd come to beg a very great favor of me. She had on one of those checked suits,” he digressed reminiscently, “and she looked like a cherub dressed in a sponge bag. Of course, I told her to command me.

“'Well,' she said, not the least embarrassed, 'I will. It's this way: My chum, Dorothy Wendel, is going abroad. She's fallen in love with her father's chauffeur. He's really awfully good-looking, and if he didn't drop his h's I wouldn't blame her. The family is wild about it—her falling in love, not his h's—and are packing her off in charge of an aunt. Now, you know, Jack, I'm crazy to study art—I know I have heaps of talent—and they'll be in Paris all winter. Just think of it! And there isn't any possible chance of my going over, unless you'll help me.'

“I didn't see how, or what I had to do with it, and said so.

“'Why, make love to me, stupid! Go and tell father you want to marry me. They'll send me over quick as a wink.'

“Say, Uncle Ned, what do you think of that? I'm stunned yet!

“'Am I as bad as the chauffeur?' I asked.

“'Oh, worse, much worse,' said she. 'You speak nicely, of course, but you are quite the most ineligible man I know.'

“It seemed to dawn on her that perhaps she was breaking it to me rather brutally, so she dimpled and twinkled at me, and added: 'I told you it was a very great favor; and really and truly, I'll try not to make it too much of a bore to you. And I do so want to go to Paris and study art.'

“Uncle Ned, can you beat it? I looked sort of dizzy, and started to say something; but she cut me short, and went right on planning the campaign.

“'They are going to sail in three weeks, so we haven't any time to lose. They would have sent Dorothy away before, but they couldn't get passage till then. She's at Lakewood under guard. And I'm ever and ever and ever so much obliged to you, Jack, for doing this for me. I'll do something nice for you some day, see if I don't. But you mustn't lose any time. Come to see me to-night. I won't go to Marion Gray's birthday dance; I'll say I have a headache. Then, when you come, I'll see you just the same. That'll make them suspicious right away.'

“I told her 1 had an engagement. She told me to break it. So I broke it. What do you think of that? I'm in to rush that seventeen-year-old Machiavelli—rush her right off to Europe. She argues that her astute parents will at once see the advisability of taking advantage of the departure of the chauffeur-loving Dorothy and chaperon. My general character, it seems, insures success.

My disreputable kinsman glowered at the “eggs benedictine” and reduced them to a scramble.

“That kid has made me feel like a convicted criminal,” he growled, looking up at me with wistful eyes. He evidently hoped I would say something consoling. 1 didn't; so he said it himself,

“I know I've been mixed up in a lot of foolish messes, and I've got a lot of exaggerated publicity; but I'll be hanged if I ever did anything mean or dishonest.”

“Neither did the chauffeur, as far as we know,” I said benignly.

“Oh, puff!” he exclaimed disrespectfully, and scooped his change from the plate.

He rose and stood facing me. He is a good-looking chap, if I do say it, and at times he looks like me—he did then, He shrugged his shoulders like a Latin—a little way he has.

“Oh well, I might as well do somebody a good turn with my bad reputation.” He took out a visiting card, wrote something on it with his fountain pen, and handed it over to me. “Uncle Ned, you go by a florist and send her a whacking big bunch of violets, with my card, will you? I haven't time. I've got to go back to the office.”

That's the way he treats me, the scamp! A sort of uncle-of-all-work, not to mention that this will save him about seven dollars—not that he thinks of that. I wish he had a little more economy in his make-up. Oh, well—and Marjie, the little fox! I'm glad I'm a bachelor. Children are too much of a responsibility.

For two weeks I didn't see Jack, and I began to feel most unreasonably lonesome, so I trumped up a lame excuse, and had myself elevated to his office. I found him with a corrugated brow and a far-away expression. He sprang up and grasped my hand as if I were a life preserver and he a sinking mariner.

“Well,” said I, “Nephew Don Quixote, how is Dulcinea, and when does she sail?”

“Oh, wait till I tell you,” he groaned. “Of all the messes! I was going over to find you to-day if you hadn't come in. What do you suppose, of all things—the family has accepted me!”

“They must be mad!” I exclaimed, but secretly I didn't blame them.

“They seemed to be surprised at the suddenness of it all,” he went on, “but Marjie gave such an expert imitation of the soul of devotion that any one would have been convinced, and she wasn't hard to play up to. She's got a whole lot of charm, that little girl, and, well, I went after the old man last night, spoke about my infatuation for his daughter, and how unworthy I was, blackened myself up good and plenty, and waited for the storm to break. No storm—mild as a May morning.

“Pa Thatcherly was good enough to say that while 1 had been before the public at times quite unpleasantly, my crimes were mere peccadillos enlarged upon because of my exalted social position, and my golden prospects—he quite understood all that—and while Marjie was young, he believed in early marriages and disapproved of his daughter's art aspirations. In short, 'Bless you, my children!'

“Then my fiancée was called in. I tried to make signs at her to break the news that we were 'in wrong,' but the blow caught her unprepared. She looked at me, and blushed, and then she began to giggle. Pa Thatcherly took it for nervousness, and was paternally soothing. Can you see us, Uncle Ned? Can you imagine the situation?

“Then my future father-in-law considerately left us, and we looked at each other like a couple of trapped animals. Neither of us had ever dreamed of such a contingency. Then her nose wrinkled up and her eyes turned into two inverted crescents, and off she went again. From the way she laughed, they must have thought upstairs that she was having hysterics. It was funny, but I was too busy thinking of a way out to really enjoy it. Finally I hit on an expedient.

“'There is only one way to get you to Europe now,' I told Marjie. 'I shall have to ask your father to send you.'

“'Oh, but you can't tell him; he'd be furious,' said she.

“'Of course,' I said, 'but I'll put it this way: I feel that it isn't fair to you to let you decide. You are too young. I must insist that you go away for a year; satisfy yourself that you really care for me; you might change your mind, and it's only right to let you have the opportunity. I'll suggest that, as your school chum, Miss Wendel, is going abroad under the chaperonage of her aunt, it would be an excellent opportunity for you to put this, your first love, to the test. That I would feel better satisfied, not wishing to unduly hurry you into matrimony. I should consider it all my fault if, in the future, you came to hate me, or even achieved indifference. Then,' I explained, 'you can go to Paris, and, after a while, write home that you don't think you really are in love with me; that, perhaps, you were too hasty—and, of ocurse, I'll tearfully release you.'”

“What did she say to that?” I demanded, unable longer to restrain my feelings.

The boy looked embarrassed.

“She said I was a dear, sweet, resourceful thing, and put her two arms about my neck and kissed me. And,” he went on hastily, “I go up to the old man with that this afternoon—and may God have mercy on my soul! I'm on my way now; you can take me up as far as the Park in your motor, Uncle Ned.”

I left him at the ornate portal of the Thatcherly mansion, and that was the last I saw of him for four days. Then he walked into my bachelor den with a certain bashful manner and a “don't-guy-me” look in his eye.

Now what is it?” I launched at him gruffly.

“Well,” he admitted, “she's promised me not to go away and study art.”

Hang the boy! Now I'll have to change my will again!

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1926.

The author died in 1940, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 80 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.