Puslapio vaizdai

excitements of the day, she was not yet ready for sleep. She must have the luxuries of consciousness; she must tread the roomy spaces of reflection, and be quieted by their largeness. And so she had gone to her windows, and had remained there for a long time looking out upon the night.

The street beneath was dimly lighted. Traffic had almost ceased. Now and then a car sped past. The thoroughfare along here is level and broad and smooth, and being skirted on one side by the park, it offers the illusive freedom of a country road. Across the street at the foot of the park a few lights gleamed scant amid the April foliage. She began at the foot of the hill and followed the line of them upward, upward over the face of the rock, leading this way and that way, but always upward. There on the height in the darkness loomed the cathedral.

Often during the trouble and discouragement of years it had seemed to her that her own life and every other life would have had more meaning if only there had been, away off somewhere in the universe, some higher evil intelligence to look on and laugh, to laugh pitilessly at everything human. She had held on to her faith because she must hold on to something, and she had nothing else. Now as she stood there, following the winding, steep road over the rock, her thoughts went back and searched once more along the wandering pathway of her years; and she said within herself that a Power greater than any earthly had led her with her son to the hidden goal of them both, the cathedral.

The next day brought no disappointment: he had rushed home and thrown himself into her arms and told her that he was accepted. He was to sing in the choir. The dream was a reality.

Later that day the choir-master himself had come down to speak to her when the pupil was not present. He was guarded in his words, but could not conceal the enthusiasm of his mood.

"I do not know what it may develop into," he said,-"that is something we cannot foretell,-but I believe it will be a great voice in the world. I do know that it will be a wonderful voice in the choir."

She stood before him mute with emo

[blocks in formation]

"You have made no mistake," she said. "It is a great voice, and he will have a great career."

The choir-master was impatient to have the lessons begin. She asked for a few days to get him in readiness. She needed them, she said to herself; he could not make his first appearance at the school in white linen knickerbockers.

This school would be his first, for she had taught him at home, haunted by a sense of responsibility that he must be specially guarded. Now just as the unsafe years came on, he would be safe in that fold. When natural changes followed, as follow they must later on, and his voice broke, and then came again, whatever afterward befell, behind would be the memories of his childhood. And when he had grown to full manhood, when he was an old man and she no longer with him, wherever on the earth he might wander or might work, always he would be going back to those years in the cathedral: they would be his safeguard, a consecration to the end.

Now a few days later she stood in the same favorite spot, at her windows; and it was her favorite hour to be there, the coming on of twilight.

All day until nearly sundown a cold April rain had fallen. These contradictory days of young green and winter cold the pious folk of older lands and ages named the days of the ice saints. They really fall in May, but this had been like one of them. So raw and chill had been the atmosphere of the grateless garret that the window-frames had been fastened down, their rusty catches clamped.

At them she stood looking out and looking up and away toward a scene of splendor in the heavens.

It was sunset, the rain was over, the sky had cleared. She had been tracing the retreating line of sunlight. First it crossed the street to the edge of the park, then crossed the wet grass at the foot of the slope; then it passed upward over the bowed, dripping shrubbery and lingered on the tree-tops along the crest; and then it had flamed out far off on the western sky behind the cathedral.

It was a gorgeous spectacle in nature.

The cathedral seemed not to be situated in the city, not to be based on the rocks of the island, but risen out of infinite space, and to abide on the eternity of light. Long she gazed into that vision, full of happiness at last, full of peace, full of prayer.

Standing at her windows at that hour, she stood on the pinnacle of her life.

From the dark, slippery street shrill, familiar sounds rose to her ear, and drew her attention downward, and she smiled. He was down there at play with friends whose parents lived in the houses of the row. She laughed as those victorious cries reached the upper air. Leaning for ward, she pressed her face against the window-pane and peered over and watched the group of them. Sometimes she could see them and sometimes not as they struggled from one side of the street to the other. No one younger or older, stronger or weaker, was ever defeated down there; everybody at same time got worsted; no one was ever defeated. All the whipped were conquerors. Unconquerable children! She said to herself that she must learn a lesson from them

once more.

With her face still against the glass she caught sight of something approaching carefully up the street. It was the car of a physician who had a patient in one of the houses near by. It was his hour to make his call. He guided the car himself, and the great mass of tons of weight responded to his guidance as if it possessed intelligence, as if it entered into his foresight and caution: it became to her, as she watched it, almost conscious, almost human. She thought of it as being like some great characters in human life which need so little to make them go easily and make them go right. A wise touch, and their enormous influence is sent whither it should be sent by a pressure that would not push a leaf.

She chid herself once more that in a world where the great is good she had so often been hard and bitter; that many a time she had found pleasure in setting the empty cup of her life out under the clouds and catching the very showers as though they were drops of gall.

All at once her attention was riveted on an object up the street. Around a bend a few hundred yards away a huge,

wild object swung recklessly, unsteadily, almost striking the curb and lamp-post, and then, righting itself, came on with a rush-the dark terror. Now on one side of the street, now in the middle, now on the wrong side; gliding along through the twilight, barely to be seen, creeping nearer and nearer under the shadows, on the wrong side of the street where it would not be looked for.

A bolt of horror shot through her. She pressed her face quickly against the window-panes as closely as possible, searching for the whereabouts of the lads. As she looked, the mass of them went down, the others piled on one. She thought she knew which one, he was the strongest,

then they passed from sight, rolling in nearer to the sidewalk. And straight toward them rushed that terror of the land. She tried to throw up the sashes, to lean out and cry down to him, to wave her hands to him as she had often done with joy. She could not raise the sashes. She had not the strength left in her to turn the rusty bolts. Nor was there time. She looked again; she saw what was going to happen. Then she began with frenzy to beat against the window-sashes and to moan and stifle her moans. And then as shrill, startled screams and piteous cries came up to her, crazed now and no longer knowing what she did, she beat against the window-panes in her futile agony until they were shattered and she thrust her arms out through them with a last, blind instinct to reach him, to wave to him, to drag him out of the way. For a moment the arms hung there, and a shower of drops from her fingers splashed on the paving-stones far below. Without reason she kept on waving them more and more faintly; and then they slipped inward after the body, which dropped unconscious.


It was a gay scene over at the art school next morning. Even before the accustomed hour the big, barnlike room, with a few prize pictures of former classes scattered about the walls, and with the old academy easels standing about like a caravan of patient camels, ever loaded with new burdens, but ever traveling the same ancient sands of art-even before nine o'clock the barnlike room presented

a scene of the tumult of eager, healthy animal spirits. On the easel of every youthful worker, nearly finished, lay the portrait of the mother.

In every case it had been differently done, in all cases inadequately done; but it had been done. Hardly could any observer have failed to recognize what was there depicted. Through smearings and daubings of paint, as past the edges of concealing clouds, one caught glimpses of a serene and steadfast human radiance, made out the familiar image of that orb which in dark and pathless hours has been immutable light of the world.

The best in them had gone into the painting of this portrait, and the outgo of our best gives us the sense of our power, and the consciousness of our power yields us our enthusiasm; hence the exhilaration and energy of the studio scene.

The interest of the members of the class was not concerned solely with the portrait, however: : a larger share went to the model herself. They had become strongly bound to her. All the more perhaps because she held them firmly to the understanding that her life touched theirs only at the point of the stranger in need of a small sum of money. Repulsed and baffled in their wish to know her better, they nevertheless became aware that she was undergoing a wonderful transformation. The change had begun after the ordeal of the first morning. When she returned for the second sitting, and then at later sittings, they had remarked this change, and had spoken of it to one another-that she was as a person into whose life some joyous, unbelievable event has fallen to brighten the entire future. Every day some old, cloudy care seemed to loose itself from its lurking-place and drift across her face, leaving it less obscured and thus the more real to them. Now, with the end of the sittings not far off, what they looked forward to with most regret was the last, when she, leaving her portrait in their hands, would herself vanish, taking with her both the mystery of her old sorrows and the mystery of this new happiness which covered her like a radiant veil.

Promptly at nine o'clock the teacher of the class entered, greeted them, and glanced around for the model. Not seeing her, he looked at his watch, then with out comment crossed to the easels, and

studied again the progress made the previous day, correcting, approving, guiding, encouraging. His demeanor showed that he entered into the unique enthusiasm of his class for this particular piece of work.

A few minutes were thus quickly consumed. Then, watch in hand once more, he spoke of the absence of the model:

"Something seems to detain the model this morning. But she has sent me no word, and she will no doubt be here in a few minutes."

He went back to the other end of the studio and sat down, facing them with the impressiveness which belonged to him even without speech. They fixed their eyes on him with a sudden expectancy. Whenever as now an unforeseen delay occurred, he was always prompt to take advantage of the interval with a brief talk. To them there were never enough of these brief talks, which invariably drew human life into relationship to the art of portraiture, set the one over against the other-the turbulence of humanity and the still image. They hoped he would talk to them now; and in truth he wore the air of casting about in his mind for a theme best suited to the moment.

THAT mother, now absent, when she had blindly found her way to him, asking to pose, had fallen into good hands. He was a great teacher and he was a remarkable man, remarkable even to look at. Massively built, with a big head of black hair, an olive complexion, and a bluntly. pointed, black beard, and with a mold of countenance grave and strong, he looked like great Rembrandt; like some splendid full-length portrait by Rembrandt painted as that master painted men in the prime of his power. And with shadows on him. Even when the sun beat down upon him outdoors, even when you met him in the blaze of the city streets, he seemed not altogether to have emerged from a background of shadow, to bear on himself the traces of a human night, a living darkness. There was light within him, but it did not irradiate him wholly.

Once he had been a headlong art student himself, starting out to become a great painter, a great one. After years abroad under the foremost masters and other years of self-trial with every favorable circumstance his, nature had one day

pointed her unswerved finger at his latest canvas as at the earlier ones and had judged him to the quick: you will never be a great painter. If you cannot be content to remain less, quit, stop!

Thus youth's choice and a man's half a lifetime of effort and ambition ended in abandonment not because he was a failure, but because the choice had been a blunder. A multitude of men topple into this chasm, and crawl out nobody. Few of them at middle age in the darkness of that pit can grope within themselves for some second candle, and by it once more become illumined through and through. He found his second candle,-it should have been his first, and he lighted it, and it became the light of his life; but it did not illumine him completely, it never dispelled the shadows of the one that had burned out.

What he did with it was this: having reached the end of his own career, he turned and made his way back to the fields of youth, and taking his stand by that ever fresh path, always, as students would rashly pass him, he halted them like a wise monitor, describing the best way to travel, warning of the difficulties of the country ahead, but insisting that the goal was worth the toil and the trouble; searching secretly among his pupils year after year for signs of what he was not, a great painter, and pouring out his sympathies on all those who, like himself, would never be one.

Now he sat looking across at his class with mastery of them. They sat looking eagerly at him. Then he struck his theme: "Your work on this portrait is your best, because the model, as I stated to you at the outset would be the case, has called forth your finer selves; she has caused you to feel. And she has been able to do this because her countenance, her whole being, radiates one of the great passions and faiths of our common humanity-the look of reverent motherhood. You recognize that look, that mood; you believe in it; you honor it; you have worked at the outpost of its living eloquence. Observe, then, the result. Turn again to your canvases and see how, though proceeding differently, you have all dipped your brushes as in a common light; how you have all drawn an identical line around that old-time tenderness. You have in

truth copied from her one of the great beacon-lights of human expression that has been burning and signaling through ages upon ages of human history-the look of the devoted mother, the angel of selfsacrifice.

"While we wait, we might go a little way into this general matter, since you, in the study of portraiture, will always have to deal with it. This look of hers, which you have caught on your canvases, with all the other great beacon-lights of human expression, stands, of course, for the inner energies of our lives, the leading forces of our characters. But, as ages pass, human life changes; its chief elements shift their places, some forcing their way to the front, others being pushed to the rear; and the great beacon-lights change correspondingly. Ancient ones go out, new ones appear; and your art of portraiture, which is the undying historian of the human countenance, is subject to this law of the birth and death of its material.

"Perhaps more ancient lights have died out of human faces than modern lights have been kindled to replace them. Do you understand why? The reason is this: throughout an immeasurable time the aim of nature was to make the human countenance as complete an instrument of expression as it could possibly be. Man, except for his gestures and wordless sounds, had nothing else with which to speak; he must speak with his face. And thus the primitive face became the chronicle of what was going on within him as well as of what had taken place without. It was his earliest bulletin-board of intelligence. It was the first parchment to bear tidings, it was the original newspaper; it was the rude, but vivid, book of the woods. The human face was all that. Ages more had to pass before spoken language began, and still more ages before written language began. Thus for an immeasurable time nature developed the face and multiplied its expressions to enable man to make himself understood. At last this development was checked; what we may call the natural occupation of the face culminated. Civilization began, and as soon as civilization began, the decline in natural expressiveness began with it. Gradually civilization supplanted primeval needs; it contrived other means for doing what the face alone had done

frankly, marvelously. When you can print news on paper, you may cease to print news on the living skin. Moreover, the aim of civilization is to develop in us the consciousness not to express, but to suppress. Its aim is not to reveal, but to conceal, thought and emotion; not make the countenance a beacon-light, but a muffler of the inner candle, whatever that candle for the time may be. All our ruling passions, good or bad, noble or ignoble, we now try publicly to hide. This is civilization. And thus the face, having started out expressionless in nature, tends through civilization to become expressionless again.

"How few faces does any one of us know that frankly radiate the great passions and moods of human nature except what little is left of this ancient tremendous drama in the poor pantomime of the stage? Search crowds, search the streets. See everywhere masked faces, telling as little as possible to those around them of what they glory in or what they suffer. Search modern portrait galleries. Do you find portraits of either men or women who radiate the overwhelming passions, the vital moods, of our galled and soaring nature? It is not a long time since the Middle Ages. In the stretch of history centuries shrink to nothing, and the Middle Ages are as the earlier hours of our own day. But has there not been a change even within that short time? Did not the medieval portrait-painters portray in their sitters great moods as no painter portrays them now? How many painters of to-day can find them in the faces of his sitters?

"And so I come again to your model. What makes her so remarkable, so significant, so touching, so exquisite, so human, is the fact that her face seems almost a survival of a great tender past in which the beacon-lights of humanity did more openly appear upon the features. In her case one beacon-light most of all;the greatest that has ever shone on the faces of women,-the one which seems to be slowly vanishing from the faces of modern women, the look of the mother, that transfiguration of the face of the mother who believed that the nativity was the divine event in her earthly existence, and the emotions and energies of whose life centered about her offspring. How often does any living painter have his chance

to paint that look now! Galleries are well filled with portraits of contemporary women who have borne children: how often among these is to be found the portrait of the mother of old? Well, you have found it. Here in this studio with this woman you have painted the mother of ages which seem slipping away from us." He rose. The talk was ended. He looked again at his watch, and said:

"It does not seem worth while to wait longer. Evidently your model has been kept away to-day. Let us hope that no ill has befallen her and that she will be here to-morrow. If she is here, we shall go on with her portrait. If she should not be here, I will have another model ready, and we shall take up another study until she returns. Bring fresh canvases.”

He left the room. They lingered, looking again at their canvases, understanding their own work as they had not, and more strongly drawn than ever toward the woman whom that day they missed. Slowly, and with disappointment and with many conjectures as to why she had not come, they separated.


IT was the Sunday after. All round St. Luke's Hospital quiet reigned. The day was very still on the heights up there under the blue curtain of the sky.

When he had been left stretched against the curb on the dark roadway, rolled over and tossed there with no outcry, no movement, as limp and senseless as a mangled weed, the careless crowd which somewhere in the city every day gathers about such scenes quickly gathered about him. In this throng was the physician whose car stood near by; and he, used to sights of suffering, but touched by that street tragedy of unconscious child and half-crazed mother, hurried them both to St. Luke's -to St. Luke's, which is always open, always ready, and always free to those who lack means.

Just before they stopped at the entrance she had pleaded in the doctor's ear.

"To the private ward," he said to those who lifted the lad to the stretcher, speaking as though he added his authority to her entreaty.

"One of the best rooms," he said before the operation, speaking again as though he shouldered the responsibility of the ex

« AnkstesnisTęsti »