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The "Genius"

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Šrift:Väiksem АаSuurem Aa

CHAPTER XVII

This one significant sale with its subsequent check of seventy-five dollars and later the appearance of the picture in color, gave Eugene such a lift in spirit that he felt, for the time being, as though his art career had reached a substantial basis, and he began to think of going to Blackwood to visit Angela. But first he must do some more work.

He concentrated his attention on several additional scenes, doing a view of Greeley Square in a sopping drizzle, and a picture of an L train speeding up the Bowery on its high, thin trestle of steel. He had an eye for contrasts, picking out lights and shadows sharply, making wonderful blurs that were like colors in precious stones, confused and suggestive. He took one of these after a month to Truth, and again the Art Director was his victim. He tried to be indifferent, but it was hard. The young man had something that he wanted.

"You might show me anything else you do in this line," he said. "I can use a few if they come up to these two."

Eugene went away with his head in the air. He was beginning to get the courage of his ability.

It takes quite a number of drawings at seventy-five and one hundred dollars each to make a living income, and artists were too numerous to make anyone's opportunity for immediate distinction easy. Eugene waited months to see his first drawing come out. He stayed away from the smaller magazines in the hope that he would soon be able to contribute to the larger ones, but they were not eagerly seeking new artists. He met, through Shotmeyer, two artists who were living in one studio in Waverly Place and took a great liking to them. One of them, McHugh, was an importation from Wyoming with delicious stories of mountain farming and mining; the other, Smite, was a fisher lad from Nova Scotia. McHugh, tall and lean, with a face that looked like that of a raw yokel, but with some gleam of humor and insight in the eyes which redeemed it instantly, was Eugene's first choice of a pleasing, genial personality. Joseph Smite had a sense of the sea about him. He was short and stout, and rather solidly put together, like a blacksmith. He had big hands and feet, a big mouth, big, bony eye sockets and coarse brown hair. When he talked, ordinarily, it was with a slow, halting air and when he smiled or laughed it was with his whole face. When he became excited or gay something seemed to happen distinctly to every part of his body. His face became a curious cross-hatch of genial lines. His tongue loosened and he talked fast. He had a habit of emphasizing his language with oaths on these occasions – numerous and picturesque, for he had worked with sea-faring men and had accumulated a vast vocabulary of picturesque expressions. They were vacant of evil intent so far as he was concerned, for there was no subtlety or guile in him. He was kindly and genial all through. Eugene wanted to be friendly and struck a gay relationship with these two. He found that he got along excellently well with them and could swap humorous incidents and character touches by the hour. It was some months before he could actually say that he was intimate with them, but he began to visit them regularly and after a time they called on him.

It was during this year that he came to know several models passingly well, to visit the various art exhibitions, to be taken up by Hudson Dula, the Art Director of Truth and invited to two or three small dinners given to artists and girls. He did not find anyone he liked exceptionally well barring one Editor of a rather hopeless magazine called Craft, devoted to art subjects, a young blond, of poetic temperament, who saw in him a spirit of beauty and tried to make friends with him. Eugene responded cheerfully and thereafter Richard Wheeler was a visitor at his studio from time to time. He was not making enough to house himself much better these days, but he did manage to buy a few plaster casts and to pick up a few nice things in copper and brass for his studio. His own drawings, his street scenes, were hung here and there. The way in which the exceptionally clever looked at them convinced him by degrees that he had something big to say.

It was while he was settling himself in this atmosphere – the spring of the second year – that he decided to go back and visit Angela and incidentally Alexandria and Chicago. He had been away now sixteen months, had not seen anyone who had won his affections or alienated him from his love of Angela. He wrote in March that he thought he would be coming in May or June. He did get away in July – a season when the city was suffering from a wave of intense heat. He had not done so much – illustrated eight or ten stories and drawn four double page pictures for Truth, one of which had appeared; but he was getting along. Just as he was starting for Chicago and Blackwood a second one was put on the news-stand and he proudly carried a copy of it with him on the train. It was the Bowery by night, with the L train rushing overhead and, as reproduced, it had color and life. He felt intensely proud and knew that Angela would also. She had written him such a glowing appreciation of the East Side picture called "Six O'clock."

As he rode he dreamed.

He reached it at last, the long stretch between New York and Chicago traversed; he arrived in the Lake city in the afternoon, and without pausing to revisit the scenes of his earlier efforts took a five o'clock train for Blackwood. It was sultry, and on the way heavy thunder clouds gathered and broke in a short, splendid summer rain. The trees and grass were thoroughly wet and the dust of the roads was laid. There was a refreshing coolness about the air which caressed the weary flesh. Little towns nestling among green trees came into view and passed again, and at last Blackwood appeared. It was smaller than Alexandria, but not so different. Like the other it was marked by a church steeple, a saw mill, a pretty brick business street and many broad branching green trees. Eugene felt drawn to it at sight. It was such a place as Angela should live in.

It was seven o'clock and nearing dusk when he arrived. He had not given Angela the definite hour of his arrival and so decided to stay over night at the little inn or so-called hotel which he saw up the street. He had brought only a large suit case and a traveling bag. He inquired of the proprietor the direction and distance of the Blue house from the town, found that he could get a vehicle any time in the morning which would take him over, as the phrase ran, for a dollar. He ate his supper of fried steak and poor coffee and fried potatoes and then sat out on the front porch facing the street in a rocking chair, to see how the village of Blackwood wagged and to enjoy the cool of the evening. As he sat he thought of Angela's home and how nice it must be. This town was such a little place – so quiet. There would not be another train coming up from the city until after eleven.

After a time he rose and took a short walk, breathing the night air. Later he came back and throwing wide the windows of the stuffy room sat looking out. The summer night with its early rain, its wet trees, its smell of lush, wet, growing things, was impressing itself on Eugene as one might impress wet clay with a notable design. Eugene's mood was soft toward the little houses with their glowing windows, the occasional pedestrians with their "howdy Jakes" and "evenin' Henrys." He was touched by the noise of the crickets, the chirp of the tree toads, the hang of the lucent suns and planets above the tree tops. The whole night was quick with the richness of fertility, stirring subtly about some work which concerned man very little or not at all, yet of which he was at least a part, till his eyelids drooped after a time and he went to bed to sleep deeply and dreamlessly.

Next morning he was up early, eager for the hour to arrive when he might start. He did not think it advisable to leave before nine o'clock, and attracted considerable attention by strolling about, his tall, spare, graceful figure and forceful profile being an unusual sight to the natives. At nine o'clock a respectable carryall was placed at his disposal and he was driven out over a long yellow road, damp with the rain of the night before and shaded in places by overhanging trees. There were so many lovely wild flowers growing in the angles of the rail fences – wild yellow and pink roses, elder flower, Queen Anne's lace, dozens of beautiful blooms, that Eugene was lost in admiration. His heart sang over the beauty of yellowing wheatfields, the young corn, already three feet high, the vistas of hay and clover, with patches of woods enclosing them, and over all, house martens and swallows scudding after insects and high up in the air his boyhood dream of beauty, a soaring buzzard.

As he rode the moods of his boyhood days came back to him – his love of winging butterflies and birds; his passion for the voice of the wood-dove (there was one crying in the still distance now) – his adoration for the virile strength of the men of the countryside. He thought as he rode that he would like to paint a series of country scenes that would be as simple as those cottage dooryards that they now and then passed; this little stream that cut the road at right angles and made a drinking place for the horses; this skeleton of an old abandoned home, doorless and windowless, where the roof sagged and hollyhocks and morning glories grew high under the eaves. "We city dwellers do not know," he sighed, as though he had not taken the country in his heart and carried it to town as had every other boy and girl who had gone the way of the metropolis.

The Blue homestead was located in the centre of a rather wide rolling stretch of country which lay between two gently rising ridges of hill covered with trees. One corner of the farm, and that not so very far from the house, was cut by a stream, a little shallow thing, singing over pebbles and making willows and hazel bushes to grow in profusion along its banks, and there was a little lake within a mile of the house. In front of it was a ten acre field of wheat, to the right of it a grazing patch of several acres, to the left a field of clover; and near the house by a barn, a well, a pig pen, a corn crib and some smaller sheds. In front of the house was a long open lawn, down the centre of which ran a gravel path, lined on either side by tall old elm trees. The immediate dooryard was shut from this noble lawn by a low picket fence along the length of which grew lilac bushes and inside which, nearer the house, were simple beds of roses, calycanthus and golden glow. Over an arbor leading from the backdoor to a rather distant summer kitchen flourished a grapevine, and there was a tall remnant of a tree trunk covered completely with a yellow blooming trumpet vine. The dooryard's lawn was smooth enough, and the great lawn was a dream of green grass, graced with the shadows of a few great trees. The house was long and of no great depth, the front a series of six rooms ranged in a row, without an upper storey. The two middle rooms which had originally, perhaps seventy years before, been all there was of the house. Since then all the other rooms had been added, and there was in addition to these a lean-to containing a winter kitchen and dining room, and to the west of the arbor leading to the summer kitchen, an old unpainted frame storehouse. In all its parts the place was shabby and run down but picturesque and quaint.

 

Eugene was surprised to find the place so charming. It appealed to him, the long, low front, with doors opening from the centre and end rooms direct upon the grass, with windows set in climbing vines and the lilac bushes forming a green wall between the house and the main lawn. The great rows of elm trees throwing a grateful shade seemed like sentinel files. As the carryall turned in at the wagon gate in front he thought "What a place for love! and to think Angela should live here."

The carryall rattled down the pebble road to the left of the lawn and stopped at the garden gate. Marietta came out. Marietta was twenty-two years old, and as gay and joyous as her elder sister Angela was sober and in a way morbid. Light souled as a kitten, looking always on the bright side of things, she made hosts of friends everywhere she went, having a perfect swarm of lovers who wrote her eager notes, but whom she rebuffed with good natured, sympathetic simplicity. Here on this farm there was not supposed to be so much opportunity for social life as in town, but beaux made their way here on one pretext and another. Marietta was the magnet, and in the world of gaiety which she created Angela shared.

Angela was now in the dining room – easy to be called – but Marietta wanted to see for herself what sort of lover her sister had captured. She was surprised at his height, his presence, the keenness of his eyes. She hardly understood so fine a lover for her own sister, but held out her hand smilingly.

"This is Mr. Witla, isn't it?" she asked.

"The same," he replied, a little pompously. "Isn't it a lovely drive over here?"

"We think it nice in nice weather," she laughed. "You wouldn't like it so much in winter. Won't you come in and put your grip here in the hall? David will take it to your room."

Eugene obeyed, but he was thinking of Angela and when she would appear and how she would look. He stepped into the large, low ceiled, dark, cool parlor and was delighted to see a piano and some music piled on a rack. Through an open window he saw several hammocks out on the main lawn, under the trees. It seemed a wonderful place to him, the substance of poetry – and then Angela appeared. She was dressed in plain white linen. Her hair, braided as he liked it in a great rope, lay as a band across her forehead. She had picked a big pink rose and put it in her waist. At sight of her Eugene held out his arms and she flew to them. He kissed her vigorously, for Marietta had discreetly retired and they were left alone.

"So I have you at last," he whispered, and kissed her again.

"Oh, yes, yes, and it has been so long," she sighed.

"You couldn't have suffered any more than I have," he consoled. "Every minute has been torture, waiting, waiting, waiting!"

"Let's not think of that now," she urged. "We have each other. You are here."

"Yes, here I am," he laughed, "all the virtues done up in one brown suit. Isn't it lovely – these great trees, that beautiful lawn?"

He paused from kissing to look out of the window.

"I'm glad you like it," she replied joyously. "We think it's nice, but this place is so old."

"I love it for that," he cried appreciatively. "Those bushes are so nice – those roses. Oh, dear, you don't know how sweet it all seems – and you – you are so nice."

He held her off at arm's length and surveyed her while she blushed becomingly. His eager, direct, vigorous onslaught confused her at times – caused her pulse to beat at a high rate.

They went out into the dooryard after a time and then Marietta appeared again, and with her Mrs. Blue, a comfortable, round bodied mother of sixty, who greeted Eugene cordially. He could feel in her what he felt in his own mother – in every good mother – love of order and peace, love of the well being of her children, love of public respect and private honor and morality. All these things Eugene heartily respected in others. He was glad to see them, believed they had a place in society, but was uncertain whether they bore any fixed or important relationship to him. He was always thinking in his private conscience that life was somehow bigger and subtler and darker than any given theory or order of living. It might well be worth while for a man or woman to be honest and moral within a given condition or quality of society, but it did not matter at all in the ultimate substance and composition of the universe. Any form or order of society which hoped to endure must have individuals like Mrs. Blue, who would conform to the highest standards and theories of that society, and when found they were admirable, but they meant nothing in the shifting, subtle forces of nature. They were just accidental harmonies blossoming out of something which meant everything here to this order, nothing to the universe at large. At twenty-two years of age he was thinking these things, wondering whether it would be possible ever to express them; wondering what people would think of him if they actually knew what he did think; wondering if there was anything, anything, which was really stable – a rock to cling to – and not mere shifting shadow and unreality.

Mrs. Blue looked at her daughter's young lover with a kindly eye. She had heard a great deal about him. Having raised her children to be honest, moral and truthful she trusted them to associate only with those who were equally so. She assumed that Eugene was such a man, and his frank open countenance and smiling eyes and mouth convinced her that he was basically good. Also, what to her were his wonderful drawings, sent to Angela in the form of proofs from time to time, particularly the one of the East Side crowd, had been enough to prejudice her in his favor. No other daughter of the family, and there were three married, had approximated to this type of man in her choice. Eugene was looked upon as a prospective son-in-law who would fulfill all the conventional obligations joyfully and as a matter of course.

"It's very good of you to put me up, Mrs. Blue," Eugene said pleasantly. "I've always wanted to come out here for a visit – I've heard so much of the family from Angela."

"It's just a country home we have, not much to look at, but we like it," replied his hostess. She smiled blandly, asked if he wouldn't make himself comfortable in one of the hammocks, wanted to know how he was getting along with his work in New York and then returned to her cooking, for she was already preparing his first meal. Eugene strolled with Angela to the big lawn under the trees and sat down. He was experiencing the loftiest of human emotions on earth – love in youth, accepted and requited, hope in youth, justified in action by his success in New York; peace in youth, for he had a well earned holiday in his grasp, was resting with the means to do so and with love and beauty and admiration and joyous summer weather to comfort him.

As he rocked to and fro in the hammock gazing at the charming lawn and realizing all these things, his glance rested at last upon Angela, and he thought, "Life can really hold no finer thing than this."

CHAPTER XVIII

Toward noon old Jotham Blue came in from a cornfield where he had been turning the earth between the rows. Although sixty-five and with snowy hair and beard he looked to be vigorous, and good to live until ninety or a hundred. His eyes were blue and keen, his color rosy. He had great broad shoulders set upon a spare waist, for he had been a handsome figure of a man in his youth.

"How do you do, Mr. Witla," he inquired with easy grace as he strolled up, the yellow mud of the fields on his boots. He had pulled a big jackknife out of his pocket and begun whittling a fine twig he had picked up. "I'm glad to see you. My daughter, Angela, has been telling me one thing and another about you."

He smiled as he looked at Eugene. Angela, who was sitting beside him, rose and strolled toward the house.

"I'm glad to see you," said Eugene. "I like your country around here. It looks prosperous."

"It is prosperous," said the old patriarch, drawing up a chair which stood at the foot of a tree and seating himself. Eugene sank back into the hammock.

"It's a soil that's rich in lime and carbon and sodium – the things which make plant life grow. We need very little fertilizer here – very little. The principal thing is to keep the ground thoroughly cultivated and to keep out the bugs and weeds."

He cut at his stick meditatively. Eugene noted the chemical and physical knowledge relative to farming. It pleased him to find brain coupled with crop cultivation.

"I noticed some splendid fields of wheat as I came over," he observed.

"Yes, wheat does well here," Blue went on, "when the weather is moderately favorable. Corn does well. We have a splendid apple crop and grapes are generally successful in this state. I have always thought that Wisconsin had a little the best of the other valley states, for we are blessed with a moderate climate, plenty of streams and rivers and a fine, broken landscape. There are good mines up north and lots of lumber. We are a prosperous people, we Wisconsiners, decidedly prosperous. This state has a great future."

Eugene noted the wide space between his clear blue eyes as he talked. He liked the bigness of his conception of his state and of his country. No petty little ground-harnessed ploughman this, but a farmer in the big sense of the word – a cultivator of the soil, with an understanding of it – an American who loved his state and his country.

"I have always thought of the Mississippi valley as the country of the future," said Eugene. "We have had the Valley of the Nile and the Valley of the Euphrates with big populations, but this is something larger. I rather feel as though a great wave of population were coming here in the future."

"It is the new paradise of the world," said Jotham Blue, pausing in his whittling and holding up his right hand for emphasis. "We haven't come to realize its possibilities. The fruit, the corn, the wheat, to feed the nations of the world can be raised here. I sometimes marvel at the productivity of the soil. It is so generous. It is like a great mother. It only asks to be treated kindly to give all that it has."

Eugene smiled. The bigness of his prospective father-in-law's feelings lured him. He felt as though he could love this man.

They talked on about other things, the character of the surrounding population, the growth of Chicago, the recent threat of a war with Venezuela, the rise of a new leader in the Democratic party, a man whom Jotham admired very much. As he was telling of the latter's exploits – it appeared he had recently met him at Blackwood – Mrs. Blue appeared in the front door.

"Jotham!" she called.

He rose. "My wife must want a bucket of water," he said, and strolled away.

Eugene smiled. This was lovely. This was the way life should be – compounded of health, strength, good nature, understanding, simplicity. He wished he were a man like Jotham, as sound, as hearty, as clean and strong. To think he had raised eight children. No wonder Angela was lovely. They all were, no doubt.

 

While he was rocking, Marietta came back smiling, her blond hair blowing about her face. Like her father she had blue eyes, like him a sanguine temperament, warm and ruddy. Eugene felt drawn to her. She reminded him a little of Ruby – a little of Margaret. She was bursting with young health.

"You're stronger than Angela," he said, looking at her.

"Oh, yes, I can always outrun Angel-face," she exclaimed. "We fight sometimes but I can get things away from her. She has to give in. Sometimes I feel older – I always take the lead."

Eugene rejoiced in the sobriquet of Angel-face. It suited Angela, he thought. She looked like pictures of Angels in the old prints and in the stained glass windows he had seen. He wondered in a vague way, however, whether Marietta did not have the sweeter temperament – were not really more lovable and cosy. But he put the thought forcefully out of his mind. He felt he must be loyal to Angela here.

While they were talking the youngest boy, David, came up and sat down on the grass. He was short and stocky for his years – sixteen – with an intelligent face and an inquiring eye. Eugene noted stability and quiet force in his character at once. He began to see that these children had inherited character as well as strength from their parents. This was a home in which successful children were being reared. Benjamin came up after awhile, a tall, overgrown, puritanical youth, with western modifications and then Samuel, the oldest of the living boys and the most impressive. He was big and serene like his father, of brown complexion and hickory strength. Eugene learned in the conversation that he was a railroad man in St. Paul – home for a brief vacation, after three years of absence. He was with a road called the Great Northern, already a Second Assistant Passenger Agent and with great prospects, so the family thought. Eugene could see that all the boys and girls, like Angela, were ruggedly and honestly truthful. They were written all over with Christian precept – not church dogma – but Christian precept, lightly and good naturedly applied. They obeyed the ten commandments in so far as possible and lived within the limits of what people considered sane and decent. Eugene wondered at this. His own moral laxity was a puzzle to him. He wondered whether he were not really all wrong and they all right. Yet the subtlety of the universe was always with him – the mystery of its chemistry. For a given order of society no doubt he was out of place – for life in general, well, he could not say.

At 12.30 dinner was announced from the door by Mrs. Blue and they all rose. It was one of those simple home feasts common to any intelligent farming family. There was a generous supply of fresh vegetables, green peas, new potatoes, new string beans. A steak had been secured from the itinerant butcher who served these parts and Mrs. Blue had made hot light biscuit. Eugene expressed a predilection for fresh buttermilk and they brought him a pitcherful, saying that as a rule it was given to the pigs; the children did not care for it. They talked and jested and he heard odd bits of information concerning people here and there – some farmer who had lost a horse by colic; some other farmer who was preparing to cut his wheat. There were frequent references to the three oldest sisters, who lived in other Wisconsin towns. Their children appeared to be numerous and fairly troublesome. They all came home frequently, it appeared, and were bound up closely with the interests of the family as a whole.

"The more you know about the Blue family," observed Samuel to Eugene, who expressed surprise at the solidarity of interest, "the more you realize that they're a clan not a family. They stick together like glue."

"That's a rather nice trait, I should say," laughed Eugene, who felt no such keen interest in his relatives.

"Well, if you want to find out how the Blue family stick together just do something to one of them," observed Jake Doll, a neighbor who had entered.

"That's sure true, isn't it, Sis," observed Samuel, who was sitting next to Angela, putting his hand affectionately on his sister's arm. Eugene noted the movement. She nodded her head affectionately.

"Yes, we Blues all hang together."

Eugene almost begrudged him his sister's apparent affection. Could such a girl be cut out of such an atmosphere – separated from it completely, brought into a radically different world, he wondered. Would she understand him; would he stick by her. He smiled at Jotham and Mrs. Blue and thought he ought to, but life was strange. You never could tell what might happen.

During the afternoon there were more lovely impressions. He and Angela sat alone in the cool parlor for two hours after dinner while he restated his impressions of her over and over. He told her how charming he thought her home was, how nice her father and mother, what interesting brothers she had. He made a genial sketch of Jotham as he had strolled up to him at noon, which pleased Angela and she kept it to show to her father. He made her pose in the window and sketched her head and her halo of hair. He thought of his double page illustration of the Bowery by night and went to fetch it, looking for the first time at the sweet cool room at the end of the house which he was to occupy. One window, a west one, had hollyhocks looking in, and the door to the north gave out on the cool, shady grass. He moved in beauty, he thought; was treading on showered happiness. It hurt him to think that such joy might not always be, as though beauty were not everywhere and forever present.

When Angela saw the picture which Truth had reproduced, she was beside herself with joy and pride and happiness. It was such a testimony to her lover's ability. He had written almost daily of the New York art world, so she was familiar with that in exaggerated ideas, but these actual things, like reproduced pictures, were different. The whole world would see this picture. He must be famous already, she imagined.

That evening and the next and the next as they sat in the parlor alone he drew nearer and nearer to that definite understanding which comes between a man and woman when they love. Eugene could never stop with mere kissing and caressing in a reserved way, if not persistently restrained. It seemed natural to him that love should go on. He had not been married. He did not know what its responsibilities were. He had never given a thought to what his parents had endured to make him worth while. There was no instinct in him to tell him. He had no yearnings for parenthood, that normal desire which gives visions of a home and the proper social conditions for rearing a family. All he thought of was the love making period – the billing and cooing and the transports of delight which come with it. With Angela he felt that these would be super-normal precisely because she was so slow in yielding – so on the defensive against herself. He could look in her eyes at times and see a swooning veil which foreshadowed a storm of emotion. He would sit by her stroking her hands, touching her cheek, smoothing her hair, or at other times holding her in his arms. It was hard for her to resist those significant pressures he gave, to hold him at arm's length, for she herself was eager for the delights of love.

It was on the third night of his stay and in the face of his growing respect for every member of this family, that he swept Angela to the danger line – would have carried her across it had it not been for a fortuitous wave of emotion, which was not of his creation, but of hers.