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Chapter XVIII Bertha's Portrait Is Discussed. Part 2
"May I see my picture?" she asked of Humiston. He turned the easel towards her without a word. "Good work!" cried Moss.
Mrs. Moss came from her dark corner. "I knew you'd do something exquisite."
Bertha looked at it in silence. It was as lovely in color as a flower, a dream-girl, not Bertha Haney. And at last she said: "It's fine, but it isn't me."
Humiston broke forth almost violently. "Of course it isn't you; it's the way you look to me. I never paint people as they look to themselves nor to their friends. I am painting my impression of you."
"Do you really see me like that ?" she both asked and exclaimed. And at the moment she was more moving than she had ever been before, and Humiston, in a voice of anguish, cried:
"My God, why didn't I do her like that?" And he fell to coughing so violently that Bertha shuddered.
Moss defended himself. "I couldn't do her in all her fine poses," he complained. "I had to select. Why didn't you do her that way yourself?"
The painter put his short-hand sketch away with a sigh. "If you venture as far as New York, I hope you and the Captain will visit my studio," he said.
With no suspicion of being passed from hand to hand, she promised to send him her address, and said: "I'd like to see the pictures you have here."
Moss became abusive. "Now see here, Jerry, I can't let you take Mrs. Haney to that show of yours. I'll go myself to point out their weak points."
"I know their weak points a bloody sight better than you do," answered Humiston, readily.
"If you do you don't speak of 'em."
"Why should I? You don't call out the defects of your 'hardware,' do you?"
Mrs. Moss interposed. "That's just what he does do, and it hurts trade. I think I'll take Mrs. Haney over to see the pictures myself."
Humiston brightened. "Very well; but you must all lunch with me. You're about the only civilized people I know in this crazy town, and I need you."
"No," said Bertha. "It's our treat. You all come over and eat with us."
Haney, who had been keeping in the background, now came forward. "I second that motion," he heartily said. "We don't get a chance every day to feed a bunch of artists."
"You can have that pleasure any day here," said Moss. "Our noses are always over the bars, waiting."
When she emerged from the gallery an hour later Bertha enjoyed an exalted sense of having been carried through some upper, serener world, where business, politics, and fashion had little place. It was "only a dip," as Mrs. Moss said—just to show the way; but it set the girl's brain astir with half-formed, disconnected aspirations. Only as she re-entered the hotel (the centre of obsequious servants) did she become again the wife of Marshall Haney, and Mrs. Moss, noting the eager attention of the waiters, was amazed and delighted at the look of calm command which came over the girl's face.
"Art is fine and sweet as a side issue," said Julia to her husband, as they were going in, "but money makes the porters jump."
Bertha, composed and serious, seated her guests at a table which had been reserved for her near a window and charmingly decorated with flowers. She put Moss at her left hand and Humiston at her right, and as the Eastern man settled into place, he said: "Really, now, this isn't so bad." His experienced eye had noted the swift flocking of the waiters, and with cynical amusement he commented upon it. "These people must smell of money!" and in his heart acknowledged that he and Moss were not so very different from the servitors, after all. "They're out for tens, we're after thousands; that's the main point of difference."
Bertha, once the cutlets were served, was able to give attention to the talk—Humiston's talk (he was celebrated as a monologist), for he had resumed the discussion into which he and Moss had fallen. "I don't believe in helping people to study art. I don't believe in charity. This interfering with the laws of the universe that kill off the crippled and the weakly is pure sentimentalism that will fill the world with deformed, diseased, and incapable persons."
"You're a vile reactionary!" cried Moss.
"I am not—I'm for the future. I want to see the world full of beauty."
"Yes, physical beauty. I want to see vice and crime and crooked limbs and low brows die out—not perpetuated. I believe in educating the people to the lovely in line and color."
As he pursued this line of inexorable argument Bertha looked at him in wonder. Did he mean what he said ? His burning eyes seemed sincere—and yet he did not fail to accept a second helping of the mushrooms. There was power in the man. He pushed the waits of her intellectual world very wide apart. He came from a strange, chaotic region—from a land where ordinary modes and motives seemed lost or perverted. He took a delight in shocking them all. Morality was a convention—a hypocritic agreement on the part of the few to reserve freedom to themselves at the expense of the many. "Art is impossible to little people, to those who starve the big side of their nature, for fear of Mrs. Grundy. Look at the real people —Rachel, Wagner, Turner, Bernhardt, and a thousand others. Were they bound by the marriage laws ? What will these crowds of tiny men and petty women do who come from the country parlors and corn-shocks of the West? They will puddle around a little while, paint and muddle a few petty things, then marry and go back to the ironing-board and the furrow where they belong. What's the matter with American art ? It's too cursed normal, that's what. It's too neat and sweet and restrained—no license, no "go" to it. What's the matter with you, to be personal?"
"Too well balanced."
"Precisely. You talk like a man of power, but model like a cursed niggling prude. You're bitten with the new madness. You're the Bryan of art. 'The dear people' is your cry. Damn the people! They don't know a good thing when they see it. Why consider the millions? Consider the few, those who have the taste and the dollars. That's the way all the big men of the past had to do. Look at Rubens and Michael Angelo and Titian—all the big bunch; they were all frank, gross feeders, lovers of beauty, defiant of conventions."