JOE MOSS was delighted with the Haneys, for they talked of their native West as people should talk. They were as absolute in their convictions as a Kentuckian. For them there was no other "God's country," and as it was his latest dream to go West and "do a big thing on a cliff or something" he put off every other engagement to enjoy their racy speech. He said at the first sitting: "I've had an idea of working the Thorwaldsen trick: find some fine site out there, some wall of rock close to the railway, and hew out a monster grizzly or mountain lion. The railway could then advertise it, you see; trains could stop there 'five minutes to permit a view of Moss's Lion'; they could use a cut of it on all their folders. If there was a spring near by they could advertise the water and bottle it, a picture of my Hon on the label. Ah, it is a fine scheme I" "'Tis so," said Haney. "I wonder nobody thought of it before."
"It takes a Yankee, after all, to plan new suspender buttons," the sculptor replied. And all the time he talked his hands were dabbling, his thumbs gouging, his dibble cutting and smoothing.
Haney watched him with amused glance. "Sure, I didn't know ye went at it so. I thought ye chipped each picture out o' stone." And when the process of molding in plaster was explained to him, he said: " 'Tis like McArdle's trade entirely. He takes a rise in the world since I know he's an artist like yourself."
"What is his 'line'?".
"Pattern-maker for a stove foundry."
Moss beamed. "Just what I'd like to be if they'd only pay a little more wages and furnish a better place to work."
Bertha never knew when he was in earnest, so habitually mocking was his tone. But she grew towards a perception of his ideal, and dimly apprehended in him a mind far beyond any she had ever known. Mrs. Moss, almost as reticent as Mrs. Haney herself, came and went about the studio brightly, briskly, keeping vigilant eye on her husband's mail, moistening his "mud ladies," and defending him from inopportune callers, insistent beggars, and wandering models. Bertha, though sitting with the stolid patience of a Mississippi clam-fisher, was thinking at express speed. Her mind was of that highly developed type where a hint sets in motion a score of related cognitions, and a word here and there in Moss's rambling remarks instructed her like a flash of light. She was at school, in a high sense, and improving her time. The sketch was expanding into a carefully studied portrait bust and Moss was happy.
One day a fellow-artist came in casually, and they both squinted, measured, and compared the portrait and herself with the calm absorption of a couple of prize-pig committeemen at a cattle-show. "You see, this line is shorter," the stranger said, almost laying his finger on Bertha's neck. "Not so straight, as you've got it. That's a fine line—"
"I know it is!"
"And you don't want to spoil it. I don't like your fad for cutting down the bust. The neck is nothing but a connecting link between the head and the bust. Now here you have a charming and youthful head and face—let the neck at least suggest the woman below."
"Oh yes, that's good logic, provided you're after that. But what I want here is spring-time—just a fresh, alert, lovely fragment. This pure line must be kept free from any earthiness."
"I suppose you know what you want; I won't say you don't. But if I were painting her, I'd get that sweeping line there that ends by suggesting the summer."
They talked disjointedly, elliptically, and of course mainly of the clay; and yet Bertha grew each moment more clearly aware that they considered her not merely interesting but beautiful, and this was a most momentous and developing assurance. She had hoped to be called "good-looking," but no one thus far (excepting Ben Fordyce) had ever called her beautiful; and these judgments on the part of Joe Moss and his brother artist were made the more moving by reason of their precision of knowledge and their professional candor. They spoke as freely in discussion of her charm as if she were deaf and dumb.
The painter, who had been introduced in a careless way as "Mr. Humiston, of New York," turned to Bertha at last, and, assuming the ordinary politeness of a human being, said: "I'd like to make a study of you, too, Mrs. Haney, if you'll permit. I can bring my canvas in here and work with Joe, so that it needn't be any trouble to you."
Bertha, her wealth still new upon her, had no suspicion of the motives of those who addressed her, was deeply flattered by this request, and as Moss made no objection, she consented.
The only thing that troubled Moss was her growing tendency to lapse into troubled thought. " Remember, now, you're the crocus, the first violet, or something like that—not the last rose of summer. Don't think, don't droop! There, that's right! What have you to think or droop about? When you're as old and blase" as Humiston there, you'll have a right to ponder the mysteries, but not now. You and I are young, thank God!"
Humiston was dabbling at his small canvas swiftly, lightly, as unmoved by his fellow-artist as if his voice were the wind in the casement. He was a tall, sickly looking man with grizzled hair, and pale, deeply lined face. He was fresh from Paris with a small exhibition of his pictures, which were very advanced, as Mrs. Moss privately explained to Bertha. "And he's rather bitter against Americans because they don't appreciate his work. But Joe asks: ' Why should they ?' They're undemocratic—little high-keyed 'precious' bits; pictures for other artists, not real paintings, or they are unacceptable otherwise. He's a wonderful technician, though, and he'll make an exquisite sketch of you."
The Western girl-wife was completely fascinated by this small, dusky, dim, and richly colored heart of the fierce and terrible city whose material bulk alone is known to the world. To go from the crash and roar of the savage streets into this studio was like climbing from the level of the water in the Black Canon to the sunlit, grassy peaks where the Indian pink blossoms in silence. She was of the aspiring nature. She had commonly played with children older than herself. She had read books she could not understand. She had always reached upward, and here she found herself surrounded by men and women who excited her imagination as Congdon had done. They helped her forget the doubt of herself and her future, which was gnawing almost ceaselessly in her brain, and she was sorry when Moss said to her: "Come in once more, to-morrow, and see me do the real sculptor's act. No, don't look at it" (he flung a cloth over his work); "you may look at it to-morrow."