Joe earnestly protested. "Don't do it, Captain, there's some Scotch down cellar."
Mrs. Moss indicated one or two other dimly seen faces about her and introduced their owners in a most casual manner while she compounded a hot drink for her Western guest.
"How long have you been in our horrible town, Mr. Haney?" she asked, heedful of Joe's warning. "One day, ma'am."
"You're just 'passing through,' I presume—that's the way all Colorado people do."
Haney smiled. He was getting the drift of her remarks. " 'Tis natural, ma'am; for, you see, 'tis a long run and a heavy grade, and hard to side-track on the way."
Bertha, to whom Moss addressed himself, was candidly looking about her—profoundly interested in what she saw. Dim forms in bronze and plaster stood on shelves, brackets, and pedestals, and at the end of the long room a big group of figures writhed as if in mortal combat. It was a work-shop—that was evident even to her—with one small nook devoted to tea and talk.
"Would you like to poke about ?" he asked, anticipating her request.
"Yes, I would," she bluntly replied.
"There isn't much to see," he said. "I'm the kind of sculptor who works on order. I believe in the ' art for service' idea, and when I get an order I fill it as well as I can, make it as beautiful as I can, and send it out on its mission. I'd like to model mantel-pieces and andirons, because they are seen and actually influence people's lives. What I started to say was this: my stuff all goes out—my real stuff; my fool failures stay by me —this thing, for instance." He indicated the big clump of nude forms. "I had an 'idea' when I started, but it was too ambitious and too literary. Moreover, it isn't democratic. It don't gibe with the present. I'd be a wild-animal sculptor if I knew enough about them."
It was a profoundly moving experience for this raw mountain-bred girl to stand there beside that colossal group while the man who had modelled it took her into his confidence. There was no affectation in Moss's candor. He had come to a swift conclusion that Congdon had attempted to let him into a trap, for Bertha's reticence and dignity quite reassured him. If she had uttered a single one of the banal compliments with which visitors "kill" artists he would have stopped short; but she didn't, she only looked, and something in her face profoundly interested him. Suddenly she turned and said: "Tell me what it means."
"It don't mean anything—now. Originally I intended it to mean 'The Conquest of Art by the Spirit of Business,' or something like that. I started it when I was fresh from Paris, and wore a red tie and a pointed beard. I keep it as a record of the folly into which exotic instruction will lead a man. If I were to go at it now I'd turn the whole thing around—I'd make it 'Art Inspiring Business.'"
Bertha did not follow his thought entirely, but she felt herself in the presence of a serious problem and listening to something deep down in the heart of a strong man. Here was another world — not an altogether strange world, for Congdon had also talked to her of his work—but a world so far removed from her own life that it seemed some other planet. "How well he talks," she thought. "Like a book."
"How charming she is," he was thinking. And the alert, aspiring pose of her head made his thumb nervously munch at the bit of clay he had picked up.
They wandered up and down the long room while he showed her tiles for mantel decoration, bronze cats' heads for door-knobs, and curious and lovely figures for lamps and ash-trays. "I take a shy at 'most everything," he explained.
"Do you sell these?" she asked, indicating some designs for electric desk-lamps.
He smiled. "Sometimes—not as often as I'd like to."
"How much are they?" "Fifty dollars each."
"I'll take them both," she said, and her pulse leaped with the pride of being a patron of art.
"Now see here, Mrs. Haney, I'm not displaying these to you as a salesman — not that I'm so very delicate about offering my things, but I try to wait till a second visit." He really did feel mean about it. "Don't take 'em—wait till to-morrow. They're pretty middling bad anyway. They're supposed to be mountain lions, but as a matter of fact I never saw a mountain lion outside the Zoo."
"They're lions, all right. I want 'em, and I know the Captain will like 'em." She stepped back to call Haney. But finding him surrounded by all of the other callers (they had "got him going" telling stories of his wild life in the West), she turned to the sculptor with a smile, saying: "Never mind, ' know they're what he needs—if he don't." And Moss, recalling Congdon's description of the Haneys' material condition, answered: "Very well, if you insist; but I really feel as though I had played a confidence game on you."
"Can you fix 'em up with lights?" she asked, eager as a child. "I mean right now."
"Certainly." He unscrewed a couple of small bulbs from a near-by bracket, and, putting them into place on the lamps, turned on the current. She laughed out in delight. One of the lions was playing with the stem which supported the light. As if rising from a sleep, he lay upholding the globe on one high-raised paw. The other—a counterpart, or nearly so in pose—had a different expression. The cub was snarling and clutching at the light, as if it were a bird about to escape.
"I had an idea of putting them on the corners of a mantel to light a piece of low relief," he explained, "but I never got at the relief. It ought to be characteristic Western scenery, and I've never seen the West. Shameful, isn't it?"
"I want you to do that mantel for me," she said. "I don't know what you mean by 'low relief,' but I know it would be up to these, and they are right!"
"Your trust in me is beautiful, Mrs. Haney, and maybe I'll come out this summer and try to meet it."
"I wish you would," she said, and she meant it. "I'll show you Colorado."
"If you're starting to be a patron of art, Mrs. Haney, don't overlook Congdon; he's a first-class man." He became humorous again. "We're moving swiftly, but I'm going to tell you that he wanted me to make a sketch of you. If you'll be so good as to give me two or three sittings, I'll do something we can send out to him—if you wish."
"What do you mean by a sketch?"
"Something like this," And, leading her before a curious, half-human, veiled object, he began to unwind damp yellow cloths till at last the head of a young woman appeared on a small revolving stand. It was very dainty, very sweet, and smiling.
Bertha was puzzled. "It ain't your wife, and yet it looks like her."
"It is my wife's sister—a quick study from life—just the kind of thing Frank wants. Will you sit for me?
A couple of mornings will answer." He was eager to do her now. Her profile, so clear, so firm, so strangely boyish, pleased him. He could feel the "snap" that the sketch would have when it was done.
Bertha considered. She owed a great deal to the Congdons, and she liked this man. Her homesickness at the moment was abated, and to stay two, or even three, days in Chicago promised at the moment to be not so dreadful, after all.
"Yes, I'll do it," she decided. "I don't know what Mr. Congdon will do with a picture of me, but that's his funeral." And her laughing lip made her seem again the untaught girl she really was.
As they went back to the group around the Captain, Julia Moss treated her husband to a glance of commiseration, thinking him a bored and defeated man. "You've missed the Captain's racy talk," she whispered.
Haney was enjoying himself very well in the "centre of the stage," and doing himself credit. Never in his life had he known a keener audience than these artists, who studied him from every point of view.
"Yes," Haney was saying, "'tis possible to bust a bank if the game is straight—that is, at faro; but most machine games are built so that 'the house'—that is, the bank—is protected. My machines was always straight. I'd as soon turn a sausage-grinder as run a wheel that was 'fixed' in me favor."
Bertha did not like this talk of his abandoned trade, and her cheeks burned as she put her hand on his shoulder. "I reckon we'd better be going."
He recovered himself. "Of course I quit all that when I married," he explained, and dutifully rose.
"Oh, Mrs. Haney," pleaded Mrs. Moss, "don't take him away! We were just getting light on the game of faro. Please sit down again."
Bertha resented this tone. "No, we've got to go. Glad to have met you." She nodded towards the men who had risen. "Much obliged," she said again to Moss. "I'll send for them things to-morrow."
Mrs. Moss cordially insisted on their coming again.
"She's going to pose for me," reported Moss. "Tomorrow morning at ten?" he inquired.
"Ten suits me as well as any time," Bertha replied.
Mrs. Moss beamed at Haney. "You come, too, Captain. I want to know more about those delightful games of chance."
Bertha went back to her hotel with throbbing brain. The day had been so full of experience! She was tired out and fairly bewildered by it all.
As her excitement ebbed and she had time to recover her own point of view, Colorado, her home, the Springs, and the memory of her own people came rushing back upon her, making the city and all it contained but a handful of east wind. Ben's kiss burned vividly again upon her lips. "Was it wrong of him to say what he did?" she began to ask herself. A good-bye kiss would not have so deeply stirred her; it was his face, his voice, his intensely uttered words which deeply thrilled her, even now, as she recalled them one by one. "You are beautiful and I love you." These were the most important words to a woman, and they had come at last to her.
Then her cheek flushed with shame of her husband as she remembered his gambling talk at the studio. "Why must he always go back to that?" she asked, hotly.
They ate their dinner in the big dining-room surrounded by waiters, while the Captain discussed his sister and her family. "I'll do something for Fan," he said. "She's a different sort from Charles. McArdle seems a hard-workin' chap, the kind that a little help wouldn't spile. What do you think of buyin' them a bit of a house somewhere?"
Bertha listened with a languor of interest new to her, and when he repeated his question and asked her if she were tired, she answered: "Yes; and I think I'll go to bed early to-night. It's been a hard day."