Bertha interrupted: "I want you to lay off and go out for a whirl in our machine."
'" How gay!' cried Moss. "I ought to be working, for my rent is coming due; but what's the cliff ? Here goes! Come on, Julia, we'll shut up shop and let art wag."
Julia was doubtful. "You know you promised—"
"Of course I did—that's the prerogative of the artist. Come on, now; I'll work to-night."
"To-night is the Hall's circus party."
"So it is! Well, no matter. I'm hungry for some whizzing, lashing, cool, clear air."
Dodging behind a screen in the corner, like an actor "doing a stunt," he reappeared a few moments later with clean hands, wearing a gray jacket and cap. "Hurry, hurry!" he called. He was like a lad invited to go fishing or swimming.
"I've been all 'balled up' since you went away," he explained—"took a contract to produce a certain line of ornamental reliefs; it never pays to be mercenary. But there it is! I was greedy, I went out for money— now behold me in the grasp of a business agreement. Can't sleep, can't breathe country air—had to work all day Sunday."
" It'll pay some of our debts, though," explained Mrs Moss, "and buy the children's summer suits."
" Summer suits! Why summer suits? I only had one complete suit a year when I was a child—and that was a buff."
All the way down the elevator he gazed admiringly at Bertha. "My, my! how fit you look. Julia, why don't you get a hat and cloak like that?"
" Why don't I ? Do you know why ?" Then as they came out in sight of the 'mobile she said, " Why don't you furnish me an auto-car like this?"
"I will," he said, as though the notion had just risen in his mind. "I'll secure one this week."
Mart, who had taken a seat with Lucius, was touched and warmed by their hearty greeting, and they rolled away up the street as merry as school-children—even the self-contained Lucius smiled at Joe's odd turns of speech. Bertha's heart swelled with the keen delight of giving pleasure to her friends. This was, indeed, the chief of all the wondrous powers of money—it enabled one to be hospitable, to possess a home wherein visitors were always welcome, to own a car in which dear friends could ride; for the moment her resolution to give it all up weakened.
Moss was delirious with joy as they went sweeping up the Lake Shore Drive. He took off his cap and stood up in the car in order to drink deep of the wind that came over the water, crisp and clean and crystalline.
On the park mead the boys were playing ball, and the combination of green grass and soft and feathery foliage was very beautiful. The water-fowl were out, the captive cranes crying, and the drives were full of carriages and cars. It was all very cheering, with death and winter far away, Moss, sobering somewhat, began to set forth his plan for making Chicago a new and greater Venice by bringing the lake into all the city boulevards and spanning these waterways with stately bridges of a new type, "designed by Joe Moss, of course," he added; " 'twould make Venice look like a faded print in a lovely old song-book."
His talk took hold of Bertha's imagination—not because she cared to see Chicago adorned, but because he was so singularly altruistic in his concernments. That a man should live to make the world more beautiful was a wondrous discovery for her. He was not specially troubled about the physical welfare or the morals of the average citizen, but the city's grossness, its willingness to perpetuate ugly forms, rasped him, angered him.
She was eager to tell him of her own change of view, but waited till their ride was over and they were seated in the studio and a moment's private conversation was possible. Tingling with the stimulus of his fragmentary exclamations, she impulsively began: "If I were a poor girl who wanted to earn a living in the world, what would you advise me to do?"
"Get married!" His answer was jocular, but, observing her displeasure, he added: "I'm sorry I said that in just that tone, but at the same time I really mean it. A woman can do other things, but marry she must if she is to fulfil her place in the world—and be happy."
She was balked and disappointed, he perceived, and he was forced to go further: "I certainly wouldn't advise any girl to study painting or sculpture in the hope of making a living by it. The only side of art that isn't hopelessly out of the running is the decorative—home decoration is a sure and worthy profession. People don't feel keen need of sculpture, but they do like pretty walls and nice furniture. I know several highly successful women decorators—but I wouldn't advise that work for any one as an easy way to make a living, for the decorative sense is either a gift at birth or acquired after hard study."
" Do they teach it over there ?" She nodded towards the lake. "I liked it over there," she said, wistfully. "You see I didn't get much of a show at school. I began to stay out to help mother when I was fourteen. I missed a whole lot. I'd kind o' like to make it up now if I could."
Moss was eager to probe a little deeper. "Your life is thrillingly romantic to us—the kind of thing we read of. Congdon writes that you have a superb home. I should think you'd hate to leave it, even for a visit."
Her hands strained together as if in resistance to an impulse of pleading; then she answered: "Yes—but then, you see, it isn't really mine—it's the Captain's."
"Yours by marriage."
"That's what people say—but I don't know. Sometimes I think I have no right to any part of it. You have to earn what you own, don't you?"
What was this doubt at her heart? The unexplained emotion in her voice moved him profoundly. He cautiously approached. "Of course, we know Frank Congdon—he likes to string' us Easterners and we take his yarns with due discount. I suppose Captain Haney, like many other Western men, is ready to try his luck now and again, and in that sense really is a gambler."