A Patron of Art
A Patron of Art
Mrs. Livingstone adored art—Art with a capital A, not the kind whose sign-manual is a milking-stool or a beribboned picture frame. The family had lived for some time in a shabby-genteel house on Beacon Hill, ever since, indeed, Mrs. Livingstone had insisted on her husband's leaving the town of his birth and moving to Boston—the center of Art (according to Mrs. Livingstone).
Here she attended the Symphony Concerts (on twenty-five cent tickets), and prattled knowingly of Mozart and Beethoven; and here she listened to Patti or Bernhardt from the third balcony of the Boston Theater. If she attended an exhibit of modern paintings she saw no beauty in pictured face or flower, but longed audibly for the masterpieces of Rubens and of Titian; and she ignored the ordinary books and periodicals of the day, even to the newspapers, and adorned her center-table with copies of Shakespeare and of Milton.
To be sure, she occasionally read a novel or a book of poems a trifle less ancient in character, but never unless the world had rung with the author's praises for at least a score of years. The stamp of Time's approval was absolutely necessary to the aspirant after Mrs. Livingstone's approbation. Indeed, there was only one of the present-day celebrities who interested the good lady at all, but that one attracted with a power that compensated for any lack in the others. She would have given much—had it been hers to give—to once meet that man.
Of course he was famous—he had been for thirty years. She called him the "Inimitable One," and set him up in her heart and groveled joyfully at his feet. She bought each of his books when published, whether she had shoes to her feet or clothes to her back. He was the Prophet—the High Priest—the embodiment of Art. She occasionally even allowed his books to rest on the table along with Milton and Shakespeare.
Mrs. Livingstone's husband was only an ordinary being who knew nothing whatever of Art; and it was a relief to her—and perhaps to him, poor man—when he departed this life, and left her to an artistic widowhood with anything but an artistic income—if size counts in Art. But one must eat, and one must wear clothes (in chilly, civilized Boston, at least), and Mrs. Livingstone suddenly realized that something must be done toward supplying these necessities of life for herself and her young daughter, Mabel.
It was at about this time that there came a sharp ring at the doorbell, and a stout man with small, but very bright, black eyes asked to see Mrs. Livingstone.
"I have come, my dear madam, on a matter of business," said he suavely; "and though I am a stranger to you, you certainly are not one to me. I said 'business,' madam, yet I and the one for whom I am speaking are so anxious that you should look favorably upon our proposition that I had almost said that I had come to ask a favor."
Mrs. Livingstone relaxed from the forbidding aspect she had assumed, and looked mildly interested.
"A gentleman wishes to leave his house in your charge, madam. The house is advertised for sale, and from time to time parties may wish to see it. He would like it to be in the care of some one who will understand how to show it to the best advantage, you see."
Mrs. Livingstone's back straightened, and her chin rose perceptibly. Had she come to this—a common caretaker? And yet—there was Mabel. Something must certainly be done.
"Who is this man?" she asked aggressively; and then she almost started from her chair as the name fell from the other's lips—it was that borne by the Inimitable One.
"That man!" she exclaimed breathlessly. "That famous creature with the world at his feet!"
The stout gentleman opposite smiled, and his little eyes narrowed to mere slits of light. He had counted on this. His employer was indeed famous—very famous, though perhaps not in the way this good lady supposed. It was not the first time he had traded on this convenient similarity of names.
"I thought, madam, we had made no mistake. I was sure you would deem it a privilege. And as for us, your keen appreciative sense of the fitness of things will—er—will make it a favor to us if you comply with our request," said he, floundering in helpless confusion for a moment.
But Mrs. Livingstone did not notice. She went through the rest of that interview in a dazed, ecstatic wonder. She only knew at its conclusion that she was to go up to Vermont to care for His house, to live in the rooms that He had lived in, to rest where He had rested, to walk where He had walked, to see what He had seen. And she was to receive pay—money for this blissful privilege. Incredible!
It did not take Mrs. Livingstone long to make all necessary arrangements. The shabby-genteel house in Boston was rented by the month, all furnished, and the good lady promptly gave her notice and packed her trunks for departure. The first day of the month found her and her daughter whirling away from the city toward their destination.
As they stepped from the train to the platform at the little country station, Mrs. Livingstone looked about her with awed interest. He had been here! The jouncing yellow stage coach became a hallowed golden chariot, and the ride to the house a sacred pilgrimage. She quoted His poetry on the doorstep, and entered the hall with a reverent obeisance; whereupon the man who brought the trunks ever after referred to her with a significant tap on his forehead and the single word "cracked."
"Only think, Mabel, He walked here, and sat here," said the woman adoringly, suiting the action to the word and sinking into a great Morris chair.
Mabel sniffed her disdain.
"I presume so; but I should like to know where he ate—maybe he left something!"
Mrs. Livingstone rose in despairing resignation.
"Just like your father, child. No conception of anything but the material things of life. I did hope my daughter would have some sympathy with me; but it seems she has n't. Bring me my bag—the black one; the lunch is in that. Of course we can't have a warm supper until we get started."
The next few days were a dream of bliss to Mrs. Livingstone. The house was a handsome mansion set well back from the street, and surrounded by beautiful grounds which were kept in order by a man who came two or three times a week to attend to them. Mrs. Livingstone had but herself and Mabel to care for, and she performed the work of the house as a high-priestess might have attended upon the altars of her gods. It was on the fifth day that a growing wonder in the mind of Mrs. Livingstone found voice.
"Mabel, there is n't one of His works in the house—not one. I've been everywhere!" said 'the woman plaintively.
"Well, mother," laughed the girl saucily, "that's the most sensible thing I ever knew of the man. I don't wonder he did n't want them round—I should n't!"
"Well, I should n't!" And Mabel laughed wickedly while her mother sighed at the outspoken heresy. It was plain that Mabel had no soul.
Mrs. Livingstone was furthermore surprised at her idol's taste in art; some of the pictures on the wall were a distinct shock to her. And if the absence of the Inimitable One's works astonished her, the presence of some others' books certainly did more than that.
The house was to be sold completely furnished, with the exception of the books and pictures. The price was high, and there were but few prospective purchasers. Occasionally people came to see the property; such Mrs. Livingstone conducted about the house with reverent impressiveness, displaying its various charms much as a young mother would "show off" her baby.
"It is something to buy a house owned by so famous a man," she insinuated gently one day, after vainly trying to awaken a proper enthusiasm in a prim little woman who was talking of purchasing.
"Indeed!" replied the other, frigidly. "Do you think so? I must confess it is somewhat of a drawback to me." And from that time Mrs. Livingstone wore an injured air—the young mother's baby had been snubbed—grievously snubbed.
There were times when Mrs. Livingstone was lonely. Only one of her neighbors had called, and that one had not repeated the visit. Perhaps the lady's report—together with that of the trunkman—was not conducive to further acquaintance. It would appear so.
Toward the last of the summer a wild plan entered Mrs. Livingstone's brain; and after some days of trembling consideration, she determined to carry it out. The morning mail bore a letter from her to the Inimitable One through his publishers. She had learned that he was to be in Boston, and she had written to beg him to come up to his old home and see if it was being cared for to his satisfaction. The moments dragged as though weighted with lead until the answer came. When at last it was in her hands, she twisted a hairpin under the flap of the envelope and tore out the letter with shaking fingers.
It was from the Inimitable One's private secretary. The Inimitable One did not understand her letter—he was the owner of no house in Vermont; there was doubtless some mistake. That was all. The communication was wholly enigmatic.
The letter fluttered to the floor, and Mrs. Livingstone's dazed eyes rested on the gardener in the lawn below. In a moment she was at his side.
"Peter, is n't this house owned by a very famous man?"
"Indade it is, ma'am."
"Who is he?" she demanded shortly, holding her breath until that familiar name borne by the Inimitable One passed the other's lips.
"Well, Peter, is n't he the writer? What does he do for a living?" she faltered, still mystified.
"Do? He fights, ma'am. He's the big prize-fighter that won—" He was talking to empty air. The woman had fled.