Fame Awaits Dreeme Edit
I was indisposed next morning to face my associates at the club, or any chance acquaintance at the Minedurt. I went off and took a dismal, solitary breakfast at Selleridge’s. The place had a claim on my gratitude, since it had supplied the materials of our gentle orgie in Chrysalis.
As I walked forlornly back, I endeavored to prepare myself for my appointed interview with Emma Denman.
I knew that a woman may blind herself to the measure and quality of a man’s admiration; I knew that she can even desperately accept his heart; but I also knew that only a woman thoroughly deteriorated by deceit can listen to a lover’s final words of trust, and still conceal from him one single fact in all her history that might forbid his love. She must reveal, or let her lover know she cannot reveal. She will, unless she has grown base and shameless, scorn to be a lie — yes, even for a moment, after the avowal of love — a lie to one she loves, whatever the truth may cost. I believed that, if I went to Emma Denman, and said, “We are before God, I love you,” she would be true, and, if the truth commanded, would say, “Robert, you must not.” So waiting until our interview, I held my agony under, as one presses a finger upon a torn artery, while the surgeon lingers.
In the letter-box in my door at Chrysalis I found this note: —
- “I am not well. I cannot see you this morning. I will write again, — perhaps to-day, perhaps to-morrow.
- “EMMA DENMAN.”
My finger on the bleeding artery a little longer.
While I stood reading and re-reading this billet, in the bewilderment of one thrust back into suspense from the brink of certainty, I heard a knock at my door.
I opened. It was Pensal, the artist.
Pensal occupied a studio in a granite house which continues the architecture of Chrysalis along Mannering Place. It had once been a residence for the President. But perhaps the salary of that official grew contingent, — perhaps it was paid in Muddefontaine bonds. Certain it was that no President now dwelt in this supplementary building; but, like the main Chrysalis, it was let to lodgers. Among these was Pensal. A friendship had begun to crystallize between us. He was a profound observer, as well as a great artist.
Pensal came in, and looked at me for a moment in silence.
“What is it?” said I. “What new do you find in my face?”
“Much. And you too have stepped into the Valley of the Shadow of Death? Well, a friend can only say, God help you! It comes to us all.”
“Yes, Pensal, the shadow is upon me.”
“It will pass away. You cannot believe it now; but the shadow will drift away. It cannot blight the immortal man. Be sure of that!”
“But there is immortal grief.”
“While you think so, you have a right to look a hundred years older than you did yesterday. But, Byng, I came to ask you a favor, not to criticise you. I am in a sea of troubles.”
“‘Take arms, and by opposing end them.’”
“Very well for you to say, who know better this moment by your own experience. So far as taking arms — that is towels and sponges — against my sea can go, I have ended it; but its wet bottom remains. The fact is, that I am suffering from a vulgar misery. My Croton pipe burst in the thaw last night. My studio is the bed of a lake with all manner of drowned entomology, looking slimy and ichthyological.”
“Do bring your work over here.”
“Thank you. You have anticipated my request.”
“You are a godsend to me. I could not tolerate this morning a fellow with a new treasure-trove of scandal, the last cynical joke or base story”; — and I thought of Densdeth, and other men, the coarsened and exaggerated shadows of Densdeth, who sometimes lounged in upon me for a lazy hour.
“I will be a treble godsend,” said Pensal. “I will bring you not only myself, but two friends, whose lips or hearts are never sullied with anything scandalous or cynical.”
“A pair of plaster casts, — a pair of lay figures?”
“You are cynical yourself. No; two men, fresh and pure.”
“En avant, with such sports of Nature!”
“With such types of manhood! Sion, the sculptor, is in town for a day or two. I caught him last night, and he promised to sit to me this morning. Towers, also, is to come and stir up Sion while he sits, — to put him through his paces of expression.”
“Ah, Towers and Sion! I withdraw my doubts. If my great barn here will serve you, pray bring your tools and your men over at once.”
Pensal went off for his friends.
I was delighted with this interruption. It was a tourniquet on the bleeding artery.
I had felt too forlorn to solace myself with Cecil Dreeme’s society this morning. I was conscious, also, that I could not see him now without pouring forth the whole story of my doubtful love for Emma Denman, my hesitant resolve to be her lover, the shock of last night, and the suspense of to-day. All this, with only the name suppressed, I knew must gush from me when I saw my friend of friends. And yet, by a certain inexplicable instinct, I shrank from thrusting such confidence upon him. I loved him too much, and with too peculiar a tenderness, to tell him that I had fancied I loved even a woman better than him.
I had said to myself, “I will wait for my usual evening walk with Dreeme, and then, if my heart opens toward him, I will let the current flow. He cannot console; he will teach me to be patient.”
Meantime I welcomed the visit of Pensal and our two friends, as a calm distraction in my miserable mood. I was too much shaken and unmanned to trust myself out in the world and at my tasks.
Presently Pensal arrived with the two gentlemen, and set up his easel before my window.
I need hardly describe men so well known as the three artists, Sion, Towers, and Pensal. Indeed, as their business in this drama is merely to hasten one event by a few hours, it would be impertinent to distinguish them as salient characters. I glance at them merely, as they enter, halt a moment, do their part and disappear.
It was a blessed relief to me that morning to have their society. And now that I compel myself to write this sorrowful history, the relief is hardly less, to pause here and recall how blessed then it was. I had never known fully until then what it was to have the friendship of pure and true hearts.
Pensal sat down and wielded his crayon with a rapid hand. Each of the party, artist, sitter, critic, began to scintillate, to flash and glow, according to the fire that was in him.
Stillfleet’s collection suggested much of our conversation. It was, as I have said, an epitome of all history. My three guests took the American view of history; that, give the world results, the means by which those results were attained cease to be of any profound value or interest. Everything ancient is perpetually on its trial, — whether its day has not come to be superannuated, and so respectably buried. Antiquity deserves commendation and gratitude; but no peculiar reverence or indulgence. The facts and systems of the past are mainly rubbish now; what is precious is the spirit of the present, which those systems have reared, or at least failed to strangle, and those facts have mauled strong and tempered fine.
These three great artists act on this theory, adapted to art. Hence their vigor. Hence also their recognition by a nation whose principle is faith in the present, — the only healthy faith for a man or Man.
While the magnetic current of a lively conversation flowed, Pensal worked away at his paper.
Presently, on the blank surface, a semblance of a man’s face began to appear, rather fancied than distinguished, as we behold a countenance far away, and say, “Who is it?” — the question implying the instant answer, as we approach, “It is he!”
Sion’s head, mildly lion-like, grew forth from the sheet, — lion-like, with its heavy mane of hair and beard. A potent face, but gentle.
Slowly the creation grew more distinct. The face drew near, and demanded recognition for its spiritual traits.
It was Sion’s self.
And yet it was not the Sion who sat there before us, in high spirits, making jokes, telling stories, laughing with a frank and almost boyish gayety of heart, as if his life was all careless jubilee, and never visited by those dreams of tender, nay, of pensive and of melancholy sweetness, which he puts into undying marble.
Yet it was this joyous companion too, and the other and many another Sion, whom we had always known, but never perceived that we had known, until this moment.
In fact, Pensal, a master, had not merely seized and combined the essence of all Sion’s possible looks in all possible moods; but he had divined and created the inspiration the sculptor’s face would wear, if changeful mortal features could show the calm and final beauty of the immortal soul. The picture was Sion’s apotheosis.
“Come and look at yourself, Sion,” said Towers, as this expression at last by a subtle touch revealed itself. “Pensal has drawn you as you will look in Valhalla, if you are a good boy, and don’t make any bad statues, and so get your own niche there at last.”
Sion stepped round to survey himself.
“I am lucky,” said he, “Pensal, to have nothing to be ashamed of lurking in my heart. You would be forced to obey your insight, drag it out, and set it inexorably in full view, in my portrait. It’s well for Byng, there, that you are not doing him this morning.”
“Why?” said I.
“You look as if ‘Et tu, Brute?’ had been giving you a deadly stab. But what a poor bungler, compared with Pensal, the sun is in picturing men!” continued Sion. “To say nothing of his swelling our noses and blubbering our lips, spoiling our lights and blackening our shades, he can only take us as we choose to look while he is having his little wink at us.”
“And a man cannot choose to look his noblest on occasion. A got-up look is generally a grimace,” says Towers.
“Well, Pensal,” said Sion, “your picture convinces me that I am not a miserable failure and a humbug, who cannot see anything in marble or out. Now let me free for a moment. I am tired of sitting to be probed and flayed.”
Sion took his furlough, and strayed about the room, glancing at Stillfleet’s precious objects. I stepped aside to get a cigar for Pensal.
“Ah!” cried Sion. “Here is a fresh thing. This was never painted in Europe; and yet I do not know any one here who could do it.”
He had found the sketch, my present from Cecil Dreeme. In my sickness of heart last night, I had neglected the painter’s injunction, and left it exposed on my table, half covered by a newspaper.
Sion held it up for inspection.
Now that it had been seen, there was nothing to do, except to get the approval of these final authorities, and communicate it to Dreeme.
“It is a new hand,” said I, “what do you think of it?”
“She has great power, as well as delicacy,” said Pensal, — the others waiting for him to speak.
She! Who?” I asked.
“Odd fancy of yours! It is a man.”
“What! and paint only a back view of a woman? I supposed that being a woman, as the general handling too suggests, she took less interest in her own sex; or, on the other hand, fancied that she could not represent it worthily.”
“O no!” said I. “He had no female model.”
“Probably,” said Towers, “he is too young to have a woman’s image in his brain, which fevers him until he wreaks it on a canvas.”
“Man or woman,” said Sion, “and I confess it seems to me to have a somewhat epicene character, it is a very promising work, — a pretty anecdote well told. I should like to see what this C. D. — it seems to be so signed — can do in other subjects calling for deeper feeling.”
“A friend of mine in the building has other drawings and sketches by the same hand. I will see if I can borrow them,” said I.
“Do,” said Sion. “If they are worthy of this, we must know him, and have him known at once. Fame waits him. Here is that fine something called Genius.”
If Dreeme would only profit by this chance, and give his fame into the hands of my friends, his success was achieved.
I forgot my own sorrows, and ran up-stairs, eager to persuade the recluse to seize this moment, to terminate his exile and step forth into the light of day.