Richard Harding Davis.

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cheerful over it, and forgot the blank-looking office with its Rules
and Regulations, and colored prints of uniforms, and models of old
war-ships, and tin boxes of official documents which were to be filled
out and sent to "the Honorable, the Secretary of the Navy."

Corporal Goddard on the stoop below shifted from one foot to the
other, and chafed his gloved hands softly together to keep them warm.
He had no time to write letters on unofficial writing-paper, nor to
smoke cigars or read novels with his feet on a chair, with the choice
of looking out at the queer stream of human life moving by below the
window on the opposite side of the Bowery. He had to stand straight,
which came easily to him now, and to answer questions and urge
doubtful minds to join the ranks of the government's marines.

A drunken man gazed at Ogden's colored pictures of the American
infantry, cavalry, and marine uniforms that hung before the door, and
placed an unsteady finger on the cavalry-man's picture, and said he
chose to be one of those. Corporal Goddard told him severely to be off
and get sober and grow six inches before he thought of such a thing,
and frowned him off the stoop.

Then two boys from the country asked about the service, and went off
very quickly when they found they would have to remain in it for three
years at least. A great many more stopped in front of the gay pictures
and gazed admiringly at Corporal Goddard's bright brass buttons and
brilliant complexion, which they innocently attributed to exposure to
the sun on long, weary marches. But no one came to offer himself in
earnest. At one o'clock Lieutenant Claflin changed his coat and went
down-town to luncheon, and came back still more content and in feeling
with the season, and lighted another cigar.

But just as he had settled himself comfortably he heard Corporal
Goddard's step on the stairs and a less determined step behind him.
He took his feet down from the rung of the other chair, pulled his
undress jacket into place, and took up a pen.

Corporal Goddard saluted at the door and introduced with a wave of his
hand the latest applicant for Uncle Sam's service. The applicant was
as young as Lieutenant Claflin, and as good-looking; but he was dirty
and unshaven, and his eyes were set back in the sockets, and his
fingers twitched at his side. Lieutenant Claflin had seen many
applicants in this stage. He called it the remorseful stage, and was
used to it.

"Name?" said Lieutenant Claflin, as he pulled a printed sheet of paper
towards him.

The applicant hesitated, then he said,

"Walker - John Walker."

The Lieutenant noticed the hesitation, but he merely remarked to
himself, "It's none of my business," and added, aloud, "Nationality?"
and wrote United States before the applicant answered.

The applicant said he was unmarried, was twenty three years old, and
had been born in New York City. Even Corporal Goddard knew this last
was not so, but it was none of his business, either. He moved the
applicant up against the wall under the measuring-rod, and brought it
down on his head.

So he measured and weighed the applicant, and tested his eyesight with
printed letters and bits of colored yarn, and the lieutenant kept
tally on the sheet, and bit the end of his pen and watched the
applicant's face. There were a great many applicants, and few were
chosen, but none of them had quite the air about him which this one
had. Lieutenant Claflin thought Corporal Goddard was just a bit too
callous in the way he handled the applicant, and too peremptory in his
questions; but he could not tell why Corporal Goddard treated them all
in that way. Then the young officer noticed that the applicant's white
face was flushing, and that he bit his lips when Corporal Goddard
pushed him towards the weighing-machine as he would have moved a
barrel of flour.

"You'll answer," said Lieutenant Claflin, glancing at the sheet. "Your
average is very good. All you've got to do now is to sign this, and
then it will be over." But he did not let go of the sheet in his hand,
as he would have done had he wanted it over. Neither did the applicant
move forward to sign.

"After you have signed this," said the young officer, keeping his eyes
down on the paper before him, "you will have become a servant of the
United States; you will sit in that other room until the office is
closed for to-day, and then you will be led over to the Navy-yard and
put into a uniform, and from that time on for three years you will
have a number, the same number as the one on your musket. You and the
musket will both belong to the government. You will clean and load
the musket, and fight with it if God ever gives us the chance; and the
government will feed you and keep you clean, and fight with you if
needful."

The lieutenant looked up at the corporal and said, "You can go,
Goddard," and the corporal turned on his heel and walked downstairs,
wondering.

"You may spend the three years," continued the officer, still without
looking at the applicant, "which are the best years of a young man's
life, on the sea, visiting foreign ports, or you may spend it marching
up and down the Brooklyn Navy-yard and cleaning brass-work. There are
some men who are meant to clean brass-work and to march up and down in
front of a stone arsenal, and who are fitted for nothing else. But to
every man is given something which should tell him that he is put here
to make the best of himself. Every man has that, even the men who are
only fit to clean brass rods; but some men kill it, or try to kill it,
in different ways, generally by rum. And they are as generally
successful, if they keep the process up long enough. The government,
of which I am a very humble representative, is always glad to get good
men to serve her, but it seems to me (and I may be wrong, and I'm
quite sure that I am speaking contrary to Regulations) that some of
her men can serve her better in other ways than swabbing down decks.
Now, you know yourself best. It may be that you are just the sort of
man to stand up and salute the ladies when they come on board to see
the ship, and to watch them from for'ard as they walk about with the
officers. You won't be allowed to speak to them; you will be number
329 or 328, and whatever benefits a good woman can give a man will be
shut off from you, more or less, for three years.

"And, on the other hand, it may be that there are some good women who
could keep you on shore, and help you to do something more with
yourself than to carry a musket. And, again, it may be that if you
stayed on shore you would drink yourself more or less comfortably to
death, and break somebody's heart. I can't tell. But if I were not a
commissioned officer of the United States, and a thing of Rules and
Regulations who can dance and wear a uniform, and a youth generally
unfit to pose as an example, I would advise you not to sign this, but
to go home and brace up and leave whiskey alone.

"Now, what shall we do?" said the young lieutenant, smiling; "shall we
tear this up, or will you sign it?"

The applicant's lips were twitching as well as his hands now, and he
rubbed his cuff over his face and smiled back.

"I'm much obliged to you," he said, nervously. "That sounds a rather
flat thing to say, I know, but if you knew all I meant by it, though,
it would mean enough. I've made a damned fool of myself in this city,
but nothing worse. And it was a choice of the navy, where they'd keep
me straight, or going to the devil my own way. But it won't be my own
way now, thanks to you. I don't know how you saw how it was so
quickly; but, you see, I have got a home back in Connecticut, and
women that can help me there, and I'll go back to them and ask them to
let me start in again where I was when I went away."

"That's good," said the young officer, cheerfully; "that's the way to
talk. Tell me where you live in Connecticut, and I'll lend you the
car-fare to get there. I'll expect it back with interest, you know,"
he said, laughing.

"Thank you," said the rejected applicant. "It's not so far but that I
can walk, and I don't think you'd believe in me if I took money."

"Oh, yes, I would," said the lieutenant. "How much do you want?"

"Thank you, but I'd rather walk," said the other. "I can get there
easily enough by to-morrow. I'll be a nice Christmas present, won't
I?" he added, grimly.

"You'll do," said the young officer. "I fancy you'll be about as
welcome a one as they'll get." He held out his hand and the other
shook it, and walked out with his shoulders as stiff as those of
Corporal Goddard.

Then he came back and looked into the room shyly. "I say," he said,
hesitatingly. The lieutenant ran his hand down into his pocket.
"You've changed your mind?" he asked, eagerly. "That's good. How much
will you want?"

The rejected applicant flushed. "No, not that," he said. "I just came
back to say - wish you a merry Christmas."




A PATRON OF ART


Young Carstairs and his wife had a studio at Fifty-seventh Street and
Sixth Avenue, where Carstairs painted pictures and Mrs. Carstairs
mended stockings and wrote letters home to her people in Vermont.
Young Carstairs had had a picture in the Salon, and was getting one
ready for the Academy, which he hoped to have accepted if he lived
long enough to finish it. They were very poor. Not so poor that there
was any thought of Carstairs starving to death, but there was at least
a possibility that he would not be able to finish his picture in the
studio, for which he could not pay the rent. He was very young and had
no business to marry; but she was willing, and her people had an idea
it would come out all right. They had only three hundred dollars left,
and it was mid-winter.

Carstairs went out to sketch Broadway at One Hundred and Fifty-ninth
Street, where it is more of a country road than anything else, and his
hands almost froze while he was getting down the black lines of the
bare trees, and the deep, irregular ruts in the road, where the mud
showed through the snow. He intended to put a yellow sky behind this,
and a house with smoke coming out of the chimney, and with red light
shining through the window, and call it _Winter_.

A horse and buggy stopped just back of him, and he was conscious from
the shadows on the snow that the driver was looking down from his
perch.

Carstairs paid no attention to his spectator. He was used to working
with Park policemen and nursery-maids looking over his shoulder and
making audible criticisms or giggling hysterically. So he sketched on
and became unconscious of the shadow falling on the snow in front of
him; and when he looked up about a quarter of an hour later and
noticed that the shadow was still there, he smiled at the tribute such
mute attention paid his work. When the sketch was finished he leaned
back and closed one eye, and moved his head from side to side and
surveyed it critically. Then he heard a voice over his shoulder say,
in sympathetic tones, "Purty good, isn't it?" He turned and smiled at
his critic, and found him to be a fat, red-faced old gentleman,
wrapped in a great fur coat with fur driving-gloves and fur cap.

"You didn't mind my watching you, did you?" asked the old gentleman.

Carstairs said no, he did not mind. The other said that it must be
rather cold drawing in such weather, and Carstairs said yes, it was;
but that you couldn't get winter and snow in June.

"Exactly," said the driver; "you've got to take it as it comes. How
are you going back?"

Carstairs said he would walk to One Hundred and Fifty-fifth Street and
take the elevated.

"You'd better get in here," said the older man. "Do you know anything
about trotting?" Carstairs got in, and showed that he did know
something about trotting by his comments on the mare in front of him.
This seemed to please the old gentleman, and he beamed on Carstairs
approvingly. He asked him a great many questions about his work, and
told him that he owned several good pictures himself, but admitted
that it was at his wife's and daughter's suggestion that he had
purchased them. "They made me get 'em when we were in Paris," he said,
"and they cost a lot of money, and a heap more before I got 'em
through the Custom-house." He mentioned the names of the artists who
had painted them, and asked Carstairs if he had ever heard of them,
and Carstairs said yes, that he knew of them all, and had studied
under some of them.

"They're purty high up, I guess," suggested the driver, tentatively.

"Oh, yes," Carstairs answered, lending himself to the other's point of
view, "you needn't be afraid of ever losing on your investment. Those
pictures will be worth more every year."

This seemed to strike the older man as a very sensible way to take his
gallery, and he said, when they had reached the studio, that he would
like to see more of Mr. Carstairs and to look at his pictures. His
name, he said, was Cole. Carstairs smilingly asked him if he was any
relation to the railroad king, of whom the papers spoke as King Cole,
and was somewhat embarrassed when the old gentleman replied, gravely,
that he was that King Cole himself. Carstairs had a humorous desire to
imprison him in his studio and keep him for ransom. Some one held the
horse, and the two men went up to the sixth floor and into Carstairs's
studio, where they discovered pretty Mrs. Carstairs in the act of
sewing a new collar-band on one of her husband's old shirts. She went
on at this while the railroad king, who seemed a very simple, kindly
old gentleman, wandered around the studio and turned over the
pictures, but made no comment. It had been a very cold drive, and
Carstairs felt chilled, so he took the hot water his wife had for her
tea and some Scotch whiskey and a bit of lemon, and filled a glass
with it for his guest and for himself. Mrs. Carstairs rose and put
some sugar in King Cole's glass and stirred it for him, and tasted it
out of the spoon and coughed, which made the old gentleman laugh. Then
he lighted a cigar, and sat back in a big arm-chair and asked many
questions, until, before they knew it, the young people had told him a
great deal about themselves - almost everything except that they were
poor. He could never guess that, they thought, because the studio was
so handsomely furnished and in such a proper neighborhood. It was
late in the afternoon, and quite dark, when their guest departed,
without having made any comment on the paintings he had seen, and
certainly without expressing any desire to purchase one.

Mrs. Carstairs said, when her husband told her who their guest had
been, that they ought to have held a pistol to his head and made him
make out a few checks for them while they had him about. "Billionaires
don't drop in like that every day," said she. "I really don't think we
appreciated our opportunity."

They were very much surprised a few days later when the railroad king
rang at the door, and begged to be allowed to come in and get warm,
and to have another glass of hot Scotch. He did this very often, and
they got to like him very much. He said he did not care for his club,
and his room at home was too strongly suggestive of the shop, on
account of the big things he had thought over there, but that their
studio was so bright and warm; and they reminded him, he said, of the
days when he was first married, before he was rich. They tried to
imagine what he was like when he was first married, and failed
utterly. Mrs. Carstairs was quite sure he was not at all like her
husband.

* * * * *

There was a youth who came to call on the Misses Cole, who had a great
deal of money, and who was a dilettante in art. He had had a studio
in Paris, where he had spent the last two years, and he wanted one,
so he said at dinner one day, in New York.

Old Mr. Cole was seated but one place away from him, and was wondering
when the courses would stop and he could get upstairs. He did not care
for the dinners his wife gave, but she always made him come to them.
He never could remember whether the roast came before or after the
bird, and he was trying to guess how much longer it would be before he
would be allowed to go, when he overheard the young man at his
daughter's side speaking.

"The only studio in the building that I would care to have," said the
young man, "is occupied at present. A young fellow named Carstairs has
it, but he is going to give it up next week, when I will move in. He
has not been successful in getting rid of his pictures, and he and his
wife are going back to Vermont to live. I feel rather sorry for the
chap, for he is really very clever and only needs a start. It is
almost impossible for a young artist to get on here, I imagine, unless
he knows people, or unless some one who is known buys his work."

"Yes," said Miss Cole, politely. "Didn't you say you met the Whelen
girls before you left Paris? Were they really such a success at
Homburg?"

Mr. Cole did not eat any more dinner, but sat thoughtfully until he
was allowed to go. Then he went out into the hall, and put on his
overcoat and hat.

The Carstairses were dismantling the studio. They had been at it all
day, and they were very tired. It seemed so much harder work to take
the things down and pack them away than it did to unpack them and put
them up in appropriate corners and where they would show to the best
advantage.

The studio looked very bare indeed, for the rugs and altar cloths and
old curtains had been stripped from the walls, and the pictures and
arms and plaques lay scattered all over the floor. It was only a week
before Christmas, and it seemed a most inappropriate time to evict
one's self. "And it's hardest," said Carstairs, as he rolled up a
great Daghestan rug and sat on it, "to go back and own up that you're
a failure."

"A what!" cried young Mrs. Carstairs, indignantly. "Aren't you ashamed
of yourself? You're not a failure. It's the New Yorkers who don't know
what's good when it's shown them. They'll buy all those nasty French
pictures because they're expensive and showy, and they can't
understand what's true and good. They're not educated up to it, and
they won't be for fifty years yet."

"Fifty years is a long time to wait," said her husband, resignedly,
"but if necessary we can give them that much time. And we were to have
gone abroad, and taken dinner at Bignon's, and had a studio in
Montmartre."

"Well, you needn't talk about that just now," said Mrs. Carstairs, as
she shook out an old shawl. "It's not cheerful."

There came a knock at the door, and the railroad king walked in,
covered with snow. "Goodness me!" exclaimed King Cole, "what are you
doing?"

They told him they were going back to Vermont to spend Christmas and
the rest of the winter.

"You might have let me know you were going," said the king. "I had
something most important to say to you, and you almost gave me the
slip."

He seated himself very comfortably and lighted a fat, black cigar,
which he chewed as he smoked. "You know," he said, "that I was brought
up in Connecticut. I own the old homestead there still, and a tenant
of mine lives in it. I've got a place in London, or, I mean, my wife
has, and one in Scotland, and one in Brittany, a château, and one
in - well, I've a good many here and there. I keep 'em closed till I
want 'em. I've never been to the shooting-place in Scotland - my sons
go there - nor to the London house, but I have to the French place, and
I like it next best to only one other place on earth. Because it's
among big trees and on a cliff, where you can see the ships all day,
and the girls in colored petticoats catching those little fish you eat
with brown bread. I go there in the summer and sit on the cliff, and
smoke and feel just as good as though I owned the whole coast and all
the sea in sight. I bought a number of pictures of Brittany, and the
girls had the place photographed by a fellow from Paris, with the
traps in the front yard, and themselves and their friends on the front
terrace in groups. But it never seemed to me to be just what I
remembered of the place. And so what I want to ask is, if you'll go up
to my old place in Connecticut and paint me a picture of it as I used
to know it when I was a boy, so that I can have it by me in my room. A
picture with the cow-path leading up from the pool at the foot of the
hill, and the stone walls, and the corn piled on the fields, and the
pumpkins lying around, and the sun setting behind the house. Paint it
on one of these cold, snappy afternoons, when your blood tingles and
you feel good that you're alive. And when you get through with that,
I'd like you to paint me a picture to match it of the château, and as
many little sketches of the fishermen, and the girls with the big
white hats and bare legs and red petticoats, as you choose. You can
live in the homestead till that picture's done, and then you can cross
over and live in the château.

"I don't see that there is anything wrong in painting a picture to
order, is there? You paint a portrait to order, why shouldn't you
paint an old house, or a beautiful castle on a cliff, with the sea
beyond it? If you wish, I'll close with you now and call it a
bargain."

Mrs. Carstairs had been standing all this time with an unframed
picture in one hand, and a dust brush in the other, and her husband
had been sitting on the rolled-up Turkish rug and trying not to look
at her.

"I'd like to do it very well," he said, simply.

"Well, that's good," replied the railroad king, heartily. "You'll need
a retaining fee, I suppose, like lawyers do; and you put your best
work on the two pictures and remember what they mean to _me_, and put
the spirit of home into them. It's my home you're painting, do you
understand? I think you do. That's why I asked you instead of asking
any of the others. Now, you know how I feel about it, and you put the
feeling into the picture; and as to the price, you ask whatever you
please, and you live at my houses and at my expense until the work is
done. If I don't see you again," he said, as he laid a check down on
the table among the brushes and paint tubes and cigars, "I will wish
you a merry Christmas." Then he hurried out and banged the door behind
him and escaped their thanks, and left them alone together.

The pictures of Breton life and landscape were exhibited a year later
in Paris, and in the winter in New York, and, as they bore the
significant numerals of the Salon on the frame, they were immediately
appreciated, and many people asked the price. But the attendant said
they were already sold to Mr. Cole, the railroad king, who had
purchased also the great artistic success of the exhibition - an old
farm-house with a wintry landscape, and the word "Home" printed
beneath it.




ANDY M'GEE'S CHORUS GIRL


Andy M'Gee was a fireman, and was detailed every evening to theatre
duty at the Grand Opera House, where the Ada Howard Burlesque and
Comic Opera Company was playing "Pocahontas." He had nothing to do but
to stand in the first entrance and watch the border lights and see
that the stand lights in the wings did not set fire to the canvas. He
was a quiet, shy young man, very strong-looking and with a handsome
boyish face. Miss Agnes Carroll was the third girl from the right in
the first semi-circle of amazons, and very beautiful. By rights she
should have been on the end, but she was so proud and haughty that she
would smile but seldom, and never at the men in front. Brady, the
stage manager, who was also the second comedian, said that a girl on
the end should at least look as though she were enjoying herself, and
though he did not expect her to talk across the footlights, she might
at least look over them once in a while, just to show there was no ill
feeling. Miss Carroll did not agree with him in this, and so she was
relegated to the third place, and another girl who was more
interested in the audience and less in the play took her position.
When Miss Carroll was not on the stage she used to sit on the carpeted
steps of the throne, which were not in use after the opening scene,
and read novels by the Duchess, or knit on a pair of blue woollen
wristlets, which she kept wrapped up in a towel and gave to the
wardrobe woman to hold when she went on. One night there was a quicker
call than usual, owing to Ada Howard's failing to get her usual encore
for her waltz song, and Brady hurried them. The wardrobe woman was not
in sight, so Agnes handed her novel and her knitting to M'Gee and
said: "Will you hold these for me until I come off?" She looked at him


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Online LibraryRichard Harding DavisVan Bibber and Others → online text (page 7 of 12)