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previous night, and read this passage which had struck me before, over
again:

"So, as we look into our future, we see ourselves beloved and wealthy;
victorious, famous, and free to wander through the sweetest paths of
the world, passing through a thousand scenes, sometimes loving,
sometimes warring, tasting and drinking of everything sweet and
stimulating, knowing all things, enjoying all in turn; but this is the
life of a God, not a man. And it is perhaps the God in us which so
savagely demands the life of a God."

"But it is not granted to us."

Yet this was the life I was trying to lead, and to some extent I
succeeded. Change, change, it is the life of life, perhaps especially
to the artist.

And I was an artist now, thanks to the decision of the Royal Academy
last year to accept the worst picture I had submitted to them for four
years. Ever since my fingers could clasp round anything at all they
had loved to hold a brush; for years in my teens I had studied
painting under the best teachers of technique in Italy. For two or
three years I had done really good work, with the divine afflatus
thrilling through every vein. And last year I had painted rather a
commonplace picture and it had been hung on the line in the Academy,
and so my friends all said I really was an artist now, and I modestly
accepted the style and title, with outward diffidence.

How little any of them guessed, as they congratulated me, of the wild
rapture of feeling, of intense gratitude with which I had listened to
the Divine whisper that had come to my ears as a boy of seventeen
sitting in a small bare bedroom, on the floor with the sheet of paper
before me on which I had drawn a woman's head. As I looked at it, I
knew suddenly my power, and the Voice that is above all others said
within me: "_I_ have made you an artist. None can undo or dispute MY
work."

From that moment I cared for neither praise nor blame. The opinion of
men affected me not at all. My gift was mine, and I knew it. I held it
straight from the Divine hands. I had the Divine promise with me for
as long as I should live on this earth.

And I was filled with a boundless delight in life and my own powers.

When I showed my original pictures all painted under inspiration to my
father, he carefully put on his pince-nez and studied them very
closely. After that he said he must reserve his judgment. When they
went to the Academy and were promptly refused, he drew a long face and
said I had better have gone into the Indian Civil Service as he
wished. Subsequently, when I had sold them all, and not one for less
than a thousand guineas, he began to enter upon a placid state of
contentment with me which induced him to say to other captious
relations - "Let the boy alone, he will be an artist some day." At
which I used to laugh inwardly and go away to my studio to listen to
the Divine voice dictating fresh pictures to me. For five years in
Italy I had studied closely and worked unremittingly, keeping myself
for my art alone and existing only in it. My teachers had called me
industrious. Another phrase which always must make an artist laugh
when applied to his art.

To those who know the wild pleasure, the almost mad joy of exercising
a really natural gift, it sounds as funny as to talk of a drunkard
industriously getting drunk.

However, this by the way. The world is the world, and artists are
artists; the artist may understand the world, but the world can never
understand the artist.

I was happy, life passed like a golden dream till I was twenty-two,
and my father was satisfied that I was an "industrious" student.

From twenty-two till now, when I was twenty-eight, life had opened out
into fuller colour still. My art remained the life of the soul, of all
that was best in me, but the brain and the senses had come forward,
demanding their share of recognition, too, and out of the many
coloured strands of which we can weave our web of life, I had chosen
that which gleams the next brightest to art, the strand of passion,
and woven much with that.

I had travelled, passing from country to country, city to city,
finding love and inspiration everywhere, for the world is full of both
for those who desire and look for them, and now I had come on this
coasting trip along the shores of Alaska in the same spirit, looking
for pictures in the golden atmosphere, for joy in the golden days and
nights.

My sketch-book was full of ideas and jottings, and I looked forward
much to the landing at Sitka where I hoped to find new and good
material. The hopeless ugliness of the Alaskan natives had so far
appalled me. An artist chiefly of the face and figure, as I was, could
not hope to find a model amongst them. As our steamer had come up the
coast I had looked in vain for even a decent-sized woman or child
amongst them. They seem a race without a single beauty, possessing
neither stature, nor colour, nor length of hair, nor even plump
shapeliness. Undersized, leather-skinned, small-eyed, thin, and
wizened, they never seem to be young. They seem to start middle-aged
and go on growing older.

No, I had really had no luck at present on my Alaskan tour, but I was
naturally sanguine and hoped still something from Sitka.

Most capitals give you something if you visit them, and Sitka was the
capital of Alaska.

As I lay in my berth that night, made wakeful by the bright light, I
was thinking over past incidents in my life and all the Minnies and
Marys that had been connected with them. They seemed all to have been
Mary or Minnie with Marias in Italy and France. I fell asleep at last,
hoping whatever Fate had in store for me at Sitka, it wouldn't be a
Mary or a Minnie, but some new name embodying a new idea.




CHAPTER II

THE TEA-SHOP


When we landed at Sitka I went ashore with a fellow passenger. He was
a clever man, and had made trips up there already for the sake of
taking photographs of the people and the scenery; he knew Sitka well
and came up to me just before we arrived there with the remark:

"If you come with me I'll take you to have tea with the prettiest girl
you've ever seen."

This certainly seemed an invitation to accept, and I did so on the
spot.

"She really is," he continued, observing my sceptically raised
eyebrows, "wonderfully pretty. She keeps a tea-shop and she is
Chinese." With that he bolted into his own cabin, which was next mine,
and as I heard him laughing, I concluded he was joking and thought no
more about it. However, as the ship glided up over flat sheets of
golden water to the landing-stage, he joined me again, and together we
stood looking up the principal street of Sitka which runs down to meet
the little quay.

It was just four in the afternoon, and everything was vivid living
gold, as the floods of yellow sunshine filled all the shining air. The
green copper dome of the church alone stood out a soft spot of
delicate colour in the dazzling burnished haze.

At the sides of the street sat and crouched the small squat figures of
the Alaskan Indians, each with a mat before it on which the owner had
set out his little store of wares - bottles of various-coloured sands,
reindeer slippers beautifully embroidered in blue beads, carved walrus
teeth.

We stepped on the shore and the Indians looked up at us with quaint
brown questioning eyes, like their own seals.

They did not ask you to buy, but watched you silently.

"Come along," said my friend, "we'll go up and get tea before there's
a crowd."

After about five minutes' walk, while I was gazing about interested in
this quaint little capital, my companion suddenly exclaimed:

"In here," and turned through an opening at the corner of a square
enclosure on our right hand. I followed, and saw we had entered a
little square court or compound, similar to those with which the
poorer classes in any Eastern community surround their huts.

The floor was dried and hardened mud, the walls about seven feet high,
and numerous small tables laid for tea stood round them.

My companion did not pause here, however, but went straight through in
at the low house door, and we found ourselves in a very small, dark
passage, hung with red and with red cloths dangling from the ceiling,
that swept our heads as we came in.

It seemed quite dark inside, coming from the fierce gold light of the
streets, but there was a dim little lamp in Eastern glass of many
colours swinging somewhere at the farther end, and we found our way
down to a low door in the side of the passage. This brought us into a
small square room which gave the impression of being sunk below the
level of the street. There were diminutive windows in the outer wall,
but they were close to the low ceiling and though the glorious light
from without tried hard to come in, it was successfully obstructed by
little rush blinds of red and green. The rushes were placed vertically
side by side and fastened together with string and painted in bright
tints. The breeze from the sea came through them and sang a low song
of its own. The walls were hung with red stuff curtains, over which
ramped wonderful Chinese dragons in green; the floor was spread with
something soft, on which the feet made no sound; in the corners of the
room stood some little tables.

To the farthest of these, under the rush-covered windows, we made our
way and sat down on some very ordinary American chairs, a hideous note
in the quaint surrounding, introduced as a concession, no doubt, to
Western taste.

"I rather like this, Morley," I said as I took my seat and looked
round.

"Thought you would," he returned, and pressed his hand on a tiny
bronze figure standing on the table. At the touch of his finger the
head of the figure disappeared between its shoulders, and then sprung
up again, producing a harsh clanging sound of a gong.

Hardly a moment later the red curtains that hung over the doorway
parted, and a figure came into the room.

Such a sweet figure, the very spirit of poetic girlhood seemed
incarnate before us.

In appearance she was a Chinese maiden of seventeen or eighteen years;
seventeen or eighteen according to our standard of looks, doubtless
she was in reality younger.

The face was wonderfully beautiful, a very rounded oval and of the
most perfect creamy tint, the nose, straight and fine, was rather
long, the upper lip short, and the mouth very small, soft, and
full-lipped. The eyes inclined a little to the Chinese shape, but were
large, wide, and well-opened and brimming to the lids with
extraordinary light and fire; delicately narrow black eyebrows arched
above on the low satiny forehead, from which was brushed upwards a
mass of shining black hair piled on the top of the small head and
apparently secured there by two weighty gold pins thrust through from
side to side.

The last touch of beauty, if any were needed, was added by the
earrings of turquoise-blue stone that swung against the ivory-tinted
softness of the full young throat.

Those blue stones against the creamy neck! For years afterwards how I
could see them again in the darkness that lies behind closed lids! How
often I was back in the crimson darkness of the tiny chamber with the
sea song of the Alaskan waves coming through the painted rushes above
my head!

She was very simply dressed, yet so fitly to her own beauty.

A straight pale blue jacket covered her shoulders and opened on the
breast over a white muslin vest. Her skirts hung like the full
trousers of Persian women, and were a deep yellow in colour. Her feet
were bare, and shone white on the red floor.

"How do you do, Suzee?" said Morley.

"How do you do, Mister Morlee," returned the girl lightly, smiling and
showing pretty little teeth as she did so.

"You two gentlemen want some tea? Very good. I make it."

She glided to the curtains and disappeared as rapidly and noiselessly
as she had entered.

I turned to Morley with enthusiasm.

"She's lovely, perfect."

"Isn't she just? I knew you'd say so. But she's married, old man, so
don't you think you can go playing any tricks with her."

"Married?" I gasped incredulously, "that child? Impossible! You're
joking."

"I'm not, 'pon my honour. She has a great roaring brute of a baby,
too."

"How horrible!" I exclaimed. "Yes, horrible. You've spoiled it all. It
seems a sacrilege."

"Fiddlesticks," returned my practical friend. "That's the sort that
does these things, isn't it? Would you expect her to turn into an old
maid?"

"No, but so young!" I faltered. In reality it was a shock to me. To
have such an exquisite sight float before one for a moment, and then
to be roughly dragged down to earth from the exaltation it had caused,
hurt and bruised me.

The next moment she was back again, bearing a tray in her hands which
she set on our table, and deftly arranged the steaming teapot and tiny
cups before us.

As she bent near us over the little table a strange sensation of
delight came over me, a faint scent of roses reached me from the
little buds behind her ear. The blue stones in the long gold earrings
swung against her neck of cream as she set out the tea things.

"How is your boy, Suzee?" asked Morley with a tone of mischief in his
voice.

"He is very well, thank you, Mister Morlee."

"I should like to see him. Will you bring him in?" he continued,
commencing to pour out the tea.

"Yes; he is asleep now, but I will wake him up," she returned
nonchalantly, and, in spite of a protestation from me, she went out to
do so.

After a minute we heard loud screams from across the passage and
presently Suzee reappeared dragging (I can use no other phrase) in her
arms an enormous baby. Its face was red, and it was roaring lustily.
The girl-mother did not seem disturbed in the least by its cries, but
staggered slowly over to us, clasping the child awkwardly round the
waist and holding it flat against her own body.

It seemed very large, out of all proportion to the small and
exquisitely dainty mother. She was short and small, and the child
really, as I looked at it, seemed to be quite half the length of her
own body.

"What a big boy he is," remarked Morley.

"Yes, isn't he?" said the mother proudly.

The baby roared its loudest, tears streamed down its scarlet face, and
it dug its clenched knuckles furiously into its eyes.

"Surely it's in pain," I suggested.

"Oh, he always cries when he is woken up," returned the mother
tranquilly. She did not seem to take the least notice of the child's
bellowing. She might have been deaf for all the effect it had upon
her. She stood there placidly holding it, though it seemed very heavy
for her, while the child screamed itself purple. She began a
conversation with Morley just precisely as if the child were
non-existent.

I never saw such a picture, and it struck me suddenly I should like to
paint it, just as it was there, and call the thing "Maternity."

But no. What would be the good? No one, certainly not the British
public, would ever believe its truth.

They would think it a joke, and a grotesque one at that. "Beauty and
the Beast" would do for a name, I mused, or "Fact and Fancy."

Nothing could be more delicately soul-absorbingly beautiful than the
mother; nothing so brutally hideous as the child.

Suzee had sat down on the floor now, and the baby, still roaring, had
rolled on to its face on the ground beside her. Still she took not the
smallest notice of it; she laid one shapely hand on the small of its
back, as if to make sure it was there, and continued her conversation
tranquilly with Morley. How she could hear what he said I could not
tell. I could hear nothing but the appalling row the child made.

"Do take it away," I said after a few moments more, in an interval of
yells, during which the baby rolled, apparently in the last stages of
suffocation, on the floor. "I can't stand that noise."

"Ah!" said Suzee meditatively, lifting her glorious almond eyes to
mine, "you do not like my boy-baby?"

"I do not like the noise he makes," I said evasively, "and I don't
think he can be well, either."

"Oh yes, he is quite well," she returned composedly; "but I will take
him away."

So saying, she began to haul at the loose things about the child's
waist, as a tired gardener hauls at a sack of potatoes prior to
lifting it up.

I thought really she would get the child into her arms head downwards,
so carelessly did she seem to manage it, and as she rose and carried
it to the door it seemed as if the awkward weight of it must strain
her own slight body.

When the curtain closed behind her and the screams got faint in the
distance as the unhappy child was hauled to a back room, I drew a
breath of relief and began to drink my tea, which really hitherto I
had been too nervous to do. Morley chuckled and remarked:

"Good for you to be disillusioned."

"I'm not in the least, with _her_. She is a divine piece of physical
beauty. I wish I could get her on my canvas."

"You won't be able to; that old curmudgeon of a husband of hers will
see to that."

"I should think he has the devil of a temper, judging by his
offspring," I answered. "She looks sweet enough."

Morley nodded, and we finished our tea in silence. Suzee came back
presently with cigarettes for us and sat down on the floor herself,
rolling one up between supple fingers. She had an air of extraordinary
unruffled placidity. The dragging about of the child had not disturbed
her dress nor heated her face. In cool, tranquil, placid beauty she
sat and rolled cigarettes while the child's cries dimly echoed in the
distance.

"Where's the boss, Suzee?" questioned Morley presently.

"He has gone down to Fort Wrangle for two days," she returned, and my
spirits leapt up at her words. Her husband away for two days! Perhaps
there was a chance for a picture....

My eyes swept over her seated on the floor in front of us. What
exquisite supple lines! What sweet little dainty curves showed beneath
the blue silk jacket and sleeve! What a glory of light and passionate
expression in the liquid dark eyes when she raised them to us!

After a few minutes Morley got up, and I saw him laying down on the
table the money for our tea. I added my share, and Morley remarked,

"We'd better go and walk about before dinner, hadn't we? You'd like a
look round?"

I was gazing at Suzee.

"Do you have any time to yourself?" I asked her. "Later in the evening
perhaps when you could come for a walk with me."

Suzee looked up. There was surprise in those wonderful eyes, but I
thought I saw pleasure too.

"At six," she said. "I close the restaurant for a short time, but I
don't walk, I smoke and go to sleep. But I will come with you if it is
not too far," she added as an after-thought.

Morley gave a whistle, indicative of surprise and disapproval, but I
answered composedly.

"Very well, I shall come here at six; so don't be asleep and fail to
let me in!"

Suzee laughed and shook her head, and we picked up our hats and went
out of the little room into the passage. In the outer court, as we
passed through, we saw most of the tables occupied, and an elderly
woman serving.

"We had the best of it," I remarked.

"Yes, rather. But you are going ahead with that girl. Do be careful or
you'll have the old terror of a husband down on you."

"You introduced me," I returned laughing. "You have all the
responsibility."

"You know dinner's at six on this unearthly boat. Aren't you going to
get any dinner to-night?"

"I'm not very particular about it. I shall pick up something. I
thought six when all the men would be back on board would be her free
time."

"But what are you going to do with her?"

"Get her to pose for me, if she will."

"Anything else?"

"One never knows in life," I answered smiling.

Morley regarded me thoughtfully.

"You artists do manage to have a good time."

"You could have just the same if you chose," I said.

"No, I don't think I could somehow," he answered slowly. "I am not so
devilishly good-looking as you are, for one thing."

"Oh, I don't know," I replied; "and does that make much difference
with women, do you think? Isn't it rather a passionate responsiveness,
a go-aheadness, that they like?"

"Yes, I think it is, but then that's it, you've got that. I don't
think I have. I don't seem to want the things, to see anything in
them, as you do."

I laughed outright. We were walking slowly down one of the gold,
light-filled streets towards the church now, and everything about us
seemed vibrating in the dazzling heat.

"If you don't want them I should think it's all right." I said.

"No, it isn't," returned my companion gravely. "You want a thing very
much and you get it, and have no end of fun. I don't want it and don't
get it, and don't have the fun. So it makes life very dull."

"Well, I _am_ very jolly," I admitted contentedly. "I think really,
artists - people with the artist's brain - do enjoy everything
tremendously. They have such a much wider field of desires, as you
say; and fewer limitations. They 'weave the web Desire,' as Swinburne
says, 'to snare the bird Delight.'"

"They get into a mess sometimes," said Morley sulkily; "as you will
with that girl if you don't look out. Here we are at the church.
There's a very fine picture inside; you'd like to see it, I expect."

We turned into the church and rested on the chairs for a few minutes,
enjoying the cool dark interior.

At six o'clock exactly I was in the little mud-yard again, before the
tea-shop; having sent Morley off to his dinner on board. I felt
elated: all my pulses were beating merrily. I was keenly alive. Morley
was right in what he said. An artist is Nature's pet, and she has
mixed all his blood with joy. Natural, instinctive joy, swamped
occasionally by melancholy, but always there surging up anew. Joy in
himself - joy in his powers - joy in life.

I knocked as arranged, and Suzee herself let me in. She had been
burning spice, apparently, before one of the idols that stood in each
corner of the tea-shop; for the whole place smelt of it.

"What have you been doing?" I said. "Holding service here?"

"Only burning spice-spills to chase away the evil spirits," replied
Suzee.

"Are there any here?" I inquired.

"They always come in with the white foreign devils," she returned with
engaging frankness.

I laughed.

"Well, Suzee, you are unkind," I expostulated. "Is that how you think
of me?"

She looked up with a calm smile.

"The devil is always welcomed by a woman," she answered sweetly - her
eyes were black lakes with fire moving in their depths - "that is one
of our proverbs. It is quite true."

The lips curled and the creamy satin of the cheeks dimpled and the
blue earrings shook against her neck.

"What lovely earrings," I said, smiling down upon her, and put up my
hand gently to touch one. She did not draw back nor seem to resent my
action.

"You think them pretty? I have others upstairs. Will you come up and
see my jewellery?"

I assented with the greatest willingness, and we went on down the
passage and then up the narrow, steep flight of stairs at the end.

"Don't wake up your child," I said in sudden horror, as we reached the
small square landing above of slender rickety uncovered boards.

"Oh, he never wakes till one pulls him up," she answered tranquilly,
and led the way into a little chamber. Did she sleep here? I wondered.
There was no bed, but a loose heap of red rugs in one corner. The
windows were mere narrow horizontal slits close to the ceiling. In the
centre, blocking up all the space, stood a high narrow chest. It
looked very old, of blackened wood and antique shape. I had never seen
such a thing. On the top of this, which nearly came to her chin, she
eagerly spread out heaps of little paper parcels she took from one of
the drawers.

"Have you any earrings just like those you are wearing?" I asked her.
If she had, I would buy them if I could for my cousin Viola, I
thought. Viola was excessively fair, and those blue stones would be
enchanting against her blonde hair.

"You want to buy them?" she said quickly. "I have a pair here just
like, only green. Buy those."

"No," I said. "It is the colour I like. Do you want to sell these blue
ones you are wearing?"

"No," she said quickly; "not these," and ran to a small mirror on the
wall and looked in hastily, fearfully, as if she thought that by
wishing for them I could charm them away from her out of her very
ears.

That she appreciated so well the effect of the colour harmony between
the blue stones and her own cream-hued skin, and the value of it in


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