صور الصفحة



Of all men, it was curious that /should have been a drygoods retail clerk; I, who despised fashionable women, fashionable shops, and the fashionable business of "tape and bobbin'' vending with all my soul. Yet here I was, head clerk in the silk department of Million & Billion's magnificent store; the best-dressed fool in the whole establishment; such a perfect model of what such a young man should beth.it I had the honor of being chosen by Draper & Co. as the original of one of their best wax figures for the display of their latest styles. Inconceivable honor! for which some of my associates would have secretly sacrificed their situations. That wax figure was an aggravating torment to me. I was an artist; that is, I had a vocation for art, and I knew it; I should hare been an artist. You do not believe me, for, you say, if you had possessed that genius for art which alone could excuse your vanity in dreaming it, you would have found it your destiny to accomplish the purposes of your being, you would have forsaken drygoods, all the soft splendors of silks and satins, and followed your true mission through poverty, hunger, hardship, death.

Well, it is true that, earnestly as I loved art, there was something dearer to me even than that. I had a little sister, so tenderly precious to me that for her sake I gave up the combat for fame against want an4 famine, and assumed a calling distasteful to my nature. Florence was such a frail little creature, she needed so many luxuries just to keep the breath and sweetness of life in her flower-like body, that I could not make up my mind to walk over her grave on my way to the Academy of Design. Our mother had left her to me when she was but four years of age. I was her only protector and relative, and she was my all of worldly fortune. I myself had named her " Florence," in those years of boyish anticipation, when I had looked forward to a fair Italian city of that name as my future and natural abiding-place. My father lived then, and was a prosperous man, doing a moderate business; we had a little home of our own, on the outskirts of the city; and, though he was not able to send me abroad, as I wished, he could allow me leisure, paints, pencils, brushes, and canvas, and a quiet little room of my own, next to my mother's, where I could hear her singing to little Florence w I worked. I fretted for Italy iu those days, Vol. Lxiv.—6

and did not realize that I was in those very moments dwelling in a Paradise which Italy never could emulate.

My father died, and with his death came an end of his business ; dishonest partners secured the lion's share, leaving my mother only the debts of the concern, so that our home went finally into the clutches of creditors; and when she followed her husband to the grave, she had only little Florence to leave me. Precious legacy! I was going to become a great artist right away, and get rich as well as famous for her sake. Meanwhile, the child sometimes went hungry, and I could not bear the patient famine in her bine eyes as she sat and watched me at that work which never sold, which was always just going to buy her a silk dress, yet never bought her bread. Bear it! no! For myself I would have hugged starvation rather than have relinquished the ideal of my life; but for her sake any occupation which was not absolutely dishonorable seemed dignified. My father, though only a merchant in a picayune way, had had business relations with Million & Billion, who had respected him for his integrity; and wheH I presented myself to them as a candidate for a vacant clerkship, they accepted me on the strength of his good name.

I made a first-rate salesman. I was handsome; I had an air; and sucA a moustache; and, the ladies said, such an eye for colors! Very likely; when the great piles of gorgeous silks had been arranged "with my usual discrimination," there is no doubt but that they looked their best. I was dreaming of beds of roses while I hung the pink brocades and shadowed them over with greeneries of shining moire-antiques. When I flung the almost priceless lace in graceful festoons over the pearly satins and bridal silks, I was haunted with visions of mist, pierced through by moonlight, silently dissolving on the bosom of some crystal lake. Since I could not do the thing I wanted, that which I did do I would do to the best of my ability. I told the fat, blowsy Mrs. Dahlia just what shade of maroon velvet would hest tone down the crimson of her neck and face; that is, which was most "becoming to her," without reference to particulars. I persuaded Miss Prim out of the yellow lnte-string into the peach-blossom moire, "the most charming dress she had ever worn," she told me


afterwards. I made myself so valuable to the establishment that I was promoted, with an increased salary. I was able to dress my pretty Florence in cunning hats and soft muslins, and to place her in a private school, under the care of a gentle lady, who wisely watched the unfolding of the delicate flower. Florence played for me on the piano, and sang for me, when I went to visit her, said she was so happy, and I was such a good brother. I saw all the sharp outlines of want rounding out of her fair face, and only smiles and content in her eyes and a gay elasticity in her step, and I, too, was happy; only I was tortured by thirst for the springs I had forsaken.

My evenings were my own, but the evening is not so valuable to the artist as to the student of books; the artist must have nature, God's sunshine and rainbows, clouds, and emerald and azure tints. Sometimes, in the long summer days, I had two or three hours of rich sunset and poetic twilight through which to pursue some sketch lying waiting upon the canvas in my prosaic boarding-house chamber. Then I had a vacation, brief as delightful, in which I could take my carpet-bag in my hand and wander off whither I listed, lying in the grass under great trees, sketching present waterfalls and distant hills, sleeping in farmhouses, and living gloriously.

There was going to be a great party up town, an extra-exclusive and particularly brilliant party. I learned it from a certain set of our customers, who came to Million & Billion's to buy their dresses. Each guest was expected to add his or her sparkle to the general lustre till the whole affair should glitter and coruscate like one of Uoughwought's magnificent chandeliers with all the gas on. I was surprised by receiving an invitation to this fashionable mob. The day after the arrival of the ponderous square card, Miss Therese Tallmadge, the eldest daughter of the family who gave the JTte, was in the store, buying gloves; she crossed over to the silk counter, to admire a new mauve tint of moire and to say to me :—

"You must be sure and be at mamma's Thursday evening, Mr. Brownell; we shall all be disappointed if you do not come."

I looked curiously into the face of the haughty heiress, to read, if possible, the meaning of this extraordinary condescension; whether it were simply the common insincerity of polite life, or what? Even the duplicity of fashion could have no object in making itself agreeable to me, a clerk on a salary.

"lam very much obliged to you for saying

so, Miss Tallmadge, but I never go out, and should be a stranger in the midst of your friends."

"Oh, well, we are all strangers at first, are we not? We will never grow friendly by remaining so. Remember we shall expect you!" And she turned away with a superb gesture, which I could not help admiring, notwithstanding I had unanswerable antipathies against that class of women.

As she returned to the glove counter, I noticed a young lady who had been waiting for her, and to whom she spoke with the Jamiliar air of a relative or family friend. I had but a momentary glimpse of her face as they turned to leave the store, but that glimpse made me resolve to take advantage of the opportunity offered by the invitation, which I had not previously the faintest thought of accepting. I would have done rasher things for the hope of seeing that face again. It was the living incarnation of the dream which had haunted my soul for years. I had sketched it on canvas a thousand times, and destroyed it as many, disgusted with my utter failure to reproduce the shadow of my wish. It had the rich fairness of the lily, noble, and yet delicate; its purity was that of thought and spirit; its sweetness that of a loving heart; it was a face full of peculiar womanly beauty, quite different from the magnificent order of Miss Tallmadge's charms. I could not help feeling that its possessor had grown up in some delicious country home, not wanting in the refinements of life, where nature gave her exquisite influences to increase the delights of wealth and culture. For, although the lady was more plainly dressed than her friend, and had not the air of indifferent pride, mingled with absolute self-possession and utter vacuity, which is the triumph of "our best society," there was about her a quiet elegance which only culture and thorough education could give. She was modest as a violet, but peerless as a camellia. I watched her slight figure as she glided out of the store with a vague longing which prompted me to follow her as if I had suddenly discovered some near relative whom I had long been wishing to meet. So absorbed was I by this new influence that my scissors went straight through a piece of blue lute-string, which I was measuring off for a customer, at the wrong place.

"I said seventeen yards, and you have but ten."

Very true, and I did not blame the cold-looking female for her chilly tone. I had spoiled the pattern, and I had nothing to do but lay

aside the ten yards for a dress for Florence, and give the lady the required amount from another piece.

"It will become the child exceedingly; just the tint of blue to match her eyes, and she has never had such a handsome dress," I said to myself, consolingly. "A girl of her age ought not to be indulged in too much finery; but Mrs. Chester hinted that she needed something for the evening of the exhibition. I will take it to her to-night." And I pleased myself anticipating the sparkling smile and grateful kiss of my pretty darling ; so I folded up the silk in a neat parcel addressed to Miss Florence Brownell, and charged myself with the cost quite cheerful ly.

When I entered the hall of Mrs. Chester's house that evening, I heard my sister singing and playing in the parlor, her fine voice being frequently called into requisition for the pleasure of favored guests. I found no one with my hostess, upon entering, but one lady, who was just thanking Florence for her musio, and who immediately left, having only been making to call. I heard the wheels of a carriage roll away from the door before a word of what Mrs. Chester was saying entered my ear, for the visitor was the same young lady who was with Miss Tallmadge in the morning.

"Florence was wishing you would come tonight."

"Well, she has her wish, and something besides," and I tossed her the package, forgetting to kiss her, as was my custom. "Who was that, Mrs. Chester?"

"Oh, no one whom you are acquainted with. She was one of my pupils a few years ago; she 's only eighteen now. She always oomea to see me when she visits the city. I love her very much. She heard Florence singing, and was so delighted with her voice, she begged her to sing for her."

"She does not live in the city?"

"No. She is visiting some of her wealthy relatives at present. She is related to some of oar first families, though her own family, I believe, are not very rich, only comfortable."

"What is her name to

"She 's a Tallmadge. Really, you are quite curious about her, for a person usually so provokingly indifferent as you are."

A pair of pretty arms were about my neck, and a pair of darling lips against my cheek by this time.

"What a dear, kind brother you are! I was wishing I had such a dress; but I didn't think I ought to have it."

"Was you f Well, enjoy it, then, little one; and don't trouble your conscience about the consequences. If you want to pay me for it, give me some music—that same song you just sang for the young lady."

Florence complied with eagerness; if I had asked her to drown herself I hardly think she would have refused, she was so devoted to my wishes. It seemed to be the great pleasure of her life to gratify some want or request of mine —to be of some service to the brother whom she loved with the whole of her warm little heart. She had a marvellous talent for music, and a voice of such flexible purity that it already attracted much attention, young as she was. Already in the brain of the child lived and grew a scheme which gave additional ardor to her natural fondness for music; she had resolved, devoted little creature, to not only support herself, but to assist me! to free me from any necessity of providing for her, so that I might resume my old occupations. She was going to help me become a great artist! So she told me once, in a moment of trembling confidence, while her cheek glowed and her eye sparkled with the hope. She was going to be a professional musician, in order that I might not be burdened with her. I kissed the ambitious child, while the tears dimmed my sight of her sweet face, I told her she might be an Adelina Patti if she wished, but she must be so only for me—not for the world. Nevertheless, I could see that the idea was' not banished, that it incited and controlled her studies.

On this particular evening she seemed to me to play unusually well, and I felt secretly proud to think the strange lady had heard and admired her; and on the wings of the music my thoughts floated away into dreams, indistinct, delicious, and sublimely foolish—dreams of a face fbrevermore to haunt me with impossible hopes.

"You don't talk to me, Paul."

The little girl had ceased playing for some time, and was sitting on a footstool before me, with her head on my knee, its golden curls streaming downward in waves which glittered in the firelight, a pretty enough sight for au artist-brother to love and admire.

"You are thinking of somebody else, Paul! o dear! I hope you 'll never get married, and have a wife. I shall be so lonely!"

"Now, little one, if I do, it will be no more of a trick than you '11 be sure to serve me the minute you 're old enough. If I should remain a bachelor, on your account, you 'd be sure to desert me for the first man that asked you.

However, I've chosen my wife, now; and you profess not to be jealous of her. Painting is the only rival you 'll ever have, Floy." But, even as I said it, my cheek burned, and I was conscious that though what I said might be true, it would be sadly true, because I could not have a dearer wish fulfilled. Yesterday I should have had no such consciousness. But what observing eyes the child had! Who told her that I was thinking of some one else f If I allowed my secret to be read by others as easily, it would not bo a secret long. I glanced at Mrs. Chester; that lady was holding the blue silk dress in her lap, and wondering if it would be possible to flounce the skirt, and only ten yards, yard wide; she was wishing I had brought fifteen.

"She would look like a fairy, in a flounced skirt, Mr. Brownell; she is so petite and slender. But it will be very pretty as it is."

I said they must make it do, kissed Florence good-night, shook hands with Mrs. Chester, and retired.

I did not go to Mrs. Upton Tallmadge's party; I scarcely remembered that such a thing was to be, or had been. I was in too much pain. Instead of breathing the perfumed air of the saloon, and intoxicating soul and sense with stolen draughts of beauty, I was lying in the hospital, my right arm crushed and mangled, and the doctors discussing the probability of its having to be amputated.

When I left Mrs. Chester's, the drizzling December rain which had set in during the evening, was fast changing to sleet and snow; the pavement was slippery with a thin coat of ice; I was full of thought, and heedless; and in attempting to run across Broadway, I slipped in front of an omnibus, and the heavy wheels rolled over my arm, reckless of its human sensibility to suffering, reckless of the future of its owner, reckless of the little girl who depended on its energies for protection and support.

They took me to the hospital; the best place for me, who had no home but a second-rate Imarding-house. Mrs. Chesterwas almost angry that I had not insisted upon being conveyed to her house; but she, with her twelve pupils to care for, had enough responsibility, without my taking the liberty of foisting my wretched self upon her sympathies.

Mrs. Chester did not hear of the accident until I sent her word the following day, warning her to break the news very carefully to Flo rence, or keep it front her for the present, as

she thought best. She decided instantly that she ought to tell her; and that brave young heart justified her decision. When the child was admitted to see me, she was as calm as courage and love could make her; nothing but her deadly paleness revealed the anguish she suffered; though I was afterwards told that she had fainted when she heard the news, conveyed to her in the tenderest manner. Nurses nor physicians had the heart to tear the pleading little creature away; she was permitted to sit, hour after hour, day after day, by my bedside; she would not have left me, even at night, if others had not compelled it.

My arm was not amputated; it was saved, but in a disabled condition, which would prevent the use of it for a long time. In fact, I could never hope to have much good of it; its cunning was destroyed; its strength and flexibility vanished: it was but the excuse for a good right arm; a pain and vexation, instead of a help to me.

"Well, Floy," I said to my patient little watcher, one day, when it was nearly time for me to be turned out of the hospital, "what are we going to do now 1 I shall never do for the silk-counter any more 1 I've lost my ' elegant air,' and my deftness of handling has departed. What is a one-armed man to do for a living, little sister?"

"Hav'n't you got enough money to keep you a year, Paul? Mrs. Chester says I shall stay with her a year, whether you consent to it or not"—smiling—" and for that matter, somebody has already advanced the price of my yearly expenses; I don't know who. Mrs. Chester thinks it was Mr. Billion, probably; the draft came in a blank envelope. By that time, I shall be able to do something, myself. I shall, Paul; you needn't look so. Signor Bodiella says I'm destined to make my fortune as a concert-singer. Think of that! When I get rich, Paul, I 'll buy you all the pictures you like; and I'm quite sure you'll get well enough to paint some. I've heard of people doing wonders with their left hand, hav'n't you?"

"Yes, darling; and I intend to do wonders with mine, enough to keep you from going on the stage, I trust. Who could have paid your sohool-bills? Whoever it was, did me just the kindness for which I am most grateful. Yes, it must have been Billion. There's nobody else that could or would. He's been in to see me several times, and has paid the expenses of my illness so far. He's been very kind, indeed. But I did not know that he was aware I had it sister. Yes, it must have been he!"

So Mr. Billion got the credit of an act which he did not perform; for the sole reason, maybe, that he did not guess at the existence of a little ! uj.il at Mrs. Cheater's; for he had been kind to me, expressing his interest in many ways, and continuing my salary till I was able to be about. Then, as I could no longer discharge my duties in his establishment, I was left to shift for myself. I had a little, a very little money in bank, and the two months' salary which Billion gave me; so that I could keep soul and body together for some time, by choosing some very plain home and living in the simplest manner.

I decided to rent an apartment, and board myself; employing my time in endeavoring to acquire sufficient skill in the use of my left arm, to enable me to earn my living at something.

At what f My old passion for my art returned upon me with redoubled force. The loneliness of my room, the long idleness of illness, the necessity for economy which banished me from the pleasures of society, all encouraged the return of the visions which throng an imagination like mine. In vain I resisted the sweet call of my divinity, and strove to master some prosy profession, surrounding myself with lawbooks, feeding my body with musty bread, and striving to feed my mind with musty legalities. I saw pictures, heard pictures, dreamed pictures; until my easel onoe more stood the ruler of my apartment, and my awkward left hand labored faithfully to catch the departed skill of the right.

The bright springtime fled away, leaving but few gleams of sunshine, and transient odor of flowers in my dull room. The long, warm days of summer crept on. My health was not so vigorous as before the accident; I felt languid under the oppressive heat. Mrs. Chester went away to the springs, taking Florence with her, during the six weeks summer vacation. Either her pride in the child's abilities or her love for her sweetness of character, or both, made her favor her beyond my boldest wish. Knowing that my sister was happy, breathing the fresh air and enjoying the liberty of the season, with so good a friend, I made up my mind to lock the door upon my few poor treasures—my pictures—and to spend the time of her absence in the country. I, too, would breathe the free air of heaven, inhale the perfume of tlowers, delight my eyes with the slumberous clonds, the drifting showers, the brilliant raiubows of summer—if 1 had to make

my bed in the clover-fields, and feed upon the chance charities of farmhouses. Little, very little was the sum I could devote to my summer tour; no flattering morning journal chronicled my departure, prophesying sweet things of the "influence of nature" upon the "facile brush of that talented young artist, P. Brownell." Oh, no! my time had not come to be served with such delicate tidbits from the tablo of notoriety. It had not come, but it was coming, of course! I felt certain of that—for pure and undefiled as may be the love of genins for its favorite pursnit, it is always exalted and inspired by a certain measure of ambition, necessary, perhaps, to uphold its wings, borne down by the heavy atmosphere of reality.

One splendid morning in July—when a night shower had invoked all the fragrance and freshness possible to the month—when every leaf was at its broadest greenness, when the forests were the deepest, and the dust all washed away from the lilies and roses, emerging like Dianas from their baths—found mo leaving the cars, a hundred miles from the city, and trndging away into the woods and fields, with an artist's kit on my shoulders, and a sandwich in my pocket. I revelled in pleasure that day. I waded through the clover; I lay down under oak trees and listened to the rustle of the wind above me in their branches; I ato my luncheon by a silver brook, quenching my thirst from its freely-offered waters. I looked off at distant mountains melting into the blue of heaven. I was too full of the idleness of enjoyment to attempt to sketch.

At sunset I entered a lovely valley; a broad river blushed roseate in the light, golden clonds wound the hills in royal turbans, crowning them like indolent oriental monarchs, taking their motionless repose. A vista stretched away through the most fascinating reaches of beanty, valley after valley, with glimpses of river and forest.

"Here!" cried I, in a perfect ecstasy of enthusiasm; "here will I pitch my tent for the present. To-night I will only enjoy; tomorrow I will try to sketch some faint shadow of this beanty."

I looked forward for some farmhonse to which I might apply for a night's lodging; I saw the blue smoke curling up through the trees, which told of some near habitation; and a bend of thu picturesque country road soon brought me in sight of it. I was disappointed, at first, because the mansion I saw was too stylish to allow of my preferring my request at its portals; still, it was so charming, in such harmony with the *

« السابقةمتابعة »