Mary Ware, The Little Colonel's Chum, Chapter 7: In Joyce's Studio

by Annie Fellows Johnston (1863-1931)

Published 1908
Illustrated by Etheldred B. Barry

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THE short winter day was almost at an end. High up in the top flat of a New York apartment house, Joyce Ware sat in her studio, making the most of those last few moments of daylight. In the downstairs flats the electric lights were already on.  She moved her easel nearer the window, thankful that no sky-scraper loomed between it and the fading sunset, for she needed a full half hour to complete her work.

There were a number of good pictures on the walls, among them some really fine old Dutch interiors, but any artist would have turned from the best of them to study the picture silhouetted against the western window. The girlish figure enveloped in a long loose working apron was all in shadow, but the light, slanting across the graceful head bending towards the easel, touched the brown hair with glints of gold, and gave the profile of the earnest young face, the distinctive effect of a Rembrandt portrait.

Wholly unconscious of the fact, Joyce plied her brush with capable practised fingers, so absorbed in her task that she heard nothing of the clang and roar of the streets below, seething with holiday traffic. The elevator opposite her door buzzed up and down unheeded. She did not even notice when it stopped on her floor, and some one walked across the corridor with a heavy tread. But the whirr of her door bell brought her to herself with a start, and she looked up impatiently, half inclined to pay no attention to the interruption. Then thinking it might be some business message which she could not afford to delay, she hurried to the door, brush and palette still in hand.

"Why, Phil Tremont! "she exclaimed, so surprised at sight of the tall young man who filled the door-way that she stood for an instant in open-mouthed wonder. "Where did you drop from? I thought you were in the wilds of Oregon or some such borderland. Come in."

"I got in only a few hours ago," he answered, following her down the hall and into the studio. "I have only been in town long enough to make my report at the office. I'm on my way out to Stuart 's to spend Christmas with him and Eugenia, but I couldn't resist the temptation of staying over a train to run in and take a peep at you. It has been nearly six months, you know, since I've had such a chance."

Joyce went back to her easel, as he slipped off his overcoat. "Don't think that because I keep on working that I'm not delighted to see you, but my orders are like time and tide. They wait for no man. This must be finished and out of the house to-night, and I've not more than fifteen minutes of good daylight left. So just look around and make yourself at home and take my hospitable will for the deed till I get through. In the meantime you can be telling me all about yourself."

"There's precious little to tell, no adventures of any kind --- just the plain routine of business. But you've had changes," he added, looking around the room with keen interest. "This isn't much like the bare barn of a place I saw you in last. You must have struck oil. Have you taken a partner?"

"Several of them," she replied, "although I don't know whether they should be called partners or boarders or adopted waifs. They are all three of these things in a way. It began with two people who sat at the same table with me those first miserable months when I was boarding. One was a little cheerful wren of a woman from a little Western town, a Mrs. Boyd. That is, she is cheerful now. Then she was like a bird in a. cage,  pining to death for the freedom she had been accustomed to, and moping on her perch. She came to New York to bring her niece, Lucy, who is all she has to live for. Some art teacher back home told her that Lucy is a genius --- has the makings of a great artist in her, and they believed it. She'll never get beyond fruit-pieces and maybe a dab at china-painting, but she's happy in the hope that she'll be a world-wonder some day. Neither of them have a practical bone in their body, whereas I have always been a sort of Robinson Crusoe at furnishing up desert islands.

"So I proposed to these two castaways that we go in together and make a home to suit ourselves. We were so dead tired of boarding. About that time we picked up Henry, and as Henry has a noble bank account we went into the project on a more lavish scale than we could have done otherwise."

"Henry!" ejaculated Phil, who was watching the silhouette against the window with evident pleasure.

"Yes, Miss Henrietta Robbins, a bachelor maid of some --- well, I won't tell how many summers, but she's 'past the freakish bounds of youth,' and a real artist. She's studied abroad, and she's done things worth while. That group of fishermen on the Normandy coast is hers," nodding towards the opposite wall," and that old woman peeling apples, and those three portraits. Oh, she's the real thing, and a constant inspiration to me. And she's brought so much towards the beautifying of our Crusoe castle: all these elegant Persian rugs, and those four "old masters," and the bronzes and the teakwood carvings --- you can see for yourself. Lucy wasn't quite satisfied with the room at first. She missed the fish-net draperies and cozy corners and the usual clap-trap of amateur studios. But she's educated up to it now, and it's a daily joy to me. On the other hand my broiled steaks and feather-weight waffles and first-class coffee are a joy to poor Henry, who can't even, boil an egg properly, and who hasn't the first instinct of home-making."

"You don't mean to say that you do the cooking for this happy family!"

Joyce laughed at his surprised tone. "That's what makes it a happy family. No domestic service problems. With a gas range a fireless cooker and all the, conveniences of our little kitchenette, it's mere play after my Wigwam experiences. We have a woman come several times a week to clean and do extras, so I don't get more exercise than I need to keep me in good condition."

"But doesn't all this devotion to the useful interfere with your pursuit of the beautiful? Where do you find time for your art?"

"Oh, my art is all useful," sighed Joyce. "I used to dream of great things to come, but I've come down to earth now --- practical designing. Magazine covers and book plates and illustrating. I can do things like that and it is work I love, and work that pays. Of course I'd rather do Madonnas than posters, but since the pot must boil I am glad, there are book-covers to be done. And someday --- well, I may not always have to stay tied to the earth. My wings are growing, in the shape of a callow bank account. When it is full-fledged, then I shall take to my dreams again. Already Henry and I are talking of a flight abroad together, to study and paint. In two years more I can make it, if all goes well."

The striking of a clock made her glance up, exclaiming over the lateness of the hour. "Phil," she asked, "would you mind telephoning down to the station to find out if that Washington train is on time? That's a good boy. That little sister of mine will think the sky has fallen if I'm not at the station to meet her."

"You don't mean to tell me that Mary is on her way here," exclaimed Phil, as he rose to do her bidding. "Then I certainly have something to live for. Her first impressions of New York will be worth hearing." He scanned the pages of the telephone directory for the number he wanted.

"Yes, she and Betty are to spend their vacation with me. We are going out to Eugenia's to-morrow afternoon to spend Christmas eve and part of Christmas day."

"Then that was the surprise that Eugenia wrote about," said Phil, taking out his watch. "She wouldn't tell what it was, but said that it would be worth my while to come. Yes, the train is on time."

He hung tip the receiver. "I won't be able to wait for it, if I get out to Eugenia's for dinner, but I can see you safely to the station on my way. It is about time we were starting if you expect to reach it.

Joyce made a final dab at her picture, dropped the brush and hurried into the next room for her wraps. It seemed to Phil that he had scarcely turned around till she was back again, hatted and gloved. The artist in the long apron had given place to a stylish tailor-made girl in a brown street-suit. Phil looked down at her approvingly as they stepped out into the wintry air together.

The great show windows were ablaze with lights by this time, and the rush of the crowds almost took her off her feet. Phil at her elbow piloted her along to a corner where they were to take a car.

"I'm glad that I happened along to take you under my wing," he said. "You ought not to be out alone on the streets at night."

"It isn't six o'clock yet," she answered. "And this is the first time that I had no escort arranged for. Mrs. Boyd always comes with me. She's little and meek, but her white hair counts for a lot. She would have gone to the station with me, but she and Lucy are dining out. We girls will be all alone tonight. I wish they were not expecting you out at Eugenia's to dinner. I'd take you back with me. I have prepared quite a company spread, things that you especially like."

"There's a telephone out to the place," he suggested. "I could easily let them know if I missed my train, and I could easily miss it --- if my invitation were pressing enough."

"Then do miss it," she insisted, smiling up at him so cordially that he laughed and said in a complacent tone, "We'll consider it done. I'll telephone Eugenia from the station, that I'll not be out till morning. Really," he added a moment later, "it will be more like a sure-enough home-coming to come back to you and that little chatterbox of a Mary than to go out to my brother's. Eugenia is a dear, but I've never known her except as a bride or a dignified young matron, so of course we have no youthful experiences in common to hark back to together. That is the very back-bone of a family reunion in my opinion. Now that year in Arizona, when you all took me in as one of yourselves, is about all that I can remember of real home-life, and somehow, when I think of home, it is the Wigwam that I see, and the good cheer and the jolly times that I always found there."

Joyce looked up again, touched and pleased. "I'm so glad that you feel that way, for we always count you in, right after Jack and the little boys. Mamma always speaks of you as 'my other' boy, and as for Mary, she quotes you on all occasions, and thinks you are very near perfection. She is going to be so delighted when she sees you, that I'd not be a bit surprised if she should jump up and down and squeal, right in the station."

The mention of this old habit of Mary's brought up to each of them the mental picture of the child, as she had looked on various occasions when her unbounded pleasure was forced to find expression in that way. In the year that Joyce had been away from her she had been in her thoughts oftener as that quaint little creature of eight, than the sixteenyear old school girl she had grown into.

Phil, too, accustomed to thinking of Mary as he had known her at the Wigwam, could hardly believe he saw aright, when the train pulled in and she flew down the steps to throw her arms around Joyce. It was the same, lovable, eager little face that looked up into his, the same impetuous unspoiled child, yet a second glance left him puzzled. There was some intangible change he could not label, and it interested him to try to analyze it.

She was taller, of course, almost as tall as Joyce, with skirts almost as long, but it was not that which impressed him with the sense of change. It was a certain girlish winsomeness, something elusive, which cannot be defined, but which lends a charm like nothing else in all the world to the sweet unfolding of early maidenhood.

If Phil had been asked to describe the girl that Mary would grow into, he never would have pictured this development. He expected her desert experiences to give her a strong forceful character. She would be like the pioneer women of early times, he imagined; rugged and energetic and full of resources. But he had not expected this gentleness of manner, this unconscious dignity and a certain poise that reminded him of --- he was puzzled to think of what it did remind him. Later, it came to him, as he continued to watch her. Not for naught had Mary set up a shrine to her idolized Princess Winsome and striven to grow like her in every way possible. Not in feature, of course, but often in manner there was a fleeting, shadowy undefinable something that recalled her.

In her younger days she would have appropriated Phil as her rightful audience, and would have swung along beside him, amusing him with her original and unsolicited opinions of everything they passed. But a strange shyness seized her when she looked up and saw how much older he was in reality than he had been in her recollections. She had no answer ready when he began his accustomed teasing. Instead she clung to Joyce when they left the streetcar, leaving Betty to walk with Phil as they threaded their way through the crowded thoroughfares. It was so good to be with her again. and as they hurried along she squeezed the arm linked in hers to emphasize her delight.

For the time, Joyce found no change in her, for with child-like abandon she exclaimed over the strange sights. "Oh, Joyce! Snow! "she cried, when a falling flake brushed her face. "After all these years of orange-blossoms and summer sun at Christmas, how good it seems to have real old Santa Claus weather! I can almost see the reindeer and smell the striped peppermint and pop-corn. And oh, oh! look at that shop-window. It is positively dazzling! And the racket--- "she put her hands over her ears an instant. "I feel that I've never really heard a loud noise till now."

Joyce laughed indulgently, and stopped with her whenever she wanted to gaze in at some particularly attractive show window. When they reached the flat, Mary still kept near her, "tagging after her," as she would have expressed it in her earlier days, so much like the little sister of that time, that Joyce still failed to see how much she had changed during their separation.

"You see it's just like a doll-house," Joyce said as she led them through the tiny rooms on a tour of inspection. "All except the studio. We had a partition taken out and two rooms thrown together for that. Now the company will have to go in there and entertain themselves while I put the finishing touches to the dinner. The kitchenette will only hold one at a time."

Betty and Phil obediently went into the studio to renew their acquaintance of two years before, begin at Eugenia's wedding, and wandered around the room looking at the various specimen's of Joyce's handicraft pinned about on the walls. One of the first pauses was before a sketch of Lloyd, done from memory, a little wash drawing of her. Mary, standing in the doorway, heard Phil say, "Tell me about her, Miss Betty. She writes so seldom that I can only imagine her conquests."

For a moment Mary watched him, as he studied the sketch intently. Then she turned away to the kitchenette to help Joyce, thinking how lovely it must be to have a handsome man like that bend over your picture so adoringly, and speak of you in such a fashion.

It was a merry little dinner party, and afterwards it was almost like old times at the Wigwam, for Phil insisted on helping wipe the dishes, and was so boyish and jolly with his teasing reminiscences that she almost forgot her new awe of him. But afterward when they sat around the woodfire in the studio ("a piece of Henry's much enjoyed extravagance," Joyce explained, "and only lighted on gala occasions like this ") they were suddenly all grown up and serious again. Joyce talked about her work, and thefriends she had made among editors and illustrators, and ambitious workaday people whose acquaintance was both a delight and an inspiration. It was Henrietta who brought them to the studio, along with the Persian rugs and the "old masters," and Joyce could never get done being thankful that she had found such a friend in the beginning of her career.

Phil told of his work too, and his travels, and in the friendly shadows cast by the flickering firelight talked intimately of his plans and ambitions, and what he hoped ultimately to achieve.

Betty confessed shyly some of her hopes and dreams, warranted now, by the success of several short flights in essay writing and verse, and then Phil said laughingly, "Do you remember what Mary's dearest wish used to be? How we roared the day she gravely informed us that it was her highest ambition to be 'the toast of two continents.' Is it still that, Mary?

"No," she answered, laughing with the rest, but blushing furiously. "I had just been reading the biography of a great Baltimore belle who was called that, and it appealed to me as the most desirable thing on earth to be honoured with such a title. But that was away back in the dark ages. Of course I wouldn't wish such a silly thing now."

"But aren't you going to tell us what is your greatest ambition?" persisted Phil. "We have all confessed. It isn't fair for you to withhold your confidence when we've given ours."

Mary shook her head. "I've had my lesson," she declared. "You'll never have the chance to laugh twice, and this one is such a sky-scraper it would astonish you."

When she spoke, she was thinking of that moment on the stair, under the amber window, when through the music she heard the king's call, and was first awakened to the knowledge that a high destiny awaited her. What it was to be was still unrevealed to her, but of the voice and the vision she had no doubt. Whatever it was she was sure it would be higher and greater than anything any one she knew aspired to. Yet somehow, sitting there in the friendly shadows, with the firelight shining on the earnest Manley face opposite, she did not care so much about a Joan of Arc career as she had. It would be glorious, of course, but it might be lonesome. People on pedestals were shut off from dear delightful intimacies like this.

And then those lines began running through her head that she had not been able to get rid of, since the morning she read them in the magazine:

"For if he come not by the road, and come not by the hill, 
And come not by the far seaway---"

She wished that she was certain that she could add that last part of the line, "Yet come he surely will!" Just then, to have one strong true face bending towards hers in the firelight, with a devotion all for her, seemed worth a lifetime of public plaudits, and having one's name handed down to posterity on monoliths and statues.

"For if he come not by the road, and come not by the hill, 
And come not by the far seaway---"

"Yes, it certainly would be lonesome," she decided. She would miss the best that earth holds for a home-loving, hero-worshipping woman.

Chapter 6   Chapter 8 >