"You don't see any promise?" he inquired, beguiled by some return of hope, and turning upon me the embarrassing brightness of his eye. "Not in this still-life here, of the melon? One fellow thought it good."
It was the least I could do to give the melon a more particular examination; which, when I had done, I could but shake my head. "I am truly sorry, Pinkerton," said I, "but I can't advise you to persevere."
He seemed to recover his fortitude at the moment, rebounding from disappointment like a man of india-rubber. "Well," said he stoutly, "I don't know that I'm surprised. But I'll go on with the course; and throw my whole soul into it, too. You mustn't think the time is lost. It's all culture; it will help me to extend my relations when I get back home; it may fit me for a position on one of the illustrateds; and then I can always turn dealer," he said, uttering the monstrous proposition, which was enough to shake the Latin Quarter to the dust, with entire simplicity. "It's all experience, besides;" he continued, "and it seems to me there's a tendency to underrate experience, both as net profit and investment. Never mind. That's done with. But it took courage for you to say what you did, and I'll never forget it. Here's my hand, Mr. Dodd. I'm not your equal in culture or talent--"
"You know nothing about that," I interrupted. "I have seen your work, but you haven't seen mine.
"No more I have," he cried; "and let's go see it at once! But I know you are away up. I can feel it here."
To say truth, I was almost ashamed to introduce him to my studio--my work, whether absolutely good or bad, being so vastly superior to his. But his spirits were now quite restored; and he amazed me, on the way, with his light-hearted talk and new projects. So that I began at last to understand how matters lay: that this was not an artist who had been deprived of the practice of his single art; but only a business man of very extended interests, informed (perhaps something of the most suddenly) that one investment out of twenty had gone wrong.
As a matter of fact besides (although I never suspected it) he was already seeking consolation with another of the muses, and pleasing himself with the notion that he would repay me for my sincerity, cement our friendship, and (at one and the same blow) restore my estimation of his talents. Several times already, when I had been speaking of myself, he had pulled out a writing-pad and scribbled a brief note; and now, when we entered the studio, I saw it in his hand again, and the pencil go to his mouth, as he cast a comprehensive glance round the uncomfortable building.
"Are you going to make a sketch of it?" I could not help asking, as I unveiled the Genius of Muskegon.
"Ah, that's my secret," said he. "Never you mind. A mouse can help a lion."
He walked round my statue and had the design explained to him. I had represented Muskegon as a young, almost a stripling, mother, with something of an Indian type; the babe upon her knees was winged, to indicate our soaring future; and her seat was a medley of sculptured fragments, Greek, Roman, and Gothic, to remind us of the older worlds from which we trace our generation.
"Now, does this satisfy you, Mr. Dodd?" he inquired, as soon as I had explained to him the main features of the design.
"Well," I said, "the fellows seem to think it's not a bad bonne femme for a beginner. I don't think it's entirely bad myself. Here is the best point; it builds up best from here. No, it seems to me it has a kind of merit," I admitted; "but I mean to do better."
"Ah, that's the word!" cried Pinkerton. "There's the word I love!" and he scribbled in his pad.
"What in creation ails you?" I inquired. "It's the most commonplace expression in the English language."
"Better and better!" chuckled Pinkerton. "The unconsciousness of genius. Lord, but this is coming in beautiful!" and he scribbled again.
"If you're going to be fulsome," said I, "I'll close the place of entertainment." And I threatened to replace the veil upon the Genius.
"No, no," said he. "Don't be in a hurry. Give me a point or two. Show me what's particularly good."
"I would rather you found that out for yourself," said I.
"The trouble is," said he, "that I've never turned my attention to sculpture, beyond, of course, admiring it, as everybody must who has a soul. So do just be a good fellow, and explain to me what you like in it, and what you tried for, and where the merit comes in. It'll be all education for me."