The Spellmans lived on the other side of the city from Mrs. Phillips, on Maple Street, very near the lake. Their little stone-front, Gothic-faced house was pretty nearly all the tangible property that Mr. Spellman had to leave to his widow and child when he died, sixteen years before. There had been also his small interest in Jackson’s Bridge Works, an interest which at the time was largely speculative, but which had enabled Powers Jackson to pay the widow a liberal income without hurting her pride.
The house had remained very much what it had been during Mr. Spellman’s lifetime, its bright Brussels carpets and black-walnut furniture having taken on the respectability of age and use. Here, in this homely eddy of the great city, mother and daughter were seated reading after their early dinner, as was their custom. Helen, having shown no aptitude for society, after one or two seasons of playing the wall-flower at the modest parties of their acquaintance, had resolutely sought her own interests in life. One of these was a very earnest attempt to get that vague thing called an education. Just at present, this consisted of much reading of a sociological character suggested by a course of university lectures which she had followed during the winter.
Mrs. Spellman, who had been turning the leaves of a magazine, finally looked up from its pages and asked, “Have you seen Jackson since the funeral?”
Helen dropped her book into her lap and looked at her mother with startled eyes.
“No, mother. I suppose he is very busy just now.”
She spoke as if she had already asked herself this question a number of times, and answered it in the same way without satisfaction.
“I wonder what he means to do about the will,” Mrs. Spellman continued. “It must have been a great disappointment to him. I wonder if he had any idea how it would be?”
“What makes you think he is disappointed?” the girl asked literally.
“Why, I saw Everett this morning, and he told me he thought his cousin might contest the will. He said Jackson was feeling very sore. It would be such a pity if there were any trouble over Powers’s will!”
Helen shut the book in her lap and laid it on the table very firmly.
“How can Everett say such things! You know, mother, Jackson would never think of doing anything so—mean—so ungrateful!”
“Some people might consider that he was justified. And it is a very large sum of money. If he had expectations of—”
“Just because uncle Powers was always so kind to him!” the girl interrupted hotly. “Was that any reason why he should leave him a lot of his money?”
“My dear, most people would think it was a sufficient reason for leaving him more than he did.”
“Then most people are very self-interested! Everett Wheeler might expect it. But Jackson has something better in life to do than worry over not getting his uncle’s money.”
Mrs. Spellman, who had known Jackson since he was a child, smiled wisely, but made no reply.
“What good would the money be to him? Why should he want more than he has,—the chance to do splendid things, to work for something better than money? That’s the worst about men like Everett,—they think of nothing but money, money, from morning to night. He doesn’t believe that a man can care for any other thing.”
“Poor Everett!” her mother remarked with quiet irony. “He isn’t thinking of contesting the will, however.”
“Nor is Jackson, I am sure!” the girl answered positively.
She rose from her chair by the lamp, and walked to and fro in the room. When she stood she was a tall woman, almost large, showing the growth that the New England stock can develop in a favorable environment. While she read, her features had been quite dull, but they were fired now with feeling, and the deep eyes burned.
Mrs. Spellman, whose thoughts had travelled rapidly, asked suddenly with apparent irrelevancy:—
“How would you like to spend a year in Europe?”
“Why should we?” the girl demanded quickly, pausing opposite her mother. “What makes you say that?”
“There isn’t much to keep us here,” Mrs. Spellman explained. “You enjoyed your trip so much, and I am stronger now. We needn’t travel, you know.”
The girl turned away her face, as she answered evasively, “But why should we go away? I don’t want to leave Chicago.”
She divined that her mother was thinking of what had occurred to her many times, as these last days had gone by without their seeing the young architect. Possibly, now that he knew himself to be without fortune, he wished to show her plainly that there could be no question of marriage between them. She rejected the idea haughtily, and resented her mother’s acceptance of it which was implied in her suggestion. And even if it were so, she was not the one to admit to herself the wound. It would be no pleasure for her to go away.
Could it be true that he was thinking of fighting the will? Her heart scorned the suggestion, for there was in her one immense capacity, one fiery power, and that was the instinct to transform all that she knew and felt into something finer than it actually was. Her eyes were blind to the sordid lines in the picture; her ears deaf to the discordant notes. In that long passage home through the Mediterranean and across the Atlantic her soul had given itself unknown to herself to this man, and she could not admit the slightest disloyalty to her conception of him!
She returned to her chair, resolutely picked up her book, and turned the pages with a methodical, unseeing regularity. As the clock tinkled off nine strokes, Mrs. Spellman rose, kissed the girl, silently pressing her fingers on the light folds of her hair, and went upstairs. Another half hour went by; then, as the clock neared ten, the doorbell rang. Helen, recollecting that the servants had probably left the kitchen, put down her book and stepped into the hall. She waited a moment there, but when the bell rang a second time she went resolutely to the door and opened it.
“Oh!” she exclaimed. “Jackson! I thought it might be a tramp.”
“Well, perhaps you aren’t so far wrong,” the architect answered with a laugh. “I’ve been walking miles. Is it too late to come in?”
For answer she held the door wide open.
“I have been dining with Mrs. Phillips; she has asked me to draw some plans for her,” Jackson explained. “As I came by the house, I thought I would tell you and your mother about it.”
“Mother has gone upstairs, but come in. You know I always read late. And I am so glad to hear about the plans.”
The strong night wind brushed boisterously through the open door, ruffling the girl’s loosely coiled hair. She put her hands to her head to tighten the hairpins here and there. If the man could have read colors in the dark hall, he would have seen that Helen’s face, usually too pale, had flushed. His ears were quick enough to detect the tremulous note in her voice, the touch of surprise and sudden feeling. It answered something electric in himself, something that had driven him to her across the city straightway from Mrs. Phillips’s house!
He followed her into the circle of lamplight, and sat down heavily in the chair that she had been occupying.
“What’s this thing you are reading?” he asked in his usual tone of authority, picking up the bulky volume beneath the lamp. “Hobson’s ‘Social Problem.’ Where did you get hold of that? It’s pretty heavy reading, isn’t it?”
His tolerantly amused tone indicated the value he put on women’s efforts to struggle with abstract ideas.
“Professor Sturges recommended it in his last lecture. It isn’t hard—only it makes me feel so ignorant!”
“Um,” he commented, turning over the leaves critically.
“But tell me about Mrs. Phillips and the house.”
There was an awkward constraint between them, not that the hour or the circumstance of their being alone made them self-conscious. There was nothing unusual in his being there late like this, after Mrs. Spellman had gone upstairs. But to-night there was in the air the consciousness that many things had happened since they had been together alone: the old man’s death, the funeral, the will,—most of all the will!
He told her of the new house in Forest Park. It had been decided upon that evening, his preliminary sketches having been received enthusiastically. But he lacked all interest in it. He was thinking how the past week had changed everything in his life, and most of all his relation with this girl. Because of that he had not been to see her before, and he felt uncertain of himself in being here now.
“Mother and I have just been speaking of you. We haven’t seen you since the funeral, you know,” Helen remarked, saying simply what was in her mind.
Her words carried no reproach. Yet at once he felt that he was put on the defensive; it was not easy to explain why he had avoided the Maple Street house.
“A lot has happened lately,” he replied vaguely. “Things have changed pretty completely for me!”
A tone of bitterness crept into his voice in spite of himself. He wanted sympathy; for that, in part, he had come to her to-night. At the same time he felt that it was a weak thing to do, that he should have gone almost anywhere but to her.
“It takes a man a few days to catch his breath,” he continued, “when he finds he’s been cut off with a shilling, as they say in the play.”
Her eyes dropped from his face, and her hands began to move restlessly over the folds of her skirt.
“I’ve had a lot to think about—to look at the future in a new way. There’s no hope now of my leaving this place, thanks to uncle!”
“Oh!” she exclaimed in a low voice. The coldness of her tone was not lost upon the man. He saw quickly that it would not do to admit to her that he even contemplated contesting his uncle’s will. She was not sympathetic in the manner of Mrs. Phillips!
“Of course,” he hastened to add magnanimously, “uncle had a perfect right to do as he liked. It was his money. But what could he have had against me?”
“Why, nothing, I am sure!” she answered quickly.
“It looks, though, as if he had!”
“Why?” she stammered, trying to adjust herself to his level of thought. “Perhaps he thought it was better so—better for you,” she suggested gently. “He used to say that the men of his time had more in their lives than men have nowadays, because they had to rely on themselves to make all the fight from the beginning. Nowadays so many young men inherit capital and position. He thought there were two great gifts in life,—health and education. When a man had those, he could go out to meet the future bravely without any other help.”
“Yes, I have heard him say all that,” he hastened to admit. “But the world isn’t running on just the same lines it was when uncle Powers was working at the forge. It’s a longer road up these days.”
“Is it?” the girl asked vaguely. Then they were silent once more.
There was nothing of reproof in her words, yet he felt keenly the difference in the atmosphere of this faded little Maple Street house from the world he had been living in of late. He had told himself for the last week that now he could not marry this woman, that a great and perfectly obvious barrier had been raised between them by his disinheritance. It had all been so clear to him from the first that he had not questioned the idea. This sacrifice of his love seemed to him the greatest that his uncle had forced upon him, and as the days had gone by he had thought incessantly how he might avoid it, how he might obtain some part at least of that vanishing fortune.
This very evening he had had more talk about the will with the clever Mrs. Phillips, and he had come away from her almost resolved to contest the instrument. On the morrow he would notify his cousin, consult a lawyer, and take the preliminary steps. On the very heels of that decision there had come an irresistible desire to see this other woman,—the longing for the antithesis which so often besets the uncertain human will. Nothing was more unlike Mrs. Phillips in his horizon than this direct, inexperienced girl, full of pure enthusiasms!
Now Helen had made him feel very surely that nothing would remove him farther from her than the act he was contemplating in order to obtain her. If she but knew his intention, she might scorn him forever! He had lost her somehow, either way, he kept saying to himself, as he sat there trying to think calmly, to feel less. And straightway he put another black mark against his uncle’s memory!
He had never cared to be near her so much as now. Every soreness and weakness of his spirit seemed to call out for her strong, capable hand. Even the sensuous Mrs. Phillips, by some subtle crossing of the psychological wires, had driven him back to this plain girl, with the honest eyes and unimpassioned bosom. So also had the slippery contractor and the shrewd men at his club. In fact, his world had conspired to set him down here, before the one who alone knew nothing of its logic!
“You haven’t said anything about the school,” Helen remarked after a time. “Aren’t you glad!” she exclaimed, in the need of her spirit to know him to be as generous as she thought him. “It was so big, so large-hearted of him! Especially after all the bitter things the papers had said about him,—to give pretty nearly everything he had made, the whole work of his life, to help the working people—the very ones who had so often misunderstood him and tried to hurt him. He was great enough to forget the strikes and the riots, and their shooting at him! He forgave them. He saw why they erred, and he wanted to lift them out of their hate and their ignorance. He wanted to make their lives happier and better! Weren’t you glad? Wasn’t it a splendid answer to his enemies!”
Thus she idealized Powers Jackson, that hoary old he-wolf of the prairies! Strength and tenderness and generosity she saw in him and nothing else, and she loved him as she might have loved her father, unquestioningly. In his somewhat loose attempt to return to the world a part of the wealth he had got from it perhaps he had justified the girl’s vision of him. Fierce and harsh as he had appeared to others, was he not at the end hers rather than the world’s?
The warmth of her feeling lent her quiet face glow and beauty. She had spoken fast, but in a distinct, low voice, which had a note of appeal in it, coming from her desire to rouse the man. For the moment she succeeded. He was ashamed to seem unworthy in her eyes, to harbor base thoughts.
“Why, yes,” he admitted; “as you put it, it seems fine. But I don’t feel sure that I admire an old man’s philanthropies, altogether. He doesn’t want the money any longer,—that’s a sure thing! So he chucks it into some big scheme or other that’s likely to bring him a lot of fame. Uncle Powers was sharp enough in gathering his dollars, and in keeping ’em too so long as he”—
“Oh! How can you say that? Don’t!” the girl implored, looking at him with troubled eyes.
If she had had much experience of men and things,—if she had had the habit of mean interpretation,—she would have understood the architect’s perplexity long before this. But added to her inexperience was her persistent need of soul to see those she loved large and generous.
“Well,” Hart resumed, more guardedly, “I didn’t mean any disrespect to the old man. It’s only the oldest law of life that he lived up to. And I guess he meant to have me learn that law as fast as I can. You’ve got to fight for what you want in this world, and fight hard, and fight all the time. And there isn’t much room for sentiment and fine ideas and philanthropy until you are old, and have earned your pile, and done your neighbor out of his in the process!”
She was silent, and he continued, willing to let her see some of the harder, baser reaches of his mind:—
“It’s just the same way with art. It’s only good when it succeeds. It doesn’t live unless it can succeed in pleasing people, in making money. I see that now! Chicago has taught me that much in two years. I’m going to open my own shop as soon as I can and look for trade. That’s what uncle wanted me to do. If I get some big commissions, and put up a lot of skyscrapers or mills, why, I shall have won out. What does any one care for the kind of work you do? It’s the price it brings every time!”
“Don’t say that! Please, please don’t talk that way, so bitterly.”
There was real pain in her voice, and her eyes were filmed with incipient tears. He leaned forward in his low chair and asked impetuously: “Why do you say that? Why do you care what I say?”
Her lips trembled; she looked at him piteously for a moment, as if to beg him not to force her to confess more openly how he had hurt her, how much she could be hurt by seeing in him the least touch of baseness. She rose, without knowing what she did, in an unconscious instinct for flight. She twisted her hands nervously, facing him, as he rose, too, with her misty, honest eyes.
“Tell me!” he whispered. “Do you care?”
“Don’t,” she moaned inarticulately, seeking in her whirling brain for some defence against the man.
They hung there, like this, for the space of several seconds, their hearts beating furiously, caught in a sudden wave of emotion, which drew them inexorably closer, against their reason; which mastered their natures without regard for their feeble human wills….
He drew her to him and kissed her. She murmured in the same weak, defenceless tone as before,—”Don’t, not yet.”
But she gave herself quite unreservedly to his strong arms. She gave herself with all the perfect self-forgetfulness of an absolutely pure woman who loves and is glad. The little thoughts of self were forgotten, the preconceptions of her training. She was glad to give, to give all, in the joy of giving to him!
The man, having thus done what his reason had counselled him for the past week not to do, what he would have said an hour before was impossible for him to do, came out of the great whelming wave of feeling, and found himself alone upon the dark street under the tranquil canopy of the city smoke. His whole being was at rest after the purification of strong passion, at rest and at peace, with that wonderful sense of poise, of rightness about one’s self, which comes when passion is perfect and touches the whole soul. For the fret about his affairs and his uncle’s will, in which he had lived for the past week, had vanished with the touch of the girl’s lips.
He knew that he had committed himself to a very difficult future by engaging himself to a poor woman and struggling upwards in real poverty, instead of taking the decencies of a comfortable bachelorhood. But there was something inspiring in what had happened, something strangely electrifying to his nerves. He had stooped and caught the masculine burden of life, but he felt his feet a-tingle for the road before him. And, best of all, there was a new reverence in his heart for that unknown woman who had kissed him and taken him to her—for always.
Such familiarity of address on the part of Wright’s head draughtsman had long annoyed Hart, but this morning, instead of nodding curtly, he replied briskly,—
The draughtsman winked at his neighbor and thrust out an elbow at a derisive angle, as he bent himself over the linen plan he was carefully inking in. The man next to him snickered, and the stenographer just outside the door smiled. An office joke was in the air.
“Mr. Hart looks as though somethin’ good had happened to him,” the stenographer remarked in a mincing tone. “Perhaps some more of his folks have died and remembered him in their wills.”
But Cook dismissed the subject by calling out to one of the men, “Say, Ed, come over here and tell me what you were trying to do with this old hencoop.”
He might take privileges with the august F. Jackson Hart, whose foreign training had rather oppressed the office force at times, but he would not allow Gracie Bellows, the stenographer, to “mix” in his joke.
Cook was a spare, black-haired little man, with beady brown eyes, like a squirrel’s. He was a pure product of Wright’s Chicago office, having worked his way from a boy’s position to the practical headship of the force. Although he permitted himself his little fling at Hart, he was really the young architect’s warmest admirer, approving even those magnificent palaces of the French Renaissance type which the Beaux Arts man put forth during the first months of his connection with the firm.
The little draughtsman, who was as sharp as one of his own India ink lines, could see that Hart had something on his mind this morning, and he was curious, in all friendliness, to find out what it was. But Jackson did not emerge from his little box of an office for several hours. Then he sauntered by Cook’s table, pausing to look out of the window while he abstractedly lighted a cigarette. Presently the stenographer came up to him and said:—
“Mr. Graves is out there and wants to see you particular, Mr. Hart. Shall I show him into your office?”
“Ask him to wait,” the young architect ordered.
After he had smoked and stared for a few moments longer he turned to Cook.
“What did we specify those I-beams for the Canostota? Were they forty-twos or sixties?”
Without raising his hand from the minute lines of the linen sheet, the draughtsman grunted:—
“Don’t remember just what. Weren’t forty-twos. Nothing less than sixties ever got out of this office, I guess. May be eighties. What’s the matter?”
“Um,” the architect reflected, knocking his cigarette against the table. “It makes a difference in the sizes what make they are, doesn’t it?”
“It don’t make any difference about the weights!” And the draughtsman turned to his linen sheet with a shrug of the shoulders that said, “You ought to know that much by this time!”
The architect continued to stare out of the murky window.
“When is Harmon coming back?”
“Ed lives out his way, and he says it’s a long-term typhoid. You can’t tell when he’ll be back.”
“Has the old man wired anything new about his plans?”
“You’ll have to ask Miss Bellows. I haven’t heard anything.”
“He said he’d be here next Wednesday or Thursday at the latest, didn’t he?”
The draughtsman stared hard at Hart, wondering what was in the man’s mind. But he made no answer to the last remark, and presently the architect sauntered to the next window.
As Jackson well knew, Graves was waiting to close that arrangement which he had proposed for building an apartment house. The architect had intended to look up the Canostota specifications before he went further with Graves, but he had been distracted by other matters, and had thought nothing more about the troublesome I-beams until this morning.
Jackson Hart was not given to undue speculation over matters of conduct. He had a serviceable code of business morals, which hitherto had met all the demands of his experience. He called this code “professional etiquette.” In this case he was not clear how the code should be applied. The Canostota was not his affair. It was only by the merest accident that he had been sent there that day to supervise the electricians, and had seen that drill-hole, which had led him to question the thickness of the I-beams, and he might very well have been mistaken about them. If there were anything wrong with them, at any rate, it was Wright’s business to see that the contractor was properly watched when the steel work was being run through the mill. And he did not feel any special sense of obligation toward his employer, who had never displayed any great confidence in him.
He wanted the contractor’s commission now more than ever, with his engagement to Helen freshly pricking him to look for bread and butter; wanted it all the more because any thought of fighting his uncle’s will had gone when Helen had accepted him. It was now clearly his business to provide for his future as vigorously as he could….
When he rang for the stenographer and told her to show Graves into his office, he had made up his mind. Closing his door, he turned and looked into the contractor’s heavy face with an air of alert determination. He was about to play his own game for the first time, and he felt the man’s excitement of it!
The two remained shut up in the architect’s cubby-hole for over an hour. When Cook had returned from the restaurant in the basement where he lunched, and the other men had taken their hats and coats from the lockers, Hart stepped out of his office and walked across the room to Cook’s table. He spread before the draughtsman a fresh sepia sketch, the water scarcely dried on it. It was the front elevation for a house, such a one as is described impressively in the newspapers as “Mr. So-and-So’s handsome country residence.”
“Now, that’s what I call a peach!” Cook whistled through his closed teeth, squinting at the sketch admiringly. “Nothing like that residence has come out of this office for a good long time. The old man don’t favor houses as a rule. They’re too fussy. Is this for some magnate?”
“This isn’t done for the firm,” Jackson answered quickly.
“Oh!” Cook received the news with evident disappointment. “Just a fancy sketch?”
“Not for a minute! This is my own business. It’s for a Mrs. Phillips—her country house at Forest Park.”
Cook looked again at the elevation of the large house with admiring eyes. If he had ever penetrated beyond the confines of Cook County in the state of Illinois, he might have wondered less at Hart’s creation. But he was not familiar with the Loire châteaux, even in photographs, for Wright’s tastes happened to be early English.
“So you’re going to shake us?” Cook asked regretfully.
“Just as soon as I can have a word with Mr. Wright. This isn’t the only job I have on hand.”
“Is that so? Well, you’re in luck, sure enough.”
“Don’t you want to come in?” Hart asked abruptly. “I shall want a good practical man. How would you like to run the new office?”
Cook’s manner froze unexpectedly into caution.
“Oh, I don’t know. It’s pretty good up here looking after Wright’s business.”
Hart picked up his sketch and turned away.
“I thought you might like the chance. Some of the men I knew in Paris may join me a little later, and I shan’t have much trouble in making up a good team.”
Then he went out to his luncheon, and when he returned, he shut himself up in his box, stalking by Cook’s desk without a word. When he came forth again the day’s work was over, and the office force had left. Cook was still dawdling over his table.
“Say, Hart!” he called out to the architect. “I don’t want you to have the wrong idea about my refusing that offer of yours. I don’t mind letting you know that I ain’t fixed like most of the boys. I’ve got a family to look after, my mother and sister and two kid brothers. It isn’t easy for us to pull along on my pay, and I can’t afford to take any chances.”
“Who’s asking you to take chances, Cookie?” Hart answered, mollified at once. “Perhaps you might do pretty well by yourself.”
“You see,” Cook explained further, “my sister’s being educated to teach, but she’s got two years more at the Normal. And Will’s just begun high school. Ed’s the only earner besides myself in the whole bunch, and what he gets don’t count.”
Thereupon the architect sat down on the edge of the draughting-table in friendly fashion and talked freely of his plans. He hinted at the work for Graves and at his hopes of a large commission from some railroad.
“I have ten thousand dollars in the bank, anyway. That will keep the office going some time. And I don’t mind telling you that I have something at stake, too,” he added in a burst of confidence. “I am going to be married.”
Cook grinned sympathetically over the news. It pleased him vastly to be told of Hart’s engagement in this confidential way. After some further talk the matter of the new office was arranged between them then and there. Cook agreed to look into a building that had just pushed its head among the skyscrapers near the Maramanoc, to see if there was anything left in the top story that would answer their purposes. As they were leaving the office, Hart stopped, exclaiming suddenly:—
“I’ve got to telephone! Don’t wait.”
“That’s always the way,” the draughtsman replied. “You’ll be telephoning most of the time, now, I expect!”
The architect did not telephone to Helen Spellman, however. He called up his cousin’s office to tell Wheeler that he had concluded not to contest the will.
“And, Everett,” he said frankly, “I guess I have made rather an ass of myself, telling you I was going to kick up a row. I hope you won’t say anything about it.”
The lawyer accepted the information without remark, and hung up his telephone. He may have wondered what had brought about this change of heart in his cousin, but later, when the news of the engagement reached him, he understood. For he knew Helen in a way better than her lover did,—knew her as one knows the desired and unattainable.
A few days later Wright reached the office, and Hart told him of his plan to start for himself, asking for an early release because important business was waiting for his entire attention. Wright had arrived only that morning; he was seated before his broad desk, which was covered to the depth of several inches with blue prints, type-written specifications, and unopened mail. He had been wrestling with contractors and clients every minute since he had entered the office, and it was now late in the afternoon.
“So you are going to try it for yourself?” he commented, a new wrinkle gathering on his clouded brow. It occurred to him that Hart might be merely hinting politely for an advance in salary, but he dismissed the suspicion. “Have you had enough experience?” he asked bluntly.
“I’ll be likely to get some more before long!” Hart replied, irritated by the remark.
“I mean of the actual conditions under which we have to build out here,—the contractors, the labor market, and so on? Of course you can leave at once if you wish to. I shouldn’t want to stand in your light in any way. It is rather a bad time with Harmon home sick. But we can manage somehow, draw on the St. Paul office if necessary.”
Jackson murmured his regret for the inconvenience of his departure at this juncture, and Wright said nothing more for a few minutes. He remembered now that some one had told him that Hart was drawing plans for Mrs. Phillips. This job had probably made the young architect ambitious to start for himself. He felt that Hart should have asked his consent before undertaking this outside work: at least it would have been more delicate to do so. But Wright was a kindly man, and bore no malice. In what he said next to the young architect he was moved by pure good will.
“I don’t want to discourage you, Hart, but I know what sort of luck young fellows, the best of them, have these days when they start a new office. It’s fierce work getting business, here especially.”
“I suppose so,” Hart admitted conventionally.
“The fine art side of the profession don’t count much with client or contractor. It’s just a tussle all the time!” he sighed, reflecting how he had spent two hours of his morning in trying to convince a wealthy client of the folly of cutting down construction cost from fifty to thirty cents a cubic foot.
“You young fellows just over from the other side don’t always realize what it means to run an office. If you succeed, you have no time to think of your sketches, except after dinner or on the train, maybe. And if you don’t succeed, you have to grab at every little job to earn enough to pay office expenses.”
Hart’s blank face did not commit him to this piece of wisdom.
“The only time I ever had any real fun was when I was working for the old firm, in New York. God! I did some pretty good things then. Old man Post used to trim me down when I got out of sight of the clients, but he let me have all the rope he could. And now,—why it’s you fellows who have the fun!”
“And you who trim us down!” Hart retorted, with a grim little smile.
“Well, perhaps. I have to keep an eye on all you Paris men. You come over here well trained, damned well trained,—we can’t do anything like it in this country,—but it takes a few years for you to forget that you aren’t in la belle France. And some never get over their habit of making everything French Renaissance. You aren’t flexible. Some of you aren’t creative—I mean,” he hastened to explain, getting warm on a favorite topic, “you don’t feel the situation here. You copy. You try to express everything just as you were taught. But, if you want to do big work, you have got to feel things for yourself, by thunder!”
Jackson kept his immobile face. It did not interest him to know what Wright thought of the Beaux Arts men. Yet he had no intention of falling out with Wright, who was one of the leading architects of the country, and whose connection might be valuable to him.
“I see you don’t care to have me preach,” the older man concluded humorously. “And you know your own business best.”
He remembered that the Powers Jackson gift for a school would call sooner or later for a large public building. Probably the family interests had arranged to put this important piece of work into Hart’s hands. Wright hoped for the sake of his art that the trustees would put off building until the young architect had developed more independence and firmness of standard than he had yet shown.
“I think I understand a little better than I did two years ago what it takes to succeed here in Chicago,” Jackson remarked at last.
Wright shot a piercing glance at him out of his tired eyes.
“It means a good many different kinds of things,” the older man said slowly. “Just as many in architecture as elsewhere. It isn’t the firm that is putting up the most expensive buildings that is always making the biggest success, by a long shot.”
“I suppose not,” Hart admitted.
And there the conversation lapsed. The older man felt the real impossibility of piercing the young architect’s manner, his imperturbability. “He doesn’t like me,” he said to himself reproachfully.
For he wanted to say something to the younger man out of his twenty years of experience, something concerning the eternal conflict there is in all the professions between a man’s ideals of his work and the practical possibilities in the world we have about us; something, too, concerning the necessity of yielding to the brute facts of life and yet not yielding everything. But he had learned from years of contact with men the great truth that talk never saves a man from his fate, especially that kind of talk. A man lives up to what there is in him, and Jackson Hart would follow the rule.
So he dug his hands into the letters on his desk, and said by way of conclusion:—
“Perhaps we can throw some things your way. There’s a little job, now.” He held up a letter he had just glanced at. “They want me to recommend some one to build a club-house at Oak Hills. There isn’t much in it. They can’t spend more than seven thousand dollars. But I had rather take that than do some other things.”
“Thank you!” Hart replied with considerable animation. “Of course I want every chance I can get.”