A Service of Love
by O. Henry
When one loves one’s Art no service seems too hard.
That is our premise. This story shall draw a conclusion from it, and show at the same time that the premise is incorrect. That will be a new thing in logic, and a feat in story-telling somewhat older than the great wall of China.
Joe Larrabee came out of the post-oak flats of the Middle West pulsing with a genius for pictorial art. At six he drew a picture of the town pump with a prominent citizen passing it hastily. This effort was framed and hung in the drug store window by the side of the ear of corn with an uneven number of rows. At twenty he left for New York with a flowing necktie and a capital tied up somewhat closer.
Delia Caruthers did things in six octaves so promisingly in a pine- tree village in the South that her relatives chipped in enough in her chip hat for her to go “North” and “finish.” They could not see her f–, but that is our story.
Joe and Delia met in an atelier where a number of art and music students had gathered to discuss chiaroscuro, Wagner, music, Rembrandt’s works, pictures, Waldteufel, wall paper, Chopin and Oolong.
Joe and Delia became enamoured one of the other, or each of the other, as you please, and in a short time were married–for (see above), when one loves one’s Art no service seems too hard.
Mr. and Mrs. Larrabee began housekeeping in a flat. It was a lonesome flat–something like the A sharp way down at the left-hand end of the keyboard. And they were happy; for they had their Art, and they had each other. And my advice to the rich young man would be–sell all thou hast, and give it to the poor–janitor for the privilege of living in a flat with your Art and your Delia.
Flat-dwellers shall indorse my dictum that theirs is the only true happiness. If a home is happy it cannot fit too close–let the dresser collapse and become a billiard table; let the mantel turn to a rowing machine, the escritoire to a spare bedchamber, the washstand to an upright piano; let the four walls come together, if they will, so you and your Delia are between. But if home be the other kind, let it be wide and long–enter you at the Golden Gate, hang your hat on Hatteras, your cape on Cape Horn and go out by the Labrador.
Joe was painting in the class of the great Magister–you know his fame. His fees are high; his lessons are light–his high-lights have brought him renown. Delia was studying under Rosenstock–you know his repute as a disturber of the piano keys.
They were mighty happy as long as their money lasted. So is every– but I will not be cynical. Their aims were very clear and defined. Joe was to become capable very soon of turning out pictures that old gentlemen with thin side-whiskers and thick pocketbooks would sandbag one another in his studio for the privilege of buying. Delia was to become familiar and then contemptuous with Music, so that when she saw the orchestra seats and boxes unsold she could have sore throat and lobster in a private dining-room and refuse to go on the stage.
But the best, in my opinion, was the home life in the little flat– the ardent, voluble chats after the day’s study; the cozy dinners and fresh, light breakfasts; the interchange of ambitions–ambitions interwoven each with the other’s or else inconsiderable–the mutual help and inspiration; and–overlook my artlessness–stuffed olives and cheese sandwiches at 11 p.m.
But after a while Art flagged. It sometimes does, even if some switchman doesn’t flag it. Everything going out and nothing coming in, as the vulgarians say. Money was lacking to pay Mr. Magister and Herr Rosenstock their prices. When one loves one’s Art no service seems too hard. So, Delia said she must give music lessons to keep the chafing dish bubbling.
For two or three days she went out canvassing for pupils. One evening she came home elated.
“Joe, dear,” she said, gleefully, “I’ve a pupil. And, oh, the loveliest people! General–General A. B. Pinkney’s daughter–on Seventy-first street. Such a splendid house, Joe–you ought to see the front door! Byzantine I think you would call it. And inside! Oh, Joe, I never saw anything like it before.
“My pupil is his daughter Clementina. I dearly love her already. She’s a delicate thing-dresses always in white; and the sweetest, simplest manners! Only eighteen years old. I’m to give three lessons a week; and, just think, Joe! $5 a lesson. I don’t mind it a bit; for when I get two or three more pupils I can resume my lessons with Herr Rosenstock. Now, smooth out that wrinkle between your brows, dear, and let’s have a nice supper.”
“That’s all right for you, Dele,” said Joe, attacking a can of peas with a carving knife and a hatchet, “but how about me? Do you think I’m going to let you hustle for wages while I philander in the regions of high art? Not by the bones of Benvenuto Cellini! I guess I can sell papers or lay cobblestones, and bring in a dollar or two.”
Delia came and hung about his neck.
“Joe, dear, you are silly. You must keep on at your studies. It is not as if I had quit my music and gone to work at something else. While I teach I learn. I am always with my music. And we can live as happily as millionaires on $15 a week. You mustn’t think of leaving Mr. Magister.”
“All right,” said Joe, reaching for the blue scalloped vegetable dish. “But I hate for you to be giving lessons. It isn’t Art. But you’re a trump and a dear to do it.”
“When one loves one’s Art no service seems too hard,” said Delia.
“Magister praised the sky in that sketch I made in the park,” said Joe. “And Tinkle gave me permission to hang two of them in his window. I may sell one if the right kind of a moneyed idiot sees them.”
“I’m sure you will,” said Delia, sweetly. “And now let’s be thankful for Gen. Pinkney and this veal roast.”
During all of the next week the Larrabees had an early breakfast. Joe was enthusiastic about some morning-effect sketches he was doing in Central Park, and Delia packed him off breakfasted, coddled, praised and kissed at 7 o’clock. Art is an engaging mistress. It was most times 7 o’clock when he returned in the evening.
At the end of the week Delia, sweetly proud but languid, triumphantly tossed three five-dollar bills on the 8×10 (inches) centre table of the 8×10 (feet) flat parlour.
Sometimes,” she said, a little wearily, “Clementina tries me. I’m afraid she doesn’t practise enough, and I have to tell her the same things so often. And then she always dresses entirely in white, and that does get monotonous. But Gen. Pinkney is the dearest old man! I wish you could know him, Joe. He comes in sometimes when I am with Clementina at the piano–he is a widower, you know–and stands there pulling his white goatee. ‘And how are the semiquavers and the demisemiquavers progressing?’ he always asks.
“I wish you could see the wainscoting in that drawing-room, Joe! And those Astrakhan rug portieres. And Clementina has such a funny little cough. I hope she is stronger than she looks. Oh, I really am getting attached to her, she is so gentle and high bred. Gen. Pinkney’s brother was once Minister to Bolivia.”
And then Joe, with the air of a Monte Cristo, drew forth a ten, a five, a two and a one–all legal tender notes–and laid them beside Delia’s earnings.
“Sold that watercolour of the obelisk to a man from Peoria,” he announced overwhelmingly.
“Don’t joke with me,” said Delia, “not from Peoria!”
“All the way. I wish you could see him, Dele. Fat man with a woollen muffler and a quill toothpick. He saw the sketch in Tinkle’s window and thought it was a windmill at first, he was game, though, and bought it anyhow. He ordered another–an oil sketch of the Lackawanna freight depot–to take back with him. Music lessons! Oh, I guess Art is still in it.”
“I’m so glad you’ve kept on,” said Delia, heartily. “You’re bound to win, dear. Thirty-three dollars! We never had so much to spend before. We’ll have oysters to-night.”
“And filet mignon with champignons,” said Joe. “Were is the olive fork?”
On the next Saturday evening Joe reached home first. He spread his $18 on the parlour table and washed what seemed to be a great deal of dark paint from his hands.
Half an hour later Delia arrived, her right hand tied up in a shapeless bundle of wraps and bandages.
“How is this?” asked Joe after the usual greetings. Delia laughed, but not very joyously.
Clementina,” she explained, “insisted upon a Welsh rabbit after her lesson. She is such a queer girl. Welsh rabbits at 5 in the afternoon. The General was there. You should have seen him run for the chafing dish, Joe, just as if there wasn’t a servant in the house. I know Clementina isn’t in good health; she is so nervous. In serving the rabbit she spilled a great lot of it, boiling hot, over my hand and wrist. It hurt awfully, Joe. And the dear girl was so sorry! But Gen. Pinkney!–Joe, that old man nearly went distracted. He rushed downstairs and sent somebody–they said the furnace man or somebody in the basement–out to a drug store for some oil and things to bind it up with. It doesn’t hurt so much now.”
“What’s this?” asked Joe, taking the hand tenderly and pulling at some white strands beneath the bandages.
“It’s something soft,” said Delia, “that had oil on it. Oh, Joe, did you sell another sketch?” She had seen the money on the table.
“Did I?” said Joe; “just ask the man from Peoria. He got his depot to-day, and he isn’t sure but he thinks he wants another parkscape and a view on the Hudson. What time this afternoon did you burn your hand, Dele?”
“Five o’clock, I think,” said Dele, plaintively. “The iron–I mean the rabbit came off the fire about that time. You ought to have seen Gen. Pinkney, Joe, when–”
“Sit down here a moment, Dele,” said Joe. He drew her to the couch, sat beside her and put his arm across her shoulders.
“What have you been doing for the last two weeks, Dele?” he asked.
She braved it for a moment or two with an eye full of love and stubbornness, and murmured a phrase or two vaguely of Gen. Pinkney; but at length down went her head and out came the truth and tears.
“I couldn’t get any pupils,” she confessed. “And I couldn’t bear to have you give up your lessons; and I got a place ironing shirts in that big Twentyfourth street laundry. And I think I did very well to make up both General Pinkney and Clementina, don’t you, Joe? And when a girl in the laundry set down a hot iron on my hand this afternoon I was all the way home making up that story about the Welsh rabbit. You’re not angry, are you, Joe? And if I hadn’t got the work you mightn’t have sold your sketches to that man from Peoria.
“He wasn’t from Peoria,” said Joe, slowly.
“Well, it doesn’t matter where he was from. How clever you are, Joe –and–kiss me, Joe–and what made you ever suspect that I wasn’t giving music lessons to Clementina?”
“I didn’t,” said Joe, “until to-night. And I wouldn’t have then, only I sent up this cotton waste and oil from the engine-room this afternoon for a girl upstairs who had her hand burned with a smoothing-iron. I’ve been firing the engine in that laundry for the last two weeks.”
“And then you didn’t–”
“My purchaser from Peoria,” said Joe, “and Gen. Pinkney are both creations of the same art–but you wouldn’t call it either painting or music.
And then they both laughed, and Joe began:
“When one loves one’s Art no service seems–”
But Delia stopped him with her hand on his lips. “No,” she said– “just ‘When one loves.'”