For all his roaring she was not much afraid of the painter. While his brushes flicked at, and streaked across, the canvas she stood idly watching him. He was in paint-smeared, baggy trousers and a soft shirt whose open collar gave a glimpse of a deep chest matted with hair and whose rolled-up sleeves revealed forearms that seemed absurdly large to be fiddling with those slender sticks. A crowbar would have seemed more in harmony. He was unromantically old--all of thirty-five Maggie guessed; and with his square, rough-hewn face and tousled, reddish hair he was decidedly ugly. But for the fact that he really did work-- though of course his work was foolish--and the fact that he paid his way--he bought little, but no one could beat him by so much as a penny in a bargain, not even the Duchess--Maggie might have considered him as one of the many bums who floated purposelessly through that drab region.
Also, had there not been so many queer people coming and going in this neighborhood--Eads Howe, the hobo millionaire, settlement workers, people who had grown rich and old in their business and preferred to live near it--Maggie might have regarded Hunt with more curiosity, and even with suspicion; but down here one accepted queer people as a matter of course, the only fear being that secretly they might be police or government agents, which Maggie and the others knew very well Hunt was not. When Hunt had rented this attic as a studio they had accepted his explanation that he had taken it because it was cheap and he could afford to pay no more. Likewise they had accepted his explanation that he was a mechanic by trade who had roughed it all over the world and was possessed with an itch for painting, that lately he had worked in various garages, that it was his habit to hoard his money till he got a bit ahead and then go off on a painting spree. All these admissions were indubitably plausible, for his paintings seemed the unmistakable handiwork of an irresponsible, hard- fisted motor mechanic.
Maggie shifted to her other foot and glanced casually at the canvases which leaned against the walls of the shabby studio. There was the Duchess: incredibly old, the face a web of wrinkles, the lips indrawn over toothless and shrunken gums. the nose a thin, curved beak, the eyes deep-set, gleaming, inscrutable, watching; and drawn tight over the hair--even Maggie did not know whether that hair was a wig or the Duchess's--the faded Oriental shawl which was fastened beneath her chin and which fell over her thin, bent chest. There was O'Flaherty, the good-natured policeman on the beat. There was the old watchmaker next door. There was Black Hurley, the notorious gang leader, who sometimes swaggered into the district like a dirty and evil feudal lord. There was a Jewish pushcart peddler, white-bearded and skull- capped. There was an Italian mother sitting on the curb, her feet in the gutter, smiling down at the baby that was hungrily suckling at her milk-heavy breast. And so on, and so on. Just the ordinary, uninteresting things Maggie saw around the block. There was not a single pretty picture in the lot.
Hunt swung the canvas from his easel and stood it against the wall. "That'll be all for you, Jimmie. Beat it and make room for Maggie. Maggie, take your same pose."
Old Jimmie ambled forward and gazed at his portrait as Hunt was settling an unfinished picture on his easel. It had rather amused Jimmie and filled in his idle time to sit for the crazy painter; and, incidentally, another picture of him would do him no particular harm since the police already had all the pictures they needed of him over at Headquarters. As he gazed at Hunt's work Old Jimmie snickered.
"I say, Nuts, what you goin' to do with this mess of paint?"
"Going to sell it to the Metropolitan Museum, you old sinner!" snapped Hunt.
Old Jimmie cackled at the joke. He knew pictures; that is, good pictures. He had had an invisible hand in more than one clever transaction in which handsome pictures alleged to have been smuggled in, Gainsboroughs and Romneys and such (there had been most profit for him in handling the forgeries of these particular masters), had been put, with an air of great secrecy, into the hands of divers newly rich gentlemen who believed they were getting masterpieces at bargain prices through this evasion of customs laws.