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Title: The Collectors
Author: Mather, Frank Jewett
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Collectors" ***

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THE COLLECTORS

Being Cases mostly under the Ninth and Tenth Commandments

by

FRANK JEWETT MATHER, Junr.

1912



Comprising a _Ballade_, wherein the Wrongfulness of Art Collecting is
conceded, and as well Certain Stories: _Campbell Corot_, which recounts
the career of an able and candid Picture Forger. _The del Puente
Giorgione_, which tells of an artful Great Lady and an Artless Expert.
_The Lombard Runes_, a mere interlude, but revealing a certain duplicity
in Professional Seekers for Truth. _Their Cross_, so called from an
inanimate Object of Price which wrought Woe to a well meaning New York
Couple. _The Missing St Michael_, a tale of Italianate Americans which is
full of Vanities and, though alluring to the Sophisticated, quite unfit
for the Simple Reader. _The Lustred Pots_, again a mere interlude, but of
a grim sort, as it grazes the Sixth Commandment and _The Balaklava
Coronal_, which, notwithstanding its exotic title, is mostly of our own
People, showing the Triumph of a resourceful Dealer over two Critics and
a Captain of Industry. To which seven stories are added some _Reflections
upon Art Collecting_, setting forth Excuses and Palliations for a
Practice usually regarded as Pernicious.



FOREWORD


Of the seven stories of art collecting that make up this book "Campbell
Corot" and the "Missing St. Michael" first appeared under the pseudonym
of Francis Cotton, in "Scribner's Magazine," and are now reprinted by its
courteous permission. Similar acknowledgment is due the "Nation" for
allowing the sketch on art collecting to be republished. Many readers
will note the similarity between the story "The del Puente Giorgione" and
Paul Bourget's brilliant novelette, "La Dame qui a perdu son Peintre." My
story was written in the winter of 1907, and it was not until the summer
of 1911 that M. Bourget's delightful tale came under my eye. Clearly the
same incident has served us both as raw material, and the noteworthy
differences between the two versions should sufficiently advise the
reader how little either is to be taken as a literal record of facts or
estimate of personalities.



CONTENTS


A Ballade of Art Collectors

Campbell Corot

The del Puente Giorgione

The Lombard Runes

Their Cross

The Missing St. Michael

The Lustred Pots

The Balaklava Coronal

On Art Collecting



A BALLADE OF ART COLLECTORS


Oh Lord! We are the covetous.
  Our neighbours' goods afflict us sore.
From Frisco to the Bosphorus
  All sightly stuff, the less the more,
We want it in our hoard and store.
  Nor sacrilege doth us appal--
Egyptian vault--fane at Cawnpore--
  Collector folk are sinners all.

Our envoys plot _in partibus_.
  They've small regard for chancel door,
Or Buddhist bolts contiguous
  To lustrous jade or gold galore
Adorning idol squat or tall--
  These be strange gods that we adore--
Collector folk are sinners all.

Of Romulus Augustulus
  The signet ring I proudly wore.
Some rummaging _in ossibus_
  I most repentantly deplore.
My taste has changed; I now explore
  The sepulchres of Senegal
And seek the pots of Singapore--
  Collector folk are sinners all.

Lord! Crave my neighbour's wife! What for?
  I much prefer his crystal ball
From far Cathay. Then, Lord, ignore
  Collector folk who're sinners all.



CAMPBELL COROT


The Academy reception was approaching a perspiring and vociferous close
when the Antiquary whispered an invitation to the Painter, the Patron,
and the Critic. A Scotch woodcock at "Dick's" weighs heavily, even
against the more solid pleasures of the mind, so terminating four
conferences on as many tendencies in modern art, and abandoning four
hungry souls, four hungry bodies bore down an avenue toward "Dick's"
smoky realm, where they found a quiet corner apart from the crowd. It is
a place where one may talk freely or even foolishly--one of those rare
oases in which an artist, for example, may venture to read a lesson to an
avowed patron of art. All the way down the Patron had bored us with his
new Corot, which he described at tedious length. Now the Antiquary barely
tolerated anything this side of the eighteenth century, the Painter was
of Courbet's sturdy following, the Critic had been writing for a season
that the only hope in art for the rich was to emancipate themselves from
the exclusive idolatry of Barbizon. Accordingly the Patron's rhapsodies
fell on impatient ears, and when he continued his importunities over the
Scotch woodcock and ale, the Painter was impelled to express the sense of
the meeting.

"Speaking of Corot," he began genially, "there are certain
misapprehensions about him which I am fortunately able to clear up.
People imagine, for instance, that he haunted the woods about Ville
d'Avray. Not at all. He frequented the gin-mills in Cedar Street. We are
told he wore a peasant's blouse and sabots; on the contrary, he sported a
frock-coat and congress gaiters. His long clay pipe has passed into
legend, whereas he actually smoked a tilted Pittsburg stogy. We speak of
him by the operatic name of Camille; he was prosaically called Campbell.
You think he worked out of doors at rosy dawn; he painted habitually in
an air-tight attic by lamplight."

As the Painter paused for the sensation to sink in, the Antiquary
murmured soothingly, "Get it off your mind quickly, Old Man," the Critic
remarked that the Campbells were surely coming, and the Patron asked with
nettled dignity how the Painter knew.

"Know?" he resumed, having had the necessary fillip. "Because I knew him,
smelled his stogy, and drank with him in Cedar Street. It was some time
in the early '70s, when a passion for Corot's opalescences (with the
Critic's permission) was the latest and most knowing fad. As a realist I
half mistrusted the fascination, but I felt it with the rest, and
whenever any of the besotted dealers of that rude age got in an 'Early
Morning' or a 'Dance of Nymphs,' I was there among the first. For another
reason, my friend Rosenheim, then in his modest beginnings as a
marchand-amateur, was likely to appear at such private views. With his
infallible tact for future salability, he was already unloading the
Institute, and laying in Barbizon. Find what he's buying now, and I'll
tell you the next fad."

The Critic nodded sagaciously, knowing that Rosenheim, who now poses as
collecting only for his pleasure, has already begun to affect the drastic
productions of certain clever young Spanish realists.

"Rosenheim," the Painter pursued, "really loved his Corot quite apart
from prospective values. I fancy the pink silkiness of the manner always
appeals to Jews, recalling their most authentic taste, the
eighteenth-century Frenchman. Anyhow, Rosenheim took his new love
seriously, followed up the smallest examples religiously, learned to know
the forgeries that were already afloat--in short, was the best informed
Corotist in the city. It was appropriate, then, that my first relations
with the poet-painter should have the sanction of Rosenheim's presence."

Lingering upon the reminiscence, the Painter sopped up the last bit of
anchovy paste, drained his toby, and pushed it away. The rest of us
settled back comfortably for a long session, as he persisted. "Rosenheim
wrote me one day that he had got wind of a Corot in a Cedar Street
auction room. It might be, so his news went, the pendant to the one he
had recently bought at the Bolton sale. He suggested we should go down
together and see. So we joggled down Broadway in the 'bus, on what looked
rather like a wild-goose chase. But it paid to keep the run of Cedar
Street in those days; one might find anything. The gilded black walnut
was pushing the old mahogany out of good houses; Wyant and Homer Martin
were occasionally raising the wind by ventures in omnibus sales; then
there were old masters which one cannot mention because nobody would
believe. But that particular morning the Corot had no real competitor;
its radiance fairly filled the entire junk-room. Rosenheim was in
raptures. As luck would have it, it was indeed the companion-piece to
his, and his it should be at all costs. In Cedar Street, he reasonably
felt, one might even hope to get it cheap. Then began our _duo_ on the
theme of atmosphere, vibrancy, etc.--brand new phrases, mind you, in
those innocent days. As Rosenheim for a moment carried the burden alone,
I stepped up to the canvas and saw, with a shock, that the paint was
about two days old. Under what conditions I wondered--for did I not know
the ways of paint--could a real Corot have come over so fresh? I more
than scented trickery. A sketch overpainted---or it seemed above the
quality of a sheer forgery--or was the case worse than that? Meanwhile
not a shade of doubt was in Rosenheim's mind. As I canvassed the
possibilities his _sotto-voce_ ecstasies continued, to the vast
amusement, as I perceived, of a sardonic stranger who hovered unsteadily
in the background. This ill-omened person was clad in a statesmanlike
black frock-coat with trousers of similar funereal shade. A white lawn
tie, much soiled, and congress gaiters, much frayed, were appropriate
details of a costume inevitably topped off with an army slouch hat that
had long lacked the brush. He was immensely long and sallow, wore a
drooping moustache vaguely blonde, between the unkempt curtains of which
a thin cheroot pointed heavenward. As he walked nervously up and down,
with a suspiciously stilted gait, he observed Rosenheim with evident
scorn and the picture with a strange pride. He was not merely odd, but
also offensive, for as Rosenheim whispered _'Comme c'est beau_!' there
was an unmistakable snort; when he continued, _'Mais c'est exquis_!' the
snort broadened into a mighty chuckle; while as he concluded 'Most
luminous!' the chuckle became articulate, in an 'Oh, shucks!' that could
not be ignored.

"'You seem to be interested, sir,' Rosenheim remarked. 'You bet!' was the
terse response. 'May I inquire the cause of your concern?' Rosenheim
continued placidly. With a most exasperating air of willingness to
please, the stranger rejoined: 'Why, I jest took a simple pleasure, sir,
in seeing an amachoor like you talking French about a little thing I
painted here in Cedar Street.' For a moment Rosenheim was too indignant
to speak, then he burst out with: 'It's an infernal lie; you could no
more paint that picture than you could fly.' 'I did paint it, jest the
same,' pursued the stranger imperturbably, as Rosenheim, to make an end
of the insufferable wag, snapped out sarcastically, 'Perhaps you painted
its mate, then, the Bolton Corot.' 'The one that sold for three thousand
dollars last week? Of course I painted it; it's the best nymph scene I
ever done. Don't get mad, mister; I paint most of the Corots. I'm glad
you like 'em.'

"For a moment I feared that little Rosenheim would smite the lank annoyer
dead in his tracks. 'For heaven's sake be careful!' I cried. 'The man is
drunk or crazy or he may even be right; the paint on this picture isn't
two days old.' 'Correct,' declared the stranger. 'I finished it day
before yesterday for this sale.' Then a marked change came over
Rosenheim's manner. He grew positively deferential. It delighted him to
meet an artist of talent; they must know each other better. Cards were
exchanged, and Rosenheim read with amazement the grimy inscription
'_Campbell Corot, Landscape Artist_.' 'Yes, that's my painting name,'
Campbell Corot said modestly; 'and my pictures are almost equally as good
as his'n, but not quite. They do for ordinary household purposes. I
really hate to see one get into a big sale like the Bolton; it don't seem
honest, but I can't help it; nobody'd believe me if I told.' Rosenheim's
demeanour was courtly to a fault as he pleaded an engagement and bade us
farewell. Already apparently he divined a certain importance in so
remarkable a gift of mimicry. I stayed behind, resolved on making the
nearer acquaintance of Campbell Corot."

      *       *       *       *       *

"Rosenheim clearly understands the art of business," interrupted the
Antiquary. "And the business of art," added the Critic. "Could your
seedy friend have painted my Corot?" said the Patron in real distress.
"Why not?" continued the Painter remorselessly. "Only hear me out, and
you may judge for yourself. Anyhow, let's drop your Corot; we were
speaking of mine."

"To make Campbell Corot's acquaintance proved more difficult than I had
expected. He confided to me immediately that he had been a durn fool to
give himself away to my friend, but talk was cheap, and people never
believed him, anyway. Then gloom descended, and my professions of
confidence received only the most surly responses. He unbent again for a
moment with, 'Painter feller, you knowed the pesky ways of paint, didn't
yer?' but when I followed up this promising lead and claimed him as an
associate, he repulsed me with, 'Stuck up, ain't yer? Parley French like
your friend? S'pose you've showed in the Saloon at Paris.' Giving it up,
I replied simply: 'I have; I'm a landscape painter, too, but I'd like to
say before I go that I should be glad to be able to paint a picture like
that.' Looking me in the eye and seeing I meant it, 'Shake!' he replied
cordially. As we shook, his breath met me fair: it was such a breath as
was not uncommon in old-time Cedar Street. Gentlemen who affect this
aroma are, I have noticed, seldom indifferent to one sort of invitation,
so I ventured hardily: 'You know Nickerson's Glengyle, sir; perhaps you
will do me the favour to drink a glass with me while we chat.' Here I
could tell you a lot about Nickerson's." "Don't," begged the Critic, who
is abstemious. "I will only say, then, that Nickerson's, once an
all-night refuge, closes now at three--desecration has made it the yellow
marble office of a teetotaler in the banking line--and the Glengyle, that
blessed essence of the barley, heather, peat, and mist of Old Scotland,
has been taken over by an exporting company, limited. Sometimes I think I
detect a little of it in the poisons that the grocers of Glasgow and
Edinburgh send over here, or perhaps I only dream of the old taste. Then
it was itself, and by the second glass Campbell Corot was quite ready to
soliloquise. You shall have his story about as he told it, but abridged a
little in view of your tender ages and the hour.

       *       *       *       *       *

"John Campbell had grown up contentedly on the old farm under Mount
Everett until one summer when a landscape painter took board with the
family. At first the lad despised the gentle art as unmanly, but as he
watched the mysterious processes he longed to try his hand. The
good-natured Düsseldorfian willingly lent brushes and bits of millboard
upon which John proceeded to make the most lurid confections. The forms
of things were, of course, an obstacle to him, as they are to everybody.
'I never could drore,' he told me, 'and I never wanted to drore like that
painter chap. Why he'd fill a big canvas with little trees and rocks and
ponds till it all seemed no bigger than a Noah's ark show. I used to ask
him, "Why don't you wait till evening when you can't see so much to
drore?"' To such criticism the painter naturally paid no attention, while
John devoted himself to sunsets and the tube of crimson lake. From
babyhood he had loved the purple hour, and his results, while without
form and void, were apparently not wholly unpleasing, for his master paid
him the compliment of using one or two such sketches as backgrounds,
adding merely the requisite hills, houses, fences, and cows. These
collaborations were mentioned not unworthily beside the sunsets of
Kensett and Cropsey next winter at the Academy. From that summer John was
for better or worse a painter.

"His first local success was, curiously enough, an historical
composition, in which the village hose company, almost swallowed up by
the smoke, held in check a conflagration of Vesuvian magnitude. The few
visible figures and Smith's turning-mill, which had heroically been saved
in part from the flames, were jotted in from photographs. Happily this
work, for which the Alert Hose Company subscribed no less than
twenty-five dollars, providing also a fifty-dollar frame, fell under the
appreciative eye of the insurance adjuster who visited the very ruins
depicted. Recognising immediately an uncommonly available form of
artistic talent, this gentleman procured John a commission as painter in
ordinary to the Vulcan, with orders to come at once to town at excellent
wages. By his twentieth year, then, John was established in an attic
chamber near the North River with a public that, barring change in the
advertising policy of the Vulcan, must inevitably become national. For
the lithographers he designed all manner of holocausts; at times he made
tours through the counties and fixed the incandescent mouth of Vulcan's
forge, the figures within being merely indicated, on the face of a
hundred ledges. That was a shame, he freely admitted to me; the rocks
looked better without. In fact, John Campbell's first manner soon came to
be a humiliation and an intolerable bondage. He felt the insincerity of
it deeply. 'You see, it's this way,' he explained to me, 'you don't see
the shapes by firelight or at sunset, but you have seen them all day and
you know they're there. Nobody that don't have those shapes in his brush
can make you feel them in a picture. Everybody puts too little droring
into sunsets. Nobody paints good ones, not even Inness [we must remember
it was in the early '70s], except a Frenchman called Roosoo. He takes 'em
very late, which is best, and he can drore some too.'"

"A very decent critic, your alcoholic friend," the Critic remarked. "He
was full of good ideas, as you shall see," the story-teller replied. "I
quite agree with you, if the bad whisky could have been kept away from
him he might have shone in your profession. Anyhow, he had the makings of
an honest man in him, and when the Vulcan enlarged its cliff-painting
programme, he cut loose bravely. Then followed ten lean years of odd
jobs, with landscape painting as a recreation, and the occasional sale of
a canvas on a street corner as a great event. When his need was greatest
he consented to earn good wages composing symbolical door designs for the
Meteor Coach Company, but that again he could not endure for long. Later
in the intervals of colouring photographs, illuminating window-shades, or
whatever came to hand, he worked out the theory which finally led him to
the feet of Corot. It was, in short, that the proper subject for an
artist deficient in linear design is sunrise.

"He explained the matter to me with zest. 'By morning you've half
forgotten the look of things. All night you've seen only dreams that
don't have any true form, and when the first light comes, nothing shows
solid for what it is. The mist uncovers a little here and there, and you
wonder what's beneath. It's all guesswork and nothing sure. Take any
morning early when I look out of my attic window to the North River.
There's nothing but a heap of fog, grey or pink, as there's more or less
sun behind. It gets a little thick over toward Jersey, and that may be
the shore, or again it mayn't. Then a solid bit of vi'let shows high up,
and I guess it's Castle Stevens, but perhaps it ain't. Then a pale-yellow
streak shoots across the river farther up and I take it to be the
Palisades, but again it may be jest a ray of sunshine. You see there
really ain't no earth; it's all air and light. That's what a man that
can't drore ought to paint; that's what my namesake, Cameel Corot, did
paint better than any one that ever lived.'

"At this point of his confession John Campbell glared savagely at me for
assent, and set down a sadly frayed and noxious stogy on Nickerson's
black walnut. I hastened to agree, though much of the doctrine was heresy
to a realist, only objecting: 'But one really has to draw a scene such as
you describe just like any other. In fact, the drawing of atmosphere is
the most difficult branch of our art. Many very good painters, like my
master, Courbet, have given it up.' 'Corbet!' he replied contemptuously;
'he didn't give it up; he never even seen it. But don't I know it's hard,
sir? For years I tried to paint it, and I never got nothing but the fog;
when I put in more I lost that. They're pretty, those sketches--like
watered silk or the scum in the docks with the sun on it; but, Lord,
there ain't nothing into 'em, and that's the truth. At last, after
fumbling around for years, I happened to walk into Vogler's gallery one
day and saw my first Corot. Ther' it was--all I had been trying for. It
was the kind of droring I knew ought to be, where a man sets down more
what he feels than what he knows. I knew I was beginning too late, but I
loved that way of working. I saw all the Corots I could, and began to
paint as much as I could his way. I got almost to have his eye, but of
course I never got his hand. Nobody could, I guess, not even an educated
artist like you, or they'd all a don' it.'

       *       *       *       *       *

"After this awakening John Campbell began the artist's life afresh with
high hopes. His first picture in the sweet new style was honestly called
'Sunrise in Berkshire,' though he had interwoven with his own
reminiscences of the farm several motives from various compositions of
his great exemplar. He signed the canvas Campbell Corot, in the familiar
capital letters, because he didn't want to take all the credit; because
he desired to mark emphatically the change in his manner, and because it
struck him as a good painting name justified by the resemblance between
his surname and the master's Christian name. It was a heartfelt homage in
intention. If the disciple had been familiar with Renaissance usages, he
would undoubtedly have signed himself John of Camille.

"'Sunrise in Berkshire' fetched sixty dollars in a downtown auction room,
the highest price John had ever received; but this was only the beginning
of a bewildering rise in values. When John next saw the picture, Campbell
had been deftly removed, and the landscape, being favourably noticed in
the press, brought seven hundred dollars in an uptown salesroom. John
happened on it again in Beilstein's gallery, where the price had risen to
thirteen hundred dollars--a tidy sum for a small Corot in those early
days. At that figure it fell to a noted collector whose walls it still
adorns. Here Campbell Corot's New England conscience asserted itself. He
insisted on seeing Beilstein in person and told him the facts. Beilstein
treated the visitor as an impostor and showed him the door, taking his
address, however, and scornfully bidding him make good his story by
painting a similar picture, unsigned. For this, if it was worth anything,
the dealer promised he should be liberally paid. Naturally Campbell
Corot's professional dander was up, and he produced in a week a Corotish
'Dance of Nymphs,' if anything, more specious than the last. For this
Beilstein gave him twenty-five dollars, and within a month you might have
seen it under the skylight of a country museum, where it is still
reverently explained to successive generations of school-children.

"If Campbell Corot had been a stronger character, he might have made
some stand against the fraudulent success his second manner was
achieving. But, unhappily, in those experimental years he had acquired
an experimental knowledge of the whisky of Cedar Street. His irregular
and spend-thrift ways had put him out of all lines of employment.
Besides, he was consumed by an artist's desire to create a kind of
picture that he could not hope to sell as his own. Nor did the voice of
the tempter, Beilstein, fail to make itself heard. He offered an
unfailing market for the little canvases at twenty-five and fifty
dollars, according to size. There was a patron to supply unlimited
colours and stretchers, a pocket that never refused to advance a small
bill when thirst or lesser need found Campbell Corot penniless. Almost
inevitably he passed from occasional to habitual forgery, consoling
himself with the thought that he never signed the pictures and, before
the law at least, was blameless. But signed they all were somewhere
between their furtive entrance at Beilstein's basement and their
appearance on his walls or in the auction rooms. Of course it wasn't the
blackguard Beilstein who forged the five magic letters; he would never
take the risk, 'Blast his dirty soul!' cried Campbell Corot aloud, as he
seethed with the memory of his shame. He rose as if for summary
vengeance, to the amazement of the quiet topers in the room. For some
time his utterance had been getting both excited and thick, and now I
saw with a certain chagrin that the Glengyle had done its work only too
well. It was a question not of hearing his story out, but of getting him
home before worse befell. By mingled threats and blandishments I got him
away from Nickerson's, and after an adventurous passage down Cedar
Street, I deposited him before his attic door, in a doubtful frame of
mind, being alternately possessed by the desire to send Beilstein to
hell and to pray for the eternal welfare of the only genuine Corot."

"You certainly make queer acquaintances," ejaculated the Patron uneasily.

"Hurry up and tell us the rest; it's growing late," insisted the
Antiquary, as he beckoned for the bill.

"I saw Campbell Corot only once more, but occasionally I saw his work,
and it told a sad tale of deterioration. The sunrises and nymphals no
longer deceived anybody, having fallen nearly to the average level of
auction-room impressionism. I was not surprised, then, when running into
him near Nickerson's one day I felt that drink and poverty were speeding
their work. He tried to pass me unrecognised, but I stopped him, and
once more the invitation to a nip proved irresistible. My curiosity was
keen to learn his attitude toward his own work and that of his master,
and I attempted to draw him out with a crass compliment. He denied me
gently. 'The best things I do, or rather did, young feller, are jest a
little poorer than his worst. Between ourselves, he painted some pretty
bum things. Some I suppose he did, like me, by lamplight. Some he
sketched with one hand while he was lighting that there long pipe with
the other. Sometimes, I guess, he was in a hurry for the money. Now,
when I'm painting my level best, like I used to could, mine are about
like that. But people don't know the difference about him or about me;
and mine, as I told your Jew friend, are plenty good enough for
every-day purposes. Used to be, anyway. Nobody can paint like his best.
Think of it, young feller, you and me is painters and know what it
means--jest a little dirty paint on white canvas, and you see the
creeping of the sunrise over the land, the breathing of the mist from
the fields, and the twinkling of the dew in the young leaves. Nobody but
him could paint that, and I guess he never knowed how he done it; he
jest felt it in his brush, it seems to me.'

"After this outburst little more was to be got from him. In a word, he
had gone to pieces and knew it. Beilstein had cast him off; the works in
the third manner hung heavy in the auction places. Leaning over the
table, he asked me, 'Who was the gent that said, "My God, what a genius I
had when I done that!"?' I told him that the phrase was given to many,
but that I believed Swift was the gent. 'Jest so,' Campbell Corot
responded; 'that's the way I felt the last time I saw Beilstein. He'd
been sending back my things and, for a joke, I suppose, he wrote me to
come up and see a real Corot, and take the measure of the job I was
tackling. So up to the avenue I went, and Beilstein first gave me my
dressing down and then asked me into the red-plush private room where he
takes the big oil and wheat men when they want a little art. There on the
easel was a picture. He drew the cloth away and said: "Now, Campbell,
that's what we want in our business." As sure as you're born, sir, it was
a "Dance of Nymphs" that I done out of photographs eight years ago. But I
can't paint like that no more. I know the way your friend Swift felt;
only I guess my case is worse than his.'

"The mention of photographs gave me a clue to Campbell Corot's artistic
methods. It appeared that Beilstein had kept him in the best
reproductions of the master. But on this point the disciple was reticent,
evading my questions by a motion to go. 'I'm not for long probably,' he
said, as he refused a second glass. 'You've been patient while I've
talked--I can't to most--and I don't want you to remember me drunk. Take
good care of yourself, and, generally speaking, don't start your whisky
till your day's painting is done.' I stood for some minutes on the corner
of Broadway as his gaunt form merged into the glow that fell full into
Cedar Street from the setting sun. I wondered if the hour recalled the
old days on the farm and the formation of his first manner.

"However that may be, his premonition was right enough. The next winter I
read one morning that the body of Campbell Corot had been taken from the
river at the foot of Cedar Street. It was known that his habits were
intemperate, and it was probable that returning from a saloon he had
walked past his door and off the dock. His cards declared him to be a
landscape painter, but he was unknown in the artistic circles of the
city. I wrote to the authorities that he was indeed a landscape painter
and that the fact should be recorded on his slab in Potter's Field. I was
poor and that was the only service I could do to his memory."

The Painter ceased. We all rose to go and were parting at the doorway
with sundry hems and haws when the Patron piped up anxiously, "Do you
suppose he painted my Corot?" "I don't know and I don't care," said the
Painter shortly. "Damn it, man, can't you see it's a human not a
picture-dealing proposition?" sputtered the Antiquary. "That's right,"
echoed the Critic, as the three locked arms for the stroll downtown,
leaving the bewildered Patron to find his way alone to the Park East.



THE DEL PUENTE GIORGIONE


The train swung down a tawny New England river towards Prestonville as I
reviewed the stages of a great curiosity. At last I was to see the Del
Puente Giorgione. Long before, when the old pictures first began to speak
to me, I had learned that the critic Mantovani, the master of us all,
owned an early Giorgione, unfinished but of marvellous beauty. At his
death, strangely enough, it was not found among his pictures, which were
bequeathed as every one knows to the San Marcello Museum. The next word I
had of it was when Anitchkoff, Mantovani's disciple and successor,
reported it in the Del Puente Castle in the Basque mountains. He added a
word on its importance though avowedly knowing it only from a photograph.
It appeared that Mantovani in his last days had given the portrait to his
old friend the Carlist Marquesa del Puente, in whose cause--picturesque
but irrelevant detail--he had once drawn sword. Anitchkoff's full
enthusiasm was handsomely recorded after he had made the pilgrimage to
the Marquesa's crag. One may still read in that worthy but short-lived
organ of sublimity, "Le Mihrab," his appreciation of the Del Puente
Giorgione, which he describes as a Giambellino blossoming into a Titian,
with just the added exquisiteness that the world has only felt since Big
George of Castelfranco took up the brush. How the panel exchanged the
Pyrenees for the North Shore passed dimly through my mind as barely worth
recalling. It was the usual story of the rich and enterprising American
collector. Hanson Brooks had bought it and hung it in "The Curlews,"
where it bid fair to become legendary once more, but at last had lent it
with his other pictures to the Prestonville Museum of Science and the
Fine Arts, the goal of my present quest. While the picture lay _perdu_ at
Brooks's, there had been disquieting gossip; the Pretorian Club, which is
often terribly right in such matters, agreed that he had been badly sold.
None of this I believed for an instant. What could one doubt in a picture
owned by Mantovani and certified by Anitchkoff? Upon this point of
rumination the train stopped at Prestonville.

My approach to the masterpiece was reverently deliberate. At the
American House I actually lingered over the fried steak and dallied long
with the not impossible mince pie. Thus fortified, I followed Main
Street to the Museum--one of those depressingly correct new-Greek
buildings with which the country is being filled. Skirting with a shiver
the bleak casts from the antique in the atrium and mounting an absurdly
spacious staircase, I reached a doorway through which the _chef
d'oeuvre_ of my dreams confronted me cheerlessly. Its nullity was
appalling; from afar I felt the physical uneasiness that an equivocal
picture will usually produce in a devotee. To approach and study it was
a civility I paid not to itself but to its worshipful _provenance_. A
slight inspection told all there was to tell. The paint was palpably
modern; the surface would not have resisted a pin. In style it was a
distant echo of the Giorgione at Berlin. Yet, as I gazed and wondered
sadly, I perceived it was not a vulgar forgery--indeed not a forgery at
all. It had been done to amuse some painter of antiquarian bent. I even
thought, too rashly, that I recognised the touch of the youthful Watts,
and I could imagine the studio revel at which he or another had
valiantly laid in a Giorgione before the punch, as his contribution to
the evening's merriment. The picture upon the pie wrought a black
depression that some excellent Japanese paintings were powerless to
dispel. As my train crawled up the tawny river, now inky, my thoughts
moved helplessly about the dark enigma--How could Mantovani have
possessed such rubbish? How could Anitchkoff, enjoying the use of his
eyes and mind, have credited it for a moment? My reflections
preposterously failed to rest upon the obvious clue, the mysterious
Marquesa del Puente, and it was not until I met Anitchkoff, some years
later, that I began to divine the woman in the case.

After ten years of absence he had come back to America on something like
a triumphal tour. I had promptly paid my respects and now through a
discreet persistency was to have a long evening with him at the
Pretorian. As I studied the dinner card, guessing at his gastronomic
tastes, my mind was naturally on his remarkable career. Anitchkoff,
brought from Russia in childhood, had grown up in decent poverty in a
small New England city. Very early he showed the intellectual ambition
that distinguished all the family. Our excellent public schools made his
way to the nearest country college easy and inevitable. There began the
struggle the traces of which might be read in an almost melancholy
gravity quite unnatural in a man become famous at thirty-five. With the
facility of his race he learned all the languages in the curriculum and
read ferociously in many literatures. In his junior year the appearance
of a great and genial work on psychology made him the metaphysician he
has remained through all digressions in the connoisseurship and criticism
of art. How his search for ultimate principles involved a mastery of the
minutiae of the Venetian school I could only guess. But one could imagine
the process. Seeking to ground his personal preferences in a general
esthetic, he would have found his data absolutely untrustworthy. How
could he presume to interpret a Giorgione or a Titian when what they
painted was undetermined? Upon these shifting sands he declined to rear
his tabernacle. To the work of classifying the Venetians, accordingly, he
set himself with dogged honesty. As a matter of course Mantovani became
his chief preceptor--Mantovani who first discovered that the highly
complex organism we call a work of art has a morphology as definite as
that of a trilobite; that the artist may no more transcend his own forms
than a crustacean may become a vertebrate. For a matter of ten years
Anitchkoff, espousing a fairly Franciscan poverty, gave himself to this
ungrateful task. How he contrived to live in the shadow of the great
galleries was a mystery the solution of which one suspected to be bitter
and heroic. Gradually recognition as an expert came to him and with it an
irksome success. His fame had developed duties, and while his studies in
esthetics remained fragmentary, he was persistently consulted on all
manner of trivialities. From Piedmont to the confine of Dalmatia he knew
every little master that ever made or marred panel or plaster, and he
paid the penalty of such knowledge. Surmising the tragedy of his career
and its essential nobility I had discounted the ugly rumours connecting
him with the sale of the Del Puente Giorgione. When every fool learned
that the Giorgione at "The Curlews" was false, many inferred that
Anitchkoff, having praised it, must have a hand in Brooks's bad
bargain--a conclusion sedulously put about and finally hinted in cold
type by certain rival critics. Personally I knew that Brooks had bagged
his find under quite other advice, but while I would always have sworn to
Anitchkoff's complete integrity in the whole Del Puente matter, my wonder
also grew at so hideous a lapse of judgment. I hopelessly fell back upon
such banalities as the errability of mankind, being conscious all the
time that some special and most curious infatuation must underlie this
particular error. Anitchkoff's card interrupted some such train of
thought. He came in quietly as sunshine after fog. His face between the
curtains reminded me strangely of the awful moment in the Prestonville
Museum--paradoxically, for he was as genuine and reassuring as the Del
Puente Giorgione had been baffling and false.

We began dinner with the stiffness of men between whom much is unsaid.
As the oystershells departed, however, we had found common memories. He
recalled delightfully those little northern towns in the debatable
region which from a critic's point of view may be considered Lombard or
Venetian, with a tendency to be neither but rather a Transalpine
Bavaria. To me also the glow of the Burgundy on the tablecloth brought
back strange provincial altarpieces in this territory--marvels in
crimson and gold, and a riddle for the connoisseur. Then the talk
reached higher latitudes. He mused aloud about that very simple reaction
which we call the sense of beauty and have resolutely sophisticated ever
since criticism existed--I intent meanwhile and eating most of a mallard
as sanguine as a decollation of the Baptist. By the cheese Anitchkoff
seemed confident of my sympathy, and I, having found nothing amiss in
him except an imperfect enjoyment of the pleasures of the table, was
planning how least imprudently might be raised the topic of the Del
Puente Giorgione. But it was he who spoke first. At the coffee he asked
me with admirable simplicity what people said about the affair, and I
answered with equal candour.

"You too have wondered," he continued.

"Of course, but nothing worse," I replied.

Then with the hesitancy of a man approaching a dire chagrin, and yet with
a rueful appreciation of the humour of the predicament that I despair of
reproducing, he began:

"It happened about this way. When I first came to Italy and began to meet
the friends of Mantovani, they told me of an early Giorgione he owned but
rarely showed. He used to speak of it affectionately as 'il mio Zorzi,'
to distinguish it perhaps from the more important example he had sold to
one of our dilettante iron-masters. The little unfinished portrait I
heard of, from those whose opinion is sought, as a superlatively lovely
thing. It was mentioned with a certain awe; to have seen it was a
distinction. For years I hoped my time would come, but the opportunity
was provokingly delayed. How should you feel if Mrs. Warrener should show
you all her things but the great Botticelli?" I nodded understandingly.
Mrs. Warrener, for a two minutes' delay in an appointment, had debarred
me her Whistlers for a year.

"That's the way Mantovani treated me," Anitchkoff continued. "Whenever I
dared I asked for the 'Zorzi,' and he always put me off with a smile.
That mystified me, for I knew he took a paternal pride in my studies, but
I never got any more satisfactory answer from him than that the 'Zorzi'
was strong meat for the young; one must grow up to it, like S---- and
P---- and C---- (naming some of his closest disciples). These allusions
he made repeatedly and with a queer sardonic zest. Occasionally he would
volunteer the encouragement--for I had long ago dropped the
subject--'Cheer up, my boy; your turn will come.' When he so Quixotically
gave the picture to the Marquesa del Puente, it seemed, though, as if my
turn could never come, but I noted that he had been true to his doctrine
that the 'Zorzi' was only for the mature; the Del Puente was said to be
some years his senior. One knew exasperatingly little about her. It was
said vaguely that Mantovani entertained a tender friendship for her,
having been her husband's comrade in arms in half a dozen Carlist
revolts. That seemed enough to explain the gift."

At this point Anitchkoff must have caught my raised eyebrows, for he
added contritely, "It was odd for Mantovani to give away a Giorgione.
You're quite right. I was ridiculously young." "You may imagine," he
pursued, "that the flight of the Giorgione to the Pyrenees only
embittered my curiosity. For years I might have seen it--shabbily to be
sure--by merely opening a door when Mantovani was occupied, now it had
departed to another planet. Remember those were my 'prentice days when I
lived obscurely and absolutely without acquaintance in the Marquesa's
world. She seemed as inaccessible as the Grand Lama. But you know how
things will come about in least expected ways: Jane Morrison, quite the
only human being who could possibly have known both the Marquesa and me,
actually gave me a very good letter of introduction. Then almost
oppressive good luck, came a note from her mountain Castle, telling that
the Chatelaine would be glad to receive me whenever my travels led me her
way. She mentioned our common enthusiasm for the Venetians and graciously
wanted my opinion on the Giorgione, which the enemies of Mantovani, her
friend and my spiritual father, as she called him, had spitefully
slandered. Such slanders had never happened to reach my ears but I was
already eager to refute them.

"It was two years later that I made the visit on the way to the Prado.
All day long the diligence rattled up hill away from the railroad, and it
was dusk before I saw the Del Puente stronghold on its crag, evidently a
half hour's walk from the miserable _fonda_ where the diligence dropped
me. It was no hour to present an introduction, but I bribed a boy to take
the letter up that night. He returned, disappointingly, without an
answer. The next morning wore on intolerably amid a noisy squalor that I
could not escape until my summons came. It was early afternoon before an
equerry arrived on muleback bearing the Marquesa's note. She was
enchanted to meet me but desolated at the unlucky time of my arrival.
Tomorrow she crossed the Pyrenees for Paris and hoped my route might lie
that way. Meanwhile her home was wholly dismantled for the winter, and
the ordinary hospitalities were denied her. But she counted on the
pleasure of seeing me at four; we might at least chat, drink a cup of
tea, and pay our homage to Mantovani's 'Zorzi.' Nothing could have been
more charming or more tantalising. As I toiled up towards the Del Puente
barbican I could feel the precious afternoon light dwindling. Breathless
I set the castle bell a-jangling with something like despair.

"Heavy doors opened in front of me as I passed the sallyport and the
grassgrown courtyard. At the entrance a majordomo in shabby but fairly
regal livery greeted me and conducted me through empty corridors and up
a massive staircase. The castle was indeed dismantled--apparently had
been in that condition from all time. As my superb guide halted before a
door which, exceptionally, was curtained, and knocked, my heart failed
me. I dreaded meeting this strange noblewoman, almost regretted the
nearness of the 'Zorzi,' knowing the actual colours could hardly surpass
those of my fancy. The little speeches I had been rehearsing resolved
themselves into silence again as I saw her by a tiny fire; a compelling
apparition, erect, with snowy hair waving high over burning black eyes.
To-day when I coldly analyse her fascination I recall nothing but these
simple elements. She permitted not a moment of the shyness that has
always plagued me. What our words were I do not now know, but I know
that I kissed the two hands she held out to me as she called me
Mantovani's son and her friend. Then I talked as never before or since,
told her of my struggles and ambitions, and from time to time I was mute
so that I might hear the deep contralto of the French she spoke
perfectly but with Spanish resonance. There was probably tea. Anyhow the
light went away from the deep casements unnoticed, and it was she who,
with a chiding finger, recalled me to duty and the Giorgione. 'Wretch,'
said she, 'you are here to see it not me. The light is going and your
devoirs yet unpaid.'

"As she took my arm and led me through the gallery, I had an odd
presentiment of going towards a doom. While I followed her up a winding
stair, the misgiving increased. Did venerable lemurs inhabit the Basque
mountains? Could so magnificent; an old age be of this earth? An
ancestral shudder from the Steppes came over me. It was her ruddy train
rustling round the turns ahead that aroused these atavistic
superstitions. But when we stood together on the landing all doubts fell
away; a broad ray of sunlight that struck through an open doorway showed
her spectral beauty to be after all reassuringly corporeal. Over the
threshold she fairly pushed me with the warning, 'The place is holy, we
must be silent.' For a moment I was staggered by the wide pencil of light
that shot through a porthole and cut the room in two. The little octagon,
a tower chamber I took it to be, was a prism of shadow enclosing a shaft
of flying golddust. Outside it must have been full sunset. Near the
border line of light and darkness I faintly saw the 'Zorzi,' which
borrowed a glory from the moment and from her. I felt her hand on my
shoulder and knelt, it seemed for minutes, it probably was for seconds
only. The picture, which I had not seen, much less examined, swam in the
twilight and became the most gracious that had ever met my eyes. The dusk
grew as the disc of light climbed up the wall and faded. She whispered in
my ear, 'It is enough for now. You shall come again many times.' I recall
nothing more except the Marquesa's silvery hair and the long line of her
crimson gown as she bade me 'Au revoir' at the head of the great stairs.
That night in the miserable _fonda_ below I wrote out feverishly the
notes which you have doubtless read in the 'Mihrab,' and I would give my
right hand to be able to forget."

There was a long pause, during which Anitchkoff sipped his cognac
nervously, waiting for my comment. I pressed him ruthlessly for the
bitter end of the tale.

"Your hypnotism I grant, but what about Mantovani and Brooks?" I
asked bluntly.

"For Mantovani I have no right to speak," Anitchkoff replied with
dignity. "He was my master and I can admit no imputation on his memory.
Besides, your guess is as good as mine. Whether he bought the picture
in his precritical days, keeping it as a warning and imposing it upon
his followers as a hoax--this I can merely conjecture. As for Brooks,
the case is simple; he couldn't resist a Giorgione at a bargain. But
since you will, you may as well hear the rest of the story--at least my
part of it.

"Three years later I wintered in Paris. I had run into Bing's for a chat
and a look at the Hokusais, when who should come in but Hanson Brooks in
a high state of elation. An important purchase had just arrived. He urged
us both to dine and inspect it. Bing was engaged; I glad to accept. At
dinner Brooks teased me to the top of his bent. I was to imagine
absolutely the most important old master in private possession, his for a
beggarly price. I declined to humour him by guessing, and we slurred his
sweets and coffee to hasten to the apartment. On a dressing table faced
to the wall was a little panel which he slowly turned into view. For a
moment I gasped for joy, it was the Del Puente Giorgione; and then an
awful misgiving overcame me--I saw it as it was. Brooks marked my
amazement and, misreading the cause, slapped me on the back and asked
what I thought of that for a hundred thousand pesetas. The figure again
bowled me over. For the picture as it stood it was a thousand times too
much, while a mere tithe of the value of the name the panel bore. I
blurted out that the price was suspiciously wrong, and added that I must
see the portrait by daylight before venturing an opinion. The thought
that Mantovani had owned it for twenty years and more made a sleepless
night hideous; at sunrise my loyalty reasserted itself by a lame
compromise.

"I daresay you will not blame me for hoping against hope, as I did the
next day and for some months after, that somewhere under that modern
paint there was indeed a sketch by Giorgione's hand. You must remember
that I could as little doubt my own existence as Mantovani's judgment on
such a point. In the sequel it seemed as if no humiliation were to be
spared me. It was Mantovani's chief rival and favourite victim, Merck,
who after a torturing correspondence had the pleasure of telling me he
had seen the 'Zorzi' painted by the amateur Ricard; it was Campbell who,
after recommending it to Brooks, publicly accused me of dishonest
brokerage. That's all I can tell you about the Del Puente Giorgione."

I seized his hand impulsively, and clumsily offered him, in a breath,
whisky, shuffleboard, or cowboy pool--sound Pretorian remedies for all
human woes. These consolations he refused and took his leave. Midnight
found me in the same chair, thinking less of Anitchkoff, whose case now
lay clear, than of Mantovani and the Marquesa del Puente, about whom it
seemed there still might be something to say.

The chances of a roving life have brought some slight addition to the
evidence. Stopping over a boat at Dieppe, a few summers ago, I happened
to see my good friend Mme. Vezin registered at the Casino, where I
recognised an acquaintance or two. That decided me to spend the night and
call at her villa. Her salon never failed to divert me, for, drawing
together the most disparate people, she handled them with easy
generalship. Under her chandelier ardent art students from the Middle
West and the poor relations of royalty might be heard exchanging
confidences and foreign tongues. So, as I climbed the hill at the verge
of the chalk and pasture, I felt sure of the unexpected, nor was I
disappointed. Shrill voices from my fellow countrywomen came down the
garden path and assured me that art had accompanied Mme. Vezin in her
annual retreat from the Luxembourg Gardens. Entering I found the same
perfect hostess and much the old dear, queer scene. I was bracing myself
for a polyglot evening--being with all my travel quite incapable of
languages--when the little maid announced importantly Mme. la Marquise
del Puente. All rose instinctively as there entered an erect white-haired
woman simply dressed in a black gown along which hung a notable crimson
scarf. Murmuring the indispensable banalities I bowed distantly, meaning
to observe her impersonally before an encounter. But she disarmed me by
throwing herself on my mercy. She knew me already through dear Mr. Hanson
Brooks. It was her first visit here; I, she saw, was of the household.
Would I not show her the curiosities and protect her from the bores?
Sullenly I followed her while she discussed the bijoux that littered the
shelves, and the deep modulations of her voice insensibly mollified me. I
had intended in Anitchkoff's behalf to count every wrinkle of her
seventy-five unhallowed years, but found myself instead admiring her
cloud of silver hair, avoiding the gaze of her black eyes, and noting
with a kind of fascination the precise gestures of her fine hand as she
took up or set down Mme. Vezin's poor little things.

At last she settled into an armchair, beckoning me to a footstool, and I
began to talk unconscionably, she urging me on. She professed to know my
writings--it was of course impossible that she should have seen those
rare anonymous letters to the most ladylike of Boston newspapers: she
touched my dearest hobby, that republics and governments generally must
be judged not by their politics but by the amenity of the social life
they foster. Feeling that this was witchcraft or divination even more
questionable, and dreading she had another Giorgione to sell, I made a
last futile effort for freedom, proposing introductions. With a phrase
she subdued me, and my halting French began to be eloquent. I confessed
my innermost ambition, the creation of a criticism learned and judicial
in substance but impressionistic in form. She dwelt upon the beauties of
her eyrie in the Basque mountains which I must one day see. As we chatted
on obliviously an audience of marvelling art students and baigneurs
formed about us quietly. Their serried faces suddenly revealed to me my
ignominious surrender. I started as from a dream and, as she bade me not
forget to call, I kissed her long hand and fled with only a curt farewell
to my hostess.

The channel breeze and the scent of the clover sobered me up. My pity
went out to Anitchkoff and then I remembered that I had seen Fouquart
at the Casino. It seemed too good to be true. Here at Dieppe were both
this enigmatic Marquesa and the prime repository of all authentic
scandal of our times. For the old dandy Fouquart had lived not wisely
but too well through three generations of cosmopolitan gallantry. Had
the censorship and his literary parts permitted, he could have written
a chronicle of famous ladies that would put the Sieur de Brantôme's
modest attempt to shame. I found him among the rabble, moodily playing
the little horses for five-franc pieces, but at the mention of the
Marquesa del Puente he kindled.

"A grand woman," he said emphatically, as he dragged me to a safe corner,
"a true model to the anemic and neurotic sex of the day." When asked to
specify he told me how the energy and passion of twenty generations of
robber noblefolk had flowered in her. Scruples or fears she had never
known. From childhood attached to the Carlist cause, she had become the
soul of that movement in the Pyrenees. It was she who haggled with
British armourers, traced routes, planned commissariats, and most of all
drew from far and near soldiers of fortune to captain a hopeless cause.
In such recruiting, Fouquart implied, her loyalty had not flinched at the
most personal tests. What seemed to mystify Fouquart was that none of
these whilom champions ever attained the grace of forgetfulness. Every
year many of these tottering old gentlemen still reported at Castle del
Puente, and there she held court as of old. He himself, although their
relations had been not military but civil, occasionally made so idle a
pilgrimage. "To the shrine of our Lady of the crimson teagown," I
ventured. "You too, _mon vieux_!" he chuckled with ironical
congratulations. Ignoring the impertinence, I interposed the name of
Mantovani. "Our respected colleague," Fouquart exclaimed delightedly.
Before Mantovani fuddled his head about pictures he had been a good
blade, taking anyone's pay. For ten years and through half as many little
wars he had been the Marquesa's titular chief of staff. Her husband?
Well, her husband was a good Carlist--and a true philosopher. As I tore
myself away from the impending flow of scandal, Fouquart murmured
regretfully. "Must you go? It is a pity. We have only begun, _à demain_."
But we had really ended, for the next morning, shaking off a nightmare of
a red-robed Lilith who tried to sell me a questionable Zeuxis, I took the
early steamer. Of the Marquesa del Puente, whom I believe to be still at
her castle, I have seen or heard nothing since.

       *       *       *       *       *

After some reflection in the corner of the Pretorian where Anitchkoff
once told me his story, I have come measurably into the clear about the
whole matter. Mantovani's position is plain up to a certain point. Either
the 'Zorzi' was given to him or else he bought it in his hopeful youth.
In either case he surely kept it merely as a solemn hoax on his learned
contemporaries. He may have withheld it from Anitchkoff maliciously, or
again out of simple considerateness for a trusting disciple. When
Mantovani came to set his worldly affairs in order, however, it must have
struck him that the joke could not be perpetuated on the walls of the San
Marcello gallery, while the panel was one that a great connoisseur would
not willingly have inventoried by his executors. It was at this time that
he bestowed the 'Zorzi' upon the Marquesa del Puente, as a final token
between them. It may fairly be assumed that he knew her to be incapable
of believing the precious souvenir to be a veritable Giorgione. Such
simplicity as that gift and credulity presuppose lay neither in his
nature nor in hers. Beyond this point certitudes fail us lamentably, and
we are reduced to an exasperating balance of possibilities. Did he send
the picture as an elaborate and unavoidable slight? or was it essentially
a delicate alms, in view of the Marquesa's known poverty and proved
resourcefulness? or, again, did he with a deeper perversity set the thing
afloat to trouble the critical world after he was gone, foreseeing
perhaps some such international comedy as was actually played with the
'Zorzi' as leading gentleman? All these things must remain problematical
for Mantovani cannot tell, and the Marquesa del Puente will not if indeed
she knows.



THE LOMBARD RUNES


Professor Hauptmann dropped wearily into his chair at the noisy Milanese
_table d'hôte_ and snarled out a surly "_Mahlzeit_" to the assembled
feasters. It was echoed sweetly from his left with a languishing
"_Mahlzeit, Herr Professor_." The advance disconcerted him. Resolving
upon a policy of complete indifference to the fluffy and amiable vision
beside him, he devoted himself singly to the food. The _risotto_
diminished as his knife travelled rhythmically between the plate and his
bearded lips. Conceding only the inevitable, nay the exacted courtesies
to his neighbour, he performed still greater prodigies with the green
peas, and it was not until he leaned back for a deft operation with a
pocket comb, that the vivacious, blue-eyed one got her chance to ask if
it were not the Herr Professor Hauptmann, the great authority on the
Lombard tongue. The query floored him; he could not deny that it was, and
as curlylocks began to evince an intelligent interest in Lombard matters,
his stiffness melted like wax under a burning glass. He was soon if not
the protagonist at least the object of an animated, yes fairly intimate
conversation.

To non-German eyes the pair were worth looking at. He was clad in
tightfitting sage-green felt, so it appeared, with a superfluity of
straps, buttons, lacings, and harness of all sorts. A conical Tyrol hat
garnished with a cock's plume and faded violets was crushed between his
back and that of the chair. As his large nervous feet reached for the
chairlegs below, one could see an expanse of moss-green stockings, only
half concealed at the extremities by resplendent yellow sandals. Bearded
and moustached after the military fashion, nothing betrayed the professor
except the myopic droop of the head. As for Fraülein Linda Göritz, no
mere man may adequately describe her. A German new woman of the artistic
stamp, she was pastelling through Lombardy where the Professor was
archeologising. Short, crisp curls gathered about her boyish head. Her
general effect was of a plump bonniness that might yield agreeably to an
audacious arm. She cultivated an aggressive pertness that would have
seemed vulgar, had it not been redeemed by something merely frank and
German. Shortskirted, she wore a high-strapped variant of the prevalent
sandals. The sides of her blue bolero were adorned with stilted yellow
lilies in the top of the Viennese new-art mode. In front her shirtwaist
appeared cool and white, at the sleeves it flowered alarmingly into
something like an India shawl. A string of massive amethysts completed a
discord as elaborate as a harmony of Richard Strauss. Her whole
impression was almost as inviting as it was grotesque. One could not chat
with her without liking her, and it is to be suspected that only a very
guileless or austere male could like her without proceeding to manifest
attentions.

By the cheese, she had captured her amazed professor, and then she
carried him off bodily for coffee in the Arcade. He talked little, but it
didn't matter, for she talked much and well. Nor could a provincial Saxon
scholar be quite indifferent at finding himself known to an intelligent
and much travelled Viennese. A cousin, it appeared, had followed his
lectures and had highly extolled the ingenuity of his phonology of the
Lombard tongue, a language which was, she must remember--a hesitating
pause--yes, surely East--"East Germanic, Ja wohl!" responded the
Professor thunderously, though idiots had written to the contrary. And
then he told her at length the reasons why, until she pleaded her early
morning sketching and firmly bound him to accompany her the next
afternoon to the Certosa of Pavia. The Herr Professor rarely paid much
attention to hands, but as he held Fraülein Göritz's for Good Night he
could not but note that it was soft and filled his big grip so well that
he was sorry when it was gone. He dismissed the observation, however, as
unworthy a philologer and went to sleep pondering a new destruction for
the knaves who held the Lombard tongue to be not East but West Germanic.

And here, to appreciate the weight and importance of Linda's fish, a
little explanation is necessary. Hauptmann was not merely a philologer,
which is a formidable thing in itself, but he belonged to the esoteric
group that deals with languages which have no literature. As he had often
remarked, any fool could compile a grammar of a language that has left
extensive documents; the process was almost mechanical, but to
reconstruct a grammar of a language that has left practically no remains,
that required acumen. Hauptmann did not belong, however, to the
transcendental school that creates purely inferential languages--East
Germanic and West, General Teutonic, Original Slavic, Indo-European and
the like. These are the _Dii majores_ and their inventions are as
complete as if one should detect, say, the relation of the little to the
big fleas not by the cunning use of the microscope but by sheer
inference. This larger game Hauptmann sagaciously left to others, ranging
himself with those who piece together the scanty and uncertain fragments
of languages that have existed but have failed to perpetuate themselves
in documents and inscriptions. Vandalic had powerfully allured him, and
so had Old Burgundian: he had had designs also upon Visigothic, and had
finally chosen Lombard rather than the others because the material was
not merely defective but also delightfully vague, affording a wide
opportunity for genuine philological insight. And indeed to classify a
language on the basis of a phrase scratched on a brooch, the
misquotations of alien chroniclers, the shifting forms of misspelled
proper names, is a task compared with which the fabled reconstruction of
leviathan from a single bone is mere child's play.

From the mere scraps and hints of Lombard words in Paul the Deacon and
other historians anybody but a German would have declined to draw any
conclusion whatever. But just as every German citizen however humble,
becomes eventually a privy counsellor, a knight of various eagles of
diverse classes, an overstationmaster, or a royal postman, so German
science for the past hundred years has permitted no fact to languish in
its native insignificance. All have been promoted to be the sponsors of
imposing theories. And Hauptmann's theory, which got him the degree of
Ph.D., _maxima cum laude_, was that Lombard is an East Germanic tongue.
This he simple intuited, needing the degree, for the fifty mangled
Lombard words displayed none of those consonants which tending to double
or of those vowels which still vexing us as umlauts, mark a language as
belonging to the great Eastern or Western group. But Hauptmann was first
in the field, and if it was impossible for him to demonstrate that he was
right, it was equally impossible for anybody else to prove that he was
wrong. So he stood his ground and by dint of continually hitting the same
nail on the same head he had so greatly flourished that he was mentioned
respectfully as far as the Lombard tongue was known, and at thirty-four
had passed from the honourable but unpaid condition of Privat-dozent to
that of Professor Extraordinarius.

Now if the Lombards, having ignominiously taken to Latin after their
descent upon Italy, had had to wait for Hauptmann to provide them with a
language, they had left certain more substantial traces of themselves in
the valley of the Po. They died and were buried in state with their arms
and utensils for the other world. So that, while one might well be in
doubt whether an inscription was Lombard or not, an antiquary will tell
you without fail whether a clasp, a spearhead or a sword is or is not the
work of this conquering but too adaptable race. In these archaeological
matters Hauptmann took a forced and languid interest. During nightmarish
hours, when the beer and cheese had not mingled aright, he was haunted by
lines of Lombard runes. Sometimes they were East Germanic, and that was a
grief, taking, as it were, the bloom from the guess that had made him
great; and again they were West Germanic, and that was awful, the
hallucination ending in a mortal struggle with the feather bed under
which German science is incubated, and passing off with an anguished
"Donnerwetter! It cannot be Lombard. It is not possible." His not
infrequent Italian trips had, then, an archaeological pretext, and this
had been more or less the purpose of the pilgrimage in which Fraülein
Linda had become by main force an alluring if disquieting incident.

If there is anywhere in the world a more satisfactory sight than the
Pavian Certosa, certainly neither Hauptmann nor his chance acquaintance
had ever seen it. And indeed is there anywhere else such spaciousness of
cloisters, such profusion of minutely cut marble, such incrustation, for
better or worse, of semiprecious stones. Surely nothing in a sightseeing
way approaches it as a money's worth. Fraülein Linda, a superior person
who had begun to entertain doubts as to the externals of modern Austrian
palaces and the internals of new German liners, reserved her enthusiasms
for the pale Borgonones so strangely misplaced amid all that splendour.
Hauptmann, on the contrary, admired it all impartially. The sense of bulk
and inordinate expensiveness made him for a moment almost regret that
these later Lombards who reared this pile were not of the same race-stock
with himself. There was a moment in which he could have claimed them, had
principle permitted, as West Germans. Rather he soon forgot the Lombards
in the alternate rapture and dismay aroused by the petulant yet strangely
winning personality beside him. Professor Hauptmann was used neither to
being contradicted nor managed by mere women folk, and this afternoon he
was undergoing both experiences simultaneously. It was with a feeling of
relief that he left the Certosa, which seemed in a way her territory, and
started out with her upon the neutral highroad that led to the station.
They lingered, for the hour was propitious, and their plan was to kill an
hour or so before the evening train. As the glow came over the lowlying
fields, the weary forms of the labourers began to fill the road. At a
distance Hauptmann perceived one who importunately offered a small object
to the sightseers and was as regularly repulsed. Without waiting for the
professor, who stood at attention while Fraülein Linda sketched, this
beggar or pedlar approached and prayed to be allowed to show a rare and
veritable object of antiquity. A gruff refusal had already been given
when she pleaded that they hear the peasant talk, and inspect his
treasure. "Who knows, Herr Professor, but it might be Lombard?" "Wohlan,"
he replied, and sullenly took the proffered spearhead. It was of iron,
patined rather than rusted, Lombard in form, and of evident antiquity.
Hauptmann gave it a nearsighted look and was about to return it
contemptuously when the peasant urged, "But look again, sir, there are
letters, a rarity." "I dare you to read them," cried Fraülein Linda, and
the Professor read painfully and copied roughly in his notebook a short
inscription in some Runic alphabet. A scowl followed the reading and the
abrupt challenge "Where did you find this piece?" "In the fields,
digging, Padrone," was the answer, "where I dug up also this," displaying
a bronze clasp of unquestionable Lombard workmanship. "Bravo," exclaimed
Linda, "now perhaps we shall know more about your dear Lombards. I
congratulate you, Herr Professor, from the heart." "Aber nein," he
growled back, "there were monuments enough already, and this is only a
bore, for I must buy and publish it. Others too may be found in the same
field, and Lombard will become a popular pastime. It is disgusting;
compassionate me. It was the single language that permitted truly
a-priori approach. It would be almost a duty to suppress these accursed
runes for the sake of scientific method. But no; the harm is done. We
must be patient."

What the Herr Professor said and continued to say as he drove a hard
bargain with the peasant was but half the story. A glance at the runes
had shown an awful double consonant, and, as if that were not enough, an
appalling modified vowel. By a single word scratched by the untutored
hand of a rude warrior the most ingenious linguistic hypothesis of our
times was shattered beyond hope of repair. The spearhead was Lombard,
and Lombard, dire reflection to one who had gained fame by maintaining
the contrary, belonged to the West Germanic group of the Teutonic
tongues. Wild thoughts went through his head. He recalled that Paris had
seemed worth a mass, and considered a plenary retraction with a
facsimile publication of the runes. But as he pondered this course the
inexpediency of sacrificing so fair a theory to this mere brute fact
seemed indisputable. He thought also of ascribing the doubled consonant
and the modified vowel to the illiterate blundering of the spearman who
chiselled the letters. But as his fingers traced the sharp and
purposeful strokes he realised that such a contention would be laughed
out of the philological court. For a mad moment he thought of destroying
the miserable bit of iron, but in the first place that was in itself
difficult, and then the chattering lady at his side knew that he was in
possession of a Runic inscription, probably Lombard. She was widely
connected and would certainly babble in the very city where his bitter
rival Professor Anlaut had maintained that Lombard was West Germanic. As
Hauptmann noticed that the road had become deserted, that the dusk had
increased, and that Fraülein Linda's observations on the luckiness of
the "find" were interminable, a homicidal fancy just grazed the border
of his agitated consciousness. But no, that would not do either; the
scientific conscience forbade the destruction of any datum however
embarrassing. Destroy the spearhead he could not, and with a flash of
intuition it came over him that it must simply be lost as promptly and
hopelessly as possible.

But this too was by no means easy. As they strolled down the road, ditch
after ditch in the lower fields presented itself as apt for the purpose,
but never the favourable moment. In fact Fraülein Linda's talk came back
to the accursed runes with exasperating persistency. They would confirm
his theory. She was happy in being present at this auspicious discovery.
It would be a cause wherefore she should not wholly be forgotten. It was
this sentimental hint that gave a reasonable hope of taking her mind off
the runes, and the harassed philologer set himself resolutely to the
task. For her slight advances he found bolder responses, and still
scanning the irrigating ditches closely for an especially oozy bottom, he
expatiated on the loveliness of the afterglow and confirmed the
recollection of last evening that Fraülein Linda's dimpled hand might be
an eminently pleasant thing to hold. Thus gradually she was won from the
Lombard runes to more personal interests, and as in the slow progress
towards the station they neared a bridge, Hauptmann divined the spot
where the East Germanic hypothesis lately in peril of death might receive
an indefinite reprieve.

He found Linda, as he now called her, neither disinclined to sit on the
parapet nor to receive the support of his arm. Her chatter had dwindled
to sighs and exclamations. He felt the need of a competing sound as the
chug of the spearhead in the ditch should announce the discomfiture of
the West Germans. But before committing the telltale runes to this
ditch, Hauptmann scanned it carefully over Linda's curly head, and
considered thoughtfully its worthiness to receive so important a
deposit. The survey could not have been more reassuring. Like so many of
the main irrigating ditches that carry the water of Father Po and his
tributaries to the lower fields, the sluggish stream consisted equally
of water, weeds, and ooze. No Lombard or other object held in that
mixture was likely soon to be found. There was a moment of tense silence
and then a single plucking sound which various eavesdroppers might have
located at the surface of the ditch or near Linda's plump left cheek.
Neither guess would have been wrong, for if she sighed once more it was
not for the vanishing Lombard runes.

Fraülein Linda Göritz is, if something of a sentimentalist, also a bit of
an analyst, and when, in the train, she learned that the spearhead was
lost she accepted Hauptmann's cheerful comment with a certain scepticism.
He insisted with a suspicious vivacity that it didn't matter, that indeed
he preferred to have the merely professional reminiscence eliminated from
an experience that had personally moved him so deeply. To this reading of
the affair she naturally could not object, but as she gave him her hand
quite formally for farewell, she said: "To-night you have forgotten the
runes, tomorrow you forget me, nicht wahr? You are wrong. Them you will
not find again: there are many of me. You should have forgotten me
first." She escaped while a protest was on his lips.

Since that evening Fraülein Göritz has followed Professor Hauptmann's
brilliant career with a certain interest and perplexity. He has ceased to
be an Extraordinarius, but his promotion was based on his ingenious
researches in Vandalic. After that trip to the Certosa he discontinued
all Lombard studies, and, it is said, actually withdrew from publication
a scathing article in which the West Germanic contingent were handled
according to their deserts. She has a vague and not wholly comfortable
feeling of having counted for something as a deterrent, and she has been
heard to hint that his strange distaste for his favourite Lombard
investigations, is due to a deep and intimates cause--an unfortunate
affair of the heart associated with that historic region.



THEIR CROSS


How their cross reached Fourth Avenue one may only surmise, but there
surely was knavery at some point of its transit. It was too splendid in
its enamelling, too subtle in the chiselling of its gilded silver to have
slipped into the byways of the antiquary's trade with the consent of the
Tuscan bishop who controlled or should have controlled its sale. For the
matter of that, it still contained one of St. Lucy's knuckles, which in
case of a regular transaction would have been transferred to a less
precious reliquary. No, there must have been a pilfering sacristan, or
worse, a faithless priest, to explain its translation from the Chianti
hills to Novelli's shop in Fourth Avenue.

Once there it was certain that one day or another John Baxter must find
it. How he became infected with the collector's greed and acquired the
occult knowledge that feeds that malady it would take too long to tell.
Yet it may be said that the yearning amateur was about the only potent
ingredient in the mild composite that was John Baxter. His eyes, skin,
hair, and raiment had never seemed of any particular colour, nor did he
as a whole seem of any especial size. His parents, who were neither rich
nor poor, cultured nor the contrary, had sent him to an indifferent
school and college. In the latter he had joined a middling chapter of a
poorish fraternity, and, was graduated with a rank that was neither high
nor low. During those four easy going years he had played halfhearted
baseball and football, and had all but made the "Literary Monthly."

On entering the world, as the phrase goes, he came into possession of a
small patrimony and accepted a minor editorial position on a feeble
religious monthly. For the ensuing fifteen years John Baxter overtly read
manuscripts, composed headlines for edifying extracts, even wrote
didactic little articles on his own account. Secretly, meanwhile, the
lust of the eye was claiming him, and he was becoming surcharged with a
single great passion.

His ascent through books, prints, Colonial furniture, miniatures, rugs,
and European porcelain to the dizzy heights of Chinese porcelain and
Japanese pottery and painting, it would be tedious and unprofitable to
follow. It is enough to say that all along the course his dull grey eye
emphatically proved itself the one thing not mediocre about him. It
grasped the quality of a fine thing unerringly; it sensed a stray good
porcelain from the back row of the auction room. How he knew without
knowing why was a mystery to his fellows and even to himself. For if he
frequented the museums of New York, and had made one memorable pilgrimage
to the Oriental collections of Boston, he was quite without travel, and
his education had been chiefly that of the shops and salesrooms. Thus his
finds represented less knowledge than an active faith which served as
well. A Gubbio lustre jug of museum rank had been bought before he knew
the definition of majolica. Before he had learned the peril of such a
hazard he had fearlessly rescued a real Kirman mat from an omnibus sale.
His scraps of old Chinese bronze and stoneware represented the promptings
of a demon who had yet to discover the difference between Sung and
Yungching.

These achievements gave John Baxter a certain notoriety in his world and
the unusual luxury of self esteem. What brought him the scorn of blunter
associates, who openly derided him as a crank, assured him a certain
deference from the _cognoscenti_. The small dealers respected him as an
authority; the auctioneers greeted him by name as he slipped into his
chair, and appealed to him personally when a fine lot hung shamefully. He
had the entrée at two or three of the more discerning among the great
dealers, who occasionally asked his opinion or gave him a bargain. In
short a really impressive John as he sees himself was growing up within
the skin of poor John Baxter, feeble scribbler for the weak-kneed
religious press. As he looked about his cluttered room of an evening he
could whisper proudly, "No, it's not a collection, but I can wait. And
there is meanwhile nothing in this room that is not good, very good of
its type." Sometimes in more expansive musings he would take out of its
brocaded bag a wooden tobacco box artfully incrusted with lacquer,
pewter, and mother of pearl, the work of the great Kôrin, and would
declare aloud, "Nobody has anything better than this, no museum,
certainly no mere millionaire."

Such days and nights had fed an already inordinate craving. He burned
for the beautiful things just beyond his grasp, suffered for them amid
his morning moralisings, dreamt of them at night. His was never the
disinterested love of the beautiful that certain lucky collectors retain
through all the sordidness of the quest. Had you observed John in the
auction room you would have felt something concentratedly feline in his
attitude and would hardly have been surprised had he pounced bodily upon
a fine object as it passed near him down the aisle. No other ghost of
the auction rooms--and strange enthusiasts they are, had an eye that
gleamed with so ominous a fire. There is peril in turning even a weak
will into a narrow channel. It may exert amazing pressures--like the
slender column of mere water that lifts a loaded car to, or with bad
direction, through, the roof.

     *       *       *       *       *

Whether we should call John Baxter's courtship and marriage a digression
or the culmination of his career as a collector might have remained
doubtful were it not for the cross in Fourth Avenue. When he found it,
hardly a week before he met Miriam Trent, he naturally did not take it
for a touchstone. That it was in a manner such, may be inferred from the
fact that the anxious morning before the wedding, he stopped at Novelli's
for a last look, a ceremony strangely parodying the bachelor supper of
more ordinary bridegrooms. After a lingering survey of its deep
translucent enamels penned within crisply chiselled silver, like tiny
lakes rimmed by ledges, he handed the cross back to the reverent Novelli.
It had never looked more desirable, he barely heard Novelli's genial
congratulation on the coming of the great day, as he wondered how so
splendid a rarity had stayed in that little shop for two years. On
reflection the reason was simple. The price, six hundred dollars, was a
shade high for another dealer to pay, while the cross itself was so fine
an object as merely to excite the distrust of Novelli's average
customers. "Fools," muttered John, "how little they know," and hurried
towards the florist's. As he made his way back towards an impressive
frock-coat, his first, he found himself recalling with a certain
satisfaction that even if this were not his wedding day, he really never
could have hoped to buy the cross.

What Miriam Trent would have thought had she learned that her bridegroom
waived all comparison between herself and the cross only because it was
unattainable, one may hardly surmise. But as a sensible person who
already knew John's foible and was accustomed to making allowances, she
possibly would have been amused and just a bit relieved. She was
everything that he was not. Where one passion absorbed him, she gave
herself gladly to many interests and duties. A second mother to her
numerous small brothers and sisters, and to her amiable inefficient
father as well, she had somehow managed school and college for herself,
and in accepting John and his worldly goods she gave up a decently paid
library position. The insides of books were also familiar to her, in
impersonal concerns she had a shrewd sense of people, in general she
faced the world with a brave and delicate assurance. Finally she believed
with fervour the creed and ethics that John happened to inculcate every
week, and it is to be feared that she took him for a prophet of
righteousness. Armed at all points that did not involve her personal
interests, there was she peculiarly vulnerable. She must have accepted
John, aside from the glamour of his edifying articles, simply because of
his evident and plaintively reasserted need of her.

Yet they were very happy together, as people who marry on this unequal
basis often are. After their panoramic week at Niagara, along the St.
Lawrence, and home by the two lakes and the Hudson, they settled down in
John's room, which by the addition of two more had been promoted to being
the living room of an apartment. Her few personal possessions made a
timid, tolerated appearance between his gilt Buddhas and pewter jugs. But
she herself queened it easily over the bizarre possessions now become
hers. Had you seen her of an evening, alert, fragile, golden under the
lamp, and had you seen John's vague glance turn from a moongrey row of
Korean bowls to her deeper eyes, you would have been convinced not merely
that he regarded her as the finest object in his collection, but also
that he was right. It would be intrusive to dwell upon the joys and
sorrows of light housekeeping in New York on a small income. Enough to
say that the joys preponderated in this case. They read much together, he
gradually cultivated an awkward acquaintance with her friends--he had
practically none, and at times she made the rounds of the curiosity shops
and auctions with him. Here, she explained, her part was that of
discourager of enthusiasm, but repression was never practised in a more
sympathetic and discerning spirit. Her taste became hardly inferior to
his, and their barren quests together established a new comradeship
between them. It was probably, then, merely an accident that he never
included Novelli's in these aimless rounds, and so never showed her the
enamelled cross.

In the long run their imaginary foraging, always a recreation to her,
became a sore trial to him. With the demonstration that two really cannot
live cheaper than one, the old covetousness smouldering for want of an
outlet once more burned hotly within. It expressed itself outwardly in a
general uneasiness and irritability. The little fund, her money and his,
that lay in savings bank began to spend itself fantastically. One day he
reckoned that two-thirds of the cross had been put by, and banished the
disloyal thought with difficulty. Visionary plans of selling something
and making the collection pay for itself were entertained, but when it
came to the point nothing could be spared. Perhaps the gnawings of this
hunger might have been controlled, had he thought to confide in Miriam.
More likely yet, a system of rare and strictly limited indulgence might
have banked the fires between times. However that be, the thwarted
collector was to be sunk for a time in the devoted husband. Miriam lay
ill of a wasting fever.

After a two days' trial of the rooms, the doctor and the trained nurse,
who scornfully slept amid the collection, regarding it as a permanent
centre of infection, declared the situation impossible, and with the
slightest preliminary consultation of bewildered John, white-coated men
were sent for, who carried Miriam to the hospital. About her door John
hung like a miserable debarred ghost, for after the first few days her
mind wandered painfully, and his presence excited her dangerously. For
weeks he vacillated between perfunctory work at the office,
unsatisfactory talks with busy doctors and impatient nurses, and long
apprehensive hours in what had been home. In "Little Venice," in the best
powder-blue jar and the rest, he found no solace, on the contrary, the
occasion of revolting suggestions. There was an imp that whispered that
she must die and that he should resume collecting. With horror he fled
the evil place, and spent an endless night on tolerance within hearing of
her moanings.

Fevers have this of merciful, that a term is set for them. Her malady
though it often maims cruelly rarely kills. The temperature line on the
chart, which for days had described a Himalaya, dwindled suddenly to a
Sierra, as quickly to an Appalachian, and then became a level plain.
Terribly wracked by the ordeal but safe they pronounced her. The visiting
physician occasionally omitted her in his daily round. But convalescence
was more trying than the struggle with the fever. The lethargic hours
seldom brought either sleep or rest. Beset by nervous fears, the
collective suffering of the giant building weighed upon her, and she
begged to be taken home.

It was a pathetic triumphal entry that she made among their household
gods. The sheer grotesqueness of her home struck her painfully for the
first time, as she was helped to an ancient chair that stood before the
suspended Kirman rug--her throne John had always called it. As she once
more occupied it, there came a curious revulsion against her gorgeously
shabby domain. Other women, she reflected, had neat places, cool expanses
of wallpaper, furniture seemly set apart. She resented the stuffiness of
it all, the air of musty preciousness that pervaded the room. And when
John took both her hands and said: "Now the collection is itself again;
the queen has come home," she broke down and cried. She did much of that
in the weeks that followed. You would have supposed her another person
than plucky Miriam Baxter. But the situation hardly made for
cheerfulness. Light housekeeping being no longer practicable, they
depended on the unwilling ministrations of a slovenly maid. John, who, to
do him justice, had never boasted much surplus vitality, felt vaguely
that something was now due from him that he could not supply. To escape
an inadequacy that was painful he drifted back to the exhibitions and
sales, this time alone. He never bought anything, for he was saving
manfully for a purpose that daily increased in his mind. He would pay
with his pocketbook what with his person he could not.

His always modest luncheon reduced itself to a sandwich, he walked to
save carfares, cut off two Sunday newspapers, wore a threadbare spring
overcoat into the winter. Then one day he took Miriam to a famous
specialist from whom they learned very much what they already knew, but
with the advantage of working orders. The great man told John in brief
that it was a bad recovery which might readily become worse. A change and
open air life were imperative; a sea voyage would be best. If such a
change were not made, and soon, he would not be answerable for the
consequences.

All this John retold in softened form to Miriam in the waiting room. "We
might as well give it up," she said resignedly. "Of course we can't
travel. We haven't the money, and you can't get away." With the nearest
approach to pride he had ever shown in a nonaesthetic matter John
protested that he could get away, and better yet that there was money,
five hundred good dollars, more than enough for a glimpse at the Azores
and Gibraltar, a hint of rocky Sardinia, a day at Naples, a quiet
fortnight on the sunny Genoese Riviera, and then home again by the long
sea route. His thin voice rose as he pictured the voyage. Even she
caught something of his spirits, and as they got off the car near
Novelli's, by a sudden inspiration John said, "Now for being a good
girl, and doing what the doctor says, you shall see the most beautiful
thing in New York."

In a minute Novelli was carefully taking the precious thing from its
drawer and solemnly unfolding the square of ruby velvet in which it lay.
Miriam saw the rigid Christ, at the left Mary Mother in azure enamel, at
the right the Beloved Apostle in Crimson. From the top God Father sent
down the pearly dove through the blue. Below, a stately pelican offered
its bleeding breast to the eager bills of its young. And it all glowed
translucently within its sharp Gothic mouldings. Behind, the design was
simpler--in enamelled discs the symbols of the evangelists. St. Lucy's
knuckle lay visible under a crystal lens at the crossing, and surely
relic of a saint was seldom encased more splendidly. Even pathetic Miriam
kindled to it. "Yes, it is the most beautiful thing in New York," she
admitted. "I suppose it costs a fortune, Mr. Novelli." "No, a mere
nothing, for it, six hundred dollars." "Why, we might almost buy it," she
cried. "It's lucky you haven't saved more, John. I really believe you
would buy it." "I'd like to sell it to Mr. Baxter," said Novelli, "he
understands it," only to be cut short with a brusque, "No, it's out of
our class, but I wanted Mrs. Baxter to see it, and I wanted you to know
that she appreciates a fine object as much as I do." "Evidently," said
Novelli as they parted. "I hope she will do me the honour of coming in
often; there are few who understand, and whether they buy or not I am
always glad to have them in my place."

About a week later John Baxter closed and locked his office desk, hurried
down to the savings bank, and drew five hundred dollars. Most of it was
to go into steamer tickets forthwith, a little balance was to be changed
into Italian money. As he meditated a route downtown, he recalled the
only adieu still left unpaid. To be sure the cross had remained for three
years at Novelli's but it might go forever any day, and with it a great
resource for a weary moralist. Farewells were plainly in order, and with
no other thought he walked back to the shop and greeted Novelli, who
without waiting to be asked produced the crimson parcel that contained
the precious relic. As John looked it over from panel to panel, as if to
stamp every composition upon his memory, Novelli watched him, reflected,
hesitated, smiled benevolently, and spoke. "Mr. Baxter, I am in great
need of money and must sacrifice the cross. I want you to take it.
Vogelstein has offered me four hundred and fifty dollars for it but he
shall not have it if I can sell it to anybody who deserves it better and
will value it. It is yours at that price. What do you say?"

John tried for words that failed to come.

"It's a bargain, Mr. Baxter," pursued Novelli, "but of course if you
don't happen to have the money there's nothing more to say."

"But I have it right here," retorted John in perplexity, "only it's for
quite a different purpose."

"You know your own business, of course, and I don't urge you, but if you
have the money and don't take it, you make a great mistake. You know that
well enough, and then remember how Mrs. Baxter admired it the other day."

"Yes-s," faltered John dubiously.

"Then why do you hesitate? You know what it is, and what it is worth, as
an investment, I mean. By taking your time and selling it right you can
surely double your money."

"But"--

"No, there it is. I am honestly doing you a favour," and Novelli thrust
the swathed cross into the hands of his fairly hypnotised customer.
John's left hand clutched it instinctively, while with the frightened
fingers of his right he counted off nine fifty dollar bills.

"Thank you, Mr. Baxter, neither you nor your wife will ever regret it.
Nobody in America has anything finer, and that you know."

These words pounded terribly in John's brain as he found his way home,
stumbled up stairs, and boggled with the latchkey. All the way down,
unheeded passersby had wondered at the crimson burden (he had not waited
for a parcel to be made) hugged closely to the shabby black cutaway. The
danger signal smote Miriam in the eyes as she rose to be kissed. Standing
away from her, he placed the shrouded cross on the table and tried for
the confession that would not say itself.

"Why, it's our cross," she cried wonderingly. "Mr. Novelli has lent it to
us for a last look before we go where the lovely thing was made. But,
John, what's the matter? How you do look! Has something awful happened?"

"Yes," and the pale nondescript head sunk into his hands. "I have bought
it. I don't know how. I had the money, I was there, and I bought it."

She repressed the word that was on her lips, and the harder thought that
was in her mind, looked long at his humiliation until the pity of a
mother came over her tired face. She had mercifully escaped scorning him.
Then she spoke.

"It was a bad time to buy it, wasn't it, Dear, but it is a beautiful
thing, almost worth a real trip to Italy." She added with a curious air
of a suppliant, "And then perhaps we can sell it."

"Yes, that's so, perhaps we can sell it," echoed John listlessly,
wrapping the cross closely in its crimson cover and laying it in his most
treasured lacquer box. "Yes, perhaps we can sell it," he repeated, and
there was a long silence between them.



THE MISSING ST. MICHAEL


Dennis, our Epicurean sage, addressed us all as we lolled on his terrace,
drank his tea, and divided our attention between his fluent wisdom and
his spacious view of the Valdarno.

"The question is," he repeated, "what will Emma do? Will she be brave,
or, rather ordinary enough, to act for herself and him, or will she
refuse him because of what she thinks we shall think of them both? As we
calmly sit here she may be deciding. That is if you are sure, Harwood,
that Crocker was really bound for Emma's when you saw him."

"How could anybody mistake his beaming Emma face?" growled Harwood. "He
was marching like a squad of Bersaglieri." "And she knows that Crocker
wants it terribly?" added the Sage's wife.

"She does, indeed," sighed Frau Stern repentantly, "for that demon
(pointing to Harwood) did tell me and I haf, babylike, told her."

"Here is the case, then," resumed Dennis: "She knows we know Crocker
wants her and it, but she doesn't know he doesn't know she has it."

"Precisely, most clearly and gracefully put, my dear," laughed
Mrs. Dennis.

"And she knows, too," he pursued imperturbably, "that we may think he
wants her merely for it."

"Bravo!" puffed Harwood smokily from his camp-stool. "She is too clever
to expect any weak generosity from any of us. She believes we will think
the worst. And won't we? Viva Nietzsche, and perish pity!"

"Shame upon us, then," cried Frau Stern. "She will gif up that fine young
man for fear of our talk? Never!"

"She will send him away, dear Frau Stern, the moment he gives her the
chance," declared Dennis. "What else can she do? She can never take the
chance of our surmises. Behold us, the destroyers! The victims are
prepared."

"Can't we do something about it?" Harwood chuckled. "Repent? Be as
harmless as doves? Let's write a roundrobin solemnly stating that, to
the best of our knowledge and belief, he wants her for herself and
not for it."

"Gently," exclaimed Mrs. Dennis, as she blew out Harwood's poised and
lighted match. "You surely don't imagine Crocker will propose the very
day she shows it to him."

"My dear," protested Dennis, "don't we all know him well enough to
understand that any shock will produce that effect? If his mother died or
his horse, his vines got the scale, his Ghirlandaio sprung a crack, his
university gave him an honorary degree--these would all be reasons for
proposing to Emma. Dear old Crocker is like that; any jolt would affect
him that way."

"Has it occurred to anybody that Emma may have foreseen just this
complication and quietly got rid of it first?" suggested Mrs. Dennis, the
really practical member of our group, adding, "That's how I'd have served
you if I'd wanted him."

"Never," responded Dennis. "She loves it too well, and then she would
feel we felt she had spirited it away on purpose."

"Besides," continued Harwood, whose buried aspirations Emmawards had long
ago flowered into a minute analysis of her moods, "she is true blue, you
know. She will never serve us like that. She may immolate the mighty
Crocker upon the altar of our collective curiosity, but she will never
dodge us."

"Cannot we all go back to our own countries and leave them alone,"
suggested Frau Stern almost tearfully; "but no; we no longer haf
countries. Here we belong; elsewhere the air is too strong for our little
lungs. I pity us, and I pity more those poor young people. If only they
will but haf the sense to trample on our talk."

"That, too, would be a sensation," Dennis added cheerfully, and we went
our ways, as usual, without having reached anything so vulgar as a
conclusion.

       *       *       *       *       *

Meanwhile Emma Verplanck stood in the _loggia_ of her tiny villa and
winced in the focus of the curiosities she despised. She scanned the
white road that rimmed her valley before descending sharply to Florence
beyond the hill, and especially the crescent of dust where an approaching
figure would first appear. Now and then, as if for a rest, her eye traced
the line of flaming willows down toward the plunge of her brook into the
larger valley, or the file of spectral poplars that led into the
vineyards hanging on the declivity of Fiesole. Above all, the gaunt and
gashed bulk of Monte Ceceri glistened hotly against a pale blue sky, for
if it was a backward April, the first stirring of summer was already in
the air. She thrilled with disgust as she asked herself why she dreaded
this call. Why should she fear lest an elementary test, a very simple
explanation such as she planned for that afternoon, should compromise an
established friendship?

Interrupting this self-examination the mighty but unwieldy form of Morton
Crocker loomed in the white dust crescent, and his premature panama
swiftly followed the curve of the low grey wall towards her gate. As his
steps were heard, her mind flew to the forbidding St. Michael on his gold
background in her den and she could fairly hear Harwood saying to all of
us, "Three to one on the Saint, who takes me?" The jangling of the bell
recalled her to Crocker, and she braced herself in the full sunlight to
receive him. For a moment, as he loomed in the archway, she indulged that
especial pride which we reserve for that which we might possess but
austerely deny ourselves.

Her mingled moods produced an unusual softness. Crocker felt it and
wondered as she gave him her hand and had him sit for a prudent moment
outside. All the hot way up the valley he had had a sense of a crisis. It
was odd to be summoned whither he had been drifting for four years, and
now the sight of Emma disarmed, perplexed him. It seemed ominous. One
finds such transparent kindness in clever people generally at parting,
when one would be remembered for one's self and not for a phrase. Then
Crocker for an instant glimpsed the wilder hope that the softening was
for him and not for an occasion. Emma had never seemed more desirable
than to-day. A white strand or two in her yellow hair, the tiny wrinkles
at the corners of her steady grey eyes, and the untimely thinness of her
long white fingers made him eager to ward off the advancing years at her
side, to keep unchanged, as it were, these precious evidences that she
had lived.

Some sense of his tenderness she must have had, for as she chatted
gravely about his farming, about the lateness of the almond blossoms,
about everything except people, who always tempted her sharp tongue, her
manner became almost maternally solicitous. "To-day you shall have your
first tea in my den, Crocker" (so much she presumed on her two years'
seniority), she said at last, "and you are commanded to like my things."
"What has thy servitor done to deserve this grace?" he managed to reply.
"Nothing," she said, "graces never are for deserts. Or, rather, you poor
fellow, you have been asked to tramp out here in this glare and really
deserve to sit where it is cool." As they walked through the hall and the
little drawing-room Crocker still felt uneasily that no road with Emma
Verplanck could be quite as smooth as it seemed.

The den deserved its name, being a tiny brown room with a single arched
window that looked askance at the cypresses and bell towers of Fiesole.
Beside a couch, an Empire desk, and solid shelves of books, the den
contained only a couple of chairs and the handful of things that Emma
laughingly called her collection. As Crocker took in vaguely bits of
Hispano-Moresque and mellow ivories, a broad medal or so and a
well-poised Renaissance bronze, a Japanese painting on the lighted wall,
and one or two drawings by great contemporaries, Emma's friends, he was
amazed at the quality of everything. A sense of extreme fastidiousness
rebuked, in a way, his more indiscriminate zeal as a collector.
Uncomfortably near him on the dark wall he began to be aware of something
marvellous on old gold when tea interrupted his observations. Tea with
Emma was always engrossing. The mere practice and etiquette of it brought
the gentlewoman in her into a lovely salience. Her hands and eyes became
magical, her talk light and constant without insistency. A symbolist
might imagine eternal correspondence between the amber brew and her sunny
hair. It was easy to adore Emma at tea, and generally she did not resent
a discreetly pronounced homage. But this afternoon she grew almost
petulant with Crocker as they talked at random, and finally laughed out
impatiently: "I really can't bear your ignoring my St Michael, especially
as you have never seen him before and may never see him again. St.
Michael, Mr. Morton Crocker."

"My respects," smiled Crocker, as he turned lazily toward the gilded
panel. There was the warrior saint, his lines stiff, expressive and
hieratic, his armour glistening in grey-blue fastened with embossed
gilded clasps; here and there gorgeous hints of a crimson doublet--the
unmistakable enamel, the grave and delicate tension of a masterpiece by
the rare Venetian, Carlo Crivelli. Crocker gasped and started from his
seat, losing at once his cup, his muffin, and his manners. "By Jove, Miss
Verplanck, Emma, it's my missing St. Michael. Where did you ever find it?
I must have it." His toasted muffin rolled unconsidered beside the spoon
at his feet. Emma retrieved the cup--one of a precious six in old
Meissen--he retained the saucer painfully gripped in both hands.

"I was afraid it was," she answered, "but look well and be sure."

"Of course we must be sure. You'll let me measure it, won't you? It's the
only way." Assuming his permission he climbed awkwardly upon the chair,
happily a stout Italian construction, and as she watched him with a
strange pity, he read off from a pocket rule: "One metre thirty-seven. A
shade taller than mine, but there is no frame. Thirty-one centimetres;
the same thing. Yes, it is my missing St. Michael," and as he climbed
down excitedly he hurried on: "How strange to find it here. I never
talked to you about it, did I? That's odd, too. I've been hunting for it
for years. You didn't know, I suppose. I want it awfully. What can we do
about it?" For Crocker, this fairly amounted to a speech, and before
replying Emma gave him time to sit down, and thrust another cup of tea
into his unwilling hands. Having thus occupied and calmed him, she said,
"I'm very sorry, I hoped it would turn out to be something else. I only
learned last week that you wanted it. You have seldom talked about your
collecting to me. There's nothing to do about it. I wish there were. You
want it so much. But I can't give it to you. That wouldn't do. And I
won't sell it to you. I wouldn't to anybody, and then that wouldn't do,
either. So there we are. Only think of their talk, and you'll see the
situation is impossible."

Crocker's eyes flashed. "There's a lot we might do about it if you will,
Emma. Damn the St. Michael. If his case is so complicated, and I don't
see it, leave him out of the reckoning between us. Can't you see what I
need and want?"

"They wouldn't see it, and I'm shamefully afraid of them," she said
simply, and then she added indignantly, "How could you dare, to-day? I
can't trust you for any perception, can I?"

Not perceiving that her scruple was belated, Crocker blurted out
ruefully. "I'm an ass, and I'm sorry and I'm not. It's what I have wanted
to say these many days, and perhaps it might as well be so. But I've
wounded you and for that I'm more than sorry."

"Let's not talk about it," Emma said gently. "Of course I'll forgive an
old friend for saying a little more than he should. Only you must stop
here. You'll forgive me, too, for owning your St. Michael. I'm honestly
sorry it happened so. I would dismiss him if I could, for he is likely to
cost me a good friend. But he creates a kind of impossibility between us,
doesn't he, and for a while it's best you shouldn't come, not till things
change with you. It's kindest so, isn't it, Crocker?"

There was more debate to this effect before the impassive St. Michael,
until at last Crocker agreed impatiently, "You're right, Emma, or at
least you have me at a disadvantage, which comes to the same thing.
And yet it's all wrong. You are putting a painted saint between yourself
and a friend who wants to be more. It's logical, but it isn't human. As
for their talk, they'll talk, anyhow, and we might as well stand it
together. I'm probably off for a long time, Emma. I hope you'll find your
St. Michael companionable. When you decide to throw him out of the
window, let me know. Forgive me again. Good-by." She gave him her hand
silently and followed him out into the _loggia_. As she watched him
striding angrily down the valley and away, she had the air of a woman who
would have cried if she were not Emma Verplanck.

       *       *       *       *       *

Crocker was right, we all did talk. And naturally, for had we not all
been eagerly awaiting the collision announced by the cessation of his
visits and the rumour that he was bound north. In council on Dennis's
terrace, however, we came to no unanimous reading of the affair.
Generally, we felt that even if Emma wanted a way out, which we guessed
to be the fact, she would never expose herself to our batteries, and with
regret we opined that there was no way, had we wished, to divest
ourselves of our collective formidableness. On all sides we divined a
deadlock, with Dennis the only dissenting voice. He insisted scornfully
that we none of us knew Emma, that we underestimated both her emotional
capacity and her resourcefulness, and, finally, in a burst of rash
clairvoyancy he declared that she would give away both the St. Michael
and herself, but in her own time and manner, and with some odd personal
reservation that would content us all. We should see.

Given the rare mixture of the conventional and instinctive that was Emma
Verplanck, something of the sort did indeed seem probable. For ten years
she had inhabited her nook, becoming as much of a fixture among us as the
Campanile below. She came, like so many, for the cheapness and dignity of
it primarily. Here her little patrimony meant independence, safety from
perfunctory and uncongenial contacts at home, and more positively all
those purtenances of the gentlewoman that she required. But, unlike the
merely thrifty Italianates, she never became blunted by our incessant tea
giving and receiving. With familiarity, the ineffable sweetness of the
country penetrated her with ever-new impressions. She loved the
overlapping blue hills that stretched away endlessly from the rim of her
valley, and the scarred crag that closed it from behind. She loved the
climbing white roads, her chalky brook--sung as a river by the early
poets--with its bordering poplars and willows and its processional
display of violets, anemones, primroses, blueflags, and roses. She loved
even better that constant passing trickle of fine intelligences which
feeds the Arno valley as her brook refreshed its vineyard. The best of
these came gladly to her, for she was an open and a disillusioned spirit,
with something of a man's downrightness under her sensitive appreciation.
Hers was the calm of a temperament fined but not dulled by conformity and
experience. Mrs. Dennis, whose sources of information were excellent,
said it was rather an unhappy girlish affair with an unworthy cousin.
Within the limits of the possible, the Verplancks always married cousins,
and Emma, it was thought, had in her 'teens paid sentimental homage to
the family tradition. In any case she remained surprisingly youthful
under her nearly forty years. Her capacity for intellectual adventure
seemed only to increase as she passed from the first glow to proved
impressions of books, art, persons, and the all-inclusive Tuscan nature.

Her Stuyvesant Square aunts, who were authorities on self-sacrifice,
agreed that the only sacrifice Emma had made in a thoroughly selfish life
was the purchase of the St. Michael. She had found it, on a visit in
Romagna, in the hands of a noble family who knew its value and needed to
sell it, but dreaded the vulgarity of a transaction through the
antiquaries. To Emma, accordingly, whom they assumed to be rich, they
offered it at a price staggering for her, though still cheap for it. From
the first she had adored it. There had been a swift exchange of
despatches with New York, and the St. Michael went home with her to
Florence. After that adventure the small victoria, the stocky pony, and
the solemn coachman had never reappeared. Emma walked to teas or, when
she must, suffered the promiscuity of the trams. To those of us who knew
the store she set by her equipage its exchange for the St. Michael
indicated a fairly fanatical devotion. To her aunts it meant that she had
spent her principal, which, in their eyes, was an approximation to the
mysterious "sin against the Holy Ghost."

It was Dennis who speculated most audaciously, and perhaps truly, about
the St. Michael. When he learned that Emma secreted it in her den, where
she rarely admitted anyone, he maintained that it had become her
incorporeal spouse. The daintiness with which it fingered a golden
sword-hilt, as if fearing contamination, symbolised the aloofness of her
spirit. The solitary enjoyment of a great impression of art made her den
a sanctuary, absolving her from commoner or shared pleasures. And in a
manner the Saint was the type of the ultra-virginal quality she had
retained through much contact with books and life. For her to sell the
St. Michael, Dennis felt, would be a sort of vending of her soul, to give
it away in the present instance would imply, he insisted, an instinctive
self-surrender of which he judged her incapable.

To Crocker's side of the affair we gave very little thought, considering
that he, after all, had created the thrilling importance of the St.
Michael. But our general attitude toward the unwonted was one of
indifference, and Crocker was too unlike us to permit his orbit to be
calculated. The element of foible in him was almost null. None of our
guesses ever stuck to him, and we had grown weary of rediscovering that
anything so simple could also be so impermeable to our ingenuity. In a
word, Crocker's case was as much plainer than Emma's as noonday is than
twilight. When one says that he was born in Boston and from birth
dedicated to the Harvard nine, eleven, or crew--as it might befall; that
he was graduated a candidate for the right clubs, that he took to stocks
so naturally that he quickly and safely increased an ample inherited
fortune, and this without neglecting horse, or rod, or gun; finally that
he carried into maturity a fine boyish ease--when this has been said all
has been told about Morton Crocker except the whimsical chance that made
him an Italianate.

Some reminiscence of his grand tour had beguiled a tedious convalescence
and, following the gleam for want of more serious occupation, he had set
sail for Naples with a motor-car in the hold. At thirty-three he brought
the keenness of a girl to the galleries, the towns, and the ineffable
whole thing. It was Tuscany that completed his capture. He bought a villa
and, as his strength came back, began to add new vineyards and orchards
to his estate. But this was his play; his serious work became collecting
and more particularly, as has been hinted, the quest of the missing St.
Michael. When he learned, as a man of means soon must, that good pictures
may still be bought in Italy, he promptly succumbed to the covetousness
of the collector, and the motor-car became predatory. Its tonneau had
contained surreptitious Lottos and Carpaccios. Its gyrations became an
object of interest to the Ministry of Public Instruction. Once on
crossing the Alps it had been searched to the linings. While Crocker had
his ups and downs as a collector, from the first his sense of reality
stood him in stead. Being a Bostonian he naturally studied, but even
before he at all knew why, he disregarded the pastiches and forgeries,
and made unhesitatingly for the good panel in an array of rubbish.

It was this sense for reality that impelled him to settle where the rest
of us merely perched. Fifty _contadini_ tilled his domain and actually
began to earn out the costly improvements he had introduced. His wine and
oil were sought by those who knew and were willing to pay. In the
intervals of the major passion Crocker walked up and down the grassy
roads superintending the larger operations. His muscular and hulking
blondness--he had rowed four years--towered above the dark little men who
served, feared, and worshipped him. Unlike the rest of us who preferred
to live in a delightful Cloud Cuckoo Town, which happened to be Florence
also, he had chosen to take root in Tuscany.

First he purged his castellated villa of the international abuses it had
undergone for a century. It had hardly regained its fifteenth century
spaciousness and simplicity before it began to fill up again, but this
time with pictures and fittings of the time. In all directions he bought
with enthusiasm, but his real vocation, after the cultivation of Emma's
society, soon came to be the completion of his great and growing
altar-piece by Carlo Crivelli. What is usually a frigid exercise, a mere
ascertainment that the parts of a scattered ancona are at London, Berlin,
St. Petersburg, Boston, etc.--a patient compilation of measurements,
documents and probabilities; what is generally a mere pretext for a solid
article in a heavy journal--or at best a question of pasting photographs
together in the order the artist intended--Crocker converted into an
eager and most practical pursuit. Bit by bit he gradually reconstituted
his Crivelli in its ancient glory of enamel on gold within its ornate
mouldings. The quest prospered capitally until he stuck hopelessly at the
missing St. Michael. As it stood for a couple of years complete except
for the void where the St. Michael should be, the altar-piece represented
less Crocker's abundant resources than his tireless patience and energy.
He had picked up the first fragment, a slender St. Catherine of
Alexandria demurely leaning upon her spiked wheel, at a provincial
antiquary's in Romagna, not far from where the ancona had been impiously
dismembered. Fortunately the original Gothic frame remained to give a
clue to other panels. Next, word of a Crivelli Madonna with Donors at
Christie's took him posthaste to London. Frame, period and measurements
proved that it was the central panel, and the tiny donors, a husband and
wife with a boy and girl, indicated that the wings had contained two
female and two male saints. Between the St. Lucy (which turned up more
than a year later in an un-heard-of Swedish collection, and was had only
by a hard exchange for a rare Lorenzo Monaco and a plausible Fra
Angelico) and the sumptuous St. Augustine, which was brought to the villa
in a barrow by a little dealer, there was a longer interval. Meanwhile
the frame had been reconstructed, and a niche for the missing saint rose
in melancholy emptiness. A little before the sensational _rencontre_ in
Emma's den, the chance of finding a rude pilgrim woodcut on the Quai
Voltaire revealed the saint's identity. This ugly print informed the
faithful that the "prodigious image" of Our Lady existed in the Church of
the Carmelites at Borgo San Liberale. One might distinguish at the
extreme right of the five compartments a willowy St. Michael in armour,
like Chaucer's Squire in a black-letter folio, or if the identification
had been doubtful, there was the name below in all letters.

When the print was shown to the scheming Harwood over the afternoon
vermouth, he suspended a long discourse on the contemptible fate of being
born an Anglo-Saxon, and it came over him with a blessed shock that Emma
had the missing St. Michael. Penetrated by the joy of the situation, he
hesitated for a moment whether to give the initiative to the man or the
woman. A glance at Crocker's uncompromising sturdiness convinced him that
on that side the situation might be quickly exhausted. Emma he could
trust to do it full justice. Excusing himself abruptly, he made for Frau
Stern's lodgings, and with the taste of Crocker's vermouth still in his
faithless mouth, told her that Emma's Crivelli was no other than the
missing St. Michael. To make matters sure he solemnly bound Frau Stern to
secrecy. That accomplished, he strode whistling down through the purple
twilight to his well-earned _fritto_ at Paoli's. The next day began our
wondering what Emma would do. She did, as is known, a thing that her
simple Knickerbocker ancestresses would have approved--presented Crocker
to the St. Michael and left the decision modestly to the men. Behind the
frankness of her procedure lay, perhaps, a curiosity to see how Crocker
would bear himself in a delicate emergency. It was to be in some fashion
his ordeal. Thus she might at least shake the appalling equanimity with
which he had passed from the stage of comrade to that of suppliant. Not
that she doubted him; nobody did that, but she resented a little in
retrospect his silence on the subject of the great quest. Was it possible
that for these five years he had chatted only about his college pranks,
his fishing trips, his orchards and vineyards, and the views? As she
reviewed their countless walks and teas, it really seemed as if he had
never paid her the compliment of being impersonal. Well, that was ended
now at any rate. A little misgiving filled her that she had never
revealed the presence of the St. Michael to so good a play-fellow. A
delicacy, knowing his incorrigible zeal as a collector, had restrained
her, and then, as Dennis had guessed, her den was her sanctuary,
admission to which implied an intimacy difficult to concede. Whatever the
merits of the case, the rupture had produced in a milieu consumed by the
desire to guess what Emma would do, at least one person who was solely
interested in what Crocker's next move might be. For the first time in a
singularly calculable life he had become an object of genuine curiosity.

He acted with his usual simplicity. To Emma he wrote a brief note
upbraiding her for fearing the voices of the valley, professing his
eagerness to return when the St. Michael had been put out of the
reckoning, and declaring that if it were not soon, he would willy-nilly
come back and see how things were between them. It was a letter that
wounded Emma, yet somehow warmed her, too, and from its reception we
found her in an unwonted attitude of nonconformity to the verdicts of the
valley. She began to speak up in behalf of this or that human specimen
under our diminishing lenses with the unsubtle and disconcerting
bluntness of Morton Crocker himself. The phenomenon kept alive our waning
interest during nearly a year of waiting. As for Crocker he gave it out
ostentatiously that he was bound for a wonderful Cima in Northumbria and
afterward was to try dry-fly fishing on the Itchen. Beyond that he had no
plans. All this was characteristically the truth; he bought the Cima,
wrote of his baskets to Harwood, but stayed away past his melons, his
grapes and his olives. By early winter we heard of him shooting the moose
in New Brunswick, and later planning a system of art education in the
Massachusetts schools, and it was not till the brisk days of March that
we learned the west wind was bringing him our way again.

Meanwhile Emma had acquired a few more grey hairs and had resolutely
declined to dispossess herself of the St. Michael. A couple of months
after Crocker's leave-taking, a note had come to her from Crespi, the
unfrocked priest and consummate antiquarian, who, to the point of
improvising a _chef d'oeuvre_, will furnish anything that this gilded
age demands. Crespi most respectfully begged to represent an urgent
client, a Russian prince, who desired a fine Crivelli. Would the most
gentle Miss Verplanck haply part with hers? The price should be what she
chose to name. It was no question of money, but of obliging a client
whom Crespi could ill afford to disappoint. Emma curtly declined the
offer. The St. Michael was valued for personal reasons and was not for
sale. Six weeks later came a more insidious suggestion. The Director of
the Uffizi, learning that she possessed a masterpiece of a school
sparsely represented in the first Italian gallery, pleading that such an
object should not pass from Italy, and representing a number of generous
art-lovers who desired to add it to the collections under his care, made
the following offer, trusting, however, not to any pecuniary inducement
but to her loyalty as an honorary citizen of Florence. The price named
was something less than the London value, but its acceptance would have
perpetually endowed the victoria, and perhaps--. If the malicious
Harwood had not passed the word that the offer was a ruse of the wily
Crocker, we all believed that she would have accepted. Indeed, we
regretted her obduracy. It would have been such a capital way out, with
no sacrifice of her scruples nor waiver of our collective
impressiveness. So Harwood came in for mild reprehension, the Sage
Dennis remarking with some asperity that when the gods have provided us
with farces, comedies, and tragedies in from one to five acts it is
unseemly to string them out to six or seven.

Early March, then, saw the deadlock unbroken. The St. Michael had not
been dislodged. Emma still was unwavering so far as we knew. We were
unable, had we willed, to divest ourselves of our deterrent attributes.
But the situation had changed to this extent that Crocker was said to be
on his way down to oversee a new system of spring tillage in person.

Emma took his approach with something between terror and an unwonted
resignation. From the day when he had planted himself firmly beside her
fireplace with a boyish wonder at finding himself so much at home, he had
represented the incalculable in her carefully planned life. Declining to
accept the attitude of other people toward her, he had almost upset her
attitude toward herself. He was the first man since the scapegrace cousin
who had neither feared nor yet provoked her sharp tongue. While he
relished her wit, it had always been with an unspoken deprecation of its
cutting edge. He gave her a queer feeling of having allowances made for
her--a condescension that in anybody but this big, likable boy she would
have requited with sarcasm. But against him the _cheveux de frise_ she
successfully presented to the world seemed of no avail. He knew it was
not timber but twigs, and that at worst one was scratched and not
impaled. Day by day she watched the cropping of the long line of flaming
willow plumes that escorted her brook toward the level. The line dwindled
as the shorn pollards gave up their withes to bind the vines to the dwarf
maples. She felt the miles between herself and Crocker lessening, and (at
rare moments) her scruples ready to be garnered for some sweet and
ill-defined but surely serviceable use. But she would not have been Emma
Verplanck if the manner of her not impossible surrender had not troubled
her more than the act itself. Any lack of tact on the part of the
husbandman might still spoil things. She had a whimsical sense that any
one of the flaming willows might refuse its contribution to the vineyard
should the pruner approach with anything short of a persuasive "_con
permesso_."

Crocker's "by your leave" was so far from persuasive that it left her
with a panicky desire to run away--again a new sensation. He wrote:

"DEAR EMMA--

"We have had an endless year to think it over, and the only change on my
side is that I need you more than ever. I will go away for real reasons,
for your reasons, but for no others. If it is only their talk that
separates us, their talk has had twelve good months and shall have no
more. I must see you. May I come tomorrow at the old hour?

"As always yours,

"MORTON CROCKER."

Something between wrath and dismay was the result of this challenge. She
sat down to answer him according to his impudence, and the words would
not come. The greatness of the required sacrifice came over her and
therewith the desire to temporise. The voice of many Knickerbocker
ancestresses spoke in her, and between herself and a real emergency she
interposed the impenetrable buckler of a conventionality. She wrote:

"PENSIOIN SCHALCK, Bad Weisstein, Austrian Tyrol.

"MY DEAR CROCKER--

"It would be pleasant to see you and talk over your trip, but you see by
this address it is for the present impossible. As always,

"Cordially yours,

"EMMA VERPLANCK."

When Crocker found Emma's valley as effectually barred as if a battery
guarded the approaches, he gave way to a deep resentment. Instinctively
hating anything like a trick, to be tricked by Emma at this point was
intolerable. His gloom was such that he confided to the malicious Harwood
a profound disgust with the irreality of the life Italianate. The
_podere_ should be sold as soon as it could be put in order. Such
pictures as the Italian Government coveted, it should keep, the rest
should go to the Museum at Boston. He himself would grow orange trees in
North Cuba where there were things to shoot and, thank heaven, no
civilisation. Harwood came breathlessly to Dennis's with the tale,
gloating openly that there was to be a seventh act if not an eighth.

A long hard day with his bailiff and the peasants restored Crocker's
poise. He looked for the hundredth time over into Emma's valley and
divined her attitude. Dreading an interview, she had left the way open to
parley. She virtually pleaded for a delay. It was a new and, in a way,
delightful sensation to be feared. For the first time in any human
relation he exploited a personal advantage and wrote, addressing Bad
Weisstein:

"DEAREST EMMA--

"You have wanted a delay. Well, you have it--probably a week already.
Make the most of it, for two weeks from this date--I give you time to
recover from your journey--I am coming for tea in the old way. Meanwhile
you can hardly imagine the impatience of

"Yours more than ever,

"MORTON CROCKER."

Whether Crocker or Emma was more miserable during the fortnight even
Dennis could not have told. But there was in his woe something of the
sublime stolidity of the man who is going to stand up to be shot or
reprieved, whereas she suffered the uncertainty of the soldier who has
been drawn to make up the "firing party" for a comrade. She feared that
she would not have courage enough to despatch him, and then she feared
she would. Meantime the days passed, and she woke up one morning with an
odd little shiver reminding her that it was no longer possible to get a
note to him by way of Bad Weisstein. Nor had she the heart to move to a
nearer coign of constructive absence. Of half measures she was, after
all, a foe. Her determination to send Crocker away daily increased, and
the implacable St. Michael seemed to command that course. "You are not
for him. You represent a whole artificial world in which he cannot
breathe. I, the finest incarnation of the most exquisite mannerism of a
bygone time, am your spiritual spouse, and you may not lightly renounce
me. You have devoted yourself to graceful irrealities and must now abide
by your choice." Thus the St. Michael had spoken in a dream in the
troubled hours before daybreak, and when Emma went to her den late the
next morning she confronted him and admitted, "You are right, St.
Michael. It's all true." That afternoon Crocker was coming for tea, and
if her New York aunts could have known, even they would have granted
that, for the second time in a thoroughly selfish life, Emma was
displaying capacities for self-sacrifice.

As Emma and Crocker shook hands that afternoon, one might see that both
had aged a little, but he most. Something of the appealing boyishness
had gone out of his eyes. He had become her contemporary. A certain
moral advantage, too, had passed to his side and she, whose prerogative
it had been to take the leading part, now waited for him to begin. As
if on honour to do nothing abruptly, he sketched his year for her--his
sports and committees, his kinsfolk and hers; their fresh,
invigorating, half-made land. She listened almost in silence until he
turned to her and said:

"With me, Emma, it is and always will be the same. You know that. Has
anything changed with you?"

"I don't think so, Crocker. How can I tell? I'm glad you're here, in
spite of the shabby trick I've played you. Let me say just that I'm
heartily glad to see an old friend."

"No, I must have more than that or less. I want much more than that."

"You want too much. You want more than I can give to anybody. O! Why
can't you see it all? You are alive, even here in Florence but, I, I am
no longer a real person that can love or be loved. Can't you see that I
am only a sensibility that absorbs the sweetness of this valley, a mere
bundle of scruples and fears, a weather-cock veering with the talk of
the rest of them? Think of that and take back what you have thought
about me."

"Emma, you admit a need, and that is very sweet to me. You want some one
to strengthen you against all this that you call the valley. Mightn't
that helper be I?"

"You shan't be committed to anything so hopeless."

"It isn't as hopeless as it seems. The strength of the valley is only in
its weakness, and we shall be strong together."

"I have forgotten how to be strong, for years I have only been clever."

"You'd be dull enough with me as you well know. I can do that for
both. But don't talk as if there were some fate between us. There can
be none except your indifference, and I believe you do care a little
and will more."

"Of course, I care, Crocker, but not as you wish. You have refreshed me
in this opiate air. You have represented the real country I have
exchanged for this illusion, the real life I might have lived had I been
braver or more fortunate. But you can have no part in what I have come to
be. Go, for both our sakes."

"Not for any such reason. I can't surrender my happiness for a phrase; I
can't leave you to these delusions about yourself."

"It is no delusion; I wish it were. It's in my blood and breeding. For
generations my people have lived the unreal life. I am the fine flower of
my race, and in coming to this valley of dreams and this no-life I am
merely fulfilling a destiny--a fate, as you say--and coming to my own."

"But Emma, the worthy Verplancks?"

"No, listen to me. For generations the Verplancks have been what people
expected them to be, incarnate formulas of etiquette and timid living.
They took their colour from the gossiping society in which they seemed to
live. They prudently married other Verplancks, cousins or cousins'
cousins. They hoarded their little fortunes without increasing them, and
if what they called the rabble had not peopled New York and raised the
price of land, which my people were merely too stolid to sell, we should
long ago have gone under in penury. We have led nobody and made nothing,
but have been maintained by stronger forces and persons, toward whom we
have always taken the air of doing a favour. That mistake at least I
shall not make with you, Crocker. I want you to feel the full nullity of
me. As I see you now I have a twinge because my great grandfather, who
was a small banker, would have called yours, who was a farmer--you see I
have looked you up--not 'Mister' but 'My Good Man.'"

For a moment she paused, and Crocker groped for a reply. "All this may be
true, Emma," he said at last, "and yet mean very little to you and me.
Besides, I'm quite willing you should call me your Good Man. In fact, I'd
rather like it."

"You must take me seriously--you shall. I cannot marry. I'm married
already. Dennis says I am. Come and see my bridegroom." And she fairly
dragged the bewildered Crocker into her den and set him once more before
the missing St. Michael.

"There he is, an incarnated weakness and fastidiousness. His hand is too
delicate to draw his own sword. If he really cast out Satan, it must have
been by merely staring him down. His helmet rests with no weight upon his
curled and perfumed locks--his buckles are soft gold where iron should
be. He represents the dull, collective, aristocratic intolerance of
Heaven for the only individualist it ever managed to produce. He pretends
to be a warrior and is as feminine as your St. Catherine. He is the
imperturbable champion of celestial good form, and Dennis, who sees
through things, says he is my spiritual husband. He is the weakest of the
weak and is too strong for you, Crocker."

For a space that seemed minutes they faced each other, Emma excited, with
a diffused indignation that defied impartially the missing St. Michael
and the puzzled man before her; Crocker with a perplexity that renewed
the old boyish expression in his eyes. He seemed to be thinking, and, as
he thought, the tension of Emma's attitude relaxed, she forgot to look at
the St. Michael and wondered at the even, steady patience of the big
likable boy she was dismissing. She pitied him in advance for the futile
argument he must be revolving. She had despatched him as in duty bound
and was both sorry and glad.

But his counterplea when it came was of a disconcerting briefness and
potency. He said very slowly, "Yes, I see it all. There is your spiritual
husband; there are they" (indicating the valley with a sweep of a big
hand), "and there are you, Emma, caught in a web of baffling and false
ideas; and here am I, a real man who loves you, fearing neither the St.
Michael nor them" (another gesture) "nor your doubts. I set myself,
Morton Crocker, your lover, against them all and take my own so."

There was a frightened second in which his sturdy arms closed about her.
There was a little shudder, as the same big hand that had defied the
valley sought her head and pressed it to his shoulder. When Emma at last
looked up the mockery she always carried in her eyes had given place to a
new serenity, and her hand reached up timidly for his.

Crocker and Emma--we now instinctively gave him the precedence--were
inconsiderate enough to remove themselves without making clear the fate
of the no longer missing St. Michael. We still speculated indolently as
to the nature of the afterpiece in which we assumed this ex-hero of our
comedy might yet appear. Then we learned that Emma was to be married
without delay from the stone manor house under the Taconics where her
people had dwelt since patroon days. Only a handful of friends with
Crocker's nearest kin and her inevitable New York aunts were to be
present. These venerable ladies had admitted that in marrying, even
opulently, out of the family, Emma had once more shown velleities of
self-sacrifice. Then we heard of Crocker and Emma on his boat along the
coast "Down East." Later we were shocked by rumours of a canoe trip
through Canadian waterways. Hereupon the usually benevolent Dennis
protested as he glanced approvingly at the well-kept Tuscan landscape.
"Crocker needn't rub it in," he opined. "Why, it's the same scrubby
spruce tree from the Plains of Abraham to James's Bay-and Emma, who hated
being bored! Why, it's marriage by capture; it's barbaric." "It's worse;
it's rheumatic," shuddered Harwood as he declined Marsala and took
whisky. "But he'll have to bring her back to civilisation some time, if
only to hospital. We shall have her again." "He will bring her back, but
we shall never have her again," said Dennis solemnly. "She has renounced
us and all our works." "Renouncing our works isn't so difficult," smiled
Mrs. Dennis, and then the talk drifted elsewhere, to new Emmas who were
just beginning to eat the Tuscan lotus.

Before the year had turned to June again we had nearly forgotten our
runaways, when a quite unusual activity about her villa and Crocker's
warned us that they were coming back. Harwood had seen in transit a box
which he thought corresponded to the St. Michael's stature, but was not
sure. In a few days came a circular note from Crocker through Dennis
saying that they were fairly settled and he glad to see any or all of
us. She, however, was still fatigued by the journey and must for a time
keep her room.

Harwood straightway volunteered to undertake the preliminary
reconnaissance, while Frau Stern engaged to penetrate to Emma herself.

On a beatific afternoon we sat in council on Dennis's terrace awaiting
the envoys. Below, the misty plain rose on and on till it gathered into
an amber surge in Monte Morello and rippled away again through the
Fiesolan hills. Nearer, torrid bell-towers pierced the shimmering reek,
like stakes in a sweltering lagoon. In the centre of all, the great dome
swam lightly, a gigantic celestial buoy in a vaporous sea. The spell that
bound us all was doubly potent that day. The sense of a continuous life
that had made the dome and the belfries an inevitable emanation from the
clean crumbling earth, lulled us all, and we hardly stirred when Harwood
bustled in, saying, "Cheer up. I have seen Crocker, and it isn't there."
"You mean," said the cautious Dennis, "that Crocker still possesses only
the hole, aperture, frame, or niche that the missing St. Michael may yet
adorn." "I only know that it isn't there now," growled Harwood. "I deal
merely in facts, but you may get theories, if you must have them, from
Frau Stern, who heroically forced her way to Emma over Crocker's
prostrate form."

As he spoke we heard Frau Stern's timid, well-meaning ring, and in a
moment her smile filled the archway.

"We don't need to ask if you have news," cried Mrs. Dennis from afar.

"If I haf news. Guess what it is. It is too lovely. You cannot think?
Well, there will be a baby next autumn, what you call it?" "Michaelmas, I
suppose," grunted Harwood through his pipe-smoke and subsided into
indifference.

"All this is most charming and interesting, Frau Stern," expostulated
Dennis, "but, as our enthusiastic friend Harwood delicately hints,
what we really let you go for was to locate the Missing St. Michael."
"I haf almost forgot that," she apologised as she nibbled her
_brioche_, "Emma was so happy. But for the bothersome St. Michael
there is no change. I saw it in what she calls her new den. She
laughed to me and said, 'I cannot let him have it, you see, you would
all say he married me for it.'"

"Bravo!" shouted Dennis and Harwood in unison, and the Sage added with
unction, "So she has not been able to renounce us utterly."

"It is not now for long," rejoined Frau Stern, "it is only to the time we
haf said." "Michaelmas," repeated Harwood disgustedly.

"Yes, that is it," she pursued tranquilly, "Emma told me in confidence,
'To Crocker I cannot give it because of you all, but to our child I may,
and it shall do with it what it will.' Now do you prevail, Misters Dennis
and Harwood?"

"We are a bit downcast but not discomfited," acknowledged Dennis,
while Harwood remained glumly within his smoke. "Emma has escaped us,
but she still pays us the tribute of a subterfuge. It is enough, we
will forgive her, even if her way lies from us dozers here. For to-day
the same sunshine drenches her and us. It is a bond. Let us enjoy it
while we may."



THE LUSTRED POTS


"Haul away, Sam. This is the real thing" came from the depths of the
well. Sam Cleghorn stumbled in the gloom towards the windlass, avoiding
on the way a rude handpump and two heaps of dirt and broken pottery that
sloped threateningly upon the low curb, where balanced a perforated disc
of marble, the great bottom-stone of the well. All these properties
caught a little light from a beam that came through a slit in the wall,
casting most of its uncertain bloom up into a low groined vault, the
heavy round arches of which were separated from squat piers by clumsy
brackets. Outside at the level of the reticulated stone floor one could
hear the rushing of a river. As Cleghorn leaned over the well-mouth
before seizing the crank, a glimmer of yellow light flooded his face and
again came up the hollow impatient cry, "Haul away, Sam. This lot's a
good one, and it's mine." Replying "All right, Dick," Cleghorn bent to
the crank. With much creaking the coils crept along the spindle and the
light burden began to rise jerkily.

     *       *       *       *       *

Although neither the well nor the vaulted cellar chamber belonged to Sam
Cleghorn or to Dick Webb, their presence and actions there were not
surreptitious. Stanton Mayhew, who ignorantly owned the well, had given
them plenary permission to pump and dig, mildly pitying their apparent
lunacy. The palace above was his in virtue of his sensible preference for
living twice as well on the Arno for half the cost on the Hudson. This
rule of two, like so many foreign residents of Florence, he
unquestioningly obeyed, and it constituted practically the whole of his
philosophy and maxims. Hence he was not the man to prize a Tuscan well
dug in the fourteenth century, cleaned perhaps never, and gradually
filled to the brim with what the forwardlooking past benightedly took for
rubbish. So when Cleghorn and Webb made him an overture for the right to
clean the well, he had genially replied, "Why, go ahead, boys, and enjoy
yourselves. It's you who ought to be paid, but for your healths' sake you
really ought to wait till I've punched some decent windows through that
damp cellar wall and let the air in."

If neither Sam nor Dick waited even a day, it was because each was a bit
afraid that the other would begin alone. College mates, collectors both,
they were fast friends in a way and rivals beyond dispute. Their common
taste for antiquity and adequacy of means had made their graduate course
chiefly one of travel. And when travel wore out its novelty they
naturally settled in the easiest, as the least exacting, European city,
occupying two halves of one floor in the same palace. Their apartments
started full, and quickly overflowed with objects of curiosity and
art--all old, for their knowledge was considerable; some fine, for
neither was without taste. But taste neither had in any austere sense,
for they collected art much as a dredge collects marine specimens.
Nothing came amiss to them. Wood, ivory, silver, bronze, marble,
plaster--they repudiated no material or period. Stuffs, glass, pictures,
porcelains, potteries--it was all one to them so the object were old and
rare. Inevitably, then, they had come to primitive pots, and
simultaneously, for they not only watched each other closely, but almost
read each other's minds. And when they came to primitive pots it was
certain that they would beg, borrow, or steal a well, since in old wells,
and cisterns, besides less mentionable places, primitive pots abide. Many
pots were there, as we shall see, from the first, and the maids and
children of the centuries, by way of concealing breakages, have usually
made notable secondary contributions. So when amiable Stanton Mayhew
freely conceded a most ancient well to Cleghorn and Webb, it was like
receiving Pandora's box, with the difference that the well might safely
be opened.

Here had ensued a most delicate negotiation concerning the division of
the spoil. A mathematical partition of the fragmentary material that an
old Italian well contains is extremely difficult if at all possible.
After much debate it was agreed that after they struck pay dirt, each
should dig in turn, each to have the bucketful that came under his trowel
or fingers. Scattered fragments of the same pot and other complications
were to be adjudicated by Mayhew, whose ignorance and disinterestedness
were safe to assume. But the well gave up quantities of noncontentious
matter before Mayhew's services were required. The first five feet had
revealed nothing but fragments of kitchen pottery of our time and a
fairly perfect hoopskirt of Garibaldian date. A little lower had emerged
the skeleton of a cat. Similar tragedies were in evidence, on an average,
at every quarter century of depth. Between the second and third cat, lay
Ginori imitations of Sevres and Wedgewood, scraps too of gilded
glass--the earnest of better things below. Five cats down, some
eighteenth-century apothecary pots, damaged but amenable to repair, had
inaugurated the alternation of buckets under the agreement. It were
tedious to follow the ascending scale of excellence as the digging went
deeper. Enough to say that below the mixed ingredients and the nethermost
cat they found a homogeneous layer of beautiful fourteenth-century
shards, affording many buckets full, and promising delicate adjudication
to the referee.

Before the lustred pots themselves shed a baleful gleam over this
narrative, something should obviously be said about Italian wells and why
they contain pots. Beyond those casually acquired from careless or
secretive servants, there is, if the well be old and of good make, a
certain number of intact pieces put in to serve as a filter. Often a
group of pitchers or similar crocks is imprisoned between the two
bottom-stones. Sometimes there are two such layers. After this filter had
been made there was frequently scattered a bushel or more of small shards
above. From these by careful sorting complete or nearly complete pieces
may be recovered. Through all this mass of whole or broken pottery the
water had to find its way up, for the cement sides of an Italian well are
watertight. Thus, barring the indiscretions of housemaids and cats, the
early Italians drank pure water.

Naturally Cleghorn and Webb were conversant with these refinements of
mediaeval hydraulics. In fact when Webb, the sturdier of the two, hauled
up the bottom-stone all dripping, Cleghorn promptly declared that in the
sense of the contract it was a bucketful; hence his first go at the now
uncovered pots. So heated grew the debate, that finally the grimy
excavators climbed to the upper air and appealed to Mayhew, who promptly
denied the quibble, deciding that stones and pots were not
interchangeable. The diversion drew attention from the great perforated
disc itself, and as the sullen Cleghorn let the exultant Webb down upon
the ancient pots, it lay badly bestowed near the curb on the crumbling
slope of a rubbish heap. And now Cleghorn with bitterness of heart was
reeling up Webb's find. As the coils broadened on the windlass a small
iron bucket rose above the parapet, brimming with something that glinted
metallically under the dirt. Beside the bucket flapped the rude swing in
which the entrances and exits of the partners were made. As Cleghorn
grasped the bail and swung the precious cargo clear of the well, came up
once more the voice of Webb: "Hustle, Old Man, I'm keen to see them, they
feel good."

Good they were indeed. Cleghorn, who for fifteen years had haunted shops
and museums had never seen the like in equal compass. As he took them
cautiously one by one and held them high in the uncertain light, each
revealed a desirable point. Here was a coat of arms, a date, the initial
of an owner. There were grotesque birds and beasts. Differing in form and
colour, the entire lot agreed in possessing that dull early Italian
lustre, which perhaps accidental and less distinguished than that of
Spain, is even dearer in a collector's eyes. They hinted of all enamelled
things that come out of the East--of the peacock reflections of the tiles
of Damascus and Cordova, of the franker polychromy of Rhodian kilns, of
the subtler bloom of the dishes of Moorish Spain, of the brassier glazes
of Minorca and Sicily--all these things lay enticingly in epitome in
these lustred Italian pots, as they glimmered with a furtive splendour.
Yes, they were a good lot, thought Cleghorn as he placed them reverently
on the flagging. It was the find of a lifetime. A man with nothing else
in his cupboard must be mentioned respectfully among collectors from Dan
to Beersheba.

Again the impatient voice of Webb below: "Hurry up, I say. It's getting
cold: the water is gaining."

"All right," called Cleghorn, giving a few strokes of the pump, but never
taking his eyes from the lustred pots. Then as if by a sudden inspiration
he asked, "Any more in that lot, Dick?"

"Not a one," cried Webb jubilantly, "there was just a bucketful and a
squeeze at that. But there may be others beneath. There's another
bottom-stone, and it's your next turn. But why don't you hurry up?"

A scowl passed over Cleghorn's thin face set unswervingly towards the
pots. They glimmered in the shadow with an unholy phosphorescence--green,
blue, carmine, strange purplish browns. So the glittering coils of the
serpent may have bewildered our first Mother. There were other pots
below, reflected Cleghorn, yes, but there never could be again such a
batch as these. And then his dazed eye for a second left the fascinating
pots, and mechanically searched the vaulted chamber. To his excited gaze
the rubbish heaps centring about the curb seemed already in movement. The
massive bottom-stone overhung the parapet, resting only on loose dirt and
shards. With horror he noted that a breath might send it down. If it
slipped, whose were the lustred pots? Against his will the phrase said
itself over and over again throbbingly behind his eyes, and again he
forgot everything in the vision of the lustred pots.

"Damn it, hurry up," came thunderously from below. Cleghorn stumbled with
a curious hesitation between the crank and the poised bottom-stone. The
clumsy movement loosened a handful of shards which went clattering down;
the great stone slid, caught on the parapet, and hung once more in
uncertain oscillation. Profanity unrestrained transpired from the mouth
of the well.

It was a tremulous Cleghorn that sent down the bucket and reeled up an
irate and vociferous Webb. Words abounded without explanations, and blows
seemed possible, when Cleghorn, as it were apologetically raised a
pitcher and a bowl into the shaft of light that came through the
oubliette. "They're all like that, Dick," he protested. "It's your lucky
day. I congratulate you." It was a silenced and mollified Webb that
clutched at the pots, and noted wisely that every one had been brushed by
the peacock's tail. With a kind of pity at last he turned to the
deprecating Cleghorn and said, "That was an awkward business of yours
about the shards, and the bottom-stone there is a pretty sight for a man
who left it so and went down to work under it, but one couldn't wait for
such pots as these. On my soul, Old Man, if you had dumped it all down on
me I could hardly have blamed you."

Welcomed with a loud laugh by its maker, the joke jarred on Cleghorn, who
merely answered, "It's very good of you, Dick, to say so."

"But there may be quite as good ones below," pursued Webb genially.
"We'll rest up a bit and then you have your go and finish the job."

"If you don't mind, Dick, I'd rather not," was the embarrassed answer.
"The fact is I'm too nervous and absentminded for this work." He looked
down into the blackness with a shudder and said. "No, I don't want to go
down there again. One can't tell what might happen there."

"Then you've dropped your nerve. Sorry for it," came from a baffled and
disgusted partner, but as he spoke a smile drew across the broad, amiable
face, and he added insinuatingly, "Then the rest are mine, Old Man?"

"Yes they're yours fast enough."

"It's mighty good of you, Sam. I won't forget it. I'll share sometime on
a good thing like this. I'm all ready to go down again when you've had a
smoke. Only we'll set that stone right and you'll be more careful about
the shards."

"If you'll excuse me, Dick, I'd rather not." Cleghorn looked at his
watch. "You see I ought to be out of these duds already. I have a very
particular tea outside. Didn't I tell you about it? I'll send Mayhew
down to help."

"All right, just as you please," was the indifferent reply. But as
Cleghorn turned up the narrow steps, Webb muttered perplexedly, "To funk
at this point and for a tea! The man is touched or in love."

       *       *       *       *       *

Webb with Mayhew's dispassionate aid made a considerable haul below the
second stone, though in truth there was nothing there to compare with the
first lot. The batch of lustred pots is the pride of his eye, and when it
is suggested that he values them highly he answers, "Well rather, they're
pretty good, you know, and then they nearly cost me a broken head. I was
so keen for them that I set a big stone where it might easily have
tumbled on me." Then the rest of the anecdote, which Cleghorn, in whose
presence it frequently is told, never hears with complete equanimity. The
causes of his uneasiness I do not engage to analyse, for, unlike Webb,
Cleghorn is imaginative and difficult.



THE BALAKLAVA CORONAL


As the dinner wore on endlessly, I consoled myself by the thought of the
Balaklava Coronal. There in the toastmaster's seat was Morrison who had
bought it, at my right loomed Vogelstein who had sold it, far across,
towards the foot of the board, sat the critic Brush in whose presence I
understood the infamous sale had been made. I missed only Sarafoff, the
marvellous peasant-silversmith, who wrought the coronal in his prison
workshop in the Viennese ghetto. Now there was nothing strange about
Vogelstein's selling it, nor yet about Morrison's buying it; only the
making of it by the illiterate Sarafoff and the silence of Brush when it
was sold required explanation. Vogelstein, who breathed heavily beside
me, undoubtedly held the secret. I felt so hopeful that time and the
champagne which we were drinking for the sake of art would give him to me
that I took no pains meanwhile to disturb his elaborate indifference to
my presence.

Between him and me little love was lost. As the editor of a moneylosing
art magazine in the interior, it was my duty occasionally to visit his
galleries. After such visits the remnant of my New England conscience
usually forced me to diminish or actually to spoil many a sale of the
dubious or merely fashionable antiquities in which he dealt. But in the
main my power to harm him was slight. He held in a knowing grip the
strings of his patrons' vanity and taste. So he regarded me with
something between scorn and uneasiness--as a pachyderm might take a
predatory bee. For the sake of my steady production of the honey of free
advertising he forgave a sting from which he was after all immune. At the
beginning of the dinner he had greeted me with what was meant for a
civility and then had relapsed into silence. To escape the loquacity of
my other neighbour I gave myself to parallel observation of Vogelstein
and Morrison--the great dealer and his greater customer.

Both plainly belonged to the same species and it pleased my whim to
symbolise them as a mastodon and a rogue elephant. Morrison, the dreaded
agent and operator, was unquestionably the finer creature. He moved more
precisely and with a sense of wieldy power. His phrases cut where
Vogelstein's merely smote. His bigness had something genial about it. He
looked the amateur, and indeed does not the rogue elephant trample down
villages chiefly for the joy of the affray? One felt that something more
than Morrison's preposterous winnings had been involved in the clashes of
railroads and cataclysms on the exchange which had for years past been
his major recreation. Vogelstein, though evidently of coarser fibre,
belonged to the same formidable breed. The mastodon, we must suppose,
lacked much of the finesse of the rogue elephant of later evolution. And
Vogelstein's Semitism was of the archaic, potent, monumental type. His
abundant fat looked hard. For all the sagging double chin, his jaw
retained the character of a clamp. Among the strong race of art dealers
he was feared. Whole collections not single objects were his quarry. He
paid lavishly, foolishly, counting as confidently on the ignorance and
vanity of his clients, as ever Morrison upon the brute expansion of the
national wealth. But Vogelstein looked and was as completely the
professional as Morrison the amateur. There remained this essential
difference that if nothing could be too big to stagger Vogelstein,
nothing likewise could be too small to deter him. I knew his shop, or
rather his palace, and had observed the relish with which he could shame
a timorous art student into giving three prices for a print. It afforded
him no more pleasure, one could surmise, to impose a false Rembrandt at
six figures upon a wavering iron-master, or, indeed to unload an historic
but rather worthless collection upon Morrison himself. For Vogelstein was
after all of primitive stamp, to wit the militant publican. So he took
toll and plenty, it mattered little where or whence.

To Morrison and Vogelstein no better foil could be imagined than Brush.
If they recalled the tusked monsters that charged in the van of Asiatic
armies, his analogue was the desert horse. Small, spare, sensitive, shy,
his every posture suggested race, training, spirit, and docility. His
_flair_ for classical art had become proverbial. By mere touch he
detected those remarkable counterfeits of Syracusan coins. It was he who
segregated the Renaissance intaglios at Bloomsbury only the winter before
he exposed the composite figurines at Berlin. To him the Balaklava
Coronal must have proclaimed its nullity as far as its red gold could be
seen. For that matter the coronal was a bye-word, and why not? The same
dealers who had landed the more famous Tiara in the Louvre had the
selling of it. The greater museums in Europe and America had refused it
at a bargain. On Fifth Avenue and the Rue Lafitte all the dealers were
joking about the Balaklava Coronal. The name of Sarafoff, its maker, had
even become accepted slang. For a season we "Sarafoffed" our intimates
instead of hoaxing them. And in the face of all this Vogelstein had sold
the Coronal to Morrison under Brush's very nose. It seemed so wholly
incredible that I began counting Vogelstein's heavy respirations, to make
sure I was really awake.

Then the pale, tense mask of Brush--so isolated in the apoplectic row
across the table--calmed me. That he was Vogelstein's or anyone's tool
was unthinkable. Mercenary suspicions, to be sure, had been put about,
but those who knew him merely laughed at such a notion. Vogelstein also
laughed, shaking volcanically within, whenever the Coronal, the
genuineness of which he still maintained, was mentioned. And he always
treated Brush with a curious and almost tender condescension, much in
fact as the mastodon might have regarded that fragile ancestor of the
horse, the five-toed protohippos.

I have neglected to explain that the occasion which brought me at one
table with such major celebrities as Morrison, Vogelstein, and Brush was
a public dinner in behalf of civic art. For just as we find the celestial
compromised by the naughty Aphrodite, so we distinguish two antithetical
sorts of art. There is a bad private art which is produced for dealers
and millionaires and takes care of itself, and there is a virtuous public
art which we hope to have some day and meanwhile has to be taken care of
by special societies. It was one of these that was now dining for the
good of the cause. Under the benevolent eye of Morrison, our acting
president, we had put pompano upon a soup underlaid with oysters, and
then a larded fillet upon some casual tidbit of terrapins. Whereupon a
frozen punch. Thus courage was gained, the consecrated sequence of
sherry, hock, claret and champagne being absolved, for the proper
discussion of woodcock in the red with a famous old burgundy--Morrison's
personal compliment to the apostolate of civic art.

At the dessert, Morrison himself spoke a few words. The little speech
came brusquely from him, and no one who knew his rapacity for the
beautiful could doubt his faith in the universal superlatives he now
advocated. Our art, he held, must weigh with our mills and railroads,
else our life is out of balance. We never grudged millions to burrow
beneath New York for light, or for drink or speed, why then should we
grudge them for the beautiful inutilities that might make the surface of
the city splendid. A craving for fine objects was his own dearest
emotion, he wanted to see cities, states, and the nation ready to spend
with equal fervour. It all came apparently to a matter of spending.
Morrison entertained no doubt that an imperious demand would create an
abundant supply of what he called the best art. Whether we were to
transport bodily the great monuments of Europe to America, or merely were
to supply beauty off our indigenous bat, was not clear from Morrison's
address, and possibly was not wholly so in his own mind. But the talk was
solid and forceful, and I could hear Vogelstein grunt with inward joy
when he contemplated the city, the state, and the nation in their
predicted rôle as customers. I too felt that a real if an incoherent
voice had spoken, and that if civic art were indeed to come, it would be
through such neo-Roman visionaries as Morrison.

Then the mood changed and a willowy, hirsute, and earnest reviver of
tapestry weaving rose and pleaded for the "City Beautiful," castigating
the Philistine the while, and looking forward to a time when "the pomp,
and chronicle of our time should be splendidly committed to illumined
window and pictured wall," with some slight allusion to "those ancient
webs through which the Middle Ages still speak glowingly to us."

About midway in the speech Morrison, who had another public dinner down
the avenue slipped away. As he nodded "See you later perhaps" I marked
the adoring eye and smile of Vogelstein, and then the great folds settled
back into their places about his mouth and my neighbour once more gave an
uneasy attention to the weaver of beautiful phrases, meanwhile drinking
repeated glasses of burgundy. Soon his huge form heaved with an
inarticulate discontent, and as the speaker sat down amid perfunctory
applause Vogelstein snorted twice into the air.

"It is rather absurd, as you say," I ventured.

"It's sickening," wheezed Vogelstein. "Why can't he sell his tapestries
without all that talk?"

"Oh, he enjoys the talk and probably believes it, and you and I do better
after all to hear his talk than to see his tapestries." A mastodonic
chuckle welcomed this mild sally. The burgundy was taking effect.

As the diners rose stiffly or alertly, according to their several grades
of repletion, Vogelstein attached himself to me almost affectionately.
"Do stop in the café and talk to me," he urged. "It's queer, here are a
lot of my customers, some of my artists, besides you literary chaps, and
except Morrison, nobody wants to talk to me. Morrison and I, we
understand each other. It's early yet. Come along with me and talk. I've
wanted to talk to you for a long time, but always was too busy in my
place. You see you writers don't buy, in fact those that know almost
never do. It's really queer."

Knowing the might of burgundy when a due foundation of champagne has been
laid, I hardly took this effusion as personal to myself, but I also saw
no reason, too, why I should not profit by the occasion. "I'll gladly
chat with you, Mr. Vogelstein," I answered, "but you must let me choose
the subject. We will talk about the Balaklava Coronal."

As he led me into the elevator by the arm he whispered "All right, Old
Man, but why? You know just as much as I about it."

There was no chance to reply until he had selected his table and ordered
two Scotches and soda. "Yes, I know something about it," I said at last;
"everyone does apparently except Morrison. I know that Sarafoff made the
Coronal, but I don't know who taught him how to make it, nor yet how
Morrison was idiot enough to buy it, when anybody could have told him
what it was, nor yet how Brush came to let it be sold. These are the
interesting parts of the story, and I'll drink no drink of yours unless
you tell."

At the mention of idiocy in connection with Morrison Vogelstein shuddered
and raised a massive deprecating hand. The gesture was arrested by the
entrance of Brush, who with a slight nod to us passed to a distant
corner. Suddenly Vogelstein's expression had become one beaming,
condescending paternalism. "Good man but impracticable," he muttered.
"Thinks knowing it is everything. Knowing it is something, but selling it
is the real thing. Now I hardly know at all, not a tenth as much as
Brush, not a half as much as you even, but so long as I can sell, I don't
really care to know. What's the use?"

"But you did know about the Balaklava Coronal and you sold it too," I
interrupted. "How did you dare?"

"That's my secret--but here are our drinks. A bargain's a bargain. How
funny it is to be talking truth. Why, much of it would make even your job
difficult."

"And yours impossible, but we're not getting to the Coronal," I insisted.

"As for that," responded Vogelstein obligingly, "the first thing was of
course the making. You know all about Sarafoff yourself. Well, he only
did the work. It was Schönfeld who put in the brains. You don't know him?
Few do. Great man though. University professor of archaeology, trouble
with a woman, next trouble with money, now one of us. Yes Schönfeld
thought it out and saw it through."

"And certainly made a good job of it," I admitted.

"As you see, we wanted something unique--something that could not be
compared with anything in the museums."

"Precisely," I interposed, "Product of the local, semi-barbaric school of
the Crimea."

"You've hit it," grinned Vogelstein. "Scythian influence, to take the
professors. Schönfeld said we must have that. And that's why it had to be
found at Balaklava."

"But it had to look Scythian too. How did you manage that?"

"Oh, that was Sarafoff's business. He had been a servant and then a
novice at one of the monasteries of Mount Athos. Could make beautiful
tenth-century Byzantine madonnas. I've sold some. Then he carved ikons
in wood, ivory, silver, or what came. His things really looked Scythian
enough to those who didn't know their modern Greece and Russia. So we
set him to work in a back alley of Vienna at three kroners a day--double
pay for him--and Schönfeld ran down from Petersburg now and then to
coach him."

"You could trust him?" I inquired, recalling how Sarafoff had
subsequently won fame by confessing to his most famous forgery.

"As much as one can anybody. You see he doesn't speak any civilised
language, and at that time we couldn't tell that the Tiara would spoil
him as it did the entire deal."

"But Schönfeld's coaching?" I suggested. Vogelstein here winked solemnly
and drank deeply from his tall glass. "First I want to tell you all about
Sarafoff," he persisted, "of course we had him watched all the same, and
whenever he got an evening off, which was seldom, we had him filled up
with schnapps. He was a quiet drunk which is an excellent thing, Sir." As
I nodded assent to this great truth, he continued: "Yes Schönfeld, as I
was saying, managed everything. Wonderful scholar. You would respect him
I'm sure. Why, every bit of the pattern of the Coronal was taken from
some real antique, every word of the inscription too." "Wasn't that a bit
dangerous?" "With Schönfeld in charge, not so very. Everything was taken
from little Russian museums that even you critics don't visit. Almost no
published thing was used, you see."

"Then there was Sarafoff"--

"To give it all that quaint Scythian look," Vogelstein added joyously.
"Yes, we had just the best brains and the best hands for the job, and it
was beautiful." "Better than the Tiara?"

"Yes, far better. The Tiara was all a mistake, as I told Schönfeld; it
was too big and too good to be true. Except for Steinbach, who fell in
love with its queerness and chipped in some money, we never could have
sold it to a museum. And it was a bad thing to have it there, it aroused
opposition, it was bound to be exposed. I was always against it, and sure
enough it spoiled the game for us. But the Balaklava Coronal that was
just right. It had a sort of well-bred modest beauty. We should have
begun instead of ending with it. Yes, Sir, there never was a more
beautiful thing, a more plausible thing, a finer object to sell than the
Balaklava Coronal."

As he bellowed the word and beat the table in confirmation, Brush looked
over from his corner apprehensively. "Quietly, Mr. Vogelstein," I hinted,
"this is between ourselves, and we might be overheard."

"That's right," he admitted, and moodily lit another cigar. "Where were
we?" he asked uneasily. "Oh yes, we were at the Tiara. Now the Coronal
and what we could have sold on the strength of it was worth ten of the
Tiara, and if it hadn't been for the cursed thing, we could have landed
the Coronal as a starter in any one of half a dozen museums."

"As a matter of fact they were all shy of it."

"Of course. Once the Tiara was being looked into, the museum game was up,
and there was only Morrison left." Vogelstein lurched around nervously.
"He may drop in soon," he explained. "I'd like to make you acquainted."

Ignoring the offer, I persisted, "You've got to the interesting point
at last. Tell me why there was only Morrison left. To begin with
Morrison knows something about such matters, and next he can have the
best advice for the asking. And yet you tell me that Morrison was the
only great collector in the world to whom that notoriously false bauble
could be sold."

Vogelstein swayed uncomfortably in his chair, puffed, swallowed, cleared
his throat, and said, "There are some things one can't say right out; you
know that as well as I, but I can say this: there are many great and
enterprising collectors in America, and Morrison is the only one who
never doubts anything he has once bought."

"An ideal client then."

"Quite so. You see the others get worried by the critics. That means
exchanging, refunding--all sorts of trouble."

"But Morrison never?"

"Never; he's a true sport. He never squeals."

"Doesn't have to because he doesn't know he's hurt."

"That's right," concluded Vogelstein, his face corrugating into one
ample, contented smile.

"Then the big game reduces itself into selling to Morrison."

"That's more or less it, Sir. For a critic you have a business head."

"You will excuse a rather personal question, but how do you feel about
selling your best customer at enormous prices objects which you know to
be false?"

"It's a fair question since we are talking between ourselves, and you
shall have a straight answer. First my business isn't just a nice one. In
the nature of the case it wouldn't do for sensitive people. I suppose you
and Brush, for instance, couldn't and wouldn't make much out of it. Then
as regards Morrison, I'm not so sure he could complain if he knew. I give
him the things he likes and the treatment he likes at the prices he
likes. What more can any merchant do?"

I saw the subject rapidly exhausting itself and tried one more tack.
"Yes, it's simpler than I supposed," I admitted, "but it doesn't seem
quite an every-day thing to sell the Balaklava Coronal to anybody under
Brush's nose."

"It's easier than you think," echoed Vogelstein. "You don't know
Morrison. Hope he'll look in to-night. You ought to meet him."

My last bolt was shot. It was my turn to sit silent and drink. What could
be this strange infatuation of the hardheaded Morrison, this avowedly
simple magic of the grossly cunning Vogelstein? As I pondered the case I
noticed Brush give a startled glance towards the entrance, heard heavy
steps behind us, and then a deep voice saying, "Hallo again, Vogelstein,
I'm lucky not to be too late to catch you."

Vogelstein lumbered to his feet and muttered an introduction. We all took
our seats, as the headwaiter bustled obsequiously up to take Morrison's
order of champagne. As if also obeying Morrison's nod, but reluctantly,
Brush crawled over from his corner, a scarcely deferential attendant
transporting his lemonade.

While casual greetings and some random talk went on I tried to picture
the scene we must present. Neither Brush nor myself is contemptible
physically or in other ways, yet we both seemed curiously the inferiors
of these troglodytic giants. Our scruples, the voluntary complication of
our lives, seemed to constitute at least a disadvantage when measured
against the primitiveness, perhaps the rather brutal simplicity, of our
companions.

It was Morrison who cut these reflections short. "You will excuse me,
gentlemen," he said, "for introducing a matter of business here, but the
case is pressing and it may even interest you as critics of art." We
nodded permission and he continued, "It's about the Bleichrode Raphael,
as of course you know, Vogelstein. I like it, I want it, but I hear all
sorts of things about it, and frankly it strikes me as dear at the price.
How do you feel about it?"

At the mention of the Bleichrode Raphael, Brush and I started. The
forgery was more than notorious. The Bleichrode panel had begun life
poorly but honestly as a Franciabigio--a portrait of an unknown
Florentine lad with a beretta, the type of which Raphael's portrait of
himself is the most famous example. The picture hung long in a private
gallery at Rome and was duly listed in the handbooks. One day it
disappeared and when it once more came to light it had become the
Bleichrode Raphael. Its Raphaelisation had been effected, as many of us
knew, by the consummate restorer Vilgard of Ghent, and for him the task
had been an easy one. It had needed only slight eliminations and discreet
additions to produce a portrait of Raphael by himself far more obviously
captivating than any of the genuine series. Soon the picture vanished
from Schloss Bleichrode, and it became anybody's guess what amateur had
been elected to become its possessor. The museums naturally were
forewarned.

While this came into Brush's memory and mine, Vogelstein's
countenance had become severe, almost sinister, and he was answering
Morrison as follows:

"Mr. Morrison, I have offered you the Bleichrode Raphael for half a
million dollars. You will hear all sorts of gossip about it. Doubtless
these gentlemen (indicating us) believe it is false and will tell you
so (we nodded feebly). But I offer it not to their judgment but to
yours. You and I know it is a beautiful thing and worth the money. I
make no claims, offer no guarantee for the picture. You have seen it,
and that's enough. If you don't want it, it makes no difference to me,
I can sell it to Theiss (the great Parisian amateur, Morrison's only
real rival), or I will gladly keep it myself, for I shall never have
anything as fine again."

Morrison sat impassively while Vogelstein watched him narrowly. Brush and
I felt for something that ought to be said yet would not come. At the end
of his speech, or challenge, Vogelstein's expression had softened into
one of the most courtly ingenuousness, now it hardened again into a
strange arrogance. His eyes snapped as he continued with affected
indifference, "Since you have raised the question, Mr. Morrison, the
Bleichrode Raphael is yours to take or leave--to-night."

There was a pause as the two giants faced each other. Then Morrison
smiled beamingly, as one who loved a good fighter, and said, "Send it
round tomorrow, of course I want it. Well, that's settled, and if these
gentlemen will spare you, I'll give you a lift down town."

Vogelstein's arrogance melted once more into fulsomeness as he said,
almost forgetting his Goodnight to us, "I'm sure it's very good of you,
Mr. Morrison."

The forms of Morrison and Vogelstein almost blocked the generous
intercolumnar space as shoulder to shoulder they moved away between the
yellow marble pillars and under the green and gold ceiling. The brown
leather doors swung silently behind them, and we were left together with
our amazement.

"Never mind, Old Fellow," said Brush at last. "It's the first time for
you. You'll get used to it. It's my second time; I happened to be there,
you know, when the Balaklava Coronal was sold."



SOME REFLECTIONS ON ART COLLECTING


Morally considered, the art collector is tainted with the fourth deadly
sin; pathologically, he is often afflicted by a degree of mania. His
distinguished kinsman, the connoisseur, scorns him as a kind of
mercenary, or at least a manner of renegade. I shall never forget the
expression with which a great connoisseur--who possesses one of the
finest private collections in the Val d'Arno--in speaking of a famous
colleague, declared, "Oh, X----! Why, X---- is merely a collector." The
implication is, of course, that the one who loves art truly and knows it
thoroughly will find full satisfaction in an enjoyment devoid alike of
envy or the desire of possession He is to adore all beautiful objects
with a Platonic fervour to which the idea of acquisition and
domestication is repugnant. Before going into this lofty argument, I
should perhaps explain the collection of my scornful friend. He would
have said: "I see that as I put X---- in his proper place, you look at my
pictures and smile. You have rightly divined that they are of some
rarity, of a sort, in fact, for which X---- and his kind would sell their
immortal souls. But I beg you to note that these pictures and bits of
sculpture have been bought not at all for their rarity, nor even for
their beauty as such, but simply because of their appropriateness as
decorations for this particular villa. They represent not my energy as a
collector, nor even my zeal as a connoisseur, but simply my normal
activity as a man of taste. In this villa it happens that Italian old
masters seem the proper material for decoration. In another house or in
another land you might find me employing, again solely for decorative
purposes, the prints of Japan, the landscapes of the modern
impressionists, the rugs of the East, or the blankets of the Arizona
desert. Free me, then, from the reproach implied in that covert leer at
my Early Sienese." Yes, we must, I think, exclude from the ranks of the
true zealots all who in any plausible fashion utilise the objects of art
they buy. Excess, the craving to possess what he apparently does not
need, is the mark of your true collector. Now these visionaries--at least
the true ones--honour each other according to the degree of "eye" that
each possesses. By "eye" the collector means a faculty of discerning a
fine object quickly and instinctively. And, in fact, the trained eye
becomes a magically fine instrument. It detects the fractions of a
millimetre by which a copy belies its original. In colours it
distinguishes nuances that a moderately trained vision will declare
non-existent. Nor is the trained collector bound by the evidence of the
eye alone. Of certain things he knows the taste or adhesiveness. His ear
grasps the true ring of certain potteries, porcelains, or qualities of
beaten metal. I know an expert on Japanese pottery who, when a sixth
sense tells him that two pots apparently identical come really from
different kilns, puts them behind his back and refers the matter from his
retina to his finger-tips. Thus alternately challenged and trusted, the
eye should become extraordinarily expert. A Florentine collector once saw
in a junk-shop a marble head of beautiful workmanship. Ninety-nine
amateurs out of a hundred would have said. "What a beautiful copy!" for
the same head is exhibited in a famous museum and is reproduced in
pasteboard, clay, metal, and stone _ad nauseam_. But this collector gave
the apparent copy a second look and a third. He reflected that the
example in the museum was itself no original, but a school-piece, and as
he gazed the conviction grew that here was the original. Since it was
closing time, and the marble heavy, a bargain was struck for the morrow.
After an anxious night, this fortunate amateur returned in a cab to bring
home what criticism now admits is a superb Desiderio da Settignano. The
incident illustrates capitally the combination of keenness and patience
that goes to make the collector's eye.

We may divide collectors into those who play the game and those who do
not. The wealthy gentleman who gives _carte blanche_ to his dealers and
agents is merely a spoilsport. He makes what should be a matter of
adroitness simply an issue of brute force. He robs of all delicacy what
from the first glow of discovery to actual possession should be a fine
transaction. Not only does he lose the real pleasures of the chase, but
he raises up a special clan of sycophants to part him and his money. A
mere handful of such--amassers, let us say--have demoralised the art
market. According to the length of their purses, collectors may also be
divided into those who seek and those who are sought. Wisdom lies in
making the most of either condition. The seekers unquestionably get more
pleasure; the sought achieve the more imposing results. The seekers
depend chiefly on their own judgment, buying preferably of those who know
less than themselves; the sought depend upon the judgment of those who
know more than themselves, and, naturally, must pay for such vicarious
expertise. And, rightly, they pay dear. Let no one who buys of a great
dealer imagine that he pays simply the cost of an object plus a generous
percentage of profit. No, much-sought amateur, you pay the rent of that
palace in Bond Street or Fifth Avenue; you pay the salary of the
gentlemanly assistant or partner whose time is at your disposal during
your too rare visits; you pay the commissions of an army of agents
throughout the world; you pay, alas! too often the cost of securing false
"sale records" in classic auction rooms; and, finally, it is only too
probable that you pay also a heavy secret commission to the disinterested
friend who happened to remark there was an uncommonly fine object in
Y----'s gallery. By a cheerful acquiescence in the suggestions that are
daily made to you, you may accumulate old masters as impersonally, as
genteelly, let me say, as you do railway bonds. But, of course, under
these circumstances you must not expect bargains.

Now, in objects that are out of the fashion--a category including always
many of the best things--and if approached in slack times, the great
dealers will occasionally afford bargains, but in general the
economically minded collector, who is not necessarily the poor one, must
intercept his prey before it reaches the capitals. That it makes all the
difference from whom and where you buy, let a recent example attest. A
few years ago a fine Giorgionesque portrait was offered to an American
amateur by a famous London dealer. At $60,000 the refusal was granted for
a few days only, subject to cable response. The photograph was tempting,
but the besought amateur, knowing that the authenticity of the average
Giorgione is somewhat less certain than, say, the period of the Book of
Job, let the opportunity pass. A few months after learning of this
incident, I had the pleasure of meeting in Florence an English amateur
who expatiated upon the beauty of a Giorgione that he had just acquired
at the very reasonable price of $15,000. For particulars he referred me
to one of the great dealers of Florence. The portrait, as I already
suspected, was the one I had heard of in America. Forty-five thousand
dollars represented the difference between buying it of a Florentine
rather than a London dealer. Of course, the picture itself had never left
Florence at all, the limited refusal and the rest were merely part of the
usual comedy played between the great dealer and his client. On the other
hand, if the lucky English collector had had the additional good fortune
to make his find in an Italian auction room or at a small dealer's, he
would probably have paid little more than $5,000, while the same purchase
made of a wholly ignorant dealer or direct from the reduced family who
sold this ancestor might have been made for a few hundred francs. With
the seekers obviously lie all the mystery and romance of the pursuit. The
rest surely need not be envied to the sought. One thinks of Consul J.J.
Jarves gradually getting together that little collection of Italian
primitives, at New Haven, which, scorned in his lifetime and actually
foreclosed for a trifling debt, is now an object of pilgrimage for
European amateurs and experts. One recalls the mouse-like activities of
the Brothers Dutuit, unearthing here a gorgeous enamel, retrieving there
a Rembrandt drawing, fetching out a Gothic ivory from a junk-shop. One
sighs for those days, and declares that they are forever past. Does not
the sage M. Eudel warn us that there are no more finds--_"Surtout ne
comptez plus sur les trouvailles."_ Yet not so long ago I mildly chid a
seeker, him of the Desiderio, for not having one of his rare pictures
photographed for the use of students. He smiled and admitted that I was
perfectly right, but added pleadingly, "You know a negative costs about
twenty francs, and for that one may often get an original." Why, even I
who write--but I have promised that this essay shall not exceed
reasonable bounds.

For the poor collector, however, the money consideration remains a source
of manifold embarrassment, morally and otherwise. How many an enthusiast
has justified an extravagant purchase by a flattering prevision of
profits accruing to his widow and orphans? Let the recording angel reply.
And such hopes are at times justified. There have been instances of men
refused by the life insurance companies who have deliberately adopted the
alternative of collecting for investment, and have done so successfully.
Obviously, such persons fall into the class which the French call
charitably the _marchand-amateur_. Note, however, that the merchant comes
first. Now, to be a poor yet reasonably successful collector without
becoming a _marchand-amateur_ requires moral tact and resolution. The
seeker of the short purse naturally becomes a sort of expert in prices.
As he prowls he sees many fine things which he neither covets nor could
afford to keep, but which are offered at prices temptingly below their
value in the great shops. The temptation is strong to buy and resell.
Naturally, one profitable transaction of this sort leads to another, and
soon the amateur is in the attitude of "making the collection pay for
itself." The inducement is so insidious that I presume there are rather
few persistent collectors not wealthy who are not in a measure dealers.
Now, to deal or not to deal might seem purely a matter of social and
business expediency. But the issue really lies deeper. The difficulty is
that of not letting your left hand know what your right hand does. A
morally ambidextrous person may do what he pleases. He keeps the dealer
and collector apart, and subject to his will one or the other emerges.
The feat is too difficult for average humanity. In nearly every case a
prolonged struggle will end in favour of the commercial self. I have
followed the course of many collector-dealers, and I know very few
instances in which the collection has not averaged down to the level of a
shop--a fine shop, perhaps, but still a shop. I blame no man for
following the wide road, but I feel more kinship with him who walks
scrupulously in the narrow path of strict amateurism. Let me hasten to
add that there are times when everybody must sell. Collections must
periodically be weeded out; one may be hard up and sell his pictures as
another in similar case his horses; artists will naturally draw into
their studios beautiful objects which, occasion offering, they properly
sell. With these obvious exceptions the line is absolutely sharp. Did you
buy a thing to keep? Then you are an amateur, though later your
convenience or necessity dictates a sale. Did you buy it to sell? Then
you are a dealer.

The safety of the little collector lies in specialisation, and there,
too, lies his surest satisfaction. To have a well-defined specialty
immediately simplifies the quest. There are many places where one need
never go. Moreover, where nature has provided fair intelligence, one must
die very young in order not to die an expert. As I write I think of
D----, one of the last surviving philosophers. Born with the instincts of
a man of letters, he declined to give himself to the gentler pursuit
until he had made a little competence at the law. As he followed his
disinterested course of writing and travel, his enthusiasm centred upon
the antiquities of Greece and Rome. In the engraved gems of that time he
found a beautiful epitome of his favourite studies. For ten years study
and collecting have gone patiently hand in hand. He possesses some fifty
classical gems, many of the best Greek period, all rare and interesting
from material, subject, or workmanship, and he may have spent as many
dollars in the process, but I rather doubt it. He knows his subject as
well as he loves it. Naturally he is writing a book on intaglios, and it
will be a good one. Meanwhile, if the fancy takes him to visit the site
of the Bactrian Empire, he has only to put his collection in his pocket
and enjoy it _en route_. I cannot too highly commend his example, and yet
his course is too austere for many of us. Has untrammelled curiosity no
charms? Would I, for example, forego my casual kakemonos, my ignorantly
acquired majolica, some trifling accumulation of Greek coins, that
handful of Eastern rugs? Could I prune away certain excrescent minor
Whistlers? those bits of ivory cutting from old Italy and Japan? those
tarnished Tuscan panels?--in truth, I could and would not. Yet had I
stuck to my first love, prints, I should by this time be mentioned
respectfully among the initiated, my name would be found in the
card-catalogues of the great dealers, my decease would be looked forward
to with resignation by my junior colleagues. As it is, after twenty years
of collecting, and an expenditure shameful in one of my fiscal estate, I
have nothing that even courtesy itself could call a collection. In
apology, I may plead only the sting of unchartered curiosity, the
adventurous thrill of buying on half or no knowledge, the joy of an
instinctive sympathy that, irrespective of boundaries, knows its own when
it sees it. And you austerely single-minded amateurs, you experts that
surely shall be, I revere if I may not follow you.

We have left dangling from the first paragraph the morally important
question, Is collecting merely an habitual contravention of the tenth
commandment? Now, I am far from denying that collecting has its
pathology, even its criminology, if you will. The mere lust of
acquisition may take the ugly form of coveting what one neither loves nor
understands. This pit is digged for the rich collector. Poor collectors,
on the other hand, have at times forgotten where enterprise ends and
kleptomania begins. But these excesses are, after all, rare, and for that
matter they are merely those that attach to all exaggerations of
legitimate passion. As for the notion that one should love beautiful
things without desiring them, it seems to me to lie perilously near a
sort of pseudo-Platonism, which, wherever it recurs, is the enemy of life
itself. As I write, my eye falls upon a Japanese sword-guard. I have seen
it a thousand times, but I never fail to feel the same thrill. Out of the
disc of blued steel the artisan has worked the soaring form of a bird
with upraised wings. It is indicated in skeleton fashion by bars
extraordinarily energetic, yet suavely modulated. There must have been
feeling and intelligence in every touch of the chisel and file that
wrought it. Could that same object seen occasionally in a museum showcase
afford me any comparable pleasure? Is not the education of the eye, like
the education of the sentiments, dependent upon stable associations that
can be many times repeated? Shall I seem merely covetous because I crave
besides the casual and adventurous contact with beauty in the world, a
gratification which is sure and ever waiting for me? But let me cite
rather a certain collector and man of great affairs, who perforce spends
his days in adjusting business interests that extend from the arctic
snows to the tropics. His evenings belong generally to his friends, for
he possesses in a rare degree the art of companionship. The small hours
are his own, and frequently he spends them in painting beautiful copies
of his Japanese potteries. It is his homage to the artisans who contrived
those strange forms and imagined those gorgeous glazes. In the end he
will have a catalogue illustrated from his own designs. Meanwhile, he
knows his potteries as the shepherd knows his flock. What casuist will
find the heart to deny him so innocent a pleasure? And he merely
represents in a very high degree the sort of priestliness that the true
collector feels towards his temporary possessions.

And this sense of the high, nay, supreme value of beautiful things, has
its evident uses. That the beauty of art has not largely perished from
the earth is due chiefly to the collector. He interposes his
sensitiveness between the insensibility of the average man and the always
exiled thing of beauty. If we have in a fractional measure the art
treasures of the past, it has been because the collector has given them
asylum. Museums, all manner of overt public activities, derive ultimately
from his initiative. It is he who asserts the continuity of art and
illustrates its dignity. The stewardship of art is manifold, but no one
has a clearer right to that honourable title. "Private vices, public
virtues," I hear a cynical reader murmur. So be it. I am ready to stand
with the latitudinarian Mandeville. The view makes for charity. I only
plead that he who covets his neighbour's tea-jar--I assume a desirable
one, say, in old brown Kioto--shall be judged less harshly than he who
covets his neighbour's ox.





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