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Title: An Art Shop in Greenwich Village
Author: Cummings, Ray
Language: English
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By Ray Cummings

The little shop was dimly lighted—a lurid red glow at one side and a
faint amber radiance from above. For a moment I stood looking around
uncertainly—at the slovenly display-cases and tables, the unframed
paintings on the walls, and the long shelves crowded with curios.

“Perhaps something in particular the _señor_ would wish?” suggested
the little old man ingratiatingly.

I glanced back into the black shadow that shrouded the farther end
of the room, and then turned to meet the snakelike little eyes that
were roving over my figure appraisingly.

I shook my head. “No,” I said; “nothing in particular.”

The little old man straightened his bent back with an effort,
reaching a skinny hand toward the shelf above his head.

“The _señor_ plays chess, perhaps?” His hand held a little white
figure carved in ivory; he dusted it off against the faded black of
his coat-sleeve. “A wonderful game, _señor_. This set is of the
Moors—they carve superb in ivory, the Moors. Perhaps in the London
Museum of Victoria and Albert the _señor_ has seen the work before?”

“No,” I said, and moved away down the length of the table. “I lived
in Spain a year. Your place interests me.”

He laid aside the ivory figure and followed me down the room with
feeble steps; I noticed then that one of his feet dragged as he
walked. It was peculiarly unpleasant—indeed the whole personality of
this decrepit little old man seemed unpleasant and repulsive. I
stopped in the red glow of an iron lantern that hung from a bracket
upon the wall.

“I lived in Spain a year,” I repeated. “That is why, when I saw your
sign, I stopped in to look around.”

He stood beside me, looking up into my face, his head shaking with
the palsy of old age, his eyes gleaming into mine.

“In _España_ you have lived, eh?” The thin, cracked treble of his
voice came from lips that parted in a toothless smile. “That is
good—very good, _señor_.”

“In Granada,” I added briefly.

He put a shaking hand upon my arm; involuntarily I drew back from
his touch.

“The _señor_ has lived in Granada! My birthplace, _señor_—yet for
fifteen years have I been here in your New York. Fifteen years,
selling here the treasures of _España_. You have lived in
Granada—ah, then, _señor_, the Alhambra you have seen?”

“Yes,” I said, “of course.”

He picked up a little vase from the table before us. The fire of
patriotism that for an instant had lighted his face was gone;
cupidity marked it instead.

“The _señor_ perhaps is interested in ceramics?” His voice was
almost a whine. “The great Alhambra vase—greatest example of the
ceramic art of the Moors in all the world—here is its miniature,
_señor_. See—gazelles in cream and golden luster upon a blue field.

“And there—over there you see a Moorish plate, painted with a luster
of blue and copper. And there—the golden pottery of Malaga—you have
heard of that, _señor_? _Madre miu_, what beautiful pottery they
made—those Musselmen of Malaga!” He pointed at the lower shelf. “See
it gleam, _señor_ like purest gold. But to you, _señor_, you who
have been to _España_—because we understand these things, you and
I—will I sacrifice my treasure.”

“No,” I said. “The price does not matter.”

On the wall, above the red glow of the lantern, hung an unframed
canvas. In the amber light that shone on it from above I could see
its great splashes of color—the glittering, gaudy parade of a

“That painting there,” I asked—“what is that?”

Again he put his hand upon my arm, and I felt myself shiver in the
close, warm air of the room.

“The _señor_ perhaps is rich?” His voice came hardly above a
whisper; he strained upward toward my face as though to exchange
some darkly mysterious secret. _Un Americano rico_,” he said, “and
the money perhaps does not matter?”

“Perhaps,” I said, and shook off his hold upon my arm.

“If that be so, _señor_, there are many among my treasures I could

“I have no money with me to-night,” I said.

He raised his hand deprecatingly. “Naturally, _señor_. We understand
each other. To have money in the pocket—it makes no importance if
one understands.”

I glanced up again at the vivid, colorful bull-ring pictured upon
the wall. His eyes followed mine.

“Francisco Goya,” he said. “Greatest in _España_ to follow the great

“You mean that is an original Goya?” I exclaimed.

His voice fell again to whining. “Ah, _señor_, no more can I tell
you than they told to me. You, perhaps, who are of the art a
judge—you can say if indeed it is of Goya.”

He waited, but I did not answer.

“A person very droll, _señor_—the great Goya. A fighter in the
bull-ring once, before he took the brush. And with the women—_Madre
mia_, how they loved him—those women in the court of the fourth
Charles! He painted well, _señor_. And his pictures of the
bull-ring—like that, _señor_”—his hands went up as though in
benediction—“there are none better.”

I stood for a moment looking up at the painting.

“If the _señor_ wishes,” he added softly, “it troubles me not to
take it down.”

I shook my head, “A realist, this Goya,” I said.

“He had no heart, _señor_. What he saw he painted without pity. He
was, as you would say, a satirist.”

I had no idea that the painting before me was genuine—nor indeed did
I much care. But this little, withered old man, and his musty,
cobweb-laden shop, had about them something vaguely sinister that
fascinated me—a subtle sense of mystery I could not escape.

“I have studied art,” I said. “You interest me.”

Again I met his glittering eyes, and it struck me then, I think for
the first time, that there was in them a light that was not the
light of reason.

For an instant I could see him hesitate, and then as though he had
reached a sudden decision, he motioned me to a chair and seated
himself, facing me in the red glow of the lantern overhead.

“The _señor_ is very young,” he began softly; again he hesitated,
glancing swiftly over his shoulder as if to reassure himself that
there was no one else in the room. “Very young, _señor_, but
also—shall we say —very rich?”

His eyes were fastened upon mine; the red beam from the lantern
lighted his hollow cheeks with a weird, unearthly light. I took off
my hat and laid it on the table at my side.

“That need not concern us,” I said.

“_Muy bien, señor_. We understand each other _segurimente_. Of the
character I am judge—for I am an old _señor_, and many people have I

He pulled a watch from his pocket. “The hour is late. No one comes
to buy.” He rose to his feet and locked the door that led to the

“That is better, _señor_.” He came back toward me with his
tottering, dragging step, and switched off the amber light in the
ceiling. “The _señor_ will remove his storm-coat?”

I laid my overcoat on the table and sat again in the little wicker
chair. The shadows of the room were close around us now. In the
heavy red of the light I could see only a corner of the table and
the shaking figure of the little old man as he sat facing me. Behind
him the solid blackness had crept up like a wall.

“_Bien, señor_. That is well. Now we talk.”

I felt my pulse quicken a little; but I held my gaze firm to his.

“Only to you, _señor_, would I say what now you shall hear.” His
glance shifted upward into the darkness, then back again to mine.

“Francisco Goya, Velasquez, Sorolla y Bastida—all these great men of
_España_ are known to the _señor_. Is it not so?”

I nodded.

“But one there is—we shall call him Pedro Vasquez y Carbajál—of him
the _señor_ has never heard?”

“No,” I said; “I have never heard of him.”

He leaned forward in his chair again; his locked fingers in his lap
writhed upon each other like little twisting snakes.

“A wonderful painter, _señor_, for he knew the secret to put life
upon his canvas.” His voice fell to a sibilant whisper.

“Vasquez y Carbajál,” I replied. “No, I never heard of him.”

“Only one picture, _señor_, to make him famous. Very old he is, this
Vasquez. One picture to make him famous. Five years it has taken
him. Five years of working—working—” His voice trailed off into

“Yes?” I prompted.

His head had sunk to his breast; he raised it with a start at my
word. The fire came back to his eyes; he sat up rigid in his chair.

“A picture of the kind none other could paint, _señor_. The secret
to put life upon canvas. Is that not droll?” His querulous, half
maniacal laughter echoed across the shadowed room. “From the mortal
living, _señor_, we take the life, and upon the canvas we make it

I pushed my chair backward violently, half starting to my feet.

“Stay, _señor_.” He raised his hand, pointing a finger at me. “You who
are of the art a judge—you would see this painting, no? This picture
by the great Vasquez that soon will be seen by all the world?”

He laughed again—an eery laugh that chilled my blood.

“One moment, _señor_—one little moment, and your eyes shall see that
which they have never seen before.” He rose to his feet unsteadily.
“Life upon canvas, _señor_. And beauty—vivid and real to make your
pulses beat strong.”

I stood beside him under the lantern.

“We shall look upon it together, you and I.” He raised a hand
apologetically. “That is, of course—if the _señor_ desires.” The
mystery his words implied appealed to me—I was in my twenties
then—and to the spirit of adventure that has always been strong in
me. It was chicanery, I knew, but interesting, and I would see it

“Very well,” I said. “I will look at your painting.”

In silence I followed him into the shadows of the back of the room.

“Careful, _señor_—a chair is here.”

He suddenly drew aside a curtain in the darkness, and we stepped
into a dim hallway, with a narrow flight of stairs leading to the
floor above.

“I shall go in front, _señor_. You will follow. The way is not long,
and there is light.”

The stairs were narrow and uncarpeted; they creaked a little under
our tread. On the landing a window stood partly open, its shade
flapping in the wind. The snow on the ledge outside had drifted in
over the sill.

We stopped on the landing, and the old man closed the window softly.

“We speak not so loud now, _señor_, so—” He broke off abruptly. “It
is better we speak not so loud now,” he finished.

At the top of the stairs we turned back and passed through a doorway
into a room that evidently was immediately over the one we had just

It was a room perhaps thirty feet in length and half as broad. My
first impression as I stepped over the threshold was that I had
stepped across the world—in one brief instant transported from the
bare, ramshackle, tumbledown Bohemianism of Greenwich Village, into
the semibarbaric, Levantine splendor of some Musselman ruler. The
room was carpeted with Oriental rugs; its walls were hung with
tapestries; its windows shrouded with portieres. Moorish
weapons—only symbols now of the Mohammedan reign over
Spain—decorated the walls. Two couches were piled high with vividly
colored pillows.

The rugs and all the hangings were somber in tone. The whole room
bore an air of splendid, lavish luxury; and yet there was about it
something oppressive—a brooding silence, perhaps, or the heavy scent
of incense.

“My room of work, _señor_,” said the little old man softly, closing
the door behind us.

I noticed then that there was one other door to the room, in the
side wall near the front where there were two very large windows
almost like a side skylight; and that this other door stood slightly

There was a huge fireplace with a blazing log-fire. I think that
without its cheery crackle the oppressive feeling of mystery that
hung over the room would have been almost unbearable.

“We shall have more light, _señor_.” The room was lighted only by a
wavering yellow glow from the fire. He touched a switch, and from
above came a flood of rose-colored light that bathed us in its
sensuous warmth.

Over by the windows a large canvas, its face covered with a cloth,
stood upon an easel; in front of the easel, nearer the side of the
room, by the fireplace, I saw there was a model stand—a small board
platform resting on the floor.

“You have a luxurious workshop,” I said casually.

The little old man looked over the room with an appraising,
approving eye.

“One must have one’s ease, _señor_, when one creates.” He turned
another switch, and a long row of hooded electric bulbs across the
top of the windows cast their brilliant light directly downward upon
the shrouded canvas.

“Come here,” he said. The whine had left his voice. He spoke the
words as though now unconsciously he had slipped into the role of
master, displaying to his pupil a great work of art.

He grasped me by the coat-sleeve, pulling me forward until I stood
with my back against the portieres, and faced the shrouded canvas.
Then abruptly he jerked down the cloth, and in the brilliant white
glare from overhead the painting stood revealed.

I stared at the canvas. What I expected to see I do not know. What I
saw left me gasping—first with amazement, then pity, then with an
almost irrepressible desire to laugh. For upon the canvas was only a
huge smear of many colored pigments—utterly formless, without
meaning. I stared an instant, then turned and met the eyes of the
little old man beside me. They gleamed into mine with triumph and
pride, and in them I saw again—and this time plainly—the look of

I held back the smile that struggled to my lips. “This—this
painting—is it you who—”

“Is that not life, _señor_?” His thin, treble voice carried an
exultant, masterful note. “Can you not see it there? Human
life—painted in with pigments to make it immortal.”

“Was it you who painted that—that picture?” A great pity rose in my
heart for this poor, deluded madman.

“I? Oh, _señor_, you do me great honor. It was painted, I have said,
by Vasquez—Pedro Vasquez y Carbajál. A wonderful man, this Vasquez.
They are children beside him, these others. Is it not so?”

I said nothing, but gazed again at the miserably grotesque daubs on
the canvas.

“Look, _señor_! Is that not a soul you see in those eyes? A human
soul?” He pointed a shaking finger at the smear of color before us,
his eyes shining with pride. “You call them realists—these Goyas and
these Zuloagas. You have seen the girls of Zuloaga, with their white
faces and their lips of red. You have looked into their eves—these
girls he paints—have you ever seen there the soul?

“‘Naturalism,’ they say; ‘a richness of tone!’ or ‘with a subtlety
he paints.’ Or perhaps it is a ‘fuller impasto.’ Bah! They are but
words—tricks of words for the critics to play with. They paint of
life —these masters, as we call them—but their paintings are dead.
They cannot capture the soul, _señor_—the soul that always struggles
free—the human soul never can they hold imprisoned upon their

“And those lips, _señor_—see her beautiful red lips—are they not
about to speak? The breath that trembles between them—is it not a
little sigh she would breathe—a sigh to tell us she cannot
understand this life that stirs within her?

“She would have music, _señor_—music to whisper those little woman
secrets no man shall hear. See the lute she holds—her fingers have
but brushed its strings, and she has laid it down.

“And that hand—there upon her breast. Closer, _señor_—bend closer.
Can you not see veins upon that hand? Blue veins they are, but in
them there is red blood flowing—red blood to feed the flesh of her
body—blood to give her life and hold imprisoned there the soul. Can
you not see it, _señor_? Human blood—the blood of life in a

His voice rose sharp and shrill with triumph, and he ended again
with his horrible senile laughter.

The jangling of a bell rang through the house. The little old man
met my glance and hesitated. Then as the ring was repeated—I could
hear it now; it was in the shop down-stairs—he muttered a Spanish
oath softly to himself.

“Some one wants to see me,” he said. “A customer, perhaps—who knows.
The _señor_ will excuse me one little moment?”

“Yes,” I said; “I will wait for you here.”

“When the business calls, _señor_, it is not good for the pleasure
to interfere.” He looked around the room uncertainly, and then
started for the door through which we had entered.

“I leave the _señor_ not alone”—he glanced significantly at the
canvas—“and only for one little moment.”

When he had left the room I stood again before the canvas, partly
enveloped in the great folds of the heavy window portieres. On the
stairs outside I could hear the dragging footsteps of the old man as
he tottered back to the shop below. I examined the canvas more
closely now. There was upon it every color and combination of color,
like the heaped-up pigments on a huge, untidy palette. But I noticed
that brown seemed to predominate—a dirty, drab, faded brown,
inexpressibly ugly, and somehow very sinister. It seemed a pigment
color I had never seen before. I could see, too, that the paints
were laid on very thick—it was done in oils—as though it had been
worked over and over again, for months or even years.

A light footfall sounded near at hand, a rustling of silk, the click
of a latch. A girl stood in the partly opened side door—a young
girl, hardly more than fifteen or sixteen, dressed in Moorish
costume. She stood an instant hesitating, with her back partly
turned to me, looking about the room. Then, leaving the door open
behind her, she picked up a lute that was standing against the
wall—I had net noticed before that it was there—and crossed the room
toward the fireplace.

The girl crossed the room slowly; her back was still partly turned
as she passed me. It took her but a moment to reach the fireplace,
yet in that moment I had a vague but unmistakable feeling of being
in the presence of an overpowering physical exhaustion. Her
shoulders seemed to droop; she trailed the lute in her loose fingers
over the heavy nap of the carpet; there was about her white figure
as she walked a slackness of muscle, a limpness, a seeming absence
of energy that was almost uncanny.

She reached the fireplace and sank on a hassock, holding the lute
across her knees, her eyes staring away into the distance behind me.
It was as though without conscious thought she had dropped into a
model’s pose.

I must have stepped forward into plainer view, or made some slight
noise, for the girl’s gaze abruptly shifted downward and met mine

“Oh, _señor_, I—” She showed no fear. She did not start to her feet,
but sat quiet, as though in sudden bewilderment—yet with a mind too
utterly exhausted to think clearly. “Oh, _señor_, I did not know. I
thought only the _maestro_ would be here, I came to pose for him. It
is the hour.”

I tried to speak quietly. “He will be here in a moment,” I said. “I
have been looking at your—your portrait.”

The girl did not smile, as I think I hoped she would, but stared at
me apathetically. I held her glance a moment; then it wandered
vaguely to the easel as though her thoughts were still groping with
the import of my words.

In the shop down-stairs I could hear footsteps on the board
flooring. After a moment I stepped forward out of the window recess,
and, drawing up a chair, sat down beside the girl.

She dropped her gaze to mine without emotion. I could see her face
had once been beautiful. From this close view-point I could see,
too, that her lips were pale with an almost bluish paleness. Her
cheeks were very white—a whiteness that was not a pallor, but
seemingly more an absence of red. And then I got the vague, absurd
impression that I could see into her skin—as though it contained
nothing to render it opaque.

“Do you pose for the _maestro_ every night?” I asked. My tone held
that gentle solicitude with which one might address a child who was
very ill.

“_Sí, señor_; every night at this hour.”

Her manner was utterly impersonal; her eyes still held that
listless, apathetic stare. I gazed into them steadily: and then, far
down in their depths, I seemed to see lurking a shadowy look of

“I have been examining your portrait,” I said. “It is a very—curious
picture, is it not?”

A faint little glow of color came into the girl’s cheeks. She seemed
somehow stronger now; but it was a gain of strength rather more
mental than physical. I sensed dimly that, talking with me, her mind
was clearing. She hesitated, regarding me appraisingly.

“A very, very curious portrait indeed it is, _señor_.” Again she
paused; and then, as though she had come to a sudden decision, she
added slowly: “A very curious portrait, _señor_. To me it has no
meaning. Once I said that to the _maestro_, and he was very angry.
He told me I was mad, because I could not see the art—the wonderful
art in his work. He beat me then.” She shuddered at the memory. “But
that was very long ago, _señor_, and never have I said it since. And
every night I pose.”

“You are ill, _señorita_?” I said gently.

“The portrait needs so much of me,” she answered. And then some
thought or memory that her words did not reveal made her shudder
again. “I am ill, _señor_, as you say. Very ill. And that, too,
makes the _maestro_ very angry. I am not so beautiful now for the
portrait. And soon I shall die—and then I can pose no longer.”

I leaned toward her. “You can trust me, _señorita_,” I said. “You
are ill-treated here—he treats you badly?”

She looked searchingly into my eyes; then she swiftly drew back her
loose sleeve. The white flesh of her upper arm was scarred with many

“The portrait, _señor_—it is life he paints there. And one cannot
paint life without using life to paint with. That he says,
_señor_—and he takes what there is in me to give.”

She spoke softly, tremulously, half in terror at her temerity at
talking thus of the dreaded _maestro_, half with an air of wan

And with her words, in a sudden flood of horror, the meaning of all
that I had seen came clear to my mind. I realized now how this
miserable madman, painting formless daubs upon his canvas, was using
the life-blood of his victim. With revulsion in my heart, I
understood at last the meaning of those ugly brown smears that
mingled and predominated among the pigments on the canvas—the dried
and faded stains of human blood. And here, sitting close beside me,
was the victim of this insane necromancy—the shell of what had once
been womanhood—this body of a girl being drained of its life drop by

The girl’s voice brought me back to myself with a start.

“He takes the blood that I have to give, _señor_—and each day the
painting grows more beautiful. He says I am mad that I cannot see
its beauty—that the brown I see is not brown, but red—vivid,
beautiful red—the red of life itself.

“But you, _señor_”—she put her hand upon mine; its touch hardly held
the warmth of the living—“you, a stranger who, why I know not, comes
here to this room—you see, too, the way it looks to me, do you not,
_señor_? Ah, then, indeed I am not mad—and it is he who sees upon
the canvas what is not there.”

I was about to answer when dragging footsteps sounded on the stairs;
the front door of the room opened and the little old man stood upon
the threshold. A look of incredulous astonishment came over his
seared yellow face, supplanted in an instant by rage. His lips
parted in a snarl.

“Thou, Malella—thou art here in the presence of a stranger?” He
spoke in Spanish, his voice vibrating tense with the fierceness of
his passion.

The girl turned slowly around on the hassock; the lute slipped from
her lap to the floor.

The little old man was coming forward, and the malevolent gleam in
his eyes made me leap to my feet.

“Go thou to thy room, Malella—to thy room—at once.”

The girl rose slowly and stood drooping beside me, as a flower
droops for long lack of the water that gives it life.

“_Sí, maestro_,” she answered. “I go.”

I saw the old man hold her gaze with his glittering eyes. I realized
there was about those snakelike little eyes of his an hypnotic
power. The girl seemed to follow and to obey, involuntarily almost,
his unspoken commands.

She laid the lute on the mantel above the fireplace, and, turning
slowly back, faced the old man as he stood close beside me.

“Say good night to the gentleman,” he commanded, speaking this time
in English. He spoke less harshly than before, as though by using my
own language he unconsciously recognized the restraint my presence
put upon him.

Then he added to me, and again the miserable, groveling whine came
back to his voice:

“A foolish child, _señor_. You will excuse, of course.”

“Good night, _señor_,” said the girl.

I found myself very near to her, staring straight down into the
clear, empty depths of her blue eyes. And there again I saw that
look of appeal—like the patient look of a dog in pain—whispering to
me, asking for my aid. As if to answer it, all the pent-up torrent
of emotion within me burst forth. I swept the girl behind me with my
arm and fronted the old man.

“I am going now,” I said; and with surprise I heard my voice come
quiet and repressed. “I thank you, sir, for showing me your
painting. The _señorita_ here is ill. I am going to take her with
me—to-night—to a hospital.”

The old man seemed unable at first to grasp my meaning. He stood
quavering before me, his lower jaw hanging slack, his eyes widening
with surprise, a look of confusion on his face.

“She is going with me now,” I repeated firmly. I turned around to

“Get some long wrap, Malella, that will cover you. Hasten—I will
wait for you here.”

The girl stood irresolute. Confusion and fear were written on her
face; her glance swung from one to the other of us, undecided.

“At once. Malella, do you hear?” I added sharply. “Get your wrap—I
will wait for you.”

I pushed her away from me, and she stumbled forward toward the door
through which she had entered the room.

Her movement seemed to awaken the little old man into sudden action.
He flung himself on me with a snarl, his shaking, shriveled fingers
clutching at my throat. I shook him off, but he came back instantly,
throwing himself at me fearlessly, with a shrill, maniacal,
blood-curdling cry.

Reason left me; for an instant the room swam red before my eyes. I
tore his fingers again from my throat, and seizing him around the
waist, hurled his frail body violently to the floor. His head struck
a corner of the model stand; his body quivered a moment and then lay

The girl, with livid, terror-stricken face, was shrinking against
the side wall of the room, with one hand pressed tightly over her
mouth. I hurried to her.

“Never mind the wrap, Malella—we will go without it.”

She looked at me numbly.

“Come,” I added, and, putting my arm about her shoulders, dragged
her unresisting from the room.

It took us but a moment to descend the rickety stairs to the
darkened shop. I stopped in the shop and snatched up my overcoat and
hat. When we got to the street I found it had stopped snowing;
across the square I could see the glistening white of Washington

A jolly crowd of young people came hurrying by, and seeing us
standing there in the doorway—a girl in Moorish costume, and me with
my overcoat on my arm—laughed and waved in friendly greeting. An
alert taxi-driver—thinking doubtless we were going to some
masquerade—drove his car to the curb and stopped.

“You are safe now, Malella,” I said, after a moment, when we were in
the taxi and had started toward the hospital uptown.

Her slim little body swayed toward me; her arms stole up around my
neck like the arms of a tired, frightened child who seeks

“You need not be frightened,” I said. “You are never going back.”
And then I added aloud, but softly, very softly to myself: “For when
they make you well again at the hospital you are going to be with

For I was in my twenties then, as I have said, and the decisions of
youth are very quickly reached.

[Transcriber’s Note: This story appeared in the May 29, 1920 issue of
All-Story Weekly magazine.]

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