On a brilliant day in May in the year 1868 a gentleman was reclining
at his ease on the great circular divan which at that period occupied
the centre of the Salon Carre in the Museum of the Louvre.
This commodious ottoman has since been removed to the extreme regret
of all weak-kneed lovers of the fine arts but the gentleman in question
had taken serene possession of its softest spot and with his head
thrown back and his legs outstretched was staring at Murillo's
beautiful moon-borne Madonna in profound enjoyment of his posture.
He had removed his hat and flung down beside him a little red guide-book
and an opera-glass. The day was warm; he was heated with walking
and he repeatedly passed his handkerchief over his forehead
with a somewhat wearied gesture. And yet he was evidently not
a man to whom fatigue was familiar; long lean and muscular
he suggested the sort of vigor that is commonly known as "toughness."
But his exertions on this particular day had been of an unwonted sort
and he had performed great physical feats which left him less jaded
than his tranquil stroll through the Louvre. He had looked out all
the pictures to which an asterisk was affixed in those formidable
pages of fine print in his Badeker; his attention had been strained
and his eyes dazzled and he had sat down with an aesthetic headache.
He had looked moreover not only at all the pictures but at all
the copies that were going forward around them in the hands of those
innumerable young women in irreproachable toilets who devote themselves
in France to the propagation of masterpieces and if the truth must
be told he had often admired the copy much more than the original.
His physiognomy would have sufficiently indicated that he was a shrewd
and capable fellow and in truth he had often sat up all night over
a bristling bundle of accounts and heard the cock crow without a yawn.
But Raphael and Titian and Rubens were a new kind of arithmetic
and they inspired our friend for the first time in his life
with a vague self-mistrust.
An observer with anything of an eye for national types would
have had no difficulty in determining the local origin
of this undeveloped connoisseur and indeed such an observer
might have felt a certain humorous relish of the almost ideal
completeness with which he filled out the national mould.
The gentleman on the divan was a powerful specimen of an American.
But he was not only a fine American; he was in the first place
physically a fine man. He appeared to possess that kind of health
and strength which when found in perfection are the most impressive--
the physical capital which the owner does nothing to "keep up."
If he was a muscular Christian it was quite without knowing it.
If it was necessary to walk to a remote spot he walked
but he had never known himself to "exercise." He had no theory
with regard to cold bathing or the use of Indian clubs;
he was neither an oarsman a rifleman nor a fencer--he had
never had time for these amusements--and he was quite unaware
that the saddle is recommended for certain forms of indigestion.
He was by inclination a temperate man; but he had supped
the night before his visit to the Louvre at the Cafe Anglais--
some one had told him it was an experience not to be omitted--
and he had slept none the less the sleep of the just.
His usual attitude and carriage were of a rather relaxed
and lounging kind but when under a special inspiration
he straightened himself he looked like a grenadier on parade.
He never smoked. He had been assured--such things are said--
that cigars were excellent for the health and he was quite
capable of believing it; but he knew as little about tobacco as
about homeopathy. He had a very well-formed head with a shapely
symmetrical balance of the frontal and the occipital development
and a good deal of straight rather dry brown hair.
His complexion was brown and his nose had a bold well-marked arch.
His eye was of a clear cold gray and save for a rather
abundant mustache he was clean-shaved. He had the flat jaw
and sinewy neck which are frequent in the American type;
but the traces of national origin are a matter of expression even
more than of feature and it was in this respect that our friend's
countenance was supremely eloquent. The discriminating observer
we have been supposing might however perfectly have measured
its expressiveness and yet have been at a loss to describe it.
It had that typical vagueness which is not vacuity
that blankness which is not simplicity that look of being
committed to nothing in particular of standing in an attitude
of general hospitality to the chances of life of being very much
at one's own disposal so characteristic of many American faces.
It was our friend's eye that chiefly told his story; an eye
in which innocence and experience were singularly blended.
It was full of contradictory suggestions and though it
was by no means the glowing orb of a hero of romance
you could find in it almost anything you looked for.
Frigid and yet friendly frank yet cautious shrewd yet credulous
positive yet skeptical confident yet shy extremely intelligent
and extremely good-humored there was something vaguely defiant in
its concessions and something profoundly reassuring in its reserve.
The cut of this gentleman's mustache with the two premature
wrinkles in the cheek above it and the fashion of his garments
in which an exposed shirt-front and a cerulean cravat played perhaps
an obtrusive part completed the conditions of his identity.
We have approached him perhaps at a not especially favorable moment;
he is by no means sitting for his portrait. But listless
as he lounges there rather baffled on the aesthetic question
and guilty of the damning fault (as we have lately discovered it to be)
of confounding the merit of the artist with that of his work
(for he admires the squinting Madonna of the young lady with
the boyish coiffure because he thinks the young lady herself
uncommonly taking) he is a sufficiently promising acquaintance.
Decision salubrity jocosity prosperity seem to hover
within his call; he is evidently a practical man but the idea
in his case has undefined and mysterious boundaries
which invite the imagination to bestir itself on his behalf.
As the little copyist proceeded with her work she sent every now and then
a responsive glance toward her admirer. The cultivation of the fine
arts appeared to necessitate to her mind a great deal of byplay
a great standing off with folded arms and head drooping from side to side
stroking of a dimpled chin with a dimpled hand sighing and frowning
and patting of the foot fumbling in disordered tresses for wandering
hair-pins. These performances were accompanied by a restless glance
which lingered longer than elsewhere upon the gentleman we have described.
At last he rose abruptly put on his hat and approached the young lady.
He placed himself before her picture and looked at it for some moments
during which she pretended to be quite unconscious of his inspection.
Then addressing her with the single word which constituted the strength
of his French vocabulary and holding up one finger in a manner which appeared
to him to illuminate his meaning "Combien?" he abruptly demanded.
The artist stared a moment gave a little pout shrugged her shoulders
put down her palette and brushes and stood rubbing her hands.
"How much?" said our friend in English. "Combien?"
"Monsieur wishes to buy it?" asked the young lady in French.
"Very pretty splendide. Combien?" repeated the American.
"It pleases monsieur my little picture? It's a very beautiful subject"
said the young lady.
"The Madonna yes; I am not a Catholic but I want to buy it. Combien?
Write it here." And he took a pencil from his pocket and showed
her the fly-leaf of his guide-book. She stood looking at him and
scratching her chin with the pencil. "Is it not for sale?" he asked.
And as she still stood reflecting and looking at him with an eye which
in spite of her desire to treat this avidity of patronage as a very old story
betrayed an almost touching incredulity he was afraid he had offended her.
She simply trying to look indifferent and wondering how far she might go.
"I haven't made a mistake--pas insulte no?" her interlocutor continued.
"Don't you understand a little English?"
The young lady's aptitude for playing a part at short notice
was remarkable. She fixed him with her conscious perceptive eye
and asked him if he spoke no French. Then "Donnez!" she said briefly
and took the open guide-book. In the upper corner of the fly-leaf
she traced a number in a minute and extremely neat hand.
Then she handed back the book and took up her palette again.
Our friend read the number: "2000 francs."
He said nothing for a time but stood looking at the picture
while the copyist began actively to dabble with her paint.
"For a copy isn't that a good deal?" he asked at last.
The young lady raised her eyes from her palette scanned him from head
to foot and alighted with admirable sagacity upon exactly the right answer.
"Yes it's a good deal. But my copy has remarkable qualities it is
worth nothing less."
The gentleman in whom we are interested understood no French but I
have said he was intelligent and here is a good chance to prove it.
He apprehended by a natural instinct the meaning of the young
woman's phrase and it gratified him to think that she was
so honest. Beauty talent virtue; she combined everything!
"But you must finish it" he said. "FINISH you know;"
and he pointed to the unpainted hand of the figure.
"Oh it shall be finished in perfection; in the perfection of perfections!"
cried mademoiselle; and to confirm her promise she deposited a rosy blotch
in the middle of the Madonna's cheek.
But the American frowned. "Ah too red too red!" he rejoined.
"Her complexion" pointing to the Murillo "is--more delicate."
"Delicate? Oh it shall be delicate monsieur; delicate as Sevres biscuit.
I am going to tone that down; I know all the secrets of my art.
And where will you allow us to send it to you? Your address?"
"My address? Oh yes!" And the gentleman drew a card from
his pocket-book and wrote something upon it. Then hesitating
a moment he said "If I don't like it when it it's finished
you know I shall not be obliged to take it."
The young lady seemed as good a guesser as himself.
"Oh I am very sure that monsieur is not capricious"
she said with a roguish smile.
"Capricious?" And at this monsieur began to laugh.
"Oh no I'm not capricious. I am very faithful.
I am very constant. Comprenez?"
"Monsieur is constant; I understand perfectly. It's a rare virtue.
To recompense you you shall have your picture on the first possible day;
next week--as soon as it is dry. I will take the card of monsieur."
And she took it and read his name: "Christopher Newman."
Then she tried to repeat it aloud and laughed at her bad accent.
"Your English names are so droll!"
"Droll?" said Mr. Newman laughing too. "Did you ever hear
of Christopher Columbus?"
"Bien sur! He invented America; a very great man.
And is he your patron?"
"Your patron-saint in the calendar."
"Oh exactly; my parents named me for him."
"Monsieur is American?"
"Don't you see it?" monsieur inquired.
"And you mean to carry my little picture away over there?"
and she explained her phrase with a gesture.
"Oh I mean to buy a great many pictures--beaucoup beaucoup"
said Christopher Newman.
"The honor is not less for me" the young lady answered
"for I am sure monsieur has a great deal of taste."
"But you must give me your card" Newman said; "your card you know."
The young lady looked severe for an instant and then said