Being Cases mostly under the Ninth and Tenth Commandments
FRANK JEWETT MATHER, Junr.
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.
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.
A Ballade of Art Collectors
The del Puente Giorgione
The Lombard Runes
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.
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 Duesseldorfian 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 Brantome'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, a 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'hote 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 Frauelein Linda Goeritz, 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 Frauelein Goeritz'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 Frauelein 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. Frauelein 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 Frauelein 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 Frauelein 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 Frauelein 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 Frauelein 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 Frauelein 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.
Frauelein Linda Goeritz 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 Frauelein Goeritz 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.
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 entree 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 Korin, 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.