Find this Story

Print, a form you can hold

Wireless download to your Amazon Kindle

Look for a summary or analysis of this Story.

Enjoy this? Share it!

The Artist
by [?]

After the sickening stench of personality in theatrical life," the great Madame Orloff told the doctor with her usual free-handed use of language, "it is like breathing a thin, pure air to be here again with our dear inhuman old Vieyra. He hypnotizes me into his own belief that nothing matters— not broken hearts, nor death, nor success, nor first love, nor old age— nothing but the chiaroscuro of his latest acquisition. "

The picture-dealer looked at her in silence, bringing the point of his white beard up to his chin with a meditative fist. The big surgeon gazed about him with appreciative eyes, touched his mustache to his gold-lined coffee-cup, and sighed contentedly. "You’re not the only one, my dear Olga," he said, "who finds Vieyra’s hard heart a blessing. When I am here in his magnificent old den, listening to one of his frank accounts of his own artistic acumen and rejoicing in his beautiful possessions, why the rest of the world— real humanity— seems in retrospect like one great hospital full of shrieking incurables. "

"Oh, humanity— !" The actress thrust it away with one of her startling, vivid gestures.

"You think it very clever, my distinguished friends, to discuss me before my face," commented the old picture-dealer indifferently. He fingered the bright-colored decorations on his breast, looking down at them with absent eyes. After a moment he added, "and to show your in-ti-mate knowledge of my character. "

Only its careful correctness betrayed the foreignness of his speech.

"Oh, character— !" Madame Orloff repudiated the conception in a vague murmur.

There was a pause in which the three gazed idly at the fire’s reflection in the brass of the superb old andirons. Then, "Haven’t you something new to show us?" asked the woman. "Some genuine Masaccio, picked up in a hill-town monastery— a real Ribera?"

The small old Jew drew a long breath. "Yes, I have something new. " He hesitated, opened his lips, closed them again and, looking at the fire, "Oh yes, very new indeed— new to me. "

"Is it here?" The great surgeon looked about the picture-covered walls.

"No; I have it in— you know, what you call the inner sanctuary— the light here is not good enough. "

The actress stood up, her glittering dress flashing a thousand eyes at the fire. "Let me see it," she commanded. "I would like to see something new to you. "

"You shall amuse yourself by identifying the artist without my aid," said old Vieyra.

He opened a door, held back a portiere, let his guests pass through into a darkened room, turned on a softly brilliant light, and: "Whom do you make the artist?" he said. He did not look at the picture. He looked at the faces of his guests, and after a long silent pause, he smiled faintly into his beard. "Let us go back to the fire," he said, and clicked them into darkness again.

"And what do you say?" he asked as they sat down.

"By Jove!" cried the doctor. "By Jove!"

Madame Orloff turned on the collector the sombre glow of her deep-set eyes. "I have dreamed it," she said.

"It is real," said Vieyra. "You are the first to see it. I wished to observe how—"

"It’s an unknown Vermeer!" The doctor brought his big white hand down loudly on this discovery. "Nobody but Vermeer could have done the plaster wall in the sunlight. And the girl’s strange gray head-dress must be seventeenth-century Dutch of some province I don’t—"

"I am a rich man, for a picture-dealer," said Vieyra, "but only national governments can afford to buy Vermeers nowadays. "

"But you picked it up from some corner, some attic, some stable—"

"Yes, I picked it up from a stable," said the collector.

The actress laid her slender, burning fingers on his cool old hand. "Tell us— tell us," she urged. "There is something different here. "

"Yes, there is something different," he stirred in his chair and thrust out his lips. "So different that I don’t know if you —

"Try me! try me!" she assured him ardently. "You have educated me well to your standards all these years. "

At this he looked at her, startled, frowning, attentive, and ended by shaking off her hand. "No, I will not tell you. "