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The Rembrandt
by [?]

“You’re so artistic,” my cousin Eleanor Copt began.

Of all Eleanor’s exordiums it is the one I most dread. When she tells me I’m so clever I know this is merely the preamble to inviting me to meet the last literary obscurity of the moment: a trial to be evaded or endured, as circumstances dictate; whereas her calling me artistic fatally connotes the request to visit, in her company, some distressed gentlewoman whose future hangs on my valuation of her old Saxe or of her grandfather’s Marc Antonios. Time was when I attempted to resist these compulsions of Eleanor’s; but I soon learned that, short of actual flight, there was no refuge from her beneficent despotism. It is not always easy for the curator of a museum to abandon his post on the plea of escaping a pretty cousin’s importunities; and Eleanor, aware of my predicament, is none too magnanimous to take advantage of it. Magnanimity is, in fact, not in Eleanor’s line. The virtues, she once explained to me, are like bonnets: the very ones that look best on other people may not happen to suit one’s own particular style; and she added, with a slight deflection of metaphor, that none of the ready-made virtues ever had fitted her: they all pinched somewhere, and she’d given up trying to wear them.

Therefore when she said to me, “You’re so artistic.” emphasizing the conjunction with a tap of her dripping umbrella (Eleanor is out in all weathers: the elements are as powerless against her as man), I merely stipulated, “It’s not old Saxe again?”

She shook her head reassuringly. “A picture–a Rembrandt!”

“Good Lord! Why not a Leonardo?”

“Well”–she smiled–“that, of course, depends on you.”

“On me?”

“On your attribution. I dare say Mrs. Fontage would consent to the change–though she’s very conservative.”

A gleam of hope came to me and I pronounced: “One can’t judge of a picture in this weather.”

“Of course not. I’m coming for you to-morrow.”

“I’ve an engagement to-morrow.”

“I’ll come before or after your engagement.”

The afternoon paper lay at my elbow and I contrived a furtive consultation of the weather-report. It said “Rain to-morrow,” and I answered briskly: “All right, then; come at ten”–rapidly calculating that the clouds on which I counted might lift by noon.

My ingenuity failed of its due reward; for the heavens, as if in league with my cousin, emptied themselves before morning, and punctually at ten Eleanor and the sun appeared together in my office.

I hardly listened, as we descended the Museum steps and got into Eleanor’s hansom, to her vivid summing-up of the case. I guessed beforehand that the lady we were about to visit had lapsed by the most distressful degrees from opulence to a “hall-bedroom”; that her grandfather, if he had not been Minister to France, had signed the Declaration of Independence; that the Rembrandt was an heirloom, sole remnant of disbanded treasures; that for years its possessor had been unwilling to part with it, and that even now the question of its disposal must be approached with the most diplomatic obliquity.

Previous experience had taught me that all Eleanor’s “cases” presented a harrowing similarity of detail. No circumstance tending to excite the spectator’s sympathy and involve his action was omitted from the history of her beneficiaries; the lights and shades were indeed so skilfully adjusted that any impartial expression of opinion took on the hue of cruelty. I could have produced closetfuls of “heirlooms” in attestation of this fact; for it is one more mark of Eleanor’s competence that her friends usually pay the interest on her philanthropy. My one hope was that in this case the object, being a picture, might reasonably be rated beyond my means; and as our cab drew up before a blistered brown-stone door-step I formed the self-defensive resolve to place an extreme valuation on Mrs. Fontage’s Rembrandt. It is Eleanor’s fault if she is sometimes fought with her own weapons.