« IndietroContinua »
president's shoulder. An angel with outstretched wings hovers overhead, and is placing a laurel wreath on the president's head, crowning him - Queen of the May, I suppose. In the background is to be cannon, more angels and soldiers. The man who would paint that picture would have to have the soul of a dog, and would deserve to go down into oblivion without even a tin can tied to his tail to sound his memory.”
Little beads of moisture crept out all over Billy Keogh's brow. The stub of his blue pencil had not figured out a contingency like this. The machinery of his plan had run with flattering smoothness until
He dragged another chair upon the balcony, and got White back to his seat. He lit his pipe with apparent calm.
“Now, sonny,” he said, with gentle grimness, you and me will have an Art to Art talk. You've got your art and I've got mine. Yours is the real Pierian stuff that turns up its nose at bock-beer signs and oleographs of the Old Mill. Mine's the art of Business. This was my scheme, and it worked out like two-and-two. Paint that president man as Old King Cole, or Venus, or a landscape, or a fresco, or a bunch of lilies, or anything he thinks he looks like. But get the paint on the canvas and collect the spoils.
You wouldn't throw me down, Carry, at this stage of the game. Think of that ten thousand.”
“I can't help thinking of it,” said White, “and that's what hurts. I'm tempted to throw
I'm tempted to throw every ideal I ever had down in the mire, and steep my soul in infamy by painting that picture. That five thousand meant three years of foreign study to me, and I'd almost sell my soul for that.”
“Now it ain't as bad as that,” said Keogh, soothingly. “It's a business proposition. It's so much paint and time against money. I don't fall in with your idea that that picture would so everlastingly jolt the art side of the question. George Washington was all right, you know, and nobody could say a word against the angel. I don't think so bad of
. If you was to give Jupiter a pair of epaulets and a sword, and kind of work the clouds around to look like a blackberry patch, it wouldn't make such a bad battle scene. Why, if we hadn't already settled on the price, he ought to pay an extra thousand for Washington, and the angel ought to raise it five hundred."
“ You don't understand, Billy,” said White, with an uneasy laugh. “Some of us fellows who try to paint have big notions about Art. I wanted to paint a picture some day that people would stand before
and forget that it was made of paint. I wanted it to creep into them like a bar of music and mushroom there like a soft bullet. And I wanted 'em to go away and ask, “What else has he done?' And I didn't want 'em to find a thing; not a portrait nor a magazine cover nor an illustration nor a drawing of a girl — nothing but the picture. That's why I've lived on fried sausages, and tried to keep true to myself. I persuaded myself to do this portrait for the chance it might give me to study abroad. But this howling, screaming caricature! Good Lord ! can't you see how it is ? "
Sure,” said Keogh, as tenderly as he would have spoken to a child, and he laid a long forefinger on White's knee. “I see. It's bad to have your art all slugged up like that. I know. You wanted to paint a big thing like the panorama of the battle of Gettysburg. But let me kalsomine you a little mental sketch to consider. Up to date we're out $385.50 on this scheme. Our capital took every cent both of us could raise. We've got about enough left to get back to New York on. I need my share of that ten thousand. I want to work a copper deal in Idaho, and make a hundred thousand. That's the business end of the thing. Come down off your art perch, Carry, and let's land that hatful of dollars.”
“ Billy,” said White, with an effort, “I'll try. I won't say I'll do it, but I'll try. I'll go at it, and put it through if I can.”
“ That's business,” said Keogh, heartily. “Good boy! Now, here's another thing — rush that picture - crowd it through as quick as you can.
Get a couple of boys to help you mix the paint if neces. sary. I've picked up some pointers around town. The people here are beginning to get sick of Mr. President. They say he's been too free with concessions; and they accuse him of trying to make a dicker with England to sell out the country. We want that picture done and paid for before there's any row.”
In the great patio of Casa Morena, the president caused to be stretched a huge canvas.
Under this White set up his temporary studio. For two hours each day the great man sat to him. • White worked faithfully. But, as the work progressed, he had seasons of bitter scorn, of infinite self-contempt, of sullen gloom and sardonic gaiety. Keogh, with the patience of a great general, soothed, coaxed, argued — kept him at the picture.
At the end of a month White announced that the picture was completed Jupiter, Washington, angels, clouds, cannon and all. His face was pale and his mouth drawn straight when he told Keogh. He said the president was much pleased with it. It was to be hung in the National Gallery of Statesmen and Heroes. The artist had been requested to return to Casa Morena on the following day to receive payment. At the appointed time he left the hotel, silent under his friend's joyful talk of their success.
An hour later he walked into the room where Keogh was waiting, threw his hat on the floor, and sat upon the table.
Billy,” he said, in strained and labouring tones, “ I've a little money out West in a small business that my brother is running. It's what I've been living on while I've been studying art. I'll draw out my share and pay you back what you've lost on this scheme.” “ Lost!” exclaimed Keogh, jumping up.
Didn't you get paid for the picture?
“ Yes, I got paid,” said White. “But just now there isn't any picture, and there isn't any pay. If you care to hear about it, here are the edifying details. The president and I were looking at the painting. His secretary brought a bank draft on New York for ten thousand dollars and handed it to
The moment I touched it I went wild. I tore it into little pieces and threw them on the floor. A workman was repainting the pillars inside the patio.