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VI. The White Blot Henry van Dyke

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The real location of a city house depends upon the pictures which hang upon its walls. They are its neighbourhood and its outlook. They confer upon it that touch of life and character, that power to beget love and bind friendship, which a country house receives from its surrounding landscape, the garden that embraces it, the stream that runs near it, and the shaded paths that lead to and from its door.

By this magic of pictures my narrow, upright slice of living-space in one of the brown-stone strata on the eastward slope of Manhattan Island is transferred to an open and agreeable site. It has windows that look toward the woods and the sunset, watergates by which a little boat is always waiting, and secret passageways leading into fair places that are frequented by persons of distinction and charm. No darkness of night obscures these outlets; no neighbour's house shuts off the view; no drifted snow of winter makes them impassable. They are always free, and through them I go out and in upon my adventures.

One of these picture-wanderings has always appeared to me so singular that I would like, if it were possible, to put it into words.

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It was Pierrepont who first introduced me to the picture--Pierrepont the good-natured: of whom one of his friends said that he was like Mahomet's Bridge of Paradise, because he was so hard to cross: to which another added that there was also a resemblance in the fact that he led to a region of beautiful illusions which he never entered. He is one of those enthusiastic souls who are always discovering a new writer, a new painter, a new view from some old wharf by the river, a new place to obtain picturesque dinners at a grotesque price. He swung out of his office, with his long-legged, easy stride, and nearly ran me down, as I was plodding up-town through the languor of a late spring afternoon, on one of those duty-walks which conscience offers as a sacrifice to digestion.

"Why, what is the matter with you?" he cried as he linked his arm through mine, "you look outdone, tired all the way through to your backbone. Have you been reading the 'Anatomy of Melancholy,' or something by one of the new British female novelists? You will have la grippe in your mind if you don't look out. But I know what you need. Come with me, and I will do you good."

So saying, he drew me out of clanging Broadway into one of the side streets that run toward the placid region of Washington Square. "No, no," I answered, feeling, even in the act of resistance, the pleasure of his cheerful guidance, "you are altogether wrong. I don't need a dinner at your new-found Bulgarian table-d'hote--seven courses for seventy-five cents, and the wine thrown out; nor some of those wonderful Mexican cheroots warranted to eradicate the tobacco- habit; nor a draught of your South American melon sherbet that cures all pains, except these which it causes. None of these things will help me. The doctor suggests that they do not suit my temperament. Let us go home together and have a shower-bath and a dinner of herbs, with just a reminiscence of the stalled ox--and a bout at backgammon to wind up the evening. That will be the most comfortable prescription."

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The Ruling Passion
Henry van Dyke

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