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VI. The White Blot Henry van Dyke

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The affable and sagacious Morgenstern was already well acquainted with the waywardness of Pierrepont's admiration, and with my own persistent disregard of current quotations in the valuation of works of art. He regarded us, I suppose, very much as Robin Hood would have looked upon a pair of plain yeomen who had strayed into his lair. The knights of capital, and coal barons, and rich merchants were his natural prey, but toward this poor but honest couple it would be worthy only of a Gentile robber to show anything but courteous and fair dealing.

He expressed no surprise when he heard what we wanted to see, but smiled tolerantly and led the way, not into the well-defined realm of the past, the present, or the future, but into a region of uncertain fortunes, a limbo of acknowledged but unrewarded merits, a large back room devoted to the works of American painters. Here we found Falconer's picture; and the dealer, with that instinctive tact which is the best part of his business capital, left us alone to look at it.

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It showed the mouth of a little river: a secluded lagoon, where the shallow tides rose and fell with vague lassitude, following the impulse of prevailing winds more than the strong attraction of the moon. But now the unsailed harbour was quite still, in the pause of the evening; and the smooth undulations were caressed by a hundred opalescent hues, growing deeper toward the west, where the river came in. Converging lines of trees stood dark against the sky; a cleft in the woods marked the course of the stream, above which the reluctant splendours of an autumnal day were dying in ashes of roses, while three tiny clouds, poised high in air, burned red with the last glimpse of the departed sun.

On the right was a reedy point running out into the bay, and behind it, on a slight rise of ground, an antique house with tall white pillars. It was but dimly outlined in the gathering shadows; yet one could imagine its stately, formal aspect, its precise garden with beds of old-fashioned flowers and straight paths bordered with box, and a little arbour overgrown with honeysuckle. I know not by what subtlety of delicate and indescribable touches--a slight inclination in one of the pillars, a broken line which might indicate an unhinged gate, a drooping resignation in the foliage of the yellowing trees, a tone of sadness in the blending of subdued colours--the painter had suggested that the place was deserted. But the truth was unmistakable. An air of loneliness and pensive sorrow breathed from the picture; a sigh of longing and regret. It was haunted by sad, sweet memories of some untold story of human life.

In the corner Falconer had put his signature, T. F., "LARMONE," 189-, and on the border of the picture he had faintly traced some words, which we made out at last--

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The Ruling Passion
Henry van Dyke

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