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VI. The White Blot Henry van Dyke

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"A spirit haunts the year's last hours."

Pierrepont took up the quotation and completed it--

"A spirit haunts the year's last hours, Dwelling amid these yellowing bowers: To himself he talks; For at eventide, listening earnestly, At his work you may hear him sob and sigh, In the walks; Earthward he boweth the heavy stalks Of the mouldering flowers: Heavily hangs the broad sunflower Over its grave i' the earth so chilly; Heavily hangs the hollyhock, Heavily hangs the tiger-lily."

"That is very pretty poetry, gentlemen," said Morgenstern, who had come in behind us, "but is it not a little vague? You like it, but you cannot tell exactly what it means. I find the same fault in the picture from my point of view. There is nothing in it to make a paragraph about, no anecdote, no experiment in technique. It is impossible to persuade the public to admire a picture unless you can tell them precisely the points on which they must fix their admiration. And that is why, although the painting is a good one, I should be willing to sell it at a low price."

He named a sum of money in three figures, so small that Pierrepont, who often buys pictures by proxy, could not conceal his surprise.

"Certainly I should consider that a good bargain, simply for investment," said he. "Falconer's name alone ought to be worth more than that, ten years from now. He is a rising man."

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"No, Mr. Pierrepont," replied the dealer, "the picture is worth what I ask for it, for I would not commit the impertinence of offering a present to you or your friend; but it is worth no more. Falconer's name will not increase in value. The catalogue of his works is too short for fame to take much notice of it; and this is the last. Did you not hear of his death last fall? I do not wonder, for it happened at some place down on Long Island--a name that I never saw before, and have forgotten now. There was not even an obituary in the newspapers."

"And besides," he continued, after a pause, "I must not conceal from you that the painting has a blemish. It is not always visible, since you have failed to detect it; but it is more noticeable in some lights than in others; and, do what I will, I cannot remove it. This alone would prevent the painting from being a good investment. Its market value will never rise."

He turned the canvas sideways to the light, and the defect became apparent.

It was a dim, oblong, white blot in the middle distance; a nebulous blur in the painting, as if there had been some chemical impurity in the pigment causing it to fade, or rather as if a long drop of some acid, or perhaps a splash of salt water, had fallen upon the canvas while it was wet, and bleached it. I knew little of the possible causes of such a blot, but enough to see that it could not be erased without painting over it, perhaps not even then. And yet it seemed rather to enhance than to weaken the attraction which the picture had for me.

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The Ruling Passion
Henry van Dyke

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