CHAPTER XVI

By Mark Twain
From American Claimant (1892).


Brady arrived with a box, and departed, after saying" They're finishing one up, but they'll be along as soon as it's done."

Brady arrived with a box, and departed, after saying" They're finishing one up, but they'll be along as soon as it's done."

Barrow took a frameless oil portrait a foot square from the box, set it up in a good light, without comment, and reached for another, taking a furtive glance at Tracy, meantime. The stony solemnity in Tracy's face remained as it was, and gave out no sign of interest. Barrow placed the second portrait beside the first, and stole another glance while reaching for a third. The stone image softened, a shade. No. 3 forced the ghost of a smile, No. 4 swept indifference wholly away, and No. 5 started a laugh which was still in good and hearty condition when No. 14 took its place in the row.

"Oh, you're all right, yet," said Barrow. "You see you're not past amusement."

The pictures were fearful, as to color, and atrocious as to drawing and expression; but the feature which squelched animosity and made them funny was a feature which could not achieve its full force in a single picture, but required the wonder-working assistance of repetition. One loudly dressed mechanic in stately attitude, with his hand on a cannon, ashore, and a ship riding at anchor in the offing,--this is merely odd; but when one sees the same cannon and the same ship in fourteen pictures in a row, and a different mechanic standing watch in each, the thing gets to be funny.

"Explain--explain these aberrations," said Tracy.

"Well, they are not the achievement of a single intellect, a single talent--it takes two to do these miracles. They are collaborations; the one artist does the figure, the other the accessories. The figure- artist is a German shoemaker with an untaught passion for art, the other is a simple hearted old Yankee sailor-man whose possibilities are strictly limited to his ship, his cannon and his patch of petrified sea. They work these things up from twenty-five-cent tintypes; they get six dollars apiece for them, and they can grind out a couple a day when they strike what they call a boost--that is, an inspiration."

"People actually pay money for these calumnies?"

"They actually do--and quite willingly, too. And these abortionists could double their trade and work the women in, if Capt. Saltmarsh could whirl a horse in, or a piano, or a guitar, in place of his cannon. The fact is, he fatigues the market with that cannon. Even the male market, I mean. These fourteen in the procession are not all satisfied. One is an old "independent" fireman, and he wants an engine in place of the cannon; another is a mate of a tug, and wants a tug in place of the ship --and so on, and so on. But the captain can't make a tug that is deceptive, and a fire engine is many flights beyond his power."

"This is a most extraordinary form of robbery, I never have heard of anything like it. It's interesting."

"Yes, and so are the artists. They are perfectly honest men, and sincere. And the old sailor-man is full of sound religion, and is as devoted a student of the Bible and misquoter of it as you can find anywhere. I don't know a better man or kinder hearted old soul than Saltmarsh, although he does swear a little, sometimes."

"He seems to be perfect. I want to know him, Barrow."

"You'll have the chance. I guess I hear them coming, now. We'll draw them out on their art, if you like."

The artists arrived and shook hands with great heartiness. The German was forty and a little fleshy, with a shiny bald head and a kindly face and deferential manner. Capt. Saltmarsh was sixty, tall, erect, powerfully built, with coal-black hair and whiskers, and he had a well tanned complexion, and a gait and countenance that were full of command, confidence and decision. His horny hands and wrists were covered with tattoo-marks, and when his lips parted, his teeth showed up white and blemishless. His voice was the effortless deep bass of a church organ, and would disturb the tranquility of a gas flame fifty yards away.

"They're wonderful pictures," said Barrow. "We've been examining them."

"It is very bleasant dot you like dem," said Handel, the German, greatly pleased. "Und you, Herr Tracy, you haf peen bleased mit dem too, alretty?"

"I can honestly say I have never seen anything just like them before."

"Schon!" cried the German, delighted. "You hear, Gaptain? Here is a chentleman, yes, vot abbreviate unser aart."

The captain was charmed, and said:

"Well, sir, we're thankful for a compliment yet, though they're not as scarce now as they used to be before we made a reputation."

"Getting the reputation is the up-hill time in most things, captain."

"It's so. It ain't enough to know how to reef a gasket, you got to make the mate know you know it. That's reputation. The good word, said at the right time, that's the word that makes us; and evil be to him that evil thinks, as Isaiah says."

"It's very relevant, and hits the point exactly," said Tracy.

"Where did you study art, Captain?"

"I haven't studied; it's a natural gift."

"He is born mit dose cannon in him. He tondt haf to do noding, his chenius do all de vork. Of he is asleep, and take a pencil in his hand, out come a cannon. Py crashus, of he could do a clavier, of he could do a guitar, of he could do a vashtub, it is a fortune, heiliger Yohanniss it is yoost a fortune!"

"Well, it is an immense pity that the business is hindered and limited in this unfortunate way."

The captain grew a trifle excited, himself, now:

"You've said it, Mr. Tracy!--Hindered? well, I should say so. Why, look here. This fellow here, No. 11, he's a hackman,--a flourishing hackman, I may say. He wants his hack in this picture. Wants it where the cannon is. I got around that difficulty, by telling him the cannon's our trademark, so to speak-proves that the picture's our work, and I was afraid if we left it out people wouldn't know for certain if it was a Saltmarsh--Handel--now you wouldn't yourself--"

"What, Captain? You wrong yourself, indeed you do. Anyone who has once seen a genuine Saltmarsh-Handel is safe from imposture forever. Strip it, flay it, skin it out of every detail but the bare color and expression, and that man will still recognize it--still stop to worship--"

"Oh, how it makes me feel to hear dose oxpressions!--"

--"still say to himself again as he had, said a hundred times before, the art of the Saltmarsh-Handel is an art apart, there is nothing in the heavens above or in the earth beneath that resembles it,--"

"Py chiminy, nur horen Sie einmal! In my life day haf I never heard so brecious worts."

"So I talked him out of the hack, Mr. Tracy, and he let up on that, and said put in a hearse, then--because he's chief mate of a hearse but don't own it--stands a watch for wages, you know. But I can't do a hearse any more than I can a hack; so here we are--becalmed, you see. And it's the same with women and such. They come and they want a little johnry picture--"

"It's the accessories that make it a 'genre?'"

"Yes--cannon, or cat, or any little thing like that, that you heave into whoop up the effect. We could do a prodigious trade with the women if we could foreground the things they like, but they don't give a damn for artillery. Mine's the lack," continued the captain with a sigh, "Andy's end of the business is all right I tell you he's an artist from way back!"

"Yoost hear dot old man! He always talk 'poud me like dot," purred the pleased German.

"Look at his work yourself! Fourteen portraits in a row. And no two of them alike."

"Now that you speak of it, it is true; I hadn't noticed it before. It is very remarkable. Unique, I suppose."

"I should say so. That's the very thing about Andy--he discriminates. Discrimination's the thief of time--forty-ninth Psalm; but that ain't any matter, it's the honest thing, and it pays in the end."

"Yes, he certainly is great in that feature, one is obliged to admit it; but--now mind, I'm not really criticising--don't you think he is just a trifle overstrong in technique?"

The captain's face was knocked expressionless by this remark. It remained quite vacant while he muttered to himself--" Technique-- technique--polytechnique--pyro-technique; that's it, likely-fireworks too much color." Then he spoke up with serenity and confidence, and said:

"Well, yes, he does pile it on pretty loud; but they all like it, you know--fact is, it's the life of the business. Take that No. 9, there, Evans the butcher. He drops into the stoodio as sober-colored as anything you ever see: now look at him. You can't tell him from scarlet fever. Well, it pleases that butcher to death. I'm making a study of a sausage-wreath to hang on the cannon, and I don't really reckon I can do it right, but if I can, we can break the butcher."

"Unquestionably your confederate--I mean your--your fellow-craftsman-- is a great colorist--"

"Oh, danke schon!--"

--"in fact a quite extraordinary colorist; a colorist, I make bold to say, without imitator here or abroad--and with a most bold and effective touch, a touch like a battering ram; and a manner so peculiar and romantic, and extraneous, and ad libitum, and heart-searching, that-- that--he--he is an impressionist, I presume?"

"No," said the captain simply, "he is a Presbyterian."

"It accounts for it all--all--there's something divine about his art,-- soulful, unsatisfactory, yearning, dim hearkening on the void horizon, vague-murmuring to the spirit out of ultra-marine distances and far- sounding cataclysms of uncreated space--oh, if he--if, he--has he ever tried distemper?"

The captain answered up with energy:

"Not if he knows himself! But his dog has, and--"

"Oh, no, it vas not my dog."

"Why, you said it was your dog."

"Oh, no, gaptain, I--"

"It was a white dog, wasn't it, with his tail docked, and one ear gone, and--"

"Dot's him, dot's him!--der fery dog. Wy, py Chorge, dot dog he would eat baint yoost de same like--"

"Well, never mind that, now--'vast heaving--I never saw such a man. You start him on that dog and he'll dispute a year. Blamed if I haven't seen him keep it up a level two hours and a half."

"Why captain!" said Barrow. "I guess that must be hearsay."

"No, sir, no hearsay about it--he disputed with me.

"I don't see how you stood it."

"Oh, you've got to--if you run with Andy. But it's the only fault he's got."

"Ain't you afraid of acquiring it?"

"Oh, no," said the captain, tranquilly, "no danger of that, I reckon."

The artists presently took their leave. Then Barrow put his hands on Tracy's shoulders and said:

"Look me in the eye, my boy. Steady, steady. There--it's just as I thought--hoped, anyway; you're all right, thank goodness. Nothing the matter with your mind. But don't do that again--even for fun. It isn't wise. They wouldn't have believed you if you'd been an earl's son. Why, they couldn't--don't you know that? What ever possessed you to take such a freak? But never mind about that; let's not talk of it. It was a mistake; you see that yourself."

"Yes--it was a mistake."

"Well, just drop it out of your, mind; it's no harm; we all make them. Pull your courage together, and don't brood, and don't give up. I'm at your back, and we'll pull through, don't you be afraid."

When he was gone, Barrow walked the floor a good while, uneasy in his mind. He said to himself, "I'm troubled about him. He never would have made a break like that if he hadn't been a little off his balance. But I know what being out of work and no prospect ahead can do for a man. First it knocks the pluck out of him and drags his pride in the dirt; worry does the rest, and his mind gets shaky. I must talk to these people. No--if there's any humanity in them--and there is, at bottom-- they'll be easier on him if they think his troubles have disturbed his reason. But I've got to find him some work; work's the only medicine for his disease. Poor devil! away off here, and not a friend."








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