The Two Pictures
Timothy Shay Arthur, 1858
"How beautiful!" And the two men paused before the window of a print-seller.
The picture which had called forth from one of the men this admiring exclamation, was a showy bit of landscape, painted for effect, and well calculated to deceive an unpracticed eye.
"I must inquire the price," said the speaker, whose name was Goodwyn, and he drew his companion into the store.
"What do you ask for that landscape in the window?"
"Fifty dollars" replied the picture-seller, "and it's worth a hundred. But the owner needs money, and must sell, even at so great a sacrifice."
"Who is the artist?"
A name not familiar to either of the men was given. But, as they were only poorly informed in art news, and did not care to make their ignorance known, no further question was asked. The name was accepted as belonging to an artist of celebrity.
"I must have that picture, Martin. It is a gem." Goodwyn spoke aside to his friend.
"We have a companion piece by the same artist," said the picture seller, whose ears, all on the alert, had overheard the remark.
"Indeed! Let us see the two together."
The paintings were placed side by side.
"Charming! — beautiful! — exquisite!" were the exclamations with which their exhibition was greeted.
"I will take one of them," said Goodwyn. "And you the other." Looking towards his friend Martin.
"I don't know about that," answered the latter. "The pictures are certainly very tempting. But I am not just sure that I can spare fifty dollars today for an article of simple luxury."
"They're cheap as dirt," said Goodwyn. "Better take one. You'll not have another chance like this."
But Martin hesitated, debating the money-question involved, and finally decided to let the companion-piece remain where it was for the present. Goodwyn paid down fifty dollars, and ordered one of the pictures sent home.
The two men left the picture dealer's and walked on, Goodwyn elated by his purchase, and Martin well satisfied at having successfully resisted the temptation to spend the sum of fifty dollars for a painting, when he had other use for his money.
"You will regret not having bought that picture," said Goodwyn. "It is a gem, and is offered at half its value."
"I love pictures," was answered. "They are to me a source of unalloyed pleasure. But my income is yet too limited to permit an indulgence of this taste. The common needs of life, and the charities which may not be disregarded — keep me without a surplus to expend in the merely ornamental."
"I am no better off than you are," said Goodwyn. "But a portion of my income must go in the direction of beauty and ornament. Bare walls are my abhorrence."
At this moment, a cry of warning reached the ears of the two men, and looking forward along the street, they saw a horse, attached to an empty wagon, dashing towards them at a frightful speed. A little way in advance stood a cart, backed up to the pavement. Before the owner of this, an Irishman, had time to turn his horse, the runaway was upon him, and one of the shafts striking his poor beast on the head, killed him on the spot.
"Poor fellow!" said Martin, in a tone of pity, as he heard the Irishman bewail his loss.
"Come," said Goodwyn, drawing upon the arm of his friend. "It's a mercy for the poor, half-starved beast."
But Martin stood still, and began to ask the Irishman questions. His looks corroborating his replies, satisfied him that the loss he had just met was the loss of means for getting bread for his children. The man was in deep distress.
"I can't wait here," Goodwyn spoke, with some impatience. "Come, or I shall have to leave you. That picture will be home before I get there."
"Go on, then. I must look a little further into this case," said Martin, quite in earnest.
"Humph! You'll have your hands full if you stop to look into every case of this kind." Goodwyn spoke a little contemptuously, and then went forwards.
"Ah, Martin!" said he, as the latter entered his store about two hours afterwards, "How is your Irishman and his dead horse?" There was an amused expression on his face.
"Badly enough at present," was answered. "Poor fellow! The death of his horse is to him indeed a calamity; like the burning of a mechanic's shop with all his tools; or the sinking of a merchant's ship, wherein was all his fortune. But I think we can put him all right with the world again, and at a very small cost to ourselves. I propose that five individuals contribute ten dollars each, and buy him another horse. Here is the list, I have put down my name, and Gregg has followed suit. You will make the third, and I know who to calculate on for the fourth and fifth subscriptions."
Martin only partly unfolded his subscription paper, for a strong negative came instantly into the face of Goodwyn.
"I'm too poor to make ten-dollar subscriptions for the purchase of cart-horses for beggarly Irishmen," he answered. "If I once undertook that business, I would soon have my hands full. Take my advice, and keep your money, your time, and your pleasant feelings, and don't waste either in the thankless task of collecting money to pay for dead horses."
But Martin, though disappointed, was not turned from his good purpose. He succeeded in getting thirty-five dollars subscribed, and then, adding fifteen from his own purse, he went to the humble abode of the poor Irishman, whom he found, half stupid with despondency, amid his sorrowful wife and children.
"Come, come, Jimmy Maguire?" he said, cheerfully, "this will never do. Brighten up, man!"
"There's no brightening up for me," replied Jimmy, sadly. "Poor Barny is dead," and he drew his hand across his eyes. "The cart's of no use now, and if I was to die for it — I couldn't find money to buy another horse. What is to become of us all of us?"
The picture that Martin looked upon in that humble abode lay all in deep shadow. There was not upon it a single gleam of sunshine.
"What did Barny cost?"
"I paid thirty-five dollars for him, hard-earned money, and he was cheap at that."
"Find another horse as good, or even a little better than Barny, and I will buy him for you, Jimmy. Some kind gentlemen have placed money in my hands for that purpose."
Broad dashes of sunlight fell instantly on the living picture, which lay a moment before in deepest shadow.
"Oh, sir! Is it indeed as you say?" Jimmy caught the arm of Mr. Martin, and looked into his face almost wildly.
"Just as I say, Jimmy Maguire. Find the horse, and I will make him yours."
From the valley of grief and despair to the mountain-top of joy, the Irishman's household passed, as by a single stride. They overwhelmed their benefactor with noisy gratitude, and placed him at once high in the calendar of saints.
That evening Mr. Goodwyn sat alone in his parlor. The picture was on the wall, but his eyes were already more than half satisfied with its beauty, and ceased to turn themselves towards it for pleasure. A friend had been invited home at tea time to look at this picture. He had an artist's eye, and knew a good painting from a bad one. Unfortunately for Mr. Goodwyn, he detected glaring faults in the landscape, and did not hesitate to pronounce it as a fourth-rate affair, and dear at the price which had been paid. Mr. Goodwyn was unhappy.
On the same evening sat Martin alone, gazing at a picture, the sight of which gave him inexpressible pleasure. It was not hanging upon his parlor walls, inclosed in gilded frame, but grouped in his thought, and vivid as life itself. We need not describe this picture. The reader knows that it represented the poor Irishman and his delighted family. Imagination had painted it in richest colorings, and memory was enshrining it in perennial beauty. There was no power in time to rob that picture of its charming freshness. Its possession could not bring a reproving thought; no critic was skilled enough in art to find a defect, and thus lessen the owner's appreciation. It was worth a thousand such pictures as the one his friend had already ceased to value.
The lesson, reader, is for us all.
If we were as ready to hang the chambers of our minds with beautiful pictures, as we are the walls of our houses — what pleasures would we lay up in store for the time to come. As we grow older, we insensibly fall into the habit of looking inwards. We see more with the eyes of the mind, than we do with the eyes of the body — oftener gaze upon the pictures that cluster on memory's walls, than upon those which hang on the walls of our dwellings.
Oh! let us then give beauty and happiness to the future by daily acts of kindness — by tender charities — by deeds of human love. These will group themselves into pictures, upon which, as years glide away, and the eyes look more and more inwards, we shall gaze with purest delight; for time cannot deface them, neither will familiarity rob them of a living interest.
And these are the pictures which are not left hanging upon walls that shall know his presence no more — when a man lays down the burdens of natural life. He takes them with him, as he takes the precious silver of divine truth, and the fine gold of celestial love; and they will help to make beautiful the mansion prepared for him above. Good deeds are the stepping-stones to Heaven!