I had always thought Jack Gisburn rather a cheap genius--though a
good fellow enough--so it was no great surprise to me to hear
that, in the height of his glory, he had dropped his painting,
married a rich widow, and established himself in a villa on the
Riviera. (Though I rather thought it would have been Rome or
"The height of his glory"--that was what the women called it. I
can hear Mrs. Gideon Thwing--his last Chicago sitter--deploring
his unaccountable abdication. "Of course it's going to send the
value of my picture 'way up; but I don't think of that, Mr.
Rickham--the loss to Arrt is all I think of." The word, on Mrs.
Thwing's lips, multiplied its RS as though they were reflected in
an endless vista of mirrors. And it was not only the Mrs. Thwings
who mourned. Had not the exquisite Hermia Croft, at the last
Grafton Gallery show, stopped me before Gisburn's "Moon-dancers"
to say, with tears in her eyes: "We shall not look upon
its like again"?
Well!--even through the prism of Hermia's tears I felt able to
face the fact with equanimity. Poor Jack Gisburn! The women had
made him--it was fitting that they should mourn him. Among his
own sex fewer regrets were heard, and in his own trade hardly a
murmur. Professional jealousy? Perhaps. If it were, the honour
of the craft was vindicated by little Claude Nutley, who, in all
good faith, brought out in the Burlington a very handsome
"obituary" on Jack--one of those showy articles stocked with
random technicalities that I have heard (I won't say by whom)
compared to Gisburn's painting. And so--his resolve being
apparently irrevocable--the discussion gradually died out, and,
as Mrs. Thwing had predicted, the price of "Gisburns" went up.
It was not till three years later that, in the course of a few
weeks' idling on the Riviera, it suddenly occurred to me to
wonder why Gisburn had given up his painting. On reflection, it
really was a tempting problem. To accuse his wife would have
been too easy--his fair sitters had been denied the solace of
saying that Mrs. Gisburn had "dragged him down." For Mrs.
Gisburn--as such--had not existed till nearly a year after Jack's
resolve had been taken. It might be that he had married her--
since he liked his ease--because he didn't want to go on
painting; but it would have been hard to prove that he had given
up his painting because he had married her.
Of course, if she had not dragged him down, she had equally, as
Miss Croft contended, failed to "lift him up"--she had not led
him back to the easel. To put the brush into his hand again--
what a vocation for a wife! But Mrs. Gisburn appeared to have
disdained it--and I felt it might be interesting to find out why.
The desultory life of the Riviera lends itself to such purely
academic speculations; and having, on my way to Monte Carlo,
caught a glimpse of Jack's balustraded terraces between the
pines, I had myself borne thither the next day.
I found the couple at tea beneath their palm-trees; and Mrs.
Gisburn's welcome was so genial that, in the ensuing weeks, I
claimed it frequently. It was not that my hostess was
"interesting": on that point I could have given Miss Croft the
fullest reassurance. It was just because she was NOT
interesting--if I may be pardoned the bull--that I found her so.
For Jack, all his life, had been surrounded by interesting women:
they had fostered his art, it had been reared in the hot-house of
their adulation. And it was therefore instructive to note what
effect the "deadening atmosphere of mediocrity" (I quote Miss
Croft) was having on him.
I have mentioned that Mrs. Gisburn was rich; and it was
immediately perceptible that her husband was extracting from this
circumstance a delicate but substantial satisfaction. It is, as
a rule, the people who scorn money who get most out of it; and
Jack's elegant disdain of his wife's big balance enabled him,
with an appearance of perfect good-breeding, to transmute it into
objects of art and luxury. To the latter, I must add, he
remained relatively indifferent; but he was buying Renaissance
bronzes and eighteenth-century pictures with a discrimination
that bespoke the amplest resources.
"Money's only excuse is to put beauty into circulation," was one
of the axioms he laid down across the Sevres and silver of an
exquisitely appointed luncheon-table, when, on a later day, I had
again run over from Monte Carlo; and Mrs. Gisburn, beaming on
him, added for my enlightenment: "Jack is so morbidly sensitive
to every form of beauty."
Poor Jack! It had always been his fate to have women say such
things of him: the fact should be set down in extenuation. What
struck me now was that, for the first time, he resented the tone.
I had seen him, so often, basking under similar tributes--was it
the conjugal note that robbed them of their savour? No--for,
oddly enough, it became apparent that he was fond of Mrs.
Gisburn--fond enough not to see her absurdity. It was his own
absurdity he seemed to be wincing under--his own attitude as an
object for garlands and incense.
"My dear, since I've chucked painting people don't say that stuff
about me--they say it about Victor Grindle," was his only
protest, as he rose from the table and strolled out onto the
I glanced after him, struck by his last word. Victor Grindle
was, in fact, becoming the man of the moment--as Jack himself,
one might put it, had been the man of the hour. The younger
artist was said to have formed himself at my friend's feet, and I
wondered if a tinge of jealousy underlay the latter's mysterious
abdication. But no--for it was not till after that event that
the rose Dubarry drawing-rooms had begun to display their
I turned to Mrs. Gisburn, who had lingered to give a lump of
sugar to her spaniel in the dining-room.
"Why HAS he chucked painting?" I asked abruptly.
She raised her eyebrows with a hint of good-humoured surprise.
"Oh, he doesn't HAVE to now, you know; and I want him to enjoy
himself," she said quite simply.
I looked about the spacious white-panelled room, with its
famille-verte vases repeating the tones of the pale damask
curtains, and its eighteenth-century pastels in delicate faded
"Has he chucked his pictures too? I haven't seen a single one in
A slight shade of constraint crossed Mrs. Gisburn's open
countenance. "It's his ridiculous modesty, you know. He says
they're not fit to have about; he's sent them all away except
one--my portrait--and that I have to keep upstairs."
His ridiculous modesty--Jack's modesty about his pictures? My
curiosity was growing like the bean-stalk. I said persuasively
to my hostess: "I must really see your portrait, you know."
She glanced out almost timorously at the terrace where her
husband, lounging in a hooded chair, had lit a cigar and drawn
the Russian deerhound's head between his knees.
"Well, come while he's not looking," she said, with a laugh that
tried to hide her nervousness; and I followed her between the
marble Emperors of the hall, and up the wide stairs with terra-
cotta nymphs poised among flowers at each landing.
In the dimmest corner of her boudoir, amid a profusion of
delicate and distinguished objects, hung one of the familiar oval
canvases, in the inevitable garlanded frame. The mere outline of
the frame called up all Gisburn's past!
Mrs. Gisburn drew back the window-curtains, moved aside a
jardiniere full of pink azaleas, pushed an arm-chair away, and
said: "If you stand here you can just manage to see it. I had it
over the mantel-piece, but he wouldn't let it stay."
Yes--I could just manage to see it--the first portrait of Jack's
I had ever had to strain my eyes over! Usually they had the
place of honour--say the central panel in a pale yellow or rose
Dubarry drawing-room, or a monumental easel placed so that it
took the light through curtains of old Venetian point. The more
modest place became the picture better; yet, as my eyes grew
accustomed to the half-light, all the characteristic qualities
came out--all the hesitations disguised as audacities, the tricks
of prestidigitation by which, with such consummate skill, he
managed to divert attention from the real business of the picture
to some pretty irrelevance of detail. Mrs. Gisburn, presenting a
neutral surface to work on--forming, as it were, so inevitably
the background of her own picture--had lent herself in an unusual
degree to the display of this false virtuosity. The picture was
one of Jack's "strongest," as his admirers would have put it--it
represented, on his part, a swelling of muscles, a congesting of
veins, a balancing, straddling and straining, that reminded one
of the circus-clown's ironic efforts to lift a feather. It met,
in short, at every point the demand of lovely woman to be painted
"strongly" because she was tired of being painted "sweetly"--and
yet not to lose an atom of the sweetness.
"It's the last he painted, you know," Mrs. Gisburn said with
pardonable pride. "The last but one," she corrected herself--
"but the other doesn't count, because he destroyed it."
"Destroyed it?" I was about to follow up this clue when I heard
a footstep and saw Jack himself on the threshold.
As he stood there, his hands in the pockets of his velveteen
coat, the thin brown waves of hair pushed back from his white
forehead, his lean sunburnt cheeks furrowed by a smile that
lifted the tips of a self-confident moustache, I felt to what a
degree he had the same quality as his pictures--the quality of
looking cleverer than he was.
His wife glanced at him deprecatingly, but his eyes travelled
past her to the portrait.
"Mr. Rickham wanted to see it," she began, as if excusing
herself. He shrugged his shoulders, still smiling.
"Oh, Rickham found me out long ago," he said lightly; then,
passing his arm through mine: "Come and see the rest of the
He showed it to me with a kind of naive suburban pride: the
bath-rooms, the speaking-tubes, the dress-closets, the trouser-
presses--all the complex simplifications of the millionaire's
domestic economy. And whenever my wonder paid the expected
tribute he said, throwing out his chest a little: "Yes, I really
don't see how people manage to live without that."
Well--it was just the end one might have foreseen for him. Only
he was, through it all and in spite of it all--as he had been
through, and in spite of, his pictures--so handsome, so charming,
so disarming, that one longed to cry out: "Be dissatisfied with
your leisure!" as once one had longed to say: "Be dissatisfied
with your work!"
But, with the cry on my lips, my diagnosis suffered an unexpected
"This is my own lair," he said, leading me into a dark plain room
at the end of the florid vista. It was square and brown and
leathery: no "effects"; no bric-a-brac, none of the air of posing
for reproduction in a picture weekly--above all, no least sign of
ever having been used as a studio.
The fact brought home to me the absolute finality of Jack's break
with his old life.
"Don't you ever dabble with paint any more?" I asked, still
looking about for a trace of such activity.
"Never," he said briefly.
"Or water-colour--or etching?"
His confident eyes grew dim, and his cheeks paled a little under
their handsome sunburn.
"Never think of it, my dear fellow--any more than if I'd never
touched a brush."
And his tone told me in a flash that he never thought of anything
I moved away, instinctively embarrassed by my unexpected
discovery; and as I turned, my eye fell on a small picture above
the mantel-piece--the only object breaking the plain oak
panelling of the room.
"Oh, by Jove!" I said.
It was a sketch of a donkey--an old tired donkey, standing in the
rain under a wall.
"By Jove--a Stroud!" I cried.
He was silent; but I felt him close behind me, breathing a little
"What a wonder! Made with a dozen lines--but on everlasting
foundations. You lucky chap, where did you get it?"
He answered slowly: "Mrs. Stroud gave it to me."
"Ah--I didn't know you even knew the Strouds. He was such an
"I didn't--till after. . . . She sent for me to paint him when
he was dead."
"When he was dead? You?"
I must have let a little too much amazement escape through my
surprise, for he answered with a deprecating laugh: "Yes--she's
an awful simpleton, you know, Mrs. Stroud. Her only idea was to
have him done by a fashionable painter--ah, poor Stroud! She
thought it the surest way of proclaiming his greatness--of
forcing it on a purblind public. And at the moment I was THE
"Ah, poor Stroud--as you say. Was THAT his history?"
"That was his history. She believed in him, gloried in him--or
thought she did. But she couldn't bear not to have all the
drawing-rooms with her. She couldn't bear the fact that, on
varnishing days, one could always get near enough to see his
pictures. Poor woman! She's just a fragment groping for other
fragments. Stroud is the only whole I ever knew."
"You ever knew? But you just said--"
Gisburn had a curious smile in his eyes.
"Oh, I knew him, and he knew me--only it happened after he was
I dropped my voice instinctively. "When she sent for you?"
"Yes--quite insensible to the irony. She wanted him vindicated--
and by me!"
He laughed again, and threw back his head to look up at the
sketch of the donkey. "There were days when I couldn't look at
that thing--couldn't face it. But I forced myself to put it
here; and now it's cured me--cured me. That's the reason why I
don't dabble any more, my dear Rickham; or rather Stroud himself
is the reason."
For the first time my idle curiosity about my companion turned
into a serious desire to understand him better.
"I wish you'd tell me how it happened," I said.
He stood looking up at the sketch, and twirling between his
fingers a cigarette he had forgotten to light. Suddenly he
turned toward me.
"I'd rather like to tell you--because I've always suspected you
of loathing my work."
I made a deprecating gesture, which he negatived with a good-
"Oh, I didn't care a straw when I believed in myself--and now
it's an added tie between us!"
He laughed slightly, without bitterness, and pushed one of the
deep arm-chairs forward. "There: make yourself comfortable--and
here are the cigars you like."
He placed them at my elbow and continued to wander up and down
the room, stopping now and then beneath the picture.
"How it happened? I can tell you in five minutes--and it didn't
take much longer to happen. . . . I can remember now how
surprised and pleased I was when I got Mrs. Stroud's note. Of
course, deep down, I had always FELT there was no one like him--
only I had gone with the stream, echoed the usual platitudes
about him, till I half got to think he was a failure, one of the
kind that are left behind. By Jove, and he WAS left behind--
because he had come to stay! The rest of us had to let ourselves
be swept along or go under, but he was high above the current--on
everlasting foundations, as you say.
"Well, I went off to the house in my most egregious mood--rather
moved, Lord forgive me, at the pathos of poor Stroud's career of
failure being crowned by the glory of my painting him! Of course
I meant to do the picture for nothing--I told Mrs. Stroud so when
she began to stammer something about her poverty. I remember
getting off a prodigious phrase about the honour being MINE--oh,
I was princely, my dear Rickham! I was posing to myself like one
of my own sitters.
"Then I was taken up and left alone with him. I had sent all my
traps in advance, and I had only to set up the easel and get to
work. He had been dead only twenty-four hours, and he died
suddenly, of heart disease, so that there had been no preliminary
work of destruction--his face was clear and untouched. I had met
him once or twice, years before, and thought him insignificant
and dingy. Now I saw that he was superb.
"I was glad at first, with a merely aesthetic satisfaction: glad
to have my hand on such a 'subject.' Then his strange life-
likeness began to affect me queerly--as I blocked the head in I
felt as if he were watching me do it. The sensation was followed
by the thought: if he WERE watching me, what would he say to my
way of working? My strokes began to go a little wild--I felt
nervous and uncertain.
"Once, when I looked up, I seemed to see a smile behind his close
grayish beard--as if he had the secret, and were amusing himself
by holding it back from me. That exasperated me still more. The
secret? Why, I had a secret worth twenty of his! I dashed at
the canvas furiously, and tried some of my bravura tricks. But
they failed me, they crumbled. I saw that he wasn't watching the
showy bits--I couldn't distract his attention; he just kept his
eyes on the hard passages between. Those were the ones I had
always shirked, or covered up with some lying paint. And how he
saw through my lies!
"I looked up again, and caught sight of that sketch of the donkey
hanging on the wall near his bed. His wife told me afterward it
was the last thing he had done--just a note taken with a shaking
hand, when he was down in Devonshire recovering from a previous
heart attack. Just a note! But it tells his whole history.
There are years of patient scornful persistence in every line. A
man who had swum with the current could never have learned that
mighty up-stream stroke. . . .
"I turned back to my work, and went on groping and muddling; then
I looked at the donkey again. I saw that, when Stroud laid in
the first stroke, he knew just what the end would be. He had
possessed his subject, absorbed it, recreated it. When had I
done that with any of my things? They hadn't been born of me--I
had just adopted them. . . .
"Hang it, Rickham, with that face watching me I couldn't do
another stroke. The plain truth was, I didn't know where to put
it--I HAD NEVER KNOWN. Only, with my sitters and my public, a
showy splash of colour covered up the fact--I just threw paint
into their faces. . . . Well, paint was the one medium those
dead eyes could see through--see straight to the tottering
foundations underneath. Don't you know how, in talking a foreign
language, even fluently, one says half the time not what one
wants to but what one can? Well--that was the way I painted; and
as he lay there and watched me, the thing they called my
'technique' collapsed like a house of cards. He didn't sneer,
you understand, poor Stroud--he just lay there quietly watching,
and on his lips, through the gray beard, I seemed to hear the
question: 'Are you sure you know where you're coming out?'
"If I could have painted that face, with that question on it, I
should have done a great thing. The next greatest thing was to
see that I couldn't--and that grace was given me. But, oh, at
that minute, Rickham, was there anything on earth I wouldn't have
given to have Stroud alive before me, and to hear him say: 'It's
not too late--I'll show you how'?
"It WAS too late--it would have been, even if he'd been alive. I
packed up my traps, and went down and told Mrs. Stroud. Of
course I didn't tell her THAT--it would have been Greek to her.
I simply said I couldn't paint him, that I was too moved. She
rather liked the idea--she's so romantic! It was that that made
her give me the donkey. But she was terribly upset at not
getting the portrait--she did so want him 'done' by some one
showy! At first I was afraid she wouldn't let me off--and at my
wits' end I suggested Grindle. Yes, it was I who started
Grindle: I told Mrs. Stroud he was the 'coming' man, and she told
somebody else, and so it got to be true. . . . And he painted
Stroud without wincing; and she hung the picture among her
husband's things. . . ."
He flung himself down in the arm-chair near mine, laid back his
head, and clasping his arms beneath it, looked up at the picture
above the chimney-piece.
"I like to fancy that Stroud himself would have given it to me,
if he'd been able to say what he thought that day."
And, in answer to a question I put half-mechanically--"Begin
again?" he flashed out. "When the one thing that brings me
anywhere near him is that I knew enough to leave off?"
He stood up and laid his hand on my shoulder with a laugh. "Only
the irony of it is that I AM still painting--since Grindle's
doing it for me! The Strouds stand alone, and happen once--but
there's no exterminating our kind of art."
The End of The Verdict