A certain painter met with great success for some time by announcing a thing which was an impossibility--namely, by pretending that he could take a portrait of a person without seeing the individual, and only from the description given. But he wanted the description to be thoroughly accurate. The result of it was that the portrait did greater honour to the person who gave the description than--to the painter himself, but at the same time the informer found himself under the obligation of finding the likeness very good; otherwise the artist alleged the most legitimate excuse, and said that if the likeness was not perfect the fault was to be ascribed to the person who had given an imperfect description.
One evening I was taking supper at Silvia's when one of the guests spoke of that wonderful new artist, without laughing, and with every appearance of believing the whole affair.
"That painter," added he, "has already painted more than one hundred portraits, and they are all perfect likenesses."
Everybody was of the same opinion; it was splendid. I was the only one who, laughing heartily, took the liberty of saying it was absurd and impossible. The gentleman who had brought the wonderful news, feeling angry, proposed a wager of one hundred louis. I laughed all the more because his offer could not be accepted unless I exposed myself to being made a dupe.
"But the portraits are all admirable likenesses."
"I do not believe it, or if they are then there must be cheating somewhere."
But the gentleman, being bent upon convincing Silvia and me--for she had taken my part proposed to make us dine with the artist; and we accepted.
The next day we called upon the painter, where we saw a quantity of portraits, all of which the artist claimed to be speaking likenesses; as we did not know the persons whom they represented we could not deny his claim.
"Sir," said Silvia to the artist, "could you paint the likeness of my daughter without seeing her?"
"Yes, madam, if you are certain of giving me an exact description of the expression of her features."
We exchanged a glance, and no more was said about it. The painter told us that supper was his favourite meal, and that he would be delighted if we would often give him the pleasure of our company. Like all quacks, he possessed an immense quantity of letters and testimonials from Bordeaux, Toulouse, Lyons, Rouen, etc., which paid the highest compliments to the perfection of his portraits, or gave descriptions for new pictures ordered from him. His portraits, by the way, had to be paid for in advance.
Two or three days afterwards I met his pretty niece, who obligingly upbraided me for not having yet availed myself of her uncle's invitation to supper; the niece was a dainty morsel worthy of a king, and, her reproaches being very flattering to my vanity I promised I would come the next day. In less than a week it turned out a serious engagement. I fell in love with the interesting niece, who, being full of wit and well disposed to enjoy herself, had no love for me, and granted me no favour. I hoped, and, feeling that I was caught, I felt it was the only thing I could do.
One day that I was alone in my room, drinking my coffee and thinking of her, the door was suddenly opened without anyone being announced, and a young man came in. I did not recollect him, but, without giving me time to ask any questions, he said to me,
"Sir, I have had the honour of meeting you at the supper-table of M. Samson, the painter."
"Ah! yes; I beg you to excuse me, sir, I did not at first recollect you."
"It is natural, for your eyes are always on Mdlle. Samson."
"Very likely, but you must admit that she is a charming creature."
"I have no difficulty whatever in agreeing with you; to my misery, I know it but too well."
"You are in love with her?"
"Alas, yes! and I say, again, to my misery."
"To your misery? But why, do not you gain her love?"
"That is the very thing I have been striving for since last year, and I was beginning to have some hope when your arrival has reduced me to despair."
"I have reduced you to despair?"
"I am very sorry, but I cannot help it."
"You could easily help it; and, if you would allow me, I could suggest to you the way in which you could greatly oblige me."
"You might never put your foot in the house again."
"That is a rather singular proposal, but I agree that it is truly the only thing I can do if I have a real wish to oblige you. Do you think, however, that in that case you would succeed in gaining her affection?"
"Then it will be my business to succeed. Do not go there again, and I will take care of the rest."
"I might render you that very great service; but you must confess that you must have a singular opinion of me to suppose that I am a man to do such a thing."
"Yes, sir, I admit that it may appear singular; but I take you for a man of great sense and sound intellect, and after considering the subject deeply I have thought that you would put yourself in my place; that you would not wish to make me miserable, or to expose your own life for a young girl who can have inspired you with but a passing fancy, whilst my only wish is to secure the happiness or the misery of my life, whichever it may prove, by uniting her existence with mine."