“There are two points about your story that I do not comprehend,” said I (and as I spoke I could not help the thought that in reality I did not comprehend any of it). “In the first place, I don’t see how you could live for a generation or two in one place and then go off to an entirely new locality. I should think there were not enough inhabited spots in the world to accommodate you in such extensive changes.”
Mr. Crowder smiled. “I don’t wonder you ask that question,” he said; “but in fact it was not always necessary for me to seek new places. There are towns in which I have taken up my residence many times. But as I arrived each time as a stranger from afar, and as these sojourns were separated by many years, there was no one to suppose me to be a person who had lived in that place a century or two before.”
“Then you never had your portrait painted,” I remarked.
“Oh, yes, I have,” he replied. “Toward the close of the thirteenth century I was living in Florence, being at that time married to a lady of wealthy family, and she insisted upon my having my portrait painted by Cimabue, who, as you know, was the master of Giotto. After my wife’s death I departed from Florence, leaving behind me the impression that I intended soon to return; and I would have been glad to take the portrait with me, but I had no opportunity. It was in 1503 that I went back to Florence, and as soon as I could I visited the stately mansion where I had once lived, and there in the gallery still hung the portrait. This was an unsatisfactory discovery, for I might wish at some future time to settle again in Florence, and I had hoped that the portrait had faded, or that it had been destroyed; but Cimabue painted too well, and his work was then held in high value, without regard to his subject. Finding myself entirely alone in the gallery, I cut that picture from its frame. I concealed it under my cloak, and when I reached my lodging I utterly destroyed it. I did not feel that I was committing any crime in doing this; I had ordered and paid for the painting, and I felt that I had a right to do what I pleased with it.”
“I don’t see how you can help having your picture taken in these days,” I said; “even if you refuse to go to a photographer’s, you can’t escape the kodak people. You have a striking presence.”
“Oh, I can’t get away from photographers,” he answered. “I have had a number of pictures taken, at the request of my wife and other people. It is impossible to avoid it, and that is one of the reasons why I am now telling you my story. What is the other point about which you wished to ask me?”
“I cannot comprehend,” I answered, “how you should ever have found yourself poor and obliged to work. I should say that a man who had lived so long would have accumulated, in one way or another, immense wealth, inexhaustible treasures.”