“Is it a Rubens, or is it not? That is the question,” drawled Frank Parselle, as he dropped his eyeglass.
On an easel in Lady Merivale’s drawing-room, stood a picture, before which were grouped a small assembly of her friends, including one or two artists and connoisseurs.
Lord Merivale was also present, having been dragged away from his beloved farm, and worried into the purchase of this picture—the usual “Portrait of a gentleman”—by his beautiful wife. He himself knew nothing whatsoever about it, either as to its value or its genuineness; it was worn and dirty-looking, and, in his opinion, would have been dear at a five-pound note.
“Yes, that is the question,” echoed Lord Standon. “It’s not a bad face though. I should vote it genuine right enough.”
“It’s extremely dirty,” yawned Lord Merivale, casting a longing look at the green grass of the park opposite and thinking of his new shorthorns in Somersetshire.
“Philistine!” exclaimed his wife, tapping him playfully on the arm. “You are incorrigible. Dirty! why, that is tone.”
“Ah,” returned her husband, turning away and gazing admiringly at a bull by Potter. He was as wise as he had been before; for the jargon of Art and fashionable society was not one of his accomplishments.
“I tell you who would be a good judge,” put in Mr. Paxhorn.
The rest turned inquiring eyes on him.
“Who?” asked Lord Standon.
“Adrien Leroy. He is an artist, though he keeps his talents as secret as if they were crimes. It was he who did the designs for my last book.”
A murmur of astonishment ran through the room. Nearly every one knew that it was to the illustrations the book owed the greater portion of its success.
“A modesty quite unfashionable,” exclaimed Lady Merivale, whose beautiful face had flushed ever so slightly at the mention of Adrien’s name.
“Yes,” admitted Paxhorn. “Men have to proclaim their gifts very loudly in the market-place, before they sell their wares nowadays.”
“Oh, Adrien is a veritable Crichton,” put in Lord Standon. “There is very little he does not know, and even that is made up by the estimable Jasper.”
“Yes, I saw them together got half an hour ago,” said Paxhorn. “If I had known of this picture, I would have got them to come with me; for Vermont is a genius at settling any question under the sun.”
“He’s not always right, though,” put in Lord Merivale, quietly. “What about that horse of Leroy’s? Wasn’t it Vermont who was so sure of his winning the race? Yet his Majesty did not win, did he?”
“No, I know that,” said Standon, with a rueful smile, as he thought of his added debts.
“That was not Vermont’s lack of judgment,” put in Paxhorn, who, for private reasons of his own, always stood up for that gentleman. “I am sure the horse would have won had it not been for Adrien’s ill-timed generosity.”