The extraordinary success of Miss Forrest’s picture and the instantaneous recognition of her merit as an artist, apart from her novel subject, perhaps went further to remove her uneasiness than any serious conviction of the professor’s theory. Nevertheless, it appealed to her poetic and mystic imagination, and although other subjects from her brush met with equally phenomenal success, and she was able in a year to return to America with a reputation assured beyond criticism, she never entirely forgot the strange incident connected with her initial effort.
And by degrees a singular change came over her. Rich, famous, and attractive, she began to experience a sentimental and romantic interest in that episode. Once, when reproached by her friends for her indifference to her admirers, she had half laughingly replied that she had once found her “ideal,” but never would again. Yet the jest had scarcely passed her lips before she became pale and silent. With this change came also a desire to re-purchase the picture, which she had sold in her early success to a speculative American picture-dealer. On inquiry she found, alas! that it had been sold only a day or two before to a Chicago gentleman, of the name of Potter, who had taken a fancy to it.
Miss Forrest curled her pretty lip, but, nothing daunted, resolved to effect her purpose, and sought the purchaser at his hotel. She was ushered into a private drawing-room, where, on a handsome easel, stood the newly acquired purchase. Mr. Potter was out, “but would return in a moment.”
Miss Forrest was relieved, for, alone and undisturbed, she could now let her full soul go out to her romantic creation. As she stood there, she felt the glamour of the old English garden come back to her, the play of light and shadow, the silent pool, the godlike face and bust, with its cast-down, meditative eyes, seen through the parted reeds. She clasped her hands silently before her. Should she never see it again as then?
“Pray don’t let me disturb you; but won’t you take a seat?”
Miss Forrest turned sharply round. Then she started, uttered a frightened little cry, and fainted away.
Mr. Potter was touched, but a master of himself. As she came to, he said quietly: “I came upon you suddenly—as you stood entranced by this picture—just as I did when I first saw it. That’s why I bought it. Are you any relative of the Miss Forrest who painted it?” he continued, quietly looking at her card, which he held in his hand.
Miss Forrest recovered herself sufficiently to reply, and stated her business with some dignity.
“Ah,” said Mr. Potter, “That is another question. You see, the picture has a special value to me, as I once saw an old-fashioned garden like that in England. But that chap there,—I beg your pardon, I mean that figure,—I fancy, is your own creation, entirely. However, I’ll think over your proposition, and if you will allow me I’ll call and see you about it.”