Mr. Uhl was at this time engaged in painting the portraits of Mrs. Frances Hodgson Burnett’s sons. In the course of conversation with Mrs. Burnett, he spoke of the heroic struggle the youth was making. The author’s heart was touched by the pathetic story. She at once wrote a check for one hundred dollars, and handed it to Mr. Uhl, for his protege. With that rare delicacy of feeling which marks all beautiful souls, Mrs. Burnett did not wish to embarrass the struggler by the necessity of thanking her. “Do not let him even write to me,” she said to Mr. Uhl. “Simply say to him that I shall sail for Europe in a few days, and this is to give him a chance to work at the thing he cares for so much. It will at least give him a start.”
In the throbbing life of the crowded city one heart beat high with hope and happiness that night. A youth lay awake until morning, too bewildered with gratitude and amazement to comprehend the meaning of the good fortune which had come to him. Who could his benefactor be?
Three years later, at the annual exhibition of Washington artists, Mrs. Burnett stood before a remarkably vivid portrait. Addressing the artist in charge of the exhibition, she said: “That seems to me very strong. It looks as if it must be a realistic likeness. Who did it?”
“I am so glad you like it. It was painted by your protege, Mrs. Burnett.”
“My protege! My protege! Whom do you mean?”
“Why, the young man you saved from despair three years ago. Don’t you remember young W—–?”
“W—–?” queried Mrs. Burnett.
“The young man whose story Mr. Uhl told you.”
Mrs. Burnett then inquired if the portrait was for sale. When informed that the picture was an order and not for sale, she asked if there was anything else of Mr. W—–’s on exhibition. She was conducted to a striking picture of a turbaned head, which was pointed out as another of Mr. W—–’s works.
“How much does he ask for it?”
“A hundred and fifty dollars.”
“Put ‘sold’ upon it, and when Mr. W—– comes, tell him his friend has bought his picture,” said Mrs. Burnett.
On her return home Mrs. Burnett made out a check, which she inclosed in a letter to the young painter. It was mailed simultaneously with a letter from her protege, who had but just heard of her return from Europe, in which he begged her to accept, as a slight expression of his gratitude, the picture she had just purchased. The turbaned head now adorns the hall of Mrs. Burnett’s house in Washington.
“I do not understand it even to-day,” declares Mr. W—–. “I knew nothing of Mrs. Burnett, nor she of me. Why did she do it? I only know that that hundred dollars was worth more to me then than fifty thousand in gold would be now. I lived upon it a whole year, and it put me on my feet.”
Mr. W—– is a successful artist, now favorably known in his own country and in England for the strength and promise of his work.