Gervase kept his gaze steadily fixed on the table-cloth. He was extremely pale, and had the air of one who has gone through some great mental exhaustion.
“I have not succeeded as well as I expected,” he answered slowly. “I think my hand must have lost its cunning. At any rate, whatever the reason may be, Art has been defeated by Nature.”
He crumbled up the piece of bread near his plate in small portions with a kind of involuntary violence in the action, and Dr. Dean, deliberately drawing out a pair of spectacles from their case, adjusted them, and surveyed him curiously.
“You mean to say that you cannot paint the Princess’s picture?”
Gervase glanced up at him with a half-sullen, half-defiant expression.
“I don’t say that,” he replied; “I can paint something—something which you can call a picture if you like,—but there is no resemblance to the Princess Ziska in it. She is beautiful, and I can get nothing of her beauty,—I can only get the reflection of a face which is not hers.”
“How very curious!” exclaimed Lady Fulkeward. “Quite psychological, is it not, Doctor? It is almost creepy!” and she managed to produce a delicate shudder of her white shoulders without cracking the blanc de perle enamel. “It will be something fresh for you to study.”
“Possibly it will—possibly,” said the Doctor, still surveying Gervase blandly through his round glasses; “but it isn’t the first time I have heard of painters who unconsciously produce other faces than those of their sitters. I distinctly remember a case in point. A gentleman, famous for his charities and general benevolence, had his portrait painted by a great artist for presentation to the town-hall of his native place, and the artist was quite unable to avoid making him unto the likeness of a villain. It was quite a distressing affair; the painter was probably more distressed than anybody about it, and he tried by every possible means in his power to impart a truthful and noble aspect to the countenance of the man who was known and admitted to be a benefactor to his race. But it was all in vain: the portrait when finished was the portrait of a stranger and a scoundrel. The people for whom it was intended declared they would not have such a libel on their generous friend hung up in their town-hall. The painter was in despair, and there was going to be a general hubbub, when, lo and behold the ‘noble’ personage himself was suddenly arrested for a brutal murder committed twelve years back. He was found guilty and hanged, and the painter kept the portrait that had so remarkably betrayed the murderer’s real nature, as a curiosity ever afterwards.”
“Is that a fact?” inquired a man who was seated at the other side of the table, and who had listened with great interest to the story.
“A positive fact,” said the Doctor. “One of those many singular circumstances which occur in life, and which are beyond all explanation.”