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Sherley Family
Honor Virtutis Praemium - Honor is the reward of virtue.

The Story of a Picture

_By Douglass Sherley_

_A Dainty Trifle for my Lady Love_

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John P. Morton & Co., Louisville,

1884.

Copyrighted 1884,
  By Douglass Sherley.

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"Near my bed, there, hangs a Picture jewels could not buy from me."

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There was a colored crayon in a crowded shop-window. Other people passed
it by, but a Youth of the Town, with Hope in his heart, leaned over the
guard-rail and looked upon the beauty of that pictured face long and
earnestly.

It was the head of a pretty girl with dark hair and dark eyes. She was
clad in a dainty white gown, loose-flowing and beautiful. In her left
hand, slender and uplifted, a letter; in her right a pen, and beneath it
a spotless page.

She was seated within the shadow of a white marble chimney-piece richly
carved with Cupids, fluttering, kneeling, supplicating; with arrows new,
broken, and mended; with quivers full, depleted, and empty. The great,
broad shelf above her pretty head was laden with rare and artistic
treasures. A vase from India; a costly fan from China; a dark and
mottled bit of color in an ancient frame of tarnished gold, done by some
Flemish master of the long-ago. Beyond all this, a ground of shadowy
green, pale, cool, and delicious. On the table, near the spotless page
and the dear pen-clasping hand, a bunch of flowers; not a mass of ugly
blooms, opulent and oppressive, but a few garden roses, old-fashioned
and exceeding sweet, blushing to their utmost red, having found
themselves so unexpectedly brought into the presence of this pretty
girl.

This, in outline, was the picture. The dealer had written on a slip of
paper, in large, rude letters,

  _Her answer: Yes, or No._

It was a frameless crayon, thrust aside and somewhat overshadowed by a
huge and garish thing in gaudy-flowered gilt, which easily caught and
held the eye of the busy throng.

The Youth passed on to his duty of the day with Hope in his heart. Light
grew his heavy task, and the drudgery of his work was forgotten--he was
haunted by the sight of that face in the Picture. The softness of the
eye, the sweetness of the mouth, or something, made the Youth of the
noisy Town believe her answer would surely be--Yes.

Now the Youth and the Afternoon Shadows together came and feasted on the
beauty of that Maiden's face. The Shadows, without booty, fled away into
the night. But not so with the Youth. In triumph he brought it to the
favored room of his own dear home; and always thereafter this Picture
gleamed in beauty from out its chimney-piece setting of ebony and old
cherry.

She was always pretty, sometimes beautiful, but not always the same,
this my Lady of the Picture. She was indeed a changeful Lady, as the
story will tell. Those who saw her face when first she was given the
place of honor in the home of this Youth, with Hope in his heart, all
said, and with one accord, "There is but one answer for her to make, and
that one answer is, Yes."

The Easter-tide growing old, and the Summer time new and beautiful,
brought no change. The last light of each day fell on the clear-cut and
delicate face, gilded the dark hair with a deep russet brown, played
about the sweet mouth--and was gone, leaving her with answer yet
ungiven.

The first fire of the Autumn crackled and glowed on the tiled hearth,
and threw a Shadow on the face of the pretty girl in the Picture; and
from that moment there was a change. "But it is only a Shadow from the
fire-light glow," said the Youth of the Town. But something within
whispered, "You are wrong; she is going to say, No."

Again and again the words repeated themselves, clearly and distinctly,
"You are wrong! you are wrong! you are wrong!" Then vaguely and almost
inaudibly, "She is going to say, No;" with his own voice he made effort
to drown the words of that fateful refrain. "It is the idle, spiteful
chatter of some evil spirit. My heart is full of Hope, and I will not
believe it." But that night, alone with his book and the face over the
fire, only embers on the hearth--_the Shadow was still there_. But
he said that it was a wild and troubled fancy--"It is not, can not be an
actual Shadow; women may change, but surely not pictures."

The next day Autumn repented of its wanton folly, and called out with
Sunshine and Brightness for the return of the dead Summer. The light
fell on the face of the girl in the Picture, but it did not lift the
Shadow. Nor did the dead Summer return to gladden the heart of the
Autumn, full of too late and useless regret. "No, I am not certain,"
said the Youth, touched with a Doubt. It was only a touch, but his step
was heavy and a trifle less quick, as he went down the street to his
Duty of the day. Again he passed by the crowded shop window. The dealer
had filled the vacant corner; but he did not see, and he did not care to
see, what was there. For there was now only one picture in all the world
for this Youth of the Town with Hope in his heart; but something else
had crowded into his heart, and it was--Doubt. He went on his way and
about his duty with this one hopeful thought: "The nightfall will bring
a change, and the Shadow will have gone." But each day the Shadow
deepened, and the Youth carried with him a more troubled and a less
hopeful heart. All those who saw the Picture, and who had seen it
when first it came, now looked upon it with painful surprise, and
unhesitatingly said, "Your pretty-faced girl over the mantel yonder
is undoubtedly going to say, No."

Into the soft, dark eye there seemed to have crept a glitter, cold and
almost unfeeling. The fatal Shadow had hardened, but not altogether
stolen away the beauty of that sweet mouth. Even the loose-flowing gown
seemed to have lost its easy grace, and stiffened into splendid and
haughty folds, fit only for the form of some grand old Dame proud of her
beauty and proud of her ancient coronet. The very lace about her slender
throat--but a misty web of dainty and intricate work--seemed to have
crystallized and whitened, as if done with a sharp and skillful chisel.
The pale, pinky tinge about the perfect little ear had deepened into
a more rosy hue, which had overspread the face--barely more than
pale--with a deep color and a glow of emotion only half concealed.
Ah, was it a look of triumph? was it the consciousness of power?

The left hand, holding her Lover's letter, had lost its somewhat
tremulous look. The fingers of the other hand had tightened about the
pen, hovering over that unwritten page. And, in short, she seemed ready
to write the answer--what will it be? The heart of the Youth was full of
Trouble. Hope flickered up into an uncertain existence. Now the Picture
had grown hateful to his sight; so a silken curtain, in crimson folds,
clung against and hid away the face of this Changeful Lady.

But no sooner was the curtain drawn, hiding from sight the lovely and
beloved face, but an all-powerful desire brought him back again, and lo!
the curtain was rudely thrust aside; but alas! there was no change.

When away from his room and the siren-like face behind its silken folds
of crimson, he fretted to return and look again for a change wrought out
by his brief absence; but there was none.

Hateful indeed the sight may have been of that changeful face, but it
had grown to him absolutely necessary, and more pleasant, indeed, even
when hard, cold, and unkind, than other faces not less beautiful smiling
sweet unspoken words.

He slept in a curtained space near by, and often waked in the still
watches of the after-midnight, with the Hope in his heart, flaring up
into a flame and burning him with a desire for another sight of that
fickle face. Before the picture there hung a dim, red light, which
burned all the night long. It was a swinging lamp of many tangled chains
and fretted Venetian metal work. Once it had swung before an holy altar
in an ancient Mexican town, where it had shed an unextinguished light
throughout many years. It was a holy thing; so the Youth had thought it
worthy of a place before the deep-set Picture of the chimney-piece--the
shrine of his heart's treasure. Thus awakened out of troubled sleep, he
often rose and stood before the covered Picture, beneath the swinging
red light brought--stolen, perhaps--from the sacred sanctuary of that
ancient church down in the land of Mexico. Often, with Hope, Doubt, and
Fear in his heart, he would turn away from before the untouched curtain.
"Useless, useless, useless," would be the burden of his thought.

The third Easter-tide comes with its brightness, its flowers, and its
Hopes--yet my Lady of the Picture has not changed. Still that same
relentless look; still that premonition of a No not yet said; still in
her left hand she holds the letter; still in her right hand the pen, and
the page beneath it is yet guiltless of a word.

But frowns and relentless looks have not put to flight the remnant of
Hope in the heart of the Youth. "It is only a picture. Why should I
trouble?" he said.

But words are easy, and many questions are hard to answer.

The Youth had loved the face when first he saw it in the crowded
shop-window of the Town. So did he love it now. Change can not kill
Love, if Love it be. What matter to the Youth even if the eye had grown
cold and a Shadow rested about the sweet mouth? Can such things as these
make denial to the heart of a Lover? Aye, to the heart of a Love-maker,
but not to the heart of one who loves. There is no limit to Love. A
thousand nays can not check its course if true Love it be.

But again there is a change with my Lady of the Picture. Does the heart
of the advancing Easter-tide hold the magic spell? Those who chance to
see her now note it, and think it strange. "No," they murmur, "will be
her answer. But it is her Duty that bids her, and she must obey."

The silken curtain is torn down and the light of day completes the
triple story of this, my Lady of the Picture. The cold glitter is gone
from about the eyes, and the old soft light has returned, and yet it is
not the same as of old. The fatal Shadow round about the sweet mouth is
but a bare outline--a shade, not a Shadow any more.

Again the pretty white gown is loose--flowing and beautiful. The thought
of the grand old Dame, proud of her beauty and proud of her ancient
coronet, vanishes with the morning mist of the Easter-tide. Again the
dainty lace that clings to her slender white and flower-like throat,
softens and grows creamy and weblike, free from the bleachment and
crystallization of a while ago. Again the face is barely more than pale.
The deep color has faded away, leaving but a faint, delicate trace, and
a pinky tinge which reaches out until it kisses the utmost tip of her
perfect little ear. How deep, tender, and wondrous sad those eyes have
grown! Down in their dark depths her very soul seems to tremble into
sight. It is only one who has suffered who can have such eyes. And, in
truth, it is worth almost a lifetime of suffering to look deep down into
such eyes of sad beauty. She was but a pretty-faced girl; but now,
behold! she is a beautiful woman. And she is weary, O, so weary with the
long, hard battle within.

But Fear and Doubt still dwell and share with Hope a place in the heart
of the Youth. He finds it sweet comfort to believe that even if her
answer be No, it may come from a sense of Duty. Love is Love always, but
not so with Duty. For that which may be Duty to-day may not be Duty on
the morrow.

So the Youth of the Town longs for the coming of the morrow.

Who wrote, and sent to her with those sweet red roses from some old-time
garden, this, his Lover's letter, which she still is holding in her left
hand, once again just a trifle tremulous? Who has asked this question of
a woman's heart? Is he a man strong and noble, whom she does not love,
yet does not wish to wound? Or is it some one less strong, less noble,
who has her Love, although he be unworthy of it?

And does Duty bid her make denial, even though it break her loving
heart?

Is it Regret, Duty, Love, or What?

But still she gives no answer. And the Youth of the Town is still
hoping, doubting, fearing.

Ah, my sweet, sad-eyed Lady, what will your answer be?

  Sherley Place,
    Easter-tide, 1884.

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