You're a little upset by your troubles, and that's natural enough, but don't let your mind run on them anymore than you can help; drag your thoughts away from your troubles by the ears, by the heels, or any other way, so you manage it; it's the healthiest thing a body can do; dwelling on troubles is deadly, just deadly--and that's the softest name there is for it. You must keep your mind amused--you must, indeed."
"Oh, miserable me!"
"Don't! There's just pure heart-break in that tone. It's just as I say; you've got to get right down to it and amuse your mind, as if it was salvation."
"They're easy words to say, Barrow, but how am I going to amuse, entertain, divert a mind that finds itself suddenly assaulted and overwhelmed by disasters of a sort not dreamed of and not provided for? No-no, the bare idea of amusement is repulsive to my feelings: Let us talk of death and funerals."
"No-not yet. That would be giving up the ship. We'll not give up the ship yet. I'm going to amuse you; I sent Brady out for the wherewithal before you finished breakfast."
"You did? What is it?"
"Come, this is a good sign-curiosity. Oh, there's' hope for you yet."
Brady arrived with a box, and departed, after saying" They're finishing one up, but they'll be along as soon as it's done."
Barrow took a frameless oil portrait a foot square from the box, set it up in a good light, without comment, and reached for another, taking a furtive glance at Tracy, meantime. The stony solemnity in Tracy's face remained as it was, and gave out no sign of interest. Barrow placed the second portrait beside the first, and stole another glance while reaching for a third. The stone image softened, a shade. No. 3 forced the ghost of a smile, No. 4 swept indifference wholly away, and No. 5 started a laugh which was still in good and hearty condition when No. 14 took its place in the row.
"Oh, you're all right, yet," said Barrow. "You see you're not past amusement."
The pictures were fearful, as to color, and atrocious as to drawing and expression; but the feature which squelched animosity and made them funny was a feature which could not achieve its full force in a single picture, but required the wonder-working assistance of repetition. One loudly dressed mechanic in stately attitude, with his hand on a cannon, ashore, and a ship riding at anchor in the offing,--this is merely odd; but when one sees the same cannon and the same ship in fourteen pictures in a row, and a different mechanic standing watch in each, the thing gets to be funny.
"Explain--explain these aberrations," said Tracy.
"Well, they are not the achievement of a single intellect, a single talent--it takes two to do these miracles. They are collaborations; the one artist does the figure, the other the accessories. The figure- artist is a German shoemaker with an untaught passion for art, the other is a simple hearted old Yankee sailor-man whose possibilities are strictly limited to his ship, his cannon and his patch of petrified sea. They work these things up from twenty-five-cent tintypes; they get six dollars apiece for them, and they can grind out a couple a day when they strike what they call a boost--that is, an inspiration."
"People actually pay money for these calumnies?"
"They actually do--and quite willingly, too. And these abortionists could double their trade and work the women in, if Capt. Saltmarsh could whirl a horse in, or a piano, or a guitar, in place of his cannon. The fact is, he fatigues the market with that cannon. Even the male market, I mean. These fourteen in the procession are not all satisfied. One is an old "independent" fireman, and he wants an engine in place of the cannon; another is a mate of a tug, and wants a tug in place of the ship --and so on, and so on. But the captain can't make a tug that is deceptive, and a fire engine is many flights beyond his power."
"This is a most extraordinary form of robbery, I never have heard of anything like it.