I said, proudly:
'"I suppose you recognise that? Well, he taught me! I should think I ought to know my trade!"
'The man looked guiltily embarrassed, and was silent. I said sorrowfully:
'"You don't mean to intimate that you don't know the cipher of Francois Millet!"
'Of course he didn't know that cipher; but he was the gratefullest man you ever saw, just the same, for being let out of an uncomfortable place on such easy terms. He said:
'"No! Why, it is Millet's, sure enough! I don't know what I could have been thinking of. Of course I recognise it now."
'Next, he wanted to buy it; but I said that although I wasn't rich I wasn't that poor. However, at last, I let him have it for eight hundred francs.'
'Yes. Millet would have sold it for a pork chop. Yes, I got eight hundred francs for that little thing. I wish I could get it back for eighty thousand. But that time's gone by. I made a very nice picture of that man's house and I wanted to offer it to him for ten francs, but that wouldn't answer, seeing I was the pupil of such a master, so I sold it to him for a hundred. I sent the eight hundred francs straight to Millet from that town and struck out again next day.
'But I didn't walk--no. I rode. I have ridden ever since. I sold one picture every day, and never tried to sell two. I always said to my customer:
'"I am a fool to sell a picture of Francois Millet's at all, for that man is not going to live three months, and when he dies his pictures can't be had for love or money."
'I took care to spread that little fact as far as I could, and prepare the world for the event.
'I take credit to myself for our plan of selling the pictures--it was mine. I suggested it that last evening when we were laying out our campaign, and all three of us agreed to give it a good fair trial before giving it up for some other. It succeeded with all of us. I walked only two days, Claude walked two--both of afraid to make Millet celebrated too close to home--but Carl walked only half a day, the bright, conscienceless rascal, and after that he travelled like a duke.
'Every now and then we got in with a country editor and started an item around through the press; not an item announcing that a new painter had been discovered, but an item which let on that everybody knew Francois Millet; not an item praising him in any way, but merely a word concerning the present condition of the "master"--sometimes hopeful, sometimes despondent, but always tinged with fears for the worst. We always marked these paragraphs, and sent the papers to all the people who had bought pictures of us.
'Carl was soon in Paris and he worked things with a high hand. He made friends with the correspondents, and got Millet's condition reported to England and all over the continent, and America, and everywhere.
'At the end of six weeks from the start, we three met in Paris and called a halt, and stopped sending back to Millet for additional pictures. The boom was so high, and everything so ripe, that we saw that it would be a mistake not to strike now, right away, without waiting any longer. So we wrote Millet to go to bed and begin to waste away pretty fast, for we should like him to die in ten days if he could get ready.
'Then we figured up and found that among us we had sold eighty-five small pictures and studies, and had sixty-nine thousand francs to show for it. Carl had made the last sale and the most brilliant one of all. He sold the "Angelus" for twenty-two hundred francs. How we did glorify him!-- not foreseeing that a day was coming by-and-by when France would struggle to own it and a stranger would capture it for five hundred and fifty thousand, cash.
'We had a wind-up champagne supper that night, and next day Claude and I packed up and went off to nurse Millet through his last days and keep busybodies out of the house and send daily bulletins to Carl in Paris for publication in the papers of several continents for the information of a waiting world.