The light from the big window fell right on the picture. I took a good look at it. Then I shifted a bit nearer and took another look. Then I went back to where I had been at first, because it hadn't seemed quite so bad from there.
"Well?" said Corky, anxiously.
I hesitated a bit.
"Of course, old man, I only saw the kid once, and then only for a moment, but—but it was an ugly sort of kid, wasn't it, if I remember rightly?"
"As ugly as that?"
I looked again, and honesty compelled me to be frank.
"I don't see how it could have been, old chap."
Poor old Corky ran his fingers through his hair in a temperamental sort of way. He groaned.
"You're right quite, Bertie. Something's gone wrong with the darned thing. My private impression is that, without knowing it, I've worked that stunt that Sargent and those fellows pull—painting the soul of the sitter. I've got through the mere outward appearance, and have put the child's soul on canvas."
"But could a child of that age have a soul like that? I don't see how he could have managed it in the time. What do you think, Jeeves?"
"I doubt it, sir."
"It—it sorts of leers at you, doesn't it?"
"You've noticed that, too?" said Corky.
"I don't see how one could help noticing."
"All I tried to do was to give the little brute a cheerful expression.
But, as it worked out, he looks positively dissipated."
"Just what I was going to suggest, old man. He looks as if he were in the middle of a colossal spree, and enjoying every minute of it. Don't you think so, Jeeves?"
"He has a decidedly inebriated air, sir."
Corky was starting to say something when the door opened, and the uncle came in.
For about three seconds all was joy, jollity, and goodwill. The old boy shook hands with me, slapped Corky on the back, said that he didn't think he had ever seen such a fine day, and whacked his leg with his stick. Jeeves had projected himself into the background, and he didn't notice him.
"Well, Bruce, my boy; so the portrait is really finished, is it—really finished? Well, bring it out. Let's have a look at it. This will be a wonderful surprise for your aunt. Where is it? Let's——"
And then he got it—suddenly, when he wasn't set for the punch; and he rocked back on his heels.
"Oosh!" he exclaimed. And for perhaps a minute there was one of the scaliest silences I've ever run up against.
"Is this a practical joke?" he said at last, in a way that set about sixteen draughts cutting through the room at once.
I thought it was up to me to rally round old Corky.
"You want to stand a bit farther away from it," I said.
"You're perfectly right!" he snorted. "I do! I want to stand so far away from it that I can't see the thing with a telescope!" He turned on Corky like an untamed tiger of the jungle who has just located a chunk of meat. "And this—this—is what you have been wasting your time and my money for all these years! A painter! I wouldn't let you paint a house of mine!