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- The Guest of Quesnay - 2/37 -
The Chicago exploit was by no means the end of Harman's notoriety. Evading an effort (on the part of an aunt, I believe) to get him locked up safely in a "sanitarium," he began a trip round the world with an orgy which continued from San Francisco to Bangkok, where, in the company of some congenial fellow travellers, he interfered in a native ceremonial with the result that one of his companions was drowned. Proceeding, he was reported to be in serious trouble at Constantinople, the result of an inquisitiveness little appreciated by Orientals. The State Department, bestirring itself, saved him from a very real peril, and he continued his journey. In Rome he was rescued with difficulty from a street mob that unreasonably refused to accept intoxication as an excuse for his riding down a child on his way to the hunt. Later, during the winter just past, we had been hearing from Monte Carlo of his disastrous plunges at that most imbecile of all games, roulette.
Every event, no matter how trifling, in this man's pitiful career had been recorded in the American newspapers with an elaboration which, for my part, I found infuriatingly tiresome. I have lived in Paris so long that I am afraid to go home: I have too little to show for my years of pottering with paint and canvas, and I have grown timid about all the changes that have crept in at home. I do not know the "new men," I do not know how they would use me, and fear they might make no place for me; and so I fit myself more closely into the little grooves I have worn for myself, and resign myself to stay. But I am no "expatriate." I know there is a feeling at home against us who remain over here to do our work, but in most instances it is a prejudice which springs from a misunderstanding. I think the quality of patriotism in those of us who "didn't go home in time" is almost pathetically deep and real, and, like many another oldish fellow in my position, I try to keep as close to things at home as I can. All of my old friends gradually ceased to write to me, but I still take three home newspapers, trying to follow the people I knew and the things that happen; and the ubiquity of so worthless a creature as Larrabee Harman in the columns I dredged for real news had long been a point of irritation to this present exile. Not only that: he had usurped space in the Continental papers, and of late my favourite Parisian journal had served him to me with my morning coffee, only hinting his name, but offering him with that gracious satire characteristic of the Gallic journalist writing of anything American. And so this grotesque wreck of a man was well known to the boulevard--one of its sights. That was to be perceived by the flutter he caused, by the turning of heads in his direction, and the low laughter of the people at the little tables. Three or four in the rear ranks had risen to their feet to get a better look at him and his companion.
Some one behind us chuckled aloud. "They say Mariana beats him."
The dancer was aware of the flutter, and called Harman's attention to it with a touch upon his arm and a laugh and a nod of her violent plumage.
At that he seemed to rouse himself somewhat: his head rolled heavily over upon his shoulder, the lids lifted a little from the red-shot eyes, showing a strange pride when his gaze fell upon the many staring faces.
Then, as the procession moved again and the white automobile with it, the sottish mouth widened in a smile of dull and cynical contempt: the look of a half-poisoned Augustan borne down through the crowds from the Palatine after supping with Caligula.
Ward pulled my sleeve.
"Come," he said, "let us go over to the Luxembourg gardens where the air is cleaner."
Ward is a portrait-painter, and in the matter of vogue there seem to be no pinnacles left for him to surmount. I think he has painted most of the very rich women of fashion who have come to Paris of late years, and he has become so prosperous, has such a polite celebrity, and his opinions upon art are so conclusively quoted, that the friendship of some of us who started with him has been dangerously strained.
He lives a well-ordered life; he has always led that kind of life. Even in his student days when I first knew him, I do not remember an occasion upon which the principal of a New England high-school would have criticised his conduct. And yet I never heard anyone call him a prig; and, so far as I know, no one was ever so stupid as to think him one. He was a quiet, good-looking, well-dressed boy, and he matured into a somewhat reserved, well-poised man, of impressive distinction in appearance and manner. He has always been well tended and cared for by women; in his student days his mother lived with him; his sister, Miss Elizabeth, looks after him now. She came with him when he returned to Paris after his disappointment in the unfortunate Harman affair, and she took charge of all his business--as well as his social--arrangements (she has been accused of a theory that the two things may be happily combined), making him lease a house in an expensively modish quarter near the Avenue du Bois de Boulogne. Miss Elizabeth is an instinctively fashionable woman, practical withal, and to her mind success should be not only respectable but "smart." She does not speak of the "right bank" and the "left bank" of the Seine; she calls them the "right bank" and the "wrong bank." And yet, though she removed George (her word is "rescued") from many of his old associations with Montparnasse, she warmly encouraged my friendship with him--yea, in spite of my living so deep in the wrong bank that the first time he brought her to my studio, she declared she hadn't seen anything so like Bring-the-child-to-the- old-hag's-cellar-at-midnight since her childhood. She is a handsome woman, large, and of a fine, high colour; her manner is gaily dictatorial, and she and I got along very well together.
Probably she appreciated my going to some pains with the clothes I wore when I went to their house. My visits there were infrequent, not because I had any fear of wearing out a welcome, but on account of Miss Elizabeth's "day," when I could see nothing of George for the crowd of lionising women and time-wasters about him. Her "day" was a dread of mine; I could seldom remember which day it was, and when I did she had a way of shifting it so that I was fatally sure to run into it--to my misery, for, beginning with those primordial indignities suffered in youth, when I was scrubbed with a handkerchief outside the parlour door as a preliminary to polite usages, my childhood's, manhood's prayer has been: From all such days, Good Lord, deliver me!
It was George's habit to come much oftener to see me. He always really liked the sort of society his sister had brought about him; but now and then there were intervals when it wore on him a little, I think. Sometimes he came for me in his automobile and we would make a mild excursion to breakfast in the country; and that is what happened one morning about three weeks after the day when we had sought pure air in the Luxembourg gardens.
We drove out through the Bois and by Suresnes, striking into a roundabout road to Versailles beyond St. Cloud. It was June, a dustless and balmy noon, the air thinly gilded by a faint haze, and I know few things pleasanter than that road on a fair day of the early summer and no sweeter way to course it than in an open car; though I must not be giving myself out for a "motorist"--I have not even the right cap. I am usually nervous in big machines, too; but Ward has never caught the speed mania and holds a strange power over his chauffeur; so we rolled along peacefully, not madly, and smoked (like the car) in hasteless content.
"After all," said George, with a placid wave of the hand, "I sometimes wish that the landscape had called me. You outdoor men have all the health and pleasure of living in the open, and as for the work--oh! you fellows think you work, but you don't know what it means."
"No?" I said, and smiled as I always meanly do when George "talks art." He was silent for a few moments and then said irritably,
"Well, at least you can't deny that the academic crowd can DRAW!"
Never having denied it, though he had challenged me in the same way perhaps a thousand times, I refused to deny it now; whereupon he returned to his theme: "Landscape is about as simple as a stage fight; two up, two down, cross and repeat. Take that ahead of us. Could anything be simpler to paint?"
He indicated the white road running before us between open fields to a curve, where it descended to pass beneath an old stone culvert. Beyond, stood a thick grove with a clear sky flickering among the branches. An old peasant woman was pushing a heavy cart round the curve, a scarlet handkerchief knotted about her head.
"You think it's easy?" I asked.
"Easy! Two hours ought to do it as well as it could be done--at least, the way you fellows do it!" He clenched his fingers as if upon the handle of a house-painter's brush. "Slap, dash--there's your road." He paddled the air with the imaginary brush as though painting the side of a barn. "Swish, swash--there go your fields and your stone bridge. Fit! Speck! And there's your old woman, her red handkerchief, and what your dealer will probably call 'the human interest,' all complete. Squirt the edges of your foliage in with a blow-pipe. Throw a cup of tea over the whole, and there's your haze. Call it 'The Golden Road,' or 'The Bath of Sunlight,' or 'Quiet Noon.' Then you'll probably get a criticism beginning, 'Few indeed have more intangibly detained upon canvas so poetic a quality of sentiment as this sterling landscapist, who in Number 136 has most ethereally expressed the profound silence of evening on an English moor. The solemn hush, the brooding quiet, the homeward ploughman--'"
He was interrupted by an outrageous uproar, the grisly scream of a siren and the cannonade of a powerful exhaust, as a great white touring-car swung round us from behind at a speed that sickened me to see, and, snorting thunder, passed us "as if we had been standing still."
It hurtled like a comet down the curve and we were instantly choking in its swirling tail of dust.
"Seventy miles an hour!" gasped George, swabbing at his eyes. "Those are the fellows that get into the pa--Oh, Lord! THERE they go!"
Swinging out to pass us and then sweeping in upon the reverse curve to clear the narrow arch of the culvert were too much for the white car; and through the dust we saw it rock dangerously. In the middle of the road, ten feet from the culvert, the old woman struggled frantically to get her cart out of the way. The howl of the siren frightened her perhaps, for she lost her head and went to the wrong side. Then the shriek of the machine drowned the human scream as the automobile struck.
The shock of contact was muffled. But the mass of machinery hoisted itself in the air as if it had a life of its own and had been stung into sudden madness. It was horrible to see, and so grotesque that a long- forgotten memory of my boyhood leaped instantaneously into my mind, a
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