A. B. (Alfred Barton) Rendle.

The Century online

. (page 49 of 120)
Online LibraryA. B. (Alfred Barton) RendleThe Century → online text (page 49 of 120)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


bered.

Very truly,

Your Father.

Gilbert gulped down the last sentence
and set to work counting on his fingers
very fast. Calendar there was none, but
he found a copy of the " Matin,'* and made
his reckoning backward from that. His
expression grew serious, then alarmed, and
finally, with a wild yell, he sprang from
the tabouret and began rushing about the
studio. The awful truth was upon him,
the figures would not lie,— the date had
come like a thief in the night, and it was
the last day with a vengeance. He ran
from comer to comer of the disordered
room, picking up armfuls of books, maga-
zines, sketches, his palette all wet and
sticky, paint-box, and gray blouse, piling
everything into an old Breton armoire and
slamming the door, with a furtive look
toward the entry, as if he feared a morning
visit from his stern and august parents.

Suddenly the latch clicked, and his
heart momentarily stopped beating; but
it was only Julie, from the creamery across
the street, bringing up his breakfast — two
eggs, two brown " crescents," and a half-
liter bottle of milk with a paper seal. She
stared in astonishment at the unusual sight
of the young man up and dressed at so
early an hour.

" Tiens ! M. Gilbert ! already upright ! "
she said, smiling with approval. "You
become serious."

"I believe you!" gasped Gilbert, still
weak from fright, using the second person
intimate with which he addressed both his
closest friend and the mighty patron of the
atelier.



'' Cest la fill, Julie! I 'm done for—
ruined!" He tugged at his scraggly
beard and gazed at her mournfully.

" Mais, qu'est— ce qu'il-y-a, m'sieu' ? "
cried Julie, in quick sympathy, promptly
forgetting about the three weeks* account
due which M. Poirel had warned her to
collect sans f ante, " What is it ? " Then,
noticing the letter: ** Has m'sieu' had bad
news ? Can 1 do anything ? "

" You can, Julie," cried Gilbert, grasp-
ing at her sympathy in his distress. "My
family is going to arrive ! This place must
be made beautiful. Arrange it, Julie. They
will be here to-night, or this noon, or this
instant, for all I know. I must go to the
office— the bureau, you understand— the
compagnie of packet-boats. But you will
stay, Julie,— never mind the dejeuner,—
and should they come,— my family,— tell
them that M. Gilbert has gone to his work ;
tell them that he always goes to his work
at six o'clock in the morning, and that he
comes back at night, Julie, very, very tired.
Be siu-e to tell them how tired he gets,
Julie. That is very important. You will
say, ' He works like a madman.' Tu com-
prends ? A madman."

He had darted into the little room off
the studio which held his bed and his
bureau, adorned with a few home pho-
tographs and a two-year-old calendar of
the Gilbert Fumitiu-e Company, its bright
colors looking hideously garish in the gray
light of the dormer-window. Julie was
already busthng about the studio, piling
everything movable on the divan pre-
paratory to scrubbing the tiled floor, and
Gilbert pulled open the bureau drawers in
a frenzied search for something that he
might wear.

" I can never appear in these corduroys,"
was his thought; and he finally shouted
with triumph as he drew out the object of
his search, a wrinkled suit which he had
wom during his last year at college. It
shocked him somewhat, though he remem-
bered how he had swelled with pride when
he first returned home wearing what the
tailor had assured him was the very nob-
biest thing of the season. The style at the
time had developed extremely wide trou-
sers and short, " bobtailed " coats, and the
effect, when completed by a flowing neck-
tie, a flat-brimmed top-hat, and the ortho-
dox mane and beard of the young painter,
was something fearful to look upon.



Digitized by



Google



Half-tone plate eugraved by J. W. Kvans

•THEY WERE ALL DRAWING HIM"



Fortunately, there was no mirror in the
apartment, and Julie's only comment was,
" Ah I que vous ctes beau, M'sieu* Gilbert ! "
as he seized his cane, and, with a parting
warning to Julie to be sure to tell his fam-
ily, should they arrive, how very tired he
got, ran down the stairs, crowding the let-
ter and a sketch-book into his pocket as
he went.

The concierge, who was righting the
prostrate palm-trees in the court, saw a
black-and-white streak on two long pipe-
stem legs fly down the entry, out into the
Rue de Seine, and turn toward the river.

At the office in the Rue Scribe he was
told that the steamer was due at six o'clock



that night, though she was not yet re-
ported ; so there was still time. He caught
the eight-o'clock rapide at the Gare St.
Lazare, and, once settled in his compart-
ment (third class), with the fear of actual
surprise lifted from his mind, he planned
the manner of his greeting. He was some-
what surprised to find his heart beating
more quickly at the thought of seeing
home folks again. But the lack of .sleep
soon blurred all emotions into general
drowsiness; and as he dozed off to sleep,
wedged in between a fat farmer and an
old market-woman, he dreamed that his
father was wrestling with the Beef of Nor-
mandy for the championship of Kansas



Digitized by



Google



A HARD WORKER



393



City, while he joined hands with Julie and
his mother and danced about the studio,
singing," Jean Br-rown'sB^b^." He lurched
forward, half awakened, when the train
came to a sudden stop, and the guard,
throwing open the door, cried in a brazen
voice: "Arcachon! Arcachon! Em-
branchement pour Mantes, Lille, et Bru-
zelles. Cinq minutes d'arr^t."

There he breakfasted on coffee, rolls,
and sweet chocolate in the buffet; then,
toot, toot! yelped the engine, b<ui ! went
the guard's tin horn, "En voiturel " cried
a chorus of officials, and with much slam-
ming of doors the train moved on. It was
well past noon when Gilbert awoke from
his second nap, which had been long and
refreshing. The train was fl)ring throu^
the smiling plains of Normandy, and al-
ready it seemed as if the keen breath of the
ocean reached the traveler's nostrils, mak-
ing him sit up straighter, brushing the sleep
from his eyes to watch every detail of the
flying picture— the fresh greens of early
summer dotted with white cattle and big
gray horses, the thatch-and- timber cottages,
or the distant roof c^ a half-hidden chi-
teau. Then came chalk-mines, limestone-
quarries, and tile-factories, among which
the litde train clattered like a race-horse;
then the dunes themselves, with that first
heart-stopping glimpse of the blue ocean
beyond; and finally Cherbourg, all neat
and clean. The doors were thrown open
amid a general bustle of preparation, and,
in answer to the guard's stentorian cry of
"All the wcfrld descends," Gilbert clam-
bered out, and found himself delivered at
the maritime station well down in the
town. He looked anxiously toward the
breakwater ; but no steamer was in sight,
nor had she been reported at the little
office of the company on the quay.

" We will notify monsieur," said a polite
official, and went on writing in a minute
hand on long, formal blanks, without ask-
ing either his inquirer's name or address.

" Merci,**said Gilbert, with mock tender-
ness, which was lost on the man in uni-
form ; and Gilbert turned away to stroll
along the solidly built quays and to ad-
mire the massive construction of the dry-
docks and basins. He wondered at the
deserted look of the entire town. * It re-
minded him of the cities in the Anabasis,
"which were large and beautiful, on the
one hand ; but, on the other hand, indeed.



no one lived in them." And so he marched
many parasangs up and down the quays.

Night fell, and there was still no news
of the steamer. The polite official had
lighted his lamp, put on a green eye-shade,
and begun a fresh pile of blanks.

"We will notify monsieur," he said,
without raising his head.

" Merci, cher monsieur," said Gilbert,
tenderly, and returned to the quay.

The tide was filling the basins and gur-
gling unpleasantly under the sluice-gates.
ITie wind off the channel was cold, and
Gilbert shivered in his thin apparel, and
turned toward a square of orange light at
the far end of the embankment. It was a
caf6, or, to be more exact, tfu caf^; for
there is always one chosen and elected
spot which the sages and wits of a pro-
vincial town use as the theater of their
mental life. In Cherbourg this was the
" Caf^ of the Two Angels." The cheerful
greeting of the patron, who stood with
arms akimbo at the door ; the welcoming
smile from Mme. la Patronne, who sat like
a queen on the high throne of the caisse ;
the alacrity with which the round-headed
little waiter responded to the command of
"Fflix! servez monsieur!"— this warmed
the cockles of Gilbert's heart, and he took
his place on the leather-covered seat which
ran round the wall, ordered coffee,— in a
glass, of course,— and prepared to enjoy
himself as thoroughly as any gentleman
in his club. Indeed, these little caf^ of
France, in their simple and unaffected way,
answer every requirement which we New-
Worldlings satisfy so luxuriously. The
painter, poet, or sculptor, the solid homme
d'affaires, the red-faced cocker or dust-
covered mason, even the red-sashed,
vizor-capped voyou, the " Apache of Mont-
martre," has his special rendezvous, where,
at six o'clock or in the evening, he finds
those of his kind gathered together for
a game of bezique or dominoes, a political
discussion, a critique on the Salon, or a
plan of murder and theft. The dues are
the price of your consommation, five cents
at most, for which you are entitled to a
comfortable place as long as you choose
to keep it, the daily papers, and cheerful
companionship. Therefore the club does
not thrive in France except among Eng-
lishmen and Americans.

As Gilbert sat in his corner and sipped
the black coffee, he smiled at the varied



Digitized by



Google



394



THE CENTURY MAGAZINE



yet recognizable types that gradually filled
the vacant places. For each the patron
had his cheerful salute calling most by
name— M. Jacques, M. Fr6d?rique, M.
Ren^; and Mme. la Caissi^re smiled her
smile of welcome, while the bullet-headed
Felix, grinning like a monkey, dodged
among the crowd, mopping the marble-
topped tables or bearing trays of coffee,
cognac, menthe, quinquina, or the local
Calvados, The dominoes clicked, the dice
ratded, and an excited group of six or
seven ancUns played bezique as if their
lives depended upon it, slamming down
the cards with force enough to rattle the
glasses on their accompanying saucers,
and announcing each king, queen, or knave
as if the very name should cause conster-
nation among the enemy. The hand
finished, all talked at once, with such a
brandishing of fists that the dodging
powers of F61ix were taxed to their utmost.

" VayonSy messieurs / no post-mortems ! "
cried the keen-faced apothecary, who was
called "Monsieur le Docteur," and wore
the purple ribbon of public service ; and
play was resumed.

Gilbert had almost unconsciously drawn
his sketch-book from his pocket The eye
of the portrait-painter had caught instantly
the' force of the strong grouping of heads,
and, unable to resist the temptation, he
had begim to sketch rapidly, at first hiding
his book imder the rim of the table, but
eventually, as his interest overcame his
judgment, openly and aboveboard, once
even forgetting himself so far as to hold
his pencil at arm's-length to measure care-
fully the line of M. le Docteur's nose.
This gesture was well-nigh his undoing,
for it attracted the attention of the room
in general and of M. Ren^, the young
lawyer, in particular. The shadow of a
smile flickered for an instant at the comers
of his thin-lipped, sensitive mouth.

" Felix," he said solemnly, " bring paper
and all the pencils you have."

They were brought and distributed,
passed along from hand to hand under
the tables, while the games apparentiy
went on, and the roars of laughter or prot-
estation were unabated; for, with that
wonderful instinct for acting which seems
to be peculiarly French, the whole room
caught the spirit of the joke, and played
their parts in it to defy the keenest obser-
vation. '



Gilbert was sketching busily, now abso-
lutely unaware of his surroundings, mea-
suring critically or pulling his beajd as he
frowned at the growing drawing. Then
gradually he became aware of a stxange
silence; like a dreamer he began to see
objects about him. His gaze faltered, then
wandered from M. le Docteur to the man
beside him, who appeared to be drawing ;
then back to M. le Docteur. He was
drawing ; M. Ren^ was also drawing. Hea-
vens and earth ! FfUx was drawing, and
M. le Patron, and Mme. la Patronne, too,
from her point of vantage. Every one
was drawing, and— his head swam at the
thought — they were all drawing kimi It
was like a nightmare. He saw in an in-
stant that he had been taken in his own
trap. He had violated the unwritten laws
of guest-friendship, he had offended his
unknown hosts, and they had taken this
quiet way of teaching him a lesson.

He flushed crimson, and his first impolse
was to rise and apologize. Then a hum-
nous idea flashed upon him. He frowned
at his sketch for a moment, made a deci-
sion, and turned quickly to a fresh page.
As he looked up, his eyes met those of
M. Ren^f who solemnly raised his pencil
and took the measure of Gilbert's beard.
The coolness of the move almost took the
American's breath away ; but it settled all
doubts in his mind as to his point of attack.
The two men eyed each other steadily for
nearly a full minute, then Gilbert lowered
his gaze. But it was not to admit defeat.
He had a theory — one among many— that
to draw a telling caricature (»ie look, and
only one, should sufl^e.

" It won't be a portrait," he used to say ;
"but if the victim's nose happens to be
twisted, you '11 draw it like a pretzel."

The time had come to test the theory.
For two minutes that seemed like hours
Gilbert drew rapidly, praying inwardly to
whatever gods might aid him. Wherever
the inspiration came from, it was potent ;
and just as M. Ren^ was beginning to
think that his gesture had quite annihilated
the stranger, Gilbert rose and stalked
across the room, extending to the young
lawyer the sketch he had just finished.

For a moment the object looked at his
own effigy in grim silence, then, with a
short, sharp bark of laughter, he fell back
on the banquette, tears rushing to his eyes
as he held the picture at arm's-length.



Digitized by



Google



A HARD WORKER



395



There was a general rush to see the cause
of so instantaneous an effect, and as the
sketch was passed from hand to hand it
seesEied to sow destruction in its path.
Men groaned and fell back limp in their
places, or began screaming and beating
one another on the back, with inarticulate
words and gestures that said much. F61ix,
after one look, ran out into the night, as if
he needed larger surroundings in which
properly to express himself.

The success was tremendous. The re-
semblance of certain people to animals is
an old but always amusing phenomenon ;
but I have never seen it used in caricature
as Gilbert used it. He had drawn M. Ren6
as a supercilious codfish, and every line
of the sinuous body, from the tip of the
tail to the thin-lipped, smiling mouth, was
alive with personality and character.

Gilbert was seized by many hands and
forced into a place at the table of honor,
more paper was ordered, and roars of
laughter broke out as the sketch went the
rounds, amid cries oi ** A bmre / h boire /
F61ix, thou sacred pile of veal! M. the
Foreigner has thirst Hurry yourself,
snail! Look, Fr^d^ique! look at the
mouth, man vieux ! Felicitations, mon-
sieur! Quoif Cafif No— beer! Beer for
all the world! Here, F61ix, kind-of-an-
imbecile! take away these cards! More
paper! Draw me, M. Tfitranger! No;
draw me. Draw F61ix. F61ix, thou fur-
nace, rest tranquil an instant Your health,
monsieur ! A boire / h boire / "

And so, as the drinks were brought,
Gilbert drew his companions, one after
another, until he had a series of ten or a
dozen, some depicted as birds, some as
beasts, some in propria persona, ending with
a graceful sketch of madame, enthroned
and crowned, amid a shower of gold which
fell from a horn of plenty held above her
by the"" Two Angels" themselves. They
were voted magnificent, extraordinary, of
a genius unheard of, of a charm inex-
pressible ; in a word, they were ^patant /
And when that is said, language can do no
more. The rest was expressed by more
tra3rs of beer, by songs, by an impassioned
speech, in which M. Ren6 referred to Gil-
bert as " ce Raphael de nos jours, who had
no ionger the right to call himself a stran-
ger among us ; for," he continued, " I, too,
am affiliated with America ; I have an uncle
in Brazil." In a magnificent reply, Gil-



bert described himself as a traveler in
the desert who had found a beautiful
oasis (he made a wild guess at ''oasis,"
pronouncing it as he supposed it ought to
be in French), and ended with a peroration
relative to Lafayette and the "sister re-
publics," which brought the evening to a
climax. Then the *' Marseillaise" was sung,
and, the national hymn of America being
called for, Gilbert taught them the famous
version of " Jean Br-rown*s B^be."

It was time to close, and M. le Patron
wound up the clock ; madame rattled the
cash-drawer suggestively and smiled at the
forces intrenched behind a barrier of sau-
cers ; and F61ix began piling up the chairs
on the terrace. After some complicated
figuring, the saucers were divided and the
bill was paid, though Gilbert was politely
but finally excluded from any part of this
transaction. " Jean Br-rown's B^b^ " was
sung as a recessional, the entire company
marching three times around the room,
with profound salutations each time they
passed madame's desk, and so out on to
the quay between M. le Patron and F^lix,
who stood like grinning caryatides on each
side of the door.

The disheveled Ren^ clung to Gilbert's
arm, inquiring from time to time if mon-
sieur had by chance met his uncle in Bra-
zil. ** He is a big one, monsieur, with
white hair,— a soldier." At the comer a
consultation wgfS held. Fred^rique knew of
another caf^ which he said was perpetually
open, and the vote to proceed there was
virtually unanimous. But Gilbert thought
vaguely of the morrow, and though he had
quite forgotten the exact reason of his
coming, he knew that it was important,
and that his hotel was a half-mile distant
down the quay. Without stopping to
argue, he suddenly wrenched his arm from
the grasp of the Brazilian, leaped, and
bolted. His comrades, taken by surprise,
stood for a moment watching him ; then,
like a pack of hounds, they sprang baying
to the pursuit.

Gilbert heard their cries and steered a
course between two granite posts which
marked an inclosure on the quay. The
posts were connected by an iron chain,
but this Gilbert failed to notice. No one
of the pursuing pack noticed it, either, and
the fall thereof was terrible.

They lay like wounded soldiers on the
pavement, rubbing knees and elbows,— all



Digitized by



Google



396



THE CENTURY MAGAZINE



but M. Ken^, who had not noticed the
fall, apparendy ; ior he was up in an instant,
and precipitated himself on Gilbert, sum-
moning his friends about him. But the
exercise and the shock had brought most
of them to their senses, and reason swayed
the council. Before dispersing, however,
it was necessary that Gilbert should shake
hands individually with every member of
the party, and that every one should shake
hands with every one eke. Their nimiber,
reduced as it was to seventeen, was still
capable of some two hundred permutations
and commutations, so the affectionate fare>
wells exchanged even by those who were
bound on the same road occupied the
better part of an hour. M. Ren6 insisted
upon accompanying Gilbert to the door
of the hotel, where he placed both hands
on his new friend's shoulders and said,
with tears in his voice: "Monsieur, the
sun which comes to gild the east shines
on a proud and happy man. The circle
of the *Two Angels' will guard its pre-
cious souvenir. Farewell, monsieur; and
should you see my uncle in Brazil— for
I have an imcle — a big white one — a
soldier—"

The rest was lost, for Gilbert slipped
inside the door, and five minutes later was
sleeping heavily.

It was midday before the sharp toot of a
whistle half awakened the young man.
He lay for some minutes unconscious of
anything save that his head ached pain-
fully, and that a glass of water was an
absolute necessity. Then he rolled over
with a groan, to squint through one eye
at his usual chronometer, the sun on the
chimney which jutted into the square of
his studio window.

The window seemed to have grown
smaller, and rejoiced in the luxury of lace
curtains. "How absurd!" mused Gilbert
Light dawned on him gradually when the
shrill whisde blew again. It was answered
by another whistle, a deep, double-toned
roar that said, " Steamer ! " plainer than any
language. With a cry of comprehension,
Gilbert leaped from the bed and ran to
the window, details of the past and present
tumbling over one another in his aching
head. The huge black hull of a steamer*
fringed with specks of humanity was just
swinging round the end of the breakwater.
The lighter was tooting and puffing at the



quay preparatory to casting off. The 3roung
man seized his hat and rusbed for the staiiSk
inwardly thanking his stars that he had
not troubled to undress before retiring.

He tore across the quay, leaped a wklen-
ing strip of green water, and landed like a
bombshell on the hghter's deck, where he
nearly annihilated the polite of&cial who
was writing busily in a large blank-book.
"Thank you, monsieur, for notifying me
that the steamer had arrived," said Gilbert
as he picked himself up and went forward
to where an anxious crowd stood craning
their necks at the growing vessel. Thty
could soon hear the band playing faindy,
and people began shouting to their friends
across a mile of open water. One woman
was sobbing excitedly ; another lifted up a
small boy with a French flag and said,
" Tu vois papa ? Eh, mon petit ? Tu le
vois ? " And the litde boy waved his flag
madly, endangering the eyes of those near
him.

Gilbert had pressed forward among the
crowd, and was standing on tiptoe, forget-
ful of headaches and pains, forgetful of
everything except that somewhere in those
distant rows of faces that grew steadily
more disdnct he had a father and a mother.
Every one was shouting and waving now,
and Gilbert shouted, too, though his eyes
had not yet found the familiar faces.

The lighter scuttled around die stem of
the giant ship and bumped alongside, the
two captains roaring at each other through
megaphones until the gang-planks were
lowered and made fast Gilbert stood at
the foot of the line and eyed the pas-
sengers anxiously as they began to descend,
laden with all manner of bags and bundles.
They slipped and slid down the steep in-
cline and fell into the arms of their friends,
and Gilbert sdll stood at his post. Finally
the customs ofiicials came down, looking
very fussy and important, and the captain
bellowed the order to haul the gang-plank.
Gilbert's face wore a worried expression,
and he began to feel faint Suddenly he
heard a voice— the very sound of which
loosened the gates of tears — say, "There
he is. Will ! " And an instant later he was
hugging his mother tighdy in his arms, and,
as he said afterward, "crying down her
back." His father gave him a fkrce hug,
then held him off at arm's-length and said :
" For heaven's sake, go and stand at the
other end of the boat! You look like a



Digitized by



Google



HELEN KELLER WITH A ROSE



397



tramp ! There are no knees to your trou-
sers, no elbows to your coat, and your hair
has n't been cut for two years ! Meet us
at the train, but keep out of sight until we
get aboard ! " Gilbert, too happy to care
whether he sat on deck or in the hold.



obeyed orders promptly. Later, as the
train rolled into Paris, his father said
sternly : " To-morrow morning you go out
and order two suits of decent clothes. Why
in thunder did n't you tell me you had to
work so hard ? "



Hair-tone pUte engraved by S. Davis
ARRIVAL OF THE STEAMER IN CHERBOURG HARBOR



HELEN KELL£R WITH A ROSE



Online LibraryA. B. (Alfred Barton) RendleThe Century → online text (page 49 of 120)