cleaning up so well (jones_casey) wrote,
cleaning up so well

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for old time's sake

here is a story which i picked up on board the boat that night. i insert it in this place merely because it is a good story, not because it belongs here--for it doesn't. it was told by a passenger--a college professor--and was called to the surface in the course of a general conversation which began with talk about horses, drifted into talk about astronomy, then into talk about the lynching of the gamblers in vicksburg half a century ago, then into talk about dreams and superstitions; and ended, after midnight, in a dispute over free trade and protection.

“at the beginning of the month of december of that year, a season at which the bourgeois of paris conceive, periodically, the burlesque idea of perpetuating their forms and figures already too bulky in themselves, pierre grassou, who had risen early, prepared his palette, and lighted his stove, was eating a roll steeped in milk, and waiting till the frost on his windows had melted sufficiently to let the full light in. the weather was fine and dry. at this moment the artist, who ate his bread with that patient, resigned air that tells so much, heard and recognized the step of a man who had upon his life the influence such men have on the lives of nearly all artists,—the step of elie magus, a picture-dealer, a usurer in canvas. the next moment elie magus entered and found the painter in the act of beginning his work in the tidy studio.

'how are you, old rascal?' said the painter.

fougeres had the cross of the legion of honor, and elie magus bought his pictures at two and three hundred francs apiece, so he gave himself the airs of a fine artist.

'business is very bad,' replied elie. 'you artists have such pretensions! you talk of two hundred francs when you haven't put six sous' worth of color on a canvas. however, you are a good fellow, i'll say that. you are steady; and i've come to put a good bit of business in your way.'

'timeo danaos et dona ferentes,' said fougeres. 'do you know latin?'


'well, it means that the greeks never proposed a good bit of business to the trojans without getting their fair share of it. in the olden time they used to say, "take my horse." now we say, "take my bear." well, what do you want, ulysses-lagingeole-elie magus?'

these words will give an idea of the mildness and wit with which fougeres employed what painters call studio fun.

'just see what a mixed company there is! one can't play cards in peace.'

'very true. but it's almost six months since we saw the spirit. do you think he's a living being?'

'well, barely.'

these last remarks were made in my neighborhood by persons whom i did not know, and who passed out of hearing just as i was summarizing in one last thought my reflections, in which black and white, life and death, were inextricably mingled. my wandering imagination, like my eyes, contemplated alternately the festivities, which had now reached the climax of their splendor, and the gloomy picture presented by the gardens. i have no idea how long i meditated upon those two faces of the human medal; but i was suddenly aroused by the stifled laughter of a young woman. i was stupefied at the picture presented to my eyes. by virtue of one of the strangest of nature's freaks, the thought half draped in black, which was tossing about in my brain, emerged from it and stood before me personified, living; it had come forth like minerva from jupiter's brain, tall and strong; it was at once a hundred years old and twenty-two; it was alive and dead. escaped from his chamber, like a madman from his cell, the little old man had evidently crept behind a long line of people who were listening attentively to marianina's voice as she finished the cavatina from tancred. he seemed to have come up through the floor, impelled by some stage mechanism. he stood for a moment motionless and sombre, watching the festivities, a murmur of which had perhaps reached his ears. his almost somnambulistic preoccupation was so concentrated upon things that, although he was in the midst of many people, he saw nobody. he had taken his place unceremoniously beside one of the most fascinating women in paris, a young and graceful dancer, with slender figure, a face as fresh as a child's, all pink and white, and so fragile, so transparent, that it seemed that a man's glance must pass through her as the sun's rays pass through flawless glass. they stood there before me, side by side, so close together, that the stranger rubbed against the gauze dress, and the wreaths of flowers, and the hair, slightly crimped, and the floating ends of the sash.

lucien tossed his head, as one who should say, 'i have measured myself against parisians,' and the look in his sister's eyes said unmistakably, 'yes, but you were defeated.'

'nobody cares for me now,' lucien thought. 'in the home circle, as in the world without, success is a necessity.'

the poet tried to explain their lack of confidence in him; he had not been at home two days before a feeling of vexation rather than of angry bitterness gained hold on him. he applied parisian standards to the quiet, temperate existence of the provinces, quite forgetting that the narrow, patient life of the household was the result of his own misdoings.

'they are bourgeoises, they cannot understand me,' he said, setting himself apart from his sister and mother and david, now that they could no longer be deceived as to his real character and his future.

many troubles and shocks of fortune had quickened the intuitive sense in both the women. eve and mme. chardon guessed the thoughts in lucien's inmost soul; they felt that he misjudged them; they saw him mentally isolating himself.

'paris has changed him very much,' they said between themselves. they were indeed reaping the harvest of egoism which they themselves had fostered.

it was inevitable but that the leaven should work in all three; and this most of all in lucien, because he felt that he was so heavily to blame. as for eve, she was just the kind of sister to beg an erring brother to "forgive me for your trespasses;" but when the union of two souls had been as perfect since life's very beginnings, as it had been with eve and lucien, any blow dealt to that fair ideal is fatal. scoundrels can draw knives on each other and make it up again afterwards, while a look or a word is enough to sunder two lovers for ever. in the recollection of an almost perfect life of heart and heart lies the secret of many an estrangement that none can explain. two may live together without full trust in their hearts if only their past holds no memories of complete and unclouded love; but for those who once have known that intimate life, it becomes intolerable to keep perpetual watch over looks and words. great poets know this; paul and virginie die before youth is over; can we think of paul and virginie estranged? let us know that, to the honor of lucien and eve, the grave injury done was not the source of the pain; it was entirely a matter of feeling upon either side, for the poet in fault, as for the sister who was in no way to blame. things had reached the point when the slightest misunderstanding, or little quarrel, or a fresh disappointment in lucien would end in final estrangement. money difficulties may be arranged, but feelings are inexorable."
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