In the Quarter, by Robert W. Chambers


Next morning, when Clifford arrived at the Atelier of MM. Boulanger and Lefebvre, he found the students more excited than usual over the advent of a “Nouveau.”

Hazing at Julien’s has assumed, of late, a comparatively mild form. Of course there are traditions of serious trouble in former years and a few fights have taken place, consequent upon the indignant resistance of new men to the ridiculous demands forced upon them by their ingenious tormentors. Still, the hazing of today is comparatively inoffensive, and there is not much of it. In the winter the students are too busy to notice a newcomer, except to make him feel strange and humble by their lofty scorn. But in the autumn, when the men have returned from their long out-of-door rest, with brush and palette, a certain amount of friskiness is developed, which sometimes expends itself upon the luckless “nouveau.” A harmless search for the time-honored “grand reflecteur,” an enforced song and dance, a stern command to tread the mazes of the shameless quadrille with an equally shameless model, is usually the extent of the infliction. Occasionally the stranger is invited to sit on a high stool and read aloud to the others while they work, as he would like to do himself. But sometimes, if a man resists these reasonable demands in a contumacious manner, he is “crucified.” This occurs so seldom, however, that Clifford, on entering the barn-like studios that morning, was surprised to see that a “crucifixion” was in progress.

A stranger was securely strapped to the top rungs of a twenty-foot ladder which a crowd of Frenchmen were preparing to raise and place in a slanting position against the wall.

“Who is it that those fellows are fooling with?” he asked.

“An Englishman, and it’s about time we put a stop to it,” answered Elliott.

When Americans or Englishmen are hazed by the French students, they make common cause in keeping watch that the matter does not go too far.

“How many of us are here this morning?” said Clifford.

“Fourteen who can fight,” said Elliott; “they only want someone to give the word.”

Clifford buttoned his jacket and shouldered his way into the middle of the crowd. “That’s enough. He’s been put through enough for today,” he said coolly.

A Frenchman, who had himself only entered the Atelier the week previous, laughed and replied, “We’ll put you on, if you say anything.”

There was an ominous pause. Every old student there knew Clifford to be one of the most skillful and dangerous boxers in the school.

They looked with admiration upon their countryman. It didn’t cost anything to admire him. They urged him on, and he didn’t need much urging, for he remembered his own recent experience as a new man, and he didn’t know Clifford.

“Go ahead,” cried this misguided student, “he’s a nouveau, and he’s going up!”

Clifford laughed in his face. “Come along,” he called, as some dozen English and American students pushed into the circle and gathered round the prostrate Englishman.

“See here, Clifford, what’s the use of interrupting?” urged a big Frenchman.

Clifford began loosening the straps. “You know, Bonin, that we always do interfere when it goes as far as this against an Englishman or an American.” He laughed good naturedly. “There’s always been a fight over it before, but I hope there won’t be any today.”

Bonin grinned and shrugged his shoulders.

After vainly fussing with the ropes, Clifford and the others finally cut them and the “nouveau” scrambled to his feet and took an attitude which may be seen engraved in any volume of instruction in the noble art of self-defense. He was an Englishman of the sandy variety. Orange-colored whiskers decorated a carefully scrubbed face, terminating in a red-brown mustache. He had blue eyes, now lighted to a pale green by the fire of battle, reddish-brown hair, and white hands spattered with orange-colored freckles. All this, together with a well made suit of green and yellow checks, and the seesaw accent of the British Empire, answered, when politely addressed, to the name of Cholmondeley Rowden, Esq.

“I say,” he began, “I’m awfully obliged, you know, and all that; but I’d jolly well like to give some of these cads a jolly good licking, you know.”

“Go in, my friend, go in!” laughed Clifford; “but next time we’ll leave you to hang in the air for an hour or two, that’s all.”

“Damn their cheek!” began the Englishman.

“See here,” cried Elliott sharply, “you’re only a nouveau, and you’d better shut up till you’ve been here long enough to talk.”

“In other words,” said Clifford, “don’t buck against custom.”

“But I cahn’t see it,” said the nouveau, brushing his dusty trousers. “I don’t see it at all, you know. Damn their cheek!”

At this moment the week-weaned Frenchman shoved up to Clifford.

“What did you mean by interfering? Eh! You English pig.”

Clifford looked at him with contempt. “What do you want, my little Nouveau?”

“Nouveau!” spluttered the Gaul, “Nouveau, eh!” and he made a terrific lunge at the American, who was sent stumbling backward, and slipping, fell heavily.

The Frenchman gazed around in triumph, but his grin was not reflected on the faces of his compatriots. None of them would have changed places with him.

Clifford picked himself up deliberately. His face was calm and mild as he walked up to his opponent, who hurriedly put himself into an attitude of self-defense.

“Monsieur Nouveau, you are not wise. But some day you will learn better, when you are no longer a nouveau,” said Clifford, kindly. The man looked puzzled, but kept his fists up.

“Now I am going to punish you a little,” proceeded Clifford, in even tones, “not harshly, but with firmness, for your good,” he added, walking straight up to the Frenchman.

The latter struck heavily at Clifford’s head, but he ducked like a flash, and catching his antagonist around the waist, carried him, kicking, to the water-basin, where he turned on the water and shoved the squirming Frenchman under. The scene was painful, but brief; when one of the actors in it emerged from under the water-spout, he no longer asked for anybody’s blood.

“Go and dry yourself,” said Clifford, cheerfully; and walking over to his easel, sat down and began to work.

In ten minutes, all trace of the row had disappeared, excepting that one gentleman’s collar looked rather limp and his hair was uncommonly sleek. The men worked steadily. Snatches of song and bits of whistling rose continuously from easel and taboret, all blending in a drowsy hum. Gethryn and Elliott caught now and then, from behind them, words of wisdom which Clifford was administering to the now subdued Rowden.

“Yes,” he was saying, “many a man has been injured for life by these Frenchmen for a mere nothing. I had two brothers,” he paused, “and my golden-haired boy — “ he ceased again, apparently choking with emotion.

“But — I say — you’re not married, you know,” said the Englishman.

“Hush,” sighed Clifford, “I— I— married the daughter of an African duke. She was brought to the States by a slave trader in infancy.”

“Black?” gasped Mr Rowden.

“Very black, but beautiful. I could not keep her. She left me, and is singing with Haverley’s Minstrels now.”

Like the majority of his countrymen, Mr Rowden was ready to believe anything he heard of social conditions in the States, but one point required explanation.

“You said the child had golden hair.”

“Yes, his mother’s hair was red,” sighed Clifford.

Gethryn, glancing round, saw the Englishman’s jaw drop, as he said, “How extraordinary!” Then he began to smile as if suspecting a joke. But Clifford’s eye met his in gentle rebuke.

“C’est l’heure! Rest!” Down jumped the model. The men leaned back noisily. Clifford rose, bowed gravely to the Englishman, and stepped across the taborets to join his friends.

Gethryn was cleaning his brushes with turpentine and black soap.

“Going home, Rex?” inquired Clifford, picking up a brush and sending a fine spray of turpentine over Elliott, who promptly returned the attention.

“Quit that,” growled Gethryn, “don’t ruin those brushes.”

“What’s the nouveau like, Clifford?” asked Elliott. “We heard you instructing him a little. He seems to have the true Englishman’s sense of humor.”

“Oh, he’s not a bad sort,” said Clifford. “Come and be introduced. I’m half ashamed of myself for guying him, for he’s really a very decent, plucky fellow, a bit stiff and pig-headed, as many of ’em are at first, and as for humor, I suppose they know their own kind, but they do get a little confused between fact and fancy when they converse with us.”

The two strolled off with friendly intent, to seek out and ameliorate the loneliness of Cholmondeley Rowden, Esq.

Gethryn tied up his brushes, closed his color box and, flinging on his hat, hurried down the stairs and into the court, nodding to several students who passed with canvas and paint-boxes tucked under their arms. He reached the street, and, going through the Passage Brady, emerged upon the Boulevard Sebastopol.

A car was passing and he boarded it, climbing up to the imperiale. The only vacant seat was between a great, red-faced butcher, and a market woman from the Halles, and although the odors of raw beef and fish were unpleasantly perceptible, he settled himself back and soon became lost in his own thoughts. The butcher had a copy of the Petit Journal and every now and then he imparted bits of it across Gethryn, to the market woman, lingering with relish over the criminal items.

“Dites donc,” he cried, “here is the affair Rigaud!”

Gethryn roused up and listened.

“This morning, I knew it,” cackled the woman, folding her fat hands across her apron. “I said to Sophie, ‘Voyons Sophie,’ I said — ”

“Shut up,” interrupted the butcher, “I’m going to read.”

“I was sure of it,” said the woman, addressing Gethryn, “‘Voyons, Sophie,’ said — “ but the butcher interrupted her, again reading aloud:

“The condemned struggled fearfully, and it required the united efforts of six gendarmes — ”

“Cochon!” said the woman.

“Listen, will you!” cried the man. “Some disturbance was caused by a gamin who broke from the crowd and attacked a soldier. But the miserable was seized and carried off, screaming. Two gold pieces of 20 francs each fell from some hiding-place in his ragged clothes and were taken charge of by the police.”

The man paused and gloated over the column. “Here,” he cried, “Listen — ‘Even under the knife the condemned — “’

Gethryn rose roughly and, crowding past the man, descended the steps and, entering the car below, sat down there.

“Butor!” roared the butcher. “Cochon! He trod on my foot!”

“He is an English pig!” sneered the woman, reaching for the newspaper. “Let me read it now,” she whined.

“Hands off,” growled the man, “I’ll read you what I think good.”

“But it’s my paper.”

“It’s mine now — shut up.”

The first thing Gethryn did on reaching home was to write a note to his friend, the Prefect of the Seine, telling him how the child of Rigaud came by the gold pieces. Then he had a quiet smoke, and then he went out and lunched at the Café des Écoles, frugally, on a sandwich and a glass of beer. After that he returned to his studio and sat down to his desk again. He opened a small memorandum book and examined some columns of figures. They were rather straggling, not very well kept, but they served to convince him that his accounts were forty francs behind, and he would have to economize a little for the next week or two. After this, he sat and thought steadily. Finally he took a sheet of his best cream laid note paper, dipped his pen in the ink, and began to write. The note was short, but it took him a long while to compose it, and when it was sealed and directed to “Miss Ruth Deane, Lung’ Arno Guicciardini, Florence, Italy,” he sat holding it in his hand as if he did not know what to do with it.

Two o’clock struck. He started up, and quickly rolling up the shades from the glass roof and pulling out his easel, began to squeeze tube after tube of color upon his palette. The parrot came down and tiptoed about the floor, peering into color boxes, pastel cases, and pots of black soap, with all the curiosity of a regulation studio bore. Steps echoed on the tiles outside.

Gethryn opened the door quickly. “Ah, Elise! Bon jour!” he said, pleasantly. “Entrez donc!”

“Merci, Monsieur Gethryn,” smiled his visitor, a tall, well-shaped girl with dark eyes and red cheeks.

“Ten minutes late,” Elise, said Gethryn, laughing, “my time’s worth a franc a minute; so prepare to pay up.”

“Very well,” retorted the girl, also laughing and showing her pretty teeth, “but I have decided to charge twenty francs an hour from today. Now, what do you owe me, Monsieur?”

Gethryn shook his brushes at her. “You are spoiled, Elise — you used to pose very well and were never late.”

“And I pose well now!” she cried, her professional pride piqued. “Monsieur Bonnat and Monsieur Constant have praised me all this week. Voila,” she finished, throwing off her waist and letting her skirts fall in a circle to her feet.

“Oh, you can pose if you will,” answered Gethryn, pleasantly. “Come, we begin?”

The girl stepped daintily out of the pile of discarded clothes, and picking her way across the room with her bare feet, sprang lightly upon the model stand.

“The same as last week?” she asked, smiling frankly.

“Yes, that’s it,” he replied, shifting his easel and glancing up at the light; “only drop the left elbow a bit — there, that’s it; now a little to the left — the knee — that will do.”

The girl settled herself into the pose, glanced at the clock, and then turning to Gethryn said, “And I am to look at you, am I not?”

“Where could you find a more charming object?” murmured he, sorting his brushes.

“Thank you,” she pouted, stealing a glance at him; “than you?”

“Except Mademoiselle Elise. There, now we begin!”

The rest of the hour was disturbed only by the sharp rattle of brushes and the scraping of the palette knife.

“Are you tired?” asked Gethryn, looking at the clock; “you have ten minutes more.”

“No,” said the girl, “continue.”

Finally Gethryn rose and stepped back.

“Time,” he said, still regarding his work. “Come and give me a criticism, Elise.”

The girl stretched her limbs, and then, stepping down, trotted over to Gethryn.

“What do you say?” he demanded, anxiously.

Artists often pay more serious attention to the criticisms of their models than to those of a brother artist. For, although models may be ignorant of method — which, however, is not always the case — from seeing so much good work they acquire a critical acumen which often goes straight to the mark.

It was for one of these keen criticisms that the young man was listening now.

“I like it very much — very much,” answered the girl, slowly; “but, you see — I am not so cold in the face — am I?”

“Hit it, as usual,” muttered the artist, biting his lip; “I’ve got more greens and blues in there than there are in a peacock’s tail. You’re right,” he added, aloud, “I must warm that up a bit — there in the shadows, and keep the high lights pure and cold.”

Elise nodded seriously. “Monsieur Chaplain and I have finished our picture,” she announced, after a pause.

It is a naïve way models have of appropriating work in which, truly enough, they have no small share. They often speak of “our pictures” and “our success.”

“How do you like it?” asked the artist, absently.

“Good,” — she shrugged her shoulders — “but not truth.”

“Right again,” murmured Gethryn.

“I prefer Dagnan,” added the pretty critic.

“So do I— rather!” laughed Gethryn.

“Or you,” said the girl.

“Come, come,” cried the young man, coloring with pleasure, “you don’t mean it, Elise!”

“I say what I mean — always,” she replied, marching over to the pups and gathering them into her arms.

“I’m going to take a cigarette,” she announced, presently.

“All right,” said Gethryn, squeezing more paint on his palette, “you’ll find some mild ones on the bookcase.”

Elise gave the pups a little hug and kiss, and stepped lightly over to the bookcase. Then she lighted a cigarette and turned and surveyed herself in the mirror.

“I’m thinner than I was last year. What do you think?” she demanded, studying her pretty figure in the glass.

“Perhaps a bit, but it’s all the better. Those corsets simply ruined you as a model last year.”

Elise looked serious and shook her head.

“I do feel so much better without them. I won’t wear them again.”

“No, you have a pretty, slender figure, and you don’t want them. That’s why I always get you when I can. I hate to draw or paint from a girl whose hips are all discolored with ugly red creases from her confounded corset.”

The girl glanced contentedly at her supple, clean-limbed figure, and then, with a laugh, jumped upon the model stand.

“It’s not time,” said Gethryn, “you have five minutes yet.”

“Go on, all the same.” And soon the rattle of the brushes alone broke the silence.

At last Gethryn rose and backed off with a sigh.

“How’s that, Elise?” he called.

She sprang down and stood looking over his shoulder.

“Now I’m like myself!” she cried, frankly; “it’s delicious! But hurry and block in the legs, why don’t you?”

“Next pose,” said the young man, squeezing out more color.

And so the afternoon wore away, and at six o’clock Gethryn threw down his brushes with a long-drawn breath.

“That’s all for today. Now, Elise, when can you give me the next pose? I don’t want a week at a time on this; I only want a day now and then.”

The model went over to her dress and rummaged about in the pockets.

“Here,” she said, handing him a notebook and diary.

He selected a date, and wrote his name and the hour.

“Good,” said the girl, reading it; and replacing the book, picked up her stockings and slowly began to dress.

Gethryn lay back on the lounge, thoroughly tired out. Elise was humming a Normandy fishing song. When, at last, she stood up and drew on her gloves, he had fallen into a light sleep.

She stepped softly over to the lounge and listened to the quiet breathing of the young man.

“How handsome — and how good he is!” she murmured, wistfully.

She opened the door very gently.

“So different, so different from the rest!” she sighed, and noiselessly went her way.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:52