A Sentimental Annex

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A SENTIMENTAL ANNEX.

By H. C. Bunner.


THE VESTIBULE TRAIN.

They order, said I, this business more cheaply in France—and therewith I pressed a coin of the value of two shillings—à peu près—into the hand of the Negro Porter.

—Ay, you may well say so, Sir, cried the Gentleman by my side—'twas an evil day for me that I left Barbizon!

—Indeed, said I, for the matter of that, I know not Barbizon, but I can well conceive that if a gentleman be not content in France, he is ill to please—or perhaps I might better say ill at pleasing—and I'm sure you are in no such case. Nay, I am in no doubt that you have souvenirs of Barbizon—wherever it may be—of the most agreeable sort.

—I have, indeed, he responded, with a sigh—'tis the true home of Art.

—You are then, said I, an amateur of art?—At this, I thought, he was some what chill'd.

—I am a painter, he responded, with some dignity—with as much dignity, in fact, as he might have shown had he been an amateur and I had called him a Painter!—You are a painter of landscapes? said I.

—But no, he told me, he was a painter of figures.

—I would you had stopped awhile in England, then, said I, on your way from Barbizon—you might have seen some truant works of art that had escaped from Barbizon—without knowing it.

—'Twould have pleased you, said I, to see the forty-two portraits of the once famous Kit-Kat Club, that were last at Water Oakley. They were painted by Sir Godfrey Kneller, who was accounted no mean proficient in his art—entendu qu'il n'avoit jamais vu Barbizon.

—Ah, cried he, contemptuously—Kneller—and Sir Joshua Reynolds, perhaps?—Perhaps, said I—Ah, mon cher, he continued, nous avons changé tout cela.—'Twas cruel, said I.—All true art is cruel, he answer'd.

—I will not say, however, he went on, that Sir Joshua was wholly off the right track—he had moments—a certain feeling sometimes—or perhaps I should not say a feeling precisely—but the feeling of a feeling—and modelling, of course—and here he stuck out his thumb, as if he would have press'd it in a pat of butter, and made a movement that I took to indicate, or in some way hint, the convexity of an imaginary body.—He modell'd well, went on the Painter, but he had no jump— —he lacked that!—and here he delivered himself of a gesture so strange that it quite passes my poor power of description—but 'twould have served to beckon a chambermaid—to tell a man to go to the d—l—or 'twould have suited as well had he said, "Off with his head! So much for Buckingham!"

—I perceive, said I, when he had made an end of this remarkable discourse, that I have much to learn about art—for I should shock you should I confide to you the simplicity of my thoughts about Sir Joshua. I wish, indeed, that we might continue this conversation where we might be more at our ease—for I vow this is no less than the third time that I have been interrupted in my listening by the necessity of feeing this Porter.

—With all my heart! rejoined the Painter—come to my studio whenever it shall be convenient for you—and so saying he gave me his card.

—And here the Conductor shouted "New York!" and La Fleur seized my gripsack, exclaiming:

—"Forty minutes late!"

—Upon my word, said I to myself, if I am but forty minutes late, and not thrice forty years, I am much mistaken!


NEW YORK.

The Opéra Comique.

—I am in the mood, said I to the Clerk at my hotel, to see a play.—Kajoola, said he, is your affair.—'Tis an opéra comique, with the best of music, and you shall see the prettiest women in New York.

Tant mieux! said I—I would not paint the lily—yet I vow there is a sweet concomitancy between a pretty face and a pretty tune, and no song was ever the less sweet for coming from rosy lips.—I bet you, he said.—'Tis not a matter for a wager, quoth I.

—Following the Clerk's directions, I found myself seated in a vast theatre—which for its marble stairs and its gilt walls—might, I thought, have called itself a palace.—The musicians were playing the ouverture as I came in.

— —Presently the curtain rose—and O Pudour! O Native modesty! O ye gentle Nymphs of Diana, ye who once cast the shield of your own loveliness between Actæon and your Mistress!—I dare say Actæon scarce noted the difference—shall I tell you what I saw?

—Just heavens!—I blush while I write it—some thirty hussies marched on the Stage—clad—shall I thus abuse thee, thou good old English participle?—clad, then, in silks and velvets—but as tight and close to their forms as if each were a harlequin or an acrobat!

— —"What is this? said I to the spectator next me.—'Tis the Pages' Chorus, answer'd he.—But wait until you shall see them as the Amazons!— —I had no mind to wait—I went incontinently out—The man at the door would have stopp'd me—Return check? quoth he.—Nay, friend, said I—I have had my check, and am even now de retour. He look'd at me as if I were a lunatick.

— —Now I hold that a pretty woman is worth all the other pretty things in this world So I cannot bear to see this Temple of human Beauty so degraded, and profaned.—I had as lief put breeches on the Venus de Medicis—and make a trollop of her in a twinkling.

— —The essence of beauty, said I to the Doorkeeper—is the fillip it gives to the imagination—and no woman is so fair as our fancy of her. I love a trim waist but it must be in a neat bodice—a graceful .... walk—but 'tis best revealed in the undulations of a petticoat that is neither prudish nor trop coquet—a glove may be the most seductive thing in the world, if it go but to the elbow—or make but a discreet sally up a white arm—but to stretch the suitability of a glove to all imaginable purposes—to dress a woman as you bind a book—as an upholsterer covers a chair— —'tis a foul profanation, said I.—Do you know where you live? asked the Doorkeeper.—In Castaly, said I.—I have never been there, said the Doorkeeper.


NEW YORK.

THE STUDIO.

—Why should I—I said to myself—condemn one art because another has displeased me?—As well say that all medicine is quackery, because I have had an encounter with a Veterinary.—And with this thought in my mind, I set forth to visit the Painter.—His atelier—for so I found 'twas call'd—was in a vast building, which many others of his craft inhabited in common—To what end?—thought I.—Now, were the Patrons of art thus hived, 'twere easy to step in and pick your patron.—But this assembling in competition of the patroniz'd has to me an air pas trop comme-il-faut.

—I found my Painter hous'd in a mighty fine place.—But in the furnishing of it he must have counted on a prodigious floor—and clean forgot the other five plane spaces—for he had so many rugs that he had been forced to hang them on his walls—and indeed, upon his lounges and his chairs—'twas a miracle, if a Turk had known where to sit cross-legged.

—But why babble I of rugs, when the fairest Model in the world stood, beautifying a Grecian dress—in a shrine—or so I conceiv'd it—at the end of the room?—it was at the other end.—I reflected on the way that Life presents us her chances.

—I am glad to see you, said the Painter.

—I am glad to see—said I.

Mademoiselle Didon—said he, presenting me—but I'll be hang'd if your name have not escaped me.—Monsieur Alors, said I.

Je ne vous sçavois pas françois—I did not take you for a Frenchman, he said.

Parfois, I answer'd; now and then—but 'tis at most a case of cælum non animum—he look'd surly—my Latin was too much for him.—You will not mind if I paint while we talk, he said—Mademoiselle, you have lost your pose!

—Now I will engage that Mademoiselle had not lost her. . . . pose—for whatever pose she took, 'twas lovely to look upon.—But it was true, that the gesture he had set her, she had as clean lost on my appearance, as I had lost—my nationality.

—Now she essay'd to slip back into her proper posture—She stood poised in an attitude of indication, as who should say—voilà—see there.— —Quoi?—I do not know; but it was pretty to think that there was something there that interested her.—I stepp'd forward, and supported her outstretch'd index finger with my own.—Mademoiselle is fatigued, said I.—With pointing at nothing, Monsieur, said she.—C'est une haute distinction, said I.

—Your picture—I address'd myself to the Painter, has no doubt some famous classical subject—Hero perceiving Leander's head emerging from the waves—ou bien Lydia s'apercevant d'Horace—or Lucretia

—Subject!—he cried—do you think I would paint a subject.—With what scorn he said this I cannot tell you—for I do not yet understand it—Do you think, sir, he said, that I paint literary pictures?

Pas du tout, monsieur, said I—for the matter of that, I assured him—a Painter may be no more of a man of letters than to make shift to sign his name in the corner of his picture.—You do not apprehend, says he.—Do you know what we mean by art for art's sake?—I do not—I told him—save that it must be something practised on a full belly.

—This is a Composition, says he.—'Tis a question of lines and harmony.—A composition, in fact is. . . . a composition.—And what does that mean? quoth I.—It means nothing, said he.—If it meant anything, it would not be art.— —I have heard much the same thing said of Poetry, I replied—but I had no thought that the rule was of such general application.—Is it also true in selling of breeches and stockings?

Je vous ferois observer,—I would have you observe—said the Painter,—that 'tis but the tip of Mademoiselle Didon's finger that you are required to support.—You would make me a niggard, said I.— —But here there came a timid knock—and the Painter went to the door.—For better convenience in talking to the person outside—he put the door between himself and—us.—I declare and protest—it was a delicate situation.

—For there stood I, with the tip of my finger lifting the tip of the Model's finger—or, if it was not the precise geometrical tip of her finger—let him who would take a foot-rule to Venus appraise the extent of my transgression—I say—I supported the tip of her finger— —I knew an epicure, once—would carve a fowl and save himself the second joint—he was twice wedded;—but 'tis to no purpose here—but I must tell you that there ran such a strange current of lively emotion—such strange tingling and agreeable disturbance—from my heart to the tip of my finger, where it met another current so like it I dare swear they were twins—and thence set back— —that first the model look'd to the right—and I to the left—and then I look'd to the right and she to the left— —and then, in the natural ordinance of alternation—our eyes met— —and at this juncture, as I have said, the Painter put himself behind the door.


THE STUDIO.

THE DOOR.

—Now there are many things that may happen in the time that a man is behind a door.—In the giving out of mouths, for example, many a man would have had a smaller one had he had an inch or two of oak between him and the distributing genius.—Had Aladdin been behind the door when the Princess Badroulbadour passed for the first time—might he not have made some honest wench of his own degree a happy wife—instead of obtruding his peasantry upon a princess of high degree?—Or had Cassio been behind the door when Othello treated his lady to such bad language—and affronted her pretty neck with his blackamoor hands—might he not have rush'd in and cast Othello neck and heels out of window— —and thereby . . . vindicated the honor of a very chaste and excellent lady?

—But on this occasion I had no need to reason so abstractly—for the Painter only bade a little boy begone who had come to offer himself for a model and came back to us.—The pose is easy to resume, I said.

—'Tis needless, said he—I have drawn the arm.—For the rest, your aid is not necessary.—Bonjour, Mademoiselle, I said.—I hope, sir—I may be accorded some further lessons in art.—Do you need them? he asked—I am but a novice, said I.—It was as if the atmosphere had grown suddenly chill.—I bowed profoundly—perhaps my bow inclined a little toward the model—I quitted the Studio.


THE STUDIO.

THE CORRIDOR.

—The long corridor that led to the street was dark—I pick'd my way carefully.—Of a sudden I heard a faint sound of sobbing—my heart moved within me.—Who is it?—I said.

—'Tis only I, sir—said the Boy.

—It was the Boy, I saw, that the Painter had turn'd away so abruptly—he was crouch'd in a corner, crying as if his heart would break.—'Tis only I, he said.—Il avoit des larmes dans sa voix.— —'Tis only I, said I, for the most of us in this world.—He alone is happy who hath another to whom he is as he is to himself.—And what is thy trouble?— —Thereupon he told me that the Painter had engaged him for that day—but that, being come, he found a better model had offer'd—she was preferred—and there was no employment for him— —though, as he pathetically told me, he was but two shillings an hour, while she was—at the least—a dollar.—And with that, his tears overcame him—and Niobe, seeing him, would I am convinced—have hid her mouchoir out of sight and blush'd for it's lace edging.

—When it is a question of pretty ladies, said he—'tis little they think of the children.

—Thou art a young philosopher, said I—but thy philosophy will serve thee better when thou art older.—And I gave him a silver piece of the worth of two shillings.—It was a foolish thing—God grant my wisdom be no worse matter than my foolishness.— —He thanked me not at all; but ran off singing—'twas a sort of thanks.

— —But while I had been talking with the Boy, the night had been coming on rapidly— —without my observing of it.—There was but little light left in the corridor—when I heard sound as of steps approaching— —'tis time to go home, said I—and then, looking up—I perceiv'd ——



This work was published before January 1, 1926, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.