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   Chapter 19 No.19

Through stained glass By George Agnew Chamberlain Characters: 9033

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

"My boy," said Leighton to Lewis two days later, as they were threading a narrow street in the shadow of Montmartre, "you will meet in a few moments Le Brux, the only living sculptor. You will call him Ma?tre from the start. If he cuffs you or swears at you, call him Mon Matre. That's all the French you will need for some months."

Leighton dodged by a sleepy concierge with a grunted greeting and climbed a broad stone stairway, then a narrower flight. He knocked on a door and opened it. They passed into an enormous room, cluttered, if such space could be said to be cluttered, with casts, molding-boards, clay, dry and wet, a throne, a couch, a workman's bench, and some dilapidated chairs. A man in a smock stood in the midst of the litter.

When Lewis's eye fell upon him as he turned toward them, the room suddenly became dwarfed. The man was a giant. A tremendous head, crowned with a mass of grayish hair, surmounted a monster body. The voice, when it came, did justice to such a frame. "My old one, my friend, Létonne! Thou art well come. Thou art the saving grace to an idle hour."

Once more Lewis sat for a long time listening to chatter that was quite unintelligible. But he scarcely listened, for his eyes had robbed his brain of action. They roamed and feasted upon one bit of sculpture after another. Casts, discarded in corners, gleamed through layers of dust that could not hide their wondrous contour. Others hung upon the wall. Some were fragments. A monster group, half finished, held the center of the floor. A ladder was beside it.

Leighton got up and strolled around. "What's new?" he asked. His eyes fell on the cast of an arm, a fragment. The arm was outstretched. It was the arm of a woman. So lightly had it been molded that it seemed to float. It seemed pillowed on invisible clouds.

"Matre", said Leighton, "I want that. How much?"

Le Brux moved over beside the cast. As he approached it, Lewis stared at his bulk, at his hairy chest, showing at the open neck of his smock, at his great, nervous hands, and wondered if this could be the creator of so soft a dream in clay.

"Bah! That?" said Le Brux. "It is only a trifle. Take it. It is thine."

"I'll tell you what we'll do," said Leighton. "You lend me the arm, and

I'll lend you a thousand francs."

"Done!" cried Le Brux, with a laugh that shook heaven and earth. "Ah, rascal, thou knowest that I never pay."

As they went the rounds of the atelier, Lewis saw that his father was growing nervous. Finally, Leighton drew from his pocket the little kid and its two broken legs. He held the lot out to Le Brux. The fragments seemed to dwindle to pin-points in Le Brux's vast hand.

"Well," he asked, "what's this?"

Leighton nodded toward Lewis,

"My boy made that."

Le Brux glanced down at his hand. A glint of interest lighted his eyes and passed. Then a tremendous frown darkened his brow.

"A pupil, eh? Bah!" With his thumb and forefinger he crushed the kid to powder. "I'll take no pupil."

Lewis gulped in dismay at seeing his kid demolished, but not so

Leighton. He had noted the glint of interest. He turned on Le Brux.

"You'll take no pupil, eh? All right, don't. But you'll take my son. You shall and you will."

"I will not," growled Le Brux.

"Ma?tre" began Leighton-"but whom am I calling Matre? What are you? D'you know what you are?" He shook his finger in Le Brux's face. "You think you're a creator, but you're not. You're nothing but a palimpsest, the record of a single age. What are your works but one man's thumb-print on the face of time? Here I am giving you a chance to be a creator, to breed a live human that will carry on the torch-that will-"

Le Brux had seated himself heavily on the couch. He held his massive head between his hands and groaned.

"Ah, Létonne," he interrupted, "our old friendship is dead-dead by violence. Friends have said things to me before,-called me names,-and I have stood it. But none of them ever dared call me a palimpsest. Thou hast called me a palimpsest!"

Leighton seemed not to hear.

"Somebody," he continued, "that will carry on the mighty tradition of Le Brux. I could take a pupil to any one of a lot of whipper-snappers that fondle clay, but my son I bring to you. Why? Because you are the greatest living sculptor? No. No great sculptor ever made another. If my boy's to be a sculptor, the only way you could stop him would be to choke him to death."

"I hadn't thought of that," broke in Le Brux, with

a look of relief. "If he bothers me, eh? It would be easy."

In a flash Leighton was all smiles.

"So," he said, "it is settled. Lewis you stay here. If he throws you out, come back again."

"Eh! eh!" cried Le Brux, "not so fast. Listen. This is the most I can do. I'll let him stay here. I'll give him the room down the hall that I rent to keep any one else out, and-and-I'll use him for a model."

Leighton shrugged his shoulders.

"So, let it be so," he said. "The boy will make his own way into your big, hollow heart, and use it for a playroom. But just remember, Matre, that he is a boy-my boy. If he is to go in for all this,"-Leighton waved his hand at the casts,-"I want him to start in with a man who sees art and art only, a man who didn't turn beast the first time he realized God didn't create woman with petticoats."

Le Brux's eyes bulged with comprehension. He thumped his resounding chest.

"Me!" he cried-"me, a wet nurse!" He yanked open another button of his smock. "Behold me! Have I the attributes?"

Leighton turned his back on him.

"Now you are ranting," he said. He picked up an old newspaper from the floor and started to wrap up the cast he had bought. "Now listen, Ma?tre. Go and dress yourself for a change. The boy and I will spend a few hours looking for a fiacre that will stand the weight. Then we'll come back, and I'll take you out for a drive to a place where you can remind yourself what a tree looks like. I'll also give you a dinner that you couldn't order in an hour with Carême holding your hand."

"Ah, mon enfant," sighed Le Brux, folding his hands across his stomach, "thou hast struck me below the belt. Thou knowest that my memory is not so short but what I will dine with thee."

When at seven o'clock the three sat down at a table which, like everything else that came in contact with Le Brux, seemed a size too small, Leighton said to his guest:

"Ma?tre, it has been my endeavor to provide to-night a single essence from each of the five great epochs of modern cookery."

"Yes, my child?" said Le Brux, gravely, but with an expectant gleam in his eye.

"In no branch of science," continued Leighton, "have progress and innovation been so constantly associated as in gastronomy, and we shall consequently abandon the rule of the savants of the last generation and proceed from the light to the less light and then to the rich."

"I agree," said Le Brux.

Leighton nodded to the attendant. Soup was served.

"Crême d'asperges à la reine," murmured Le Brux. "Friend, is it not a source of regret that with the exception of the swallows'-nest extravaganza and your American essence of turtle, no soup has yet been invented the price of which is not within the reach of the common herd? I predict that even this dream of a master will become a commonplace within a generation."

"I am sorry," said Leighton, "that the boy can't understand you. Your remark caps an argument I had with him the other day on the evanescent spirit in art."

The fish arrived.

"The only fish," remarked Leighton, "that can properly be served without a sauce."

"And why?" said Le Brux, helping himself to the young trout fried in olive oil and simply garnished with lemon. "I will tell thee. Because God himself hath half prepared the dish, giving to this dainty creature a fragrance which assails the senses of man and adds to eating a vision of purling brooks and overhanging boughs." Suddenly, with his fork half-way to his mouth, he paused, and glared at Lewis, who was on the point of helping himself. "Sacrilège!"

Leighton looked up.

"My old one, you are perhaps right." He turned to Lewis. "Better skip the fish." At the next dish he remarked, "Following the theory that a dinner should progress as a child learning to walk, Ma?tre, I have at this point dared to introduce an entremets-cèpes francs à la tête noire--"

"à la bordelaise," completed Le Brux, his nose above the dish. He helped Leighton to half of its contents and himself to the rest.

"Have patience, my old one," cried Leighton, "the boy may have an uneducated palate, but he is none the less possessed of a sublobular void that demands filling at stated intervals."

"Bah!" cried Le Brux, "order him a dish of tripe with onions-and vin ordinaire. But he'll have to sit at another table."

"No," said Leighton, "that won't do. We'll let him sit here and watch us and when they come, we'll give him all the sweets and we'll watch him."

"Agreed," said Le Brux.

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