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   Chapter 22 No.22

Through stained glass By George Agnew Chamberlain Characters: 7544

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


Lewis's life in Paris fell into unusual, but not unhappy, lines. It was true that when others were around, Le Brux treated him as though he were a scullion or at least a poor relative living on his bounty, for the great sculptor was in dread lest it be noised about that he had at last taken a pupil. But when they were alone, he made up for all his brutality by a certain tenderness which he was at great pains to dissemble. He had but one phrase of commendation, and it harped back and reminded them both of Leighton. When Le Brux was well pleased with Lewis, he would say, "My son, I shall yet create thee."

It could not be said that master and pupil lived together. Lewis had a room down the hall and the freedom of the great atelier, but he never ate with Le Brux and never accompanied him on his rare outings. From the very first day he had learned that he must fend for himself.

Curiosity in all that was new about him sustained the boy for a few days, but as the fear of getting lost restricted him to the immediate neighborhood of his abode,-a neighborhood where the sign "On parle anglais" never appeared in the shop windows, and where a restaurateur would not deign to speak English even if he knew it,-he gradually became a prey to the most terrible of all lonelinesses-the loneliness of an outsider in a vast, gay city.

At first he did not dare go into a restaurant. When hunger forced him, he would enter a patisserie, point at one thing and another, take without question the change that was handed him, and return to his room to eat. The neighborhood, however, was blessed with a series of second-hand book-shops. One day his eyes fell on an English-French phrase-book. He bought it. He learned the meaning of the cabalistic sign, "Table d'h?te. D?ner, 2f." He began to dine out.

In those lonely initiative weeks Lewis's mind sought out Nadir and dwelt on it. He counted the months he had been away, and was astounded by their number. Never had time seemed so long and so short. He longed to talk to Natalie, to tell her the dream that had seized upon him and gradually become real. At the little book-shop he bought ink, paper, and pen, and began to write.

It was an enormous letter, for one talked easily to Natalie, even on paper. At the end he begged her to write to him, to tell him all that had happened at Nadir, if, indeed, anything beyond her marriage had occurred to mark the passing months. What about the goats? A whole string of questions about the goats followed, and then, again, was she really married? Was she happy?

The intricacies of getting that letter weighed, properly stamped, and posted were too much for Lewis. He sought aid not from Le Brux, but from Cellette. It took him a long time to explain what he wanted. Cellette stared at him. She seemed so stupid about it that Lewis felt like shaking her again, an impulse that, assisted by memory, he easily curbed.

"But," cried Cellette at last, "it is so easy-so simple! You go to the post, you say, 'Kindly weigh this letter,' you ask how much to put on it, you buy the stamps, you affix them, you drop the letter in the slot. Voilà!" She smiled and started off.

Lewis reached out one arm and barred her way.

"Yes, yes," he stammered, "voilà, of course." A vague recollection of his father taming Le Brux with a dinner came to his aid. He explained to Cellette that if she would post the letter for him, he would be pleased to take her to dinner.

Then Cellette understood in her own way.

"Ah," she cried brightly, "you make excuses to ask me to dine, eh? That is delicate. It is gallant. I am charmed. Let us go."

She hung on his arm. She chatted. She never waited for an answer. Together they went to the post. People glanced at them and smiled,

some nodded; but Cellette's face was upturned toward Lewis's. She saw no one else. It was his evening.

Gradually it dawned upon her that Lewis was really helpless and terribly alone. In that moment she took charge of him as a duck takes charge of an orphaned chick. On succeeding evenings she led him to the water, but she did not try to make him swim.

Parents still comfort themselves with the illusion that they can choose safe guardians for their young. As a matter of fact, guardians of innocence are allotted by Fate. When Fate is kind, she allots the extremes, a guardian who has never felt a sensation or one who has tired of all sensations. The latter adds wisdom to innocence, subtracts it from bliss, and-becomes an ideal.

Fate was kind to Lewis in handing him over to Cellette at the tragic age. Nature had shown him much; Cellette showed him the rest. She took him as a passenger through all the side-shows of life. She was tired of payments in flesh and blood. She found her recompense in teaching him how to talk, walk, eat, take pleasure in a penny ride on a river boat or on top of a bus, and in spending his entire allowance to their best joint profit.

In return Lewis received many a boon. He was no longer alone. He was introduced as an equal to the haunts of the gay world of embryonic art-the only world that has ever solved the problem of being gay without money. From the first he was assumed to belong to Cellette. How much of the assault, the jeers, the buffoonery, the downright evil of initiation, he was saved by this assumption he never knew. Cellette knew, but her tongue was held by shame. All her training had taught her to be ashamed of "being good." If ever the secret of their astounding innocence had got out, professional pride would have forced her to ruin Lewis, body and soul, without a moment's hesitation.

Lewis also learned French-a French that rippled along mostly over shallows, but that had deep pools of art technic, and occasionally flew up and slapped you in the face with a fleck of well-aimed argot.

Weeks, months, passed before Leighton appeared on the scene, summoned by a scribbled note from Le Brux. When greetings were over, Leighton asked:

"Well, what is it this time? How is the boy getting along? Is he going to be a sculptor?"

"You are wise to ask all your questions at once," said Le Brux. "You know I shall talk just as I please. Your boy, just as you said he would, has attacked me in the heart. He is a most entertaining babe. I am no longer wet nurse. Somebody with the attributes has supplanted me-Cellette."

"H-m-m!" said Leighton.

Le Brux held up a ponderous hand.

"Not too fast," he said. "The lady assures me the babe is still on the bottle. Such being the case, I sent for you. They are inseparable. They have put off falling in love so long that, when they do, it will prove a catastrophe for one of them. Take him away for a while. Distort his concentrated point of view."

"That's a good idea," said Leighton. "Perhaps I will."

"As for his work-" Le Brux stepped to the door and locked it. "I wouldn't have him catch us looking at it for anything." He lifted the damp cloth from Lewis's latest bit of modeling, two tense hands, long fingers curved like talons, thumbs bent in. They flashed to the eye the impression of terrific action.

Leighton gazed long at the hands.

"So," he said, "somewhere the boy has seen a murder."

"Ha!" cried Le Brux. "You see it? You see it? He has not troubled to put the throat within that grip but it's there. Ah, it's there! I could see it. You see it. Presto! everybody will see it." He replaced the cloth.

"In a couple of years," he went on, "my work will be done. Let him show nothing, know nothing, till, then."

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