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   Chapter 2 No.2

His Masterpiece By Emile Zola Characters: 61852

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03

IT had struck twelve, and Claude was working at his picture when there was a loud, familiar knock at the door. With an instinctive yet involuntary impulse, the artist slipped the sketch of Christine's head, by the aid of which he was remodelling the principal figure of his picture, into a portfolio. After which he decided to open the door.

'You, Pierre!' he exclaimed, 'already!'

Pierre Sandoz, a friend of his boyhood, was about twenty-two, very dark, with a round and determined head, a square nose, and gentle eyes, set in energetic features, girt round with a sprouting beard.

'I breakfasted earlier than usual,' he answered, 'in order to give you a long sitting. The devil! you are getting on with it.'

He had stationed himself in front of the picture, and he added almost immediately: 'Hallo! you have altered the character of your woman's features!'

Then came a long pause; they both kept staring at the canvas. It measured about sixteen feet by ten, and was entirely painted over, though little of the work had gone beyond the roughing-out. This roughing-out, hastily dashed off, was superb in its violence and ardent vitality of colour. A flood of sunlight streamed into a forest clearing, with thick walls of verdure; to the left, stretched a dark glade with a small luminous speck in the far distance. On the grass, amidst all the summer vegetation, lay a nude woman with one arm supporting her head, and though her eyes were closed she smiled amidst the golden shower that fell around her. In the background, two other women, one fair, and the other dark, wrestled playfully, setting light flesh tints amidst all the green leaves. And, as the painter had wanted something dark by way of contrast in the foreground, he had contented himself with seating there a gentleman, dressed in a black velveteen jacket. This gentleman had his back turned and the only part of his flesh that one saw was his left hand, with which he was supporting himself on the grass.

'The woman promises well,' said Sandoz, at last; 'but, dash it, there will be a lot of work in all this.'

Claude, with his eyes blazing in front of his picture, made a gesture of confidence. 'I've lots of time from now till the Salon. One can get through a deal of work in six months. And perhaps this time I'll be able to prove that I am not a brute.'

Thereupon he set up a whistle, inwardly pleased at the sketch he had made of Christine's head, and buoyed up by one of those flashes of hope whence he so often dropped into torturing anguish, like an artist whom passion for nature consumed.

'Come, no more idling,' he shouted. 'As you're here, let us set to.'

Sandoz, out of pure friendship, and to save Claude the cost of a model, had offered to pose for the gentleman in the foreground. In four or five Sundays, the only day of the week on which he was free, the figure would be finished. He was already donning the velveteen jacket, when a sudden reflection made him stop.

'But, I say, you haven't really lunched, since you were working when I came in. Just go down and have a cutlet while I wait here.'

The idea of losing time revolted Claude. 'I tell you I have breakfasted. Look at the saucepan. Besides, you can see there's a crust of bread left. I'll eat it. Come, to work, to work, lazy-bones.'

And he snatched up his palette and caught his brushes, saying, as he did so, 'Dubuche is coming to fetch us this evening, isn't he?'

'Yes, about five o'clock.'

'Well, that's all right then. We'll go down to dinner directly he comes. Are you ready? The hand more to the left, and your head a little more forward.'

Having arranged some cushions, Sandoz settled himself on the couch in the required attitude. His back was turned, but all the same the conversation continued for another moment, for he had that very morning received a letter from Plassans, the little Provencal town where he and the artist had known each other when they were wearing out their first pairs of trousers on the eighth form of the local college. However, they left off talking. The one was working with his mind far away from the world, while the other grew stiff and cramped with the sleepy weariness of protracted immobility.

It was only when Claude was nine years old that a lucky chance had enabled him to leave Paris and return to the little place in Provence, where he had been born. His mother, a hardworking laundress,* whom his ne'er-do-well father had scandalously deserted, had afterwards married an honest artisan who was madly in love with her. But in spite of their endeavours, they failed to make both ends meet. Hence they gladly accepted the offer of an elderly and well-to-do townsman to send the lad to school and keep him with him. It was the generous freak of an eccentric amateur of painting, who had been struck by the little figures that the urchin had often daubed. And thus for seven years Claude had remained in the South, at first boarding at the college, and afterwards living with his protector. The latter, however, was found dead in his bed one morning. He left the lad a thousand francs a year, with the faculty of disposing of the principal when he reached the age of twenty-five. Claude, already seized with a passion for painting, immediately left school without even attempting to secure a bachelor's degree, and rushed to Paris whither his friend Sandoz had preceded him.

* Gervaise of 'The Dram Shop'(L'Assommoir).-ED.

At the College of Plassans, while still in the lowest form, Claude Lantier, Pierre Sandoz, and another lad named Louis Dubuche, had been three inseparables. Sprung from three different classes of society, by no means similar in character, but simply born in the same year at a few months' interval, they had become friends at once and for aye, impelled thereto by certain secret affinities, the still vague promptings of a common ambition, the dawning consciousness of possessing greater intelligence than the set of dunces who maltreated them. Sandoz's father, a Spaniard, who had taken refuge in France in consequence of some political disturbances in which he had been mixed up, had started, near Plassans, a paper mill with new machinery of his own invention. When he had died, heart-broken by the petty local jealousy that had sought to hamper him in every way, his widow had found herself in so involved a position, and burdened with so many tangled law suits, that the whole of her remaining means were swallowed up. She was a native of Burgundy. Yielding to her hatred of the Provencals, and laying at their door even the slow paralysis from which she was suffering, she removed to Paris with her son, who then supported her out of a meagre clerk's salary, he himself haunted by the vision of literary glory. As for Dubuche, he was the son of a baker of Plassans. Pushed by his mother, a covetous and ambitious woman, he had joined his friends in Paris later on. He was attending the courses at the School of Arts as a pupil architect, living as best he might upon the last five-franc pieces that his parents staked on his chances, with the obstinacy of usurers discounting the future at the rate of a hundred per cent.

'Dash it!' at last exclaimed Sandoz, breaking the intense silence that hung upon the room. 'This position isn't at all easy; my wrist feels broken. Can I move for a moment?'

Claude let him stretch himself without answering. He was now working at the velveteen jacket, laying on the colour with thick strokes, However, stepping backward and blinking, he suddenly burst into loud laughter at some reminiscence.

'I say, do you recollect, when we were in the sixth form, how, one day, Pouillaud lighted the candles in that idiot Lalubie's cupboard? And how frightened Lalubie was when, before going to his desk, he opened the cupboard to take his books, and found it transformed into a mortuary chapel? Five hundred lines to every one in the form.'

Sandoz, unable to withstand the contagion of the other's gaiety, flung himself back on the couch. As he resumed his pose, he remarked, 'Ah, that brute of a Pouillaud. You know that in his letter this morning he tells me of Lalubie's forthcoming marriage. The old hack is marrying a pretty girl. But you know her, she's the daughter of Gallissard, the haberdasher-the little fair-haired girl whom we used to serenade!'

Once on the subject of their recollections there was no stopping them, though Claude went on painting with growing feverishness, while Pierre, still turned towards the wall, spoke over his shoulders, shaking every now and then with excitement.

First of all came recollections of the college, the old, dank convent, that extended as far as the town ramparts; the two courtyards with their huge plane trees; the slimy sedge-covered pond, where they had learned to swim, and the class-rooms with dripping plaster walls on the ground floor; then the refectory, with its atmosphere constantly poisoned by the fumes of dish-water; the dormitory of the little ones, famous for its horrors, the linen room, and the infirmary, full of gentle sisters, nuns in black gowns who looked so sweet beneath their white coifs. What a to-do there had been when Sister Angela, she whose Madonna-like face had turned the heads of all the big fellows, disappeared one morning with Hermeline, a stalwart first-form lad, who, from sheer love, purposely cut his hands with his penknife so as to get an opportunity of seeing and speaking to her while she dressed his self-inflicted injuries with gold-beater's skin.

Then they passed the whole college staff in review; a pitiful, grotesque, and terrible procession it was, with such heads as are seen on meerschaum pipes, and profiles instinct with hatred and suffering. There was the head master, who ruined himself in giving parties, in order to marry his daughters-two tall, elegant girls, the butt of constant and abominable insults, written and sketched on every wall; there was the comptroller Pifard, whose wonderful nose betrayed his presence behind every door, when he went eavesdropping; and there were all the teachers, each befouled with some insulting nickname: the severe 'Rhadamantus,' who had never been seen to smile; 'Filth,' who by the constant rubbing of his head had left his mark on the wall behind every professional seat he occupied; 'Thou-hast-deceived-me-Adele,' the professor of physics, at whom ten generations of schoolboys had tauntingly flung the name of his unfaithful wife. There were others still: Spontini, the ferocious usher, with his Corsican knife, rusty with the blood of three cousins; little Chantecaille, who was so good-natured that he allowed the pupils to smoke when out walking; and also a scullion and a scullery maid, two ugly creatures who had been nicknamed Paraboulomenos and Paralleluca, and who were accused of kissing one another over the vegetable parings.

Then came comical reminiscences; the sudden recollection of practical jokes, at which they shook with laughter after all those years. Oh! the morning when they had burned the shoes of Mimi-la-Mort, alias the Skeleton Day Boarder, a lank lad, who smuggled snuff into the school for the whole of the form. And then that winter evening when they had bagged some matches lying near the lamp in the chapel, in order to smoke dry chestnut leaves in reed pipes. Sandoz, who had been the ringleader on that occasion, now frankly avowed his terror; the cold perspiration that had come upon him when he had scrambled out of the choir, wrapt in darkness. And again there was the day when Claude had hit upon the sublime idea of roasting some cockchafers in his desk to see whether they were good to eat, as people said they were. So terrible had been the stench, so dense the smoke that poured from the desk, that the usher had rushed to the water pitcher, under the impression that the place was on fire. And then their marauding expeditions; the pillaging of onion beds while they were out walking; the stones thrown at windows, the correct thing being to make the breakage resemble a well-known geographical map. Also the Greek exercises, written beforehand in large characters on the blackboard, so that every dunce might easily read them though the master remained unaware of it; the wooden seats of the courtyard sawn off and carried round the basin like so many corpses, the boys marching in procession and singing funeral dirges. Yes! that had been a capital prank. Dubuche, who played the priest, had tumbled into the basin while trying to scoop some water into his cap, which was to serve as a holy water pot. But the most comical and amusing of all the pranks had perhaps been that devised by Pouillaud, who one night had fastened all the unmentionable crockery of the dormitory to one long string passed under the beds. At dawn-it was the very morning when the long vacation began-he had pulled the string and skedaddled down the three flights of stairs with this frightful tail of crockery bounding and smashing to pieces behind him.

At the recollection of this last incident, Claude remained grinning from ear to ear, his brush suspended in mid-air. 'That brute of a Pouillaud!' he laughed. 'And so he has written to you. What is he doing now?'

'Why, nothing at all, old man,' answered Sandoz, seating himself more comfortably on the cushions. 'His letter is idiotic. He is just finishing his law studies, and he will inherit his father's practice as a solicitor. You ought to see the style he has already assumed-all the idiotic austerity of a philistine, who has turned over a new leaf.'

They were silent once more until Sandoz added, 'You see, old boy, we have been protected against that sort of thing.'

Then they relapsed again into reminiscences, but such as made their hearts thump; the remembrance of the many happy days they had spent far away from the college, in the open air and the full sunlight. When still very young, and only in the sixth form, the three inseparables had become passionately fond of taking long walks. The shortest holidays were eagerly seized upon to tramp for miles and miles; and, getting bolder as they grew up, they finished by scouring the whole of the country-side, by making journeys that sometimes lasted for days. They slept where they could, in the cleft of a rock, on some threshing-floor, still burning hot, where the straw of the beaten corn made them a soft couch, or in some deserted hut, the ground of which they covered with wild thyme and lavender. Those were flights far from the everyday world, when they became absorbed in healthy mother Nature herself, adoring trees and streams and mountains; revelling in the supreme joy of being alone and free.

Dubuche, who was a boarder, had only joined them on half-holidays and during the long vacation. Besides, his legs were heavy, and he had the quiet nature of a studious lad. But Claude and Sandoz never wearied; they awakened each other every Sunday morning by throwing stones at their respective shutters. In summer, above all, they were haunted by the thought of the Viorne, the torrent, whose tiny stream waters the low-lying pastures of Plassans. When scarcely twelve they already knew how to swim, and it became a passion with them to potter about in the holes where the water accumulated; to spend whole days there, stark naked, drying themselves on the burning sand, and then replunging into the river, living there as it were, on their backs, on their stomachs, searching among the reeds on the banks, immersed up to their ears, and watching the hiding-places of the eels for hours at a stretch. That constant contact of water beneath a burning sun prolonged their childhood, as it were, and lent them the joyous laughter of truant urchins, though they were almost young men, when of an evening they returned to the town amidst the still oppressive heat of a summer sunset. Later on they became very fond of shooting, but shooting such as is carried on in a region devoid of game, where they had to trudge a score of miles to pick off half a dozen pettychaps, or fig-peckers; wonderful expeditions, whence they returned with their bags empty, or with a mere bat, which they had managed to bring down while discharging their guns at the outskirts of the town. Their eyes moistened at the recollection of those happy days; they once more beheld the white endless roads, covered with layers of dust, as if there had been a fall of snow. They paced them again and again in their imagination, happy to hear the fancied creaking of their heavy shoes. Then they cut across the fields, over the reddish-brown ferruginous soil, careering madly on and on; and there was a sky of molten lead above them, not a shadow anywhere, nothing but dwarf olive trees and almond trees with scanty foliage. And then the delicious drowsiness of fatigue on their return, their triumphant bravado at having covered yet more ground than on the precious journey, the delight of being no longer conscious of effort, of advancing solely by dint of strength acquired, spurring themselves on with some terrible martial strain which helped to make everything like a dream.

Already at that time Claude, in addition to his powder-flask and cartridge-belt, took with him an album, in which he sketched little bits of country, while Sandoz, on his side, always had some favourite poet in his pocket. They lived in a perfect frenzy of romanticism, winged strophes alternated with coarse garrison stories, odes were flung upon the burning, flashing, luminous atmosphere that enwrapt them. And when perchance they came upon a small rivulet, bordered by half a dozen willows, casting grey shadows on the soil all ablaze with colour, they at once went into the seventh heaven. They there by themselves performed the dramas they knew by heart, inflating their voices when repeating the speeches of the heroes, and reducing them to the merest whisper when they replied as queens and love-sick maidens. On such days the sparrows were left in peace. In that remote province, amidst the sleepy stupidity of that small town, they had thus lived on from the age of fourteen, full of enthusiasm, devoured by a passion for literature and art. The magnificent scenarios devised by Victor Hugo, the gigantic phantasies which fought therein amidst a ceaseless cross-fire of antithesis, had at first transported them into the fulness of epic glory; gesticulating, watching the sun decline behind some ruins, seeing life pass by amidst all the superb but false glitter of a fifth act. Then Musset had come to unman them with his passion and his tears; they heard their own hearts throb in response to his, a new world opened to them-a world more human-that conquered them by its cries for pity, and of eternal misery, which henceforth they were to hear rising from all things. Besides, they were not difficult to please; they showed the voracity of youth, a furious appetite for all kinds of literature, good and bad alike. So eager were they to admire something, that often the most execrable works threw them into a state of exaltation similar to that which the purest masterpieces produce.

And as Sandoz now remarked, it was their great love of bodily exercise, their very revels of literature that had protected them against the numbing influence of their ordinary surroundings. They never entered a cafe, they had a horror of the streets, even pretending to moult in them like caged eagles, whereas their schoolfellows were already rubbing their elbows over the small marble tables and playing at cards for drinks. Provincial life, which dragged other lads, when still young, within its cogged mechanism, that habit of going to one's club, of spelling out the local paper from its heading to the last advertisement, the everlasting game of dominoes no sooner finished than renewed, the same walk at the self-same hour and ever along the same roads-all that brutifies the mind, like a grindstone crushing the brain, filled them with indignation, called forth their protestations. They preferred to scale the neighbouring hills in search of some unknown solitary spot, where they declaimed verses even amidst drenching showers, without dreaming of shelter in their very hatred of town-life. They had even planned an encampment on the banks of the Viorne, where they were to live like savages, happy with constant bathing, and the company of five or six books, which would amply suffice for their wants. Even womankind was to be strictly banished from that camp. Being very timid and awkward in the presence of the gentler sex, they pretended to the asceticism of superior intellects. For two years Claude had been in love with a 'prentice hat-trimmer, whom every evening he had followed at a distance, but to whom he had never dared to address a word. Sandoz nursed dreams of ladies met while travelling, beautiful girls who would suddenly spring up in some unknown wood, charm him for a whole day, and melt into air at dusk. The only love adventure which they had ever met with still evoked their laughter, so silly did it seem to them now. It consisted of a series of serenades which they had given to two young ladies during the time when they, the serenaders, had formed part of the college band. They passed their nights beneath a window playing the clarinet and the cornet-a-piston, and thus raising a discordant din which frightened all the folk of the neighbourhood, until one memorable evening the indignant parents had emptied all the water pitchers of the family over them.

Ah! those were happy days, and how loving was the laughter with which they recalled them. On the walls of the studio hung a series of sketches, which Claude, it so happened, had made during a recent trip southward. Thus it seemed as if they were surrounded by the familiar vistas of bright blue sky overhanging a tawny country-side. Here stretched a plain dotted with little greyish olive trees as far as a rosy network of distant hills. There, between sunburnt russet slopes, the exhausted Viorne was almost running dry beneath the span of an old dust-bepowdered bridge, without a bit of green, nothing save a few bushes, dying for want of moisture. Farther on, the mountain gorge of the Infernets showed its yawning chasm amidst tumbled rocks, struck down by lightning, a huge chaos, a wild desert, rolling stony billows as far as the eye could reach. Then came all sorts of well remembered nooks: the valley of Repentance, narrow and shady, a refreshing oasis amid calcined fields; the wood of Les Trois Bons-Dieux, with hard, green, varnished pines shedding pitchy tears beneath the burning sun; the sheep walk of Bouffan, showing white, like a mosque, amidst a far-stretching blood-red plain. And there were yet bits of blinding, sinuous roads; ravines, where the heat seemed even to wring bubbling perspiration from the pebbles; stretches of arid, thirsty sand, drinking up rivers drop by drop; mole hills, goat paths, and hill crests, half lost in the azure sky.

'Hallo!' exclaimed Sandoz, turning towards one sketch, 'what's that?'

Claude, indignant, waved his palette. 'What! don't you remember? We were very nigh breaking our necks there. Surely you recollect the day we clambered from the very bottom of Jaumegarde with Dubuche? The rock was as smooth as your hand, and we had to cling to it with our nails, so that at one moment we could neither get up nor go down again. When we were once atop and about to cook our cutlets, we, you and I, nearly came to blows.'

Sandoz now remembered. 'Yes, yes; each had to roast his own cutlet on rosemary sticks, and, as mine took fire, you exasperated me by chaffing my cutlet, which was being reduced to cinders.'

They both shook with laughter, until the painter resumed his work, gravely concluding, 'That's all over, old man. There is to be no more idling at present.'

He spoke the truth. Since the three inseparables had realised their dream of meeting together in Paris, which they were bent upon conquering, their life had been terribly hard. They had tried to renew the long walks of old. On certain Sunday mornings they had started on foot from the Fontainebleau gate, had scoured the copses of Verrieres, gone as far as the Bievre, crossed the woods of Meudon and Bellevue, and returned home by way of Grenelle. But they taxed Paris with spoiling their legs; they scarcely ever left the pavement now, entirely taken up as they were with their struggle for fortune and fame.

From Monday morning till Saturday night Sandoz sat fuming and fretting at the municipal building of the fifth Arrondissement in a dark corner of the registry office for births, rooted to his stool by the thought of his mother, whom his salary of a hundred and fifty francs a month helped in some fashion to keep. Dubuche, anxious to pay his parents the interest of the money placed on his head, was ever on the look-out for some petty jobs among architects, outside his studies at the School of Arts. As for Claude, thanks to his thousand francs a year, he had his full liberty; but the latter days of each month were terrible enough, especially if he had to share the fag-end of his allowance. Luckily he was beginning to sell a little; disposing of tiny canvases, at the rate of ten and twelve francs a-piece, to Papa Malgras, a wary picture dealer. After all, he preferred starvation to turning his art into mere commerce by manufacturing portraits of tradesmen and their wives; concocting conventional religious pictures or daubing blinds for restaurants or sign-boards for accoucheuses. When first he had returned to Paris, he had rented a very large studio in the Impasse des Bourdonnais; but he had moved to the Quai de Bourbon from motives of economy. He lived there like a savage, with an absolute contempt for everything that was not painting. He had fallen out with his relatives, who disgusted him; he had even ceased visiting his aunt, who kept a pork-butcher's shop near the Central Markets, because she looked too flourishing and plump.* Respecting the downfall of his mother, who was being eaten out of doors and driven into the streets, he nursed a secret grief.

* This aunt is Lisa of 'The Fat and the Thin' (Le Ventre de Paris)

in a few chapters of which Claude figures.-ED.

Suddenly he shouted to Sandoz, 'Will you be kind enough not to tumble to pieces?' But Sandoz declared that he was getting stiff, and jumped from the couch to stretch his legs a bit. They took ten minutes' rest, talking meanwhile about many things. Claude felt condescendingly good-tempered. When his work went smoothly he brightened up and became talkative; he, who painted with his teeth set, and raged inwardly directly he felt that nature was escaping him. Hence his friend had scarcely resumed his attitude before he went on chattering, without, however, missing a stroke of his brush.

'It's going on all right, old boy, isn't it? You look all there in it. Oh, the brutes, I'll just see whether they'll refuse me this time. I am more severe for myself than they are for themselves, I'm sure of it; and whenever I pass one of my own pictures, it's more serious than if it had passed before all the hanging committees on earth. You know my picture of the markets, with the two urchins tumbling about on a heap of vegetables? Well, I've scratched it all out, it didn't come right. I found that I had got hold of a beastly machine,* a deal too heavy for my strength. But, never you fear, I'll take the subject up again some day, when I know better, and I'll take up others, machines which will knock them all cock-a-hoop with surprise.'

* In familiar conversation, French artists, playwrights, and

novelists invariably call their productions by the slang

term 'machines.'-ED.

He made a magnificent gesture, as if to sweep a whole crowd away; emptied a tube of cobalt on his palette; and then began to jeer, asking what his first master would say to a picture like this? His first master indeed, Papa Belloque, a retired infantry captain, with one arm, who for a quarter of a century had taught drawing to the youth of Plassans in one of the galleries of the Museum! Then, in Paris, hadn't the celebrated Berthou, the painter of 'Nero in the Circus'-Berthou, whose lessons he had attended for six long months-told him a score of times that he would never be able to do anything? How he now regretted those six months wasted in idiotic efforts, absurd 'studies,' under the iron rule of a man whose ideas differed so much from his own. He at last began to hold forth against working at the Louvre. He would, he said, sooner chop his hand off than return there to spoil his perception of nature by undertaking one of those copies which for ever dim the vision of the world in which one lives.

Was there aught else in art than the rendering of what one felt within oneself? Was not the whole of art reduced to placing a woman in front of one-and then portraying her according to the feelings that she inspired? Was not a bunch of carrots-yes, a bunch of carrots-studied from nature, and painted unaffectedly, in a personal style, worth all the ever-lasting smudges of the School of Arts, all that tobacco-juice painting, cooked up according to certain given recipes? The day would come when one carrot, originally rendered, would lead to a revolution. It was because of this that he now contented himself with going to the Boutin studio, a free studio, kept by a former model, in the Rue de la Huchette. When he had paid his twenty francs he was put in front of as many men and women as he cared for, and set about his work with a will, never thinking of eating or drinking, but struggling unrestingly with nature, mad almost with the excitement of work, by the side of a pack of dandies who accused him of ignorant laziness, and arrogantly prated about their 'studies,' because they copied noses and mouths, under the eye of a master.

'Listen to this, old man: when one of those whipper-snappers can build up a torso like that one over yonder, he may come up and tell me, and we'll have a talk together.'

With the end of his brush he pointed to a study of the nude, suspended from the wall near the door. It was really magnificent, full of masterly breadth of colouring. By its side were some other admirable bits, a girl's feet exquisite in their delicate truthfulness, and a woman's trunk with quivering satin-like skin. In his rare moments of content he felt proud of those few studies, the only ones which satisfied him, which, as it were, foretold a great painter, admirably gifted, but hampered by sudden and inexplicable fits of impotency.

Dealing sabre-like strokes at the velveteen jacket, he continued lashing himself into excitement with his uncompromising theories which respected nobody:

'They are all so many daubers of penny prints, who hav

e stolen their reputations; a set of idiots or knaves on their knees before public imbecility! Not one among them dares to give the philistines a slap in the face. And, while we are about it, you know that old Ingres turns me sick with his glairy painting. Nevertheless, he's a brick, and a plucky fellow, and I take off my hat to him, for he did not care a curse for anybody, and he used to draw like the very devil. He ended by making the idiots, who nowadays believe they understand him, swallow that drawing of his. After him there are only two worth speaking of, Delacroix and Courbet. The others are only numskulls. Oh, that old romantic lion, the carriage of him! He was a decorator who knew how to make the colours blaze. And what a grasp he had! He would have covered every wall in Paris if they had let him; his palette boiled, and boiled over. I know very well that it was only so much phantasmagoria. Never mind, I like it for all that, as it was needed to set the School on fire. Then came the other, a stout workman-that one, the truest painter of the century, and altogether classical besides, a fact which not one of the dullards understood. They yelled, of course; they shouted about profanation and realism, when, after all, the realism was only in the subject. The perception remained that of the old masters, and the execution resumed and continued the best bits of work one can find in our public galleries. Both Delacroix and Courbet came at the proper time. Each made a stride forward. And now-ah, now!'

He ceased speaking and drew back a few steps to judge of the effect of his picture, becoming absorbed in contemplation for a moment, and then resuming:

'Yes, nowadays we want something different-what, I don't exactly know. If I did, and could do it, I should be clever indeed. No one else would be in the race with me. All I do know and feel is that Delacroix's grand romantic scenes are foundering and splitting, that Courbet's black painting already reeks of the mustiness of a studio which the sun never penetrates. You understand me, don't you? We, perhaps, want the sun, the open air, a clear, youthful style of painting, men and things such as they appear in the real light. In short, I myself am unable to say what our painting should be; the painting that our eyes of to-day should execute and behold.'

His voice again fell; he stammered and found himself unable to explain the formulas of the future that were rising within him. Deep silence came while he continued working at the velveteen jacket, quivering all the time.

Sandoz had been listening to him without stirring from his position. His back was still turned, and he said slowly, as if speaking to the wall in a kind of dream:

'No; one does not know, and still we ought to know. But each time a professor has wanted to impress a truth upon me, I have mistrustfully revolted, thinking: "He is either deceiving himself or deceiving me." Their ideas exasperate me. It seems to me that truth is larger, more general. How beautiful would it be if one could devote the whole of one's existence to one single work, into which one would endeavour to put everything, the beasts of the field as well as mankind; in short, a kind of immense ark. And not in the order indicated by manuals of philosophy, or according to the idiotic hierarchy on which we pride ourselves, but according to the full current of life; a world in which we should be nothing more than an accident, in which the passing cur, even the stones of the roads, would complete and explain us. In sum, the grand whole, without low or high, or clean or unclean, such as it indeed is in reality. It is certainly to science that poets and novelists ought to address themselves, for it is the only possible source of inspiration to-day. But what are we to borrow from it? How are we to march in its company? The moment I begin to think about that sort of thing I feel that I am floundering. Ah, if I only knew, what a series of books I would hurl at the heads of the crowd!'

He also became silent. The previous winter he had published his first book: a series of little sketches, brought from Plassans, among which only a few rougher notes indicated that the author was a mutineer, a passionate lover of truth and power. And lately he had been feeling his way, questioning himself while all sorts of confused ideas throbbed in his brain. At first, smitten with the thought of undertaking something herculean, he had planned a genesis of the universe, in three phases or parts; the creation narrated according to science; mankind supervening at the appointed hour and playing its part in the chain of beings and events; then the future-beings constantly following one another, and finishing the creation of the world by the endless labour of life. But he had calmed down in presence of the venturesome hypotheses of this third phase; and he was now looking out for a more restricted, more human framework, in which, however, his vast ambition might find room.

'Ah, to be able to see and paint everything,' exclaimed Claude, after a long interval. 'To have miles upon miles of walls to cover, to decorate the railway stations, the markets, the municipal offices, everything that will be built, when architects are no longer idiots. Only strong heads and strong muscles will be wanted, for there will be no lack of subjects. Life such as it runs about the streets, the life of the rich and the poor, in the market places, on the race-courses, on the boulevards, in the populous alleys; and every trade being plied, and every passion portrayed in full daylight, and the peasants, too, and the beasts of the fields and the landscapes-ah! you'll see it all, unless I am a downright brute. My very hands are itching to do it. Yes! the whole of modern life! Frescoes as high as the Pantheon! A series of canvases big enough to burst the Louvre!'

Whenever they were thrown together the painter and the author generally reached this state of excitement. They spurred each other mutually, they went mad with dreams of glory; and there was such a burst of youth, such a passion for work about their plans, that they themselves often smiled afterwards at those great, proud dreams which seemed to endow them with suppleness, strength, and spirit.

Claude, who had stepped back as far as the wall, remained leaning against it, and gazing at his work. Seeing which, Sandoz, overcome by fatigue, left the couch and joined him. Then both looked at the picture without saying a word. The gentleman in the velveteen jacket was entirely roughed in. His hand, more advanced than the rest, furnished a pretty fresh patch of flesh colour amid the grass, and the dark coat stood out so vigorously that the little silhouettes in the background, the two little women wrestling in the sunlight, seemed to have retreated further into the luminous quivering of the glade. The principal figure, the recumbent woman, as yet scarcely more than outlined, floated about like some aerial creature seen in dreams, some eagerly desired Eve springing from the earth, with her features vaguely smiling and her eyelids closed.

'Well, now, what are you going to call it?' asked Sandoz.

'The Open Air,' replied Claude, somewhat curtly.

The title sounded rather technical to the writer, who, in spite of himself, was sometimes tempted to introduce literature into pictorial art.

'The Open Air! that doesn't suggest anything.'

'There is no occasion for it to suggest anything. Some women and a man are reposing in a forest in the sunlight. Does not that suffice? Don't fret, there's enough in it to make a masterpiece.'

He threw back his head and muttered between his teeth: 'Dash it all! it's very black still. I can't get Delacroix out of my eye, do what I will. And then the hand, that's Courbet's manner. Everyone of us dabs his brush into the romantic sauce now and then. We had too much of it in our youth, we floundered in it up to our very chins. We need a jolly good wash to get clear of it.'

Sandoz shrugged his shoulders with a gesture of despair. He also bewailed the fact that he had been born at what he called the confluence of Hugo and Balzac. Nevertheless, Claude remained satisfied, full of the happy excitement of a successful sitting. If his friend could give him two or three more Sundays the man in the jacket would be all there. He had enough of him for the present. Both began to joke, for, as a rule, Claude almost killed his models, only letting them go when they were fainting, half dead with fatigue. He himself now very nigh dropped, his legs bending under him, and his stomach empty. And as the cuckoo clock struck five, he snatched at his crust of bread and devoured it. Thoroughly worn out, he broke it with trembling fingers, and scarcely chewed it, again standing before his picture, pursued by his passion to such a degree as to be unconscious even that he was eating.

'Five o'clock,' said Sandoz, as he stretched himself, with his arms upraised. 'Let's go and have dinner. Ah! here comes Dubuche, just in time.'

There was a knock at the door, and Dubuche came in. He was a stout young fellow, dark, with regular but heavy features, close-cropped hair, and moustaches already full-blown. He shook hands with both his friends, and stopped before the picture, looking nonplussed. In reality that harum-scarum style of painting upset him, such was the even balance of his nature, such his reverence as a steady student for the established formulas of art; and it was only his feeling of friendship which, as a rule, prevented him from criticising. But this time his whole being revolted visibly.

'Well, what's the matter? Doesn't it suit you?' asked Sandoz, who was watching him.

'Yes, oh yes, it's very well painted-but-'

'Well, spit it out. What is it that ruffles you?'

'Not much, only the gentleman is fully dressed, and the women are not. People have never seen anything like that before.'

This sufficed to make both the others wild. Why, were there not a hundred pictures in the Louvre composed in precisely the same way? Hadn't all Paris and all the painters and tourists of the world seen them? And besides, if people had never seen anything like it, they would see it now. After all, they didn't care a fig for the public!

Not in the least disconcerted by these violent replies, Dubuche repeated quietly: 'The public won't understand-the public will think it indecorous-and so it is!'

'You wretched bourgeois philistine!' exclaimed Claude, exasperated. 'They are making a famous idiot of you at the School of Arts. You weren't such a fool formerly.'

These were the current amenities of his two friends since Dubuche had attended the School of Arts. He thereupon beat a retreat, rather afraid of the turn the dispute was taking, and saved himself by belabouring the painters of the School. Certainly his friends were right in one respect, the School painters were real idiots. But as for the architects, that was a different matter. Where was he to get his tuition, if not there? Besides his tuition would not prevent him from having ideas of his own, later on. Wherewith he assumed a very revolutionary air.

'All right,' said Sandoz, 'the moment you apologise, let's go and dine.'

But Claude had mechanically taken up a brush and set to work again. Beside the gentleman in the velveteen jacket the figure of the recumbent woman seemed to be fading away. Feverish and impatient, he traced a bold outline round her so as to bring her forward.

'Are you coming?'

'In a minute; hang it, what's the hurry? Just let me set this right, and I'll be with you.'

Sandoz shook his head and then remarked very quietly, lest he should still further annoy him: 'You do wrong to worry yourself like that, old man. Yes, you are knocked up, and have had nothing to eat, and you'll only spoil your work, as you did the other day.'

But the painter waved him off with a peevish gesture. It was the old story-he did not know when to leave off; he intoxicated himself with work in his craving for an immediate result, in order to prove to himself that he held his masterpiece at last. Doubts had just driven him to despair in the midst of his delight at having terminated a successful sitting. Had he done right, after all, in making the velveteen jacket so prominent, and would he not afterwards fail to secure the brilliancy which he wished the female figure to show? Rather than remain in suspense he would have dropped down dead on the spot. Feverishly drawing the sketch of Christine's head from the portfolio where he had hidden it, he compared it with the painting on the canvas, assisting himself, as it were, by means of this document derived from life.

'Hallo!' exclaimed Dubuche, 'where did you get that from? Who is it?'

Claude, startled by the questions, did not answer; then, without reflecting, he who usually told them everything, brusquely lied, prompted by a delicate impulse to keep silent respecting the adventure of the night.

'Tell us who it is?' repeated the architect.

'Nobody at all-a model.'

'A model! a very young one, isn't she? She looks very nice. I wish you would give me her address. Not for myself, but for a sculptor I know who's on the look-out for a Psyche. Have you got the address there?'

Thereupon Dubuche turned to a corner of the greyish wall on which the addresses of several models were written in chalk, haphazard. The women particularly left their cards in that way, in awkward, childish handwriting. Zoe Piedefer, 7 Rue Campagne-Premiere, a big brunette, who was getting rather too stout, had scrawled her sign manual right across the names of little Flore Beauchamp, 32 Rue de Laval, and Judith Vaquez, 69 Rue du Rocher, a Jewess, both of whom were too thin.

'I say, have you got the address?' resumed Dubuche.

Then Claude flew into a passion. 'Don't pester me! I don't know and don't care. You're a nuisance, worrying like that just when a fellow wants to work.'

Sandoz had not said a word. Surprised at first, he had soon smiled. He was gifted with more penetration than Dubuche, so he gave him a knowing nod, and they then began to chaff. They begged Claude's pardon; the moment he wanted to keep the young person for his personal use, they would not ask him to lend her. Ha! ha! the scamp went hunting about for pretty models. And where had he picked up that one?

More and more embarrassed by these remarks, Claude went on fidgetting. 'What a couple of idiots you are!' he exclaimed, 'If you only knew what fools you are making of yourselves. That'll do. You really make me sorry for both of you.'

His voice sounded so stern that they both became silent immediately, while he, after once more scratching out the woman's head, drew it anew and began to paint it in, following his sketch of Christine, but with a feverish, unsteady touch which went at random.

'Just give me another ten minutes, will you?' he repeated. 'I will rough in the shoulders to be ready for to-morrow, and then we'll go down.'

Sandoz and Dubuche, knowing that it was of no use to prevent him from killing himself in this fashion, resigned themselves to the inevitable. The latter lighted his pipe, and flung himself on the couch. He was the only one of the three who smoked; the others had never taken kindly to tobacco, always feeling qualmish after a cigar. And when Dubuche was stretched on his back, his eyes turned towards the clouds of smoke he raised, he began to talk about himself in an interminable monotonous fashion. Ah! that confounded Paris, how one had to work one's fingers to the bone in order to get on. He recalled the fifteen months of apprenticeship he had spent with his master, the celebrated Dequersonniere, a former grand-prize man, now architect of the Civil Branch of Public Works, an officer of the Legion of Honour and a member of the Institute, whose chief architectural performance, the church of St. Mathieu, was a cross between a pastry-cook's mould and a clock in the so-called First Empire style. A good sort of fellow, after all, was this Dequersonniere whom Dubuche chaffed, while inwardly sharing his reverence for the old classical formulas. However, but for his fellow-pupils, the young man would not have learnt much at the studio in the Rue du Four, for the master only paid a running visit to the place some three times a week. A set of ferocious brutes, were those comrades of his, who had made his life jolly hard in the beginning, but who, at least, had taught him how to prepare a surface, outline, and wash in a plan. And how often had he had to content himself with a cup of chocolate and a roll for dejeuner in order to pay the necessary five-and-twenty francs to the superintendent! And the sheets of paper he had laboriously smudged, and the hours he had spent in poring over books before he had dared to present himself at the School! And he had narrowly escaped being plucked in spite of all his assiduous endeavours. He lacked imagination, and the drawings he submitted, a caryatide and a summer dining-room, both extremely mediocre performances, had classed him at the bottom of the list. Fortunately, he had made up for this in his oral examination with his logarithms, geometry, and history of architecture, for he was very strong in the scientific parts. Now that he was attending the School as a second-class student, he had to toil and moil in order to secure a first-class diploma. It was a dog's life, there was no end to it, said he.

He stretched his legs apart, high upon the cushions, and smoked vigorously and regularly.

'What with their courses of perspective, of descriptive geometry, of stereotomy, of building, and of the history of art-ah! upon my word, they do make one blacken paper with notes. And every month there is a competitive examination in architecture, sometimes a simple sketch, at others a complete design. There's no time for pleasure if a fellow wishes to pass his examinations and secure the necessary honourable mentions, especially if, besides all that, he has to find time to earn his bread. As for myself, it's almost killing me.'

One of the cushions having slipped upon the floor, he fished it up with his feet. 'All the same, I'm lucky. There are so many of us scouring the town every day without getting the smallest job. The day before yesterday I discovered an architect who works for a large contractor. You can have no idea of such an ignoramus of an architect-a downright numskull, incapable even of tracing a plan. He gives me twenty-five sous an hour, and I set his houses straight for him. It came just in time, too, for my mother sent me word that she was quite cleared out. Poor mother, what a lot of money I have to refund her!'

As Dubuche was evidently talking to himself, chewing the cud of his everyday thoughts-his constant thoughts of making a rapid fortune-Sandoz did not even trouble to listen to him. He had opened the little window, and seated himself on a level with the roof, for he felt oppressed by the heat in the studio. But all at once he interrupted the architect.

'I say, are you coming to dinner on Thursday? All the other fellows will be there-Fagerolles, Mahoudeau, Jory, Gagniere.'

Every Thursday, quite a band met at Sandoz's: friends from Plassans and others met in Paris-revolutionaries to a man, and all animated by the same passionate love of art.

'Next Thursday? No, I think not,' answered Dubuche.

'I am obliged to go to a dance at a family's I know.'

'Where you expect to get hold of a dowry, I suppose?'

'Well, it wouldn't be such a bad spec.'

He shook the ashes from his pipe on to his left palm, and then, suddenly raising his voice-'I almost forgot. I have had a letter from Pouillaud.'

'You, too!-well, I think he's pretty well done for, Pouillaud. Another good fellow gone wrong.'

'Why gone wrong? He'll succeed his father; he'll spend his money quietly down there. He writes rationally enough. I always said he'd show us a thing or two, in spite of all his practical jokes. Ah! that beast of a Pouillaud.'

Sandoz, furious, was about to reply, when a despairing oath from Claude stopped him. The latter had not opened his lips since he had so obstinately resumed his work. To all appearance he had not even listened.

'Curse it-I have failed again. Decidedly, I'm a brute, I shall never do anything.' And in a fit of mad rage he wanted to rush at his picture and dash his fist through it. His friends had to hold him back. Why, it was simply childish to get into such a passion. Would matters be improved when, to his mortal regret, he had destroyed his work? Still shaking, he relapsed into silence, and stared at the canvas with an ardent fixed gaze that blazed with all the horrible agony born of his powerlessness. He could no longer produce anything clear or life-like; the woman's breast was growing pasty with heavy colouring; that flesh which, in his fancy, ought to have glowed, was simply becoming grimy; he could not even succeed in getting a correct focus. What on earth was the matter with his brain that he heard it bursting asunder, as it were, amidst his vain efforts? Was he losing his sight that he was no longer able to see correctly? Were his hands no longer his own that they refused to obey him? And thus he went on winding himself up, irritated by the strange hereditary lesion which sometimes so greatly assisted his creative powers, but at others reduced him to a state of sterile despair, such as to make him forget the first elements of drawing. Ah, to feel giddy with vertiginous nausea, and yet to remain there full of a furious passion to create, when the power to do so fled with everything else, when everything seemed to founder around him-the pride of work, the dreamt-of glory, the whole of his existence!

'Look here, old boy,' said Sandoz at last, 'we don't want to worry you, but it's half-past six, and we are starving. Be reasonable, and come down with us.'

Claude was cleaning a corner of his palette. Then he emptied some more tubes on it, and, in a voice like thunder, replied with one single word, 'No.'

For the next ten minutes nobody spoke; the painter, beside himself, wrestled with his picture, whilst his friends remained anxious at this attack, which they did not know how to allay. Then, as there came a knock at the door, the architect went to open it.

'Hallo, it's Papa Malgras.'

Malgras, the picture-dealer, was a thick-set individual, with close-cropped, brush-like, white hair, and a red splotchy face. He was wrapped in a very dirty old green coat, that made him look like an untidy cabman. In a husky voice, he exclaimed: 'I happened to pass along the quay, on the other side of the way, and I saw that gentleman at the window. So I came up.'

Claude's continued silence made him pause. The painter had turned to his picture again with an impatient gesture. Not that this silence in any way embarrassed the new comer, who, standing erect on his sturdy legs and feeling quite at home, carefully examined the new picture with his bloodshot eyes. Without any ceremony, he passed judgment upon it in one phrase-half ironic, half affectionate: 'Well, well, there's a machine.'

Then, seeing that nobody said anything, he began to stroll round the studio, looking at the paintings on the walls.

Papa Malgras, beneath his thick layer of grease and grime, was really a very cute customer, with taste and scent for good painting. He never wasted his time or lost his way among mere daubers; he went straight, as if from instinct, to individualists, whose talent was contested still, but whose future fame his flaming, drunkard's nose sniffed from afar. Added to this he was a ferocious hand at bargaining, and displayed all the cunning of a savage in his efforts to secure, for a song, the pictures that he coveted. True, he himself was satisfied with very honest profits, twenty per cent., thirty at the most. He based his calculations on quickly turning over his small capital, never purchasing in the morning without knowing where to dispose of his purchase at night. As a superb liar, moreover, he had no equal.

Pausing near the door, before the studies from the nude, painted at the Boutin studio, he contemplated them in silence for a few moments, his eyes glistening the while with the enjoyment of a connoisseur, which his heavy eyelids tried to hide. Assuredly, he thought, there was a great deal of talent and sentiment of life about that big crazy fellow Claude, who wasted his time in painting huge stretches of canvas which no one would buy. The girl's pretty legs, the admirably painted woman's trunk, filled the dealer with delight. But there was no sale for that kind of stuff, and he had already made his choice-a tiny sketch, a nook of the country round Plassans, at once delicate and violent-which he pretended not to notice. At last he drew near, and said, in an off-hand way:

'What's this? Ah! yes, I know, one of the things you brought back with you from the South. It's too crude. I still have the two I bought of you.'

And he went on in mellow, long-winded phrases. 'You'll perhaps not believe me, Monsieur Lantier, but that sort of thing doesn't sell at all-not at all. I've a set of rooms full of them. I'm always afraid of smashing something when I turn round. I can't go on like that, honour bright; I shall have to go into liquidation, and I shall end my days in the hospital. You know me, eh? my heart is bigger than my pocket, and there's nothing I like better than to oblige young men of talent like yourself. Oh, for the matter of that, you've got talent, and I keep on telling them so-nay, shouting it to them-but what's the good? They won't nibble, they won't nibble!'

He was trying the emotional dodge; then, with the spirit of a man about to do something rash: 'Well, it sha'n't be said that I came in to waste your time. What do you want for that rough sketch?'

Claude, still irritated, was painting nervously. He dryly answered, without even turning his head: 'Twenty francs.'

'Nonsense; twenty francs! you must be mad. You sold me the others ten francs a-piece-and to-day I won't give a copper more than eight francs.'

As a rule the painter closed with him at once, ashamed and humbled at this miserable chaffering, glad also to get a little money now and then. But this time he was obstinate, and took to insulting the picture-dealer, who, giving tit for tat, all at once dropped the formal 'you' to assume the glib 'thou,' denied his talent, overwhelmed him with invective, and taxed him with ingratitude. Meanwhile, however, he had taken from his pocket three successive five-franc pieces, which, as if playing at chuck-farthing, he flung from a distance upon the table, where they rattled among the crockery.

'One, two, three-not one more, dost hear? for there is already one too many, and I'll take care to get it back; I'll deduct it from something else of thine, as I live. Fifteen francs for that! Thou art wrong, my lad, and thou'lt be sorry for this dirty trick.'

Quite exhausted, Claude let him take down the little canvas, which disappeared as if by magic in his capacious green coat. Had it dropped into a special pocket, or was it reposing on Papa Malgras' ample chest? Not the slightest protuberance indicated its whereabouts.

Having accomplished his stroke of business, Papa Malgras abruptly calmed down and went towards the door. But he suddenly changed his mind and came back. 'Just listen, Lantier,' he said, in the honeyest of tones; 'I want a lobster painted. You really owe me that much after fleecing me. I'll bring you the lobster, you'll paint me a bit of still life from it, and keep it for your pains. You can eat it with your friends. It's settled, isn't it?'

At this proposal Sandoz and Dubuche, who had hitherto listened inquisitively, burst into such loud laughter that the picture-dealer himself became gay. Those confounded painters, they did themselves no good, they simply starved. What would have become of the lazy beggars if he, Papa Malgras, hadn't brought a leg of mutton now and then, or a nice fresh plaice, or a lobster, with its garnish of parsley?

'You'll paint me my lobster, eh, Lantier? Much obliged.' And he stationed himself anew before the large canvas, with his wonted smile of mingled derision and admiration. And at last he went off, repeating, 'Well, well, there's a machine.'

Claude wanted to take up his palette and brushes once more. But his legs refused their service; his arms fell to his side, stiff, as if pinioned there by some occult force. In the intense melancholy silence that had followed the din of the dispute he staggered, distracted, bereft of sight before his shapeless work.

'I'm done for, I'm done for,' he gasped. 'That brute has finished me off!'

The clock had just struck seven; he had been at work for eight mortal hours without tasting anything but a crust of bread, without taking a moment's rest, ever on his legs, shaken by feverish excitement. And now the sun was setting, shadows began to darken the studio, which in the gloaming assumed a most melancholy aspect. When the light went down like this on the crisis of a bad day's work, it seemed to Claude as if the sun would never rise again, but had for ever carried life and all the jubilant gaiety of colour away.

'Come,' implored Sandoz, with all the gentleness of brotherly compassion. 'Come, there's a good fellow.'

Even Dubuche added, 'You'll see more clearly into it to-morrow. Come and dine.'

For a moment Claude refused to surrender. He stood rooted to the spot, deaf to their friendly voices, and fiercely obstinate.

What did he want to do then, since his tired fingers were no longer able to grasp the brush? He did not know, but, however powerless he might be, he was gnawed by a mad craving to go on working still and to create in spite of everything. Even if he did nothing, he would at least stay there, he would not vacate the spot. All at once, however, he made up his mind, shaken the while as by a big sob. He clutched firmly hold of his broadest palette-knife, and, with one deep, slow sweep, he obliterated the woman's head and bosom. It was veritable murder, a pounding away of human flesh; the whole disappeared in a murky, muddy mash. By the side of the gentleman in the dark jacket, amidst the bright verdure, where the two little wrestlers so lightly tinted were disporting themselves, there remained naught of the nude, headless, breastless woman but a mutilated trunk, a vague cadaverous stump, an indistinct, lifeless patch of visionary flesh.

Sandoz and Dubuche were already descending the stairs with a great clatter, and Claude followed them, fleeing his work, in agony at having to leave it thus scarred with a gaping gash.

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