« AnkstesnisTęsti »
Shortly after his arrival, the law of general amnesty was passed, and Salis was once more free to return to his beloved Paris. But, alas! he had nothing to return to. Communism was no longer a profession that paid a living wage, and to return to Paris without a profession meant certain starvation. So Stevenson called a special meeting of the colony to consider the "Question Salis," and to devise ways and means by which the owner of the name could live and thrive reasonably once more in Paris. He elected himself chairman of the meeting, and in the opening address stated that there was only one sure and never-failing method by which one could always and anywhere be certain of making money, and that was by the sale of drink. In England, where drink is dispensed at the "pub," it was not a particularly cleanly or attractive profession, to be sure; but in Paris it was different, he said. For what could be neater or more appealing than the little whitemarble tables outside a boulevard café, with the prim little hedge of arbor-vitæ dividing off its special strip of sidewalk from the area pertaining to the adjoining shop? Moreover, a café could be of any desired character, musical, artistic, or literary. The Café Salis should be all three of these in one. Right here we had the
painters who would cover the walls with their pictures, the poets who would recite their own poetry of evenings, and the musicians who would be only too pleased to discourse sweet sound for the price of a bock or a fine that was not charged up. The bourgeois would repay, what? But the Café Salis needed a name. Neither a book nor a picture was quite sure of success without a taking title, and this was still more true of a café.
that a black cat went slinking along the stone wall in the background, arching its back and resting occasionally to survey the landscape. Suddenly it occurred to the artist that this little bit of life in the canvas might égayer his picture a bit, while the sable color of the creature would keep it fairly within the scheme.
"How about Hawkins's black cat?" cried one of the committee. "Stamped out of black iron it would make a bully sign to swing over the door."
The suggestion was carried by acclamation, and the "Café of the Black Cat," which was opened in the Quartier des Batignolles that autumn, had an immediate and bewildering success; so much so indeed that presently its proprietor, grown prosperous and sleek, the communard utterly submerged in the successful bourgeois, was swept into the French senate on the tide of his prosperity. Before leaving Grez, Salis rowed up to the house of a murderous miller, a sinister person who was known positively to have killed his old mother in cold blood, although the crime. could never be fastened upon him, and calling him to the door of his mill, recited in stentorian tones and with much dramatic gesticulation Victor Hugo's "Assassin." Taken all in all, a picturesque person was Rodolfe Salis.
Just at this time it happened that Hawkins, one of our group, had sent to the Salon a picture which had achieved a considerable success despite the fact that its subject was most lugubrious-nothing less than a forlorn orphan weeping at the grave of her mother. One day as Hawkins was working on his nearly completed canvas in the village cemetery it chanced
This little incident was very characteristic of Stevenson, and it illustrates what always seemed to me the most salient and dominating force in his nature-an intense interest in the human drama which was being enacted about him, the artist's ability to see it as a drama, and an uncontrollable desire to mix in the fray himself and, playing the part of a kindly deus ex machina, to bring the fifth act of the play to a happy or an artistic conclusion.
I do not think that in those early days he appeared to any of us as specifically a genius, an exceptional man set apart for great accomplishments. Indeed, had we been solemnly assured that he would share the honor, with only one or two possible competitors, of being the foremost English writer of the latter half of the nineteenth century, we would certainly have received
the assurance with a smile. What! Louis! so simple, kindly, natural; so all-round a good fellow; so like all the rest of us, only nicer!
And I am quite sure that in his inmost heart at this period he could never really have looked forward to or expected the fame which later came to him, and which grows and expands as time gives us the perspective wherewith to view it in all its roundness and bigness and essential simplicity. In fact, in introducing himself to me, he remarked simply that he was "a writer-chap," or hoped to be one.
I was told of another rainy afternoon "blague party," at which I did not chance. to be present, during which Bob Stevenson amused himself by forecasting the future careers of those present. When he came to his cousin he remarked with a satirical little smile: "There sits Louis, as smug and complacent as any old type de bourgeois. I have not the least doubt that he fondly imagines that one of these days they will be publishing all of his dinky, private correspondence-'the letters of R. L. S.'-in boards." And Louis joined as heartily as any one in the laugh which the sally raised. Bob, at least, did live to see the publication of the "Vailima Letters," and I have often wondered if he remembered this little incident as he thumbed their leaves.
But I would not give the impression. that the artist colony of Grez during that memorable summer was wholly masculine in its make-up, for this was far indeed from being the case, and most of the unforgetable dramatic quality of the place. and the time would have been lacking but for the presence of a very fair proportion of the female element. There was a certain return to primitive standards in the relation between the sexes, but primitive standards, nevertheless, in which honor and a regard for the square deal held a high place. In matters of morals Stevenson himself was the least censorious of judges, providing there was no infringement of the law of nature or the law of friendship; though perhaps it would be truer to say that he entered no judgment
either for or against the accused, preferring to leave the decision in such matters to the Maker of all laws.
But if he heard of anything mean or underhand, any tricky blow beneath the belt, he was a very firebrand, flaming with a fury which nothing could quell. I remember one case in which he forced two very unwilling opponents to accept a duel as the only possible solution of an entanglement involving an unmanly act on the part of one of the pair. Fortunately the duel was never fought, the chief offender considering discretion the better part of valor and deciding that the woods. about Barbison at that particular season of the year offered better material for the painter than the river at Grez.
I would not, however, by any means have it understood that there was in the colony no sense of decency or morality in the ordinary acceptance of those terms, for that would be a misstatement as manifestly unfair and untrue as to claim a standard of rigid puritanism for the whole region. If there was a fair sprinkling of the grisette and the model element, which had followed the painters down from Paris, there were also a certain number of very serious women-painters who were studying hard, and some of whom were destined to make an enviable place for themselves. later on. Among these I may mention Mlles. Loestadt and Lilienthal, Swedish painters of genuine talent, and more particularly the lady "Trusty, dusky, vivid, and true" to whom Robert Louis Stevenson inscribed the most beautiful love-song of our time, and who later on was destined to become his wife. Mrs. Osbourne could not at the time have been more than thirty-five years of age, a grave and remarkable type of womanhood, with eyes of a depth and a somber beauty which I have never seen equaled-eyes, nevertheless, that upon occasion could sparkle with humor and brim over with laughter. Yet upon the whole Mrs. Osbourne impressed me as first of all a woman of profound character and serious judgment, who could, if occasion called, have been the leader in some great movement. But she
The latter, then a bewitching girl
The last time that I ever saw Stevenson
It was only at the very earliest peep of
Instantly there was pandemonium in
belonged to the quattrocento rather than to the end of the nineteenth century. Had she been born a Medici, she would have held rank as one of the remarkable women of all time.
That she was a woman of intellectual attainments is proved by the fact that she was already a magazine writer of recognized ability, and that at the moment when Stevenson first came into her life she was making a living for herself and her two children with her pen. But this, after all, is a more or less ordinary accomplishment, and Mrs. Osbourne was in no sense ordinary. Indeed, she was gifted with a mysterious sort of over-intelligence which is almost impossible to describe, but which impressed itself upon every one who came within the radius of her influence. Napoleon had much of this; likewise his arch-enemy the great Duke of Wellington; and among women Catharine of Russia and perhaps Elizabeth of England. She was therefore both physically and mentally the very antithesis of the gay, hilarious, open-minded, and open-hearted Stevenson, and for that very reason, perhaps, the woman in all the world best fitted to be his life-comrade and helpmate. At any rate, we may well ask ourselves if anywhere else he would have found the kind of understanding and devotion which she gave him from the day of their first meeting at Grez until the day of his death. in far-away Samoa; if anywhere else there was a woman of equal attainments who would willingly, nay, gladly, throw aside all of the pleasures and comforts of civilization to live among savages, and the still rougher whites of the South Pacific, in order that her husband might have just a little more oxygen for his failing lungs, a little more chance for a respite and an extension of his shortening years? Probably no one ever better deserved than she the noble tribute of verse which her husband gave her, and from which I have quoted the opening line.
Both she and her daughter Isobel had been studying art in Paris through the winter, and had joined the regular AngloSaxon migration to Grez in the early sum
that attic, and a pillow-fight of unusual proportions immediately developed. As is usual on such occasions, sides were soon formed, and one side quickly demonstrated its superiority over the other, the defeated. party being driven gradually down three flights of stairs, and up the village street from end to end. Finally, overcome with laughter and with the unwontedly early exercise, the combatants called a truce, and returned amicably to their night's quarters in search of more ample raiment, for the early morning air from the forest was chill, and nightgowns and pajamas afforded but meager protection. Having clothed ourselves at leisure we strolled across the street to the common salle à manger for the matutinal rolls and coffee. The first man whom I met in the courtyard was Stevenson, who, I thought, looked rather hollow-eyed and weary. It appeared that he and Mrs. Stevenson had passed the night in the chamber directly
beneath the one occupied by our hilarious band. The early morning bombardment to which they had been subjected can therefore be readily imagined.
"I had forgotten, Harrison," he said, with a wan smile, "that we were ever such reptiles."
With the unfailing instinct of the true artist Stevenson made a mental note of this incident, and he used it later in one of the most interesting chapters of "The Wrecker."
The duration of the Stevensons' stay in France during this, their last visit to the Old World, was comparatively short, and before many weeks they had returned once more to San Francisco, and thence to the South Seas and Samoa. Some years later chance sent me also to the South Pacific, but several attempts to arrange a meeting were unsuccessful. The Fates were against me, and I never saw Stevenson again.
REVEL in sleeping-cars. I like to think of the original Mr. Pullman, or whoever it was whose mind first conceived the modern sleeping-car, as a philanthropist, a missionary who had a vision of the joy of life, and labored to bring it into our prosy existence. He looked upon his fellow-men, and found them civilized. Because some savage, gloriously dirty, had had the temerity to take a bath and had relished the sensation of cleanliness, cleanliness had become a convention of our century. Because another savage, a little later, had encircled his neck with a starched collar and had enjoyed the esteem which this invention drew from the collarless plebeians, he found the people of our enlightened age slaves to collars and all that collars stand for.
Now, he knew in his heart that his friend Jones would once in a while like to dispense with shaving, let his hair grow, and march to his office, unbathed, in his pajamas. Instead of satisfying this human craving for change in such a pleasantly normal way, Jones waited for his two-weeks' vacation, and then hied himself to the woods, where, with fishing or hunting or communion with nature as a pretext, he could be dirty and uncivilized to his heart's content.
But vacations, reasoned Mr. Pullman, are fleeting. And then he slapped his thigh and cried, "Eureka!
"I shall conventionalize discomfort," he said. "Everybody has to travel by night sometimes; Jones often does. I shall de
vise a form of travel utterly uncomfortable and barbarian. I shall invent a car in which there are no beds, but shelves reached only by a step-ladder or gymnastics. In it there shall be a wash-room in which washing is a difficult adventure and shaving a gamble with death. I shall man it with porters who leave the lights on and waken one at the wrong stations; I shall have the whole car in constant vibration, and shaken up like a medicinebottle once every hour; sleep will thus become as impossible as it is to the camperout on his bed of pointed balsam-twigs. When the traveler arrives at his destination he will feel as if he had n't slept or washed or consorted with the civilized for a fortnight. He will sing in his bath once more, and put on his starched collar with a thankful heart."
So Mr. Pullman drew his plans; and he looked upon the car of his making, and it was uncomfortable.
Those who travel in sleeping-cars may be divided into two classes: people with foresight and people without it. The former engage their accommodations two days in advance and are assigned lower berths, which have, for those resigned to wakefulness, a view. Members of this class tell me that to raise one's head from the pillow and see the moonlit country fly by, or to pass a train-yard and see the locomotives tossing their plumes of steam against the blackness of the sky, or to follow the progress of the dawn in an endlessly varying motion-picture, is a joy so