The Wrecker

Page 16

It will be understood how much talk the incident aroused in the students' quarter, and that I was highly gratified to make the acquaintance of my famous countryman. It chanced I was to see more of the quixotic side of his character before the morning was done; for as we continued to stroll together, I found myself near the studio of a young Frenchman whose work I had promised to examine, and in the fashion of the quarter carried up Pinkerton along with me. Some of my comrades of this date were pretty obnoxious fellows. I could almost always admire and respect the grown-up practitioners of art in Paris; but many of those who were still in a state of pupilage were sorry specimens, so much so that I used often to wonder where the painters came from, and where the brutes of students went to. A similar mystery hangs over the intermediate stages of the medical profession, and must have perplexed the least observant. The ruffian, at least, whom I now carried Pinkerton to visit, was one of the most crapulous in the quarter. He turned out for our delectation a huge "crust" (as we used to call it) of St. Stephen, wallowing in red upon his belly in an exhausted receiver, and a crowd of Hebrews in blue, green, and yellow, pelting him--apparently with buns; and while we gazed upon this contrivance, regaled us with a piece of his own recent biography, of which his mind was still very full, and which he seemed to fancy, represented him in a heroic posture. I was one of those cosmopolitan Americans, who accept the world (whether at home or abroad) as they find it, and whose favourite part is that of the spectator; yet even I was listening with ill-suppressed disgust, when I was aware of a violent plucking at my sleeve.

"Is he saying he kicked her down stairs?" asked Pinkerton, white as St. Stephen.

"Yes," said I: "his discarded mistress; and then he pelted her with stones. I suppose that's what gave him the idea for his picture. He has just been alleging the pathetic excuse that she was old enough to be his mother."

Something like a sob broke from Pinkerton. "Tell him," he gasped--"I can't speak this language, though I understand a little; I never had any proper education--tell him I'm going to punch his head."

"For God's sake, do nothing of the sort!" I cried. "They don't understand that sort of thing here." And I tried to bundle him out.

"Tell him first what we think of him," he objected. "Let me tell him what he looks in the eyes of a pure-minded American"

"Leave that to me," said I, thrusting Pinkerton clear through the door.

"Qu'est-ce qu'il a?"[1] inquired the student.

[1] "What's the matter with him?"

"Monsieur se sent mal au coeur d'avoir trop regarde votre croute,"[2] said I, and made my escape, scarce with dignity, at Pinkerton's heels.

[2] "The gentleman is sick at his stomach from having looked too long at your daub."

"What did you say to him?" he asked.

"The only thing that he could feel," was my reply.

After this scene, the freedom with which I had ejected my new acquaintance, and the precipitation with which I had followed him, the least I could do was to propose luncheon. I have forgot the name of the place to which I led him, nothing loath; it was on the far side of the Luxembourg at least, with a garden behind, where we were speedily set face to face at table, and began to dig into each other's history and character, like terriers after rabbits, according to the approved fashion of youth.

Pinkerton's parents were from the old country; there too, I incidentally gathered, he had himself been born, though it was a circumstance he seemed prone to forget. Whether he had run away, or his father had turned him out, I never fathomed; but about the age of twelve, he was thrown upon his own resources. A travelling tin-type photographer picked him up, like a haw out of a hedgerow, on a wayside in New Jersey; took a fancy to the urchin; carried him on with him in his wandering life; taught him all he knew himself--to take tin-types (as well as I can make out) and doubt the Scriptures; and died at last in Ohio at the corner of a road. "He was a grand specimen," cried Pinkerton; "I wish you could have seen him, Mr. Dodd. He had an appearance of magnanimity that used to remind me of the patriarchs." On the death of this random protector, the boy inherited the plant and continued the business. "It was a life I could have chosen, Mr. Dodd!" he cried. "I have been in all the finest scenes of that magnificent continent that we were born to be the heirs of. I wish you could see my collection of tin-types; I wish I had them here.

Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

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