Moon and Sixpence, by Somerset Maugham
Part 2 out of 5
chin, the little eyes, and the large, aggressive nose,
was uncouth and coarse. His mouth was large, his lips were heavy
and sensual. No; I could not have placed him.
"You won't go back to your wife?" I said at last.
"She's willing to forget everything that's happened and start afresh.
She'll never make you a single reproach."
"She can go to hell."
"You don't care if people think you an utter blackguard?
You don't care if she and your children have to beg their bread?"
"Not a damn."
I was silent for a moment in order to give greater force to my
next remark. I spoke as deliberately as I could.
"You are a most unmitigated cad."
"Now that you've got that off your chest, let's go and have dinner."
I dare say it would have been more seemly to decline this proposal.
I think perhaps I should have made a show of the
indignation I really felt, and I am sure that Colonel
MacAndrew at least would have thought well of me if I had been
able to report my stout refusal to sit at the same table with
a man of such character. But the fear of not being able to
carry it through effectively has always made me shy of
assuming the moral attitude; and in this case the certainty
that my sentiments would be lost on Strickland made it
peculiarly embarrassing to utter them. Only the poet or the
saint can water an asphalt pavement in the confident
anticipation that lilies will reward his labour.
I paid for what we had drunk, and we made our way to a cheap
restaurant, crowded and gay, where we dined with pleasure.
I had the appetite of youth and he of a hardened conscience.
Then we went to a tavern to have coffee and liqueurs.
I had said all I had to say on the subject that had brought me
to Paris, and though I felt it in a manner treacherous to Mrs.
Strickland not to pursue it, I could not struggle against his
indifference. It requires the feminine temperament to repeat
the same thing three times with unabated zest. I solaced
myself by thinking that it would be useful for me to find out
what I could about Strickland's state of mind. It also
interested me much more. But this was not an easy thing to do,
for Strickland was not a fluent talker. He seemed to
express himself with difficulty, as though words were not the
medium with which his mind worked; and you had to guess the
intentions of his soul by hackneyed phrases, slang, and vague,
unfinished gestures. But though he said nothing of any
consequence, there was something in his personality which
prevented him from being dull. Perhaps it was sincerity.
He did not seem to care much about the Paris he was now seeing
for the first time (I did not count the visit with his wife),
and he accepted sights which must have been strange to him
without any sense of astonishment. I have been to Paris a
hundred times, and it never fails to give me a thrill of excitement;
I can never walk its streets without feeling myself
on the verge of adventure. Strickland remained placid.
Looking back, I think now that he was blind to everything but
to some disturbing vision in his soul.
One rather absurd incident took place. There were a number of
harlots in the tavern: some were sitting with men, others by
themselves; and presently I noticed that one of these was
looking at us. When she caught Strickland's eye she smiled.
I do not think he saw her. In a little while she went out,
but in a minute returned and, passing our table, very politely
asked us to buy her something to drink. She sat down and I
began to chat with her; but, it was plain that her interest
was in Strickland. I explained that he knew no more than two
words of French. She tried to talk to him, partly by signs,
partly in pidgin French, which, for some reason, she thought
would be more comprehensible to him, and she had half a dozen
phrases of English. She made me translate what she could only
express in her own tongue, and eagerly asked for the meaning
of his replies. He was quite good-tempered, a little amused,
but his indifference was obvious.
"I think you've made a conquest," I laughed.
"I'm not flattered."
In his place I should have been more embarrassed and less calm.
She had laughing eyes and a most charming mouth.
She was young. I wondered what she found so attractive in
Strickland. She made no secret of her desires, and I was
bidden to translate.
"She wants you to go home with her."
"I'm not taking any," he replied.
I put his answer as pleasantly as I could. It seemed to me a
little ungracious to decline an invitation of that sort,
and I ascribed his refusal to lack of money.
"But I like him," she said. "Tell him it's for love."
When I translated this, Strickland shrugged his shoulders impatiently.
"Tell her to go to hell," he said.
His manner made his answer quite plain, and the girl threw
back her head with a sudden gesture. Perhaps she reddened
under her paint. She rose to her feet.
She walked out of the inn. I was slightly vexed.
"There wasn't any need to insult her that I can see," I said.
"After all, it was rather a compliment she was paying you."
"That sort of thing makes me sick," he said roughly.
I looked at him curiously. There was a real distaste in his
face, and yet it was the face of a coarse and sensual man.
I suppose the girl had been attracted by a certain brutality in it.
I could have got all the women I wanted in London. I didn't
come here for that."
During the journey back to England I thought much of
Strickland. I tried to set in order what I had to tell his wife.
It was unsatisfactory, and I could not imagine that she
would be content with me; I was not content with myself.
Strickland perplexed me. I could not understand his motives.
When I had asked him what first gave him the idea of being a
painter, he was unable or unwilling to tell me. I could make
nothing of it. I tried to persuade myself than an obscure
feeling of revolt had been gradually coming to a head in his
slow mind, but to challenge this was the undoubted fact that
he had never shown any impatience with the monotony of his life.
If, seized by an intolerable boredom, he had determined
to be a painter merely to break with irksome ties, it would
have been comprehensible, and commonplace; but commonplace is
precisely what I felt he was not. At last, because I was
romantic, I devised an explanation which I acknowledged to be
far-fetched, but which was the only one that in any way
satisfied me. It was this: I asked myself whether there was
not in his soul some deep-rooted instinct of creation, which
the circumstances of his life had obscured, but which grew
relentlessly, as a cancer may grow in the living tissues,
till at last it took possession of his whole being and forced
him irresistibly to action. The cuckoo lays its egg in the
strange bird's nest, and when the young one is hatched it
shoulders its foster-brothers out and breaks at last the nest
that has sheltered it.
But how strange it was that the creative instinct should seize
upon this dull stockbroker, to his own ruin, perhaps, and to
the misfortune of such as were dependent on him; and yet no
stranger than the way in which the spirit of God has seized men,
powerful and rich, pursuing them with stubborn vigilance
till at last, conquered, they have abandoned the joy of the
world and the love of women for the painful austerities of
the cloister. Conversion may come under many shapes, and it may
be brought about in many ways. With some men it needs a
cataclysm, as a stone may be broken to fragments by the fury
of a torrent; but with some it comes gradually, as a stone may
be worn away by the ceaseless fall of a drop of water.
Strickland had the directness of the fanatic and the ferocity
of the apostle.
But to my practical mind it remained to be seen whether the
passion which obsessed him would be justified of its works.
When I asked him what his brother-students at the night
classes he had attended in London thought of his painting,
he answered with a grin:
"They thought it a joke."
"Have you begun to go to a studio here?"
"Yes. The blighter came round this morning -- the master,
you know; when he saw my drawing he just raised his eyebrows
and walked on."
Strickland chuckled. He did not seem discouraged.
He was independent of the opinion of his fellows.
And it was just that which had most disconcerted me in my
dealings with him. When people say they do not care what
others think of them, for the most part they deceive themselves.
Generally they mean only that they will do as
they choose, in the confidence that no one will know their
vagaries; and at the utmost only that they are willing to act
contrary to the opinion of the majority because they are
supported by the approval of their neighbours. It is not
difficult to be unconventional in the eyes of the world when
your unconventionality is but the convention of your set.
It affords you then an inordinate amount of self-esteem.
You have the self-satisfaction of courage without the
inconvenience of danger. But the desire for approbation is
perhaps the most deeply seated instinct of civilised man.
No one runs so hurriedly to the cover of respectability as the
unconventional woman who has exposed herself to the slings and
arrows of outraged propriety. I do not believe the people who
tell me they do not care a row of pins for the opinion of
their fellows. It is the bravado of ignorance. They mean
only that they do not fear reproaches for peccadillos which
they are convinced none will discover.
But here was a man who sincerely did not mind what people
thought of him, and so convention had no hold on him; he was
like a wrestler whose body is oiled; you could not get a grip
on him; it gave him a freedom which was an outrage.
I remember saying to him:
"Look here, if everyone acted like you, the world couldn't go on."
"That's a damned silly thing to say. Everyone doesn't want to
act like me. The great majority are perfectly content to do
the ordinary thing."
And once I sought to be satirical.
"You evidently don't believe in the maxim: Act so that every
one of your actions is capable of being made into a universal rule."
"I never heard it before, but it's rotten nonsense."
"Well, it was Kant who said it."
"I don't care; it's rotten nonsense."
Nor with such a man could you expect the appeal to conscience
to be effective. You might as well ask for a reflection
without a mirror. I take it that conscience is the guardian
in the individual of the rules which the community has evolved
for its own preservation. It is the policeman in all our
hearts, set there to watch that we do not break its laws.
It is the spy seated in the central stronghold of the ego.
Man's desire for the approval of his fellows is so strong, his dread
of their censure so violent, that he himself has brought his
enemy within his gates; and it keeps watch over him, vigilant
always in the interests of its master to crush any half-formed
desire to break away from the herd. It will force him to
place the good of society before his own. It is the very
strong link that attaches the individual to the whole.
And man, subservient to interests he has persuaded himself are
greater than his own, makes himself a slave to his taskmaster.
He sits him in a seat of honour. At last, like a courtier
fawning on the royal stick that is laid about his shoulders,
he prides himself on the sensitiveness of his conscience.
Then he has no words hard enough for the man who does not
recognise its sway; for, a member of society now, he realises
accurately enough that against him he is powerless. When I
saw that Strickland was really indifferent to the blame his
conduct must excite, I could only draw back in horror as from
a monster of hardly human shape.
The last words he said to me when I bade him good-night were:
"Tell Amy it's no good coming after me. Anyhow, I shall
change my hotel, so she wouldn't be able to find me."
"My own impression is that she's well rid of you," I said.
"My dear fellow, I only hope you'll be able to make her see it.
But women are very unintelligent."
When I reached London I found waiting for me an urgent request
that I should go to Mrs. Strickland's as soon after dinner as
I could. I found her with Colonel MacAndrew and his wife.
Mrs. Strickland's sister was older than she, not unlike her,
but more faded; and she had the efficient air, as though she
carried the British Empire in her pocket, which the wives of
senior officers acquire from the consciousness of belonging to
a superior caste. Her manner was brisk, and her good-breeding
scarcely concealed her conviction that if you were not a
soldier you might as well be a counter-jumper. She hated the
Guards, whom she thought conceited, and she could not trust
herself to speak of their ladies, who were so remiss in calling.
Her gown was dowdy and expensive.
Mrs. Strickland was plainly nervous.
"Well, tell us your news," she said.
"I saw your husband. I'm afraid he's quite made up his mind
not to return." I paused a little. "He wants to paint."
"What do you mean?" cried Mrs. Strickland, with the utmost
"Did you never know that he was keen on that sort of thing."
"He must be as mad as a hatter," exclaimed the Colonel.
Mrs. Strickland frowned a little. She was searching among her
"I remember before we were married he used to potter about
with a paint-box. But you never saw such daubs. We used to
chaff him. He had absolutely no gift for anything like that."
"Of course it's only an excuse," said Mrs. MacAndrew.
Mrs. Strickland pondered deeply for some time. It was quite
clear that she could not make head or tail of my announcement.
She had put some order into the drawing-room by now,
her housewifely instincts having got the better of her dismay;
and it no longer bore that deserted look, like a furnished house
long to let, which I had noticed on my first visit after the
catastrophe. But now that I had seen Strickland in Paris it
was difficult to imagine him in those surroundings. I thought
it could hardly have failed to strike them that there was
something incongruous in him.
"But if he wanted to be an artist, why didn't he say so?"
asked Mrs. Strickland at last. "I should have thought I was
the last person to be unsympathetic to -- to aspirations of
Mrs. MacAndrew tightened her lips. I imagine that she had
never looked with approval on her sister's leaning towards
persons who cultivated the arts. She spoke of "culchaw"
Mrs. Strickland continued:
"After all, if he had any talent I should be the first to
encourage it. I wouldn't have minded sacrifices. I'd much
rather be married to a painter than to a stockbroker. If it
weren't for the children, I wouldn't mind anything. I could
be just as happy in a shabby studio in Chelsea as in this flat."
"My dear, I have no patience with you," cried Mrs. MacAndrew.
"You don't mean to say you believe a word of this nonsense?"
"But I think it's true," I put in mildly.
She looked at me with good-humoured contempt.
"A man doesn't throw up his business and leave his wife and
children at the age of forty to become a painter unless
there's a woman in it. I suppose he met one of your --
artistic friends, and she's turned his head."
A spot of colour rose suddenly to Mrs. Strickland's pale cheeks.
"What is she like?"
I hesitated a little. I knew that I had a bombshell.
"There isn't a woman."
Colonel MacAndrew and his wife uttered expressions of incredulity,
and Mrs. Strickland sprang to her feet.
"Do you mean to say you never saw her?"
"There's no one to see. He's quite alone."
"That's preposterous," cried Mrs. MacAndrew.
"I knew I ought to have gone over myself," said the Colonel.
"You can bet your boots I'd have routed her out fast enough."
"I wish you had gone over," I replied, somewhat tartly.
"You'd have seen that every one of your suppositions was wrong.
He's not at a smart hotel. He's living in one tiny
room in the most squalid way. If he's left his home, it's not
to live a gay life. He's got hardly any money."
"Do you think he's done something that we don't know about,
and is lying doggo on account of the police?"
The suggestion sent a ray of hope in all their breasts, but I
would have nothing to do with it.
"If that were so, he would hardly have been such a fool as to
give his partner his address," I retorted acidly.
"Anyhow, there's one thing I'm positive of, he didn't go
away with anyone. He's not in love. Nothing is farther
from his thoughts."
There was a pause while they reflected over my words.
"Well, if what you say is true," said Mrs. MacAndrew at last,
"things aren't so bad as I thought."
Mrs. Strickland glanced at her, but said nothing.
She was very pale now, and her fine brow was dark and lowering.
I could not understand the expression of her face.
Mrs. MacAndrew continued:
"If it's just a whim, he'll get over it."
"Why don't you go over to him, Amy?" hazarded the Colonel.
"There's no reason why you shouldn't live with him in Paris
for a year. We'll look after the children. I dare say he'd
got stale. Sooner or later he'll be quite ready to come back
to London, and no great harm will have been done."
"I wouldn't do that," said Mrs. MacAndrew. "I'd give him all
the rope he wants. He'll come back with his tail between his
legs and settle down again quite comfortably." Mrs. MacAndrew
looked at her sister coolly. "Perhaps you weren't very wise
with him sometimes. Men are queer creatures, and one has to
know how to manage them."
Mrs. MacAndrew shared the common opinion of her sex that a man
is always a brute to leave a woman who is attached to him, but
that a woman is much to blame if he does. raisons que la raison ne connait pas.>
Mrs. Strickland looked slowly from one to another of us.
"He'll never come back," she said.
"Oh, my dear, remember what we've just heard. He's been used
to comfort and to having someone to look after him. How long
do you think it'll be before he gets tired of a scrubby room
in a scrubby hotel? Besides, he hasn't any money. He must
"As long as I thought he'd run away with some woman I thought
there was a chance. I don't believe that sort of thing ever answers.
He'd have got sick to death of her in three months.
But if he hasn't gone because he's in love, then it's finished."
"Oh, I think that's awfully subtle," said the Colonel,
putting into the word all the contempt he felt for a quality
so alien to the traditions of his calling. "Don't you believe it.
He'll come back, and, as Dorothy says, I dare say he'll be
none the worse for having had a bit of a fling."
"But I don't want him back," she said.
It was anger that had seized Mrs. Strickland, and her pallor
was the pallor of a cold and sudden rage. She spoke quickly now,
with little gasps.
"I could have forgiven it if he'd fallen desperately in love
with someone and gone off with her. I should have thought
that natural. I shouldn't really have blamed him. I should
have thought he was led away. Men are so weak, and women are
so unscrupulous. But this is different. I hate him.
I'll never forgive him now."
Colonel MacAndrew and his wife began to talk to her together.
They were astonished. They told her she was mad. They could
not understand. Mrs. Strickland turned desperately to me.
"Don't see?" she cried.
"I'm not sure. Do you mean that you could have forgiven him
if he'd left you for a woman, but not if he's left you for an idea?
You think you're a match for the one, but against the
other you're helpless?"
Mrs. Strickland gave mt a look in which I read no great
friendliness, but did not answer. Perhaps I had struck home.
She went on in a low and trembling voice:
"I never knew it was possible to hate anyone as much as I hate him.
Do you know, I've been comforting myself by thinking
that however long it lasted he'd want me at the end? I knew
when he was dying he'd send for me, and I was ready to go;
I'd have nursed him like a mother, and at the last I'd have told
him that it didn't matter, I'd loved him always, and I forgave
I have always been a little disconcerted by the passion women
have for behaving beautifully at the death-bed of those they love.
Sometimes it seems as if they grudge the longevity which
postpones their chance of an effective scene.
"But now -- now it's finished. I'm as indifferent to him as
if he were a stranger. I should like him to die miserable,
poor, and starving, without a friend. I hope he'll rot with
some loathsome disease. I've done with him."
I thought it as well then to say what Strickland had suggested.
"If you want to divorce him, he's quite willing to do whatever
is necessary to make it possible."
"Why should I give him his freedom?"
"I don't think he wants it. He merely thought it might be
more convenient to you."
Mrs. Strickland shrugged her shoulders impatiently. I think
I was a little disappointed in her. I expected then people to
be more of a piece than I do now, and I was distressed to find
so much vindictiveness in so charming a creature. I did not
realise how motley are the qualities that go to make up a
human being. Now I am well aware that pettiness and grandeur,
malice and charity, hatred and love, can find place side by
side in the same human heart.
I wondered if there was anything I could say that would ease
the sense of bitter humiliation which at present tormented
Mrs. Strickland. I thought I would try.
"You know, I'm not sure that your husband is quite responsible
for his actions. I do not think he is himself. He seems to
me to be possessed by some power which is using him for its
own ends, and in whose hold he is as helpless as a fly in a
spider's web. It's as though someone had cast a spell over him.
I'm reminded of those strange stories one sometimes
hears of another personality entering into a man and driving
out the old one. The soul lives unstably in the body, and is
capable of mysterious transformations. In the old days they
would say Charles Strickland had a devil."
Mrs. MacAndrew smoothed down the lap of her gown, and gold
bangles fell over her wrists.
"All that seems to me very far-fetched," she said acidly.
"I don't deny that perhaps Amy took her husband a little too much
for granted. If she hadn't been so busy with her own affairs,
I can't believe that she wouldn't have suspected something was
the matter. I don't think that Alec could have something on
his mind for a year or more without my having a pretty shrewd
idea of it."
The Colonel stared into vacancy, and I wondered whether anyone
could be quite so innocent of guile as he looked.
"But that doesn't prevent the fact that Charles Strickland is
a heartless beast." She looked at me severely. "I can tell
you why he left his wife -- from pure selfishness and nothing
"That is certainly the simplest explanation," I said.
But I thought it explained nothing. When, saying I was tired,
I rose to go, Mrs. Strickland made no attempt to detain me.
What followed showed that Mrs. Strickland was a woman
of character. Whatever anguish she suffered she concealed.
She saw shrewdly that the world is quickly bored by the
recital of misfortune, and willingly avoids the sight of distress.
Whenever she went out -- and compassion for her misadventure
made her friends eager to entertain her -- she bore a
demeanour that was perfect. She was brave, but not too obviously;
cheerful, but not brazenly; and she seemed more
anxious to listen to the troubles of others than to discuss
her own. Whenever she spoke of her husband it was with pity.
Her attitude towards him at first perplexed me. One day she
said to me:
"You know, I'm convinced you were mistaken about Charles being alone.
From what I've been able to gather from certain
sources that I can't tell you, I know that he didn't leave
England by himself."
"In that case he has a positive genius for covering up his tracks."
She looked away and slightly coloured.
"What I mean is, if anyone talks to you about it, please don't
contradict it if they say he eloped with somebody."
"Of course not."
She changed the conversation as though it were a matter to
which she attached no importance. I discovered presently that
a peculiar story was circulating among her friends. They said
that Charles Strickland had become infatuated with a French
dancer, whom he had first seen in the ballet at the Empire,
and had accompanied her to Paris. I could not find out how
this had arisen, but, singularly enough, it created much
sympathy for Mrs. Strickland, and at the same time gave her
not a little prestige. This was not without its use in the
calling which she had decided to follow. Colonel MacAndrew
had not exaggerated when he said she would be penniless, and
it was necessary for her to earn her own living as quickly as
she could. She made up her mind to profit by her acquaintance
with so many writers, and without loss of time began to learn
shorthand and typewriting. Her education made it likely that
she would be a typist more efficient than the average, and her
story made her claims appealing. Her friends promised to send
her work, and took care to recommend her to all theirs.
The MacAndrews, who were childless and in easy circumstances,
arranged to undertake the care of the children, and Mrs.
Strickland had only herself to provide for. She let her flat
and sold her furniture. She settled in two tiny rooms in
Westminster, and faced the world anew. She was so efficient
that it was certain she would make a success of the adventure.
It was about five years after this that I decided to live in
Paris for a while. I was growing stale in London. I was
tired of doing much the same thing every day. My friends
pursued their course with uneventfulness; they had no longer
any surprises for me, and when I met them I knew pretty well
what they would say; even their love-affairs had a tedious banality.
We were like tram-cars running on their lines from terminus
to terminus, and it was possible to calculate within small
limits the number of passengers they would carry. Life was
ordered too pleasantly. I was seized with panic. I gave
up my small apartment, sold my few belongings, and resolved to
I called on Mrs. Strickland before I left. I had not seen her
for some time, and I noticed changes in her; it was not only
that she was older, thinner, and more lined; I think her
character had altered. She had made a success of her
business, and now had an office in Chancery Lane; she did
little typing herself, but spent her time correcting the work
of the four girls she employed. She had had the idea of
giving it a certain daintiness, and she made much use of blue
and red inks; she bound the copy in coarse paper, that looked
vaguely like watered silk, in various pale colours; and she
had acquired a reputation for neatness and accuracy. She was
making money. But she could not get over the idea that to
earn her living was somewhat undignified, and she was inclined
to remind you that she was a lady by birth. She could not
help bringing into her conversation the names of people she
knew which would satisfy you that she had not sunk in the
social scale. She was a little ashamed of her courage and
business capacity, but delighted that she was going to dine
the next night with a K.C. who lived in South Kensington.
She was pleased to be able to tell you that her son was at Cambridge,
and it was with a little laugh that she spoke of the rush
of dances to which her daughter, just out, was invited.
I suppose I said a very stupid thing.
"Is she going into your business?" I asked.
"Oh no; I wouldn't let her do that," Mrs. Strickland answered.
"She's so pretty. I'm sure she'll marry well."
"I should have thought it would be a help to you."
"Several people have suggested that she should go on the
stage, but of course I couldn't consent to that, I know all
the chief dramatists, and I could get her a part to-morrow,
but I shouldn't like her to mix with all sorts of people."
I was a little chilled by Mrs. Strickland's exclusiveness.
"Do you ever hear of your husband?"
"No; I haven't heard a word. He may be dead for all I know."
"I may run across him in Paris. Would you like me to let you
know about him?"
She hesitated a minute.
"If he's in any real want I'm prepared to help him a little.
I'd send you a certain sum of money, and you could give it him
gradually, as he needed it."
"That's very good of you," I said.
But I knew it was not kindness that prompted the offer. It is
not true that suffering ennobles the character; happiness does
that sometimes, but suffering, for the most part, makes men
petty and vindictive.
In point of fact, I met Strickland before I had been a
fortnight in Paris.
I quickly found myself a tiny apartment on the fifth floor of
a house in the Rue des Dames, and for a couple of hundred
francs bought at a second-hand dealer's enough furniture to
make it habitable. I arranged with the concierge to make my
coffee in the morning and to keep the place clean. Then I
went to see my friend Dirk Stroeve.
Dirk Stroeve was one of those persons whom, according to your
character, you cannot think of without derisive laughter or an
embarrassed shrug of the shoulders. Nature had made him a buffoon.
He was a painter, but a very bad one, whom I had met
in Rome, and I still remembered his pictures. He had a
genuine enthusiasm for the commonplace. His soul palpitating
with love of art, he painted the models who hung about the
stairway of Bernini in the Piazza de Spagna, undaunted by
their obvious picturesqueness; and his studio was full of
canvases on which were portrayed moustachioed, large-eyed
peasants in peaked hats, urchins in becoming rags, and women
in bright petticoats. Sometimes they lounged at the steps of
a church, and sometimes dallied among cypresses against a
cloudless sky; sometimes they made love by a Renaissance well-head,
and sometimes they wandered through the Campagna by the side
of an ox-waggon. They were carefully drawn and carefully painted.
A photograph could not have been more exact. One of
the painters at the Villa Medici had called him de la Boite a Chocoloats.> To look at his pictures you would
have thought that Monet, Manet, and the rest of the
Impressionists had never been.
"I don't pretend to be a great painter," he said, "I'm not a
Michael Angelo, no, but I have something. I sell. I bring
romance into the homes of all sorts of people. Do you know,
they buy my pictures not only in Holland, but in Norway and
Sweden and Denmark? It's mostly merchants who buy them, and
rich tradesmen. You can't imagine what the winters are like
in those countries, so long and dark and cold. They like to
think that Italy is like my pictures. That's what they
expect. That's what I expected Italy to be before I came
And I think that was the vision that had remained with him
always, dazzling his eyes so that he could not see the truth;
and notwithstanding the brutality of fact, he continued to see
with the eyes of the spirit an Italy of romantic brigands and
picturesque ruins. It was an ideal that he painted -- a poor one,
common and shop-soiled, but still it was an ideal; and it
gave his character a peculiar charm.
It was because I felt this that Dirk Stroeve was not to me,
as to others, merely an object of ridicule. His fellow-painters
made no secret of their contempt for his work, but he earned a
fair amount of money, and they did not hesitate to make free
use of his purse. He was generous, and the needy, laughing at
him because he believed so naively their stories of distress,
borrowed from him with effrontery. He was very emotional, yet
his feeling, so easily aroused, had in it something absurd,
so that you accepted his kindness, but felt no gratitude.
To take money from him was like robbing a child, and you despised
him because he was so foolish. I imagine that a pickpocket,
proud of his light fingers, must feel a sort of indignation
with the careless woman who leaves in a cab a vanity-bag with
all her jewels in it. Nature had made him a butt, but had
denied him insensibility. He writhed under the jokes,
practical and otherwise, which were perpetually made at his
expense, and yet never ceased, it seemed wilfully, to expose
himself to them. He was constantly wounded, and yet his good-
nature was such that he could not bear malice: the viper might
sting him, but he never learned by experience, and had no
sooner recovered from his pain than he tenderly placed it once
more in his bosom. His life was a tragedy written in the
terms of knockabout farce. Because I did not laugh at him he
was grateful to me, and he used to pour into my sympathetic
ear the long list of his troubles. The saddest thing about
them was that they were grotesque, and the more pathetic they were,
the more you wanted to laugh.
But though so bad a painter, he had a very delicate feeling
for art, and to go with him to picture-galleries was a rare treat.
His enthusiasm was sincere and his criticism acute.
He was catholic. He had not only a true appreciation of the
old masters, but sympathy with the moderns. He was quick to
discover talent, and his praise was generous. I think I have
never known a man whose judgment was surer. And he was better
educated than most painters. He was not, like most of them,
ignorant of kindred arts, and his taste for music and
literature gave depth and variety to his comprehension of painting.
To a young man like myself his advice and guidance were
of incomparable value.
When I left Rome I corresponded with him, and about once in
two months received from him long letters in queer English,
which brought before me vividly his spluttering, enthusiastic,
gesticulating conversation. Some time before I went to Paris
he had married an Englishwoman, and was now settled in a
studio in Montmartre. I had not seen him for four years,
and had never met his wife.
I had not announced my arrival to Stroeve, and when I rang the
bell of his studio, on opening the door himself, for a moment
he did not know me. Then he gave a cry of delighted surprise
and drew me in. It was charming to be welcomed with so much
eagerness. His wife was seated near the stove at her sewing,
and she rose as I came in. He introduced me.
"Don't you remember?" he said to her. "I've talked to you
about him often." And then to me: "But why didn't you let me
know you were coming? How long have you been here? How long
are you going to stay? Why didn't you come an hour earlier,
and we would have dined together?"
He bombarded me with questions. He sat me down in a chair,
patting me as though I were a cushion, pressed cigars upon me,
cakes, wine. He could not let me alone. He was heart-broken
because he had no whisky, wanted to make coffee for me,
racked his brain for something he could possibly do for me,
and beamed and laughed, and in the exuberance of his delight
sweated at every pore.
"You haven't changed," I said, smiling, as I looked at him.
He had the same absurd appearance that I remembered. He was a
fat little man, with short legs, young still -- he could not
have been more than thirty -- but prematurely bald. His face
was perfectly round, and he had a very high colour, a white
skin, red cheeks, and red lips. His eyes were blue and round
too, he wore large gold-rimmed spectacles, and his eyebrows
were so fair that you could not see them. He reminded you of
those jolly, fat merchants that Rubens painted.
When I told him that I meant to live in Paris for a while, and
had taken an apartment, he reproached me bitterly for not
having let him know. He would have found me an apartment
himself, and lent me furniture -- did I really mean that I had
gone to the expense of buying it? -- and he would have helped
me to move in. He really looked upon it as unfriendly that I
had not given him the opportunity of making himself useful to me.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Stroeve sat quietly mending her stockings,
without talking, and she listened to all he said with a quiet
smile on her lips.
"So, you see, I'm married," he said suddenly; "what do you
think of my wife?"
He beamed at her, and settled his spectacles on the bridge of
his nose. The sweat made them constantly slip down.
"What on earth do you expect me to say to that?" I laughed.
"Really, Dirk," put in Mrs. Stroeve, smiling.
"But isn't she wonderful? I tell you, my boy, lose no time;
get married as soon as ever you can. I'm the happiest man alive.
Look at her sitting there. Doesn't she make a picture?
Chardin, eh? I've seen all the most beautiful women
in the world; I've never seen anyone more beautiful than
Madame Dirk Stroeve."
"If you don't be quiet, Dirk, I shall go away."
, he said.
She flushed a little, embarrassed by the passion in his tone.
His letters had told me that he was very much in love with his
wife, and I saw that he could hardly take his eyes off her.
I could not tell if she loved him. Poor pantaloon, he was not
an object to excite love, but the smile in her eyes was
affectionate, and it was possible that her reserve concealed a
very deep feeling. She was not the ravishing creature that
his love-sick fancy saw, but she had a grave comeliness.
She was rather tall, and her gray dress, simple and quite
well-cut, did not hide the fact that her figure was beautiful.
It was a figure that might have appealed more to the sculptor
than to the costumier. Her hair, brown and abundant, was
plainly done, her face was very pale, and her features were
good without being distinguished. She had quiet gray eyes.
She just missed being beautiful, and in missing it was not
even pretty. But when Stroeve spoke of Chardin it was not
without reason, and she reminded me curiously of that pleasant
housewife in her mob-cap and apron whom the great painter has
immortalised. I could imagine her sedately busy among her
pots and pans, making a ritual of her household duties, so
that they acquired a moral significance; I did not suppose
that she was clever or could ever be amusing, but there was
something in her grave intentness which excited my interest.
Her reserve was not without mystery. I wondered why she had
married Dirk Stroeve. Though she was English, I could not
exactly place her, and it was not obvious from what rank in
society she sprang, what had been her upbringing, or how she
had lived before her marriage. She was very silent, but when
she spoke it was with a pleasant voice, and her manners
I asked Stroeve if he was working.
"Working? I'm painting better than I've ever painted before."
We sat in the studio, and he waved his hand to an unfinished
picture on an easel. I gave a little start. He was painting
a group of Italian peasants, in the costume of the Campagna,
lounging on the steps of a Roman church.
"Is that what you're doing now?" I asked.
"Yes. I can get my models here just as well as in Rome."
"Don't you think it's very beautiful?" said Mrs. Stroeve.
"This foolish wife of mine thinks I'm a great artist," said he.
His apologetic laugh did not disguise the pleasure that he felt.
His eyes lingered on his picture. It was strange that
his critical sense, so accurate and unconventional when he
dealt with the work of others, should be satisfied in himself
with what was hackneyed and vulgar beyond belief.
"Show him some more of your pictures," she said.
Though he had suffered so much from the ridicule of his friends,
Dirk Stroeve, eager for praise and naively self-satisfied,
could never resist displaying his work. He brought out
a picture of two curly-headed Italian urchins playing marbles.
"Aren't they sweet?" said Mrs. Stroeve.
And then he showed me more. I discovered that in Paris he had
been painting just the same stale, obviously picturesque
things that he had painted for years in Rome. It was all
false, insincere, shoddy; and yet no one was more honest,
sincere, and frank than Dirk Stroeve. Who could resolve
I do not know what put it into my head to ask:
"I say, have you by any chance run across a painter called
"You don't mean to say you know him?" cried Stroeve.
"Beast," said his wife.
He went over to her and kissed both
her hands. "She doesn't like him. How strange that you
should know Strickland!"
"I don't like bad manners," said Mrs. Stroeve.
Dirk, laughing still, turned to me to explain.
"You see, I asked him to come here one day and look at my
pictures. Well, he came, and I showed him everything I had."
Stroeve hesitated a moment with embarrassment. I do not know
why he had begun the story against himself; he felt an
awkwardness at finishing it. "He looked at -- at my pictures,
and he didn't say anything. I thought he was reserving his
judgment till the end. And at last I said: `There, that's
the lot!' He said: `I came to ask you to lend me twenty francs.'"
"And Dirk actually gave it him," said his wife indignantly.
"I was so taken aback. I didn't like to refuse. He put the
money in his pocket, just nodded, said 'Thanks,' and walked out."
Dirk Stroeve, telling the story, had such a look of blank
astonishment on his round, foolish face that it was almost
impossible not to laugh.
"I shouldn't have minded if he'd said my pictures were bad,
but he said nothing -- nothing."
"And you tell the story, Dirk," Said his wife.
It was lamentable that one was more amused by the ridiculous
figure cut by the Dutchman than outraged by Strickland's
brutal treatment of him.
"I hope I shall never see him again," said Mrs. Stroeve.
Stroeve smiled and shrugged his shoulders. He had already
recovered his good-humour.
"The fact remains that he's a great artist, a very great artist."
"Strickland?" I exclaimed. "It can't be the same man."
"A big fellow with a red beard. Charles Strickland.
"He had no beard when I knew him, but if he has grown one it
might well be red. The man I'm thinking of only began
painting five years ago."
"That's it. He's a great artist."
"Have I ever been mistaken?" Dirk asked me. "I tell you he
has genius. I'm convinced of it. In a hundred years, if you
and I are remembered at all, it will be because we knew
I was astonished, and at the same time I was very much excited.
I remembered suddenly my last talk with him.
"Where can one see his work?" I asked. "Is he having any success?
Where is he living?"
"No; he has no success. I don't think he's ever sold a picture.
When you speak to men about him they only laugh.
But I he's a great artist. After all, they laughed
at Manet. Corot never sold a picture. I don't know where he
lives, but I can take you to see him. He goes to a cafe in
the Avenue de Clichy at seven o'clock every evening. If you
like we'll go there to-morrow."
"I'm not sure if he'll wish to see me. I think I may remind
him of a time he prefers to forget. But I'll come all the same.
Is there any chance of seeing any of his pictures?"
"Not from him. He won't show you a thing. There's a little
dealer I know who has two or three. But you mustn't go without me;
you wouldn't understand. I must show them to you myself."
"Dirk, you make me impatient," said Mrs. Stroeve. "How can
you talk like that about his pictures when he treated you as
he did?" She turned to me. "Do you know, when some Dutch
people came here to buy Dirk's pictures he tried to persuade
them to buy Strickland's? He insisted on bringing them here
"What did think of them?" I asked her, smiling.
"They were awful."
"Ah, sweetheart, you don't understand."
"Well, your Dutch people were furious with you. They thought
you were having a joke with them."
Dirk Stroeve took off his spectacles and wiped them. His
flushed face was shining with excitement.
"Why should you think that beauty, which is the most precious
thing in the world, lies like a stone on the beach for the
careless passer-by to pick up idly? Beauty is something
wonderful and strange that the artist fashions out of the
chaos of the world in the torment of his soul. And when he
has made it, it is not given to all to know it. To recognize
it you must repeat the adventure of the artist. It is a
melody that he sings to you, and to hear it again in your own
heart you want knowledge and sensitiveness and imagination."
"Why did I always think your pictures beautiful, Dirk?
I admired them the very first time I saw them."
Stroeve's lips trembled a little.
"Go to bed, my precious. I will walk a few steps with our
friend, and then I will come back."
Dirk Stroeve agreed to fetch me on the following evening and
take me to the cafe at which Strickland was most likely to be found.
I was interested to learn that it was the same as that
at which Strickland and I had drunk absinthe when I had gone
over to Paris to see him. The fact that he had never changed
suggested a sluggishness of habit which seemed to me characteristic.
"There he is," said Stroeve, as we reached the cafe.
Though it was October, the evening was warm, and the tables on
the pavement were crowded. I ran my eyes over them, but did
not see Strickland.
"Look. Over there, in the corner. He's playing chess."
I noticed a man bending over a chess-board, but could see only
a large felt hat and a red beard. We threaded our way among
the tables till we came to him.
He looked up.
"Hulloa, fatty. What do you want?"
"I've brought an old friend to see you."
Strickland gave me a glance, and evidently did not recognise me.
He resumed his scrutiny of the chessboard.
"Sit down, and don't make a noise," he said.
He moved a piece and straightway became absorbed in the game.
Poor Stroeve gave me a troubled look, but I was not
disconcerted by so little. I ordered something to drink,
and waited quietly till Strickland had finished. I welcomed the
opportunity to examine him at my ease. I certainly should
never have known him. In the first place his red beard,
ragged and untrimmed, hid much of his face, and his hair was long;
but the most surprising change in him was his extreme thinness.
It made his great nose protrude more arrogantly;
it emphasized his cheekbones; it made his eyes seem larger.
There were deep hollows at his temples. His body was cadaverous.
He wore the same suit that I had seen him in five years
before; it was torn and stained, threadbare, and it hung
upon him loosely, as though it had been made for someone else.
I noticed his hands, dirty, with long nails; they were merely
bone and sinew, large and strong; but I had forgotten that
they were so shapely. He gave me an extraordinary impression
as he sat there, his attention riveted on his game -- an
impression of great strength; and I could not understand why
it was that his emaciation somehow made it more striking.
Presently, after moving, he leaned back and gazed with a
curious abstraction at his antagonist. This was a fat,
bearded Frenchman. The Frenchman considered the position,
then broke suddenly into jovial expletives, and with an
impatient gesture, gathering up the pieces, flung them into
their box. He cursed Strickland freely, then, calling for the
waiter, paid for the drinks, and left. Stroeve drew his chair
closer to the table.
"Now I suppose we can talk," he said.
Strickland's eyes rested on him, and there was in them a
malicious expression. I felt sure he was seeking for some gibe,
could think of none, and so was forced to silence.
"I've brought an old friend to see you," repeated Stroeve,
Strickland looked at me thoughtfully for nearly a minute.
I did not speak.
"I've never seen him in my life," he said.
I do not know why he said this, for I felt certain I had
caught a gleam of recognition in his eyes. I was not so
easily abashed as I had been some years earlier.
"I saw your wife the other day," I said. "I felt sure you'd
like to have the latest news of her."
He gave a short laugh. His eyes twinkled.
"We had a jolly evening together," he said. "How long ago is it?"
He called for another absinthe. Stroeve, with voluble tongue,
explained how he and I had met, and by what an accident we
discovered that we both knew Strickland. I do not know if
Strickland listened. He glanced at me once or twice
reflectively, but for the most part seemed occupied with his
own thoughts; and certainly without Stroeve's babble the
conversation would have been difficult. In half an hour the
Dutchman, looking at his watch, announced that he must go.
He asked whether I would come too. I thought, alone, I might get
something out of Strickland, and so answered that I would stay.
When the fat man had left I said:
"Dirk Stroeve thinks you're a great artist."
"What the hell do you suppose I care?"
"Will you let me see your pictures?"
"Why should I?"
"I might feel inclined to buy one."
"I might not feel inclined to sell one."
"Are you making a good living?" I asked, smiling.
"Do I look it?"
"You look half starved."
"I am half starved."
"Then come and let's have a bit of dinner."
"Why do you ask me?"
"Not out of charity," I answered coolly. "I don't really care
a twopenny damn if you starve or not."
His eyes lit up again.
"Come on, then," he said, getting up. "I'd like a decent meal."
I let him take me to a restaurant of his choice, but on the
way I bought a paper. When we had ordered our dinner,
I propped it against a bottle of St. Galmier and began to read.
We ate in silence. I felt him looking at me now and again,
but I took no notice. I meant to force him to conversation.
"Is there anything in the paper?" he said, as we approached
the end of our silent meal.
I fancied there was in his tone a slight note of exasperation.
"I always like to read the on the drama," I said.
I folded the paper and put it down beside me.
"I've enjoyed my dinner," he remarked.
"I think we might have our coffee here, don't you?"
We lit our cigars. I smoked in silence. I noticed that now
and then his eyes rested on me with a faint smile of amusement.
I waited patiently.
"What have you been up to since I saw you last?" he asked at
I had not very much to say. It was a record of hard work and of
little adventure; of experiments in this direction and in that;
of the gradual acquisition of the knowledge of books and of men.
I took care to ask Strickland nothing about his own doings.
I showed not the least interest in him, and at last I
was rewarded. He began to talk of himself. But with his poor
gift of expression he gave but indications of what he had gone
through, and I had to fill up the gaps with my own imagination.
It was tantalising to get no more than hints
into a character that interested me so much. It was like
making one's way through a mutilated manuscript. I received
the impression of a life which was a bitter struggle against
every sort of difficulty; but I realised that much which would
have seemed horrible to most people did not in the least
affect him. Strickland was distinguished from most Englishmen
by his perfect indifference to comfort; it did not irk him to
live always in one shabby room; he had no need to be
surrounded by beautiful things. I do not suppose he had ever
noticed how dingy was the paper on the wall of the room in
which on my first visit I found him. He did not want arm-chairs
to sit in; he really felt more at his ease on a kitchen chair.
He ate with appetite, but was indifferent to what he ate;
to him it was only food that he devoured to still the
pangs of hunger; and when no food was to be had he seemed
capable of doing without. I learned that for six months he
had lived on a loaf of bread and a bottle of milk a day.
He was a sensual man, and yet was indifferent to sensual things.
He looked upon privation as no hardship. There was something
impressive in the manner in which he lived a life wholly of
When the small sum of money which he brought with him from
London came to an end he suffered from no dismay. He sold no
pictures; I think he made little attempt to sell any; he set
about finding some way to make a bit of money. He told me
with grim humour of the time he had spent acting as guide to
Cockneys who wanted to see the night side of life in Paris;
it was an occupation that appealed to his sardonic temper and
somehow or other he had acquired a wide acquaintance with the
more disreputable quarters of the city. He told me of the
long hours he spent walking about the Boulevard de la
Madeleine on the look-out for Englishmen, preferably the worse
for liquor, who desired to see things which the law forbade.
When in luck he was able to make a tidy sum; but the
shabbiness of his clothes at last frightened the sight-seers,
and he could not find people adventurous enough to trust
themselves to him. Then he happened on a job to translate the
advertisements of patent medicines which were sent broadcast
to the medical profession in England. During a strike he had
been employed as a house-painter.
Meanwhile he had never ceased to work at his art; but, soon
tiring of the studios, entirely by himself. He had never been
so poor that he could not buy canvas and paint, and really he
needed nothing else. So far as I could make out, he painted
with great difficulty, and in his unwillingness to accept help
from anyone lost much time in finding out for himself the
solution of technical problems which preceding generations had
already worked out one by one. He was aiming at something,
I knew not what, and perhaps he hardly knew himself; and I got
again more strongly the impression of a man possessed. He did
not seem quite sane. It seemed to me that he would not show
his pictures because he was really not interested in them.
He lived in a dream, and the reality meant nothing to him.
I had the feeling that he worked on a canvas with all the force
of his violent personality, oblivious of everything in his effort
to get what he saw with the mind's eye; and then, having
finished, not the picture perhaps, for I had an idea that he
seldom brought anything to completion, but the passion that
fired him, he lost all care for it. He was never satisfied
with what he had done; it seemed to him of no consequence
compared with the vision that obsessed his mind.
"Why don't you ever send your work to exhibitions?" I asked.
"I should have thought you'd like to know what people thought
I cannot describe the unmeasurable contempt he put into the
"Don't you want fame? It's something that most artists
haven't been indifferent to."
"Children. How can you care for the opinion of the crowd,
when you don't care twopence for the opinion of the individual?"
"We're not all reasonable beings," I laughed.
"Who makes fame? Critics, writers, stockbrokers, women."
"Wouldn't it give you a rather pleasing sensation to think of
people you didn't know and had never seen receiving emotions,
subtle and passionate, from the work of your hands? Everyone
likes power. I can't imagine a more wonderful exercise of it
than to move the souls of men to pity or terror."
"Why do you mind if you paint well or badly?"
"I don't. I only want to paint what I see."
"I wonder if I could write on a desert island, with the
certainty that no eyes but mine would ever see what I had
Strickland did not speak for a long time, but his eyes shone
strangely, as though he saw something that kindled his soul to
"Sometimes I've thought of an island lost in a boundless sea,
where I could live in some hidden valley, among strange trees,
in silence. There I think I could find what I want."
He did not express himself quite like this. He used gestures
instead of adjectives, and he halted. I have put into my own
words what I think he wanted to say.
"Looking back on the last five years, do you think it was
worth it?" I asked.
He looked at me, and I saw that he did not know what I meant.
"You gave up a comfortable home and a life as happy as the
average. You were fairly prosperous. You seem to have had a
rotten time in Paris. If you had your time over again would
you do what you did?"
"Do you know that you haven't asked anything about your wife
and children? Do you never think of them?"
"I wish you weren't so damned monosyllabic. Have you never
had a moment's regret for all the unhappiness you caused them?"
His lips broke into a smile, and he shook his head.
"I should have thought sometimes you couldn't help thinking of
the past. I don't mean the past of seven or eight years ago,
but further back still, when you first met your wife, and
loved her, and married her. Don't you remember the joy with
which you first took her in your arms?"
"I don't think of the past. The only thing that matters is
the everlasting present."
I thought for a moment over this reply. It was obscure,
perhaps, but I thought that I saw dimly his meaning.
"Are you happy?" I asked.
I was silent. I looked at him reflectively. He held my
stare, and presently a sardonic twinkle lit up his eyes.
"I'm afraid you disapprove of me?"
"Nonsense," I answered promptly; "I don't disapprove of the
boa-constrictor; on the contrary, I'm interested in his mental
"It's a purely professional interest you take in me?"
"It's only right that you shouldn't disapprove of me.
You have a despicable character."
"Perhaps that's why you feel at home with me," I retorted.
He smiled dryly, but said nothing. I wish I knew how to
describe his smile. I do not know that it was attractive,
but it lit up his face, changing the expression, which was
generally sombre, and gave it a look of not ill-natured malice.
It was a slow smile, starting and sometimes ending in
the eyes; it was very sensual, neither cruel nor kindly,
but suggested rather the inhuman glee of the satyr. It was his
smile that made me ask him:
"Haven't you been in love since you came to Paris?"
"I haven't got time for that sort of nonsense. Life isn't
long enough for love and art."
"Your appearance doesn't suggest the anchorite."
"All that business fills me with disgust."
"Human nature is a nuisance, isn't it?" I said.
"Why are you sniggering at me?"
"Because I don't believe you."
"Then you're a damned fool."
I paused, and I looked at him searchingly.
"What's the good of trying to humbug me?" I said.
"I don't know what you mean."
"Let me tell you. I imagine that for months the matter never
comes into your head, and you're able to persuade yourself
that you've finished with it for good and all. You rejoice in
your freedom, and you feel that at last you can call your soul
your own. You seem to walk with your head among the stars.
And then, all of a sudden you can't stand it any more, and you
notice that all the time your feet have been walking in the mud.
And you want to roll yourself in it. And you find some
woman, coarse and low and vulgar, some beastly creature in
whom all the horror of sex is blatant, and you fall upon her
like a wild animal. You drink till you're blind with rage."
He stared at me without the slightest movement. I held his
eyes with mine. I spoke very slowly.
"I'll tell you what must seem strange, that when it's over you
feel so extraordinarily pure. You feel like a disembodied
spirit, immaterial; and you seem to be able to touch beauty as
though it were a palpable thing; and you feel an intimate
communion with the breeze, and with the trees breaking into leaf,
and with the iridescence of the river. You feel like God.
Can you explain that to me?"
He kept his eyes fixed on mine till I had finished, and then
he turned away. There was on his face a strange look, and
I thought that so might a man look when he had died under
the torture. He was silent. I knew that our conversation
I settled down in Paris and began to write a play. I led a
very regular life, working in the morning, and in the
afternoon lounging about the gardens of the Luxembourg or
sauntering through the streets. I spent long hours in the
Louvre, the most friendly of all galleries and the most
convenient for meditation; or idled on the quays, fingering
second-hand books that I never meant to buy. I read a page
here and there, and made acquaintance with a great many
authors whom I was content to know thus desultorily. In the
evenings I went to see my friends. I looked in often on the
Stroeves, and sometimes shared their modest fare. Dirk
Stroeve flattered himself on his skill in cooking Italian
dishes, and I confess that his were very much
better than his pictures. It was a dinner for a King when he
brought in a huge dish of it, succulent with tomatoes, and we
ate it together with the good household bread and a bottle of
red wine. I grew more intimate with Blanche Stroeve, and I
think, because I was English and she knew few English people,
she was glad to see me. She was pleasant and simple, but she
remained always rather silent, and I knew not why, gave me the
impression that she was concealing something. But I thought that
was perhaps no more than a natural reserve accentuated by the
verbose frankness of her husband. Dirk never concealed anything.
He discussed the most intimate matters with a complete
lack of self-consciousness. Sometimes he embarrassed
his wife, and the only time I saw her put out of countenance
was when he insisted on telling me that he had taken a purge,
and went into somewhat realistic details on the subject.
The perfect seriousness with which he narrated his
misfortunes convulsed me with laughter, and this added to
Mrs. Stroeve's irritation.
"You seem to like making a fool of yourself," she said.
His round eyes grew rounder still, and his brow puckered in
dismay as he saw that she was angry.
"Sweetheart, have I vexed you? I'll never take another.
It was only because I was bilious. I lead a sedentary life.
I don't take enough exercise. For three days I hadn't ..."
"For goodness sake, hold your tongue," she interrupted, tears
of annoyance in her eyes.
His face fell, and he pouted his lips like a scolded child.
He gave me a look of appeal, so that I might put things right,
but, unable to control myself, I shook with helpless laughter.
We went one day to the picture-dealer in whose shop Stroeve
thought he could show me at least two or three of Strickland's
pictures, but when we arrived were told that Strickland
himself had taken them away. The dealer did not know why.
"But don't imagine to yourself that I make myself bad blood on
that account. I took them to oblige Monsieur Stroeve, and I
said I would sell them if I could. But really --" He
shrugged his shoulders. "I'm interested in the young men, but
, you yourself, Monsieur Stroeve, you don't think
there's any talent there."
"I give you my word of honour, there's no one painting to-day
in whose talent I am more convinced. Take my word for it,
you are missing a good affair. Some day those pictures will be
worth more than all you have in your shop. Remember Monet,
who could not get anyone to buy his pictures for a hundred francs.
What are they worth now?"
"True. But there were a hundred as good painters as Monet who
couldn't sell their pictures at that time, and their pictures
are worth nothing still. How can one tell? Is merit enough to
bring success? Don't believe it. , it has still
to be proved that this friend of yours has merit. No one
claims it for him but Monsieur Stroeve."
"And how, then, will you recognise merit?" asked Dirk, red in
the face with anger.
"There is only one way -- by success."
"Philistine," cried Dirk.
"But think of the great artists of the past -- Raphael,
Michael Angelo, Ingres, Delacroix -- they were all successful."
"Let us go," said Stroeve to me, "or I shall kill this man."
I saw Strickland not infrequently, and now and then played
chess with him. He was of uncertain temper. Sometimes he
would sit silent and abstracted, taking no notice of anyone;
and at others, when he was in a good humour, he would talk in
his own halting way. He never said a clever thing, but he had
a vein of brutal sarcasm which was not ineffective, and he
always said exactly what he thought. He was indifferent to
the susceptibilities of others, and when he wounded them was amused.
He was constantly offending Dirk Stroeve so bitterly
that he flung away, vowing he would never speak to him again;
but there was a solid force in Strickland that attracted the
fat Dutchman against his will, so that he came back, fawning
like a clumsy dog, though he knew that his only greeting would
be the blow he dreaded.
I do not know why Strickland put up with me. Our relations
were peculiar. One day he asked me to lend him fifty francs.
"I wouldn't dream of it," I replied.
"It wouldn't amuse me."
"I'm frightfully hard up, you know."
"I don't care."
"You don't care if I starve?"
"Why on earth should I?" I asked in my turn.
He looked at me for a minute or two, pulling his untidy beard.
I smiled at him.
"What are you amused at?" he said, with a gleam of anger in
"You're so simple. You recognise no obligations. No one is
under any obligation to you."
"Wouldn't it make you uncomfortable if I went and hanged
myself because I'd been turned out of my room as I couldn't
pay the rent?"
"Not a bit."
"You're bragging. If I really did you'd be overwhelmed with
"Try it, and we'll see," I retorted.
A smile flickered in his eyes, and he stirred his absinthe in
"Would you like to play chess?" I asked.
"I don't mind."
We set up the pieces, and when the board was ready he
considered it with a comfortable eye. There is a sense of
satisfaction in looking at your men all ready for the fray.
"Did you really think I'd lend you money?" I asked.
"I didn't see why you shouldn't."
"You surprise me."
"It's disappointing to find that at heart you are sentimental.
I should have liked you better if you hadn't made that
ingenuous appeal to my sympathies."
"I should have despised you if you'd been moved by it," he answered.
"That's better," I laughed.
We began to play. We were both absorbed in the game. When it
was finished I said to him:
"Look here, if you're hard up, let me see your pictures.
If there's anything I like I'll buy it."
"Go to hell," he answered.
He got up and was about to go away. I stopped him.
"You haven't paid for your absinthe," I said, smiling.
He cursed me, flung down the money and left.
I did not see him for several days after that, but one
evening, when I was sitting in the cafe, reading a paper,
he came up and sat beside me.
"You haven't hanged yourself after all," I remarked.
"No. I've got a commission. I'm painting the portrait of a
retired plumber for two hundred francs."
 This picture, formerly in the possession of a wealthy
manufacturer at Lille, who fled from that city on the approach
of the Germans, is now in the National Gallery at Stockholm.
The Swede is adept at the gentle pastime of fishing in
"How did you manage that?"
"The woman where I get my bread recommended me. He'd told her
he was looking out for someone to paint him. I've got to give
her twenty francs."
"What's he like?"
"Splendid. He's got a great red face like a leg of mutton,
and on his right cheek there's an enormous mole with long
hairs growing out of it."
Strickland was in a good humour, and when Dirk Stroeve came
up and sat down with us he attacked him with ferocious banter.
He showed a skill I should never have credited him with in
finding the places where the unhappy Dutchman was most
sensitive. Strickland employed not the rapier of sarcasm but
the bludgeon of invective. The attack was so unprovoked that
Stroeve, taken unawares, was defenceless. He reminded you of
a frightened sheep running aimlessly hither and thither.
He was startled and amazed. At last the tears ran from his eyes.
And the worst of it was that, though you hated Strickland,
and the exhibition was horrible, it was impossible not to laugh.
Dirk Stroeve was one of those unlucky persons whose most
sincere emotions are ridiculous.
But after all when I look back upon that winter in Paris,
my pleasantest recollection is of Dirk Stroeve. There was
something very charming in his little household. He and his
wife made a picture which the imagination gratefully dwelt
upon, and the simplicity of his love for her had a deliberate grace.
He remained absurd, but the sincerity of his passion
excited one's sympathy. I could understand how his wife must
feel for him, and I was glad that her affection was so tender.
If she had any sense of humour, it must amuse her that he
should place her on a pedestal and worship her with such an
honest idolatry, but even while she laughed she must have been
pleased and touched. He was the constant lover, and though
she grew old, losing her rounded lines and her fair
comeliness, to him she would certainly never alter.
To him she would always be the loveliest woman in the world.
There was a pleasing grace in the orderliness of their lives.
They had but the studio, a bedroom, and a tiny kitchen.
Mrs. Stroeve did all the housework herself; and while Dirk painted
bad pictures, she went marketing, cooked the luncheon, sewed,
occupied herself like a busy ant all the day; and in the
evening sat in the studio, sewing again, while Dirk played
music which I am sure was far beyond her comprehension.
He played with taste, but with more feeling than was always
justified, and into his music poured all his honest,
sentimental, exuberant soul.
Their life in its own way was an idyl, and it managed to
achieve a singular beauty. The absurdity that clung to
everything connected with Dirk Stroeve gave it a curious note,
like an unresolved discord, but made it somehow more modern,
more human; like a rough joke thrown into a serious scene,
it heightened the poignancy which all beauty has.
Shortly before Christmas Dirk Stroeve came to ask me to spend
the holiday with him. He had a characteristic sentimentality
about the day and wanted to pass it among his friends with
suitable ceremonies. Neither of us had seen Strickland for
two or three weeks -- I because I had been busy with friends
who were spending a little while in Paris, and Stroeve
because, having quarreled with him more violently than usual,
he had made up his mind to have nothing more to do with him.
Strickland was impossible, and he swore never to speak to him again.
But the season touched him with gentle feeling, and he hated
the thought of Strickland spending Christmas Day by himself;
he ascribed his own emotions to him, and could not
bear that on an occasion given up to good-fellowship the
lonely painter should be abandoned to his own melancholy.
Stroeve had set up a Christmas-tree in his studio, and I
suspected that we should both find absurd little presents
hanging on its festive branches; but he was shy about seeing
Strickland again; it was a little humiliating to forgive so
easily insults so outrageous, and he wished me to be present
at the reconciliation on which he was determined.
We walked together down the Avenue de Clichy, but Strickland
was not in the cafe. It was too cold to sit outside, and we
took our places on leather benches within. It was hot and
stuffy, and the air was gray with smoke. Strickland did not come,
but presently we saw the French painter who occasionally
played chess with him. I had formed a casual acquaintance
with him, and he sat down at our table. Stroeve asked him if
he had seen Strickland.
"He's ill," he said. "Didn't you know?"
"Very, I understand."
Stroeve's face grew white.
"Why didn't he write and tell me? How stupid of me to quarrel
with him. We must go to him at once. He can have no one to
look after him. Where does he live?"
"I have no idea," said the Frenchman.
We discovered that none of us knew how to find him.
Stroeve grew more and more distressed.
"He might die, and not a soul would know anything about it.
It's dreadful. I can't bear the thought. We must find him at once."
I tried to make Stroeve understand that it was absurd to hunt
vaguely about Paris. We must first think of some plan.
"Yes; but all this time he may be dying, and when we get there
it may be too late to do anything."
"Sit still and let us think," I said impatiently.
The only address I knew was the Hotel des Belges, but
Strickland had long left that, and they would have no
recollection of him. With that queer idea of his to keep his
whereabouts secret, it was unlikely that, on leaving, he had
said where he was going. Besides, it was more than five years ago.
I felt pretty sure that he had not moved far. If he
continued to frequent the same cafe as when he had stayed at
the hotel, it was probably because it was the most convenient.
Suddenly I remembered that he had got his commission to paint
a portrait through the baker from whom he bought his bread,
and it struck me that there one might find his address.
I called for a directory and looked out the bakers. There were
five in the immediate neighbourhood, and the only thing was to
go to all of them. Stroeve accompanied me unwillingly.
His own plan was to run up and down the streets that led out
of the Avenue de Clichy and ask at every house if Strickland
lived there. My commonplace scheme was, after all, effective,
for in the second shop we asked at the woman behind the
counter acknowledged that she knew him. She was not certain
where he lived, but it was in one of the three houses
opposite. Luck favoured us, and in the first we tried the
concierge told us that we should find him on the top floor.
"It appears that he's ill," said Stroeve.
"It may be," answered the concierge indifferently. " effet>, I have not seen him for several days."
Stroeve ran up the stairs ahead of me, and when I reached the
top floor I found him talking to a workman in his shirt-sleeves
who had opened a door at which Stroeve had knocked. He pointed
to another door. He believed that the person who lived there
was a painter. He had not seen him for a week. Stroeve made
as though he were about to knock, and then turned to me with
a gesture of helplessness. I saw that he was panic-stricken.
"Supposing he's dead?"
"Not he," I said.
I knocked. There was no answer. I tried the handle, and
found the door unlocked. I walked in, and Stroeve followed me.
The room was in darkness. I could only see that it was
an attic, with a sloping roof; and a faint glimmer, no more
than a less profound obscurity, came from a skylight.
"Strickland," I called.
There was no answer. It was really rather mysterious, and it
seemed to me that Stroeve, standing just behind, was trembling
in his shoes. For a moment I hesitated to strike a light.
I dimly perceived a bed in the corner, and I wondered whether
the light would disclose lying on it a dead body.
"Haven't you got a match, you fool?"
Strickland's voice, coming out of the darkness, harshly,
made me start.
Stroeve cried out.
"Oh, my God, I thought you were dead."
I struck a match, and looked about for a candle. I had a
rapid glimpse of a tiny apartment, half room, half studio, in
which was nothing but a bed, canvases with their faces to the
wall, an easel, a table, and a chair. There was no carpet on
the floor. There was no fire-place. On the table, crowded
with paints, palette-knives, and litter of all kinds, was the
end of a candle. I lit it. Strickland was lying in the bed,
uncomfortably because it was too small for him, and he had put
all his clothes over him for warmth. It was obvious at a
glance that he was in a high fever. Stroeve, his voice
cracking with emotion, went up to him.
"Oh, my poor friend, what is the matter with you? I had no
idea you were ill. Why didn't you let me know? You must know
I'd have done anything in the world for you. Were you
thinking of what I said? I didn't mean it. I was wrong.
It was stupid of me to take offence."
"Go to hell," said Strickland.
"Now, be reasonable. Let me make you comfortable.
Haven't you anyone to look after you?"
He looked round the squalid attic in dismay. He tried to
arrange the bed-clothes. Strickland, breathing laboriously,
kept an angry silence. He gave me a resentful glance.
I stood quite quietly, looking at him.
"If you want to do something for me, you can get me some
milk," he said at last. "I haven't been able to get out for
two days." There was an empty bottle by the side of the bed,
which had contained milk, and in a piece of newspaper a few crumbs.
"What have you been having?" I asked.
"For how long?" cried Stroeve. "Do you mean to say you've had
nothing to eat or drink for two days? It's horrible."
"I've had water."
His eyes dwelt for a moment on a large can within reach of an
"I'll go immediately," said Stroeve. "Is there anything you fancy?"
I suggested that he should get a thermometer, and a few
grapes, and some bread. Stroeve, glad to make himself useful,
clattered down the stairs.
"Damned fool," muttered Strickland.
I felt his pulse. It was beating quickly and feebly. I asked
him one or two questions, but he would not answer, and when I
pressed him he turned his face irritably to the wall.
The only thing was to wait in silence. In ten minutes Stroeve,
panting, came back. Besides what I had suggested, he brought
candles, and meat-juice, and a spirit-lamp. He was a
practical little fellow, and without delay set about making
bread-and-milk. I took Strickland's temperature. It was a
hundred and four. He was obviously very ill.
Presently we left him. Dirk was going home to dinner, and I
proposed to find a doctor and bring him to see Strickland;
but when we got down into the street, fresh after the stuffy
attic, the Dutchman begged me to go immediately to his studio.
He had something in mind which he would not tell me, but he
insisted that it was very necessary for me to accompany him.
Since I did not think a doctor could at the moment do any more
than we had done, I consented. We found Blanche Stroeve
laying the table for dinner. Dirk went up to her, and took
both her hands.
"Dear one, I want you to do something for me," he said.
She looked at him with the grave cheerfulness which was one of
her charms. His red face was shining with sweat, and he had a
look of comic agitation, but there was in his round, surprised
eyes an eager light.
"Strickland is very ill. He may be dying. He is alone in a
filthy attic, and there is not a soul to look after him.
I want you to let me bring him here."
She withdrew her hands quickly, I had never seen her make so
rapid a movement; and her cheeks flushed.
"Oh, my dear one, don't refuse. I couldn't bear to leave him
where he is. I shouldn't sleep a wink for thinking of him."
"I have no objection to your nursing him."
Her voice was cold and distant.
"But he'll die."
Stroeve gave a little gasp. He wiped his face. He turned to
me for support, but I did not know what to say.
"He's a great artist."
"What do I care? I hate him."
"Oh, my love, my precious, you don't mean that. I beseech you
to let me bring him here. We can make him comfortable.
Perhaps we can save him. He shall be no trouble to you.
I will do everything. We'll make him up a bed in the studio.
We can't let him die like a dog. It would be inhuman."
"Why can't he go to a hospital?"
"A hospital! He needs the care of loving hands. He must be
treated with infinite tact."
I was surprised to see how moved she was. She went on laying
the table, but her hands trembled.
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