from Munsey's Magazine
Too Long and Too Loose
by Ellis Parker Butler
I remember the case of Marcel Marceau. His case illustrates what I am trying to say, which is that a man's love for a woman often leads that man, even if by unexpected roads, to greater success than he had ever believed himself capable of.
I knew Marcel Marceau well. His studio was at No. 47 bis, Rue Boissonade -- Paris, of course -- and I suppose he sometimes paid his rent, although I cannot imagine how he ever raised the necessary francs. He never had any money, and he was always in debt to the whole Latin Quarter.
In those days, when I used to look from my window at No. 23 and see him slouching up the quiet little impasse with a long loaf under his arm and a milk-bottle protruding from his pocket, I felt sorry for him, for he seemed to be one of those innumerable artists destined to lifelong obscurity and cold-in-the-head misery. His long hair and unkempt beard, his slouchy gait and stooped shoulders, and, more than all, his cheap and ill-fitting garments suggested present and unending failure.
I remember especially his trousers, huge at the hips, the fringed ends of the legs slopping in the wet, their corduroy texture stained and faded. I remember, too, one night at the Cafe du Dome, when Marceau was sitting at a table beside Marguerite Breuque, and Holloway, the American, at the next table, propounded that ancient riddle, making it apply to Marceau.
"Why are Marceau's trousers like two cities in the south of France?" he asked, and gave, himself, the inevitable answer: "Because they are Toulon and Toulouse" -- which you may think witty if you know that Toulon is pronounced "too long," but not otherwise.
Marceau had enough English to understand. Marguerite understood, too, and laughed in a way to make Marceau redden with annoyance. He said something under his breath in French, and Marguerite responded. I did not catch what either said, but Marceau cursed, threw his glass across the room in sudden anger, and arose. He struck at Marguerite with a backhanded slap, but she ducked her head. When he had slouched out of the cafe, she laughed and sidled over beside Holloway.
"Poof, he is a jealous pig! I like you better," she said to Holloway, or words to that effect.
Holloway put his arm around her, and thenceforth they were good friends.
At that time Holloway had hooked on to the kite of the Emotionalists -- the group of young artists who were carrying Paris by storm -- and was considered the best of the lot. The dealers were taking up the Emotionalists and selling their work. The public had progressed from saying, "They daub, but it doesn't mean anything," to "They mean something, but it is hard to know what they mean," and from that to "They are elemental, but they are big; they have the first big, new thing in art since Velasquez."
The Emotionalists did have something -- they had an idea. They took a canvas and brushes and plenty of paint, and tried to put an emotion on canvas before the emotion changed. It meant rapid work and broad work -- ridges of paint, wads of it, and not much drawing or composition; but their color was fresh and interesting, and a number of worth-while critics saw something in it.
Holloway was sincere. He believed in emotionalism, and he did it so well that he passed Schwerdfeger and Couss just as they had passed Drouet, who was the originator of the whole thing. He went them all one better in crudity, and was looked upon as the great exponent of emotionalism and the master.
Holloway had innumerable imitators, and old Hirsch, the dealer, sold his things by the dozen. The canvases, as was inevitable, were classed as "emotions," "moods," "reactions," and so on. Drouet had called his pictures "emotions," and Schwerdfeger and Couss called theirs "moods." Holloway called his "reactions" -- "Reaction to Food" was one, "Reaction to Beauty" was another.
Holloway, while flirting as young men in Paris do, had never made real love to any girl there, but after that night at the Cafe du Dome he set out to win Marguerite from Marceau. I think Marguerite told him some things Marceau had said about Holloway and the whole emotional business, and he was trying to hurt Marceau in the only way he could hurt him -- by stealing his sweetheart.
Art, in Paris, is one-third paint and two-thirds jealousy. The art crowd lives art, which means they talk it in and out of season, and they cannot talk without slam-banging the other fellow. The knife is always out, and those of one school never stop carving those of the opposed school except when they are too busy carving those of their own school.
Marceau had the misfortune to be a mediocre painter, and, what was much worse, to be of the school of Meissonier, painting with finicky care and finish. Holloway, whose work looked as if it had been done with a broom, used to scoff that Marceau painted with a single hair. He said that Marguerite Breuque's hair was finer than that of any other girl in Paris, and that Marceau clung to her so that he might be sure of a supply of superfine hairs. It maddened Marceau; he could never take a joke.
The studios of the two men, opposite on a narrow hall, were certainly as contrasted as possible. Holloway's had the huge palets of his school, rough-grained canvases, extra large tubes of colors, a punching-bag, Indian clubs, dumb-bells, boxing-gloves. You can picture him from this. He was a hulking, noisy, red-cheeked fellow.
"Big!" he used to bellow. "Big stuff! Big emotions! That's why I knock 'em all -- I've got the big emotions and I can paint 'em. These cold fried Frenchies emoshe like frozen old maids. When I emoshe, I get punch into it!"
When he thought he was not getting the real emotion into a picture he used to lift up a heel and kick a hole in the canvas. His studio was always whanging with noise. When he wanted to put an easel aside, he put his foot against it and sent it skidding.
Marceau, sloughing around his place in his thin-soled, worn-out French shoes, made no more noise than a cat. He would stick his nose into a canvas and dibble at it with his tiny brush more carefully than a dentist fishes for a nerve. He did landscapes -- "The Fog" and "Fields at Twilight" -- and old Hirsch once told him the only thing he did well was his cow.
This cow of Marceau's was an obsession, in a way. He always put a cow in his landscapes, and the cow was always half a mile away, or about that. It was so far away that it was represented by a spot hardly bigger than a speck of white and two specks of brown,
"Your cows -- yes, admirable!" Hirsch said to him one day. "Your landscapes --no, detestable!"
"What is your meaning, M. Hirsch?" asked Marceau.
Hirsch dug his magnifying-glass out of his pocket and showed Marceau the cow through it. Under the glass the cow was three blobs of paint -- one white and two brown.
"Splendid broadness!" said Hirsch. "Big! Tre-mendous! If you paint all as you paint a cow, M. Marceau, you become the emperor of the Emotionalists!"
"Fiddlesticks!" said Marceau.
Just the same he went back to the studio and tried it, for he was no fool, and he coveted success as much as the next man; but he made nothing of it. His brush could not paint broadly. His paint lay flat and glossy. He gave it up.
Marguerite, after that joke about Marceau's trousers, deserted him rather cruelly. She still came to No. 47 bis, Rue Boissonade, but when she had climbed the stairs she turned to the door on the right, which was Holloway's door, instead of opening the door on the left, which was Marceau's door. When he met her, as he did now and then, she flicked her thumb-nail against her while teeth, which is the uttermost insult.
Poor Marceau was in misery. He loved the girl. When a Frenchman really loves, he loves tremendously -- he is crazy with love. Marceau was that way. He would have murdered Holloway if he had known how; but, lacking that, he thought much of murdering Marguerite and then murdering himself. Once, when he was coming from his studio and Marguerite was about to open Holloway's door, going in, he took her by the throat and would have had her strangled, but Holloway came out and hit him in the eye, knocking him half-way down the stairs.
For a week that eye was our joy at the Cafe du Dome. We crowed that Marceau had joined the Emotionalists, and was carrying his masterpiece with him.
"It's not his -- it's mine!" Holloway boomed. "I'm using him for a canvas now, but I don't like him -- he's too fine-grained for big work. That thing I painted on his eye ain't broad; the color is fine, but the ensemble is too smooth!"
Marguerite, oddly enough -- or perhaps not oddly at all -- seemed to like Marceau a little better because he had tried to murder her. As nearly as I could understand her jargon, she said he was not such a limp rag after all. It sounds more interesting in French, more like the American "not such a damp dish-rag after all."
"If he had croaked me, I could have loved him," she said; "but he has no pep. Look at his art!"
Now and then, when I dropped into Marceau's studio, he turned the canvas on which he was working, so that I could not see it. I think he was ashamed of what he was trying, but he was burning up with a fevered desire to be great -- to be greater than Holloway at Holloway's own game. He was struggling with Emotionalist art of the broadly painted sort, and he was doing another thing.
He asked me one day if I knew la boxe Americaine, or something of the sort; and when he showed me a shop-new pair of boxing-gloves I knew what was in his mind. He wanted to learn how to punch Holloway's head.
Grainby, who had a studio on the same floor, said that Marceau used to throw the furniture around and yell at the top of his voice, like an Indian. He persuaded Grain-by to put on the gloves with him.
"You see the underneathness of that sofa?" Grainby asked me one day. "I call that Marceau's cozy corner, I've knocked him under there so often. I want you to see him box me some day, and then you can go home and write a story that will make a world laugh. He puts on the gloves and holds his hands out in front of him, like -- well, like a waiter holding a tray. I make a feint at him, and he pushes both hands out. I poke in between them and knock him under the sofa. Then we do it again."
I did not happen to see the exhibition until a month or two later, and then it was not quite as bad as Grainby had said. Marceau had learned what he considered footwork by then, and he danced around like a chicken on a hot stove, Grainby talked to me while he fought, and smoked a cigarette. Once in a while Marceau would cake-walk up to Grainby, and Grainby would swing one arm, hit him on the side of the head, send him chicken-stepping away, and keep right on talking to me. I remember he took out one of these patent cigar-lighters, snapped it, and lighted his cigarette, while he was biffing Marceau with his left.
It did not look then as if Marceau would ever be a match for Jess Willard. I'll let you in on a secret -- he never did get to be.
I dropped in on Marceau one day and found him with his face in his hands, weeping. On the floor at his feet lay a canvas. He had put his heel through it -- in imitation of Holloway, I suppose. I stooped and picked it up.
He had used the coarsest canvas he could find -- a sort of burlap -- and he had painted as broadly as he could; but still the thing looked smooth. The color was muddy, too, as it so often gets when a man has worked over a thing too long. It was hopeless, and Marceau knew it. I said something which I meant to be sympathetic.
"Ah, no!" he said. "It is all of a uselessness. How is it your American poet says it -- 'Art is long and time fleets'? Yes, like my trousers, that is art -- Toulon and Toulouse. No good!" There was something supremely pathetic in the way poor Marceau tried to make a jest of his misery.
"I am complete -- satisfied -- finished!" he said. "I have try. I give up, now. Marguerite, she is gone from me; my art, she is not so much as to look like thirty cents. I am a waste. Yes, I shall throw myself away like a wet dish-rag!"
He jumped up suddenly, listening. I heard, too, a light foot climbing the stairs, and I recognized a little half cough that Marguerite affected. I am ashamed to say I deserted Marceau, but I was very uncomfortable there with him, with my limited French and his great sorrow.
I went across the hall. Holloway greeted me with his genial roar. He had eight or ten canvases set on easels and elsewhere. Hirsch was coming up to have a look at them.
"Best lot I've turned out!" bragged Holloway. "These will make the old blood-sucker's eyes bulge. Mag, stew up a brew of tea for my distinguished guests!"
She went into the space behind the curtain to do this, and at that moment Marceau threw open the hall door and stood in the doorway. I saw at a glance that he was beside himself with a desire for murder. He wore his boxing-gloves, but in his right hand he held an Indian club that would have felled an ox. He said something in French, so rapidly that I could not catch it, and leaped at Holloway, raising the club high above his head.
Holloway happened to turn -- I think I shouted a warning -- and he jumped aside, and the club missed him entirely. Before Marceau could recover, Holloway had him by the throat, wagging him back and forth like some sort of boy scout signal, and slapping the poor fellow on the cheek each time with the flat of his hand.
"You want fight, do you? You want fight? You want fight, do you? You want fight?" he kept repeating at each slap. "You'll get it here!"
Marguerite came running from behind the curtain and stopped short. She screamed and put her hands before her face, but I have a notion that she spread her fingers enough to see between them.
Holloway released Marceau and laughed. He reached for his own boxing-gloves and drew them on. Poor Marceau was feeling his neck with one thumb.
"Tie these," Holloway ordered me. "I'm going to give this 'lad' what he wants. Want fight, do you?"
He walked up to Marceau and hit him in the chest. It was a sort of under-hand, upward blow, and Holloway must have put his weight behind it, for Marceau seemed to rise and fly backward, slightly doubled up. He hit a wooden chair that was standing sidewise, and on which Holloway had left his enormous palet, with its great masses of freshly untubed color.
The chair went over, and Marceau with it. He lay sprawling on his face, and did not move; and the next moment Marguerite was kneeling by him, lifting his head and saying words of love.
I think Holloway had made a great tactical error. He should not have hit Marceau with a boxing-glove. In the French mind the boxing-glove plus an American typifies brutality. He should have kicked Marceau, or hit him with a vase, or stabbed him. That boxing-glove blow alienated any affection Marguerite may have had for Holloway.
Marceau presently struggled to his knees, and Marguerites first act of helpfulness was to peel the huge palet from the seat of his trousers, where it was glued by the colors. She threw it aside with disgust and glared at Holloway. She said several choice things to him, too, for Holloway was laughing uproariously; but suddenly he grew angry.
Marceau had got to his feet and was passing Holloway just then, and Holloway turned and kicked him. He kicked him twice, fair and square, in the seat of his Toulon and Toulouse trousers, and sent him sprawling into the hall; but it was too late for a kick to win back Marguerite's admiration. She spat at Holloway and rushed out of the studio.
I went also, for I was much afraid Marceau might have been severely injured. He was weeping tears of mortification, and I patted him on the back in a silly sort of way. I think I wanted him to believe that all Americans were not like Holloway. I told Marguerite to go to the corner pharmacy -- the one on the Boulevard Raspail -- and get arnica or a liniment. She hurried away, and I made Marceau pull off his trousers and other garments and get into a robe and into bed.
He was there, behind the curtain all those fellows use as a partition, when Marguerite returned, and Hirsch was with her.
The girl left Hirsch in the studio while she brought the arnica to me.
"Did you tell Hirsch?" I asked.
"Do you think I am a fool?" she hissed. "I told him nothing. He would enter -- how could I stop him?"
"Then you go out and talk to him while I give Marceau a rub," I said, and she went.
I knew Holloway would not brag of mistreating a skinny Frenchman as he had mistreated Marceau. It was nothing to be proud of. I uncorked the bottle and began to rub the poor fellow.
"Marvelous! Superb! Tremendous!" I heard the fat dealer exclaiming in the studio. "Such color! Such breadth! A masterpiece!"
That was too much for me. I went to the curtain and looked out.
Hirsch was standing before the chair over which I had draped Marceau's trousers, paint side out. He had his hands cupped and was looking through them, standing away and coming closer.
"Tremendous! A masterpiece! A genius!" he ejaculated.
I walked over to where he stood and tilted my head to one side.
"You like it?" I asked.
"Monsieur," said Hirsch, "I am looking upon the most wonderful work the Emotionalist school has yet produced!"
Marguerite looked up at me, and I winked and put my finger to my lips.
"The idea is revolutionary," said Hirsch. "It is what we -- what all of us -- have been feeling for but never quite finding -- the perfect color on the perfect surface. The splendid roughness of the toile" -- that means fabric -- "combined with the noble breadth of handling! This Marceau is a genius! You will believe me, monsieur, if I say your Marceau is the master of all painters?"
"Oh, I knew that!" I said carelessly.
"Corduroy!" exclaimed Hirsch. "None but a genius would think of corduroy!"
"Well, I'm sorry to have to spoil such a pretty story," I said; "but I'm afraid I'll have to. The truth is that I don't think Marceau meant to discover a new toile. He used corduroy simply because he had to. Poverty!"
Hirsch looked at me and fairly gasped with joy. He knew the advertising value of things.
"You mean --" he said.
"Just that! Starving here, with not a cent to buy canvas and the great, new-found Emotionalist talent burning within him. What could he do? What would a great artist do? He used the only toile he had. He used, monsieur, the seat of his trousers!"
"A true artist would," said Hirsch with something like awe. "But, nevertheless, monsieur, he has discovered the true toile for the Emotionalist painter -- rough and yet gentle, impressionistic and yet sympathetic. And the color! The composition! Ah!"
He bent closer to examine the composition and the color.
"Marvelous!" he exclaimed. "Here and here and here" -- pointing out the gobs of paint where the palet had clung to Marceau -- "is genius, monsieur, but it is broad brushwork such as we know. Others might do this. Holloway, working on such a toile, might do it; but here and here --"
He indicated with his hand the two broad, multicolored slashes where Holloway's foot had met the corduroy as he kicked Marceau to the door.
"Yes, here and here is more than genius. Here and here, monsieur, is the evidence of mastership! The rest others might have done, but this even Holloway could not have done."
He looked at the daub a bit longer.
"Twenty thousand francs!" he said suddenly. "I will give twenty thousand francs for it, just as it is, legs and all. I will give five thousand francs for each work of art equal to this that M. Marceau can produce."
From the room behind the curtain came Marceau's voice, triumphant and clear.
"Attention, Hirsch! Is it a contract? I would come out and converse, but I have no trousers."
"Trousers or no trousers, it is a contract. For twenty done on corduroy I will give you one hundred thousand francs."
"Bien!" said Marceau. "It is a bargain! And ten thousand for what you are looking at?"
"Agreed, Marceau," said Hirsch. "Done! Concluded! And I ask but one question, Marceau -- what is the name you wish given to this splendid creation?"
There was a silence behind the curtain for a moment or two. Then came the voice of Marceau again.
"I call that creation 'A Fond Heart Feeling the Thrill of Love,' monsieur," he said.
As I said in the beginning, a man's love for a woman often leads that man, even if by unexpected roads, to greater success than any of which he ever believed himself capable.