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Raymond once more went into the alcove to refill the empty glasses, his mind busy contrasting the two Nordics who were his guests. Stephen was tall and fashioned like a Viking. His hair, eyes and complexion all testified to his Norse ancestry. Samuel was small, pale, anemic. His hair was blond and his eyes were blue, but neither the blondness nor the blueness were as clearly defined or as positive as Stephen's. Samuel's ancestors had been dipped in the American melting pot, and as a result, the last of the line bore only a faint resemblance to his original progenitors.
"Tell me more about the fellow who drew these," Stephen said as Raymond returned to the room and handed him a full glass of gin and gingerale.
"Nothing doing," Raymond replied. "Paul's a person you've got to see to appreciate. You wouldn't believe what I could tell you. It's about time he was dropping in. He knew I was going out to dinner tonight. That's why he isn't here now."
"Tell me this, then," Stephen asked, "do all these hideous Harlem houses have such nice interiors?"
"Not by a damn sight. Most of them are worse inside than out. You should see some of the holes I've had to live in. It just happens that my present landlady is a visionary as well as a business woman. She has dreams. One of them is that some day she will be a best selling author. That accounts for this house. She knew the difficulties experienced by Harlem artists and intellectuals in finding congenial living quarters, and reasoned that by turning this house over to Negroes engaged in creative work, she would make money, achieve prestige as a patron, and at the same time profit artistically from the resultant contacts."
"Isthe house entirely filled with these . . . er . . . creative spirits?"
"Not yet. But we have hopes. Only the top floor remains in the hands of the Philistines. One of the ladies up there claims to be an actress, but we doubt it, and neither of her two children are precocious. The other tenant on that floor is a mysterious witchlike individual, who was living here when Euphoria leased the house, and who refused to be put out. Pelham, Eustace, Paul, and myself make up the artistic contingent. Wait till you meet the others. They're a rare collection."
Ten minutes later, Paul and Eustace entered the room.
"Oh, hell," Paul said, "another Nordic. Ain't he a beauty, Eustace?"
"Cut the comedy, Paul. I want to introduce you to Stephen Jorgenson. He just arrived in America today, and this is of course his first visit to Harlem. Don't scare him to death. This is Paul, Steve. He's responsible for all these abominable drawings. And this is Eustace Savoy, actor, singer, and what have you. He runs a den of iniquity in the basement, and is also noted for his spoonerisms."
"Mad to gleet you," Eustace said, living up to his reputation.
"Have you ever been seduced?" Paul asked. "Don't blush. You just looked so pure and undefiled that I had to ask that."
Stephen looked inquiringly at Raymond.
"Don't mind Paul. He's harmless."
"I like your drawings," Stephen said.
"You should," Paul replied. "Everybody should. They're works of genius."
"You're as disgusting as ever, Paul."
"I know it, Sam, but therein lies my charm. By the way, how did you ever get to know such a gorgeous man as this. . . . You know, Steve," he added abruptly, "you should take that part out of your hair and have it windblown. The hair, not the part. Plastering it down like that destroys the golden glint."
"Oh, I say . . ." Stephen began.
"That's all right. I never charge for expert advice. Where's the gin, Ray?"
"In the alcove, of course."
"But you mustn't dride the hinks," Eustace said.
"You're not at all funny," Samuel muttered.
"I'm sorry, Sam. Wait'll I have a couple of drinks. Then I'll shise and rine."
He and Paul went into the alcove.
Paul was very tall. His face was the color of a bleached saffron leaf. His hair was wiry and untrained. It was his habit not to wear a necktie because he knew that his neck was too well modeled to be hidden from public gaze. He wore no sox either, nor underwear, and those few clothes he did deign to affect were musty and dishevelled.
Eustace was a tenor. He was also a gentleman. The word elegant described him perfectly. His every movement was ornate and graceful. He had acquired his physical bearing and mannerisms from mid-Victorian matinee idols. No one knew his correct age. His face was lined and drawn. An unidentified scalp disease had rendered him bald on the right side of his head. To cover this mistake of nature, he let the hair on the left side grow long, and combed it sidewise over the top of his head. The effect was both useful and bizarre. Eustace also had a passion for cloisonné bric-a-brac, misty etchings, antique silver pieces, caviar, and rococo jewelry. And his most treasured possession was an onyx ring, the size of a robin's egg, which he wore on his right index finger.
Stephen was frankly bewildered by these two strange beings who had so unceremoniously burst into the room, and forced themselves into the spotlight. Truly, as Raymond had said, this house did harbor a rare collection of individuals.
"I hope you didn't drain the bottle," Raymond said, as Paul and Eustace pranced merrily back into the room, carefully nursing their filled glasses.
"But we thought all of that was for us," Paul said.
"Where did you come from, Steve?" Paul asked.
"Oh, that's where they make snuff."
"I'm ready to go whenever you are, Steve," Samuel was restless and bored.
"But you can't take him away so soon. I haven't had a chance to talk to him yet," Paul protested. "I've got to tell him about my drawings. He looks like he might have sense enough to appreciate them."
"He's tired, Paul, and once you start to talk, we won't get home tonight."
"But I don't want to go home yet, Sam."
"See there," Paul exclaimed triumphantly, "I knew he had sense. Tell me about yourself, Steve." Paul squatted himself on the floor before Stephen's chair.
"There's nothing to tell. I was born in Canada. My father was Norwegian, my mother was a Dane. I was educated at the University of Toronto where I met Sam and identified myself as much as possible with things American. My folks moved back to Copenhagen. I spent the summer with them, and I'm here now to get a Ph.D. from Columbia."
"Because there's nothing else to do. If I stop going to school, I'll have to work, and the only kind of work I can do is professorial. I don't want to do that, so, as long as the old man foots the bills, I'll stay in school."
"See," Paul exclaimed. "He is one of us."
"God forbid," Samuel said, stifling a yawn.
"Now, Paul, tell me about your drawings."
"That's easy. I'm a genius. I've never had a drawing lesson in my life, and I never intend to take one. I think that Oscar Wilde is the greatest man that ever lived. Huysmans' Des Esseintes is the greatest character in literature, and Baudelaire is the greatest poet. I also like Blake, Dowson, Verlaine, Rimbaud, Poe and Whitman. And of course Whistler, Gauguin, Picasso and Zuloaga."
"But that's not telling me anything about your drawings."
"Unless you're dumber than I think, I've told you all you need to know."
There was a timid knock on the door.
"Come in," Raymond shouted.
Pelham sidled into the room. He was short, fat and black, and was attired in a green smock and a beret which was only two shades darker than his face.
"Hello, everybody." His voice was timid, apologetic. "I didn't know you had company."
"That's all right," Raymond reassured him. "Mr. Jorgenson, this is Pelham Gaylord. He's an artist too."
"Pleased to meet you," Stephen proffered his hand. Gingerly Pelham pressed it in his own, then quickly, like a small animal at bay, stepped back to the door, and smiled bashfully at all within the room.
"Pelham's the only decent person in the house," Samuel said.
"You mean he's the only one you can impress." It was Paul who spoke. "But I'm tired of sitting here doing nothing. There's no life to this party. We need to celebrate Steve's arrival. We need some liquor. Let's go to a speakeasy."
"Who's going to pay the bill?" Raymond asked.
"Who?" Paul repeated. "Why, Steve of course. It's his celebration, and he's bound to have some money."
"But . . ." Samuel started to protest.
"But hell. . . ." Paul interrupted. "Get your hat and coat, Steve. You, too, Ray and Eustace. Let Sam stay here with Pelham. Otherwise he'll spoil the party."
"But suppose I wish to go with you?"
"And leave Pelham alone? Nothing doing, Sam. I'm sure you have lots to say to one another. And Pelham must have written some new poems today. Can't you see the light of creation in his eyes?"
All during this barrage of banter, Paul had been helping first Stephen and then Raymond into their coats. And before there could be further protest, he had ushered Stephen, Eustace and Raymond out of the room, leaving Samuel gaping sillily at the grinning Pelham.