Mountains of Memories
Copyright © 2016 by Parker Sheaffer
While life was pleasant enough in Portland, Lucas really had no reason to stay. A life of travel and change had left him with a desire to see more of the world. After talking to Andy and then to Clive, Lucas decided that it was time to move on at last.
"Where will we go?" asked Andy.
"I have had for some time now a desire to learn more about art. I feel that Paris would be a fine destination. I've never seen the city, but I hear that it is quite beautiful and the center of the art world," Lucas said. "Is there any place that you would like to see?"
"Oh yes, I would like to see Africa."
"Africa? Well, we can certainly make plans to get there, I suppose, although it's a long distance. Why Africa?"
Andy said, "I've seen pictures of the animals in books. How wonderful it would be to see them alive in the wilderness."
Clive helped arrange their banking affairs and the two set off by train across the vast continent of America. Having no particular timetable to keep to, they set a leisurely pace and stopped often in various cities to look around. These stops added weeks to their trip but allowed them time to rest before continuing. Eventually they arrived in New York City, by far the largest city they had seen. In fact, it was too large and too noisy and dirty for Lucas' taste so they didn't wish to stay for too long. They took a nice hotel for two weeks while they explored and purchased new wardrobes. Lucas feared that the clothing styles of the American west might not be in vogue in Paris and he wanted to fit in as best as he could.
He had been fortunate in making the acquaintance of a French woman in Portland, the housekeeper for his neighbor, and had hired her to teach the French language to both him and Andy. He didn't want to arrive in Paris without being somewhat familiar with their speech. Fortunately he grasped the fundamentals rather quickly, but he was often at a loss as to the proper gender of many nouns.
For the most part, Andy enjoyed the voyage across the Atlantic, although for the first few days he was sick. Their cabin was small, but Andy kept to it and refused food for the first day. After that he became more accustomed to the rising and falling of the ship and he emerged on deck to spend some time at the rail, where he only evacuated his stomach a few times. It annoyed him a little to see how invigorated and joyful Lucas was at being back at sea.
Lucas walked the decks with ease and spoke to the crew while they attended to their tasks. His knowledge of the workings of the ship amused the crew and they treated him kindly.
Arriving in the port city of Le Havre they had a choice of either a train or a boat up the Seine to reach Paris. Andy made it clear that after the long sea voyage he had tired of boats and preferred the train so they entered the great city by rail the very next day. A hackney picked them up at the Gare Saint-Lazare and the coachman suggested a nice hotel for them.
After a few days there to get their bearings Lucas found an agent and asked about a house. They looked at many places before finally settling for a small but comfortable house on the Rue Samsone near the Louvre. The agent also helped them to acquire the services of a weekly housemaid to do light cleaning. Because of the great numbers of brasseries, cafes, restaurants, boulangeries and charcuteries the boys did not need a cook to prepare their meals. It was much more interesting to explore the growing world of French cuisine by dining out.
They spent an exciting few months just exploring the various districts, becoming familiar with the people and more comfortable with the language. Eventually they decided to settle down a bit and continue their educations. Rather than enroll in a school, Andy asked to have a tutor so that he could study at home. That suited Lucas and he advertised for an English speaking tutor capable of teaching a wide variety of subjects. They interviewed a few before deciding on an older man, Monsieur Bonnaire, who had a university degree and had taught for several years before suffering a stroke which left him with a severe limp. Walking long distances was difficult for him so he preferred to teach private students in his home. Andy would be studying with three other boys of different ages.
Meanwhile, Lucas searched for a competent teacher who could help him with the rudiments of painting. Monsieur Laurent, a pleasant looking young man, was a student himself at le Ecole des Beaux-Arts and was happy to pass on his knowledge each day with such an eager beginner. Not being from a wealthy family, Laurent was also happy for the fee that Lucas paid him as well as the studio space that Lucas provided for their work.
Lucas and Andy had come to Paris in the middle of the Belle Epoch (or as Andy called it: the belly poke), that wonderful age of culture, industry and discovery that made France the center of the world. That great, but controversial, structure, the Eiffel Tower, loomed over the city and had heralded a World's Fair.
Great strides were being made in the art world and everyone was excited by the new innovations. Oil paint now came in tubes instead of pigs bladders, and brushes now had metal ferrules and could be made as flat brushes, instead of just round ones. These improvements allowed artists to work more easily outdoors and paved the way for those shocking young painters who called themselves 'impressionists'.
At first Lucas was puzzled by this new style of painting which looked like globs of paint daubed onto a canvas. He preferred the classical style, but with Laurent's guidance he soon began to develop an appreciation for impressionism. He began to see the unorthodox beauty brought by these young men and he liked, and eventually supported, their vision. Lucas and Laurent went almost daily to museums and other venues to look at great paintings. The young teacher took a genuine interest in the lovely and earnest American boy. While it may have seemed strange to him that two such young boys were on their own with apparently limitless funds at their disposal, Laurent simply accepted the situation with gratitude and made no comment about their lives and, indeed, felt quite protective of them.
Eventually Laurent began to introduce Lucas to some of his friends, other students with varying degrees of talent, but all with strong opinions and a desire to discuss those opinions with passion. Lucas was not comfortable meeting them at the bars which they liked to frequent so he sometimes had Laurent invite them to his home for an evening of "food, wine and arguments", as he liked to call it. It was invigorating and amusing both for him and the students.
At first the adults were a bit cool toward Lucas, viewing him as a precocious child, but soon Lucas' sophistication and education began to persuade them that he was something more than a novelty. It certainly helped that he was a source of entertainment, the occasional meal and, when needed, a few francs to help them survive until their next stipend from home.
One afternoon Laurent brought a friend to the house. His name was Georges, a beautiful young man from Provence, with bright blue eyes and the blackest hair.
"Georges has agreed to model for us today, if that suits you," Laurent said.
"Oh, yes. That would be wonderful," said Lucas, admiring the handsome man.
Georges followed them to the studio where Lucas offered him wine and food, and told him to make himself comfortable. To his surprise, Georges began to undress and soon stood before them in his natural glory. His body showed the musculature that came from a life of manual labor. It was the strong body of a farmer, with powerful chest muscles, ropy biceps, a flat stomach and a deep, golden tan. His sex was also impressive and as he posed for them without any inhibition at all, Lucas found himself becoming very aroused. It was difficult to concentrate on painting so Lucas began to sketch instead.
Georges could see that he was having an effect on the handsome boy and it amused him. He began to pose in more suggestive ways and even became aroused himself as he tried to look enticing for Lucas. His attempts worked and after their art session, and Laurent had left, Georges stayed and spent the night. It was the beginning of a very brief affair for the two of them. Lucas enjoyed their energetic love making and Georges enjoyed living there and sharing in a more affluent lifestyle. It was nice for him to have regular meals and money to spend, but soon he began to take advantage of Lucas' good nature. He began to make demands of him, asking for more and more money while spending more time out drinking with others.
Georges thought that he could manipulate the young boy through intimidation and cajolery, but he was mistaken. He had no idea that he was actually dealing with a man who was old enough to be his father. When Lucas eventually cooled in his desire for the model, he told Georges that he would have to leave. Georges, of course, refused and tried to threaten Lucas with physical harm. When he raised a hand to slap Lucas he immediately found himself lying on the floor with a large bruise on his chest. One more enraged attempt was all it took to convince Georges to leave. He found himself picking up one of his teeth from the rug and nursing a bleeding mouth as he skulked away.
Laurent apologized for the model's brutish behavior and promised to warn his friends about Georges actions.
It didn't take long for Lucas to see that he would never be a great painter himself. While he began to master some of the technical facets of painting, he lacked the soul, the vision of a true artist. That discovery did not depress him because he still had a great and growing appreciation for fine art, and that made him happy.
Lucas began to buy art and for that he didn't need Laurent's help in choosing which pieces he wanted, only in handling the transactions with the gallery. Even though the paintings by the young artists were inexpensive, he found it difficult sometimes to get the sellers to take him seriously unless he held out a handful of cash. They preferred dealing with an adult so Laurent acted as his middleman. Laurent also advised Lucas about which paintings he thought would become more valuable with time, but Lucas usually preferred to buy the ones that he liked. Most of his purchases were by artists who never achieved any real reputation. Still, Lucas did manage to secure several pieces by men who later became known as giants in the art world. Those pieces would someday form the foundation of his future wealth.
Lucas was immediately drawn to the complex textures and unusual compositions of the crusty artist, Degas, the soft brilliance of Renoir, Monet's masterful use of realistic color and other artists who eventually rose to the top of their art world. Many of them lived necessarily frugal lives and were grateful to have anyone buy their work, but Lucas didn't take advantage of their need. He always paid fair prices to the gallery for their work, usually more than they asked, and made certain that the extra was passed along to the artist.
One day, after he had purchased a particularly nice Cezanne, he was preparing to leave the gallery with his parcel when a gentleman stopped him.
"I saw that you had purchased a painting by Cezanne. So, you enjoy his work?" the man asked.
"Yes, I find it fascinating. I would never have thought to look at the world the way he does. His work has everything I admire, balance of composition and wonderful color," Lucas replied brightly.
"I thank you for the compliments and for purchasing one of my paintings. I am Paul Cezanne."
Lucas was delighted to make his acquaintance and they spoke about art for several minutes. Lucas invited him to their home to see the other works he had collected. Sipping a delicious wine, Cezanne wandered through Lucas's rooms looking at the paintings.
"You are drawn to the modern, I see," he said. "You have a good eye. Your sense of what is good art is very well developed for a boy your age. We have heard about you, you know. It is said that you are supporting half the artists in Paris."
Lucas laughed, "Not half, monsieur. I would need a much bigger house for that. Artists are to Paris what fish are to the sea. No, I buy the things that please me, that excite me. I have heard a great deal about you, you know."
Cezanne laughed, "I suppose you have. I hope the things they are saying are favorable, unlike that miserable dog, Degas."
Lucas and Andy had a marvelous time in Paris. There was always so much to see and to do. Laurent acted as a guide and guardian as he took them to the theatre and opera.
Andy had tutors who helped him with his French and also with his classical education. While he seemed to prefer science to art, he never complained at having to follow Lucas to the galleries and museums. Besides, Lucas also liked science and seemed to know a lot about it. Sometimes he spoke like a teacher and Andy commented on it.
"How is it you know so much about everything, Lucas?" asked Andy. He had long ago learned not to call Lucas 'Father'. People always laughed when he did.
"I read a lot. Also, I'm a bit older than I look," Lucas replied cautiously.
"Oh, I know. Clive told me."
"Just what did he tell you?"
"That you don't grow older, that you were born a long time ago. How old are you, Lucas?"
"I was born in 1840. Can you believe it?"
Andy looked a little surprised, but said, "I didn't believe him at first but now I guess it's true. I wish you would tell me about your early life. Where were you born?"
Lucas related some of his past while glossing over some awkward parts.
Afterwards, Andy said, "It's really very astounding, you know? I'm fourteen now and I already look older than you. Don't worry, it's fine. I have thought about it and when I'm eighteen and an adult I'll take care of you like you took care of me."
"That will be a blessed relief, dear Andy. I'm glad you know my secret because it's a hard one to believe, or explain. I don't understand it myself and it makes life so terribly complicated. As a matter of fact, Laurent is starting to comment on how young I seem. We've been here for four years and I'm afraid it may be time to move on again. Would you like to see more of Europe?"
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