Harz and his host sat in leather chairs; Herr Paul’s square back was wedged into a cushion, his round legs crossed. Both were smoking, and they eyed each other furtively, as men of different stamp do when first thrown together. The young artist found his host extremely new and disconcerting; in his presence he felt both shy and awkward. Herr Paul, on the other hand, very much at ease, was thinking indolently:
’Good-looking young fellow—comes of the people, I expect, not at all the manner of the world; wonder what he talks about.’
Presently noticing that Harz was looking at a photograph, he said: “Ah! yes! that was a woman! They are not to be found in these days. She could dance, the little Coralie! Did you ever see such arms? Confess that she is beautiful, hein?”
“She has individuality,” said Harz. “A fine type!”
Herr Paul blew out a cloud of smoke.
“Yes,” he murmured, “she was fine all over!” He had dropped his eyeglasses, and his full brown eyes, with little crow’s-feet at the corners, wandered from his visitor to his cigar.
‘He’d be like a Satyr if he wasn’t too clean,’ thought Harz. ’Put vine leaves in his hair, paint him asleep, with his hands crossed, so!’
“When I am told a person has individuality,” Herr Paul was saying in a rich and husky voice, “I generally expect boots that bulge, an umbrella of improper colour; I expect a creature of ‘bad form’ as they say in England; who will shave some days and some days will not shave; who sometimes smells of India-rubber, and sometimes does not smell, which is discouraging!”
“You do not approve of individuality?” said Harz shortly.
“Not if it means doing, and thinking, as those who know better do not do, or think.”
“And who are those who know better?”
“Ah! my dear, you are asking me a riddle? Well, then—Society, men of birth, men of recognised position, men above eccentricity, in a word, of reputation.”
Harz looked at him fixedly. “Men who haven’t the courage of their own ideas, not even the courage to smell of India-rubber; men who have no desires, and so can spend all their time making themselves flat!”
Herr Paul drew out a red silk handkerchief and wiped his beard. “I assure you, my dear,” he said, “it is easier to be flat; it is more respectable to be flat. Himmel! why not, then, be flat?”
“Like any common fellow?”
“Certes; like any common fellow—like me, par exemple!” Herr Paul waved his hand. When he exercised unusual tact, he always made use of a French expression.
Harz flushed. Herr Paul followed up his victory. “Come, come!” he said. “Pass me my men of repute! que diable! we are not anarchists.”
“Are you sure?” said Harz.
Herr Paul twisted his moustache. “I beg your pardon,” he said slowly. But at this moment the door was opened; a rumbling voice remarked: “Morning, Paul. Who’s your visitor?” Harz saw a tall, bulky figure in the doorway.