Painters in Winter: Chapter Seventeen

George B. Luks

George B. Luks

Saturday, February the first. Mrs. Robert Fox rides the train to the city from New Rochelle, arriving at Grand Central Station shortly after one in the afternoon. From there, she takes a cab to the Manhattan Theatre and purchases a ticket for the matinee performance. Checks her cape and is escorted to her box. Which she has all to herself.

It’s lonesome sitting up here, but Mr. Fox simply abhors the theatre, unless it’s an operetta by Victor Herbert. She’s brought a novel with her, though–The Man of Property, a Christmas gift–and she’ll amuse herself till curtain time reading about disagreeable Soames Forsyte and his troubled family. Chapter VII. Old Jolyon’s Peccadillo.

Suddenly, she’s distracted by a movement behind her, and half-turning, sees a young red-haired girl, of about seventeen, peeking in from the hallway. Oh, excuse me, ma’am, she says, I didn’t mean to bother you! I was only–

Mrs. Fox smiles. Only looking to see if the box was unoccupied?

I suppose so, ma’am. Then pointing with a finger, she says, My ticket’s for way upstairs, in the balcony. Where I can never see things as good as I’d like.

Suppressing an instinct to correct the girl’s grammar–as well as you’d like–, Mrs. Fox nods, then gestures her into the box. She seems like a nice enough child, her clothes are clean and her hair is combed. Irish, but altogether presentable. You’re welcome to stay, says Mrs. Fox. But if someone else comes, you’ll have to leave.

Oh, thank you, ma’am, says the girl, taking her seat in the red plush chair beside Mrs. Fox. I just love goin’ to plays, it’s just about my favorite thing in the whole wide world! I don’t get to go a lot, but when I do, I just love it. Then she opens her cloth bag and takes out a little white box containing several chocolate candies with cherry centers. Care for one? They’re good.

Mrs. Fox shakes her head. No, thank you, dear.

Alice, says the girl.

No, thank you, Alice.

Well, they’re right here if you change your mind, she says, in the meantime staring at the silver bracelet on Mrs. Fox’s left wrist. Oh, that’s beautiful! Is it from your husband?

Mrs. Fox laughs. Yes, it is, dear.

I think he must be wonderful, then. Your husband. ‘Cause this is just about the prettiest bracelet I’ve seen in a long time. And I see a lot of bracelets. You sure you don’t want a candy? They’re really delicious. It came straight from Macy’s. I work at Macy’s, you know. That’s how come I know bracelets. I see ’em at Macy’s. I’m a glove girl. Oh, do have one, ma’am.

One, then, says Mrs. Fox, leaning over to make her selection.

It’s such a beautiful bracelet.

Vastly amused now, Mrs. Fox slips the bracelet from her wrist and offers it to Alice. Go on, dear, you try it on, if you like.

I wouldn’t dream of it, says Alice. It’s so expensive.

It’s not that expensive. Believe me. Go ahead, put it on.

At last, Alice accepts it and works it down over her hand; then, while she’s turning her wrist this way and that, and holding her arm up into better light, a whiskery man in a shiny tuxedo appears below on the stage to announce that Mr. Leyden Rand will be playing the role of Father this afternoon, as Mr. Stuart Bacon is unfortunately indisposed. When the curtain rises–on a private library in a mansion on Fifth Avenue–Alice removes the bracelet and hands it back to Mrs. Fox. Thank you, she whispers.

Mrs. Fox directs her attention at the stage, but for some reason she finds it difficult to hear what the players are saying, and there’s a rising sizzle in her ears, and her cheeks feel oddly…cold. At the first stomach cramp, she gives a small cry and lurches forward, involuntarily. She can’t catch her breath! Everything in her vision is wavering, like a heat mirage. A second cramp, more stabbing than the first. Perspiration starts from her forehead. Slumping back, she turns toward Alice, and tries to speak, to communicate her distress, but she cannot, all she can do is gasp.

The girl’s face swims closer….

After she’s removed the bracelet from Mrs. Fox’s wrist, Alice (Moran alias Meehan alias Dwyer alias McGee) helps herself to seventy dollars in cash and a jeweled watch from the woman’s handbag. Then she claps the lid back on the little box of candies, and sticks it away.

Before leaving, she pats Mrs. Fox on the knee–Don’t worry, ma’am, you’ll be right as rain by the intermission–then takes a last glance at the stage and hurries off. Perhaps to the Savoy or the Empire, or maybe to the Belasco.

How she does love comin’ to plays! It’s just about her favorite thing in the whole wide world.

Seated at a corner table in Mouquin’s, Maurice Prendergast is relishing the atmosphere: it’s so perfectly Parisian, there’s even a wandering violinist–at four in the afternoon! (Although he hears the music only dimly, Prendergast is quite certain that the man is a musician of superior talent. And no doubt a nice fellow to boot; he has such a winning smile.)

Prendergast and his brother Charles arrived in New York City only two hours ago. After checking into a hotel, they came directly here. They finished a bottle of good cabernet wine with their lunch, but declined any sweet when their waiter–a very polite and pleasant young man–rolled the pastry cart to their table. Just coffee, thank you. Charles smoked a cigar. Maurice abstained.

Both brothers had expected to run into someone they knew at the restaurant, and were disappointed. Perhaps we should call our friends, Maurice suggested. Let them know we’re in town. Do you think that perhaps we should call our friends? Ask them to join us?

Certainly, agreed Charles, who would have to be the one to place the telephone call–Monny’s deafness. And so that’s where he’s off to now. Been gone a good fifteen minutes.

Ah! but here he comes now, negotiating his way between tables, smiling, slipping back into his chair. I reached Hen, he says, and he’ll be over straightaway. And Glack’ll be here, just as soon as he talks to Edith in Connecticut. He wants to find out which train she’ll be taking down tomorrow. He’ll collect Ernest on the way.

What about Arthur–did you reach Arthur?

I called his studio, says Charles, but he didn’t answer. And I don’t have any home exchange for him, do you?

Prendergast thinks. No, I don’t believe I do. I don’t believe that anyone does. Come to think of it. I don’t even know where he lives. But I think he must be away. Up to Congers.

This weekend? says Charles.

Every weekend, says Maurice.

You mean he won’t be there this evening, to hang the pictures?

If it’s the weekend, his wife comes before everything else. He’s a very devoted husband.

Charles frowns and shakes his head. I talked to Mrs. Luks. She said she’ll tell George that I called, when he wakes up from his nap.

Nap, eh?

The brothers smile at each other across the table.

And what about John Sloan? asks Maurice.

Dolly says he’s already up at the gallery. To uncrate the pictures, she tells me.

Oh dear, says Maurice. Perhaps we should join him, then. It’s not quite fair he should do all that, while we sit here chatting away. Do you suppose we should join him? Charles?

Henri plans to go up around six or seven.

That’s what he said–six or seven?

Charles nods.

Well, if that’s what Henri thinks, I suppose we should wait. Do you suppose we should wait?

At least till the others get here, says Charles, then you can all talk it over together.

Of course, says Maurice. We can’t just run out now. The others are coming here. He thumps the table decisively. But then scowls. I do hope Sloan isn’t annoyed at us, though. For letting him do all the work.

He volunteered, says Charles.

Well, I suppose he did, says Maurice, brightening again. I suppose he did. Shall we order another bottle of wine, Charles? You make the choice this time.

A newsboy bursts into the dining room, which is really an extraordinary thing: newsies are never permitted inside, never. But just this once an exception has been made, because–

Thaw not guilty by reason of insanity! Thaw not guilty!

Beckoning hands go up at nearly every table–here, boy. Paper! Over here, boy!

Even Maurice Prendergast can hear the babble of excited talk, everywhere: Thaw, Thaw, Thaw….


The man who killed Stanford White, Monny, says Charles, shaking open his copy of the World. At Madison Square Garden? he says. Evelyn Nesbit? All that business about the red velvet swing? Stanford White’s murderer, he says.

Well, I don’t know anything about him, says Maurice, distressed by all this talk of murder. But I certainly know about Mr. White, he says. Magnificent architect. And from what I’d always heard, Charles, a very nice gentleman. A very fine gentleman, indeed.

Yes, says Charles, folding the newspaper and sticking it away under the table, between his feet. Indeed.

The verdict was returned at 12:40 that afternoon, following 25 hours of jury deliberation.

…find the defendant not guilty on the charge in the indictment on the grounds that he was insane at the time of the commission of the act.

Harry K. Thaw of Pittsburgh blinked. Then he shifted his eyes toward the District Attorney, and seeing that Jerome was staring at him, he drove the pad of his thumb up under the tip of his nose, and flicked. Jerome couldn’t help it, he laughed. Such demented insolence! It was a proper verdict, he said to Martin Littleton, and the two adversaries embraced.

Evelyn Nesbit wedged a handkerchief between her teeth, to stop them from chattering.

After Judge Dowling thanked the jurors and excused them, he called for order, and put on his spectacles. The jury, he said, having found a verdict that this defendant is not guilty of the murder of Stanford White on the grounds of insanity, it now devolves to the court to take certain action. Pursing his lips, he glared down from the bench. The court therefore orders that the defendant, being in custody and being a person dangerous to the public safety, the said Harry K. Thaw shall be kept in custody and shall be sent to the Asylum for the Criminal Insane at Mattawan forthwith.

As he was being led back to his cell, pending arrangement for his transfer upstate, Harry Thaw blew a kiss to his mother, then waved to the spectators, many of whom were cheering him as though he were a Princeton baseball player. Finally, he called to the men in the press gallery, I’ll be out in a few weeks!

It is now twenty past four, and Harry Thaw is motoring uptown in his wife’s electric brougham. At Grand Central Station, there’s a private railroad coach–stocked with whiskey and chilled oysters, and cold ducks and cold chickens, and festooned with crepe–waiting to take him to Fishkill. Where, before surrendering himself at the asylum, he plans to entertain a hundred invited guests at a dinner at the local Holland House hotel. It’ll be fun–won’t it, Evelyn? She nods, keeping her eyes fixed upon her slim white hands, which fidget in her lap.

Harry, she finally says. You’ll tell your mother to make certain that she sends me my check, the first of every month? Harry?

He strokes his chin, and glances out the window. They’re coming upon the station now, the car slowing, moving through the great throng of well-wishers gathered in Forty-second Street. Harry! Harry! Hurrah! He taps the glass, and snorts. Idiotic rabble. What were you saying, Evelyn?

About my check, Harry. She’s promised me a thousand dollars every month–you’ll make certain that your mother sends it, won’t you?

He suddenly puts a hand on her breast, but then pulls it away, as though from a flame. And smiles. What am I supposed to be, again? he says. You remember, Evelyn–what am I supposed to be?

A chronic paranoiac schizophrenic.

All those ics, he says, and grunts.

Harry? she says. You won’t forget?

Forget? Of course I won’t forget, he says, hitching around in his seat and looking at his wife’s profile. The Gibson Girl. The original model. All I have to do, he says, is remember i-c-s. Ics! Chronic paranoiac schizophrenic.

In the front, beside the chauffeur, a deputy sheriff has been struggling since Thirtieth Street to open a bottle of champagne. At last the cork pops, and ricochets off the windscreen.

You told me to let you know when it was seven, George, says the barman. It’s seven.

For the last hour, George Luks has been entertaining a group of strangers–three new friends!–at a table in the back room of a gin mill on Sixth Avenue; buying drinks for everyone, calling for more plates of sausages, reminiscing about his salad days on the minstrel circuit, he and his brother Will–Buzzy and Amstock!–all dressed up in voluminous coats and baggy checked trousers, playing banjo, doing pratfalls, telling jokes in colored dialect. I’se so unhappy, Mr. Bones, my shoes  is too small….

Saying, Will’s a doctor now, it’s the truth! You can ask him yourself, he’s down at the Northern Dispensary! Go and ask him yourself if he ain’t a doctor of medicine. He is, and I’m mighty glad of it, too. He’s fixed me up more than a few times! Which is how come I don’t hold it against him that he stole away the first girl I was going to marry! Annabelle Delanoy! It’s true! Stole her right from under my nose. Lucky for Annabelle!

Saying, apropos of nothing: About Cuba. I was there, you know. During the insurrection. And many a time, some rifle bullet came this close to creasing my bean–this close! Infantry? Hell! I was there before the U.S. Army, when it was really dangerous.

Saying, My business? This week I’m a painter. The world’s greatest.

Saying, Seven?

O’clock, replies the barman. You wanted to know when it was seven o’clock, so I’m telling you.

Duty calls, says Luks, pushing back his chair and getting up. It’s time to do battle. Little old George Luks and his band of merry men versus the hordes of tyranny! The bimbo hordes of tyranny! The National Academy of Disgrace! Digging out several dollar bills from his pocket, he throws them on the table, then shakes hands all around. To battle! he says, rumbling off. But first: a stop at the gent’s.

It’s only a few blocks to Macbeth’s, and Luks decides to shadow box the entire way there, which clears the sidewalk ahead of him, astonished pedestrians stepping out of his way, moving into doorways, giving wide berth to Socko Sam, the Terror of the Fight Ring! Undefeated and implacable!

By the time he enters the elevator at 450 Fifth Avenue, he’s red-faced and winded. The operator peers at him, worriedly. Heart seizure, explains Luks, leaning against the wall. But not to fret! I have a spare one, he says and jabs two fingers into his midriff.

Yes, sir, says the operator. Destination?

The battlefield!


Fourth floor.

The operator smiles. You had me going there for a moment, he says.

Had you going? says Luks, straightening up and tugging on his coat lapels.

I thought you was really crazy. Second heart! Saying battlefield. But you just must be an artist.

How dare you! roars Luks. If you wish to keep your job, I suggest that you stifle your insults. I happen to be a lawyer employed by the House of Morgan. The House of Morgan! I am here to serve papers.

Yes, sir, says the elevator operator, still grinning. Fourth floor. Macbeth’s Galleries.

And George B. Luks, blackhearted attorney, exits imperiously.

To discover John Sloan standing alone in the first gallery. Looking about as frustrated, thinks Luks, as a man without a can opener at a party where all the women are wearing tin dresses. Ha!

Immediately–as a favor to Sloan, to ease him up some–Luks detaches the cuff from his shirt sleeve and, waving it frantically in the air, shouts, I have come all the way from Havana to bring this message to Garcia–are you Garcia?

Sloan is not amused, not this evening. Did you come alone?

Si, senor.


Shrugging, Luks tosses his coat over a stool. Everybody’s at Mook’s. But they’ll be here, they’ll be here. Just relax, boyo. He winks, then jamming his hands into his trouser pockets, begins to prowl the room. Sloan has unpacked and unwrapped everything, and sorted the pictures according to artist (Lawson’s there, Henri’s there, Glackens’ over there, his race-track picture still wet); he’s even set out half-a-dozen claw-hammers and several boxes of picture hooks. The man is a miracle. Good old Sloan.

Let’s have a smoke, says Luks, and I’ll tell you about the time I licked Jim Corbett.

Sloan grumbles under his breath.

You were supposed to say you didn’t know they’d put Jim Corbett on a postage stamp. Ah, just forget it….

Along about seven-thirty, Prendergast, Henri, Lawson and Glackens arrive together. A few minutes later: Shinn, brandishing an ebony waking stick, and carrying, tucked under his arm, a package from the shirt maker’s. Luks grabs it. At last! he cries. The dynamite!

 Henri cocks his head to the side, and slowly shakes it. Then: Shall we get started–mounting our show?

But what about Arthur? asks Shinn.

Won’t be coming, says Henri. He’s in Congers. And sends his regrets. Then, steepling his fingers, as he does whenever he’s about to begin a lecture, he says, The first order of business: Let’s do some measuring.

But Sloan has already done that. The two galleries can be divided into eight equal sections, of about 25 running feet apiece. (It was decided months ago that each man would hang his own work as a unit; let the Academy mount pictures according to color harmony and subject matter–fruit with fruit, flowers with flowers, beaches with beaches, rich children with rich children; rebels have no truck with that sort of fussiness. Nor will anything be skied, pictures stacked one on top of the other clear to the ceiling. Everything in this show will be at eye level. On the line. Absolutely on the line.)

Twenty-five feet, says Henri. Good! Well, then let’s start marking off the sections.

But Sloan has already done that, as well. See his little penciled x’s: there, and there, and there…?

Ah! Then let’s go at it! says Lawson.

Yes, says Henri, let’s. But saying it rather coolly.

Fighters! To your corners! (George Luks, of course.)

Turing to Glackens, pale as an invalid this evening and pulling repeatedly on his bottom lip, Prendergast says, This is a very nice section right here, William. Would you like this wall? Oh, go ahead–you take this wall. I’ll find something else.

Shinn grabs a hammer and a handful of picture hooks. Last one finished is a rotten potato!

And buys the first beers! adds Luks.

The Tavern, a small cafe with leaded-glass windows and oak paneling, coats of arms and maps of Merrie Olde England, some blocks north of the gallery. Half past one in the morning. Lawson, Luks, Henri, Glackens, Shinn and Sloan; Prendergast, so fatigued that he was trembling, went directly back to his hotel. Though not before the deed had been done and he’d beamed at the gallery walls with all the glee of a small boy on Christmas morning.

Another round! cries Luks as a waiter, dressed like Shakespeare, scurries past.

Glackens shakes his head. No more ale for him. Not another drop. He doesn’t want a bun on tomorrow, not when he’s going to see Edith for the first time in nearly a month. But Luks won’t let him quit now, not when they still haven’t finished drinking a toast to every one of the exhibition’s 63 paintings. Here’s to Henri’s Little Girl in White Apron! Salud! And to Sloan’s Election Night! Skol! And to Ernie’s Swimming Hole! Bottom’s up! And to Ev’s Orchestra Pit! Down the hatch!

Luks leans across the table and jabs Glackens in the shoulder. Come on, come on, it’s bad luck to stop now–even little baby Shinn is drinking tonight!

Glackens smiles. All right: one more ale.

That’s the ticket!

So: to Glack’s Brighton Beach Race Track! May it dry before Monday!

Lifting his tankard, Glackens moans, We are going to get an awful roasting.

And Sloan winces.

Continue to read CHAPTER EIGHTEEN →