II: Big Sea

Distinguished Visitor

After Mary left, I took to sleeping all day long to keep from eating any meals, because I wanted to save a little money. One day Bob came banging on the door and woke me up. He was dopey to the point of incoherence, but I gathered that he wanted a place to sleep again and that he was down and out, having lost his job as valet. So I had to let him stay.

But now, almost daily he was trembling and pitiful for lack of drugs. Or wild-eyed, when he had them. I was afraid he would go mad. So I moved out, leaving him with the room rent paid up a month ahead. I moved to another attic chamber, high up on the hill toward Sacre-Cœur in the rue de Trois Frères—the Street of the Three Brothers.

One day before I moved to the rue de Trois Frères, I had an early morning caller. I had just got home from work and was sound asleep, when there came a knock on the door.

I mumbled sleepily: “Qui est-il?

A mild and gentle voice answered: “Alain Locke.”

And sure enough, there was Dr. Alain Locke of Washington, a little, brown man with spats and a cultured accent, and a degree from Oxford. The same Dr. Locke who had written me about my poems, and who wanted to come to see me almost two years before on the fleet of dead ships, anchored up the Hudson. He had got my address from the Crisis in New York, to whom I had sent some poems from Paris. Now, in Europe on vacation, he had come to call.

I was covered with confusion at finding so distinguished and learned a visitor in my room and me groggy with sleep, and Bob likely to enter at any moment groggy with dope. But I found Doctor Locke a charming and delightful conversationalist.

He said he had come to invite me to luncheon, and to talk with me about a special Negro number of the Survey Graphic that he was preparing. So I dressed, and we had luncheon at a restaurant near the Place Clichy on a sidewalk terrace.

Dr. Locke said he was going to Germany, and wanted to see my new poems before he left in order to consider some of them for the Survey. So I promised to copy them off for him and bring them to his hotel near the Madeleine.

I did, and he liked the poems. Later he wrote me a nice note about them and invited me to hear Manon at the Opéra Comique.

A few days after he left for Germany, I received a pneumatique asking me to luncheon at the Café Royale near the Louvre. The note was signed: Albert C. Barnes. Then I recalled that Dr. Locke had spoken to me about Mr. Barnes, the Argyrol magnate, who had the finest collection of modern art in America at his foundation in Merion, Pennsylvania. So I went down to the café at one o’clock and found Mr. Barnes and his assistant, Thomas Monroe, already eating. They had had to start promptly, they told me, because they were doing the Louvre for a study of modern art, and they were behind schedule. Mr. Barnes on art sounded like my father talking about business—only Mr. Barnes was interested in painting. He and Mr. Monroe were very up on it. But I ordered some fraises de bois and thought about Mary, away off in London, as I ate them, because I didn’t know anything about modern art then, so my mind wandered. But I was grateful to Dr. Locke for having arranged that I meet Mr. Barnes.

Another thing Alain Locke did for me before he went off to his spa was to arrange that I see the famous collection of African sculpture belonging to Paul Guillaume. He gave me a note to M. Guillaume and I went there one day and looked a long time at all the treasures he had from Benin and the Sudan and the Congo.

Again I was grateful to Dr. Locke, who seemed to me a gentleman of culture, happy to help others enjoy the things he had learned to enjoy.


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