Two or three weeks passed. One morning, having come to a pause in my work, I thought I would give myself a holiday, and I went to the Louvre. I wandered about looking at the pictures I knew so well, and let my fancy play idly with the emotions they suggested. I sauntered into the long gallery, and there suddenly saw Stroeve. I smiled, for his appearance, so rotund and yet so startled, could never fail to excite a smile, and then as I came nearer I noticed that he seemed singularly disconsolate. He looked woebegone and yet ridiculous, like a man who has fallen into the water with all his clothes on, and, being rescued from death, frightened still, feels that he only looks a fool. Turning round, he stared at me, but I perceived that he did not see me. His round blue eyes looked harassed behind his glasses.
“Stroeve,” I said.
He gave a little start, and then smiled, but his smile was rueful.
“Why are you idling in this disgraceful fashion?” I asked gaily.
“It’s a long time since I was at the Louvre. I thought I’d come and see if they had anything new.”
“But you told me you had to get a picture finished this week.”
“Strickland’s painting in my studio.”
“I suggested it myself. He’s not strong enough to go back to his own place yet. I thought we could both paint there. Lots of fellows in the Quarter share a studio. I thought it would be fun. I’ve always thought it would be jolly to have someone to talk to when one was tired of work.”
He said all this slowly, detaching statement from statement with a little awkward silence, and he kept his kind, foolish eyes fixed on mine. They were full of tears.
“I don’t think I understand,” I said.
“Strickland can’t work with anyone else in the studio.”
“Damn it all, it’s your studio. That’s his lookout.”
He looked at me pitifully. His lips were trembling.
“What happened?” I asked, rather sharply.
He hesitated and flushed. He glanced unhappily at one of the pictures on the wall.
“He wouldn’t let me go on painting. He told me to get out.”
“But why didn’t you tell him to go to hell?”
“He turned me out. I couldn’t very well struggle with him. He threw my hat after me, and locked the door.”
I was furious with Strickland, and was indignant with myself, because Dirk Stroeve cut such an absurd figure that I felt inclined to laugh.
“But what did your wife say?”
“She’d gone out to do the marketing.”
“Is he going to let her in?”
“I don’t know.”
I gazed at Stroeve with perplexity. He stood like a schoolboy with whom a master is finding fault.
“Shall I get rid of Strickland for you?” I asked.
He gave a little start, and his shining face grew very red.
“No. You’d better not do anything.”
He nodded to me and walked away. It was clear that for some reason he did not want to discuss the matter. I did not understand.