Illustration: Robert Culff
During the eleven years that Andrev Andraukov and Dr. Karl Locke worked together they evolved a curious manner of conversation, curious first of all because it was invariably opened and closed by the professor, and second because of its disconnected character. Their dialogue might be likened to an underground river which rushed unexpectedly into the sunlight and as suddenly disappears.
The day before the beginning of one Christmas vacation, for example, Dr. Locke bought a tin of cocoa and two boxes of petit fours and rented a phonograph with some records. Then he typed on one of his file cards and thumbtacked to the bulletin board an invitation for all students with marks of C or better to attend a party in the office when they finished class. Not many students accepted the invitation. He sat in his swivel chair behind the desk, his lips counting the young people as they entered, and there was absolutely no expression on his face.
The party such as it was had not been long in progress when everyone in the office heard Andraukov approaching: the squeak of his shoes and the rhythm of his walk were unmistakable. One step came after another as surely as a night comes after a day. Dr. Locke’s mouth twitched; he re-crossed his slender legs, arranging the trousers so as not to destroy the crease or result in a bulge at the knee, then with one hand he shaded his eyes against the brilliant winter sunlight reflected through the windows.
On the phonograph The Blue Danube had just begun; to its melody a supple crafty-looking boy named Francis Rheba murmured, “Vich zhoe vill it be doday? Vich zhoe vill it be doday?” This was an allusion to the fact that Andraukov owned three shoes, two lefts and a right, the second right having been lost somewhere in the banks of material that jammed his studio. Both pairs had been identical, indeed everything he bought was as nearly as possible like the thing it was replacing. The shows were ankle-high, black, even longer than necessary for his extremely large feet, and they were of the cheapest quality. The soles all but vanished every four or five months, at which time he would gravely and unquestioningly buy another pair. He did not seem to realize that shoes could be half-soled, at least he never entered a repair shop; it was as if when a thing gave way it was gone forever and nothing could bring it back. His two left shoes could be distinguished now because the toe of one was splattered with sienna paint while the other was scratched and stained with some kind of glue he had once been inventing. Both, though severely worn, could not compare with the state of the remaining right show which had a hell as round as a thumb and so many knots amongst the hooks that it could not afford a bow.
In the corridor the footsteps came to a stop. These sudden halts of the old man were a source of infinite amusement to every class of art students and throughout the years there had grown up a tradition that they were always to be timed. Seniors could speak of the famous day when he had stopped in the midst of a monologue on the importance of mixing paints properly and had stood before them without moving for almost eleven minutes—stood there still, withered, leaning like a cornstalk in some abandoned field. But on this occasion the pause was brief; the steps resumed and a moment later Mr. Andraukov passed the doorway. Few of the students took time to glance at his shoes, they were absorbed by the haggard face.