This is a true story, or true as far as it goes. Ogden Hall School for Boys never would have existed were it not for the journey that two Chicago girls made to Paris with their mother. The eldest girl had her head sculpted in marble by the great Rodin in his atelier at the Dépôt des Marbres, a bust from his own hand and chisel. The Chicago girl was eighteen and lovely, the bust a present on her birthday. Rodin was demanding, meticulous in his craft. His eyes glittered as he worked, his unruly head moving to some mysterious rhythm. The girl was a little bit afraid of Rodin, his glare almost predatory, his eyes black as lumps of coal. And when she mentioned this to her mother, the woman only smiled and said that such men were forces of nature but that did not mean they could not be tamed. Only one question: Was the taming worth the trouble? This Rodin, probably yes; but it would take time to find out. The finding-out would be the amusing part and naturally there was ambiguity as in any sentimental endeavor. Taming had its unfortunate side.
In any case, the girl’s mother said, you are much too young for such an adventure. Wait two years.
The sitting took only a few days—Rodin wanted an additional day but that was out of the question owing to the travel schedule—and then the girls went on to Salzburg. Their mother was devoted to German opera. Then east to Vienna, south to Florence, and west to Nice, and when, one month later, they returned to Paris the bust was done and in due course sent by ship and installed in the hallway alcove of the Astor Street house, a beautiful work of art, most soulful, luminous in the yellow light from the new electric lamps, and a trenchant counterpoint to the soft Cézanne landscape on the wall opposite. All the newspapers took notice. The Art Institute took particular notice, though the curator privately thought that the bust showed signs of haste. Rodin’s debutante was the talk of Chicago. The cost was trifling, a bagatelle. Mother paid francs, cash, on the spot. Two husky workmen were required to transport the wooden case to the brougham waiting at curbside.
That was marie’s point, made again and again to her husband Tommy, who was unimpressed, sawing away at his beefsteak, his head low to the plate. Who knew if he was even listening. Tommy Ogden, irascible at all times, disliked discussion of money at meals. The price, Marie went on, was barely more than a wretched automobile, one of Ford’s small ones, a mere piece of machinery as opposed to a work of art that would endure forever and ever. The argument began at cocktails, continued through dinner, and did not end—well, in a sense it never ended. There were witnesses to it, the van Hornes and their daughter Trish and the Billingtons and Tommy’s lawyer Bert Marks and the Italian servants, Francesca and Alana. Marie wanted her own head in marble and Tommy was too damned cheap to pay for it. Cheap, self-centered, and an egoist, concerned with himself alone. Tommy who thought only of shooting, shooting in Georgia, shooting in Arkansas, shooting in Scotland and Austria and the eastern shore of Maryland and Montana and East Africa and beyond. His set of matched Purdeys cost much more than Rodin’s magnificent marble of the Chicago girl and that was consistent with his scale of values. Firearms figured mightily in Tommy Ogden’s scheme of things. So, Marie said, with Tommy or without him she intended to leave at once for the south of France, where she had engaged a pretty villa near Antibes. The route to Antibes led through Paris, where her destination was the atelier at Dépôt des Marbres.
Maître Rodin was said to be most engaging, a powerful presence, something of a roughneck, so French.
I have seen a photograph of the bust, Marie said. That girl’s head is even larger than yours, Tommy.
Go to Paris and be damned, Tommy said at last. Under his breath he added, If you can get there. As was often the case, Tommy had confidential information.
I will, Marie said. I propose to leave tomorrow.
Good luck, Tommy said. Don’t expect to find me here when you get back.
Steady on, Tommy, Bill van Horne said, but in the thickness of the atmosphere at table no one heard him.
And where are you going? Marie demanded.
Idaho, Tommy said. Pheasant.
Marie made a noise somewhere between a cluck and a growl and signaled Francesca to pass the wine. Tommy was drinking whiskey and now took a long swallow, draining his glass and replenishing it from the decanter on the table.
I’ve got news for you, Marie.
What’s that, Tommy? What’s your news?
I’m finished with this house.
This house, Tommy said. I’m getting rid of it.
You wouldn’t dare, Marie said. Your father built this house.
Watch me, Tommy said.
Drew up the plans himself, Marie said. The bedrooms, the library, the re-cep-shun room. But it doesn’t matter. No one wants this house. No one will buy it. It’s a white elephant.
Absolutely, she said.
I’m not selling it, Marie. Get that through your head. I’m giving it away. I’m donating
it, you see. That’s my decision and it’s final. You better clear out your things before I get back from Idaho.
Tommy, Bill van Horne said, for God’s sake—
You’re crazy, Marie said. I’ve never heard of such a thing.
Bert has all the details, Tommy said. Isn’t that right, Bert?
Of course, Tommy. Bert Marks had no idea what his client was talking about.
Your mother died in this house, Marie said.
Leave my mother out of it. My mother is none of your damned business.
Died in the bedroom just upstairs—
Damn sight more comfortable than any hospital, Tommy said.
When did you get this crazy idea?
I don’t like that word, Marie.
Well, it’s crazy.
Don’t say that again.
Did you get your idea yesterday? This morning? Did it come at dusk like a bird on the wing? I’ll bet it did.
Tommy pushed his chair from the table and crossed his legs with a show of nonchalance. His expression was vacant, as if he were alone at table, deep in thought. When he moved his body the chair creaked. It was much too small for him, a rosewood chair that looked as if it could be smashed into matchsticks by his huge fingers. His face was flushed but the company did not notice owing to the darkness of the room. Tommy’s face was in shadow. They waited for him to speak and dreaded whatever it was he might say. Tommy Ogden was unpredictable to say the least of it and an atmosphere of violence followed him wherever he went. When he was shooting he was most excited at the kill itself. The beauty of the day or the natural surroundings had no meaning for him. His shooting partners were ignored. Bloodlust had meaning and he was a natural marksman. Now he took another swallow of whiskey and looked directly across the table at Marie. He said, I’ve had the idea for a while. But I decided definitely only ten minutes ago when you started mouthing off about French sculptors and that damned Chicago girl. I’m sick and tired of it. I’m sick and tired of you, so you’d better stop mouthing off.
But that was not Marie’s way. She and Tommy had been married just seven years and argument was their natural milieu. It was how they got on day to day, arguments over small things, large things, often nothing at all. They had both learned to make their way in the world, Tommy because he was rich and Marie because she wasn’t. Marie once explained to Beth van Horne that she looked on her husband as the tyrant of the city-state next door; give him an inch and he’d take a