This last year was a hard one for the old gentleman. He had once walked with a magnificent leisure, his hands behind him clasped about his cane. He used to pause now and then to tip his bowler to someone, or to keep his cigarette chain going. But this winter there was no leisure in his walk; it was just a slow walk, and he was not smoking, and when he talked with you, he coughed at length, and the familiar smile left his face. Pierre de Chaignon la Rose had been a scholar and a dandy, but in the last few years his glory seemed to be a mere question of spats and stick-pin, though it would occasionally flash in his innumerable stories. Seeing him in full dress in the subway late at night, you could almost guess the story.
But it was no usual story, and he always maintained a true dignity about him. He had actually accomplished much in his 69 years. He came from Exeter to the Harvard of the 1890's, where his pattern coincided with the aesthetic movement of the day. Editor of the Monthly, Pudding, Signet, O. K., and the like--these are the matters of the record. He is supposed to have made Phi Beta Kappa without ever taking a single lecture-note. But what he liked to remember best was the time they entertained Anna Held in Dudley Hall, when the champagne flowed and the marble stairs were covered with rose-petals. Or how one of the Claverly's used to drive to Geology 4 in a barouche drawn by four horses. Of the days when he made Fishhouse Punch for whoever was man enough to drink it.
Pierre la Rose (some say it was originally Peter Ross) had a vocation--heraldry. His ability and knowledge were of the first order, and his consequent reputation was international. He made the heraldic designs for the Houses, for the Tercentenary, for Radcliffe and Yale and Princeton buildings. He was a devout Roman Catholic and an authority on ecclesiastical emblazonings. He was proud of an ancient French lineage, and his walls were hung with old family portraits.
There are many stories about him, and some things which need not be mentioned lightly here. What was most interesting about him was the diligence with which he pursued the way of life which was most comfortable to him. Every morning he left his dark bachelor's quarters in the Hampden on Plympton Street. It took him fifteen minutes to reach the Waldorf, what with the day's greetings to give and receive. Each morning he presented the Waldorf counter-girl with an apple, for which bribe he had his soft-boiled eggs brought to his table by a bus-boy. After breakfast he sat there, donned pince-nez, and scoured the Herald, pausing now and then to extract a paragraph with his pen-knife. About 9:15 he went for a walk, an eternal walk, up and down, around, through the Yard, constantly smoking but never inhaling, smiling, chatting, examining the same buildings and paths, finding something old to chuckle over. He spoke precisely, in balanced periods, and his stories all had rhythm and fetching climaxes. How Copey served caviare to the general of the Salvation Army, how an English A student described the "chaste palpitation" of a snowbank, a priceless story about George Eliot, what Henry James said to the goody--this was his discourse.
He was often very lonely, and it was a loneliness that the four-year Harvard transient might find it hard to understand or sympathize with. The fascination of watching the University, always changing, yet always the same, obsessed Pierre la Rose, and such an occupation is not always rewarding. But he was a man of witty conversation, and his isolation was as graceful as his manner was gracious.
There will be many times when we will wish him here.