<br><h3> Chapter One </h3> 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. <p> In any case, the girl's mother said, you are much too young for such an adventure. Wait two years. <p> 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. <p> <p> 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. <p> Maître Rodin was said to be most engaging, a powerful presence, something of a roughneck, so French. <p> I have seen a photograph of the bust, Marie said. That girl's head is even larger than yours, Tommy. <p> 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. <p> I will, Marie said. I propose to leave tomorrow. <p> Good luck, Tommy said. Don't expect to find me here when you get back. <p> Steady on, Tommy, Bill van Horne said, but in the thickness of the atmosphere at table no one heard him. <p> And where are you going? Marie demanded. <p> Idaho, Tommy said. Pheasant. <p> 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. <p> I've got news for you, Marie. <p> What's that, Tommy? What's your news? <p> I'm finished with this house. <p> What house? <p> This house, Tommy said. I'm getting rid of it. <p> You wouldn't dare, Marie said. Your father built this house. <p> Watch me, Tommy said. <p> 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. <p> Think so? <p> Absolutely, she said. <p> I'm not selling it, Marie. Get that through your head. I'm giving it away. I'm <i>donating it</i>, you see. That's my decision and it's final. You better clear out your things before I get back from Idaho. <p> Tommy, Bill van Horne said, for God's sake— <p> You're crazy, Marie said. I've never heard of such a thing. <p> Bert has all the details, Tommy said. Isn't that right, Bert? <p> Of course, Tommy. Bert Marks had no idea what his client was talking about. <p> Your mother died in this house, Marie said. <p> Leave my mother out of it. My mother is none of your damned business. <p> Died in the bedroom just upstairs— <p> Damn sight more comfortable than any hospital, Tommy said. <p> When did you get this crazy idea? <p> I don't like that word, Marie. <p> Well, it's crazy. <p> Don't say that again. <p> Did you get your idea yesterday? This morning? Did it come at dusk like a bird on the wing? I'll bet it did. <p> 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. <p> 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 mile and before you knew it you were a province of his realm. Subject to whim. Tommy's not sinister, Marie said to Beth, it's his nature. He can't help it and there were times when he was quite sweet, really, though those times had become rare lately. Marie wore a small sarcastic smile and now she said, So you're <i>donating</i> my house. <p> That's right, Tommy said. <p> And in the meanwhile? <p> That's my business, Tommy said. <p> I'll just bet it is, Tommy. Let me guess. A cabin in Idaho? Your Scottish lodge? <p> Her husband only looked at her, his foot tapping the parquet floor. <p> And the donation? To whom? And for what? Marie began to laugh, a harridan's cackle in the quiet of the vast room, its ceiling so high that it was invisible in candlelight. The Italian serving girls had disappeared. Trish van Horne had excused herself and left the table. She was now waiting alone in her parents' car, smoking a cigarette and wondering when she could go home. Marie said, What do you have in mind, darling? An orphanage? An old folks' home? Perhaps an asylum, lunatics would feel at home in Ogden Hall. Or—a firearms museum. All your shotguns and rifles, even that wee revolver you carry in your jacket pocket when we go on the town. Your stuffed animals round and about, that bear carcass in the library? The antelope horns on the wall? An owl. Who's the lucky, lucky beneficiary? I can't wait. <p> Tommy wasn't listening. His eyes were far away. He had refilled his glass once again and remembered the estate as it was when he was a boy, the road through the iron gates, the gatekeeper's house to the right, the long run up the road and under the railroad trestle—a spur off the main line for his father's private car, a necessary convenience for the man who owned the railroad—with wide fields and thick stands of black oak either side of the road, two hundred and fifty acres in all. There were two barns and a dormitory for the farmhands. A quarter mile in, the road entered a dark space winding through white pines. Sunlight never penetrated the canopy and midday looked like dusk. <p> That was where, at age ten, Tommy found his love of the kill, roaming the estate with a .410-bore shotgun his father had given him on his birthday, an efficient piece, walnut stock, American made. It came with a leather slipcase, his initials on the case and the year, 1883. He always began the hunt in the copse of white pines, stalking squirrels and rabbits, muskrats on those few occasions they showed themselves. On the far side of the white pines was a field, and beyond the field a one-acre pond, habitat for the muskrats. Ugly beasts, bad-tempered, scavengers. At eleven years old Tommy shot his first mallard, the bird rising from the water in a frenzy of wings, gathering speed and in one second arrested in flight, its rhythm collapsed; and his whole life Tommy remembered bringing the .410 to his shoulder and the snap of the shot, the descent of the mallard and the heavy splash when it landed mid-pond, dead duck. The time was dusk, mid-November, cold enough so that ice had formed around the edges of the pond. But he stripped off his clothes and went in after the bird. He did not feel the cold, only a surge of—he supposed it was pride, a kind of mastery, certainly an unambiguous happiness along with great slowness, deathlike calm. He heard a voice behind him: Fine shooting, young man. Congratulations, you'll have a tasty meal tonight. It was the farm manager, a Scotsman sparing with compliments. But Tommy did not like it that he had appeared unannounced; something underhanded about it. Shooting was a private business. Tommy said, Do you know the name of a taxidermist? He spoke with his trademark sneer, a family property inherited from his mother. The farm manager replied that he would try to find the name of a taxidermist but a mallard made mighty fine eating. <p> Tommy turned his back and walked away, the duck's neck pinched between his icy fingers, its belly bumping against his thigh, reliving the moment when the bird crumpled and died, arrested action, utter stillness except for the echo in his ears. He liked to wait for windy days, the birds careering every which way. Tommy stationed himself at the eastern edge of the field waiting for the birds to come to him as he calculated the horizontal flight and the vertical shudder and the distance he was obliged to lead, a matter of geometry until geometry became instinct. On the windiest days he would lead the bird by three feet or more, swinging with it, and then by its flight guessing high or low—whether the wind would raise the bird or lower it. More exacting was the passing shot, the bird cruising from his left or right, appearing as a dot in the sky, and then he led it by four or five feet. The bird flew into a hail of lead. The more difficult the calculation, the more Tommy liked it, the test of skill. He thought of the winds as Homeric, a creature of the gods, gods heedless of consequence, gods who did anything they wished to do. Tommy's view of himself in the field, unobserved and unmonitored, was that he matched any god. At such moments he felt himself stretched to the breaking point, discovering a kind of perfection of equilibrium. <p> <p> WHEN HE TURNED TWELVE years old his father gave him a side-by-side twenty-gauge shotgun, cherrywood stock, a British-made Boss, beautifully balanced and as light as a walking stick. He came to appreciate shooting in bad weather, in the hours following an electrical storm, the ground sodden underfoot, thick with leaves, the air carrying a scorched odor. Nothing moved in the dampness. Tommy stepped with caution, waiting for the stray target. Some creatures were obtuse and impatient, careless in their habits. Tommy was never impatient and sooner or later his discipline was rewarded with a sighting of a squirrel or mallard alone and defenseless, disoriented in the heavy silence. He often stood motionless for an hour at a time waiting for a creature to show itself, and it was in the stand of pines, one afternoon in the late fall, that he had a revelation. Something in his eyesight did not look quite right, a color he had never seen before in the woods. He was standing in the shadows of the white pines and staring dead ahead at a tawny patch where the woods gave onto a cornfield. With his usual deliberation he raised his binoculars to his eyes and found the tawny patch dissolving into a hunter's cap, the bill pulled low; and the cap moved, revealing a bearded face. No one was allowed on Ogden property, for hunting or for any other reason. Tommy believed his domain had been violated. There was no excuse for trespassing. When he raised the Boss he saw the hunter move his shoulders, and then the barrel and telescopic sight of a rifle came into view. So the trespasser was waiting for deer. Then Tommy saw a plume of smoke, indistinct in the gray air. The fool was smoking a cigarette, the one thing above all the other things that was forbidden when stalking deer. A deer would smell tobacco a mile away. The hunter rose to full height, the cigarette in his mouth, the rifle resting barrel-forward on his shoulder. Tommy had a clean shot if he wanted to take it. The range was fifty yards, too far for a twenty-gauge load to be fatal. But the wound would hurt and hurt badly and would not be forgotten, and that would put an end to trespassing. <p> The hunter's neck might as well have had a bull's-eye drawn on it. Tommy sighted the Boss, then paused at a distant rattle from the trestle followed by the shriek of a whistle, his father's train. When he looked again the trespasser had broken from cover and was running through the cornfield and in a moment was gone. Tommy began to laugh, the scene somehow reminiscent of a vaudeville act. He waited another minute before he turned to work his way through the copse to the great house, dark at dusk, a long Georgian silhouette against the black oaks beyond, trees that had first seen daylight when General Washington was a boy. Ogden Hall had forty-two rooms, including a vast library and a solarium, a garden room and a kitchen nearly the size of a tennis court; and there were two of those next to the swimming pool and the flagstone terrace at the rear of the house where the lawn rolled away to a muddy stream. The railroad had been very good to the Ogden family. Tommy entered by the front door, the house silent, dark within. His mother was somewhere about, knitting or writing letters. Standing in the foyer with its grand piano and six cane-backed chairs for the ensemble that gathered on Sunday for musical evenings, Tommy felt an inhabitant of an antique world that had begun long ago but was vital still, with breath to last at least until tomorrow or the day after. The hush of the room was spoiled only by the hiss of the radiators and the smell of beeswax. <p> <i>(Continues...)</i> <p> <p> <!-- copyright notice --> <br></pre> <blockquote><hr noshade size='1'><font size='-2'> Excerpted from <b>Rodin's Debutante</b> by <b>Ward Just</b> Copyright © 2011 by Ward Just. Excerpted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.<br>Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.